Most trips to Las Vegas invoke images of bright lights, game tables and round-the-clock fun, but for the TWU basketball team it means tournament time against a field of Division II powerhouses.
The Pioneers (4-3) are one of four D-II women’s programs headed to Las Vegas this week to participate in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic, a four-day tournament that involves 14 men’s and women’s teams from Divisions I and II.
TWU opens play Thursday against Montana State Billings and plays Western Washington on Friday.
The Pioneers’ final exams concluded last week, and school is closed for the Christmas break. The trip also comes on the heels of TWU’s 62-56 win over Southeastern Oklahoma State on Monday.
“This is a premier Division II tournament,” TWU coach Beth Jillson said. “Our players are really excited. In fact, they’re so excited that I was a little worried about [Monday’s game] because they were thinking about Vegas. They’re excited because we get to play two great teams.”
Last season, Western Washington advanced to the Division II semifinals.
The other team in the tournament is No. 8 Drury.
Jillson always tries to schedule a tournament trip to the nice location each season. She also says road trips to play back-to-back games help prepare her team for Lone Star Conference play.
The Pioneers will open LSC play with two road games in a three-day stretch the first week of January.
Havoc with schedule
This month’s ice storm, fall graduation ceremonies and final exams wreaked havoc on the Pioneers’ practice schedule, but they managed to beat Southeastern Oklahoma State on Monday.
“Our players have been resilient,” Jillson said. “They’ve had a great attitude about it. They’ve just gone with the flow.”
Finals were extended to Saturday thanks to the ice storm that brought much of the Dallas-Fort Worth area to a standstill. And because of graduation ceremonies at Kitty Magee Arena, the Pioneers had to practice whenever and wherever they could, including holding one workout at North Texas and another at TWU’s fitness center.
With the cancellation of their Dec. 5 LSC opener at Midwestern State, the Pioneers endured a 19-day break.
“I was worried about how they were going to come out,” Jillson said following Monday’s victory. “But they were ready to play. It was difficult. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.”
After playing two games in Las Vegas, the Pioneers will face another seven-day break in organized team practices — a Division II regulation — before resuming the season in early January.
The NCAA requires that Division II athletes receive a seven-day holiday break, which the Pioneers will take next week during the school’s Christmas break. For a full week, no organized team practices can be held. TWU resumes its schedule Jan. 2 at Midwestern State in a makeup of the Dec. 5 game.
“The good thing is that everybody has the same break,” Jillson said. “I feel confident that [the players] will go home and do what they need to do to be ready to play. It’s not easy, but if they want to accomplish their goals in conference, they need to go home and take care of business.”
TWU also plays Tarleton State on the road Jan. 4 before returning home to host Texas A&M-Kingsville on Jan. 7.