The TWU Pioneers’ three-game road winning streak came to end last Wednesday with a 71-69 loss to Tarleton State, but head coach Beth Jillson was encouraged with her team’s offensive play after scoring less than 60 points in their previous seven games.
“The good thing about our team is that anybody can step up on any given night,” Jillson said. “That was the great thing against Tarleton. We had four players in double figures and two with eight points. Our inside game hadn’t been that great, but we did a lot of little things right against Tarleton.”
Jillson said she is finally starting to notice her team come together and play cohesively.
“Really, I think we are starting to gel a lot more and have a lot more chemistry,” she said. “We are starting to understand what somebody else is going to do on the court. I know it seems like it’s late, but we have seven new players and everything is new to them. So, it’s not too late to peak at the right time and do something great.”
While the offense performed at a high level in the narrow loss to Tarleton State, the Pioneers will look for a much-needed repeat performance as they only scored 52 points against upcoming opponent Texas A&M-Commerce in the Nov. 28 loss at Commerce. More importantly for Jillson, the defense will have to step up to battle Commerce’s inside presence.
“[Against] Tarleton, we scored more points per possession than we have [in] any other game,” Jillson said. “We break it down with a formula and we want to score .8 points per possession, and that was the first time we’ve gotten there. Defensively, we weren’t as good as we needed to be inside. So we’ve focused on that because we know Commerce has a lot of inside, offensive power. They are just strong and they are going to be physical.”
While Breanna Harris and Amber Carver both went for double-doubles in the Nov. 28 meeting against the Pioneers, Jillson said she was concerned about Harris’ inside game along with La’Tisha Hearne. However, Jillson also said she felt like it would be a completely different game.
“Obviously, we have to do a better job on the boards,” Jillson said. “They had 19 offensive rebounds, so we are going to do a better job of being disciplined, boxing out, getting the boards and eliminating their second chance opportunities. We played them so long ago. It was their third game of the season and maybe our fifth game of the season. So, it was so early and I feel like both teams are completely different. Both teams have grown a lot and it will probably be a totally different game.”
With the Pioneers coming off a 52-50 victory at Cameron on Jan. 19 and the loss to Tarleton State, Jillson said the memory of that defeat would be on her team’s mind when they face Texas A&M-Commerce at 7 p.m. today.
“We’ve made some strides,” Jillson said. “We pulled off a win on the road against Cameron and came back from nine points down to get the two-point victory. I felt like we really played with a lot of heart and battled against Tarleton.
“We lost by two, but we had our chances to win that game and our players are going to remember that feeling when we walk out on that court [tonight].”
With the Pioneers currently in eighth — the final spot for a berth in the LSC tournament — and battling Commerce and Angelo State for tournament seeding, Jillson said it’s not a matter of just winning at home anymore. It’s a matter of winning.
“Of course we want to show our fans at home our very best, but at this point of the season we have to be more consistent,” Jillson said. “If you want to be in the conference tournament, you have to win. We are right there with Commerce, and we are kind of clustered at sixth, seventh and eighth. We can kind of separate ourselves if we win, so we understand what’s at stake.”
Gymnastics team falls
When the gymnastics team traveled Saturday to Colorado for its third meet of the season, TWU was in a position to win the meet heading into the final event. But some early mistakes cost the Pioneers.
“We had a pretty good meet going,” head coach Lisa Bowerman said. “It wasn’t a perfect meet in three events, but we had some great routines. We were neck and neck there with the other three teams [host Air Force, Missouri, UC Davis]. It was a really, really close battle after three rotations. We went into bars and we had some mistakes. Most of them were very uncharacteristic mistakes and a lot of that was due to focus, because those are things that don’t happen in the gym.”
The Pioneers have been working on consistency in the early season, and Bowerman attributed the lack of focus to the team’s battle with its own confidence.
“What tends to happen a lot of times is when the first or second person up makes a mistake, it kind of shakes everybody up a little bit,” Bowerman said. “We need to improve on responding to that. Spencer [Jones], who was first up on bars, fell over on a handstand, which was very uncharacteristic. The team really relies on the first person up on every event to set the tone. Those people that are in that spot are in there because they are generally one of our most consistent and confident competitors. So, when they mistake, you see everybody behind them tighten up a little bit.”
A bright spot for the Pioneers was senior Bethany Larimer, who set a personal best in the vault with a score of 9.875 in the previous meet.
“Bethany Larimer, I can’t say enough good things about her,” Bowerman said. “She is truly a leader for our team. Every event she competes she’s either the starter or the last up. She started us on beam and was first for the whole meet. She started off with a solid routine and really set the tone there. Then, in vault, she stuck her vault for her highest score of the year to win the event. On bars, after we had the several mistakes, she didn’t let it affect her performance.”
The Pioneers will compete in their second home meet of the season at 7 p.m. Saturday in Kitty Magee Arena, where the team will be raising funds for cancer research by conducting their annual “Think Pink” event. All fans coming to the meet will receive a free TWU gymnastics “Think Pink” rubber wristband. Also, funnel cakes, shaved ice, cotton candy, frozen yogurt sandwiches and twisted balloons will be offered while supplies last.
Softball opens Friday
The Pioneers open their softball season Friday at the St. Mary’s NCAA Division II College Classic in San Antonio.
TWU opens against UT-Permian Basin at 2 p.m. followed by St. Mary’s at 4 p.m.
The Pioneers were picked to finish second in the Lone Star Conference behind Angelo State. Also, for the second consecutive season, junior shortstop Bailey Vrazel was named LSC Preseason Player of the Year.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873.His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .