After splitting games against Regis and Central Oklahoma last week, the TWU basketball team is set to close out its tough pre-conference schedule with a road matchup against Emporia State on Saturday afternoon.
The Pioneers are off to a 3-1 start for the second consecutive season but now face the challenge of taking on a nationally ranked program early in the year.
The No. 22 Hornets are coming off a 29-5 season that ended with a trip to the NCAA South Central Regional. It's the first time TWU has faced Emporia State since Jillson's first year as head coach in 2007.
"It's a really tough environment to play in," Jillson said. "You have to be mentally ready and mentally tough, and it's going to be loud and a little intimidating and you just have to embrace that. But it's a good opportunity for our players."
The Pioneers have continued to show the ability to spread the ball around to a variety of scorers. The team has had three different leading scorers through four games, and seven players have scored in double digits at least once.
Alexis Nezianya has been the most consistent scorer for TWU, averaging a team-high 12.8 points. Kara Mitchell stepped up to score 22 points in the win over Regis, while Desiree Phipps scored a team-high 15 points without missing a shot to lead the Pioneers to an earlier win over Western State.
Jillson said the Pioneers are trying to find a rhythm offensively as they search for the right time to get each player involved. As that chemistry improves, she is confident the team has plenty of weapons to look to offensively.
"I think at times we press and get a little antsy because we do have so many scorers," Jillson said. "I think that's where time comes in, and the better the chemistry gets the better we will get to know each other. But I am proud of how many different players have been able to step up for us."
While Nezianya has been the most consistent scorer, it's her rebounding ability that has made the biggest impact for the Pioneers. She is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game, ranking second in the Lone Star Conference, and will have to continue to control the boards to give TWU a chance to knock off Emporia State.
"I need to find ways to get her the ball a little more," Jillson said. "I've been really proud of the way she has stepped up and done what we knew she could do. She's averaging a double-double, which is awesome, and we really rely on that every night from her."
After taking on the Hornets, the Pioneers will return home and begin LSC play next week. With just one game left before conference play, Jillson said the team is focused on taking another step forward.
"It's important to just focus on what we do well, especially on the road, because you don't know if you're going to be making your shots or not," Jillson said. "We need to come out better in the third quarter and put together four good quarters in order to beat them on the road."