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Notebook: TWU preps for first LSC road trip

After securing its first Lone Star Conference win in dramatic fashion over the weekend, the TWU basketball team faces the challenge of taking on the No. 5 team in the country on the road.

The Pioneers (4-3, 1-1 LSC) will look to shock the conference with an upset of West Texas A&M on Thursday, hoping to hand the Lady Buffs (7-0, 2-0) their first loss.

"It's a great opportunity and I think our girls know that," TWU coach Beth Jillson said. "I know one thing about this team — they will never back down from a challenge."

TWU has plenty of momentum after a thrilling win over Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday, as the Pioneers held on for a 50-48 victory thanks to Grace Mitchell's game-winner with six seconds to go.

Mitchell, who struggled throughout the majority of the game, came up big when the Pioneers needed it most. Now the team will need to feed off that finish on its first road trip in conference play.

After taking on West Texas, TWU will travel to take on Texas-Permian Basin on Saturday. The Falcons (3-5, 2-0) traditionally have struggled in conference play but are off to a fast start this season with wins over Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico.

"You want to win the ones you're supposed to and then some that you're not," Jillson said. "So it's a great challenge for us, and anytime you can get a road win in the LSC, it definitely helps."

On the offensive side of the ball, TWU will continue to adjust to senior Cienna Rodriguez taking over full time as its starting point guard. After struggling in the role against Angelo State, Rodriguez settled in and didn't turn the ball over in 31 minutes of action against Kingsville.

She'll continue to have plenty of help, most notably from senior forwards Alexis Nezianya and Whitney Apari. Nezianya is No. 6 in the LSC, scoring an average of 13.3 points, while ranking third in rebounds (9.4).

Apari, who transferred from Texas State before the year, is starting to find a rhythm. She scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Saturday's win.

"It is nice to have so many scorers, but I think Alexis has been the one who's been so consistent scoring and rebounding," Jillson said. "She's been the high point sometimes, and sometimes not. But she's always been in double figures and gets it done defensively."

While the offense has been able to spread the ball around, it's the other end of the court that will make the biggest difference in LSC play. If the Pioneers are going to string together wins, building on Saturday's defensive effort will be key.

TWU held Kingsville to 48 points a few days after allowing Angelo State to score 74 in a Pioneer loss. The Pioneers have the No. 7 scoring defense in the conference (63.6 points per game) and will look to chip away at that number over the next few weeks.

"Our defense really stepped up [against Kingsville]," Jillson said. "Against Angelo, we were really flat and weren't communicating like we should have. Whether you're making shots or not, you've got to be able to defend. It's crucial."