March 1, 2012
Bearcats hungry for more
By David Boyce
After gaining a share of the MIAA regular-season title, an outsider might assume Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball team is Thanksgiving Day stuffed.
After all, the Bearcats made a remarkable jump from not making the MIAA Tournament the last three years to one of the best teams in the conference in one season.
Northwest finished the regular season 21-5 overall and 15-5 and tied for first with Washburn and Central Missouri in the MIAA.
Also, in the latest South Central Regional ranking, the Bearcats are No. 4, making them virtually a lock to reach the NCAA Division II Tournament.
“It means a lot, especially for the kids who have put in a lot of effort in rebuilding this program and getting it to where it is now,” Northwest coach Ben McCollum said.
“I think it is a result of all the hard work they have put in the last three years and all the fun we had building it. Hopefully, we can continue that success and keep it going for years to come.”
If ever a team has earned a satisfied pat on the back, it is the 2011-12 Bearcats.
Northwest players have other things on their mind. The Bearcats head into their first-round game of the MIAA against Southwest Baptist at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City with one objective: win.
“We are still hungry,” said Northwest senior guard Kyle Haake. “We want to get the conference tournament championship, too.”
The Bearcats do appreciate what they have accomplished.
“It means a lot to us, especially when you have to go through the things we went through to win a conference,” said Northwest junior point guard DeShaun Cooper said. “We had to get used to a new coach and a new system and we finally get a share of the conference title in one of the toughest conferences in the country in Division II. It is a good feeling.”
The Bearcats head into the next phase of their season fully understanding what has got them this far in the first place.
Northwest lost two games in a row before facing Missouri Southern in the final regular season game.
A cloud was moving in to dampen such a bright season. The brief losing streak was coming at the wrong time.
The Bearcats figured out what was going wrong.
“It was definitely kind of a lesson to be learned,” Haake said. We did kind of drift apart. People were doing their own thing on the court. We had people maybe wanting to score more. People doing other things they don’t usually do.
“It was good to realize we got this far by being a team and playing to our strengths. We had to get back to that.”
Northwest did exactly that in a grind-it-out 67-64 victory over Missouri Southern last Saturday. The Bearcats got back to playing better defense.
Before the Southern game, the Bearcats lost 91-77 at SBU. In that game, Baptist made all seven of its three-point attempts in the second half and just missed four field goals in the last 20 minutes. For the game, SBU shot 62 percent from the field.
Northwest gets an opportunity to atone for that performance.
“I feel like the last time we played SBU they got the best of us,” Cooper said. “They played one of their better games of their season against us. Now it is a huge chip on our shoulders going in.”
Added Haake: “It is kind of exciting to get a chance to play them again. They outplayed us last time. We got to show we are that defensive team that can get stops. We have to focus on what they do offensively and play defense and take care of them.”
The Bearcats are entering new territory. What happened in November, December, January and February no longer matters.
“I want them to be hungry for another championship,” McCollum said. “I just want them to compete at a high level. Now, it is win or go home. It is not about getting better. It is about winning. You have to compete and give it your all.”
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