Early returns for Lady Eagle basketball
While most students will be preparing for exams and looking forward to their winter breaks, the Lady Eagles will be preparing for the most difficult part of their schedule that could possibly determine the outcome of their season. After the road game win at South Alabama, the Lady Eagles will face three undefeated teams back to back.
“Every game is a coin flip,” said Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis.
In the first game, the Lady Eagles will find themselves in a David and Goliath scenario as they face Mississippi State. Mississippi State is currently undefeated and is ranked as the sixth best team in the country.
After Mississippi State, the Lady Eagles will get the following week off, then enter the Las Vegas Classic where they will face California, Xavier and Northern Kentucky. Although Cal is undefeated and has received votes for the Top 25, their schedule has been very weak. This could be an opportunity for the Lady Eagles to gain a big win.
Like Cal, Xavier is also unbeaten and has played a weak schedule. Much like Southern Miss, Xavier will be in the heart of the toughest part of their schedule when they play USM. Northern Kentucky has only two wins so far this season and should be a breather for the Lady Eagles. The biggest thing the Lady Eagles need to do is to not overlook NKU and to try to stay rested after playing Xavier and Cal.
“This team has got to understand that [in] having [poor] quarters, we don’t have a shot at winning those games,” Lee-McNelis said. “All we got to do is keep those games close and then anything can happen.”
After the Las Vegas tournament, the Lady Eagles will open conference play in three more road games. They will start conference play by taking on rival Louisiana Tech on Dec. 30. After La. Tech, they will face Texas-San Antonio, who finished third to last in the conference last season and will hopefully be another breather for the Lady Eagles. The long road trip will finish at Texas-El Paso, who finished first in the conference last season. Despite finishing at the top of the conference last season, the Miners have started the season at 2 – 5.
Although this long road game stretch could be physically and mentally exhausting, it could also be seen as an opportunity. The Lady Eagles currently sit at the top of the conference, but this stretch could make or break them. The Lady Eagles are more than capable of going 6 – 1 in this stretch. They can not only use the opportunity to gain national attention but affirm themselves as top dog in the conference.
Notably, even if the Lady Eagles do stumble in this stretch of games, they will finish the last three games of the season at home. This could be vital later in the season if the team is on the verge of making the postseason.
“We’ve got to have [Jayla King and Brittanny Dinkins] along with some others that are playing some veteran minutes to play with some poise and take care of it,” Lee- McNelis said. “As good as we are playing right now, it can all spiral. It’s left up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.”