Basketball teams gear up for NAC Tournament
Athletics - posted on 2/22/2010
The Lakeland men's and women's basketball teams each begin Northern Athletics Conference Tournament play this week, with the winner of each tournament clinching a bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The seventh-seeded men's team begins play this Tuesday at Aurora, while the women, the No. 3 seed, begin the postseason Wednesday at home against Alverno. Both games are set to tip off at 7 p.m.
The Muskies enter the postseason having won four of their last six, including a 68-61 victory at Dominican in Saturday's NAC Challenge Game. Lakeland finished the regular season with a 12-13 record, including an 8-8 mark in the league, which was good for fourth place in the North Division.
Lakeland, which failed to qualify for the conference tournament a year ago, has improved its ability to take care of the ball. The team is currently third in the NAC in turnover margin (+1.28) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (13.6-14.6).
The team enters postseason play without its leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore forward Jake Schwarz, who is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury.
The Muskies will look to guards Josh Regal and Khendal Andrews to provide scoring punch. Regal averages 13.0 points per game and is second in the league in assists, while Andrews is the team's best perimeter shooter and lone senior. On the interior, Lakeland will rely on forwards Trevor McKown and Germell Heard in Schwarz's absence.
"We are coming off a nice road win on Saturday when one of our weaknesses this season has been winning on the road," Lakeland coach Aaron Aanonsen said. "We held Dominican to a low shooting percentage and rebounded well. Hopefully we can duplicate that performance on Tuesday."
Aurora (15-10, 11-5 NAC) enters tournament play after winning the league's South Division. The Spartans have won eight of their last nine games, with the only loss coming Saturday at North Division champion Concordia, Wis., in the NAC Challenge Game.
Aurora is the conference's top scoring offense, averaging 88.0 points per game, and has been among the top five in the nation in scoring for most of the season.
The Spartans also lead the NAC in several other statistical categories, including scoring margin (6.0 points per game), turnover margin (4.64 pg), steals (9.8 pg), assists (17.2 pg), field goal percentage (.495) and 3-point field goal percentage (.393).
Six players are averaging at least nine points per game for Aurora.
"Aurora's experience is a concern," Aanonsen said. "They start four seniors and have five guys averaging double figures. They are balanced and shoot a high percentage.
"We need to control the tempo, limit second-chance points and get easy baskets ourselves inside."
In the only meeting between the two teams this season, Aurora shot 50 percent from the field and 54.2 percent from beyond the arc, defeating the visiting Muskies, 82-74, on Jan. 16. Lakeland got to within 40-39 early in the second half, but was blitzed by a 10-0 Spartan run and never recovered.
The Spartans' Dusty Magee torched Lakeland for 28 points and eight 3-pointers. Four Lakeland players scored in double figures, including Andrews, who made five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points.
Lakeland's season has ended against Aurora in the program's two other appearances in the NAC Tournament. The Muskies knocked off top-seeded Aurora, 82-77 in overtime, in the tournament final on March 1, 2008. The Spartans defeated Lakeland in the semifinals the year before, 86-72, on Feb. 23, 2007. Both games were played at Aurora.
The Lakeland women's team has won nine of its last 10 games after dropping three in a row midway through the season. The Muskies (19-6, 13-4 NAC) knocked off Benedictine, 66-61, in Saturday's NAC Challenge Game in Lisle, Ill.
Last season, Lakeland was defeated at Aurora in the NAC Tournament quarterfinals. Players and coaches hope for a different result this season after earning a home game to start postseason play.
"It's tournament time," Lakeland coach Teri Johnson said. "Every game could be our last … if you don't show up, it can slip away. We have to play good, solid ball and take care of the basketball."
The Muskies lead the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 54.1 points per game, and are first in scoring margin (9.1 points per game). The team's daunting full-court press has created havoc for opposing teams, generating a league-high 14.2 steals per game and a stellar +8.64 turnover margin.
In addition, Lakeland is perhaps the deepest team in the league, as 10 players average at least 10 minutes per game.
On Jan. 9, Alverno defeated Lakeland, 61-55, at the Moose & Dona Woltzen Gymnasium. The Muskies took a 29-14 lead after one half of play, but the Inferno shot 56.3 percent in the second half and scored 47 points to upend Lakeland.
Gabby Allen, Alverno's leading scorer, scored 21 of her game-high 24 points, getting in the lane at will for easy baskets.
"We need to stop the ball in transition," said forward KC Blahnik, the Muskies' leading scorer and rebounder. "(Allen) took over in the second half and they did whatever they wanted on offense. We can't let them get comfortable on us."
Alverno (13-12, 11-7), which is making its first-ever NAC Tournament appearance in any sport, leads the conference in field goal percentage (.423) and is third in scoring offense with 64.4 points per game. The Inferno, which finished third in the South Division, is also averaging 5.9 blocks per game, good for first in the league.
"Alverno is quick and decent inside, but I think we match up fairly well with them," Johnson said. "We have to be ready to defend. I think we can use our depth to our advantage and come out aggressively."
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