Jan. 1, 2009
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DEKALB, Ill. -The Northern Illinois University women's basketball team closes out the non-conference portion of its schedule when it plays host to Chicago State Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
Chicago State (7-7) comes into Saturday's action, winners of three of their last four. The Cougars defeated Air Force, 64-50, at home Tuesday night. They have played very well at home, winning five of seven, but have gone 2-5 on the road. The Huskies own an 8-3 record against the Cougars, and look to avenge a 64-57 loss at Chicago State last year.
The Huskies (5-7) have been playing some of their best basketball of the season the last three games, going 2-1 during that time and winning two straight. The stretch began with NIU's match up with DePaul Dec. 18, 2008. While the Huskies fell to the Blue Demons, 83-70, NIU head coach Carol Owens was pleased with her team's performance and the Huskies carried that play into their next game when NIU defeated UIC, 85-79, in overtime at home. NIU then went on the road to Southern Illinois Dec. 28, 2008 and handed the Salukis their first loss at home with a 67-55 win.
"Starting with the DePaul game, while we didn't come out with a win, I was really encouraged with how we played, how hard we played and how we stayed with it for 40 minutes," Owens said. "Then we had UIC at home. At the time, we were struggling at home for some reason. That was a huge win for us."
NIU is averaging 74 points a game in their last three outings, seven points better than their season average and Kylie York (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) is averaging 16.3 points a game during than span, up from her season average of 9.5 points a game. She earned MAC West Player of the Week honors earlier this week after scoring a game-high 17 points, going 5-of-7 from the field, all from beyond the three-point line, and 2-2 from the free throw line. She scored 14 of her 17 points in the second half to propel to the Huskies to victory.
"We are starting to have some leaders emerge," Owens said. "I think that was one thing that was missing early on. Kylie is leading by example, which has been very good."
Saturday's game marks the end of a 13-game stretch in which the Huskies played eight games on the road. Playing away from home was an area Owens addressed as a need for improvement at the beginning of the season and the Huskies have responded. NIU has already doubled last season's win total away from home of two, winning four games away from the Convocation Center this season.
"I think we've improved on the road," she said. "Our schedule was tough. A lot of the team's we played were at the top of their conference. That has challenged us in a lot of ways and just showed us where we have to grow as a team. We want to continue to get better on the road and be a good road team and take care of our home court."
After starting the season 2-4, the Huskies have gone 3-3 in their last six games and a big factor in that success has been NIU's ability to take care of the ball. Northern Illinois averaged 23.8 turnovers in its first six games, but have cut that to 17.2 turnovers a game during the last six. That improvement has Owens pleased with the direction of her team heading into Saturday's game and the upcoming MAC schedule.
"I'm happier now," she said. "Early on we weren't taking care of the ball as well. We've been taking care of the ball very well these last few games, which is very important. We've got to continue to get better defensively. Our scorers are emerging, but in order to win games, we have to defend."
Tip off is set for 2 p.m. For tickets, contact the NIU ticket office at 815-752-6800 or log on to www.niuhuskies.com. Fans can follow all the action live on 1360 AM WLBK with Bill Baker on the call and via Gametracker at www.niuhuskies.com.
Saturday is Huskie Pup Club Day, sponsored by Burger King. All members of the Huskie Pup Club will be welcomed to the game. The first 400 kids 12 and under will receive a yo-yo, compliments of Burger King. There will be an autograph session after the game and Pup Club members can shoot layups on the floor at the conclusion of the Huskies' game with Chicago State.
The Huskie Pup Club is open to all kids eighth grade or below. For only $35 a year, Pup Club members receive a Pup club t-shirt, official Pup Club membership card and admission for all regular season athletic contests. To join, call 815-753-0855 or go to www.niuhuskies.com.