Jan. 13, 2009
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DEKALB, Ill. - After playing 10 of its first 15 games on the road, the Northern Illinois University women's basketball team returns to the Convocation Center to open a three-game homestand when the Huskies take on Western Michigan Wednesday night.
Tip off for the Huskies and Broncos is 7 p.m. Fans can follow all the action live on 1360 WLBK with Bill Baker on the call. For tickets, contact the NIU ticket office at 815-752-6800 or log on to www.niuhuskies.com.
The Huskies (6-9, 1-1) return home after a 1-1 road trip that saw Northern Illinois open Mid-American Conference play with a 75-70 victory at Central Michigan, its first victory in a conference opener for the Huskies in four seasons under NIU head coach Carol Owens. NIU dropped the second game of the trip to Toledo, 78-66.
NIU's game with Western Michigan (4-11, 0-2) is not only the beginning of three-straight games in the friendly surroundings of the Convocation Center, it's part of a stretch of five of six home games for the Huskies. Owens feels this is the time for NIU to build some momentum at home and in the Mid-American Conference.
"Hopefully we can get into a rhythm playing at home," Owens said. "Every game is important, but I'm hoping we can get into some kind of comfort playing at home during these next few games. We haven't played at home in a while. When we did, it was one game at home then three on the road. I'm hoping we can get some stability at home during this stretch."
The Huskies are led by sophomore center Ebony Ellis (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Township). She posted her third double-double of the season and fifth of her career in NIU's game with Toledo Saturday, scoring a team-high 14 points and grabbing a game-high 16 boards. She leads Northern in scoring, averaging 10.9 points a game, and is the top rebounder in the MAC with 9.4 boards a contest. Owens attributes Ellis' ability to adjust to her opponents and NIU's guard play to her recent resurgence.
"Early on, she had some big games for us," Owens said. "Then there was a stretch where she didn't have the numbers, but her presence was still a factor and teams started to key on her. It's about her making adjustments when teams start taking things away from her.
"It also helps when Jessie Wilcox and Kylie York are playing as well as they're playing. Then we have that balance. I think the guard play has helped her and Mauvolyene Adams be the best they can. Ebony's work ethic is one of the best on the team."
York is second on the team in scoring, averaging 9.8 points a game and is third in the MAC and 30th in the nation in three-pointers made, hitting 2.5 threes a game. Wilcox scored a season- and game-high 18 points in the Huskies' victory over Central Michigan and is averaging 9.4 points a game. She leads the MAC in free throw percentage, shooting 94.4 percent from the charity stripe.
Western Michigan comes to town in search of its first MAC win of the season. The Broncos opened conference play at home, losing to Toledo in their conference opener and falling to Ball State Saturday. The Broncos have a new head coach this season, Tasha McDowell. She came to WMU after spending three years as an assistant coach of the University of Wisconsin. The Broncos have two players averaging in double figures with Miame Giden scoring 12.8 points a game and Tiera DeLeHoussaye averaging 12.2 points.
Western Michigan owns a 24-14 lead in the all-time series, however, the two teams have split the last four meetings. The Huskies beat the Broncos in the final meeting of 2008, while WMU posted a 75-51 win when the two met in Kalamazoo last year. NIU posted one of its biggest wins of 2007-08, defeating then-MAC West leader Western Michigan, 67-65, Feb. 27, 2008 in the Convocation Center.
Down 65-64 with 29 seconds left to play, Jessie Wilcox hit a jumper in the lane to give NIU a 66-65 lead. Western Michigan turned the ball over on the ensuing possession. The Broncos promptly fouled Whitney Lowe, who then made one of two free throws to seal the victory for NIU. York and Adams each finished with 11 points.
Wednesday night is the beginning of the Complex Challenge. The floors in the various residence halls on campus will compete with each other and the floor with the highest attendance percentage will win pizza delivered to their floor by the women's basketball coaching staff. Wednesday night is Grant Hall Night.