Huskies on the Hunt for Tournament Hosting Rights on Senior Day

GO HUSKIES Ashley Sneed and Alicia Johnson will be honored prior to Saturday's game for their contributions to the program.
Ashley Sneed and Alicia Johnson will be honored prior to Saturday's game for their contributions to the program.

March 7, 2014

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Game 28 - vs Western Michigan (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
Saturday, March 8 (1 p.m.)
Live Stats:
Radio: WLBK 98.9 FM; 1360 AM; NIUTube (12:45 p.m. pregame)
Play-by-Play: Andy Garcia
Twitter: @NIUscores

In its regular season finale, Northern Illinois will honor its seniors Alicia Johnson and Ashley Sneed while on the hunt for a No. 8 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Saturday, March 8 versus Western Michigan. The Huskies and Broncos will tipoff at 1 p.m., Central, in the first game of a doubleheader at the NIU Convocation Center. The game will be aired live in DeKalb on WLBK FM 98.9 and 1360 AM.

Northern Illinois women's basketball can be followed in a myriad of ways throughout the season. Audio of all of NIU's games will be available for fans to listen to live and on-demand (subscription required). Play-by-play man Andy Garcia, now in his third year, will be on the call for the Huskies this season and is joined by former Huskie assistant coach Ethel Gregory during home games. Fans can also follow the team on Facebook and Twitter. Like "NIU Huskies" on Facebook and follow @GoHuskiesWBB and @NIUathletics on Twitter. Gameday updates and scores from all women's basketball games can be found @NIUscores.

The Huskies hit the road for their final road game of the season at Ball State Wednesday night, looking to avenge a loss to the Cardinals on February 9 at the Convocation Center. NIU would dominate the run of the play for the opening eight minutes of the contest until BSU came back to take the lead with 10 minutes left in the period. The Huskies and the Cardinals traded blows for the rest of the frame, trading runs to close and extend the lead in the game, respectively. Ball State closed the half on a 7-0 run, capped by a layup at the buzzer by Cardinal guard Brandy Woody, to lead Northern Illinois at halftime, 35-27. Freshman Jazmine Harris scored 10 points in the first half.

In the second stanza, the Huskies and the Cardinals continued to trade runs as BSU extended its lead to 11 and 15 in the period until NIU closed the gap to within two and three points. However, Ball State was red hot from behind the three-point line as it was 11-for-26 (.423) outside of the arc to defeat the Huskies, 67-57. NIU had three players reach double figures with Harris reaching the mark in the first half and finishing with 10 points. Junior Jenna Thorp led Northern Illinois with 14 points, going 4-for-4 from the field in the first half and nailing two baskets from behind the arc. Danny Pulliam rounded out the Huskie scorers with 12 points in the contest.

Saturday marks the final regular season games of the Mid-American Conference season with six games on the docket with tournament seeding implications on the line. Outside of the Huskies and Broncos matchup, Northern Illinois fans will want to follow the Eastern Michigan-Central Michigan contest in Ypsilanti, as well as the Toledo-Ball State game in Muncie, Ind. NIU is looking to capture a No. 8 seed and the right to host a first round contest in the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Monday, March 10. What is known is that NIU will play EMU. Where the game will be played, is still up for grabs.

With a win over Western Michigan, a win by Toledo and a loss by Eastern Michigan, the Huskies would clinch the No. 8 seed and host the Eagles Monday --- Northern Illinois' only scenario to host a first round game. NIU would become the tournaments ninth seed with a Ball State victory, an Eastern Michigan victory at CMU or a Huskie loss to WMU. Updates on Northern Illinois' tournament seeding will be posted on later Saturday afternoon.

Saturday's game will be the Huskies third-straight regular season finale against Western Michigan. In the previous two meetings, Northern Illinois was edged as WMU won in overtime in 2012, 66-64, and in regulation in 2013, 58-50. The Huskies had the last laugh in 2012, however, as they hosted the Broncos three days later at the Convocation Center in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. NIU was up by as much as 25 in the contest, leading from start to finish to defeat the Broncos, 68-51. The MAC Tournament win over Western Michigan was Northern Illinois' last victory in the series.

The Huskies will honor their two seniors, Alicia Johnson (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) and Ashley Sneed (Harvey, Ill./Thornton), prior to Saturday's game against Western Michigan. Both Johnson and Sneed have made over 100 career appearances for Northern Illinois and are the first two players in program history to play four years under fourth year Head Coach Kathi Bennett.

Saturday's affair with the Broncos will be the Huskies second meeting with Western Michigan as NIU opened the month of February in Kalamazoo, Mich., in the first meeting. NIU was able to penetrate the defense, posting 62 shots but was unable to sink enough as the Huskies fell, 56-43.

While the box score shows a start to finish WMU performance, the Huskies had their chances in the effort as a lot of Northern Illinois' shots went in and out of the rim. NIU finished the game 19-for-62 (.306) from the field in the game with Danny Pulliam making 5-of-11 shots taken for a total of 11 points. Freshman Jazmine Harris had the top field goal percentage in the affair with a 4-for-8 performance and eight points.

Western Michigan is 12-16 heading into the regular season finale with a clip of 8-9 in Mid-American Conference games. The Broncos showed a run of good form to close the month of February with three-straight victories over Ohio, Toledo and Eastern Michigan, however, WMU has been cold in the month of March as it has lost two-straight games to Ball State and at Central Michigan, but, is still 3-2 in its last five games. Prior to the three game winning streak, the Broncos lost three-consecutive games as well. Marquisha Harris has led the Broncos in scoring the last five games, averaging 20.8 points per game in that span. Western Michigan will host a first round game in the Mid-American Conference Tournament next Monday and can finish as high as fifth and as low as seventh in the final MAC standings.

While Harris has had the hot hand as of late, Miracle Woods is the Broncos leading scorer with a mark of 17.0 points per game. Woods is also the team's leading rebounder with 7.5 boards per game, followed closely by Harris' 7.0 rebound per game mark. Despite having three players average six-or-more rebounds per game, Michelle O'Brien being the other (6.6), the Broncos are being outrebounded by opponents, 40-38. Point guard Alex Morton is averaging just over seven points per game, 7.4, and nearly four assists per game at a mark 3.9 helpers.

The Northern Illinois forwards have been strong throughout the entire season but the consistency of their production has increased as of late as post presence is now manufactured off of the bench as well. The trio of Natecia Augusta, Jazmine Harris and Jenna Thorp have accounted for 48.6 percent of the teams points in the last four games (30.0 PPG) and 53.1 percent of the teams rebounds in that span (19.3 RPG). Harris leads the trio in averages in the last four games with 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, while Augusta is the second scorer at 10.3 points and 6.3 boards. Thorp is the median at 9.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

While its total was not its highest of the season, Northern Illinois had its best rebounding margin Wednesday night at Ball State since January 4 in the Huskies MAC opener against Ohio. Last time out against the Cardinals, NIU posted a +9 rebounding margin as it posted 34 boards to BSU's 25. Versus the Bobcats in the conference opener,  NIU was +13 in rebounds, five shy of tying its season-high against Mississippi Valley State in the home opener on November 11, 2013. NIU set its season-high in rebounds against the Devilettes, grabbing 51 boards in the game.

The Huskies are playing their seventh and final return game of the Mid-American Conference season Saturday versus Western Michigan, after starting their return schedule February 15 at Buffalo. After going 4-7 in its first round of games, NIU is 1-5 in return games thus far after defeating Toledo February 27 in overtime, 68-59. Most recently, the Huskies dropped a 67-57 contest at Ball State in the road season finale. As junior Natecia Augusta put it in an interview before the game Central Michigan on January 15, "one of our goals this season is to at least one game versus each of our conference opponents, or win both."

Despite starting off the season with an injury sustained during a preseason scrimmage that forced her to miss the first three games of the season, junior Jenna Thorp has had a career season for the Huskies in 2013-14. Her efficiency has improved as she has played an average of four fewer minutes per game than last season, yet she has set career-highs in field goals made (61), field goal percentage (.412), rebounds per game (5.5) and offensive rebounds (47).

Last time out at Ball State, senior Ashley Sneed made her 100th career appearance for Northern Illinois as she entered the game wih 13:29 remaining in the first half. She became the second Huskie to reach the 100-game plateau this season as her classmate, Johnson, surpassed the century mark January 29 versus Kent State at the NIU Convocation Center.

Junior Natecia Augusta had a consistent Wednesday night at Ball State as she scored nine points and pulled down eight rebounds, falling just shy of her fifth double-double of the season. It was her 11th game this season in which she scored at least eight points and grabbed six rebounds.

Junior Amanda Corral did a little bit of everything at Eastern Michigan on March 2, despite being ill.  While she only scored seven points against the Eagles, she was flawless from the free throw line, 3-for-3, with three offensive rebounds, three assists and a steal.

In two of the last three games, freshman Jazmine Harris has recorded 22-or-more minutes in a game for the first time in her career. Versus Toledo, Harris played a career-high 24 minutes to surpass her previous long of 19 minutes against Northern Iowa on December 21. At Eastern Michigan, the West Allis, Wis., native appeared in 22 minutes of the game. In each of those games, Harris recorded the top-two rebounding performances of her career at nine and eight against the Rockets and Eagles, respectively.

In the last six minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime versus Toledo on February 27, Northern Illinois was white-hot from field shooting 11-of-14 (.786), including 3-for-3 from behind the three-point line to outscore  Toledo, 28-12. Alexis Lindstrom was 2-for-2 behind the arc, including one trey in overtime while Amanda Corral nailed the other three-point basket in overtime. NIU was 5-of-7 (.714) in the final six minutes of regulation.

The Huskies played its first overtime game in almost two years last Thursday versus Toledo, last playing free basketball February 28, 2011 at Western Michigan, a 66-64 loss for Northern Illinois. After a dominating finish for NIU, the Huskies defeated UT, 68-59, to earn their first overtime victory since November 16, 2011 versus Western Illinois in double overtime, 91-84. Of the nine Huskies that played in the contest, three players -- freshmen Jazmine Harris and Ally Lehman, and sophomore Alexis Lindstrom -- had never played in an overtime game. Harris had four points in overtime, making two free throws and basket, while Lindstrom hit a three-pointer to kickstart an 8-0 run for NIU to start the period.

Freshman Jazmine Harris has had her ups and downs throughout the season but has been one of the Huskies most exciting players off the bench in 24 games this season. In the last five games, Harris has averaged 9.5 points per game for Northern Illinois as she has posted double-figures three times in the recent run of good form, scoring 14 points against Central Michigan on February 22, 12 versus Toledo on February 27 and 10 points in the first half at Ball State, her first double-digit scoring effort on the road this season.

Against Toledo, Jazmine Harris posted several season-highs in the game as she played a vital role in the Huskies first victory over the Rockets since 2011. Harris pulled down a season-high nine rebounds, seven off the defensive glass to set career-highs in both categories. The freshman also played 24 minutes in the 45 minute overtime contest, surpassing her previous longest outing of 19 minutes against Northern Iowa on December 21.

The Huskies have had their tendencies this season and scoring down in the paint has been a strength of the team. Through 27 games this year, NIU has averaged 25 points in the paint per game. 21 times this season Northern Illinois has accumulated 20-or-more points and has scored 30-or-more five times. The Huskies had their second-best performance in the paint against Central Michigan on February 22 as they scored 40 points in the post, two points shy of their season-high versus Northern Iowa on December 21.

Sophomore Alexis Lindstrom has shot with confidence from behind the three-point line over the last eight games for the Huskies as Lindstrom has hit .410 of her shots, draining 18-of-44 shots attempted. Versus Toledo Lindstrom was 4-of-5 from behind the line, including one in overtime, to tie season-highs in three-point shots made and points with 14. Heading into this run of good form, Lindstrom only made 3-of-12 shots attempted in the previous five games.

In the second half of the Huskies Mid-American Conference games, Amanda Corral has been NIU's go to player as she is averaging 7.7 points in the period and shooting .454 from the field at a rate of 48-for-104. Collectively, Northern Illinois has shot .425 during the second half in their last 17 games.

The Northern Illinois bench has been playing large for the Huskies over the last eight games, combining for 152 points in that span, a +47 margin and 19.0 point per game average over their opponents 105 (13.1 ppg). Sophomore Alexis Lindstrom has led the NIU bench players in four of those games and is averaging 6.4 points over that period, while freshman Jazmine Harris is pacing the squad with 8.1 points per game off the bench with four games of 10-or-more points. Ashley Sneed contributed to the team's bench output as she scored 12 against Central Michigan on February 22.

Northern Illinois will open the Mid-American Conference Tournament Monday, March 10 with a first round matchup versus Eastern Michigan with a site to be determined on Saturday afternoon. Visit Saturday evening for more information on the Huskies' MAC Tournament seeding.



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