Sep 4, 2013
DEKALB, Ill. - As part of the Mid-American Conference's schedule announcement, the Northern Illinois women's basketball team released its 2013-14 schedule Wednesday. The Huskies slate features 13 contests at the Convocation Center and three games against NCAA Tournament participants, including Wisconsin-Green Bay, whom NIU opens the season at Friday, November 8.
"This year's schedule is a tough one," said Head Coach Kathi Bennett, "I feel like our non-conference schedule is the toughest its been since I've been here and I think that level of competition will blend right in with the MAC this year, which is going to be very strong."
The season-opener against the Phoenix will serve as a homecoming for Bennett as she is an alumna of UW-Green Bay. The Phoenix reached as-high-as 20th in the national polls and was No. 11 in the Spokane region of the NCAA Tournament, however they fell to No. 6 seed LSU in the first round of play, 75-71.
The Huskies will follow up with their home-opener Tuesday, November 12 against Mississippi Valley State at 7 p.m. The Devilettes were 14 points away from a berth in the dance as they fell to Prairie View A&M in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship.
After a trip to Wisconsin November 17, where Bennett served as an assistant before coming to NIU, and a home contest against Bradley November 21, Northern Illinois will head to New Mexico for the Aggie Hotel Encanto Thanksgiving Classic November 29-30. Host New Mexico State will welcome Lamar, UW-Milwaukee and the Huskies to this year's edition.
Northern Illinis will play its second NCAA Tournament opponent on Tuesday, December 17 when it heads to South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. In its final game before the holiday season, Northern Illinois will host Northern Iowa Saturday December 21, before closing out 2013 and its non-conference schedule with a December 31 game against Illinois-Chicago at the Convocation Center.
NIU will then hit the meat and potatoes of its schedule January 4 when it opens MAC play at the Convocation Center versus Ohio. The Huskies first two road contests in the Mid-American Conference are at Toledo, the regular-season champion, and at Central Michigan, the MAC Tournament champion, January 9 and 15, respectively.
"It's nice to start conference play at home versus Ohio," said Bennett, "it's nice to start out after Christmas break at home so you're able to get home, get comfortable and settled in. We definitely start out pretty tough though with our second and fourth conference games at Toledo and Central Michigan. They'll both probably be two of the top teams in the MAC West this year. We're looking forward to that challenge."
After a two month gauntlet of Mid-American Conference play, Northern Illinois will close the regular season at home versus Western Michigan Saturday, March 8. The first round of the MAC Tournament, hosted on campus sites, will start March 10. The following rounds of the tournament will take place March 12-15 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
"In the MAC, I feel anybody can beat anybody on any given night. The parity is even and it's going to be a competitive year," added Bennett.
On the team's travel this year, Bennett added "We have a couple weeks in January where it's a Wednesday-Saturday or Thursday-Sunday on the road. In those kinds of situations, it comes down to mental toughness and it doesn't matter when you play, you just have to be ready when you step between the lines. I think that's something this team can handle. I've seen them get tougher mentally this offseason and it's going to take that toughness, especially in February, during the meat of our schedule."
The Huskies finished 7-23 a year ago but return two players, Amanda Corral and Jenna Thorp, who started in 29 of NIU's 30 contests last season. Varying its lineup night-to-night, Northern Illinois also returns five players with 10-or-more starts in 2012-13 and welcomes five newcomers.
Corral led the Huskies in points per game (12.7), rebounds per game (5.0) and assists per game (2.0) last season. She is the only player in the Mid-American Conference returning in 2013-14 whom led her team in all three of the major statistical categories.