NATCHITOCHES – Jha’ne Wheeler is just a freshman, 11 games into her college basketball career, but she well could speak for the remainder of her Northwestern State women’s basketball teammates.
Coming off a 65-point win in which a pair of school records fell, Wheeler and the Lady Demons could be excused for wishing they didn’t have to wait eight days to play again. However, that is the position Northwestern State finds itself in entering Thursday’s Southland Conference opener against Nicholls at Prather Coliseum.
The matchup with Nicholls (5-6) comes more than a week after the Lady Demons (5-6) broke for the Christmas holidays fresh off an 87-22 win against Central Baptist in their final non-conference game.
In that game, Northwestern State established school records for fewest points allowed in a game and steals (35) while forcing more than 35 turnovers for the first time since December 2014.
“I would (like to continue playing) because of the momentum we have going,” Wheeler said. “You take a break may stop the momentum a little bit, but when we come back, we’ll be ready for our next opponent.”
Northwestern State’s exploits came in a game where second-year head coach Jordan Dupuy completely swapped out his starting lineup from the previous two games. It was the seventh different combination used by Dupuy in the Lady Demons’ 11 non-conference games.
“It’s something I’m going to feel out,” Dupuy said of his starting lineup for the conference opener. “We’ll see who responds and who got something done over the break. I’m not going to have a set lineup. I’m going to mix up lineups in practice. Anyone can start on any given day. It’s about what you do between games and the effort you put in. Hopefully, I made that point against Central Baptist.”
Northwestern State has, for the most part, made its point successfully in Southland Conference openers. NSU is 21-9 all-time in SLC openers, winning four of its past five conference lid-lifters.
It will mark the fourth time the Lady Demons and Colonels have met in a Southland Conference opener with Northwestern State winning the previous three meetings.
That history doesn’t matter to Dupuy.
“They’ll be battle tested,” Dupuy said of the Colonels. “They’ve played the likes of Baylor and Iowa State and have been within one point at SMU. They’re not going to be intimidated.”
Part of that confidence comes from the versatility of guard Cassidy Barrios, a preseason second-team All-Southland Conference selection.
Barrios is the only Southland player who ranks in the top five in the league in both scoring (14.5 points per game, 5th) and rebounding (8.8 per game, 2nd). Barrios’ versatility is only one part of a puzzle that has Dupuy concerned about the Colonels.
“(Nicholls coach) DoBee (Plaisance) always plays a matchup zone, and it is very difficult to attack,” Dupuy said. “(Barrios) is going to be a difficult matchup as well. We have to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Thursday’s game can be heard on 97.5 FM KDBH in Natchitoches and via streaming audio on www.NSUDemons.com. Tony Taglavore, in his 10th season, will handle the play-by-play call of the game.