Come Friday’s semifinal game against NJIT, the Utah Valley women’s basketball team try to do what they’ve managed just once in conference play.
Beat a team for the second time.
That team was Houston Baptist, an injury-riddled tragedy that ended at the hands of NJIT on Thursday. The Huskies ended the season 1-27 and had just seven active players in Thursday’s quarterfinal game, leaving Highlanders head coach Margaret McKeon no illusions of earned momentum after their 61-42 win.
“They’re not as talented as they would be if they had the kids that were out due to injuries,” McKeon said. “It was a tough game going into, because we felt they were just overmatched by us. I was [hoping] in the first half to see ball movement and see some things defensively. I wasn’t pleased with our effort, or the lack thereof.”
McKeon acknowledged Utah Valley will be a much tougher out, recalling their 2010 surprise run to the tournament championship
“They have a tradition of winning. They’ve been very successful at this tournament. Even though  was at their place, I still anticipate them coming out to get to a championship game.”
A winning history perhaps, but winning habits have been hard to come by for this year’s edition. Utah Valley hasn’t won consecutive games since Feb. 2, the first of which came at NJIT. Since then it’s been a case of win one, lose one, putting them on schedule to win Friday after dropping their regular season finale to North Dakota.
The Highlanders, however, enter the game with a proven formula from their Feb. 9 win at Orem. In that game NJIT threw all manner of defenders and defenses at newly minted GWC Player of the Year Sammie Jensen. The junior forward struggled, shooting just 5-of-14 while committing four turnovers.
“She’s a tough guard. They do look for her and she’s their first and second option, it seems like. We’ll throw a lot of people on her. It was successful in the second game. [UVU has] very good coaches, so they’re going to make adjustments as well.”
Assuming the Highlanders stick with that approach, the onus will be on fellow post player Erika Newbold and the Wolverines’ perimeter players to step up. The former proved capable in the home loss to NJIT, posting a double-double of 12 points and 14 rebounds. It was the latter group that struggled, as the rest of the team limped to an 8-for-24 effort from the field.
Since that game UVU’s guards have improved to a degree, with senior Jenna Johnson flourishing as the team’s sixth man and true freshman Taylor Huber growing into a consistent contributor on offense. UVU head coach Cathy Nixon hopes the team will use the best from the season – while leaving the worst behind.
“I think we can keep a sense of confidence knowing we can beat each of [the teams in the tournament],” Nixon said. “But also keep in mind we need to play well to do so. I think that really is applicable to NJIT. I feel like they’r a team we need to come out and play well on both sides of the floor.”