Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – After nearly a month of road games and road trips, the Pacific Lutheran University women's basketball team returns to Olson Gymnasium this weekend for two Northwest Conference matchups against Willamette University and Lewis & Clark College. The Lutes are hoping to finely tune their attention to detail as they eye their first conference win.
"We're continuously trying to get down to the little things," head coach Jennifer Childress said. "The team is starting to understand the umbrella of our game plan, but no offense can fully function without players setting good screens and creating good plays out of those screens."
As the Lutes (4-9, 0-4 NWC) prepare themselves for the barrage of conference play that awaits them, the team's younger players have begun to understand the volatility and unpredictability that comes with NWC competition.
"We know that anybody can beat anybody in this conference, and so we're going to bring our best game to any foe that we face," Childress said. "Willamette is coming in as one of the most improved teams in the conference, and Lewis & Clark brings some extra speed and quickness that we're hoping to contain on Saturday."
Hoping to lead her younger teammates into relatively unfamiliar territory, junior Anna Hurd is staying just as hyper-focused as usual on the court this week. With two years of NWC experience, Hurd knows exactly what her teammates should expect this weekend.
"Coming off of last weekend, we know what we need to improve on and we're excited to be back on our home court," Hurd said.
As the demands of her biology classes pick up, Hurd has been focusing as much time as she can on team chemistry, which is crucial for the Lutes as their contests become more demanding.
"Our team has been bonding much more in the past few weeks," Hurd said. "We've been having a lot of team dinners lately, and those events and opportunities can really pay off on the court when everything's clicking."
The Lutes will put that chemistry to the test this weekend, and from there they'll have a quick turnaround before taking on their crosstown rival University of Puget Sound on Tuesday.
Jan. 12: PLU vs. Willamette at Olson Gymnasium (6 p.m.)
Series History: The Lutes and Bearcats have battled 76 times on the hardwood since 1980 with PLU owning a 43-33 edge in the all-time series. The Bearcats have won three straight, including sweeping the season series in 2016-2017.
About the Bearcats: Willamette (7-6, 3-1 NWC) heads to Tacoma riding a three-game win streak. The Bearcats thrashed Vancouver Island University 79-49 on Dec. 30 to start the streak before netting a pair of overtime wins last week. Willamette outlasted Linfield College 76-70 on Jan. 3 before edging the University of Puget Sound 65-64 last Saturday. Britanny Kochenderfer finished with 15 points and provided the winning layup in overtime, converting on a shot with 14.7 seconds remaining.
Kylie Towry is the Bearcats' leading scorer, netting 16.3 points per game with Kochenderfer adding 9.8 ppg and a team-best 7.7 rebounds per game.
Jan. 13: PLU vs. Lewis & Clark at Olson Gymnasium (4 p.m.)
Series History: The Lutes and Pioneers have met 74 times since the 1980 season with PLU holding a 46-28 advantage in the all-time series. The Lutes swept the series in the 2015-2016 season but Lewis & Clark returned the favor by claiming both games last season.
About the Pioneers: Lewis & Clark (7-6, 2-2 NWC) has alternated a win followed by a loss for the last 10 games, including a split last weekend on the road against the Whits. The Pios opened the New Year by surviving Whitworth University 74-71 before stumbling 77-65 to Whitman College the next night.
Janessa Willie carried the Pios in their win over Whitworth, dropping a career-high 23 points.
Miyah Leith is the team's leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game while Lauren Wood adds 11.2 ppg and a team-best 10.5 rebounds per game. Alyx Crager is the third Pio averaging in double figures with 10.4 ppg.