MARION - As the prep volleyball season nears the midway point, Cedar Rapids Xavier identified a vital ingredient if the Saints are to retain their No. 1 ranking in Class 4A.
Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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The quick swing from a conference tournament finale to the first round of postseason competition is never a simple thing to manage.
But following a defeat to Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference championship, it’s exactly what Northern Iowa women’s basketball has to do. Granted an at-large bid and a 10th-seed to play seventh-seeded DePaul in the NCAA tournament at 11 a.m. Friday in Starkville, Miss. (ESPN2), UNI’s thoughts aren’t straying backwards.
“I think we just have to continue to do what we have been doing all season, taking care of the ball and being strong with it,” Northern Iowa guard Madison Weekly said during Thursday’s press conference. “We know that they will come out with a lot of pressure.”
The Blue Demons enter the tournament also having lost their conference tournament title game, falling to Marquette in the Big East championship. DePaul, however, did snag the conference regular season title, its fourth in a row.
They aren’t strangers to the NCAA tournament either; it’s the 15th straight season the Blue Demons have made the field. Tradition might favor DePaul, but this is, after all, March and in a tournament at this point in the year, anything can happen.
But making those incredible moments happen come from preparation and head coach Tanya Warren laid things out simply.
“We have to get back in transition,” Warren said during the press conference. “They push the basketball better than anyone I have seen.”
Scoring 80.8 points per game, which ranks 10th in the NCAA, the Blue Demons are no strangers to putting the ball in the hoop. They shoot at a 43-percent clip from the field and 32.8 percent from the 3-point line, which means the Panthers are going to have to be ready to defend quick shots.
It will be a challenge, but Northern Iowa knows how to play defense. Panthers opponents are scoring just 57.3 points per game and shooting a touch under 40 percent while doing it.
Getting defensive rebounds will be important as they can lead to runouts and easy points. As the Panthers don’t shoot quite as well as the Blue Demons, solid defense needs to lead to extra possessions and shots.
Limiting turnovers will be key as well. Northern Iowa takes care of the ball and gets its fair share of steals the other way. DePaul is one of the best passing teams in the country and any sort of havoc the Panthers cause will be critical.
“We have to be conscious of our shot selection this game and make sure we are getting the best shots,” Weekly said. “We know that they want to run and get shots up.”
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