CEDAR FALLS — Due to COVID-19 cases within the Missouri State and Valparaiso women’s basketball programs, Northern Iowa is now scheduled to play its back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference openers against Illinois State (3-0) this Friday and Saturday at 2 p.m.
The switch isn’t unexpected, but the circumstances of limited prep time and the Redbirds having only played three games to the Panthers’ seven has UNI Coach Tanya Warren working overtime.
“When you look at the format of which we’re playing conference play this year (with) the back-to-back games there’s no question there will be some wrinkles put in both on the offensive end and the defensive end,” Warren said. “We were already starting to put in a couple of new things for league play anyway. I think you’re going to see a lot of different wrinkles in terms of not showing your complete hand in that first game and saving a little bit for that second (game).”
Despite a 3-4 record during the non-conference schedule, Warren is optimistic about where her team is entering MVC play.
In particular, she likes what she’s seen from her team’s defense, but is wanting more from an offense that’s scored as many as 93 points in a win against Wichita State and as few as 55 in a win over Creighton.
“Going into league play one of the things we have to get better at is executing and making sure we are at least getting a shot,” Warren said. “There were so many times in the non-conference we didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the basketball.”
The Panthers enter conference play averaging 15.7 turnovers per game — good for fourth-best in the MVC. However, UNI’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.80 is third-worst in the league.
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“I like our pace, I just don’t like our decision-making once we don’t get anything out of transition,” Warren said. “We have to do a better job of, A, doing the little things. Setting up screens. Reading screens. Putting passes on target.”
MVC coaches, like all others across the country, were confronted with the decision of whether or not to allow their players to travel home for the holidays.
The risk is obvious. Players would encounter people from outside their bubbles and risk exposure to COVID-19. However, in what’s been such a difficult year for everyone, Warren said the decision was easy when considering the mental health and morale of her team.
“For us, honestly, it was a no-brainer,” Warren said. “Because these young women go through so much and have been through so much. For us it was really, really important that our kids go home and be with their family and their loved ones. An opportunity to get away, refresh, rejuvenate.”