Women’s team vies for better defense

Josh Johnston

Flashes to take on lower-scoring Huskies after giving up 109 points against CMU

Senior center Anna Kowalska takes a shot over a Ohio defender on Jan. 17. The Flashes beat the Bobcats 78-74. Rachel Kilroy | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

The Kent State women’s basketball team learned the hard way Wednesday night that defense – not offense – wins games.

Despite scoring 94 points, the Flashes (15-5, 4-4 Mid-American Conference) did little on defense to stop Central Michigan’s high-scoring offense.

“We played soft,” junior guard Rachel Bennett said. “We didn’t defend anybody.”

The Chippewas’ 109 points were the most scored against Kent State by any team since 1990.

“Anytime you get beat (and) you give up 109 points, you have to work on defense,” said Lori Bodnar, Kent State associate head coach. “We scored 94, so I wouldn’t say either team had stellar defense at that point. The thing is we have to work on getting stops.

Breaking down the game: Matchup to watch: Senior center Anna Kowalska vs. senior center Ebony Ellis.

The 6-foot-4 Kowalska could have her hands full tomorrow against 6-foot-3 Ellis, who is averaging 13.6 points and 10 rebounds against conference teams. Kowalska will have to focus on limiting Ellis’ shooting opportunities, as the Huskies’ center is 44-of-70 over the last eight games.

Kent State player to watch: Kowalska (17.7 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game)

Lately, Kowalska’s been on a scoring tear, racking up an average of 20 points a game over the last four games. She scored a game-high 27 points in Wednesday’s 109-94 loss to Central Michigan.

THE GAME: Kent State (15-5, 4-4 Mid-American Conference) vs. Northern Illinois (11-10, 6-2)

When: Noon tomorrow

Where: M.A.C. Center

Northern Illinois player to watch: Senior guard Jessie Wilcox (11.5 ppg, 2.9 assists per game)

Wilcox is averaging more than 18 points in the last four games to lead the Huskies’ low-scoring offense. Kent State needs to keep Wilcox off of the foul line, where she’s 50-of-53 on the season.

What happened last time: In the first round of the MAC Tournament, the Flashes outgunned Northern Illinois to lead 41-25 at the half. After the Huskies came back to take a 1-point lead in the second half, Kent State outscored Northern Illinois 21-12 over the last seven minutes to seal up a 75-67 win. Sophomore forward Chenel Harris, then a freshman, led the team on a double-double performance with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s just an ongoing process the whole year of playing defense, and this is the time you really have to step it up and play defense.”

Kent State’s next opponent, Northern Illinois, doesn’t have quite the offensive power that Central Michigan has. The Huskies average fewer than 70 points a game and have only topped 80 once this season.

Still, the Flashes will need to put up a better defensive effort than Wednesday night, Bodnar said.

“Northern Illinois is another team that will press and that will run and shoot the 3,” she said. “We just have to work on our defense.”

For Kent State’s offense, the magic number will be 70 points. Northern Illinois is 3-10 this season when an opponent scored 70 or more.

That bodes well for the Flashes, who are averaging more than 75 points a game and have only been held under 70 six times this season.

Still, the Flashes want to improve their defensive play after Wednesday night.

“We’re going to have to get into practice and figure out what’s wrong with our defense right now, what we’re not understanding,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to come together as a team. We’ve got to trust each other on defense and offense at the same time and get the boards and stops so we can pull out wins.”

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].