New year brings new problems for previously unbeaten Blues

Eric Smith

So far, 2009 hasn’t treated the Washburn Lady Blues basketball team very well. After beginning the season 12-0 in 2008, the team has struggled in the new year, losing three out of five games, including Saturday night’s 85-78 road loss against rival Emporia State.

The Lady Blues other two losses of the season have been even more heart-breaking, losing to Central Missouri in overtime at home, 79-77 and falling to Missouri Southern in Joplin, 59-58.

In the Emporia State game, as well as many other conference road games this season, the Lady Blues have failed to shoot well. On Saturday night, the Washburn women shot 27 percent from the field in the first half and 37 percent for the game.

The Washburn women were in the game in the first half despite the bad shooting, but trailed 36-26 at the half. After falling behind by as many as 16 points to the Hornets in the second half, the Lady Blues made a comeback getting within five with under a minute left. But that was as close as they would get, as the Hornet women hit their free throws to close it out. The loss for the Lady Blues ended their four-game winning streak against the Hornets.

“We played a decent game last night,” said assistant coach Toni Gross. “We just had some spurts in there where we didn’t handle some situations. Everybody played pretty physical. It’s just a different atmosphere when you go to Emporia. The girls probably missed a few calls on some plays because you can’t really hear. It was just a tough day for us.”

The Lady Blues did have a bright spot in the week when they beat Pittsburg State 74-55 last Wednesday in Lee Arena. The victory, secured by a 24-3 run in the final minutes of the game, was the 14th in a row against the Gorillas dating back to the 2001-02 season.

“I like our fight, I really do,” said coach Ron McHenry. “The group that finished the game fought like crazy. They really played every play for the last seven minutes and got after each other and got after them. I thought they finished the game there really well.”

Janice Bright had a week to remember. It began Wednesday when she scored a career-high 29 points against Pittsburg State shooting 12-17 from the field include 4-6 from behind the arc.

“[Bright] had a good game,” said McHenry. “She’s playing well. She’s got her head up. This team’s trying to find her more. Some times she turns down shots that I’d rather her take at the end of the game. She has a feel for what’s going on. You got a player that is playing well and is that confident we need to make sure she gets a lot of touches.”

However, that was just the beginning as Bright set another career-high Saturday at Emporia when she scored 31, shooting 15-15 from the free throw line. According to, her 15 free throws tied a Washburn single-game record held by Shelley Foster when she hit 15-16 on Feb. 18, 1995.

Bright’s perfect shooting night also set a MIAA single-game record outdoing four previous players who had shot 14-14 from the charity stripe.

The recent losses in the new year have dropped the Lady Blues in the MIAA standings and national rankings. After spending most of the season ranked No. 2 nationally in the WBCA/USA Today/ESPN Division II Coaches Poll, the Lady Blues have fallen to No. 7. In the MIAA standings, the Lady Blues (14-3, 7-3) have fallen from first to third, currently sitting behind No. 9 Emporia State (14-2, 8-1) and Central Missouri (12-4, 7-2).

“[Saturday’s loss to Emporia] is a steppingstone for us, learning-wise, in understanding that we need to prepare ourselves a little better for the upcoming game,” said Gross.

The Lady Blues will have plenty of time to prepare with a week full of practices and watching tape before a 1:30 p.m. conference game Saturday against Nebraska-Omaha in Omaha. The Lady Blues beat the Maverick women 61-52 in their first meeting on Dec. 3 and will look to improve to 3-1 against the Mavericks all-time.