Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow every Feb. 2 to determine whether winter will last an extra six weeks or end early.
This year’s Ichabods, a team that has yet to establish a true identity in the MIAA, took the court on Groundhog Day looking to improve its odds of making the postseason.
Fixing costly mistakes from the last three losses helped Washburn beat Missouri Western 90-69 and strengthened its chance of extending the 2008 season beyond six weeks and into the middle of March.
“We didn’t have all the high dribbles and wasted dribbles we’ve had before,” said head coach Bob Chipman. “We were moving the ball much better, and we were consistently looking for the post guys.”
However, it did take nearly a half of basketball for the Bods to cure what had ailed them in their three-game losing streak. Washburn trailed by as many as 7 with 4:40 to play in the first half and needed a 16-5 run just to enter halftime with a four-point lead against the last-place Griffons.
“We had some problems in the first half scoring with our forwards,” said Chipman. “We were getting the ball in there and we just couldn’t finish. The second half, we finished better and were hitting threes. Everyone had a hand in it.”
Once the Bods finally got in a groove they were well on their way to improving their record to 12-7 overall, 4-6 in the MIAA and most importantly, 12-4 on Groundhog Day.
“We stressed all week in practice that we need to take care of the ball,” said guard Mario Scott. “In the last games we had a lot of turnovers because of being unprepared and in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
So far this year the time hasn’t mattered as long as the place is Lee Arena. In Saturday’s win, which gives Washburn a 7-1 record at home, the Bods shot a season-high 55 percent from 3-point range and had a season-low six turnovers.
“Hitting a three or getting a slam dunk is always a big momentum booster,” said Scott. “But we really did a good job as a team of sharing the ball and getting each other open shots.”
On the momentum meter, Scott had as big an impact as anyone. He hit half of his dozen shots from the field, two of the team’s 12 threes and scored a team-high 19 points. With performances like that, there is reason to believe the young guard could be next on the list of great shooters coached by Chipman.
“He’s just a sophomore trying to run the point,” said Chipman. “He’s trying to satisfy everybody, but I thought he played really hard. He went to the boards really hard. He and Andrew [Meile] rebounded exceptional, and they both ran the team really well.”
The two small guards combined for 13 of the team’s 47 rebounds, a rarity on a Washburn team that has so many post players who can hit the boards. Brady Sisk, Grant Hargett and James Williams all joined Scott with double-figure scoring performances.
“I don’t know who had the most points,” said Chipman. “But after halftime the threes just started spraying. We moved the ball side-to-side better than we’d been doing and didn’t waste as many perimeter shots.”
Washburn’s 12-22 shooting from 3-point range is even more impressive considering they played most of the game without their leading long distance shooter, Angel Santiago.
The junior guard entered the game with just three minutes remaining and the outcome already decided.
“He needs to earn his time,” said Chipman. “It’s a team sport. Just like everyone else on this team, he needs to earn time by playing well both in practice and in games.”
The exclusion of Santiago’s hot hand did not make a negative impact on the scoreboard for the Bods, who notched their biggest margin of victory since Dec. 17. Now Washburn has to hope their improved play on Groundhog Day repeats itself in the final stretch of the season.
“Every win is a big one at this point,” said Scott. “We want to make it to the MIAA tournament, and with the conference being as competitive as it is, you need to get as many wins like this as you can.”