Rivalry week riles up Norse basketball

Women’s Basketball
The Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team looks to end a two-game skid and remains undefeated at home, but it will not be easy as they are taking on their in-state rivals.

NKU will take on the Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers on Thursday, Feb. 9, and then the Bellarmine University Knights on Saturday, Feb. 12. Both games are scheduled to tip-off at 5:30 p.m.

These games are very important to the Norse in that they will affect their chances in earning a spot in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and NCAA regional tournaments.

The Norse are currently 8-6 in GLVC play and are tied for second in the East Division with the University of Indianapolis, trailing the University of Southern Indiana by two full games. The Norse are currently tied for sixth overall in the conference. That would be good enough to advance to the tournament, but they want to finish strong and improve their seeding in the region. With Kentucky Wesleyan having a 7-7 record, and Bellarmine, Saint Joseph’s and Lewis having 6-8 records, the Norse cannot afford a let-down.

Not only are the Norse trying to improve in the GLVC, but they are also fighting to earn a spot in the NCAA regional tournament. Only the top eight teams in the Midwest Regional earn a spot to the NCAA Tournament and the Norse are currently on the outside looking in. Entering the stretch with a record of 14-8, victories against their in-state rivals would be a strong boost to their resume, as NKU has already dropped two road games to both Wesleyan and Bellarmine.

Kentucky Wesleyan narrowly defeated NKU 67-63 in their first game on Jan. 22. The Panthers built a 10-point lead with less than eight minutes to play and were able to withstand a Norse comeback. On part to an 11-2 run, the Norse were able to tie the score, but were never able to pull ahead. Junior center Katie Behrens and freshman guard Karly Rhoads led the Panthers, both scoring 17 points. Junior guard Casse Mogan scored 22 points to lead the Norse in the losing effort.

NKU also lost a close one to Bellarmine, 72-70, on Jan. 20. Similar to the game against the Panthers, the Norse were able to come from behind, trailing by 15 with a little over four minutes remaining, but were not able to get over the hump.

Freshman guard Therese Montano scored 23 points and junior forward Lauren Jones added 18 points to lead the Knights to the victory. Jones is currently the leading scorer in the GLVC by averaging 18.8 points per contest. Mogan led the Norse in this game as well by scoring 21 points.

The Norse will finish the season next week with two road games. They will be against the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana.

Men’s basketball
It’s rivalry week for Norse fans, but there is more on the line than bragging rights for the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team. The Norse are trying to guarantee a position in the NCAA tournament and a chance for the national championship.

Riding a five-game winning streak, the NKU men’s basketball team looks to remain hot when they come home to face their in-state division rivals, the Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers and the Bellarmine University Knights.

The Norse came into the week with an 18-4 record, including 11-3 in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. They are currently tied for second with Southern Indiana in the East Division, trailing only Bellarmine, who is a perfect 14-0 in GLVC play.

All teams are trying to position themselves in the top eight in the NCAA Midwest Regional Rankings to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Bellarmine owns the top spot in the NCAA Midwest Regional rankings with NKU coming in fourth and Kentucky Wesleyan in seventh.

“These are division games with seeding ramifications for both the conference tournament and the regional rankings for the NCAA Tournament,” head coach Dave Bezold said. “All these games left are going to determine that.”

NKU was able to defeat Kentucky Wesleyan in their early match-up on Jan. 22, winning in overtime 91-82. The Norse were able to upset the Panthers, ranked number 17 in the national poll at the time, by shooting 56.4 percent from the field and being led by a bench that outscored Kentucky Wesleyan’s reserves by a 32-4 margin in the game.

This time the roles will be reversed as the Norse go in the game ranked number 24 in the Division II poll and Kentucky Wesleyan is no longer ranked.

The Norse will have the task of stopping junior center Anthony Young, averaging 19.4 points, and junior guard Cardell McFarland, averaging 17.8 points. The two rank third and sixth in scoring in the GLVC, respectively. In the previous game between the two teams, Young scored 23 points and McFarland scored 18 points.

“[Young] is a pretty talented player as he can score from the inside and out,” Bezold said. “We have to do a good job keeping him out of the spots he is comfortable in.”

The week will not get any easier for the Norse, as they will take on the number-two team in Division II in Bellarmine. In the previous meeting on Jan. 20, Bellarmine won 85-74. The Knights pulled ahead early and were able to withstand a few Norse rallies. The Knights shot 51.7 percent from the field and were led in scoring by senior guard Jeremy Kendle with 22 points. Kendle is currently the fifth leading scorer in the GLVC, averaging 18.0 points per game.

“The key is consistency and to play at the level we have been playing at for the last few weeks,” Bezold said.

The Norse will finish the season next week with two road games. They will be against the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana.

Story by John Minor