SEWARD, Neb. – The Bulldogs are hoping that a bit of a mental break this past weekend will help them refocus and refresh for the final month of the regular season. The 23rd-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team closed the month of January with four-straight losses, including two in tight games to the GPAC’s highest rated teams. In last week’s action, the Bulldogs were upset at home by Hastings, 68-60. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad enters the week tied for sixth place in the GPAC standings at 9-7 in league play (12-10 overall).
By the numbers
· Entering the week, Concordia finds itself looking up in the GPAC standings at Morningside (15-1), Northwestern (11-5), Dordt (11-5), Briar Cliff (10-6) and Dakota Wesleyan (10-6). The Bulldogs are tied with Jamestown (9-7). At the top of the heap, the Mustangs appear poised to defend their 2020-21 GPAC regular season title. As for Dordt, it started out a disappointing 2-5 in league play, but has caught fire (11-game win streak) behind star Ashtyn Veerbeek, who averages 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Wednesday’s foe, Midland (4-12 GPAC), will need a flurry of wins down the stretch in order to have a shot at qualifying for the eight-team GPAC tournament.
· This is unfamiliar territory for a Concordia program that has been one of the very best in the NAIA during Olson’s 16 seasons. As a sign of the program’s consistency, the Bulldogs have dropped four games in a row within the same season for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign (Olson’s first as head coach). It should be noted that the 2015-16 team lost its final three games before the 2016-17 edition fell in its season opener. Prior to the current skid, Concordia had won seven-straight GPAC games and stood at 9-3 in conference play. The 90-58 blowout of Dakota Wesleyan on Jan. 8 was an indication of what the Bulldogs are capable of when the shots are falling.
· However, it’s been a struggle on the offensive end over the last four outings. Just a bit more firepower and Concordia could have easily turned some of the recent losses in the other direction. Over the past four games, the Bulldogs have posted respective shooting percentages of 30.5, 35.8, 39.1 and 35.7. That stretch has resulted in Concordia slipping to eighth among GPAC teams in field goal percentage offense (.409). The Bulldogs rank sixth in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage (.312). In terms of scoring average, Concordia (74.7 ppg) remains second in the GPAC behind only Morningside (79.9).
· Taylor Farrell started for the first time in her career and responded last week by going 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the loss to Hastings. The bulk of the offensive production in that contest came from Farrell (17 points) and Taysha Rushton (game high 22 points; 13th career game with 20-plus points). On the other end, the Bulldogs struggled to contain post player Katharine Hamburger, who totaled 20 points and eight rebounds. The results have been uneven lately for the Broncos (11-11, 7-9 GPAC), who recently throttled Dakota Wesleyan, 74-50, and got pummeled at home by Dordt, 77-34.
· Concordia likely needs two wins this week to have a shot at remaining inside the NAIA top 25 poll that will be released next week. One dynamic working in the Bulldogs’ favor is their strength of schedule. In the official calculation released by the NAIA in mid-January, Concordia’s SOS ranked fifth best in the entire NAIA. Based on the current top 25, the Bulldogs have beaten three ranked teams: No. 12 Wayland Baptist University (Texas), No. 13 Northwestern and No. 24 Dakota State University (S.D.). Concordia has played eight games against opponents ranked 13th or higher.
· Olson has tweaked the starting group at times in an effort to provide a spark. As mentioned, Farrell jumped into the lineup against Hastings. The Omaha native has been an accurate deep shooter during her collegiate career. Farrell has made 30-of-82 (.366) attempts from 3-point range this season and is a career 40 percent (106-for-265) 3-point shooter. Farrell became the 10th different Bulldog to start a game this season. Rylee Pauli is the lone player to have started all 22 games this season.
Midland will enter Wednesday’s game having dropped seven of its last eight games, including last week’s losses to Briar Cliff and Doane. The Warriors own two solid wins within conference play having defeated Jamestown and Dordt at home. Head Coach Shawn Gilbert’s squad is 3-5 this season at the Wikert Event Center. Midland leans heavily upon Peyton Wingert (17.2 ppg) in the scoring department. Among GPAC players, Wingert ranks second in rebounding and third in scoring. Concordia would be happy to duplicate the result from the Nov. 17 meeting between the two sides. The Bulldogs won in Seward, 93-52.
Dordt is as hot as any team in the conference. Head Coach Bill Harmsen’s squad has not suffered a defeat since Dec. 11. The 11-game win streak has vaulted the Defenders all the way into a tie for second place in the GPAC standings. A transfer from the University of Nebraska, Ashtyn Veerbeek will likely be in the running for GPAC Player of the Year accolades. Veerbeek and company have been a strong defensive club that has limited opponents to 64.6 points per game and 38.7 percent shooting. This will be a challenging week for the Defenders, who will host Morningside on Wednesday. Back on Nov. 20, Dordt defeated Concordia, 69-60.
Two short road trips are coming up next week as the Bulldogs will be at Doane on Feb. 9 and then at College of Saint Mary on Feb. 12. After this week, Concordia will have just one home game remaining in the regular season.