Big game strikes early for Huskies

By Todd McMahon

Generally, “stretch run” refers to that season-ending point of the schedule where teams lay it on the line in their quest for a championship.

For the NIU women’s basketball team, the “run” comes a little sooner, as the Huskies begin a “stretch” tonight of eight games in 17 days, which could go a long way in determining their hopes for a Mid-Continent Conference crown.

So, it’s only appropriate that Wisconsin-Green Bay comes to Chick Evans Field House tonight for a 7 p.m. encounter (WLBK-1360 AM, WKDI-93.5 FM).

The Phoenix not only won the final regular-season North Star Conference championship last year, but when these two teams hook up, no outcome is a certainty, even when one has the clear advantage as the series is deadlocked at 5-5.

This year, NIU (5-2) has the upper hand. The experts said that in November when the Huskies were picked to win the first-ever Mid-Con title by a whopping 41 points over UWGB.

The first month of the season has also been in the Huskies’ favor. After two losses before Christmas, NIU has found its groove with three convincing wins this month.

The Phoenix, meanwhile, have struggled to a 3-6 start. Although UWGB head coach Carol Hammerle’s squad is atop the league standings with NIU after a 71-62 win over Illinois-Chicago last Thursday, 16th-ranked DePaul dealt UWGB a 65-54 defeat two days later in Green Bay.

“I’m not pleased with our execution to this point,” Hammerle said. “We dug ourselves too big of a hole (18 points) in the first half (against DePaul). But I was encouraged how we played in the second half.”

“What’s important for us is the conference,” Hammerle added. “We’re very much looking forward to playing in DeKalb.”

UWGB, with the likes of Sandra Baerwald and Lisa Wegner,

enjoyed its stay at NIU on one occasion last year when the Phoenix recorded a 75-66 win in the final regular-season game.

But one week later, the Huskies got their revenge on the fieldhouse court with an 84-66 victory in the NSC championship game.

Gone are Baerwald and Wegner as UWGB features a relatively young team, but the rivalry is still heating up between the league’s two top teams.

“We’re picked to win the conference,” NIU head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said, “so we want to win all our conference games, especially those at home. A lot of it has to do with pride.”

“I hope the community will respond in these next couple games,” added Albright-Dieterle, in reference to the key match ups tonight and next Tuesday against DePaul.