By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Hard-hit by personnel losses, Eastern New Mexico University’s hopes of winning a third consecutive Lone Star Conference South Division men’s basketball title are all but out the window.
The Greyhounds (7-12, 0-4 South) hope to begin to mount a run for a top-four finish in the seven-team South and an LSC postseason tournament berth when they host the teams immediately ahead of them — Abilene Christian and Angelo State (both 8-12, 1-4) tonight and Saturday, respectively — at Greyhound Arena.
Three regulars have spent most of the last month on the injured list. While ENMU has regained the services of junior forward Daniel Sherman (back), senior guards Irshaun Pinckney (ankle) and Jamal Washington (broken wrist) are still out for at least this weekend.
In addition, junior guard Billy Austin quit the team earlier this month and junior guard Jason Breland was suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons last week by coach Shawn Scanlan.
Still, Scanlan thinks the Hounds can do better, even though their margin for error has been significantly reduced.
“We’re just not doing everything we’ve got to do,” he said.
“We’ve got to be a more complete team than we’ve been.
“In every game we’ve played (in the South), we’ve showed signs of being a team that could win the game. We’re capable, but we haven’t done it for the whole game.”
On paper, the Hounds appear to have a chance to get well fairly quickly with home-and-home matchups against ACU and ASU the next two weeks. The Wildcats and Rams have talent, but are also clearly struggling.
They can score, but both struggle on the defensive end.
“They’re much the same teams they’ve had in the past in terms of style,” Scanlan said.
ENMU’s women (9-10, 3-3) picked up important road wins at Texas Woman’s and Texas A&M-Kingsville last weekend.
They face major tests the next two weeks against ACU (13-5, 4-1) and 13th-ranked ASU (16-2, 4-1), who are one-half game behind division-leading West Texas A&M.
The Zias are currently tied for fourth in the South with Texas A&M-Commerce, but acting head coach Dustin Klafka said making the conference tournament is the farthest thing from their minds right now.
“We’ve got to continue to approach it one game at a time,” he said. “We can’t look too far down the road because that’s still a long ways off.”
ACU’s graduation losses from last season were led by center Melanie Carter, one of the top big players in the division.
“But they’ve got some people that can really score,” Klafka said. “They’ve got good speed, and all their guards shoot well.”
Angelo State rides the dominating play of 6-foot-3 senior Natalja Tsurbakova.
“She’s kind of what makes them tick,” Klafka said. “She might not (do it by) scoring all the time, but she draws a lot of attention and they’ve got other people who can do some things for them.”
What: ENMU (7-12, 0-4) vs. Abilene Christian (8-12, 1-4), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and vs. Angelo State (8-12, 1-4), 7 p.m. Saturday, in Lone Star Conference South Division games at Greyhound Arena.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
Of note:ACU went 0-7 in crossovers against the North Division, although three of the losses were by five points or less. … The Wildcats have easily the LSC’s top two scorers in 6-6 junior F Hakim Rasul (25.7 ppg) and 6-3 senior G David Baxter (20.9). Third is Cameron’s Eric Moore (16.9). … ACU averages 80.7 ppg, second in the LSC, but gives up a conference-worst 82.7. … Two Clovis High grads are in the program: 6-2 third-year sophomore G A.J. Porterfield, who redshirted last season, is averaging 4.1 points while 6-3 freshman F Justin Pinckney — the brother of ENMU senior Irshaun Pinckney — is sitting out this season as a redshirt. … ACU’s only road win (1-7) was a 68-67 decision at St. Edward’s in late November. … Angelo is 5-3 at home and 3-0 on neutral floors, but 0-9 on the road. … ASU leaders are 6-3 senior G Kenny Smith (14.5 ppg) and 6-4 junior F Rashawn Childs (11.5). … Abilene and Angelo split their season series, but those are the only wins for either team in a while — ACU has lost eight of its last nine, ASU seven of its last eight.
What: ENMU (9-10, 3-3) vs. Abilene Christian (13-5, 4-1), 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and vs. Angelo State (16-2, 4-1), 5 p.m. Saturday, in Lone Star Conference South Division games at Greyhound Arena.
Radio: KSEL-AM 1450.
Of note: The Wildcats beat Angelo 83-69 in mid-January, but dropped out of first place on Saturday in an 84-76 loss at Midwestern State. They had won nine of 10 before that. … ACU leaders are 5-11 senior F Stephanie Riles (14.4 ppg), 6-2 junior C Jamie Boles (13.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and 5-7 senior G Ashley King (12.3 ppg, 4.9 apg). … Angelo has won three consecutive South titles under coach Sally Walling Brooks, setting a school record in 2003-04 with 25 wins. … The Rambelles lost their season opener at home to St. Mary’s 77-68, then won 12 in a row before slipping at Abilene. … ASU has the South’s preseason player of the year in 6-3 senior P Natalja Tsurbakova (18.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg), while other top performers include 5-11 junior F Christina Johnson (12.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and 5-11 senior F Courtney Nowlin (11.3 ppg). Tsurbakova, who is from Estonia, leads the conference in scoring and Johnson leads in rebounding. Nowlin is the reigning South player of the week.