The winner of Sam Houston State's women's basketball game with McNeese State Saturday afternoon will be guaranteed sole possession of first place in the 2008 Southland Conference race for the next five days.
The contest, which will begin 30 minutes after the completion of Saturday afternoon's men's basketball game at Johnson Coliseum (approximately 4:30 p.m.), marks the first league action on the Southland women's schedule. No other SLC women's squad plays a conference game until Wednesday, Dec. 10.
Bearkat basketball fans get a rare doubleheader treat as the men play before the women's game in their final non-conference tilt against Central Florida at 2 p.m. A ticket to either the men's or women's game Saturday will be good
for both games.
The women's match-up features two squads looking to get back on the winning track after challenging non-conference schedules.
Sam Houston stands 1-12 after one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the Southland. The Bearkats played four nationally ranked opponents (No. 16 Texas, No. 18 Auburn, No. 24 Arkansas, and No. 26 Texas Tech) as well as top NCAA Division I programs like Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Southern Mississippi, and Louisiana Tech. Nine of the 13 games have been on the road.
Since defeating Western Illinois at the Tulsa Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 24, the Bearkats have lost five games in a row. Sam Houston fell to Centenary 74-62 Monday afternoon in its final non-SLC tilt.
"The girls have done a good job staying focused on the idea of improving every game and not worrying about our record against such a tough schedule," SHSU Head Coach Brenda Welch-Nichols said. "They're looking forward to the start of Southland play. It's a whole new season and they're excited."
McNeese State comes into the contest 2-12. The Cowgirls defeated Texas Southern 61-50 and Centenary in overtime 81-79. Since the victory over Centenary, McNeese has dropped four games in a row including losses of 92-52 at Mississippi State and 88-43 at Louisiana Tech.
Junior Courtnee Hollins is the only Cowgirl averaging in double figures with 11.6 points per game.
Sam Houston State defeated McNeese 74-57 in Lake Charles, LA, in the pair's only meeting last year. McNeese holds a narrow 22-21 edge in the all-time series between the two teams. McNeese ended the 2007 race in sixth place in the Southland East with a 2-14 league mark and a 4-25 overall record. The Bearkats were the sixth place finishers in the SLC West, also at 2-14 in conference and 5-24 for the season.
In their 20 seasons in the Southland Conference, the Bearkat women stand 9-11 in SLC league opening games. Sam Hosuton last won its league opener in 2005 with a 63-62 victory at Nicholls State. In their last two SLC opening games, the Kats lost 68-59 to Texas State-San Marcos in Huntsville in 2006 and 63-53 to Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond last year.
Two returning starters from the 2006-07 team are leading the Bearkats this year. Sophomore guard Whitney Smith is producing 12.7 points per game while junior post player Lydia Gonzales is adding 11.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Both Smith and Gonzales have scored in double figures 10 times this season.