The eyes of the Langston Lionesses are on the prize that a trip to Frankfort, Ky., might hold for them at the NAIA National Tournament in March.
Don’t be fooled, though. They’re not looking past any team or any game.
Proof of that is the gaudy 26-2 record and No. 9 ranking in the latest poll. This team has taken care of its business throughout the year. Langston is 20-2 in Red River Athletic Conference play. Those two losses have come by a combined eight points over a three-day period, a hiccup along the way.
But this team is on a mission, and Langston head coach Jerome Willis knows that there is a path to reaching that ultimate goal.
“Our main goal has always been to win the national tournament,” Willis said. “But there are smaller goals to go through to get there. Winning the conference is first, and then winning the conference tournament and heading to the national tournament.”
LEADING WITH EXPERIENCE
With a senior laden team that wants to achieve that lofty, Willis knows that part of his responsibility is to keep his team focused from week-to-week and day-to-day.
“It’s hard to keep eight seniors from thinking about Frankfort,” Willis said. “But that’s our job as coaches to get them to play every game along the way.
“And we definitely want to win that conference tournament. We’ll be ready.”
Langston has a one-game lead in the RRAC with two games to play. A win against Jarvis Christian tonight would lock the conference title for the Lionesses for the fourth consecutive season. For Willis, in his fourth year as head coach, it would mean a title for each year at the helm.
And the winning ways of his team this season is due in part to the consistency provided by his eight seniors.
“You know what you’re going to get every single night,” Willis said. “And I tend to know what buttons to push.
“Having eight seniors, they have a sense of urgency. And they really want to get it done right now.
“They expect to win, and I think people expect them to win. And it does come with a little pressure there.”
DEFENSE THEN OFFENSE
The Lionesses are winning big and own the third largest margin of victory in NAIA, defeating their opponents by more than 23 points per game. And though the offense is often on display (LU has topped the 100-point mark five times in 2011-12), the defense is leading the way for Willis’ team.
“Our defense really triggers our offense,” Willis said. “We’re in the top ten in several defensive categories, starting with defensive rebounding (No. 1 with 32.5 rebounds per game). We rebound the ball really well, which leads to transition, which leads to easy baskets.
“Also, the fact that we’re in the top five in defensive field goal percentage (No. 1, allowing only 39 percent shooting by opponents) means that we stop you. We contest every shot and we try to rebound well. And that gets our offense going.”
Langston is trying to set itself up to make a run in the national tournament and Willis said that he believes his team can compete in any situation.
“We definitely can play with anyone,” Willis said. “Our team is so balanced and it has so much depth. We’re prepared to go deep into the playoffs”
The Lionesses take the court at C.F. Gayles’ Fieldhouse tonight at 5:30 p.m. It will be the last home game for those eight seniors on the Langston squad with senior night ceremonies set to take place between the women’s and men’s contests.