Lady Pioneers start tournament against Williston

Derrick Calhoun
Thursday, February 27, 2020
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The Miles Community College women's basketball team heads to Williston tomorrow to compete in the NJCAA Region XIII Division I Women's Basketball Tournament.

The Miles Community College Pioneers women's basketball team is set to start the NJCAA Region XIII Division I Women's Basketball Tournament tomorrow.

The tournament will be hosted by MonDak No. 1 seed Bismarck State College, and in the opening round the No. 3 seeded Pioneers will be taking on No. 6 seeded Williston State College.

"We are feeling really good," Pioneers first-year head coach Taylor Harris said. "I know it's easy to look at our last few games and feel discouraged, but we are still feeling really good."

Harris added that he feels like they had some defensive struggles to close out the regular season, but he is confident that they will "right the ship". He also said that yesterday was one of their best practices of the season and everyone is full of confidence.

The Lady Pioneers are currently 2-0 against Williston State College on the season, beating them in Miles City on January 19, 78-39, and then in Williston on February 17, 75-60.

Williston is led by freshman center Grace Lupumba, who is averaging 18 points 8.3 rebounds per game.

The leading scorer and No. 1 option for the Lady Pioneers all season has been sophomore guard Binta Salawu. The 5-foot-4-inch guard from Sydney, Australia, is averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game for MCC.

Salawu hasn't been the most efficient scorer on the season but her aggressive play opens the court up for her teammates and she manages to get to the free throw 9.2 times per game, knocking down 74.7% of them.

Salawu is No. 2 in the conference in scoring, No. 3 in assists, No. 4 in steals per game and No. 15 in rebounds. In scoring she only trails Bismarck State College sophomore forward Amber Stevahn, who is averaging 24.7 points per game.

Claire Borot, the sophomore forward from Martinique, France, has been one of the players to really step up their game for the Lady Pioneers when conference play began and the team really turned their season around.

On the season, the 6-foot forward is averaging 12.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Borot's ranks No. 8 in the conference in points scored, No. 10 in the conference in points per game, and N0. 13 in the conference in rebounds.

Freshman forward Lili Long has had a strong first season with the Lady Pioneers in 2019-20, although an injury sidelined her for the final few games of the regular season. The 6-foot freshman from Melbourne, Australia, broke into the starting lineup early in the season and has averaged 10.7 points, 5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game for Harris' team.

According to Harris, Long practiced with the team yesterday and he is hoping to have her back for the tournament.

In her place, sophomore forward Ekaterina "Kate" Golovkina has stepped right in and filled her shoes. On the season the 5-foot-10-inch forward from Moscow Russia is averaging 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. In the three games she has started in place of Long though, Golovkina is averaging 12.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

"Kate has been doing a great job being thrown into the starting lineup," Harris said. "She has always been an ultimate teammate and continues to do what is asked of her."

Freshman guard Olyvia Pacheco has been another difference maker in the Lady Pioneers starting lineup, immediately contributing to the team. On the season, the 5-foot-5-inch guard from Rawlins, Wyoming, is averaging 8.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.4 assists per game. Pacheco's 7.5 rebounds per game are No. 6 in the conference.

This season the women's basketball team from MCC has struggled at times offensively, but according to head coach Taylor Harris, the key will be getting back to the defensive intensity they started MonDak play at, and use that to help them create offense.

"Our identity is a defensive team that plays hard defensively and that manufacturers our offense through it," Harris said. "As a team we agree that we haven't been defending the way we should, but we have nowhere to go but up."

The defense for the Lady Pioneers has been strong all season, allowing the second fewest points per game in the MonDak conference. Their 62.7 opponent's points per game trails only No. 2 seeded North Dakota College of Science's 55.7 opponent's points per game. On ball, the Lady Pioneers are stifling, holding their opponent's to just 35% shooting from the field and 26.1% shooting from beyond the three-point arc. Both those percentages are second best in the conference.

The Lady Pioneers are No. 2 in the conference in team rebounds, grabbing 44.7 rebounds per game. They trail only No. 1 seeded Bismarck State College's 44.8 rebounds per game.

According to Harris the team is really excited to get back on the court and play.

"We could be playing UConn and we would be excited to get back out and compete," Harris said. "It's not about who we are playing, we just want to get our there for each other."

Harris referenced the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, who is the winningest women's basketball program in division one college basketball history.

"Our team really appreciates the support we have had from the community, and we really hope we can bring another championship to Miles City," Harris added.

The Lady Pioneers are set to tip off against Williston State College tomorrow at 4:30 MST, 5:30 CST, IN Bismarck, North Dakota.

(Contact Derrick Calhoun at mcsportsreporter@gmail. com or at 406-234-0450.)