CHARLESTON — The Eastern Illinois women's basketball team may have been without senior Grace Lennox, the team's leading scorer the past two seasons and the starting point guard for four seasons, for Monday's game against Valparaiso, but at least the Panthers had about nine days to prepare for the Crusaders without Lennox.
The Panthers only had one day to prepare for North Texas, though, as the seven-win Mean Green travel to Lantz Arena for a 6 p.m. game on Wednesday. So the Panthers didn't have much turnaround to apply what they learned from the Valparaiso game to the North Texas contest.
But EIU head coach Matt Bollant said the team didn't spend all of its time focusing on Valpo. The team also worked on what it needed to do as a team to get better, which not only helped the Panthers prepare for North Texas, but every team on its schedule the rest of the way.
"Just getting better ourselves. Obviously we worked harder on buzz (EIU's press defense) to be able to throw that in," Bollant said. "We had a lot of good possessions in buzz (against Valparaiso). So just trying to get better defensive and get better with rebounding. I was proud of the way (Grace McRae) and (Jennifer Nehls) and (Jalisha Smith) went to the offensive boards."
Monday's game was the second time this season EIU finished with a positive rebounding margin with 39 boards compared to 36 for Valparaiso.
EIU's home game on Wednesday is a Dollar Daze game. There will be $1 general admission tickets, $1 soda and $1 popcorn.
North Texas comes in with a 7-3 record and is one of the best team's EIU sees on its schedule this season. The Panthers have already faced tough teams such as Northern Illinois, Wright State (who just beat Belmont by 10 points on Monday) and St. Joseph.
Bollant said North Texas fits in with that group.
"They are real athletic and defend really well and rebound well and they have some quickness and some kids who can shoot it real well," Bollant said. "I would say they are maybe not quite as good as Wright State but better than St. Joe's. It's a new opportunity for us to get better and to keep growing."
North Texas has relied on its defense this season. The Mean Green are allowing only 50.1 points per game and opponents are only shooting 34.6 percent from the field. Only three teams have passed the 60-point threshold against North Texas this season. Illinois-Chicago put up a season-high 70 points against North Texas in a win over the Mean Green on Monday.
"I think they are just physical. They are quick and force a lot of turnovers and they rebound the ball really well," Bollant said. "Those are the things that make them good defensively."
EIU is averaging 61.4 points per game and are only shooting 35.5 percent from the field, including 28 percent from behind the arc. EIU is also only shooting 63 percent from the free throw line. Nehls leads the Panthers with nine points per game.
Bollant has worked in a few things to help the Panthers counter North Texas' defense.
"I think one, try and get some backcuts and create some backdoors and that would make them a little less aggressive on the perimeter," Bollant said. "We have to try and have good spacing as well."