Wichita State's women's basketball non-conference record last season was 8-3, but hardly a preview of a 2-14 conference finish.
This season, WSU's 8-3 again, and second-year coach Jody Adams isn't sure what to expect as Missouri Valley play opens at home tonight against Northern Iowa.
Wichita State is the most inexperienced team in the league and will rely heavily on its newcomers. What Adams is sure of is the importance of the post play.
Chynna Turner and Jazimen Gordon, both 11 games into their collegiate careers, will shoulder most of those expectations.
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"They're not freshmen anymore," Adams said. "They're seasoned players now. Their role has grown and they've got to contribute. Not just by putting the points on the board, but they have to do it defensively, too, by rebounding the ball."
Things have begun to click for the 6-foot-2 Gordon. Her recent surge was highlighted by her game-winning jumper to defeat UMKC in the Bahamas. After playing sparingly the first five games, she has averaged 25 minutes, 7.2 points and 6.8 rebounds the last six.
"I started listening to my coaches and listening to what they were saying and not how they were saying it to me," Gordon said. "I think that's helped me grow a lot."
Turner has struggled with consistency in her first season. She has shown flashes — her 17-point, eight-rebound performance against Arkansas-Pine Bluff that led to Valley newcomer of the week honors; and low points — playing six minutes and not scoring in a loss to Northern Colorado.
But both will have to become steady for the Shockers to be successful.
"If we establish an inside presence, then it will open up our outside game," point guard Marisah Henderson said. "Closer shots are higher-percentage shots, so of course we want more of those, instead of threes."
Turner has started nine games and Adams has used Gordon as a spark off the bench. They have had success in their roles, but they will tested against a talented Northern Iowa front line that includes Kim Wypiszynski, Lizzie Boeck and Erin Brocka. They combine to average 27 points and 22 rebounds.
"As a coach, I probably don't settle and say right now, 'Where you are, you're OK to stay here as a freshman,' " Adams said. "Can't. I have a sense of urgency and they have a sense of urgency to improve as we go through the Valley."