While Hendrix teams enter the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament this weekend with opposite seedings on their respective brackets, both are on a roll.
The Hendrix women (15-10) have won nine of their last 10 and are West champs for the second year in a row. Top-seeded from the West, the Warriors will play Oglethorpe (6-18), the fourth seed from the East, at 1 p.m. today in the first round.
The Hendrix men (10-15) have won four of their last six (including two overtime victories) and had to win two in a row last weekend just to make the postseason tournaemnt field as the No. 4 seed from the West Division. They’ll play Centre (18-4), the top seed from the East, in the first round at 6 tonight.
Millsaps, which did not qualify a team for the tournament for the second straight year, will host the tourney for the second straight year. The first-round men’s games will be played at Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss. The first-round women’s games will be at The Hangar at Millsaps, site of both semifinal rounds Saturday and the championship games Sunday.
A win by the Hendrix women would put them against the Centre-Southwestern winner at 1 p.m. Saturday. A win by the Hendrix men would put the Warriors against the Colorado College-Oglethorpe winner at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Emily Cummins, Hendrix’s first-year coach, thinks her team can play better despite the surge in January and February.
“We’re a team that is still peaking and I feel all the other teams have already peaked,” she said.
The Warriors started 6-9.
“The players were learning a new system and they were not used to me and I was not used to them,” she said. “We started winning and they started thinking, ‘This is gonna work.’ We are playing with more confidence and trust in each other. We are playing together.”
The Warriors struggled to defeat the Stormy Petrels, 70-66, earlier in Atlanta.
“It was one of those moments that we had to decide whether we were going to go forward or roll over and die,” Cummins said. “We didn’t make shots and we didn’t play together at that time.”
One of the best 3-point shooting teams in the tournament, the Warriors had been averaging 20 turnovers a game but cut that more than half in Sunday’s victory over Austin College, which the coach considers one of the best overall efforts of the season.
“We have put a great emphasis on taking care of the ball and I think our players are starting putting the pieces together,” the coach said.
Hendrix lost to Centre, 68-56, in the team’s regular-season meeting at Danville, Ky.
“We actually used that game as a way to feel better about ourselves,” said Hendrix coach Thad McCracken. “We had started 0-5 and weren’t playing well. But with three or four minutes to go, it was a six-point game and Chris Goodman had an open 3 that he couldn’t get to play. The next three or four minutes, they (the Colonels) executed and we didn’t. But I think that game and the confidence we gained catapulted us to the record we had the last few games.”
Centre, the top defensive team in the conference, has won nine of its last 11.
“It wasn’t a very good basketball game when we met the first time, so I don’t think we can take too much from that game,” said Centre coach Greg Mason. “They are playing a lot better now and so are we. I think we got in the mindset that our ‘MO’ was to be the best defensive team in the country and we’re No. 2 right now.”
“What you have to do when you play a team like Centre is to value possessions and the mistakes you can make are not just bad passes,” said McCracken, who coached the Hendrix women last season then switched to the men this season. “Our overall toughness and mental toughness has improved leaps and bounds this year. We don’t hang our heads any more. We play with more discipline each night.”
One key to the improvement has been the Warriors have settled on a rotation that has 3-point shooters Jaren Riley and Goodman coming off the bench.
“But our outside play has been helped because of the development of Nick Heathscott (St. Joseph) inside,” McCracken said. “Anytime you can go inside-out as a shooter, that’s the best 3-point look you can get. Heathscott on the blocks has drawn more attention and that has made our outside game better.”
Heathscott will be challenged by Centre post Alex Loyd, the college’s career leader in blocked shots.
“Alex is as good of defensive player as this conference has seen in the last 10 to 12 years,” Mason said. “We feel if we hit close to 45 percent from the field, we have a good chance of winning because we can guard defensively.
“But I also think this is a wide-open tournament and anybody can win it. It’s who plays the best for three straight days.”
All tournament games will be shown on streaming video at the tournament’s website at www.scacsports.com