Lubbock Christian University can win the Heartland Conference women’s basketball championship outright on Thursday and extend its homecourt winning streak to 47 games by doing so. But for a team that wins so often and so easily, the Lady Chaparrals’ last step to the conference title’s not likely to be a pushover.
Few teams in the Heartland have given LCU more trouble lately than Newman, and the Jets are the Lady Chaps’ opponent for senior night.
No. 2 LCU (22-1, 11-0) and Newman (17-9, 8-4) square off at 6 p.m. Thursday in the first game of a women’s/men’s doubleheader at the Rip Griffin Center. The recent series history suggests it’ll be competitive.
“They’re just good,” Lady Chaps coach Steve Gomez said Wednesday. “They’re tough. They defend consistently. They don’t hurt themselves. Defensively, they don’t do a lot of things that put themselves at a disadvantage. Some teams might gamble more. Other teams might have soft spots here or there. They just are always solid.”
LCU beat Newman 73-66 in the first round of conference play on Jan. 25 at Wichita, Kansas. Last year, the Jets upset the Lady Chaps 61-60 in Wichita, and then LCU won 60-55 at home and 63-57 in the conference tournament at Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“I think we’re going to come out with a lot of fight, because they’re going to want to beat us,” LCU forward Tess Bruffey said. “We beat them at their house. They’re going to want to come in and beat us at ours on our senior night, and we’re just not going to let that happen. I think we’re all pretty determined and excited for tomorrow.”
Bruffey has had 27- , 30- and 25-point performances during the past four games against Newman. Jets guard Hannah Alexander scored 25 or more points eight times this season and is the conference’s second-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game.
Thursday will be the last regular-season home game for three seniors: Bruffey and guard Caitlyn Buttram, both of whom have spent their entire college careers at LCU, and for guard Delaney Gaddis, who transferred in from a Colorado junior college. Barring a late-season collapse, though, the Lady Chaps are a shoo-in to host the NCAA South Central Region tournament, an eight-team event that’s part of the first three rounds of the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
The season’s first set of NCAA Division II regional rankings were released Wednesday, showing LCU first in the South Central, followed by Angelo State (18-4), West Texas A&M (20-4), Colorado State-Pueblo (19-6) and Arkansas-Fort Smith (16-8). Rounding out the top 10 are Metro State Denver (18-7), Fort Lewis (19-6), Tarleton State (17-8), Black Hills State (19-6) and Texas A&M-Commerce (16-9). The top eight after conference tournaments make the regional.
The Lady Chaps are trying to finish their third consecutive regular season unbeaten at home. Their last loss in the Rip Griffin Center came on New Year’s Day 2015, an 85-81 setback to Oklahoma City in which LCU blew a 10-point lead in the last three minutes. Bruffey and Buttram are the only two players left from that team.
“That was my freshman year,” Bruffey said, “and we had a chip on our shoulder after that, and I don’t think we ever looked back.
LCU’s 46-game home winning is tied for 12th longest all-time in NCAA Division II. The record is 87 in a row, set by Nebraska-Kearney from January 1995 to November 2001.
“We take pride on our home floor,” Gaddis said. “It means a lot for us to perform and be able to play for not only our school, but for the community. We don’t necessarily have in our heads the streak, but we definitely have that sense of pride and sense of ownership of our floor and not wanting anybody to come and take a win on our court.”
Thursday’s late game also has major implications. The Newman men (13-11, 9-4) are Heartland Conference co-leaders, and LCU (12-12, 8-5) is one game back. The Chaps stayed close last week with home wins against then-Heartland leader Dallas Baptist and Rogers State.