Sophomore guard Gabe Solarin returned to the team at full strength after sustaining a foot injury on Dec. 14 against the Colorado Kings.
Solarin is the team’s third-leading scorer (10.3 ppg) and is shooting 46.6 percent from the field.
The Trappers will need every point Solarin and the rest of the team can muster as Northwest enters the core of its conference schedule.
Head coach Brian Erickson said the conference games take on a different tone.
“Some of our new guys, they’ll quickly understand that these games do have a different feel to them,” Erickson said.
Northwest (11-6, 1-2) will host the Casper Thunderbirds (9-6, 2-1) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and then will travel to Sheridan to play the Generals at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
“Those are two teams that have always been at the top,” the coach said. “People in Powell love to see you beat those teams. It means a lot to be able to beat those teams.
“It’s a big step up from some of the games we’ve played.”
The Trappers will have to step up as a team if they want to compete with the rest of the North Division that’s gunning for a regional title.
Erickson said his team has room to improve in all aspects of the game, beginning with defense.
“We’ve got to do a lot better job of keeping teams out of the lane,” Erickson said.
Scoring has been less of an issue for NWC, which ranks third in the North in scoring. The Trappers average 83.1 points per game, ranked 77th of 206 teams in the nation. When they do have trouble scoring, it’s often because they can’t hold onto the ball.
“We’ve had way too many turnovers,” the coach said.
Northwest is averaging 16.8 turnovers through the first 17 games this season, which is ranked 175th. The Trappers force 13.9 turnovers per game.
Erickson said the offense will slowly evolve as the team implements new wrinkles.
“We’ll keep adding things as we play — start running different plays,” he said. “Things we haven’t shown all year, we’ll start showing some of those things.”
The team held its first official 2014 practice Thursday, and Erickson said the Trappers are trying to shake off the rust.
“The more time we spend on the floor the quicker we can try to get rid of some of those mistakes,” the coach said.