Two games separate five teams all in the hunt for a top seed at regionals as the regular season winds down.
Only five games remain for the Trappers (19-9, 7-4), and head coach Janis Beal said it’s going to take exceptional focus and play to separate themselves from the pack.
Beal has stressed to her team “taking one game at a time and understanding how important every single one is.”
A test is coming right away when NWC visits Casper College to take on the Thunderbirds (15-9, 7-4), who lurk just a half game back of the Trappers.
The contest against Casper comes one month after the Trappers won a 58-57 thriller against the T-Birds in Powell on Jan. 8.
NWC held a 16-board rebounding advantage in what was the team’s 10th win in a row. Beal said her girls will have to hit the glass in a similar fashion to get a similar result.
“I felt like our girls really put an emphasis on that,” Beal said. “And we’re going to have to do the same thing in order to be successful at Casper.”
The Trappers also shot a season-high 27 3-pointers versus the Thunderbirds, and hit just enough (seven, for 25.9 percent) for the one-point win.
The barrage of 3s was a response to Casper’s zone defense, but Beal said Northwest needs to play a more well-rounded game the second time these teams meet.
“We have to understand an inside-out game, we still have to get post touches instead of living and dying by the three,” Beal said.
The Trappers avoided a four-game losing streak by beating Miles City (Mont.) College 64-57 on the road Feb. 1. The team was coming off a 72-52 blowout loss at the hands of Gillette College on Jan. 29.
Sophomore point guard Andressa Augusto scored 15 points, her most in seven games, and sophomore Imari Simpson added 13 points and six rebounds as the Trappers beat Miles City (12-12, 3-8).
“It was good to see Imari and Andressa as our top scorers again,” Beal said.
The coach said Northwest will need her go-to duo to be in top form if the Trappers hope to make a move in the North.
“Andressa and Imari are going to be a big part of how we end the season,” Beal said. “We’re going to need them to consistently play at their best level.”
For Augusto, her 6-for-9 shooting (3-for-3 on 3-pointers) performance against Miles City was a return to her early-season form, when she scored nine or more points in 12 of 17 games. Augusto had scored just 17 total points in the four games leading up to the Miles City contest.
“I felt like Saturday she really played like herself with being a little more aggressive,” Beal said.
Freshman Caitlin Clancy chipped in with seven points and tied Simpson for a team-high six rebounds.
“It was good to see her get some rebounds,” Beal said. “She definitely gave us a spark and some energy.”
Clancy grabbed a steal and converted on the other end for two points late in the game.
“That was big for us,” Beal said.
The Trappers shot 41 percent from the floor, far better than Miles’ 30 percent mark (including just 3-of-21 from beyond the arc).
Northwest also benefited from a 10-point halftime lead, something that had eluded the team in its previous three losses.
The Trappers trailed by at least 10 at half to Western Wyoming in Rock Springs (49-26), Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont., (29-19) and most recently in their loss against Gillette (46-24).
Beal said her team played well for the first 10 minutes against the Gillette Pronghorns, but trailed off in the final 10 to dig themselves another insurmountable hole.
“We beat them in the second half, but we can’t have those lapses of any amount of time,” Beal said. “We have to play a full 40 minutes.”
Simpson led the Trappers with 17 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore Leanne Winterholler scored 11 points to go with two boards, four assists and two steals.
Freshman Dana Bjorhus added seven points, five rebounds and an assist in the loss.
The Dawson Buccaneers have won eight of their past nine and now hold a one-game lead over Western Wyoming, which has lost two straight games for the first time all season and now sits in second place.
The North was further shook up when Gillette was penalized for having an ineligible player and forfeited five games, which sent them from tied for first to the bottom of the standings with a 2-8 conference record.
Northwest will host its first game since Jan. 25 on Wednesday, Feb. 12, against Sheridan (17-9, 7-5). Sheridan lost to Casper 59-57 Wednesday evening and will host Dawson on Saturday. Depending on the outcome of those games, and Northwest’s in Casper, the Trappers-Generals matchup could be for sole possession of third place.