Ashland women ready to be home

Nearly a month has passed since Ashland (Ohio) women’s basketball team has played a home game, so it makes sense why the Eagles are excited about Thursday's game at Kates Gymnasium against Michigan Tech.

After all, Ashland is 14-0, ranked No. 1 in WABC top 25 and is coming off an impressive 88-83 victory at Bellarmine, which is currently ranked No. 4.

Plus, this is a fun time of the basketball season for most Division II student-athletes. School hasn’t resumed, so the focus is strictly on basketball and growing stronger as a team.

“It is nice. It is almost like we are professional athletes, but obviously, we are not,” said 6-foot-1 junior forward Andi Daugherty. “It is nice to get in the gym more and get more sleep. But I am also here to get an education. These four weeks are extra special, and we need to utilize them to improve.”

Daugherty knows the importance of classwork. Last year, she was named to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Academic All-Excellence Team for having a GPA of 3.50 or higher.

On the court, Daugherty is excelling at a high level. Her 28 points and nine rebounds against Bellarmine on Dec. 31 helped her earn U.S. Basketball Writers Association NCAA Division II women’s basketball national player of the week honors for the second time in her career.

“She was really good as a sophomore and better as a junior,” Ashland coach Robyn Fralick said. “She is stronger. Her defensive versatility is critical in the way we guard and what we do defensively. She is rebounding. In the Bellarmine game, she found ways to put the ball in the basket. I think she kept the game simple. She has always been a dynamic rebounder.”

For Daugherty, the only game she is looking at presently is Michigan Tech, which is 8-2 overall and tied for first with Northern Michigan at 4-1 in North Division of the GLIAC. It just so happens that Ashland will play Northern Michigan Saturday afternoon at Kates Gymnasium.

RELATED: Ashland tops Week 1's DII women's basketball power rankings

“We are very excited to play at home,” Daugherty said. “It feels like we have been on the road most of December. It is nice to come back and have a couple of home games to play, especially against good teams. We are expecting really good crowds. We love to play at home like every team does. I feel like we are prepared, but we also have to play good basketball. The teams we are playing are good. I am sure they worked just as hard as we did. We are excited about the challenge.”

The aspect that Fralick likes best about the 2016-17 Eagles is the players are a fun group to be around whether they are practicing or playing games on the road or at home.

It is kind of a unique situation since eight players, including four starters, return from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last year.

“Part of it is our style of play,” Fralick said. “We play much more aggressive defensively and offensively. We have more depth. We play more depth. Our depth has been really productive. It has been a big strength of the team. We are trying to utilize and maximize that in the way we play offensively and defensively. They are fun at practice. They love to play. They are funny. That has been the good part of the journey.”

Fralick also added four freshmen to the team.

“They bring a lot of spunk,” Daugherty said. “Also, we just have a different feel, a one-team mindset. We get along really well. We are friends off the court, and that shows on the court."

Simply put, there are many reasons why the Eagles will be thrilled to be on the court tonight against Michigan Tech.

“It is a neat time of year because you get more time together as a group,” Fralick said. “Everybody is not on a super schedule with classes and other things that go with being in school. But when it is time to hoop, it is time to hoop. Whether it is in the beginning of the season or on break, we want our kids to have the mentality that every time is a great time to play basketball.” 

Angelo State men ready for top 10 battle with Tarleton

One nice quality Angelo State men’s basketball team has in its favor when it plays at home Thursday against Tarleton State is the ability to win close games.

In all likelihood, this early-season Lone Star Conference showdown will be close. Angelo State is 10-0 and ranked No. 5 in the NABC top 25. Tarleton State is 12-1 and ranked ninth.

Angelo State is coming off an 81-77 victory at Cameron on Dec. 31.

“At the end of the game, we had to make plays to win,” Angelo State coach Cinco Boone said. “We think our team had some toughness and the confidence to be able to win those games.”

Indeed. In the first week of December, Angelo State won at St. Mary’s University 89-87 and two days later won 91-90 at St. Edwards. On Dec. 8, the Rams won 75-72 at Midwestern State in the Lone Star conference opener.

“The word confidence is the best way to describe it,” Boone said. “They think they can win games in the last two or three minutes in a game.”

The Rams will need to be confident against Tarleton State. A year ago, Tarleton State prevented Angelo State from reaching the quarterfinals with a 77-72 win in the South Central Regional championship game.

RELATED: Angelo State ranked No. 7 in Week 1's DII men's basketball power rankings

“We have several returners, and they don’t tend to forget the loss,” Boone said. “As a coach, you don’t forget the loss. With new guys on the team and contributors on the team, we don’t spend much time talking about it. They have new players. We have new players, so we focus on this year’s team and the strengths of our team and the weakness of our team as well as theirs. We try to prepare the best we can. They have several returners at the guard spot and the center who played on that quarterfinals team. They are a good team. I think they are shooting the ball well. They have good athletes who really chase the ball on the offensive glass. We have to contain the three-pointer, and if we get them to miss shots, we will have to collect the boards.”

Division II Basketball Showcase

The first televised Division II Basketball Showcase for 2017 will be Northern State at Augustana on Jan. 14. The women’s game is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET and the men at 7 p.m. It can be seen on WatchESPN and ESPN App. Augustana men are the defending Division II champions.