By BRIAN LESTER
When the University of Findlay men’s basketball team takes the floor tonight against Ohio Dominican, the Oilers will be playing their fourth game in seven days.
It is a rigorous stretch of basketball that every team in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is dealing with during this final month of the regular season.
However, UF head coach Charlie Ernst hasn’t spent time talking about it with his team, which hosts the Panthers at 8 p.m. at Croy Gymnasium.
“Every team is in the same boat, so there really isn’t a reason to bring it up, but it is important that we don’t overtax the guys in practice,” Ernst said. “While there are a lot of things we want to cover, we want them to be fresh mentally and physically so they are in a position to play their best.”
Even if the schedule had not worked out the way it did this season, all GLIAC teams played on Monday this week, this is the point in the season where practice time is reduced.
“This is the first year we’ve had to play that extra game in a week, but normally when we get to February, our practice times begin to tail off a little bit anyway,” Ernst said. “We don’t practice nearly as long.”
The Oilers will be aiming for their third consecutive win, and very game counts a little more because teams are vying for not only positioning in the conference title race, but NCAA tourney positioning as well.
The good thing for UF (15-4, 11-4 GLIAC), which is a half game behind Walsh in the South Division and tied for second overall, is that its hitting its stride.
“As you go along in a season, you learn a lot about your team and figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and our team is really figuring out how it needs to play to be successful,” Ernst said. “Our players are developing confidence and finding their identity as a team.”
What the Oilers need to do against the Panthers is take care of business. In the first meeting, UF beat ODU (5-14, 3-12) 87-62 in Columbus.
The Panthers, just 1-8 on the road, have lost four of their last five and are coming off an 80-68 win over Tiffin on Monday.
But while ODU has struggled, the Oilers can’t afford to take them lightly.
“I told the guys this game is as important as every other game we will play,” Ernst said. “Our players understand the importance of it.”
Sophomore guard Mark Minch leads the Panthers as he is averaging 15.7 points per game. Sophomore guard Chad Nelson is clicking for 12.3 points per outing and has knocked down 27 3-pointers.
Sophomore forward Trent Weaver is also scoring in double figures for the Panthers, averaging 11.2 ppg. He is grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game as well.
The Panthers average 70.6 points per outing and allow 77.4. They are shooting 33.1 percent from the field while opponents are shooting 46.8 percent from the field.
Ernst said there are advantages and disadvantages to playing a team a second time.
“On one hand, from a defensive standpoint it is easier because you know what worked the last time you played them,” Ernst said. “But offensively, it’s a little more difficult because they are going to make adjustments, too.”
UF comes in averaging 82.8 points per outing and allowing 68.6. The Oilers edged Hillsdale 74-71 Monday in a pivotal division battle and are ready to carry that momentum forward.
Senior forward Greg Kahlig will play a pivotal role in that quest as he comes into the game averaging 21.9 ppg. He has 1,557 points and is 15 away from moving into 11th on the all-time scoring list. Kahlig remains on pace to be the first player to average 20 points per outing since Greg Denecker did it during the 1993-94 season.
Junior forward Jake Heagen (12.3), sophomore guard Dylan Kaufman (12.1) and sophomore point guard Dylan Kaufman (10.1) are also scoring 10 or more points.
The Oilers are in pursuit of their 12th division crown and this is the time of the year where they usually thrive. UF is 29-9 in February in the last five seasons.
“I don’t know if there is one thing you can put your finger on as to why we’ve had success in that month, but I think one of the biggest things is that we always have something to play for at this time of the year,” Ernst said.
Women trying to end skid
The UF women’s basketball team will look to end a two-game losing streak tonight when they take on ODU in a 6 p.m. GLIAC game at Croy Gymnasium.
The Oilers (9-10, 6-9 GLIAC) need a win to stay in the hunt for a conference tournament berth. They enter tonight two games behind the eighth-best team in the league and are in 11th in the overall standings. Only the top eight make the tournament.
In the first meeting with the Panthers (8-11, 5-10) the Oilers fell 79-72 in overtime. It was one of six games UF has lost this season by seven points or less.
ODU, coming off a 69-55 win over Tiffin, is averaging 63.1 points per game and allowing 64.5. Junior guard Kacee Hockenberry leads the Panthers, averaging 16.7 points per outing. Sophomore forward Melissa Scherpenberg is averaging 9.5 ppg and is grabbing 10.2 rebounds per outing as well.
Freshman forward Madi Rittinger is averaging 8.3 points per outing and the Panthers are shooting 38.8 percent from the field while holding opponents to 38.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Sophomore forward Margaret Wuebker leads UF in scoring at 12.8 ppg. Junior guard Ciara Geiger has come on strong as of late, leading Findlay in scoring in their last three games.
Geiger is averaging 9.3 points per outing and has scored in double figures in each of the last three games, including a 17-point effort against Malone on Saturday. She scored 13 in Monday’s 66-61 loss to Hillsdale.
Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993