by Rick White
Eastern New Mexico Zias coach Dan Buzard is not a big fan of the Lone Star Conference basketball tournament format.
The Zias, who returned from a two-game road trip late Saturday night, were back on the bus less than 36 hours later heading to Tahlequah, Okla., the northern-most post in the LSC. The bruised and battered Zias, trying to recover from the pair of blowout losses and the loss of two of their leading scorers to injuries, left at 7 a.m. Monday for a 10-hour bus ride for today’s first-round game of the LSC Tournament against Northeastern State.
“That’s why the playoff system is so stupid,” Buzard said by phone (on the bus) Monday afternoon. “There’s no rhyme of reason to do it this way.
“The games should be played at a neutral site rotating between the North and South so we can promote the tournament all year.”
The current format has the top two seeds in each division hosting first-round games. This weekend’s semifinals and finals are played at the highest remaining seed (depending on rotation between North and South) and Tuesday’s results.
“The way it is now, we don’t even find out until Saturday night where we’re playing,” Buzard said.
Northeastern State (21-6) successfully defended its North title this season behind a balanced scoring attack — only one player averages in double figures — and the conference’s stingiest defense.
“They run a great motion offense,” Buzard said. “They like to run the shot clock down looking for a good shot and make you play defense all night.
“They’re physical and they play really good defense.”
Buzard said the Zias (16-11), who dropped from a tie for first to the fourth seed in the LSC South by losing their last two games, match up well with Northeastern because the Lady Reds lack the size of some of the other top LSC teams.
With junior guard Laci Lee (ankle sprain) and senior post Jereena Bosket (concussion) out for the game, other players will have to pick up the scoring slack, Buzard said.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Buzard said. “We’ve got people capable of stepping up and filling those roles.”
Sophomores Kristi McGuire and Tiana Bryant are expected to replace Lee and Bosket in the starting lineup.
Buzard hopes Lee (team-high 14.6 ppg) and Bosket (11.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) could return if the Zias make the tournament semifinals.
Randy Gipson, Northeastern’s two-time LSC North coach of the year, said his team’s strengths are experience and unselfish play.
“We like to get everybody involved,” said Gipson, the younger brother of Northeastern men’s coach Larry Gipson. “People don’t have anybody to key on, and I think that’s a strength. But sometimes I wish we did have a go-to-player.”
Senior forward Leslie Warner leads Northeastern State in scoring at 10.9 points a game. She is one of nine Lady Reds who have led the team in scoring in a game.