The Western Nebraska Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams will play host to Northeastern Junior College Saturday afternoon in key South sub-region action.
The women will tip-off the day at 2 p.m. followed by the men at 4 p.m.
Both Cougar teams are looking to stay atop the South standings. For the Cougar men, who enter the contest with a 7-1 conference mark and 17-4 overall, it is a chance to win the conference and host the Region IX tournament in March.
The men play a NJC team that is 3-6 in conference play and 8-12 overall. NJC earned an 84-60 win over Eastern Wyoming College Wednesday night, snapping a four-game losing skid. The two squads already faced each other once this season with the Cougars earning 107-87 win at Sterling, Colorado.
In that contest, WNCC sank 16 3-pointers and put four players in double figures led by Vinnie Shahid’s 27 points. Marlon Sierra also added 23 for the Cougars.
NJC was led in scoring by Marcus Burwell, who sizzled the nets for 34 points and 8 of 10 free throw shooting.
The two teams have different offensive styles. WNCC is offensive-minded coming in tied for seventh as one of the highest scoring teams in the nation at 100.1 points. NJC is averaging just 74.3 points a contest. NJC has only hit the century mark once this season when they topped Northwest Kansas Technical College junior varsity 103-70.
The Cougar men are tied with Eastern Oklahoma State and Harcum. The teams ahead of the Cougars in the offensive scoring category include Temple College at No. 1 (117.9 points) followed by Miami Dade at 109.9 and Region IX’s Gillette College in third at 105.3 points a game.
The other three include Southern Idaho (103.5), Columbia State (102.4), and New Mexico Military (101.7).
While the men are seventh in scoring points, they lead the nation in made 3-pointers. WNCC has sank 286 treys this season for a whopping 45.8 average, which is second in the nation behind Seminole State (Oklahoma) at 47.4 percent.
Shahid leads the team from beyond the arc, connecting on 63-of-121 treys followed by Trent Harris making 55-of-119.
Also making double-digit treys include Djodje Dimitrijevic (41), Martin Roub (39), Marlon Sierra (25), Jervay Green (22, Marko Rajanovic (19), and Austin Hoffman (12).
WNCC also is one of the top shooting teams in the nation, ranking 13th in field goal percentage at 52.2 percent. Region IX schools Sheridan and Gillette rank higher. Sheridan is making 53.7 percent while Gillette is at 53.1.
While 2- and 3-point shooting is going well for the Cougars, don’t be surprised with the free throw accuracy. The Cougars rank third in the country making 78.1 percent of their charity shots. Lawson State and Southern Shreveport are tied for the lead at 80.8 percent.
WNCC has four players making 80 percent of their free throws. Zane Bender is hitting on 88.9 percent followed by Shahid at 86.6, Dimitrijevic at 85.3, and Trent Harris at 81.5.
That is only half the story for the men as they also rank 18th in assists per game at 20.7.
The men’s offensive explosion has been impressive, where they have scored at least 80 points in 20 of 21 games this season.
WNCC has scored 100 points in 11 games this season, including a stretch where they scored 100 points in five straight games.
The highest scoring contests included a 129-111 win over Eastern Wyoming and a 120-54 win over Little Big Horn.
The lowest amount of points the Cougar men have scored this season was a 79-point performance Casper College on Jan. 8, where they lost 84-79.
The women are also making waves on the national front. The Cougar women are the ninth highest-scoring team averaging 83.6 points a game. Region IX’s Miles Community College is two spots higher in the rankings at No. 7. The Pioneers are averaging 84.2 points a game.
WNCC is scoring points from both the 2- and 3-point area. WNCC is 27th in the NJCAA in made 3-pointers with 140. Five other Region IX teams are even higher, but the Cougars have already beaten four of them.
Miles is second (209), Casper is 7th (183), Lamar is 11th (162), Western Wyoming is 13th (161), and Laramie County is 18th (149).
A big key is the women’s shooting, where overall they are ranked 7th in the nation making 47.2 percent of their field goals. Wabash Valley is first making 50.5 percent of their shots.
Another big reason for the Cougars success this season where they are 19-3, is they share the ball well. WNCC ranks 13th in the nation in assists per game at 19.2 assists as well as 39th in steals (12.4 per game).
The women’s success this season has been its diversity of shooting from inside and beyond the 3-point line.
Six women have made 10 or more 3-pointers this season. Melisa Kadic leads the way with 48 followed by Olivia Wiberg with 23, Merle Wiehl with 20, Karli Seay with 12, and Josie Perez and Jalessa Avery with 10 each.
Three Cougars are also shooting over 50 percent for the season. Giovanna Silva leads the way with 55.9 percent shooting (85 of 152) followed by Wiehl at 50.7 (151-of-298) and Kadic at 50 percent (119-of-238).
While all the national attention is nice, when it comes to the court, anything can happen. The last time the two women’s teams faced each other, WNCC enjoyed an 81-63 win at Sterling, Colorado, back in December. That contest saw five Cougars hit for double digits, led by Merle Wiehl with 19 points and Karli Seay with 18.
Cougar women will be looking to stay unbeaten in South sub-region play. WNCC is 7-0 in the conference and 19-3 overall. The Cougars own a 2-game lead over second place Laramie County Community College, who is 5-2 in conference action. NJC is just 3 ½ games out at 3-3 in conference play as they travel to Eastern Wyoming College on Thursday.
NOTES: The Cougars will have just two home games left after this weekend on Feb. 16 and 17 when they host Lamar and Otero. … Saturday’s contests will also be Longfellow and Roosevelt Elementary School recognition day. … The NJC game will also be WNCC faculty and staff appreciation day as each Cougar player and coach will recognize individuals at the college for their outstanding work at WNCC as they are honored before the men’s game. … After Saturday, the Cougars will travel to Torrington, Wyoming, on Feb. 3 to face Eastern Wyoming College.
Region IX Standings
WNCC 7-0 19-3
McCook 1-6 3-16
Northwest 3-2 15-6
Sheridan 2-2 10-10
C. Wyoming 1-3 7-13
W. Wyoming 1-3 3-17
Little Big Horn 0-3 1-14
WNCC 7-1 17-4
North Platte 4-3 8-7
McCook 3-5 13-6
Sheridan 3-2 17-3
C. Wyoming 2-2 11-9
Northwest 2-3 11-10
Little Big Horn 0-4 0-17