A new basketball season begins for Saint Martin's tonight.
Both the men’s and women’s teams open play in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament on the road against opponents they’ve beaten.
The men play at Alaska Anchorage. The Saints beat the Seawolves at home two weeks ago, 60-54.
“When we beat them at our place, we defended the 3 really well,” Saints coach Keith Cooper said. “I thought we played better defense at our place.”
Anchorage, 21-8 overall, second in the conference and 12-3 at home, has three players averaging in double figures and is led by Taylor Rohde, a 6-foot-9 junior forward averaging 16.8 points.
“They’ve got some good, athletic guards who are long,” Cooper said. “That makes it hard for our guards to get open shots against them.”
Rohde, from Phoenix, is a tough matchup for Saint Martin’s Blake Poole, who was just named the GNAC’s Player of the Year. Poole is averaging a double-double, 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds.
“Rohde’s a big, strong kid,” Cooper said. “He can defend the paint well against Blake.”
The SMU women play at Montana State Billings. The Saints beat the Yellowjackets at home, 63-55, and lost on a desperate, last-second shot on the road, 62-61.
Midway through the season, coach Tim Healy switched to a matchup zone. Over the past 13 games, SMU is holding opponents to an average of 58.5 points.
“Our biggest improvement has been on defense,” Healy said. “We went to a matchup zone. You have to be smart to pick that up and we do have a smart team.”
The Saints (15-11) landed a conference-best six players on the GNAC’s all-academic women’s team.
Dara Zack, a first-team all-conference pick, leads the Saints with 15.3 points per game. Guard Marelle Moehrle is next at 8.6 points.
SMU goes into tonight’s game a little nicked up. In the a 74-67 win at Central Washington on Thursday in their regular-season finale, guard Roni Jo Mielke didn’t play in the second half because of a twisted ankle. Moehrle sprained her knee late in the game.
“We’ll have to see how it goes,” Healy said. “We’re hoping they’ll be able to play.”
The Saints men (14-14) have endured a hard-luck season. They have lost six games by three points or fewer and three in overtime. Before they even started, the Saints lost big men Matt Dodson and Alex Williams to season-ending injuries. With Dodson, Cooper figures his team would have picked up another six wins.
“This team has done a great job of staying together,” Cooper said. “They haven’t quit.”
A break here or there, and the SMU men would have been assured of their third straight winning record, something the Saints haven’t done in nearly 30 years.
In other men’s tournament games, No. 8 seeded Montana State Billings is at No. 1 Central Washington; No. 6 Western Oregon is at No. 3 Seattle Pacific; and No. 5 Northwest Nazarene is at No. 4 Western Washington.
In the women’s tournament, No. 8 Simon Fraser is at No. 1 Western Washington; No. 7 Northwest Nazarene is at No. 2 Alaska Anchorage; and No. 6 Western Oregon is at No. 3 Seattle Pacific.
Both SMU teams – the men are seeded seventh and the women are seeded fifth – will have to win their tournaments to advance to regionals. Winners of Monday’s games advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.