University of Northern Colorado women’s basketball team has high expectations

Summer for the University of Northern Colorado women’s basketball team was anything but lazy, hazy and crazy.

It was all work and very little play for the Bears.

Summer workers make winter champions.

At least the Big Sky Conference media and coaches think the Bears will have what it takes, picking them to win the Big Sky Conference.

“It’s nice to get respect and recognition, but nobody looks at how you were ranked in the preseason,” said senior guard Savannah Scott as if she’s been programmed by coach Kamie Ethridge. “It’s the finished product, but we’re very humbled.”

Humbled is nice — in the preseason.

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Ethridge and the Bears want nothing less than a BSC title, something they were one game from winning two years ago when Scott, Savannah Smith, Courtney Smith and Kianna Williams were establishing what Ethridge likes to call “legacies.”

If players thought Ethridge’s summer demands — including individual workouts — were tough, the preseason schedule will make summer look like a vacation.

“It’s a very difficult schedule, from the beginning to the end,” said Ethridge, whose squad will play host to LSU at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Bank of Colorado Arena, then the University of San Francisco four days later.

The Bears will also play host to BYU (Nov. 30), Pacific University (Dec. 3) and Colorado State University (Dec. 10) in home preseason games.

On Friday, they’ll open the season at 6 p.m., at DePaul.

The Bears will have 11 preseason games before BSC play begins.

“In looking at our team, I’d never put pressure on them if I didn’t have a tremendous amount of confidence in our upperclassmen,” Ethridge said. “Having the kind of experience we have coming back and with the leadership of Savannah Scott, Kianna Williams, Courtney Smith and Savannah Smith … we have toughness.

“It’s time to put our program to the test,” Ethridge added. “I know in the long run, the (preseason) will benefit us with experience and the toughness factor.”

Ethridge, who spent her second straight summer helping coach USA Basketball in international competition, kept tabs on her squad when the temperatures were rising and the excuses for taking a day off were aplenty.

“I know the summertime is nice and everybody likes to get out and sunbathe, but you still have to find time to get to the gym,” Ethridge said. “The summer months are the most difficult time in their development. You see the (players) who are the most committed.”

Translated, Ethridge expects the Savannah guard duo (Smith and Scott) to continue their progress as one of the best backcourt tandems in the BSC along with Williams to make the most of her senior season while junior center Courtney continues to develop.

Add sophomore Krystal Leger-Walker to the mix of returnees whose experience is ripe for paying big dividends.

Scott remembers the exit meeting she had with Ethridge after her freshman season and being asked what she could do to make her teammates better.

“I can set the example by working hard,” said Scott, who spends as much time scrambling on the floor as she does upright. “My expectations are to win the Big Sky Conference … and even with a hard preseason, to be the best we can be in March.”

Ethridge conceded to recently watching a National Basketball Association game where the announcer said the Cleveland Cavaliers were like Noah’s Ark, having two of everything.

“I feel like that,” Ethridge said. “We have depth, and with just 11 players on the roster, we have to be careful not to wear people out. A year ago, we had to live through some people’s struggles at times and let them play through their mistakes.”

The Bears’ best evidence of depth is at the guard position, led by Scott and Smith. Williams is listed as a guard, but she also swings to a forward position at times.

Junior Kirsten Kramer can come off the bench, while freshmen Tiarna Clarke, of Albany, New Zealand, and Alexis Chapman are also expected to make an impact.

“We’ve got depth and we’ve got personnel,” Ethridge added. “We met with every player indivdually (before the summer) and made a list of what they needed to do individually … we put an emphasis on weight training to get stronger. There wasn’t much rest in the summer.”

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