Conference play begins over break for SIU

By Gus Bode

Most people will be wondering where the party is on New Year’s Eve, but the Salukis already know – they will be at the SIU Arena.

The final day of 2004 marks SIU’s first conference game against Creighton, a team picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton also managed to take Iowa, a Big 10 team, to overtime. Despite losing, the performance demands respect.

SIU women’s basketball head coach Dana Eikenberg knows the Salukis don’t have the chance to just ease into their conference schedule – they simply get tossed right into the mix with a tough competitor.


“It’s a real eye-opener into the conference,” Eikenberg said. “Then again, nine games in the non-conference schedule should prepare us for that.”

Before the Salukis end the year against Creighton, they still get a vacation of sorts. SIU will travel to sunny Florida for two games in three days, facing Bethune-Cookman Dec. 18 and Stetson Dec. 21.

The games signify the end of SIU’s non-conference schedule, and senior guard Danette Jones is hoping to end that portion of the schedule on a high note, although she prefers not to look too far ahead into the future.

“We have two games in Florida that are very winnable games for us,” Jones said. “You have to take one game at a time, but we would like to come back ready to go after Christmas.”

After Creighton, the Salukis will receive a visit from the Drake Bulldogs Jan. 2. Like Creighton, Drake has been no slouch thus far in the season, knocking off the likes of Michigan, a Big 10 Conference contender.

With such staunch competition, SIU will need to focus entirely on the task at hand – making a dent in its conference schedule against some very difficult teams. Fortunately, all that schoolwork won’t get in the way over the break.

But the Salukis will still have homework in the form of game footage. Eikenberg is looking forward to using the break as a time to work more independently with the Salukis while also closely examining film with them.


Eikenberg also hopes the break will allow the team to spend some quality time together.

“A little less academic pressure might allow them to relax a little more,” Eikenberg said.

Jones said she enjoys just having basketball to focus on over the course of the break, and Eikenberg is hoping the entire team will share Jones’ focus.

While a break from school might be relaxing for the Salukis, their hectic schedule over the break will leave them bouncing on the balls of their feet.

After Drake leaves Carbondale, the Salukis will travel to Wichita, Kan., to face Wichita State Jan. 6. Then, with only a day’s worth of rest, SIU will head to Springfield, Mo., to face the projected champions of the MVC, Southwest Missouri State.

“It’s always fun to play at SMS – they play in front of tremendous fans,” Jones said. ” I just wish they were on our side.”

Eikenberg pointed out the Bears’ intelligence and mental wiles as their key strengths. Those qualities were on display when SMS dismantled Missouri 66-44.

With SIU picked to finish last in the MVC, they will undoubtedly be the underdogs in the contest against the Bears, and Eikenberg isn’t expecting to measure up to SMS’ overall talent. It will simply take time and experience for that to happen for the Salukis.

“We have to stick to our game plan and be physical when we have to be,” Eikenberg said. “We don’t equal the top tier of this conference yet.”

After battling SMS, the Salukis will return home to take on Northern Iowa Jan. 14, after five days of rest. SIU then rounds out its break schedule against Bradley on Jan. 16.

Eikenberg is going to look for improvements in the Saluki offense as the break progresses. She said the ability to focus solely on basketball should help solidify the communication lines between the players.

“We want the offense to get in sync a little bit more,” Eikenberg said. “If we can just make better players as we go through, then we’ll be better in late January.”