A new era for UNO women's basketball is set to begin.
The Mavericks play their first-ever Summit League game at 7 p.m. Friday at Missouri-Kansas City.
UNO, picked to finish last in the nine-team league, has had the best non-conference season of any Summit team at 8-2. UMKC, picked to finish second, has the league's worst overall record at 4-9.
It guarantees nothing.
“We're very happy with how the preseason went,” UNO coach Chance Lindley said. “We couldn't have asked for anything more. But everyone is 0-0 now.
“We all know where we were picked in the preseason, and that's a good thing because there's not a whole lot of pressure on us. If we go out and lose every game and finish ninth, that's what every coach picked us to do. … Hopefully, we'll do better than that.”
Coaches predicted a second-place finish for UMKC, coming off a 22-12 season and a trip to the Women's National Invitation Tournament, in part because of the return of preseason first-team all-league picks Eilise O'Connor and Kim Nezianya.
O'Connor, a 5-foot-9 junior, is averaging 16.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals. But Nezianya, a 6-foot senior forward, has missed the last six games with a knee injury after averaging 15.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Her status for Friday's game is uncertain.
The Kangaroos, who lost early in the season to Division II Missouri Western, have lost their last five games and seven of nine. They are ranked No. 239 in realtimerpi.com, while UNO is ranked No. 229 — fifth best in the Summit.
“They're a good team that has lost to some good teams,” Lindley said of UMKC. “They've got good size. Their record isn't reflective of what kind of team they are.”
UMKC is a better team with Nezianya in the lineup. Lindley said the Mavs are preparing as if she'll play and will adjust from there.
“The thing that makes it easier is that we focus mostly on ourselves first,” Lindley said.
Besides doing its homework on Nezianya, UNO has paid attention to the rest of the Summit League, trying to get a feel for where it fits.
UNO continues league play Sunday, with a 2 p.m. game at South Dakota.
“I think we know it OK,” Lindley said of the rest of the Summit. “After we go through it the first time around, we'll have a much better understanding of what we are and what we are not. The conference is pretty good this year.”
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