Griffon men prepare for final stretch with hopes of Kansas City

Western men's basketball still has to pull out some wins to completely secure its spot as one of the 12 teams invited to the MIAA post-season tournament in Kansas City. "For us to be serious, I think we need another win against one of the contenders and beat Kearney(Nebraska) and Southern Baptist," coach Tom Smith said. With four games left to play, the Griffons find themselves clinging to the last spot in the tournament with a one-game lead over Truman State University. The Griffons will play in a hostile environment against rival Northwest Missouri State in Maryville on Feb. 20.  The Bearcats are currently locked in to a three way tie  for the No. 5 seed in the tournament and hold a three game lead over Western.  However, Western holds a 1-0 record against this season as they pulled off an 71-58 upset over the Bearcats at the MWSU Fieldhouse. Western will return home on Feb. 23 to play Nebraska-Kearney who has only won three games in the conference this season and sit at second to last.  Western also beat Kearney the only time that the two schools met this season 74-66. A tough road contest lies on Feb. 27 when the Griffons travel to Hays, Kan. to play Fort Hays State who is tied for first place in the conference.  The Griffons played them tough in the first contest against Hays, but fell 84-74 in overtime. Seeding should be on the line for the last game of the season when Southwest Baptist comes to play at the MWSU Fieldhouse on March 2.  Baptist holds only a one game lead over Western in the MIAA standings and the two teams haven't met up at all this season. The MIAA only has one team ranked in the top-25 nationally and none of the teams appear to be unbeatable heading into the final stretch of the season. "I can't ever recall this league not having one or two teams in the top-25," Smith said. "No one is just completely dominant and can go out there and overpower everybody. No matter what happens -- no matter where you go -- you have a chance and you may or may not play well but you have a chance." Smith has cut his rotation down to seven or eight players in preparation of the post season.  For the players part, they don't want to be the team that didn't give Smith the opportunity to coach in one last postseason tournament before he retires after the season. "That's not how he wants to go out and we don't want the season to end like that," guard Reed Mells said. "We missed it last year and we all felt pretty bad about that so we don't want to miss it again. We just need to win as many gaems as we can. I think it's doable to make the tournament and we are more talented than our record shows, but this point in the season you are who you are so we just need to get in and try to be dangerous." The Griffons have struggled with consistency, but have shown  improvement over the course of the season and are aiming to play their best basketball down the stretch. "Consistency is our biggest issue," Mells said.  "I think we have games and practices where we take steps back or we don't get better which you can't afford, especially now, but overall I think weve been getting better."

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