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Christensen says team gunning for national tourney

Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball coach Jason Christensen is ready for his team to make the national tournament.

The Tigers started official practice for the 2012-13 season Sunday, and the third-year head coach is setting his team's goals beyond last year's first-round conference tournament defeat.

DWU finished 16-15 overall and 7-13 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference in Christensen's second year. The team landed in eighth in the league.

"You always want to win more games than you lose, but this team wants to get to a national tournament," Christensen said while taking a break from Tuesday evening's practice for a question-answer session with The Daily Republic. "Our conference is a tough conference. We'll get five teams in the national tournament. It seems like we do every year. And there are 11 teams in the conference, so we have to figure out how to finish in that top five."

To earn a national tournament berth, a team can automatically qualify by winning the regular-season or postseason conference titles. Teams also can get at-large berths.

Last season, the GPAC finished with five teams rated nationally in the top 15.

Northwestern won its third straight NAIA Division II national championship last year, but didn't win the league, a title that went to Concordia.

Still, Christensen, whose team opens its regular season at home Nov. 2 against Mayville State, said making the national tournament is a realistic goal for his team this season.

Here are excerpts of the interview with Christensen:

Q: How's the team looked just a few days into practice and what are you seeing from the team?

A: There's a lot of promise for us. We're trying to grow and understand each other as a team.

When you're this early into a season, those are the things you're trying to do right now. Everyone is just trying to learn their role.

Q: Your team needs to win five to six more games than it did last year to place in the top five of the GPAC to possibly make the national tournament. Is that realistic?

A: I think it is. You go back and look, last year we lost 15 games. Of those 15, I'm sure there were six that we had a chance to win.

That's kind of how our conference goes. You have to squeak some of those close games out and you've got to have a little luck on your side. It seems like if you can get to that 20-win mark, you have a good chance at getting to the national tournament.

Q: What's the main thing your team will have to do to get to the national tournament this season?

A: I would say we're going to have to play with what I call, "the big four."

We're going to have to play with Briar Cliff, Concordia, Morningside and Northwestern. We have to be able to compete with them.

Last year, we did compete with Concordia last year and competed with Morningside both times. You've got to figure out how to beat those teams.

I'm not expecting us to go 8-0 against those teams, but we have to figure out how to compete and beat them. If you want to get to that next level, you have to figure out how to beat the big four.

Q: When looking back at the film and all of the games from last year, what do you see your team needs to improve on the most?

A: Offensively, we have to get better.

Probably shot selection we need to get better with our offense. ... Our shooting percentage has to get better, it was not very good last year.

Q: What's the best attribute your team had last year and hope to hold on to this year to have success?

A: Our defense did a nice job last year. We did lose some games, but when we did it was because our offense didn't produce.

We have to have more people step up and contribute offensively. I thought our defense kept us in a lot of games last year.

Q: Is there anyone individually to expect to have a big year?

A: It's really early to tell.

One thing that's unique about our team is last year we had six, seven or eight different scorers throughout the year. I have a feeling that could be the same way this year.

If I had to pick an MVP the last couple of practices, there'd be a different one every practice. It's a unique situation, but as we get further into practice, I'm sure we'll see more.