The Lubbock Christian University men have spent the entire basketball season climbing a hill. Now the Chaparrals actually have a chance to reach the Heartland Conference summit if they can win their remaining two road games and get some help.
LCU's 84-67 victory Thursday against Newman was the second time in a three-game winning streak that the Chaps knocked another team out of first place. The Thursday before, LCU upset Dallas Baptist 84-78, costing the Patriots sole possession of the lead.
"We're still hungry," Chaps center Brennen Fowler said. "We're happy that we're playing well, but we're not satisfied. That's what coach (Todd) Duncan said in (the locker room): We can't be satisfied with anything we've done so far. We've got to stay hungry and keep working like we are."
LCU (13-12, 9-5) has games remaining Saturday at Oklahoma Christian (9-15, 5-8) and the following Saturday at St. Edward's (15-10, 5-8). The Chaps, tied with Newman for third, are trying to catch Arkansas-Fort Smith (22-4, 10-4) and Dallas Baptist (20-5, 9-4).
They're in a good situation, compared to where they were most of the season. Facing one of the nation's toughest early season schedules for an NCAA Division II team, LCU was 4-9 at the end of December and 6-10 after a Jan. 10 loss at Rogers State.
The Chaps jumped into contention by winning seven of nine since. They're above .500 for the first time all season.
"It's good that we've been doing good," sophomore guard Ja'Qualyn Gilbreath said, "but at this point, it's really not that important anymore. We've got to look ahead and look at what we can do further in the near future."
On the favorable side for LCU, the Chaps won at home in the first round of conference play against Oklahoma Christian and St. Edward's, who are tied for sixth. On the flip side, the Chaps are 10-3 at home but only 3-7 on the road, and nothing's come easily for them outside the Rip Griffin Center. Texas A&M International, tied for last with a 3-10 conference record, beat LCU 49-48 two weeks ago in Laredo -- the game the Chaps lament most.
Guard Marcos Schuster said the right approach is a must on Saturday against Oklahoma Christian.
"We know we can beat them," he said, "but if we're not ready to fight and compete every single possession, they're going to beat us. We've got to come out there with the mindset to compete."
The Eagles have two of the Heartland's top five scorers in 6-foot-3 senior Elijah Strickland and 5-10 junior Jordan Box, who average 18.1 and 15.6 points per game, respectively. LCU, after a lull, has scored more than 80 points each game in its three-game winning streak.
"We're playing well as a team," Schuster said. "We're sharing the ball a lot, and everybody has confidence. Nobody's timid, and they trust in each other and we trust in coach. That's what you need to have a good team rolling."
SATURDAY'S AREA SCHEDULE
No. 2 Lubbock Christian University (23-1, 12-0) at Oklahoma Christian (8-15, 4-7), 1 p.m.
No. 5 Wayland Baptist (21-4, 14-3) at No. 24 USAO, 1 p.m.
Lubbock Christian University (13-12, 9-5) at Oklahoma Christian (9-15, 5-8), 3 p.m.
Wayland Baptist (18-8, 10-7) at No. 16 USAO (20-7, 11-7) , 3 p.m.