Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University senior Tiana Bryant tried basketball life at a major university (New Mexico) and decided it wasn’t for her.
The former Roswell Goddard standout played one season for the Lobos, then sat out the fall 2002 semester, got married and transferred to ENMU. After an up-and-down second semester with the Zias last season, the 6-foot junior is quickly coming into her own.
She’s averaging 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds through three games, both second on the team, as ENMU prepares for the Missouri Southern Classic this weekend in Joplin, Mo.
“I just like to play ball,” said Bryant, who played her high school ball at Roswell Goddard. “I’m happy to be on a team that allows me to utilize my God-given talents.”
The former Tiana Johnson played a post position in high school, then became a shooting guard at UNM. Now she’s back to the post, although she’ll still occasionally put one up from the outside.
“It’s a matter of getting used to the offense,” Bryant said. “Now that I’ve figured out my role, I’m a lot more comfortable.”
ENMU (2-1) figures to be challenged this weekend with games against Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Conference members Pittsburg State (2-1) on Friday and Missouri Southern (2-1) on Saturday. While the Zias are looking at a 10-hour bus trip to southwest Missouri, the Gorillas and Lions are neighbor rivals, separated by only 30 miles.
“We’re going to have to be pretty (mentally) tough on this trip,” ENMU acting head coach Dustin Klafka said.
Eastern has played pretty well so far, knocking off a pair of 2003 NCAA Division II tournament qualifiers and losing a competitive game to Colorado State-Pueblo on its home floor. But the Zias started slowly in both of their wins, trailing by 13 and six points at halftime, and have had to overcome turnover problems (64, compared with only 22 assists).
“That’s our biggest battle right now,” Klafka said. “It’s not like we’re not addressing it, but it’s (an area in which) we’re going to have to dramatically improve.
“We had a terrible start against Fort Lewis (a 57-53 win), but I think a lot of that was jitters. In the first half of the Nebraska-Kearney game (a 71-64 victory), we just didn’t show up to play. They outworked us the first half, but we turned it around.”
Still, it’s hard to complain much about the 2-1 start.
“It feels pretty good,” Bryant said. “But we know we should’ve started off 3-0. We shouldn’t have had to come from behind like we have.”