To UMKC guard LaVell Boyd, the four-game winning streak the team takes into Saturday’s game against Chicago State at Municipal Auditorium could have come earlier in the season.
But if the Kangaroos had to pick a time to heat up…
“We always thought we were capable of what we’re doing now,” Boyd said. “But this is the best time to get rolling.”
Indeed. After Saturday’s game, which tips at 5:05 p.m., three games remain before the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, which the team now eagerly awaits. The only way into the NCAA Tournament is through the conference event. UMKC has never played for a league tournament title, much less won one.
“We want to be the first team to achieve that,” forward Kyle Steward said. “We’re trying our hardest to get to that point.”
But that’s getting ahead of things. The Kangaroos stand 14-13 overall and 6-4 in the WAC, surpassing victory totals in both categories from last season. If they win Saturday, the streak will be program’s longest since winning 11 straight in 2005.
Coach Kareem Richardson approaches the feat with sleeves rolled up.
“I just watched the Connecticut women win 100 straight,” he said. “We still have work to do.”
UMKC is getting it done on both ends of the floor. In their previous outing, the Roos beat Seattle 102-72 and delivered the second-largest winning margin in a conference game.
But to hear Steward, the defense has been the key. As he rattled off the recent victories, he recalled shutdown moments in each.
“Our confidence level is really high,” Steward said.
That hasn’t been the case all season, especially in December when UMKC lost its top player. Point guard Martez Harrison was dismissed from the program after an assault charge that led to a Title IX investigation and a one-year suspension from the school.
Two years ago, Harrison was the WAC’s player of the year. But six games into this season, the team’s leader was gone and it took time for the Kangaroos to recalculate.
“It was a big blow,” Boyd said. “He did a lot for us.”
Richardson believed UMKC would eventually fill the void of production. At 17.9 points per game, Boyd has added nearly four points to his average from last season and he’s the team’s top playmaker.
Leadership was the bigger concern.
“And communication,” Richardson said. “Martez brought a lot of that on and off the floor.”
But if Richardson, in his fourth year, had a team that could withstand this kind of departure, it’s this one. Even without Harrison, this is a veteran squad. Five of the top eight in minutes played and scoring — Boyd, Steward, Broderick Newbill, Dashawn King and Darnell Tillman — are seniors.
“That was the biggest thing, having experience, staying together through adversity,” Boyd said.
Although there’s never a good time to lose a top player, better that it occur early than late.
“It’s taken us a long, long time to get to where we are now,” Richardson said. “But at least it’s earlier than later to go through our lumps and figure things out. We’re still nowhere where we can be or will be I feel like. But we’re inching closer for sure.”
The winning streak is proof.