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Wichita St. faces tough challenge in Missouri Valley opener

Dec 30, 2006 - 5:57 PM Northern Iowa (10-2) at No. 16 Wichita St (9-2) 8:35 pm EST

WICHITA, Kansas (Ticker) - It does not get any easier for coach Mark Turgeon and Wichita State.

In the midst of a surprising two-game losing streak, the No. 16 Shockers open up Missouri Valley Conference play against Northern Iowa on Saturday.

Climbing as high as eighth in the nation, Wichita State saw its undefeated start to the season come to a crashing halt with consecutive losses to New Mexico and Southern California at the Las Vegas Classic last weekend.

Falling behind late in the first half against the Trojans last Saturday, the Shockers attempted to stage a comeback but fell short, absorbing a 60-56 loss. Missing a start for the first time in 31 games due to a stomach illness, P.J. Cousinard came off the bench to score 13 points.

The Shockers will now jump headlong into the Missouri Valley, widely considered the top mid-major conference in the nation.

One of teams that has helped give the league that type of reputation are the Panthers, who went 11-7 in the Missouri Valley last season and reached the NCAA Tournament on the strength of a 23-9 overall record.

Northern Iowa already had a strong start to this year's league schedule with a 76-65 victory over Bradley on Wednesday. The Panthers dominated play inside, with Grant Stout posting 17 points and 15 rebounds and Eric Coleman added 16 and 14.

Northern Iowa swept the series from Wichita State last season, but are just 5-9 all-time here.