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Originally published November 14, 2013 at 6:13 PM | Page modified November 14, 2013 at 8:31 PM

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SPU women’s basketball eager to end postseason drought

The Falcons have missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons after 15 consecutive appearances. Katie Benson is one of four returning starters.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Five keys

Get physical: SPU was second in the GNAC in scoring (71.1 points) but allowed opponents to shoot nearly 50 percent from the field last season. A focus on defense will be key to the Falcons’ postseason hopes.

Stay resilient: Injuries turned a 10-2 start to a 17-11 finish last year but SPU gained a toughness that can pull the Falcons through another competitive schedule.

Right here, right now: Yes, the Falcons want to return to the NCAA tournament. No, it can’t think about March in November.

Get the rebound: SPU is continuing to adopt the mindset that rebounding is fun to further improve last season’s plus-7.8 rebounding advantage.

Road Warriors: The Falcons have to improve its 4-7 showing on the road last season.

Schedule highlights

Friday vs. Montana Tech: SPU opens its 13th annual Sodexo Tournament, having gone 24-0 overall in the event.

Jan. 2 vs. Western Washington: The heated rivalry continues, WWU owning a 52-26 series advantage.

Jan. 30 at Simon Fraser: SPU’s toughest road stretch starts with Simon Fraser then WWU (Feb. 1) and Montana State Billings (Feb. 8), which was picked to win the GNAC.

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Seattle Pacific women’s basketball lore surrounded Katie Benson.

In the renovated Hendricks Falcon Club space above the Royal Brougham court, there was a reminder of the program’s 2005 second-place finish in the NCAA Division II tournament. There were the stretches of Great Northwest Athletic Conference titles. And on a far wall, the redshirt senior spotted the past stars inducted into the SPU Hall of Fame.

The problem? Benson, a 6-foot-2 senior forward from Snohomish, wasn’t part of any of it.

“And that’s what I came here for,” she said.

The Falcons haven’t been to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons after a stretch of 15 consecutive appearances. Watching April’s selection webcast at a Starbucks, Benson didn’t hide her frustration.

She immediately called Falcons coach Julie Heisey and demanded to start work for the 2013-14 season. The fire remained on Thursday as Benson spoke of the team’s goals with clenched fists and “winning” repeatedly peppering her sentences.

“That’s the biggest thing that we’ve seen in Katie the last two years versus her first two years is just she’s in the gym,” Heisey said. “And she wants to be in the gym. You do that when you have a passion for something and you realize you want to be really good.”

The Falcons finished last season 17-11 overall and sixth in the GNAC (10-8) partly due to injuries to key players. With the depleted lineup, Benson had a breakout season and averaged 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds.

Benson knew she could score. The uptick in rebounding was most pleasing, particularly since after games, when the coaching staff points out significant stats and rebounding highlights, they were often by the guards.

When roommate Aubree Callen, who’s 5-9, started being mentioned for hustle, Benson piqued her interest in defense.

“When guards are getting more rebounds than you, then you’re like ‘OK, there’s an issue,’ ” Benson said. “This is my job. I’m glad they are getting rebounds but I’m the one who should be getting it. It was an attitude adjustment in me.”

Benson’s altered focus is felt throughout the roster. She’s one of four returning starters on the team. Guard Betsy Kingma is among the returnees. SPU’s career-leader in three-point shooting (44 of 111), the redshirt junior suffered a shoulder injury in December.

The Falcons opened with two wins last week. But with a focus on advancing to the postseason, Benson and her teammates knew the performances weren’t good enough.

“You could tell we were in a hurry,” Heisey said of the games. SPU hosts its 13th annual Sodexo Tournament this weekend at Royal Brougham. “We want to be good right now. We are really good, but it’s still early in the season.”

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