Behind a balance of scoring and a new emphasis on defense, the University of South Dakota women’s basketball team is off to a 7-2 start.
The Coyotes have seven players who average more than five points per game, with three of those players averaging double digits. Senior guard Raeshel Contreras, who leads USD in scoring with 17.4 points per game, recognizes the balance of her team.
“You can shut one or two people down, (and) everybody else is going to step up,” Contreras said. “(On) the offensive end, I think we’re so deep. That’s one of the things that makes us so dangerous.”
Because of this, bad game nights shouldn’t happen as much, said senior guard Kelly Stewart.
“If someone is having an off shooting night, if someone’s not on, then other people can step up,” said Stewart, the Coyotes’ leading scorer off the bench with 8.9 points per game. “That’s a great thing about our team — we’re all capable scorers so we’re all there to pick each other up if someone’s having a bad night. It’s nice to have a lot of weapons like that.”
USD head coach Amy Williams understands the struggles her team’s offensive balance causes the opposition.
“It’s something that makes us difficult to guard when we have a lot of different people able to contribute,” Williams said.
Much of USD’s offensive balance comes from its style of play, where quick passing is a feature of both fast breaks and half court offense.
“We just move and share the ball really well. We get excited for each other if someone scores, gets an assist, stuff like that,” said junior center Margaret McCloud, who averages 10.6 points per game. “Some of the passes we make, we don’t know how they get there, but they do.”
It is not only balanced scoring propelling USD to its impressive start, but defense as well. Defense was the priority from day one, Williams said.
“We spent the first week of practice doing nothing but defensive drills,” Williams said.
Camp Defense, the first week of practice the women had where all drills were defensive, wasn’t the most fun, the players said, but they know defense will win them games.
“Defense is our main concern, always,” said Contreras, who leads the team with 14 steals.
The emphasis on defense has led to USD holding opponents to a 37.5 shooting percentage. Stewart said the familiarity the team has with each other is partly behind the improvements.
“There have been some improvements just knowing people’s tendencies, having trust in your teammates, knowing they’re going to be there on the rotation,” Stewart said.
Contreras sees communication and pressure as two reasons the Coyotes are playing better defensively.
“We actually talk more,” Contreras said. “We’re trying to get up on people more and try to make people feel uncomfortable rather than playing off. I think as a whole — our help, rotations — everything has improved.”
Although the Coyotes are happy with their season thus far, they are still focused on improving
“It’s great, and it’s a nice start, but we are not satisfied,” Stewart said. “We have a lot of improvements to make.”
(Photo: Senior guard Nicole Seekamp goes up for a shot during the Dec. 4 game against the University of Northern Iowa in the DakotaDome. Anna Glenski / The Volante)