Women's Basketball Credits New Mindset with Season's Hot Start
No doubt the Morehead State women's basketball team will be the big underdog Wednesday night when it visits No. 20 Kentucky.
But the Eagles are off to a good start, 3-1, and playing with confidence.
There is a whole new mindset since last season's 10-20 campaign.
Credit that mentality to depth, defense, balance and leadership.
"It's their last year. Hasn't been a lot of success in women's basketball. And I know they would like nothing more than to have ... a winning season," Coach Greg Todd said. "Still a long way from doing that, but I think we're off to at least a good start. We do have a couple top 20 opponents in West Virginia and Kentucky to deal with, but we feel like our non-conference schedule is good. Fortunately or unfortunately, the OVC may be at an all-time high. It's going to be very tough."
The depth situation has improved vastly since last season. MSU added three freshmen. In addition, Detroit transfer Darianne Seward and walk-on Shauntae Brown will gain eligibility at the semester break in mid-December.
That added depth plays right into the hands of what Todd has stressed since last season ended: defense.
The Eagles played an up-and-down style last season. That proved to be fun, and they scored a lot of points. But they also gave up a lot of points, often coming up short.
"Once the season was over, we knew it wasn't a winning recipe for our program," Todd said. "So the first thing was to fix the depth, and we were able to get some good players coming in. And the fact that we only lost one senior, that helped. And I knew that we had to get gritty, tougher on defense, more like the way our men play. Grind it out. Tough. Make it very difficult to play against our defense."
Todd, who rates his team's effort "B-plus" thus far, sees unselfish play and a willingness to give up offensive glory in exchange for defensive grit. Players are willing to work harder on the defensive end, which means reduced playing minutes as depth comes into play. There have been no complaints.
Steele, averaging 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds thus far, says the defense is "way farther than we were last year."
"We're focusing on 'help' side and trusting the back line - that we know if we get beat, we've got the next line coming in to help. So that's a big difference, because last year we really depended on ourselves, one-on-one defense. We didn't trust that there was a 'help' line behind us."
Morehead State's offense has been balanced. Eriel McKee leads the way with a 13.3 scoring average. Six others - McQueen, Steele, Wells, Miranda Crockett, Breauna Jackson and Brooke Todd -- are averaging between 8.3 and 9.8 points a game.
"We know that everybody on this team can score," said McQueen, who is contributing 9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists. "And if one person has an off night, we know other people can come in and pick up the slack."
Although the season is young, the Eagles rank among the national leaders in field-goal defense (fifth, 28.1 percent), three-point defense (sixth, 18.1 percent) and blocked shots (fourth, 8.3 per game), and is eighth in rebounds (51.0 per game).
All of which backs up the success of the focus on defense.
The scoring has come, as Greg Todd says, by committee. And there has been no sulking by players who have not scored as many points as perhaps they would have liked. Case in point: Morehead State's 77-43 win over Miami (Ohio).
"Three or four of our top players did not have great individual performances," he said. "But what made me most happy, more so than the 30-point win, was the fact that our girls that had 'off' offensive statistics, had 'off' games, they were very excited in the locker room. That tells me we've got things going in a good direction."
McQueen says the team is playing well, but not yet its best. There is a desire to work hard every day and to get better throughout the season. There is a quiet confidence.
"We go in with everybody knowing that we're going to come out, we're going to win this game, and there's no fear," McQueen said. "We're going to attack and we're going to play, no matter who the (other) team is. We're coming out and showing that Morehead State's ready to play basketball every time the ball goes up in the air."