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As season winds down, women’s basketball turns its attention to defense

As season winds down, women’s basketball turns its attention to defense

North Texas sophomore guard Terriell Bradley (23) raises her arms to contest a drive. Amber Nasser

As season winds down, women’s basketball turns its attention to defense
February 13
15:20 2017

Defense wins championships, according to Hall of Fame football coach Bear Bryant. It’s an area North Texas women’s basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell preaches almost every practice, knowing a game can hinge on getting a stop.

But at times this season, the Mean Green have struggled closing out games.

Losing late leads and sometimes games because of sloppy defense has grabbed the team’s attention, and forced them to take a hard look at the defensive end of the court. And over the past month, the results seem to be paying off.

North Texas has won six of its past 11 games, holding opponents to an average of 60.1 points per contest.

“I think we’ve lost a little discipline at the end of games, in fourth quarter situations when we’re missing some assignments,” head coach Jalie Mitchell said. “It’s a matter of them as a unit buckling down and it’s something that we talk about and we’ll get better at.”

The drills, scrimmages and film sessions have progressed the team and their execution on defense, but a few weeks back, a significant blow occurred when they lost freshman post Hannah Hopkins. Despite playing just over eight minutes per game, Hopkins led the team in blocks before suffering an injury in practice.

Down an interior defender, North Texas knew it would have to rely on guards to fill the void.

The Mean Green are a perimeter-based defensive team, mostly because it matches their agile and athletic personnel. This works well, until someone in the backcourt loses a defensive assignment. Once a guard gets beat off the dribble, the help is usually a guard or a big who is not adept at blocking shots, leading to layups and fouls for the opposition.

As a result, teams shoot 48.3 percent from inside the three-point line this season against the Mean Green.

“Our defensive field goal percentage isn’t up to par, so we need to work on that,” junior post Tosin Mabodu said. “[That comes with] communicating, being disciplined and not getting out of character, especially at the end of games.”

When the team does force a missed shot, finishing the possession with a defensive rebound has not been an easy task. Although North Texas’ defensive rebound percentage is 63.4 percent, they rank last in Conference USA in defensive rebounds per game.

This is because most possessions against the Mean Green end in either a turnover or a made shot, which does not leave room for many defensive rebounds. Since creating turnovers is a top priority for them, the amount of rebounds is not a concern as long as they clean the glass when they can.

“I think we’ve done a fairly solid job [rebounding] as of late,” Mitchell said. “It’s something that we have to talk about and be mindful of, but it’s just a matter of being consistent.”

One of the calling cards for this defense is their ability to defend the three-point line. The small and quick guards for the Mean Green hold opponents to just 29.2 percent from behind the arc, which is in the 79th percentile in the country and third in C-USA.

Those instinctive guards and mobile bigs allow Mitchell to turn up the pressure on teams when need be. Whether that’s in a press, a half-court trap, or just denying off-ball while smothering the ball handler, there are several ways they can turn the opposition over.

They create 19.52 turnovers per game, which is second in C-USA and 34th in the nation.

Suffice to say, forcing turnovers is arguably the best trait of this defense.

“[We have to be] pressuring the ball and keeping the ball out of the paint,” sophomore guard Tyara Warren said. “We’re a transition team, so we want to turn [opponents] over so we can get transition points.”

With the personnel on her team, Mitchell is able to roll out an array of lineups that can be effective over stretches. This is shown in the fact that she’s started 10 different lineups over the course of the season with none of them starting over four times.

The wealth in interchangeable personnel allows the team to switch most off or on ball screens without it hurting them.

In a lineup with capable defenders, senior guard Kelsey Criner remains extremely disruptive to opponents, maneuvering through screens and harassing ball handlers.

It’s the reason she earned a spot on the All-Defense Team for C-USA in the past season.

“Obviously she is one of our better defenders,” Mitchell said. “She is our leader, our point guard and she knows where everybody is supposed to be.”

In their first 12 games of the season, the Mean Green allowed 67.5 points per game and had a record of 3-9. Since then, in their past 11 games, they have only allowed 60.1 points per game and have gone 6-5.

Mabodu, a starter in 11 of their games, believes that something just clicked for them as the season progressed. Regardless of how it happened, this defense has now reached the level to win them games on a consistent basis, a tribute to the coaching staff and the players.

“I think over the course of the season [our defense] has gotten better,” Mabodu said. “We’re really buying into what coach wants us to do in practice and it’s working.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore guard Terriell Bradley (23) raises her arms to contest a drive. Amber Nasser

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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