By Alex Ancira
There’s an age-old cliché that I am sure most sports fans are familiar with: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.”
In almost any sport, it becomes fairly difficult to win games if the team can produce neither.
Through 16 games this season, the Pioneers basketball team has shot itself offensively in the foot nearly every time, barring an exhibition game against Hardin-Simmons. The team has on average had the ball stolen more, been blocked more, gotten to the line less, and turned the ball over more than their opponents. The team shoots just as often as opponents, on par with average opponent shot attempts, yet with less consistent results, tallying only four games with a shooting percentage above 40 percent.
“The Pioneers struggled offensively in the first half, shooting just 18 percent from the floor,” according to a Nov. 28 TWU Athletics Department news release. A team cannot afford to shoot that poorly in the first half and expect to win the game. Head coach Beth Jillson put it best when she stated, “We struggled to get any shots to go down in the first half but our free throws kept us within striking distance.” And yet, as I’ve mentioned previously, unless the team can get to the line consistently, free throws cannot carry the lion’s share of the team’s points when the desired result is victory. On top of the Pioneers’ shooting woes, the team has a turnover margin of -1.2 per game, with the team coughing up the ball 20 times or more in some losses.
But with all of these points in mind, the team should still be competitive in its games, right? These would normally be bearable statistics; however, the team is giving up more fouls in the act of shooting, leading to more free-throw attempts by opponents — 70 more free- throw attempts by opponents. And-one plays happen fairly frequently for the Pioneers’ opponents, and it becomes clear if one looks at the stat line that all these fouls in the act of shooting come from fatigued defensive play. Injuries have also kept the team shorthanded in many of its losses, and rarely have all five starters played together. Inexperienced Pioneer players having to step up often become goaded into fouling more frequently. They don’t quite have their feet set, and their opponents power through the blocking fouls.
It’s fairly common for teams to have trouble staying mentally prepared and ready to handle the fast break or the different plays point guards call on the fly, but in order to have steady success throughout an extended season, one of two things must happen. Shooters need to look for easy baskets as the players drive through the lane and the players need to get to the free- throw line often and capitalize on every opportunity. If one cannot manage to hold up the offensive side of the game, then defense ought to be the way to go. Take the Milwaukee Bucks, for example — they have a strong defense to keep them in games, helping to take the pressure off the offense.
But therein lies the Pioneers’ key fault. Often the team ends up way behind, trailing as the second half begins, only to play a game of catch-up that’s a tall task for almost anyone. In practice, the team can definitely rectify these faults, none of which is beyond the capabilities of these women.
So it’s a matter of mental toughness to break out of this slump. The players would appear to have all of the talent needed and loads of potential. The ball is in their court, so to speak. The recent win against Cameron might prove to be the spark needed. At least, I certainly hope it is.