Red and Green: Winter chills and thrills for Wash. U. sports
The Washington University winter sports teams have soldiered through the bulks of their schedules, and they’ve given us plenty to digest. The men’s and women’s basketball teams have each played 16 games—that’s 1,280 minutes of on-court data we can use to figure out where they stand. And like this week’s St. Louis temperature readings, some of the numbers are pleasant surprises, while some leave a jacket, beanie and hand warmers to be desired.
56: The men’s basketball team has outscored opponents by 56 points in the first half this season. Before you exclaim that there’s no way that can be a negative stat, look at their point differential in the second half: plus-160. Obviously, the Bears are a very good team capable of outsourcing anyone. But the knack for a slow start may hurt them against better competition.
In each of the Red and Green’s two losses, they were doomed by a rough first period. At Mt. St. Joseph University Nov. 26, the Bears fell down by 20; they outscored the Lions down the stretch, but not nearly enough to make up the deficit. Dec. 29 against No. 3 Augustana College, Wash. U. played from behind all game after going down 19; again, playing better in the second half couldn’t quite flip the result.
Meanwhile, when Wash. U. beat No. 6 Tufts University early in the season, it never trailed, built a lead up to 18, then closed the deal in the final minutes. That’s the formula the Red and Green prefer to use when they battle tougher teams come playoff time. And they’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so in the next two weeks, when they take on No. 22 University of Rochester and No. 13 Emory University twice each.
29: This is a nitpick, considering the women’s basketball team has produced 105 more assists than its opponents, but the Bears have also accounted for 29 more turnovers. As a team, the Red and Green have turned the ball over at least 20 times in a game seven times this season. Meanwhile, they’ve forced at least 20 turnovers only twice.
Unsurprisingly, those 20 turnover games have led to three of Wash. U.’s four losses. And in all four losses, the team has had at least as many turnovers than assists. Despite having a plus-59 assist-to-turnover differential in wins, the Bears are minus-11 in losses. The Red and Green have only won one game while producing more turnovers than assists. There’s a strong correlation between Wash. U. protecting the ball and winning games. If it can tighten up its ball security in February, these Bears have a strong chance of playing into March.
100: It’s college basketball’s magic number. In the NBA, reaching 100 points is commonplace. (In fact, it’s considered impressive to hold your opponent under 100.) But in the college game, with only 40 minutes on the clock, reaching the century mark is the hallmark of a great offense.
The men’s basketball Bears have hit triple digits in three straight games now. They’ve done it twice on the road and all three times at the expense of a UAA rival.
To understand how ridiculous that is, let’s peruse the Red and Green record book. Wash. U. had only three 100-point showings in its previous 44 games over three years. Heck, it had only three 100-point showings in 285 games over a decade from 2006 to 2016, a span that included two NCAA championships and six UAA titles. Much less three consecutively, the Bears haven’t had three total in a season since 2005, or more than three since 2000. Wash. U. just admitted students born in 2000.
Suffice to say, the Red and Green offense is chugging at an unprecedented pace. It’ll be tough to keep the 100-point streak going with the next four games against Rochester and Emory twice apiece. But these Bears have a real chance to be the explosive of them all: They’re averaging 87.3 points per game, comfortably above the school record 85.3 set in 23 years ago. And that means that this team, now ranked No. 2, has a shot at reclaiming the national throne.
39.2: First-year head coach Randi Henderson has added a new element to the women’s basketball team’s attack. And just like their male counterparts, these Bears are doing something never before seen at the Field House—shooting 39.2 percent from deep. That’s 1.5 percent better than the 1993-94 team, on 91 more attempts already.
Coincidentally, 91 is also a figure the Red and Green have left in the past—it’s how many fewer attempts they took than their opponents last season. This time around, the Bears have taken nearly as many threes as their opposition (311 to 325), while increasing their efficiency from 35.8 to 39.2 percent, not to mention dropping their opponents’ mark from 32.2 to 29.8 percent.
It helps to have a pair of upperclassmen guards who are all-time great Wash. U. shooters. Junior Rachael Sondag (41.4 percent) and senior Natalie Orr (41.2) are second and third, respectively, on the Red and Green’s career three-point field goal percentage chart.
But a third piece of the puzzle has emerged seemingly out of nowhere. After going 4-for-18 her freshman year and 0-for-9 her sophomore year, junior forward Stephanie Botkin is inexplicably shooting 51.6 percent on 31 shots from beyond the arc this season. Her development as a stretch forward while still improving in the paint—she’s averaging 3.8 rebounds per game (up from 2.3) and 0.7 blocks per game (up from 0.2)—has given the Bears a newfound weapon on both ends.
Henderson has clearly made her impression on the program quickly. If the hot shooting is here to stay, the Bears may be able to claw their way into and through the playoffs.