Neither size nor press defense stops women’s basketball

| Senior Sports Editor

Trailing for just 12 of the 80 minutes of game time, the Washington University women’s basketball team defeated Greenville University and No. 25 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges by wide margins this weekend. With these wins, the Bears have now won three straight games and improve to 5-2 on the season.

Wash. U. beat Greenville, 76-54, on Friday night, out-rebounding the Panthers 51-36 and sinking 11 three-pointers. Then, in the highly-anticipated final game of the 19th Annual McWilliams Classic at the Field House, the Bears beat CMS on Saturday night, 67-52.

“This weekend was just a true testament to the kind of the hard work we’ve put in this week,” senior Kristina Schmelter said. “We came out this weekend with a lot stronger energy than we’ve had in the past, both on the floor and on the bench. It was just incredible and we had some great team wins.”

The Bears fell behind early against Greenville, a relatively smaller team physically that relied heavily on a press defense to keep Wash. U. off the scoreboard. While the Bears missed their first three attempts from long range, the Panthers were on fire, going on an 8-0 run over two minutes midway through the first quarter. The Greenville press forced a few Wash. U. turnovers, which the Panthers then converted into easy points.

Sophomore Samantha Weaver dribbles the ball upcourt while hounded by a Greeneville University defender. Wash. U. cruised to a 75-64 win in the title game of the 19th Annual McWilliams Classic.

The Bears then began to adjust, refusing to allow Greenville to pull away. Wash. U. started to find holes in the Greenville press, advancing the ball past half court and creating scoring opportunities. “We started playing a little better defense, and when you get stops against a pressing team, they can’t press,” head coach Randi Henderson said. “It just helped us kind of ease up a bit. We hit a couple shots and started finding a little groove offensively, but it definitely started with our ability to get stops.”

Once Wash. U. had found its groove, the Bears never looked back. Freshman Sammi Matoush drilled three three-pointers in a row midway through the second quarter, tying the game before helping the Bears to pull away. Matoush said that better ball movement allowed for more opportunities as the first half went on. “Us slowing everything down and moving the ball around—like kicking it into the post—was able to create more open shots,” she said. By halftime, Wash. U. had pulled away and led, 34-28.

The Bears’ three-point shooting stayed hot after halftime. They made seven shots from long range on just 13 attempts in the second half, as freshmen Molly Gannon and Naomi Jackson kept connecting. Gannon had four three-pointers in the second-half, while Jackson made all three of her attempts, scoring nine points in the half and 12 overall.

“My teammates really pushed the ball and were looking for the open player,” Jackson said.

Gannon led the Bears with a career-high 18 points while sophomore Samantha Weaver finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points and collecting 14 rebounds. Schmelter had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Wash. U. stayed hot on Saturday, scoring 13 points before CMS could even get to four. While the Bears only shot 33.3% from the field in the first half, they took advantage of the Athenas’ lack of discipline, scoring 12 of their 28 first-half points from the free throw line. By halftime, Wash. U. had doubled up on CMS and led, 28-14.

“Everyone was on the same page in the beginning,” Weaver said. “That really helped us. It just set a tone for the game that we wanted to come out strong. We wanted to punch first.”

An important aspect of the Bears’ defensive success was limiting Athenas’ forward junior Kate Parrish, who came into the game a leading scorer for CMS with 13.2 points per game. Wash. U. kept 6’2” Parrish away from the basket in the first half, allowing her only two shots, and held her to just two points before halftime. While Parrish did score another nine in the second half, she encountered foul trouble in the third quarter that kept her on the bench for significant periods of time and limited the CMS offense.

Whereas three-pointers had provided nearly half of the Bears’ offense on Friday night, it was a different story against CMS, a taller team. Wash. U. took just eight shots from downtown on Saturday, a third of their total from Friday night.

“It’s just an adjustment offensively to the different kinds of defense,” Henderson said, observing that CMS plays a style of defense that has traditionally prevented many long-range shots.

Weaver said that game-planning for CMS was a crucial help. “We kind of expected that we [would] have to drive to the basket more, just because this team had more on-ball pressure compared to Greenville,” she said. “It was kind of our goal to get to the basket. We just wanted to move the ball around more and get more layups and looks closer in.”

Weaver led the Bears with a career-high 18 points. Matoush had her first-ever double-double, scoring 17 points and pulling down 12 rebounds, both career highs.

Wash. U. held the Athenas to just 26.1% from the field, as CMS took 69 shots but made just 18. Weaver said that communication enabled the Bears to limit the CMS offense. “[That was helpful] because they were setting a lot of screens and they were constantly moving on their offense,” she said. The 26.1% mark was the Athenas’ second-lowest of the season.

“The biggest thing was just boxing out,” Schmelter said. “Because they were such a big team, being able to make sure they stayed off the glass and didn’t get second chance shots [was important],” she said. The Bears limited the Athenas to just 38 rebounds, a season-low for CMS. The loss was the Athenas’ first of the season, dropping them to 6-1.

The weekend saw the return of two Bears’ veterans, senior Camille Keane and junior Mary Bryggman, who had missed the first few weeks of the season with injuries. Bryggman played just eight minutes over the two games but was able to score her first points of the year with a layup at the end of Friday night’s game.

Keane played 14 minutes against CMS and got involved immediately, scoring four points. “It was really nice how she was able to come in and just make a difference right off the bench. She was being aggressive toward the basket and she was making strong moves,” Weaver said. “So it’s nice to see somebody that hasn’t played a lot, somebody that cares a lot about the team, come in and make such a big impact.”

Henderson was optimistic about the Bears’ chances for the rest of the season. “I think we just keep getting better,” she said. “I think this weekend showed growth from last weekend, and hopefully that just keeps carrying forward.”

The Bears take on neighborhood rival Fontbonne University at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Dorian Debose.

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