Women’s basketball’s defense fuels McWilliams title
In its first home games of the season, the Washington University women’s basketball team used a stifling defense to spark its offense as it nabbed two blowout victories this weekend.
The No. 10 Bears (3-0) dismantled Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 59-35, and Southwestern University (Texas), 88-55, to win the McWilliams Classic for the eighth year in a row at the Washington University Field House.
On Friday, the Bears had trouble finding open looks in a slow-paced game against the Fighting Engineers as they scored just 26 points in the first half, but the defense forced 13 turnovers and limited Rose-Hulman to just 16 points in the half.
In the second half, the Red and Green bolted out of the gate with a 13-0 run to put the game out of reach. Senior forward Melissa Gilkey was one of three starters in double figures in the game as she tallied 13 points and eight rebounds.
Although Wash. U. shot just 34.9 percent from the field, the defense stymied Rose-Hulman’s offense by holding the visitors to a 27.3 shooting percentage and pressuring them into 19 turnovers. The stingy defense generated opportunities for the offense to overcome its sluggish start, and the Bears tallied a 21-2 advantage in fast-break points and a 24-9 edge in points off turnovers.
“Even when our offense wasn’t going, our challenge was to make sure our defense stayed on top of the game and let that bring the offense back,” head coach Nancy Fahey said. “If we can continually believe in that and know that’s who we are, I think that will help us.”
In the tournament’s championship game, the Bears switched gears and played an up-tempo game against Southwestern. After Wash. U. drilled four three pointers to jump out to a 24-10 lead in the first 10 minutes, Gilkey scored eight straight points to put the Red and Green ahead 32-10. The Bears extended the lead to 54-19 at halftime as they shot a scorching 52.8 percent from the field.
Fahey attributed the change of tempo to adjusting to Southwestern’s quicker style of play after playing against a defensive-minded Rose-Hulman team.
“You have to give credit to Rose-Hulman. I thought they did a great job defensively against us. Today we felt like we really need to get out there and run out, fill our lanes better. We worked really hard on our conditioning and that showed up a little bit later in this game, especially when you’re playing back to back,” Fahey said after the win against Southwestern.
With the game well in hand, Wash. U. was able to play many bench players for extended minutes in the second half, which resulted in 13 different players scoring and a 49-9 advantage in bench points, with sophomore guard Claire Thomas leading the bench with 10 points.
Continuing her torrid stretch of play, Gilkey recorded a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds on efficient 7-of-10 shooting. By averaging 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game over the weekend, Gilkey was named the Jacqueline Bickel Schapp Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row. Gilkey pointed to the team’s ability to hit jump shots as a reason she was able to create open looks down low.
“The team hit some outside shots and really ran the floor well, which opened things up a lot. We played well together…and had a better sense of the court, which allowed us to more effectively find the open player,” Gilkey said. “Everyone really got after it on defense as well, which brought a lot of great energy to the offensive end.”
Defensively, the Bears limited Southwestern to 3-of-23 shooting from behind the arc. In three games this season, the Red and Green have allowed just 43 points per game.
“We are finding our identity in our defense. We know that how we play on defense will dictate the tempo of the game and carry over to [our] offense, so we brought a lot of energy and focus to that end of the court this weekend,” Gilkey said.