Women’s basketball takes banged-up roster on NCAA tournament run

| Senior Sports Editor

On Monday afternoon, about 20 members of the Washington University women’s basketball team, several varsity coaches and various athletic department personnel squeezed into the Danforth University Center Fun Room to watch the Division III women’s basketball tournament selection show.

The stress level in the room was low. The Bears had already clinched an automatic bid to the playoffs by winning the University Athletic Association (UAA) two weeks earlier, so the only thing left to find out was who they would play. Eventually, Wash. U. appeared on the 64-team bracket.

Womens’ basketball celebrates their selection into the NCAA Division 3 tournament in the Danforth University Center Fun Room. The Bears will face Greenville College in the first round at home this Friday at 7:30pm. Katie Ehrlich | Student Life

Womens’ basketball celebrates their selection into the NCAA Division 3 tournament in the Danforth University Center Fun Room. The Bears will face Greenville College in the first round at home this Friday at 7:30pm.

For the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Bears are slated to play Greenville College at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. If they advance, they will play the winner of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and No. 21 Bluffton University on Saturday at 7 p.m. All three games will be hosted by Wash. U. at the Field House. The announcement was met with cheers from all those in attendance.

The Bears finished the regular season 11-3 in the conference and 20-5 overall, earning a No. 10 national ranking by season’s end. It was another strong regular season, albeit one with a slightly different flavor for a program about to make its 27th straight tournament appearance. With the departure of number one and number two scoring options Melissa Gilkey (‘15) and Maddy Scheppers (‘15) a year ago, the 2015-2016 Bears relied heavily on lockdown defense and a deep offensive roster to remain competitive. In 25 games, Wash. U. held opponents to 55.7 points per game, while 10 different players averaged more than nine minutes per game. It was a strategy good enough to earn the program their third straight UAA title, but as the regular season approached its final weeks, the offense began to thin

First, junior guard Ereka Hunt suffered a season-ending injury after the Jan. 31 Emory game. Then a week after that junior guard-forward hybrid Jenn D ynis went down. She had owned the third-best field goal percentage on the team. The latest and most devastating came last week when an MRI revealed sophomore Natalie Orr had suffered a stress fracture in her foot, sidelining her for the foreseeable future. Orr had been averaging 10 points per game, good enough for second on the team, while serving as the Bears’ primary range shooter. Towards the latter half of the season, Orr de veloped a hot hand, carrying the Bears offense for games at a time. Before sitting out the final three games of the season, Orr had scored 20-plus points four times in her final nine appearances.

This abrupt roster turnover has forced head coach Nancy Fahey to adjust her rotation on the fly. It’s a test of the depth that the Bears have relied on all season.

“Different people produce different ways,” Fahey said. “I ask players to step up into roles, but they have to do that in their own way and try and be somebody else.”

Two players that have seen a spike in minutes since the rash of injuries have been freshman guard Claudia S mith and junior forward Z oe Vernon who have averaged 18 and 24.67 minutes respectively. In particular, Vernon has responded positively, averaging 11.67 points per game including 6-13 from beyond the arc over that span.

The Bears may also get an offensive boost from senior guard Jordan Thompson. Thompson has started for Wash. U. a ll season, but in the past three games she has scored 19, 23 and 11 points, respectively, while shooting 7-19 from range.

Assuming Thompson and Vernon continues their hot shooting and the Bears’ front court of Martinez and junior forward Lily Sarros, who average 11.5 and 8.6 points per game, respectively, remains productive, Wash. U. should have enough offensive versatility to adjust to whatever defensive system their opponent runs.

“Sometimes there are teams that are really high denial, they will try and take away those shooters, and that’s when your posts step up, and you get a lot of good inside touches,” Martinez said. “And there’s other games where they’re really packed inside, and those other three-point shooters have the green light to shoot.”

The Bears’ first opponent this weekend, Greenville, should offer a little bit of both. The Panthers run a mix of zone defense which is susceptible around the perimeter and man-to-m an which opens lanes on the interior. While this sounds simple, Greenville did hold opponents to a 34.6 field goal percentage on their way to a 20-7 record this year.

Beyond this week, the Bears’ schedule will likely become considerably more difficult. The Red and Green will likely face the winner of No. 5 Hope College and No. 14 Ohio Northern University. Beyond that, Wash. U. would almost certainly face 2015 National Champion Thomas More College. The Saints have gone 118-3 over the past four seasons and knocked the Bears out of the tournament in the sweet sixteen last year. Martinez admitted to taking an interest in the possible poetic matchup, but iterated that the team will be looking at the tournament one game at a time.

“It’s so hard not to get caught up in like, ‘alright, so we win this weekend, then next weekend, then that and that,’ especially because Thomas Moore is on our same side,” Martinez said. “So it’d be this awesome chance to get our revenge, which we’re really excited about, but we really need to take it one game at a time. So, right now we’re just focusing in on Greenville.”

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