Helping hands: Team defensive concept working for Mesa men

The ability to play solid help-side defense has helped Colorado Mesa be one of the top teams in the nation in field-goal percentage defense.



QUICKREAD

Colorado Mesa (8-6, 6-4 RMAC) at Western St. (5-9, 3-7 RMAC)

8 p.m., Friday. Paul Wright Gym, Gunnison

Notes: CMU forward Michael Bear leads the RMAC in scoring (17.3 ppg). Western State is one of the worst shooting teams in the RMAC (40 percent). The Mountaineers have nine college transfers on their roster this season, including 6-foot-8, 310-pound center Charles Joseph, who is averaging 10.6 points per game. “They are second in the league in 3-point attempts in conference games,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “They have good shooters, they just haven’t shot well yet. When they shoot it well, they win. When they don’t shoot it as well, they lose like everybody else. One thing about Western State is they guard well. They play very smart and try to take away what you want to do. They’re balanced and try to control the tempo.”



It’s all about the help.

A good defense isn’t one player making a steal or blocking a shot, it’s the entire team playing together, forcing teams to take tough shots.

The Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team is all about help-side defense. That’s what makes the Mavericks one of the best defenses in the nation.

The Mavericks (8-6, 6-4 RMAC) are ranked fifth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (36.7) through last week’s games.

“The thing that makes our defense good and the thing we’ve focused on is our help-side defense,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “If you watch people play, it’s very, very difficult for any defensive player to stop a good offensive player one-on-one. The offensive player has every advantage as far as the referee is concerned.

“Our whole premise of defense is a team defensive concept. When your man has it, you work hard on your man. As soon as he passes it, you have help responsibility. We talk about guarding the ball with all five players. We have one player on the ball, we have some players one pass away and some further back, but everyone’s focused on stopping the ball.”

It takes trust for guards to rely on help when the opposing guard on offense has three options (dribble penetration, pass or shoot).

“When we get after it, that’s when we’re the best defensive team we can be,” CMU point guard Kevin Screen said, “when we keep moving our feet, getting after it and trust each other we’ll have help on the back side. We work on that every day in practice. Giving it our all on defense is when we’re our best.”

Heaps had his guards step back from in-your-face defense recently and it cost them in losses to then-No. 1 Metro State two weeks ago and last week to CSU-Pueblo.

The Mavericks went back to getting in the face of their opponents against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs on Saturday night and the Mavericks snapped their three-game losing streak.

“I told our kids let’s get after people,” Heaps said. “Once we talked about that, I thought we dominated defense. I told them we won’t do that anymore. You’ve got to get after the ball and know you have help behind you. I don’t know if it’s psychological or what, but we play better.”

When the UCCS guards drove to the basket, the post defenders were there to challenge their shots. The Mavericks blocked a season-high eight shots. CMU leads the RMAC in blocked shots per game (4.5).

“The post players did a great job helping,” Heaps said Saturday night. “Colton (Burgon), Mike Bear, Chandler (Burgon). They made it tough for those guys to score inside. When penetration came, those guys helped. I told them in the locker room, I will never try to back you off people again. When we play really good defense, when we close gaps and help, we’re really pretty good.”

The post players’ defense and ability to block shots makes it easier for Screen and the guards to get in their opponents’ faces.

“That definitely makes me feel a lot better, knowing I can push out into my guy to force a turnover and if I do get beat, I know I have help backside,” Screen said. “Their shot-blocking ability helps out a ton.”


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