Focus on defense working so far for Mesa women
Taylor Rock signed to play at Colorado Mesa University before the coaching change.
And when Taylor Wagner was hired, she pretty much knew what to expect — she played for Wagner at Otero Junior College.
“I came here before he did,” she said, laughing that she is neither to blame for the hire, nor should she take any of the credit. “I’m definitely glad he came, but I was here first.”
So when her new teammates were quizzing her about what to expect, she had them prepared for one thing — be ready to play some defense.
Gone are the various zone defenses the Mavericks played in the past. They’re playing tough, aggressive half-court man-to-man, and it’s translated to a 2-0 start over teams expected to compete for their conference championships. Their first two opponents shot an average of 31.6 percent from the field.
“It’s definitely intense,” senior post Kelsey Sigl said. “Our goal is if we can keep teams to 45 points a game, we can score at least 46 points. That’s our motive behind that. We get after teams and try to stop them offensively. Once our defense gets going, we get going offensively and get a lot of transition buckets.”
So far the Mavs’ philosophy is working — they’ve allowed an average of 46 points a game and are scoring 65.5 a game heading into Friday’s home opener in the Clarion Inn Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena. Mesa is shooting 45 percent from the field as a team.
Colorado Mesa (2-0) is receiving votes in the USA Today Division II national rankings, a first step in their goal of adding a number to the championship banner in the gym.
Large chunks of every practice are dedicated to defense. Mesa runs shell drills, with the defenders closing out on the player with the ball, shifting back into help-side position and then sprinting out as the ball is passed. Communication is key — Wagner does not run a quiet practice.
Defensive intensity is stressed in scrimmages as much as offensive execution. Emphasis is placed on stopping the ball, sprinting back on defense, challenging shots, blocking out and hitting the boards.
“This is what it is,” Sigl said of playing only man defense. “Our team has really transitioned to his system very well. I thought it would be a tougher transition because for the last however many years we’ve been playing zones.
“I think he gets the point across, the message across, very clear what he wants done and we’ve been able to answer.”
The Mavericks like the challenge of playing man defense, mainly because they’ve seen how they reap the rewards. They’re creating turnovers (21.5 a game), which lead to fast-break layups or open jumpers.
Rock, a good perimeter shooter who had a case of jitters her first game but scored seven points and had six rebounds the second night out, now knows Wagner’s defense, but that wasn’t always the case.
“Man was new to me two years ago because we only played zone (in high school),” the 5-10 junior from Smithfield, Utah, said. “I’m still learning, I guess. It’s not so much the full-court, it’s the half-court is intense.
“You get after it and be in the right spot and help each other out. It’s definitely different when you go from zone to man. You have to learn to trust everybody that they’ll be there.”
As the Mavs learn more about their new coach and his demands, they’re also learning about the coaching axiom that defense never takes a day off.
“We can fall back on that no matter if we’re having a solid night on offense or not,” Sigl said. “Our defense, there’s no excuse, it can always be there.”