Making progress

Wagner says CMU women's hoops team on the right track

Colorado Mesa women’s basketball coach Taylor Wagner believes his team is heading in the right direction after last weekend’s pair of home wins. Wagner says the Mavs are getting better defensively, which is helping out their transition offense, which leads to higher percentage shots.


Mav Watch

Saturday: Colorado Mesa
at Fort Lewis, 5:30 p.m.

Sunday: Colorado Mesa
at Adams State, 3 p.m. 
Colorado Mesa (6-2, 3-1 RMAC)

Coach: Taylor Wagner, 3rd season

2013-14: 30-2, 21-1 RMAC, RMAC Champion, South Central Region runner-up

Leading Scorer: Erin Reichle (19.6)

Leading Rebounder: Leanndra Gilbert (7.8)

Notes: Siu Lo’amanu is getting closer to being back on the court after a thigh injury during the Black Hills State game. She participated in shooting drills Tuesday but didn’t do any fullcourt work or running. ... CMU has blocked 30 shots in eight games, 12 by Gilbert. ... Mesa is 16th in the nation and first in the RMAC in assists per game (17.8) and 17th in the nation and first in the conference in free-throw percentage (76.7). ... After Sunday afternoon’s game, the Mavericks will have a full week off, mandated by the NCAA, returning to practice Dec. 29. “When I played it wasn’t that long. I don’t know if there was a rule, but we got a day or two off and were back at it,” Wagner said. “I’m glad everybody has to take it off. It’s good for the mind and the body.”

Fort Lewis (4-3, 1-2)

Coach: Jason Flores, 3rd season

2013-14: 16-11, 13-9 RMAC

Leading Scorer: Mary Brinton (12.3)

Leading Rebounder: Kaile Magazzeni (6.7)

Notes: The Skyhawks have been on the road much of the season, but won their first conference game last Saturday, 71-46 over Adams State, in only their second home game of the season. Fort Lewis is second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing only 59 points a game. Brinton leads the RMAC in field goal percentage (61.0).

Adams State (0-7, 0-3)

Coach: Larry Joe Hunt, 1st season

2013-14: 9-18, 5-16 RMAC

Leading Scorer: Mariah Gonzales (13.3)

Leading Rebounder: Gonzales (4.1)

Notes: Hunt was the football and boys basketball coach at Centauri before returning to Alamosa to coach at his alma mater (1981). The Grizzlies are still struggling to adapt to his system, scoring only 51.1 points a game and allowing 72.3. They’re shooting only 26.9 percent from the field. Teams shoot 43.4 percent against Adams State and out-rebound the Grizzlies by nearly 16 per game.

They’re well past the “Hi, my name is” stage, but the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team and coaching staff are starting to know each other.

CMU coach Taylor Wagner is getting more and more comfortable with combinations on the floor at certain times, when he needs to bark at the Mavericks and when he needs to pat them on the back.

And the players are settling into roles and figuring out expectations.

“We just need time,” Wagner said. “The good thing is hopefully we continue to get better. As long as the girls are putting in the time after practice and getting better, we’ll see us improve. I think we’re going to be a better team in a couple of months as well.”

A couple of months would be late February and inching up on tournament time, when coaches want their teams to be playing their best.

Mesa (6-2, 3-1 RMAC) made strides the past two weeks Wagner likes the progress he’s seen.

“We’re getting better defensively and that’s one area I was worried about early in the year, how many points we are going to give up every game,” he said. “We’re slowing starting to see that average drop and hopefully it continues to drop.”

In their two losses, the Mavericks gave up more than 80 points. When opponents score between 40-60 points, the Mavericks win.

The improvement on defense has led to more points in transition, another key stat in Wagner’s system.

“I think probably through the first six games we had maybe 10 (points in transition) on the whole year,” Wagner said. “On Saturday we got quite a bit and it was fun to see the girls get up and down. It makes it a lot easier.”

He wants easy baskets, high-percentage shots and the Mavs to hustle back on defense and go back to work on defense. And there’s still work to be done on defense.

“Guarding the 3-pointer, I think we’re last in the conference in 3-point defense and we were second in the nation last year,” Wagner said. “That’s an area of concern. Black Hills hit eight in the second half, there’s a win (if that number is lower) and Drury hit a bunch of 3s (another loss).

“That’s something we’ve got to be concerned about because there are some teams that can really shoot it. Regis can shoot it, UCCS can shoot it. We’ve got to get better in that area.”

Offensively, the Mavericks spent much of Tuesday’s practice breaking down various plays and working on cuts and screens in the half-court offense to get the timing crisper.

“We’re not shooting as many 3s,” Wagner said — and that’s a good thing.

“Now we’re getting it inside. When you don’t get it in there you have to settle for that outside shot. Now that we’re mixing it up a little bit more, shooting percentages have gone up, points per game have gone up. That’s big for us.”

Another percentage that has gone up is free throws. Yes, sophomore guard Erin Reichle leads the RMAC and is ninth in the nation in free-throw percentage (93.5), but as a team, the Mavericks are shooting 76.7 percent at the line.

The biggest difference is how many times they’re getting to the line. In four of their first five games, the Mavs didn’t shoot 20 free throws. In the past four they’ve shot 25 or more.

Reichle said the players are starting to realize the little things make a difference in the big picture.

“We’re all starting to see results,” she said. “We see what happens when we do work as a team and we do play great team defense and execute the plays. The rewards are amazing.”


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