Colorado Mesa players, coach ready to get RMAC play started
No more 20 days between games — conference play begins Friday night in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
One of the best things about conference play, Colorado Mesa women’s basketball coach Taylor Wagner says, is players can settle into a routine. No more weekends off until the Christmas break.
“The girls feel more comfortable and they’re not practicing as much, and that’s important, too,” he said with a slight grin. “That goes for me, too. From week to week we can adjust and figure out what we do well and what we don’t do well.”
Right now, the fifth-ranked Mavericks (4-0) are doing plenty of things well, especially finding open shooters and hitting high-percentage shots.
Averaging 21 assists a game, Wagner likes how his three returning starters and two newcomers — all seniors — are learning about each other more every day.
“I think the one thing I really like is everybody is starting to fit into their roles and are becoming comfortable with that,” Wagner said. “We’re starting to see each other better. Each game we talk about that early on, you’ve got to find each other sooner (in possessions). Sometimes we’re a little late and the defense can catch up. Every game we’ve gotten a little bit better.”
Point guard Christen Lopez dished out 10 assists in the Mavs’ second game of the season and Sharaya Selsor had 10 assists last Friday night against Montana Western.
“It’s good to see that we’re looking for each other,” Wagner said. “When we do that, it’s a little more difficult to guard.”
Defensively, teams are still adjusting to the emphasis on calling hand-checking. Wagner said he’ll be interested to see if teams play more possessions of zone to stay out of foul trouble.
“I think every team wants to take advantage of attacking the basket a little more,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be a big difference, but I think you’ll see teams try to adjust to the new rule.
“I think it’s made us a little more tentative on defense than I’d like, but we have to adjust. If we can take advantage of it on the other end, then it’ll equal itself out.”
Wagner would like to see the Mavericks attack the basket more, draw fouls and get to the free-throw line. Mesa has shot only 58 free throws in four games, and Selsor has shot nearly half, 26.
“That’s a concern to me,” he said. “We’ve got to take advantage of that and get ourselves to the free-throw line.”
When reminded that Aubry Boehme is shooting a Division II-leading 77.1 percent from the field and as a team the Mavericks are shooting 46.4 percent from the field, Wagner chuckled.
“We’re making shots,” he said. “I’ll take that if we’re hitting lay-ups.”
The Mavericks won the RMAC title by four games last season, then swept through the conference and regional tournaments to reach the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Wagner expects a tight race this winter.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of parity in this league,” he said. “It might be too early to see, but I think you’re going to have your regulars that will be up there, Fort Lewis, Metro.
“(Colorado) Christian I think will be good when they get their players back from being suspended (including 2012 RMAC player of the year Christina Whitelaw, who missed last season with a knee injury), and UCCS. Black Hills has gotten better, Chadron’s better; they’re scrappy.
“There’s a legit six, seven teams, if everything aligns right, they could go out and win it. Hopefully we’re one of them if we play well, but I think there’s a lot of teams that can do well this year. It’s going to be more top-heavy.”
Make no mistake, Wagner expects the Mavericks to be right in the thick of the RMAC race — CU-Colorado Springs was picked by the conference coaches to win the title, with Mesa picked second.
Wagner anticipates the top eight shifting throughout the season, and a couple of games could separate the top team from the tournament bubble teams.
“You’ll kind of see everyone beat up on each other,” he said. “You’re going to have to take care of business at home and steal some on the road. Whoever does that is going to win the conference.”