Lopez, Reichle understand what it takes to play point guard for Mavericks
Coaches are tough on point guards.
Christen Lopez remembers being wide-eyed last season as she tried to figure out just what new Colorado Mesa women’s basketball coach Taylor Wagner demanded from his point guard.
Erin Reichle has had her wide-eyed moments this season.
“Coach has been talking to me about everything he specifically wants,” said Lopez, the senior starter for the fourth-ranked Mavericks (15-0, 11-0 RMAC). “Being here last year helped me so much this year. This year I know what he wants, I know what I need to work on, so that makes (Reichle’s) job a lot easier.
“I got yelled at the whole year that first year, and he still does it to her. When you have someone who’s been through it, it’s so much easier. Last year no one had a clue except (Taylor) Rock, so it was kind of everybody trying to figure it out.”
Reichle, who one year ago was in the midst of becoming the Utah Class 5A high school player of the year at Weber High School in Pleasant View, is soaking up everything Lopez can teach her.
She’s averaging 3.6 points per game but recently has gotten into a good shooting rhythm, with a career-high 13 points two weeks ago against CU-Colorado Springs. She’s shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line and averages 1.2 assists per game.
“I watch her a lot, mostly her defense,” Reichle said. “It’s awesome to me. I think it’s exceptional, she gets so many steals, and those minutes I’m not in the game I’m definitely observing her.
“I’ll be sitting next to (assistant coach Karli Knudsen), and she’ll be like, ‘Look at what Lopez does, what she’s doing here and how successful she is at it.’ “
Wagner lets his players know that when he’s yelling, it’s not necessarily because he’s angry.
“At the beginning last year, Christen was maybe a little intimidated at times, and Erin this year, but they understand it now,” he said. “Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean I’m mad. In the course of a game and with the crowd, you’re trying to hear, that’s just the way it is. I think they feel comfortable about that, and they know off the court I’m a totally different person.”
He’s the first to admit the point guard has a ton of responsibility in his system.
“It’s difficult. If anybody’s played the point guard position, they know the defense starts with them,” Wagner said. “They’ve got to get down in their stance, because the four girls behind them see that, and if she’s down in a stance, they’re probably going to get down in a stance. If they see the point guard isn’t playing hard, they’re not going to play hard.”
Then there’s the offense, with the pages and pages of half-court sets. It’s up to the point guard to know every option of every play — for every player on the floor. Wagner said it takes a player with a high basketball IQ to run his system, and he’s got two point guards that fill the bill.
“He talked to me last year and said, ‘You have one of the hardest jobs. You need to know everybody’s man, every play, everybody’s spots, you need to be able to talk to them, you need to be able to lead them,’ ” said Lopez, who’s averaging 8.5 points and nearly five assists per game. “I struggled with that last year. I was there, but I wasn’t very loud. This year I feel a lot better, and I’m trying to get her to talk now.”
Reichle laughed at that.
“The whole talking thing is confidence with my teammates,” she said. “They all know what’s going on, and they have a lot more experience than I do. It’s kind of tough in that aspect, but I feel like I’m definitely coming along, thanks to Christen.”
Both can shoot the 3, and Lopez, only 5-foot-4, is adept at using her quickness to get into the paint and score against much bigger players.
“She’s crafty,” Wagner said. “She’s bouncy and hard to guard. She’s got a great feel for when she gets around the basket. Sometimes she’ll shoot an off-balance shot, and to her that’s a good shot. I don’t worry about her being off-balance because she knows how to use backspin off the backboard and angles.”
Reichle, who was second in the state and led Class 5A in scoring last season, has a pretty stroke from the 3-point line and now doesn’t hesitate when she’s got a little bit of space. The 5-6 freshman is also hard-nosed on the ball and caught Wagner’s attention by how hard she played in high school.
“She just worked extremely hard, and you could tell she loves basketball,” Wagner said. “She worked hard the whole time, and those are the kids I like to coach. If you have to wind them up every day, it gets old, and it gets old for them, but if they love to come out and compete and play hard, then it’s kind of fun.”
Guarding one another in practice every day has made both point guards better.
“I feel better and more confident when she can guard me and pick me up, and maybe she’ll take the ball a couple of times or take away options,” Lopez said. “I feel a lot more confident in her coming in for me if I get in foul trouble or I get tired.
“Both me and Coach have gotten a lot more confident watching her and seeing her take shots that are open. It’s been good watching her develop. I can just picture it next year.”