Returning All-Americans wear a giant target.
Dani Turner knew that entering the 2020-21 season for the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team.
She’s one of the first players listed in the scouting report, as in, “Know where she is at all times. Make someone else beat us.”
“Going into the game, they know who I am now and so they’re gonna change up their game plan,” said the senior guard, who averaged 15.8 points a game, coming off the bench all of last season. She was an honorable mention All-America selection by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and moved into the starting lineup this season, with the “instant offense off the bench” role filled by sophomore guard Natalie Bartle.
“It’s almost like when Jay (Jaylyn Duran) was here, they knew who she was and they played her tight and tough,” Turner said. “I just really have to mentally prepare myself for the game to go in, knowing that they’re going to play their best defense against me.”
It can get frustrating, but Turner is focusing on how to set up her teammates, not forcing her shot, until she can work free. Her scoring is down only slightly, at 14.7 points a game, as the Mavs (5-1, 5-1 RMAC) open the 2021 portion of the season Monday night at home against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (1-1, 1-1). On Jan. 9, CMU is home against Black Hills State ( 4-1, 4-1).
She visualizes what to expect on any given night, going over the myriad of set plays CMU has at its disposal, and how to combat different defenses.
“What reads they’ll probably give me or how they’ll play my strong hand,” Turner said. “Or they’ll push me to the weak side, so I just have to know in my mind that they’re gonna try to not let me catch the ball whatsoever, so I’m going to have to work that much harder to be able to get the ball.
“If I can’t really get the ball back, then try to facilitate, go screen and try to get them open as much as them helping me to get open.”
When Bartle comes off the bench, Turner slides to the wing. Their playing styles are different, but complementary. Bartle loves to drive to the basket for a scoop shot, usually drawing fouls and going to the free-throw line, where she’s shot a nation-leading 50 free throws so far, making 40. She’s also got NBA range from the 3-point line and isn’t afraid to let it fly.
Turner likes to shoot off the dribble, with a sweet midrange pull-up jumper, or coming off screens.
“We are definitely two different types of players,” Turner said. “She likes to get in (the paint) more and shoot the outside jumper, especially from beyond the arc. I like to kind of keep my dribble, play with you a little bit, and then if I have a jump shot, then take that or try to find my other teammates for an open shot. Or if you give me a lane, I’ll go take it to the basket.”
With Turner handcuffed to only three shots against CSU-Pueblo’s double-team approach in the final game before the Christmas break, it freed up Bartle, who averages 16.7 points a game, to score a career-high 32. Having multiple scoring options doesn’t put CMU into panic mode if Turner is held in check — four players average double figures for a team that’s No. 2 in scoring offense in the RMAC (70.1) and No. 1 in scoring defense (53), which is fifth in the nation.
“We’ve talked about it, you guard me, then you have Nat coming off the bench and it’s kind of at that point, who do you really want to guard?” Turner said. “Do you want to let her score, go off for a night, do you want to see me go off for a night, Ky (Kylyn Rigsby, 14 points per game) go off, Kelsey (Siemons, 10 points per game)? We have the ability to have multiple scorers on the floor at the same time, so it’s really just pick your poison at that point.”