As the football season approaches the likely last game at Kyle for Johnny Football, Women's Bouncy Ball is getting ready to start their next run at another SEC crown and more. The nonconference season home games start after the Miss State football game, so come get your live sports fix at Reed with the defending SEC tournament champs.
Sunday night the diehard WBB fans got a look at the post-Kelsey Bone Ags in an exhibition game vs. the Oklahoma City University Stars. OKCU plays in the NAIA, a version of the NCAA for schools that are even smaller than the small NCAA schools. OKCU is a private Methodist-associated school in (surprise) Oklahoma City*. Among NAIA schools, OKCU is a perennial power: they have 6 national championships (most recently in 2012), and many conference crowns. But it's the NAIA and Ags had a talent and size advantage that is a caveat to interpreting the 103-59 win in the exhibition.
With that qualification in mind, there were a lot of reasons to be optimistic from the exhibition. I expected solid play from center Karla Gilbert, soph returning starters Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams, and the electric soph Jordan Jones, who inherits the point position from Adrienne Pratcher. But I was curious to see how Terry and the Transfers (fish Jada Terry and JC transfers Achiri Ade and Tavarsha Scott) would look. I was also anxious to see how the Ags would look after the long offseason. The brightest star of the new trio is Ade (pronounced ah-sheer-ee ah-day, I think), who started at the 4. Achiri finished with 16 points on 7-12 shooting and added 7 boards, a block, and an assist in 24 minutes of play. Ade did most of her damage in the first half, including a great spin move (and one) on a fast break late in the first half. I'm surprised this play didn't make the highlights. Ade went to the bench late in the second half after missing a layup. I think she might have been trying to dunk it.
Tavarsha Scott was even more efficient, especially in the second half. Tavarsha finished with 15 points on on 6-7 shooting in only 12 minutes on the floor. She was perfect from the FT line (3-3) and added 3 boards. Tavarsha did have problems when Blair went to a small lineup in the first half and put her in the post with CWill at the 4, Chelsea Jennings at the 3, Kristen Grant at the 2 and Curtyce Knox at point. The score went from 26-11 to 30-18 during that experiment with OKCU backup center Tommitrise Collins getting all of her 6 points for the game on 3 putback layups. In the second half, the coaches put Tavarsha in a better spot, playing the 4, and she responded well.
Both transfers played with energy and showed that they can score in the paint and rebound. We should be OK at the 4, despite losing Kristi Bellock to graduation. Fish Jada Terry was, not surprisingly, more tentative playing the post in relief of Karla Gilbert, but finished stronger in the second half, getting 6 points late.
For the returning players from last year's team, Karla Gilbert led all scorers with 18 points on 7-9 shooting in 24 minutes. Karla added 8 boards, 2 assists, a block, and 2 steals, while only turning it over once. Karla scored on strong moves and putbacks from both sides of the bucket. The CW network each had 10 points. CWill looked much improved in confidence and aggressiveness compared to last season. CWill had 3 steals. JJ had a quiet 11 points and 7 assists, playing slightly less than half the game at point. The rest of the minutes at PG were taken by redshirt freshman Curtyce Knox, who added another 5 points and 5 assists. Overall, 11 Ags played and all had at least 10 minutes on the floor. This was all of the scholarship players except Rachel Mitchell, who was in street clothes due to an unspecified violation of team rules. 6-7 Rachel in street clothes means spike heels long enough to elevate her way above everyone else in the huddle.
On defense we mostly played man. We pressed a little, but not that effectively. The Ags played a surprising amount of zone defense, which was almost unheard of in Blair's first few seasons and not expected against this kind of opponent. But we should expect to see much more zone in WBB this year nationwide, according to a NYT article on rules changes. Adding a 10-second rule is the more visible change, which should help pressing teams. But the NCAA has also changed the standards for defense.
Debbie Williamson, the secretary-rules editor for N.C.A.A. women’s basketball, has led officiating clinics throughout the country in the last month to reinforce the new plan to the referees. These are the major changes:
- A defender can no longer continually keep a hand or forearm on an opponent.
- A defender cannot use an arm bar to impede an opponent’s progress.
- A defender cannot place two hands on an opponent.
Consistency was the key word at the clinics: the calls should be made not only in November and December but also during conference play and the N.C.A.A. tournament.
This means we're going to see lots of calls that fans will see as tick-tack:
Coaches will have to adjust their defenses or put their players at risk of fouling out.
"You can expect everyone to play more zone this year," Louisville Coach Jeff Walz said. "You’re going to need at least two zones, or you’re going to have no players left."
The block-charge calls may go more to the offense as well. It should be noted that there are similar changes being made on the men's side. Although the rules are there to promote more scoring, more zones and more free throws don't strike me as making the game more entertaining.
The possibility of more foul trouble means depth becomes more important than ever. It will be interesting to see if Coach Blair, who usually reduces the amount of time his bench players see the floor as conference play approaches, changes his substitution pattern this season in response to the rule changes.
On offense, the Ags scored 103. So what's to complain about? Going 1-7 from behind the arc. If we're going to see a lot of zone and the opponents are going to be bigger, faster, stronger, and more talented than OKCU, I think we're going to need a zone-breaking gunner… or we're going to have to improve how we run the break so zone's can't set up.
The first non-exhibition is on Monday the 11th at N. Texas in Denton. The Ags come back to host Prairie View on the 13th. Things will evolve. As JJ said in the postgame:
"We are still transitioning. Our team didn’t execute as well as we did last year. We have a lot of new people coming in so we have to work in practice on our transition offense and our half court offense. I feel like once the season comes along we will be more fluid. You will see basically what you saw last year if not better."
I like the sound of "if not better".
*Always good to check, I was here for years before I realized that Austin College isn't in Austin.