The Seattle Pacific Falcons are going to have a happy holiday break. They currently sit at 10-0, jumping from No. 23 all the way to No. 14 in the nation in the last Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Poll. It may be a bit of a surprise to some, as the Falcons are coming off of a 12-15 2015-16 season, but don’t let last year's record fool you.
“Last year, we lost so many close games. I think we learned what it takes to win,” junior guard Jordan McPhee said. “I don’t think 10-0 was out of the question because people put a lot of work in in the spring and the summer, and we’ve just come together more as a team this year.”
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Last season was one of unusual circumstance. SPU lost not one, but two, of their starting point guards to injury and four seniors graduated. Losing three games in seven days to start January sent them reeling into a month long losing streak. They also lost one of their leading scorers — McPhee — to a sprained ankle on the same night she scored 25 second half points in a monumental comeback against a very talented Western Washington.
“We could just never get a break,” head coach Julie Heisey said. “Our kids worked very hard, and we have had people get healthy, so that has been a huge difference for us. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of experience. I think we weathered the storm as far as toughness and perseverance. Even though we lost [last year], we did get better because we kept fighting. To be honest, no I didn’t expect to be 10-0, but I knew we could be 8-2 or 9-1. But that’s why you take it one game at a time.”
This season saw four returning starters back at SPU. One of those returners is McPhee, who is currently ranked second on the team in points, rebounds and steals. She is part of a group that doesn’t have a standout scorer — junior Courtney Hollander leads the team with just 13.1 points a night — but instead boasts a balanced attack that has become a cohesive unit over the years.
“We compete so hard in practice,” McPhee said. “We have four returning starters and nine upper classmen, so every day you are playing against people that are making you better. I think we have a bunch of great players and we trust each other. Whoever we can work open takes the shot. It’s a great team to be a part of, we have fun going out there because we all play our hardest.”
If the saying that defense wins championships holds true, then the Falcons defense has put them in a good position. Their defense currently leads the nation in scoring, allowing a stingy 46.8 points a night.
“This year is defense,” McPhee said. “It’s what we always come back to, getting the stops. That just leads to our offense and the flow of the game and being able to control the tempo.”
“I didn’t know we’d be as good defensively as we have been,” Heisey added. “But we can really defend and tag team in. That was another problem last year. We weren’t as good offensively, which meant we had to be great defensively. There’s no question that because of our depth, we can play really hard. But we also have kids that bought in. They understand that they need to know scouting reports, they need to know player’s tendencies, and I think we’re taking pride in that.”
The Falcons head into the break after sweeping both games of the SPU Classic. The tournament saw McPhee capture Most Valuable Player honors leading the team with 18 and 13 points in consecutive nights. SPU also closed out the tournament by helping Heisey reach a milestone, capturing her 400th career win.
“It was a great way to go into winter break,” McPhee said. “We focused on that this week and just went back to the basics. We wanted it for her — 400 is just a crazy number. She always talks about controlling the controllable, so we did that to get the win.”
Congrats to the undefeated, nationally ranked Falcon women's basketball team!! They are the GNAC Team of the Week - https://t.co/JlbtgV3aLP— SPU Falcons (@SPUsports) December 20, 2016
For Heisey, the milestone was a nice achievement, but wasn’t one of her priorities this season. Her goals were clear, and that was to get players like senior point guard Rachel Shim back on track, and get these Falcons through the “gauntlet” that the Great Northwest Athletic Conference poses.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have even known about the 400 milestone had [Assistant Sports Information Director] Mark Moschetti said anything,” Heisey said. “I think the thing I’m most excited about is that we are 10-0, and that our kids are experiencing some success. They are seeing the benefits of their work, because last year they worked very, very hard and didn’t see the rewards. Just knowing that people are talking about our team. It’s fun to say that we’re number one in the nation in points allowed. That’s what’s really exciting.
“It was fun this past weekend. Kids are starting to read each other and finish plays. It was fun to see a lot of pretty passing, and getting the rebound and being able to run the break. There was a lot of joy for me to see Rachel Shim come back from her torn ACL and play, and play fearless.”
The Falcons take the next few days to prepare for a torturous stretch. They come out of the break to play four games in eight nights, starting their attempt to run through a rigorous GNAC schedule, a conference that elapses three time zones and consists of last year’s national runner-ups, the No. 8 ranked Alaska-Anchorage.
“I think we know it’s one game at a time,” McPhee said. “We know how important winning looks in the long run. These games are going to help us for seeding in the NCAA tournament. So, every game, we go into with that fire knowing that.”