Women's basketball: Indiana State focusing on pace, space in its rebuilding effort
Similar to other levels of basketball of either gender, Division I NCAA women's basketball teams have put up some of the most prolific 3-point shooting numbers in the history of the game in recent seasons.
According to NCAA.com, teams made an average of 5.82 3-pointers per game on 18.34 attempts, both all-time highs.
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Regan Wentland, at 34.1 percent, was ISU's only 3-point shooter to make above the national average.
It's one of several critical areas that ISU coach Joey Wells needs to see improvement in order for his team to reverse the results of last year's 12-18 record that concluded on a seven-game losing streak.
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Between key returnees Ashley Taia and Ashli O'Neal, who shot 29.5 and 25.4 percent respectively from 3-point range, and some talented newcomers, Wells believes his team will make strides shooting the basketball. The team's performance in two exhibition games -- shooting a combined 6 for 35 from 3-point range in a loss at Eastern Illinois and a win against Illinois Springfield -- shows long-range shooting could continue to be a concern.
Between the two exhibition games and a closed-door scrimmage, "it was eye-opening it a lot of different ways for returning players and newcomers. We saw some really good things and we saw some weaknesses that we have to make sure to get addressed," Wells said. "But all-in-all, we were pleased with the way we did things. We didn't treat it like it was a game weekend. We had our hardest week of practice leading up to Friday and Sunday, and that showed Friday how we finished the fourth quarter and Sunday with how poorly we shot the ball."
Regardless, 3-point shooting alone is not going to solve ISU's offensive issues. The Sycamores were typically a plodding offensive team that shot themselves in the foot with turnovers.
"Just being honest, the last couple years, we've struggled to put up enough numbers," Wells said. "A number of times we've held people in the 50s and still lost. With the personnel, with the depth that we potentially have at guard, we can put more pressure on defensive transition and look to get some quicker easier baskets. When you're able to go a little deeper in your bench, you're able to play at a better pace defensively and offensively."
Point guard play can help dictate pace.
The play of O'Neal, a sophomore who played 19 minutes per game last season, and backup guards Alexis Delgado and Maeva Kitantou will be key in improving the Sycamores' pace and finding a way to improve a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. ISU had 288 assists to 513 turnovers, a ratio that ranked eighth out of 10 Missouri Valley Conference teams.
"She's growing as a player. As a freshman, she got good minutes but she's still trying to learn how to lead a team and understand that she does set the tone for us at times," Wells said. "When she walks it up the court, that affects her teammates. She has to continue to push that thing and get that offense going. She's getting better. Has to continue to improve. Has to increase her leadership skills as well. Once you're no longer a newbie, you need to step up and lead."
Delgado added eight points, two assists and two steals in Sunday's victory. The junior transfer from Phoenix College, where she averaged 20 points per game, could be a boost.
"She's probably our first guard off the bench. She can play either the one or the two. Maeva is still coming off her knee injury and is hesitant at times. She had her best practice of the year this morning. She's still trying to get some of her aggression back. Once she gets that back, we could have a 4-person rotation," Wells said.
The fourth, of course, is junior Tierra Webb, who enters her junior season in a stronger leadership position than last year. Webb and Taia enter their second year as the team's co-captains.
"Ashley has definitely stepped up in terms of talking more, not only in practice stay positive and stay motivational. T-Webb is the other one that's stepped up her game," Wells said. "It's the excitement and enthusiasm. When you're practicing, we need to have an attitude to get after it. Sometimes people need some external help and if it's only coming from the coaches, that's not enough. When it's coming from other people, it's infectious."
The added talent and personalities that are new to the roster are also having that effect, Wendi Bibbins pointed out.
"They bring a lot of positivity, a lot of energy, a lot of things we need," said Bibbins, who anchors the Sycamore frontcourt.
Bibbins reminded Sycamore fans of her upside during the exhibition contests, combining for 37 points and 24 rebounds. Bibbins connected on 15 of 26 field-goal attempts.
The dynamic 6-foot-1 forward also had 12 turnovers.
"Wendi has turned the ball over in our two exhibition games. That's a deal where she's getting double-teamed and we haven't done a great job of working against that. She'll improve in that," Wells said. "Her mentality and approach has gotetn so much better. She's been under much better control. We need and expect her to do that. At the same time, stay out of foul trouble."
Bibbins will be joined by the dependable Wentland in the frontcourt, with junior college transfer Kierra Isaiah and versatile freshmen A.J. Thomas and Ty Battle also in the mix to pick up somewhat significant minutes.
"Kierra has gotten better every time she steps on the floor, whether it's games or practice. It's tough going into a new program, you try to think through everything and it slows you down. If you're a second or two slow, it shows," Wells said. "She'll get better and better. She's athletic and plays with a high pace."
Thomas scored in double figures at Eastern Illinois and shows an ability to be a force on the defensive glass.
"I like the way she's aggressive. She can do many things, play inside-outside. Defensive skills, she's strong enough to defend a lot of post players," Wells said. "Really good timing on the glass. She times it well, athletic enough and strong enough to handle herself really well."
Battle could play anywhere from small forward to center.
"Ty reminds me a lot of [Wentland]. We played her at the 3-4-5, and her basketball IQ is really high. She understands a lot so she can play multiple positions. She has played more aggressive in games than she as in practice. We hope that carries over into practice," Wells said.
Wells also praised the offseason for junior Maryam Wilcher, who is stuck behind Taia at the small forward.
The Sycamores open up Friday against a Saint Louis team picked second in the Atlantic 10 Conference race but it is the first of six nonconference home games. The Sycamores will also play host to a Central Michigan team that is, like Saint Louis, ranked in the preseason midmajor poll.
The Sycamores' road trips are short trips to IUPUI, Illlinois-Chicago and Illinois in addition to a Thanksgiving trip to Cancun to play Montana and South Dakota.
After a home game against Butler on Dec. 21, it's on to the MVC schedule. The Sycamores were picked fifth, but Wells said the Sycamores believe they are capable of even more than that.
"I think Drake has got the most weapons in our conference. Obviouisly, Missouri State returns four out of 5 starters. They have the experience. UNI always well-coached and with good talent. After Drake and Missouri State, on paper, I think the rest is wide open," Wells said.
This article is written by Craig Pearson from The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.