Chasing 22: Four keys for UCR women’s basketball to make program history

 

Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER
Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER

The women’s basketball team opened its conference schedule as well as they could have hoped, dismantling the UC Irvine Anteaters in their Big West opener and handling the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in their conference road opener. This marked the first time the team had opened conference play 2-0 since the 2007-08 season, a year before the team went 14-2 in conference play. If this year’s team were to pull off a similar run, they would need that same conference win total to match the 2006-07 team as the winningest UCR women’s basketball team in the program’s Division I history with 21 wins. The 2006-07, 2008-09, and 2015-16 teams all won in different ways, but by analyzing the resemblances between this season and two of the team’s strongest conference seasons, one can see the things needed to be done for this team to succeed.

  1. Protect home court
    • One of the important similarities between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 incarnations of the women’s basketball team was their proficiency at home versus their Big West counterparts. The ‘08-’09 team suffered only one home loss in conference play, and the ‘06-’07 team did not lose a single game on their home court. This home dominance was not just in conference for these two teams, with both only losing one game each at home the entire season. The 2015-16 team seems to be on the path to continuing that trend, with their only home loss thus far coming to then No. 19 UCLA. Only good things can come from continuing to hold the fort in the SRC.
  2. A Step to the ball
    • A glaring difference between the winning teams in previous years and the team this year are its defensive numbers. While this can partially be attributed to some of the NCAA rule changes and having multiple AP top 25 teams on the non-conference schedule (Oregon State, UCLA), the ‘15-’16 Highlanders still have shown much room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Despite having very similar point differentials (+4.5 in ‘15-’16, +3.9 in ‘08-’09, +2.7 in ‘06-’07), this year’s team allows opponents to shoot 40 percent from the field, while the previous teams allowed closer to 36 percent. If the defense can keep teams under 40 percent, it would be difficult to lose with an offense that is far superior to the seasons past.
  3. Crashing the glass
    • The Highlanders have had some trouble on the boards all year, being outrebounded by an average of 4.9 boards per game. That figure is mostly due to the Highlanders’ inability to keep opponents off of the offensive glass, where the team is allowing a conference-worst 14.69 offensive rebounds per game, while only grabbing only 10.56 offensive boards, which also stands as one of the worst rates in the conference. Limiting opponents to one chance per possession will be key in finishing off defensive plays.
  4. Move it, don’t lose it
    • The Highlanders were able to keep turnovers to a minimum over the past several games, and have the only positive turnover ratio of the three teams mentioned, turning the ball over 2.6 times less than their opponents per game. Naturally, this also results in the 2015-16 team having the only assist-turnover ratio over one, leading the Big West with a 1.32 assist-turnover ratio. This also makes the Highlanders one of two teams in the Big West to have a ratio over one this season (UC Davis, 1.12). This is a sign of smooth and unforced ball movement, showing that the team is very comfortable playing with each other and within a motion offense. Sustaining a camaraderie within the team becomes ever more important in coach John Margaritis’ Princeton offense, so if the group continues to thrive in an environment where this is emphasized, the potential that they’ll be etched into the record books looks promising.
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