COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Replicating the size and length of Kelsey Bone, Texas A&M’s 6-foot-4 Wooden Award finalist, in Wichita was nearly impossible.
Believe Wichita State coach Jody Adams when she says she tried everything.
“I couldn’t find anyone on campus big enough,” Adams said. “Except on our guys’ team and they were out of town.”
WSU know it has a monumental task in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in containing Bone, but it won’t truly comprehend it until Saturday’s game is underway.
How the 14th-seeded Shockers respond in the opening five minutes will go a long way in deciding if they have a chance to upset the No. 3 seed.
“We can’t play scared,” WSU sophomore Alex Harden said. “I think we’ll adjust fine in the first couple minutes, but we have to play all out and play hard. Once we do that, we’ll start to find the seams and that’s where we’ll find our shots.”
But the game plan doesn’t revolve around that.
If WSU is to stay competitive, it will have to conquer its past bugaboo of rebounding.
“The shots we are going to force them to take, there’s going to be a lot of long rebounds,” WSU senior Jessica Diamond said. “If we can get on the boards and make them one-and-done, then we definitely have a chance.”
It’s the best strategy in theory, but saying you’re going to box out Bone and actually doing it are two separate things.
Bone collects, on average, three offensive rebounds and Texas A&M’s rebounding margin of plus-4.9 rates as one of the better margins in the country.
WSU has plenty of 6-foot, 6-1 and 6-2 players, but they’re lean and athletic, ill-equipped to hold ground in the low post against a bruiser like Bone. The best-suited player for the job is likely 5-10 freshman Michaela Dapprich, who has a strong lower body.
But guarding Bone will truly be a team task.
“We’re going to shrink the paint,” Dapprich said. “I know Texas A&M has a couple shooters but not a lot, so we’re going to shrink the paint, double Bone and go from there.”
From past seasons, Wichita State is a vastly improved rebounding team. But the team’s leading rebounder is Harden, at 5.1 per game, and she is often guarding a player on the perimeter.
The lack of a big body in the middle has hurt WSU at times in the Missouri Valley Conference. But if it doesn’t find an equalizer against Texas A&M, which also brings 6-5 and 6-7 off the bench, then it could be fatal.
“We absolutely have to board the ball,” Adams said. “A lot of times, their second and third shots are their best shots, especially when they’re not hitting from the fringe.”
But Adams is realistic. Bone has scored in single-digits five times this season. She will likely get her points, but WSU hopes not to be victim No. 11 of a 20-point scoring outing by Bone.
That’s not where the challenges end. Adams says WSU will have to make “12 to 15” outside shots, though not necessarily three-pointers. Driving lanes will likely be limited, so sharpshooters Dapprich, Diamond and Darice Fountaine must be on.
Wichita State knows no one outside of its locker room believes it can win.
Texas A&M, the NCAA champions in 2011, has the All-American, the prestige and the home game.
All Wichita State has is its beliefs.
“We truly believe we can do this,” Harden said. “If we execute the details, it’s going to be a battle.”