A season ago, the Wichita State women’s basketball team earned banners from its defense.
This year’s team is flashing the potential to be every bit as good as its predecessors on the defensive end, and in an entirely different manner.
Now the Shockers, as they displayed in their latest non-conference victory, a 66-47 dismantling of Arkansas State on Thursday at Koch Arena, are brash and untamed. They play a reckless, 94-feet, in-your-face style that coach Jody Adams somehow keeps in order.
It is both different and the same: the wins still come, as WSU improved to 6-2 and won its fifth straight game on Thursday.
“Our identity is still a defensive team,” senior Michelle Price said. “Opponents are still going to have an issue scoring because of our defensive skills.”
Price has been a catalyst in the shift of WSU’s manic defense.
Alex Harden and her athleticism always lead WSU’s attack. But if Harden is the engine, then Price is the gas needed just as much to make the Shockers go.
Price has thrived in her expanded role as a senior, proving her boundless energy to be just as effective when extrapolated over 30 minutes. Against Arkansas State, Price scored 15 points, tracked down five rebounds and had three steals, and was vital in frustrating her opposition, Jane Morrill, one of the Sun Belt’s premier players, to a season-low six points.
“Michelle continues to be our backbone,” Adams said. “The intangibles she brings to this program, you can’t teach those things, you recruit those things. It’s hard to find kids in this day and time with her heart, her second effort, her willingness, and her pride.”
While the opposition will improve, Arkansas State was no push-over. This was a team that beat Missouri State, another Missouri Valley team, by 18 points.
But Wichita State’s defense was unrelenting and never allowed ASU to establish a semblance of rhythm on offense. It wasn’t until the final minute of the game that Arkansas State strung together three unanswered baskets.
The Shockers virtually eliminated all runs, so the double-digit lead it took them six minutes to build never dipped below eight points the rest of the game.
“You have to be able to get stops to win championships,” Harden said. “Once you have a defensive plan, you can work for your offense.”
Even without a constant stream of shots falling from the perimeter, Wichita State was able to string together a 49-percent shooting performance that included 13 missed shots from 5-feet and in.
Harden was not spectacular in any one area, but her effort as a whole — 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, a steal, and a block — was.
But the revelation of the night was Jamillah Bonner, whose primary contribution before Thursday had been on defense, where her aggressiveness has fused seamlessly with Price and Harden.
On Thursday, she harnessed it on offense and set a career-best with a game-high 17 points and tied her best rebounding effort with seven.
“Sometimes I get down on myself and it’s hard for me to get myself back up,” Bonner said. “So staying consistent with my attitude and my tempo on the court is big for me.”
Wichita State is rapidly taking form, a transformation that has one major test left before Missouri Valley play —Sunday’s road trip to Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“I like how this team is evolving,” Adams said, “and I like the direction we’re headed.”
ARKANSAS STATE (4-5): O’Bannon 1-5 0-1 2, Gill 1-7 3-4 5, Morrill 3-7 0-0 6, Flanery 3-8 0-0 8, Gamble 7-16 1-3 17, Brown-Haywood 0-3 0-0 0, Ruffins 0-0 2-2 2, Fowler 0-1 0-0 0, Hunt 1-1 0-1 2, Clt. Wyatt 0-1 0-0 0, Cls. Wyatt 2-3 1-3 5. Totals 18-52 7-14 47.
WICHITA STATE (6-2): Bonner 6-13 5-5 17, Jacobs 1-2 0-0 2, Harden 6-12 2-2 14, Price 7-11 1-3 15, Mi. Dapprich 3-6 0-0 7, Agnello 0-1 0-0 0, Decker 1-2 2-2 4, Preston 1-5 0-0 2, Chapel 2-3 0-0 5, Mo. Dapprich 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-55 10-12 66.
Halftime—Wichita St. 34, Arkansas St. 23. Three-point shooting—ASU 4-13 (Gamble 2-3, Flanery 2-4, Morrill 0-1, Gill 0-2, Brown-Haywood 0-3), WSU 2-10 (Chapel 1-2, Mi. Dapprich 1-3, Preston 0-1, Bonner 0-2, Harden 0-2). Rebounds—ASU 34 (Gamble 8), WSU 35 (Harden 8). Assists—ASU 9 (Ruffins 5), WSU 14 (Harden 7). Fouls—ASU 14, WSU 15. A—1,244.