Solving a zone defense had not been a complicated problem for the Wichita State women’s basketball team until recently.
The Shockers rose to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference because they followed the details that coach Jody Adams told them were required to win. But in losing two of its last three games, WSU struggled to find that clear purpose it played with against a common 3-2 zone during a 20-game winning streak.
“We’re mimicking the zone,” Adams said. “It’s a standing zone and we’re standing with it. It’s also reflecting to our defense, and you don’t want that.”
There’s a simple solution, in Adams’ mind, for what needs to happen for the Shockers to return to their winning ways Thursday night at Evansville.
“Move,” Adams summarized.
A victory would clinch a share of the Shockers’ second straight Valley championship.
WSU spent the majority of Sunday’s loss to Indiana State aimlessly working the ball around the perimeter. It appeared that the Shockers were moving, but what Adams desires is for them to move with a purpose.
In recent practices Adams has worked extensively with primary ball handlers Alex Harden and Jamillah Bonner on how to attack the zone. Adams wants them to break down the top defender in the zone and force other defenders to rotate.
Dribble penetration has disappeared in recent games, and it’s something Harden and Bonner have rededicated themselves to bringing back to the Shockers’ offense.
“We have to make the zone shift,” Harden said. “We’re going to get open shots if we do that. We just have to start taking advantage of their zone’s mistakes.”
A change had to be made after WSU looked lethargic against Indiana State, rarely making the zone collapse and instead settling for an array of jump shots. Guarded or unguarded, it didn’t matter, that’s a quick way to an unreliable offense.
The Shockers have jump shooters who are capable, but Adams knows the strength of the offense is when Harden is moving toward the basket. That puts the decision-making on the likely Valley Player of the Year, a proposition that Adams is glad to take.
“We don’t want to let the zone settle,” Adams said. “We want to speed the ball up the court and not let the zone set on a make or a miss. Our goal is to get to the free-throw line and to dribble attack.”
The result, if executed, should lead to more made baskets for WSU, which in turn, leads directly to more opportunities for it to set up its vaunted full-court press.
The Shockers are aware of what needs to be done to rectify their current situation. They can secure the Valley title outright if they sweep the final road trip of the regular season, at Evansville and then Saturday at Southern Illinois.
“We’re just ready to get back at it,” WSU senior Michelle Price said. “We’re ready to tell the Valley, ‘Yes, we’re still going to be known for our defense.’ Just because we lost two games, that hasn’t changed.”