Conquering zone defense is what stands between the Wichita State women’s basketball team and a third consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championship.
The Shockers have just about every other aspect of their game, besides a tweak or two in their defensive rebounding, dialed in that puts the rest of the competition at a disadvantage.
But as Loyola, a bottom-tier team in the Valley, showed on Friday night, playing a zone defense against WSU is the great equalizer. That’s how a team that lost 15 games in a row this season was able to hang around and make Wichita State earn its 64-55 victory at Koch Arena.
Regardless of the struggle, the Shockers (19-4, 10-1 MVC) extended their home winning streak to 14 games with the win.
“We know we’re going to continued to be zoned throughout the year,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “Instead of backing up when we see the zone, we’ve got to attack the zone.”
In fairness, Loyola has finally regained its health and is putting its best lineup on the court, which led to two straight wins entering Friday. Still, the Ramblers were out-matched in nearly every way against the two-time defending league champs.
Loyola wasn’t even sharp in its 2-3 rendition of the zone, but it proved effective in keeping Wichita State from ever enjoying a rhythm offensively. WSU knows its coming and is prepared to deal with every variation, but it’s adjusting on the fly that is holding the team back.
“We know the weaknesses of every kind of zone, so the idea is to move the ball around and figure out where to get the ball,” WSU’s Alex Harden said. “We have to work off each other and how they’re playing us.”
Too often Wichita State’s ballhandlers become too focused on where they want to pass the ball, instead of reacting to what the zone is giving them.
“I thought we had tunnel vision a little bit, and you can’t have that against a zone,” Adams said. “It has to be wide vision.”
There were openings all around the court against Loyola, seams and gaps just waiting to be exploited. But right now this WSU team is failing to exploit them, at least on a consistent-enough basis to force its opposition to adjust.
This allowed Loyola to linger within striking range, down three points 30 minutes into the game. But a sudden burst of excellence from WSU, a two-minute stretch where those seams and gaps were taken advantage of, carried it to victory.
It was a 10-0 run that featured three layups and four free throws created by drives, something Adams desperately wants this team to do against the zone.
“When I attack the gap, then that keeps the shooters open,” WSU point guard Jamillah Bonner said. “Being aggressive, going to the rim, that’s what I can do to help get my teammates open.”
It wasn’t an efficient effort, as WSU shot 40 percent from the field with Bonner (12 points), Jacobs and Decker combining for a 8-for-30 effort. But with the superb play from Harden (20 points, seven rebounds) and Michaela Dapprich (17 points, seven rebounds), WSU had enough to survive another Valley contest.
Adams believes the answers are right before her team, she’s just waiting for her players to seize them.
“I felt like the adjustments we made were great during the game,” Adams said, “but I would say our execution in them was average. And that has to improve.”
LOYOLA (4-19): Law 5-8 6-8 16, Smith 0-2 3-6 3, Johnson 4-9 0-2 9, Karopulos 0-0 0-0 0, Manuel 3-10 4-5 10, Lambrigtsen 6-7 0-0 15, Farley 0-0 0-0 0, Crosby 1-3 0-0 2, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Washington 0-1 0-0 0, Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-41 13-21 55.
WICHITA ST. (19-4): Bonner 5-15 1-4 12, Jacobs 2-10 2-3 6, Decker 1-5 2-2 5, Harden 5-9 9-9 20, Mi. Dapprich 7-13 3-4 17, Stovall 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 1-1 0-0 2, Chapel 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-55 17-22 55.
Halftime – Wichita State 28, Loyola 21. Three-point shooting–Loyola 4-6 (Lambrigtsen 3-4, Johnson 1-1, Manuel 0-1), WSU 3-13 (Harden 1-2, Decker 1-4, Bonner 1-4, Jacobs 0-1, Mi. Dapprich 0-2). Rebounds–LU 31 (Law 7), WSU 33 (Bonner, Harden, Mi. Dapprich 7). Assists–LU 7 (Law, Lambrigtsen 2), WSU 13 (Jacobs, Decker, Harden 4). Fouls–LU 21, WSU 16. A–2,322.