Not much is different about the makeup of Wichita State’s women’s basketball team, but everything might change.
The Shockers are looking to turn last season’s 7-22 record, which followed three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances under coach Jody Adams-Birch, into a permanent outlier.
So far, their best asset is continuity. All 11 players return and WSU added five newcomers, facts that may expedite the rebuilding process or even proclaim it complete. A fifth 20-win season in the last six years isn’t being ruled out.
“I think it’s realistic in the fact that the ones who had a lot of shots and took a lot of shots, that won’t happen this year,” Adams-Birch said. “They’re going to have to be efficient in the certain amount of time that they’ll be in, but they’ll be able to play harder. We’ll be able to keep our pace of play.”
WSU was often unable to do that last year, playing with six players for a brief November stretch after beginning the season with eight healthy scholarship players.
The Shockers finished with 11 players and ended the regular season with three wins in six games, but the toll of heavy early-season minutes for core players made it difficult to build momentum.
A roster with 16 players grants no guarantees to those who inhabit it. Players such as Rangie Bessard – last season’s leading scorer at 15.5 points – along with senior TaQuandra Mike and junior point guard Diamond Lockhart will likely earn significant playing time.
But the key word is “earn,” because no player will be on the floor by necessity.
“Competition just makes us better,” sophomore forward Jyar Francis said. “I feel like this year we’re the most competitive team you’re ever going to meet. Every day we come with competition, nobody slacks. Having a full roster this year, nobody has time to slack. You have to come with your ‘A’ game every day, so competition is great.”
Adams-Birch points to nine single-digit losses as the most damaging factor in her worst of eight seasons at WSU. But the Shockers also lost 11 by 13 or more, so often they were a long way from lasting improvement.
Over time, though, WSU became more consistent. Bessard scored at least 13 points in eight of the final nine games. Mike reached double-figure scoring with at least four rebounds seven times after Jan. 14.
In the bigger picture, steadiness was a problem because the Shockers shot 38.5 percent for the season and made 28 percent of their three-pointers. They averaged just below 53 points and scored better than 51 once in the final six games, including a loss to Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
“From a leaders standpoint, we have to be consistent as often as possible,” Lockhart said. “We have our teammates following us and listening to us. Our consistency within practice and in games will only encourage them to (think), ‘OK, I have to do my role. I have to do what I have to do for the team.’”
The formula for improvement seems established and WSU might even have the pieces. A new dribble-drive offense could help scoring, and the Shockers will use it to establish a quicker tempo.
With 16 players, fatigue shouldn’t become an issue. Nearly every player has experience. The coach has won three Missouri Valley Conference championships. It’s time to see what it all means.
“If we stay true to the plan and trust the plan, I can’t help but smile what this team has the ability to do,” Adams-Birch said. “Every team has the ability or has the chance, the opportunity, to hang a (championship) banner. But what I look forward to is coaching a different a team. A more mature team that really understands now what it takes to win.”