On a cold, snowy Saturday afternoon, Wichita State’s women’s basketball team was inside Koch Arena thinking of Cancun. Or at least trying to recreate it.
That’s where, coach Jody Adams-Birch believes, the Shockers had their early-season turning point. Where they learned to win without top player Rangie Bessard and where their dribble-drive offense made the most progress.
WSU used those tenets of ball movement and cohesiveness to defeat winless Incarnate Word 73-63 in the finale of the Shocker Winter Classic. An assist was recorded on 14 of 20 first-half baskets and WSU built the lead as high as 35 in the third quarter.
“What we’ve recognized is with great ball movement, inside-outside action, we have not only gotten good shots but we’re beginning to get great shots,” Adams-Birch said. “It’s high-percentage shots, so you see our shooting percentage, it’s gone up. It’s skyrocketed.”
WSU has won four of its last five, a streak that started with a win in the final game of the tournament in Mexico. In the wins, the Shockers have made 120 of 238 shots, good for 50.4 percent.
Bessard, who was injured for WSU’s win over Northeastern in Cancun, has been perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the improved offensive flow. With guards using the dribble-drive to penetrate the lane, defensive help on those players has allowed Bessard to find her favorite spots on the floor.
During one first-half stretch on Saturday, Bessard made seven straight shots. She finished with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Angiee Tompkins, another WSU post player, scored 16 while making 8 of 13 shots.
“We love when our guards can play like that, and they were outstanding tonight,” Bessard said. “They really stuck to the game plan, made phenomenal passes, had great vision. We really want to congratulate our guards on that tonight.”
TaQuandra Mike and Aundra Stovall each had six assists and two turnovers. Neither of them sought their own shot first. Mike took nine shots but many of them were the result of passers finding her cutting to the basket or from her own offensive rebounds.
WSU’s offense places similar value on all guards because it depends most on their playmaking ability, not their scoring.
“The spacing has been great,” Adams-Birch said. “With great spacing, with great communication, it ends up putting your scorers in rhythm. When we’ve caught each other in rhythm, we’ve shot the ball very, very well.”
The Shockers’ bench scored 33 points, led by Tompkins and Jeliah Preston, who scored 16. Preston had a breakout against Northeastern, scoring 17 points, but she missed the next game to injury. She returned for a 21-point performance in a win over Abilene Christian on Friday.
“I think Cancun was a learning experience for the entire team, not just me,” Preston said. “I don’t know where I kind of got a spark from. I don’t know what triggered me coming out and playing like I did. But I do want to give credit to my teammates for finding me like they do, and I feel like we grew so much over Thanksgiving break in the Cancun tournament.”
INCARNATE WORD (0-9): Berry 6-17 3-3 17, Busby-Lejia 0-4 0-0 0, Ajeto 1-6 0-0 2, Frias 0-5 0-0 0, Garcia Paunero 4-12 5-6 16, Ramirez 6-10 0-0 15, Merritt 4-11 1-1 9, Cook 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 23-69 9-10 63.
WICHITA ST. (5-5): Thompson 1-4 0-0 2, Lockhart1-3 0-0 2, Lee 2-7 0-0 5, Mike 5-9 2-4 12, Bessard 8-12 3-3 19, Stovall 0-0 4-4 4, Preston 4-8 1-2 11, Lozada-Cabbage 1-3 0-0 2, Williams 0-6 0-0 0, Lehne 0-1 0-0 0, Tompkins 8-13 0-0 16. Totals 30-66, 10-13 73.
Three-point shooting—UIW 8-24 (Garcia Paunero 3-4, Ramirez 3-6, Berry 2-7, Merritt 0-1, Busby-Lejia 0-2, Frias 0-4), WSU 3-12 (Preston 2-4, Less 1-4, Bessard 0-1, Lehne 0-1, Williams 0-2). Rebounds—UIW 45 (Garcia Paunero 11), WSU 39 (Tompkins 7). Assists—UIW 15 (Frias 5), WSU 18 (Mike, Stovall 6). Total fouls—UIW 17, WSU 10. Technicals—Preston. A—1,427.