Not every team can compartmentalize the frustration when open shots don’t fall and its offense comes to a grinding halt.
But the Wichita State women are one of these teams, favorites to win its third straight Missouri Valley Conference championship because they are close to being immune to poor shooting performances.
That’s because of defensive performances like the one that was on display Sunday afternoon at Koch Arena, where the Shockers completed the weekend sweep to begin MVC play with a 54-44 victory over Evansville.
“We always say we can’t let offense, how it’s going, dictate our defense and how the game is going to go,” senior Kelsey Jacobs said. “We can’t let that swing our momentum. We always fall back on defense when it comes down to it.”
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The way to attack Wichita State (11-3, 2-0) is to constantly change defenses to give it different looks and to limit turnovers. Evansville (6-7, 1-1) achieved the former, but struggled with the latter.
When WSU attacked the rim, it was successful. But Evansville protected itself with clever changes on the defensive end, never allowing the Shockers to grow comfortable in their sets. WSU finished making 36.2 percent of its shots.
“Our looks were constantly changing,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “That’s where we have to be quicker on our feet and confident in making scoring passes.”
A look closer reveals an even colder shooting performance, as WSU made just 22.7 percent (10 of 44) of its shots from farther than two feet from the basket.
“We were having troubles knocking down our shots on offense,” junior Michaela Dapprich said. “But that’s why we play the defense we do.”
For the fifth straight game, Wichita State forced its opponent to turn the ball at least 20 times. Evansville committed 20 turnovers and, paired with 41.5 percent shooting, finished with just 44 points in 62 possessions.
Evansville relies heavily scoring out of its sets, but the defensive work of Jamillah Bonner and Jacobs disrupted its offense and never allowed a rhythm to set in.
But seven straight empty possessions late in the second half allowed Evansville to stick around and cut the lead to 44-42 with 2:25 remaining. That’s when WSU’s veterans buckled down and summoned plays to escape with a victory.
Evansville chose to play Alex Harden (20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals) straight-up on the following possession, and Harden choose to blow right past the defender and finish for a lay-in.
“Anytime anybody is trying to guard Alex with one person, she better get to the rim,” Adams said. “There’s no one that can guard her body and her size, I believe.”
After Evansville missed two free throws on the other end, Michaela Dapprich followed with the dagger: a dead-on three-point swish for a 49-44 lead from a kick-out from the post, a play Adams specifically told her players to look for during a timeout.
Wichita State is still working through its blemishes — a bench that failed to score for the second time this season, rebounding on the defensive end, and its ball movement against a zone defense.
But when a team plays defense like WSU does, the blemishes aren’t as visible. The Shockers have held seven of their last nine opponents under 50 points.
“That’s the kind of effort it’s going to take for the rest of the season, it’s going to be a grind like this,” Adams said. “We know that. We know how big the target is on our back. We just need to continue to improve.”
EVANSVILLE (6-7, 1-1): Reese 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 1-4 0-0 2, Robinson 2-5 0-0 4, Dickey 5-11 3-4 14, Ladd 6-10 0-0 15, Hart 2-5 2-4 7, Taylor 0-4 0-1 0, Friday 0-1 0-1 0, Langston 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 17-41 5-12 44.
WICHITA STATE (11-3, 2-0): Bonner 3-11 2-2 9, Jacobs 3-10 0-1 6, Decker 3-7 0-0 8, Harden 7-15 6-8 20, Mi. Dapprich 5-10 0-0 11, Stovall 0-1 0-0 0, White 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 0-3 0-0 0, Chapel 0-0 0-0 0, Mo. Dapprich 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-58 8-11 54.
Halftime—Wichita State 24, Evansville 16. Three-point shooting—UE 5-14 (Ladd 3-6, Hart 1-2, Dickey 1-3, Taylor 0-3), WSU 4-18 (Decker 2-6, Mi. Dapprich 1-2, Bonner 1-6, Jacobs 0-1, Stovall 0-1, Harden 0-2). Rebounds—UE 37 (Robinson 9), WSU 31 (Jacobs, Harden 8). Assists—UE 11 (Three tied at 2), WSU 14 (Decker 5). Fouls—UE 12, WSU 15. A—1,651.