Toure Murry is eager to talk about defense, eager to say he wants to be a great defender and eager to take on top scorers.
"I can do it, if I put my mind to it," Murry said. "(Coach Gregg Marshall) challenges me every day to become a great defender. That's what I try to do each and every day, when I get on the best players."
Murry, and most of the Shockers, are following Marshall's lead regarding the importance of defense. Entering Saturday's games, WSU led the Missouri Valley Conference in shooting defense (allowing opponents to make 39.8 percent of their shots) and defense against three-pointers (30.3). Those numbers are improved over last season, when WSU ranked seventh in shooting defense (43.8) and last against threes (35.6).
On the whole, WSU is making life miserable for opposing shooters and dribblers. That's especially true on the perimeter, where WSU can rotate four, and sometimes five, willing and strong defenders.
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Murry often takes the top scorer and uses his long arms and strength to his advantage. Point guard Clevin Hannah is stronger than a season ago, better equipped to keep other guards from driving past him. Graham Hatch is an irritant with his non-stop hustle and physical play. David Kyles can be a demon deflecting passes and freshman Demetric Williams offers moments of good defense.
"The difference for me is I'm a lot stronger upper body," Hannah said. "And I'm a little quicker. It's easier for me to stay in front of those guys."
As a group, the Shockers are taking guards out of their comfort zone with regularity. With their depth, fouls and fatigue are factors in their favor.
"We're getting out and pressuring, because we know we have help," Murry said. "We want to force ball-handlers to handle the ball and see what they can do."
The past three games provided plenty of examples. The Shockers held Drake guards Ryan Wedel and Josh Young to a combined 15 points on 6-of-24 shooting. Murry did a standout job on Bradley's Andrew Warren, who scored 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Wednesday, the Shockers erased Missouri State's Adam Leonard, holding him to three first-half shots and 12 points. He also committed four turnovers.
Murry did a large share of the work on Leonard.
"If you drive on him, he's right there with you," Leonard said. "His long arms really affect your shot."
The Shockers aren't perfect on defense. They gave up 44 second-half points to the Bears. Illinois State's Osiris Eldridge did what he wanted on his way to 26 points in the Valley opener. But the numbers say they are a major headache for offenses.
"I think we're doing an OK job," Hannah said. "I think we can better at defending the ball. (Against MSU) I had a couple plays where I broke down and I let one of their guards get into the paint. We're doing a decent job."
Package deals — WSU plays six MVC games on Tuesday or Sunday this season, days that aren't traditional for college basketball.
TV dictates some of that. In recent seasons, the Valley began using its Tuesday and Sunday dates to attract top officials. Most high-profile conferences play on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Valley offers referees a chance to make more money by packaging Tuesday-Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday games.
"This has been our strategy in getting elite-tier officials," MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said. "We have 270 conference assignments — 90 games and three officials per game. We have a very, very high percentage filled by elite-tier officials. We pay a premium for those people."
Worth noting — WSU's women's tennis player Lutfiana Budiharto is ranked No. 28 nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. She went 16-2 in the fall, moving her up from No. 120. The team is ranked No. 71.... WSU opens the indoor track season on Friday with the Varsity Apartments Invitational at the Heskett Center. Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Fort Hays State and Emporia State will compete.... WSU baseball coaches are holding a skills camp for ages 8-12 on Jan. 18. For information call 316-978-3636. The camp, usually offered during spring break, has been moved this year because the Shockers are playing on the road.