IUP BASKETBALL: Women aim to shore up defense
If defense does indeed win championships, the IUP women’s basketball team has a lot of work to do.
IUP needs one win in any of its last three games to secure a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoff berth, and the Crimson Hawks can lock up no worse than fifth place in the PSAC West with a win over Mercyhurst on Wednesday at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
That might seem like an easy task considering the teams’ records. IUP is 15-8 overall and 6-7 in the PSAC West, and Mercyhurst is 6-17 and 4-9. One of the Lakers’ wins, though, came against IUP, 73-64, on Jan. 11 in a game in which they tore through IUP’s defense. Most other teams have done the same since.
“We’ve got to come in today and get better defensively,” IUP coach Tom McConnell said. “First and foremost we need to shore up our low-post defense. That comes in three areas: one, we’ve got to get ball pressure, because the best low-post defense is ball pressure so they can’t see to get it in there; two, we’ve got to do a better job in the post once they get it there and not foul them; and three, we’ve got to get really good help-side defense so if they lob it over there, we trap it, steal it, take away the layup.”
Communication on defense also is key. IUP held a 14-point lead on Gannon in the first half Saturday before defensive breakdowns allowed the Golden Knights to get back into the game. That trend continued in the second half, and Gannon went on to hand IUP a 73-64 loss.
“We had some breakdowns in communication in the second half,” McConnell said. “We weren’t talking and didn’t switch out in time, and they were able to get some 3s and got separation in the second half.”
IUP suffered a five-game losing streak midway through the season before winning four straight, and the Hawks entered this week with two straight losses. They have three games remaining: at home against Mercyhurst and first-place Edinboro and at last-place Slippery Rock. Five of their losses have come against the top three teams, but IUP led four of those in the second half.
“We feel like if we play to our potential there isn’t anybody we can’t beat,” McConnell said.
IUP got a boost Saturday night with the return of leading scorer Lindsay Stamp, who scored a team-high 18 points. The junior guard missed six straight games with an ankle injury.
“Being back is one thing,” McConnell said, “but being back and connected with your teammates who you haven’t practiced with in a month is another. The more practice we get with her and everybody else the more connected we become, and that’s good for us.”