BLOOMINGTON — Imagine you’re a coach preparing to face Illinois Wesleyan’s No. 17-nationally ranked women’s basketball team.
A glance at the Titans’ statistics ahead of Wednesday’s 7 p.m. home game against North Central shows they’re averaging 83.4 points, the third best average in IWU history.
An unexpected aspect of that proficiency is that no Titan scores more than 13.0 points and six players have been Wesleyan’s game-high scorer. Who do you focus on?
“I think coaches who are preparing for us are preparing for our depth,” said Wesleyan coach Mia Smith, whose team is 15-2 overall, 8-0 in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin and on a 13-game winning streak.
The subject of foes’ plans comes up occasionally in IWU film sessions.
“I throw that line at my girls all the time,” Smith said. “If I see something on film, ‘this is what I would do if I were coaching against you.’”
IWU has 11 players averaging more than 3.4 points in Maddie Merritt (13.0), Molly McGraw (12.5), Rebekah Ehresman (10.1), Raven Hughes (8.5), Ashley Schneider (7.9), Kendall Sosa (7.6), Nina Anderson (7.5), Sydney Shanks (6.0), Kelsey Walsberg (4.8), Riley Brovelli (3.7) and Samantha Munroe (3.4).
“We’re so deep that we can get a ton out of every player in our program,” Smith said. “That makes us even harder to guard. Teams can’t do a box-and-one. There just aren’t enough defenses to stop all of our weapons in my opinion.
“We’ve just got to keep working on things that are our strengths.”
Smith credits senior leadership and a let’s-improve team vibe for fostering confidence among the reserves, who come off the bench with the moxie of starters.
“I believe this team has bought into accepting that every player can contribute and make us better,” Smith said. “Now we’ve just got to find ways to get better in practice and in games.”
One method was tried Saturday at Carroll where the Titans forsook their run-and-jump press to develop their half-court defense. The subsequent 89-46 victory would suggest the test went well.
IWU’s average victory margin of 21.6 points has allowed many players to get considerable minutes. Ehresman gets the most at 26.7 per game. Spreading the minutes among many keeps everyone fresh, but Smith worries they’ll lose fitness.
“Right now is the time where our main contributors in the ball game need to be getting higher minutes because averaging 26 minutes a ball game is not going to be enough conditioning for the rest of the season,” she said.
Smith anticipates Mayson Whipple (11.2 ppg) and North Central (4-13, 2-6) — a team that lost to IWU 94-47 on Dec. 9 — will give the Titans a chance to develop their zone offense.
“That’s going to make us better,” she said. “We typically don’t see a whole lot of zones.
“This team is really open to any of the suggestions we are making. That’s the reason we are getting better in practice and getting better in games.”