Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- You can practice as much as you want against your own teammates. But when matched up against an opponent, with officials on the court, and in uniform, the true test comes about.
It is then that the adrenaline and intensity combine to form a game-type setting, which is exactly the position the UMHB women’s basketball team was put in last Saturday afternoon.
The Crusaders, coming off a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in March, battled Temple College (TC) in an arena in which the majority of the 2,500 seats were folded up, and only a handful of spectators were present. But that did not matter, as the two opponents raced up and down the floor, UMHB playing in its second scrimmage of the week.
“As practice develops, you kind of get an idea (of who will contribute],but then you want to see what those same players do when the lights come on,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said. “There’s a difference between practice situations and game situations.”
For all intents and purposes, the final score did not matter. The coaching staff’s goals went beyond the basic stats of points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and assists. Rather, with the team just 13 days into preseason practice, the scrimmage was an evaluation of where the Crusaders are at, and what they need to improve on to reach their objectives before traveling to Atlanta for the season opener at Emory on Nov. 19.
“We still have plenty of time, not playing our first game until the 20th, but we want to start formulating a rotation and breaking down, here’s who we feel is going to play this year.”
There were points at which Temple overpowered the Cru, such as in the first half, when the Leopards put 37 points on the board. But that statement should come with an asterisk. For one thing, TC began practice much earlier than UMHB’s first workout of the year on Oct. 16. And while most of the Crusaders’ newcomers are still working on learning the plays and the in-season schedule, the Leopards had already played in three scrimmages during the month of October.
“The great thing about playing junior colleges is they start earlier than anybody,’ Morefield said. “They have an established press [on defense] so that helps us [prepare for the season].”
It took the Cru a few minutes to find its first points of the game, even with a starting five that included four returners from last year’s team. But soon enough the shots began to fall. Freshman guard Catalina Cortez connected on three three-pointers in the first half, and transfer Jaycie Brisco connected on a couple long-range shots of her own. It was quickly evident that UMHB’s guards, which include ASC Freshman of the Year Arieona Rosborough, will be a key part of the Cru’s game plan this season.
“Guard play is what you win with,” Morefield said. “You look at the teams that win national championships and it goes back to their guard play. We feel that our guard play [this year] is better than any of those that we’ve seen in our three sweet sixteens. And two of those three that advanced from that sweet sixteen went to the national championship.”
UMHB’s guards took center stage in a 19-1 run that opened the third quarter. After giving up 37 points and finding offense hard to come by at points in the first half, everything seemed to flip for the Cru in the first six minutes of the second.
Lauren Baker, Cortni Harris, Kylie Wosley, Macee Steigleder and Josie Bruder were the five on the floor to open the quarter, and played tremendous defense, forcing an air ball at the shot-clock buzzer, before picking up an offensive foul against TC on the next possession. In an abbreviated five-minute halftime, Morefield challenged his team to play strong on both ends of the floor, and perhaps more than the run itself, it was the response to the halftime message that proved most impressive.
“I think it speaks to how quickly they can turn things around,” Morefield said. “What we wanted to do in the first three quarters is focus on our main rotation. Where they really got better is that we talked about guarding the ball, but also still doing your job on offense. I thought it was a big plus that they were able to do both.”
The contribution came from everyone on the floor. Lauren Baker tallied nine second-half points, and freshman Kenna Gibson finished with eight in the contest. Steigleder displayed her accuracy from beyond the arc, with three three-pointers.
What is notable is that not one of those three have previously gone through a preseason with the Cru. Only Baker was on the roster a year ago, and she transferred to UMHB midseason.
“You have some freshmen who are catching on very quickly, and others, it’s a process,” Morefield said. “Our transfers are catching on pretty quick, and adapted well.
“I think that goes with the type of players we recruit. This group here is a pretty good IQ group, where they can catch on. I’m pleased with the direction we’re going in.”
A part of that comes from the work put in by the team individually in the last few months prior to the first official practice on Oct. 16. The returners from last year’s team helped bring the newcomers along, allowing the Cru to make an easier transition into the season.
“We’ve had a strong group of captains that have done a great job of making sure that players in the preseason are doing what they need to do,” Morefield said. “I think that has helped us be ahead of the curve. Our four captains have done a good job of making sure the girls are spending time on their game and understanding what we want as a program.”
UMHB opens year as Top 25 team
On Monday, the Crusaders were selected to the D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25, ranked No. 15. Despite being picked second in the ASC’s Preseason Poll, UMHB was the highest-ranked program in the conference, with Hardin-Simmons at No. 18. ETBU earned 21 points, and was listed in the “receiving votes” category.
UMHB earned 204 points from the panel of 25 voters after posting a 24-5 record last season. Hope is No. 1 to open the season, with Transylvania, who beat UMHB in the Round of 16 this past March, selected No. 2.