Comets among best teams in conference with defensive play
Since the introduction of the three-point field goal and its increasing reliability in professional sports, many teams now live and die by the three. The women’s basketball team, however, puts more stock in its defense.
Despite a sluggish offensive start to their season, the Comets (8-4) are four games over .500, in large part because of their suffocating defense.
The team is second to last in the ASC in three-point shooting and overall field goal percentage, showing a shooting percentages of 25.5 and 33.4, respectively.
Defensively, the Comets remain one of the best teams in the conference limiting their opponents to 61.3 points per game — the second best in the ASC.
“We see teams in our conference almost scoring 100 points (against) each other and then they play us and they might not even get 60 that game,” said junior forward Micaela Gonzalez. “It’s just a shock to other teams. It shouldn’t be an element of surprise. Teams should play defense, but they’re always shocked when they do finally play a good (defensive team).”
Since head coach Polly Thomason took the reins of the program in 2005, defense has been the cornerstone of the program’s strategy.
“We’ve been really committed to (defense) the last six, seven, eight or so years,” Thomason said. “The core principles of that is rotating and helping early, not letting (opponents) drive middle, finishing each possession with a defensive rebound and really contest every shot that we can get to. Those are the four things that we really harp on everyday in practice … and want to make sure we’re committed to every possession.”
Surrounded by inexperienced youth following the departure of a nucleus of senior starters from last season’s conference championship squad, Thomason said she believes the defense can only improve from here on out.
“Our defense has definitely been good,” she said.
“I’m happy with where we’re at right now, but I still think we can get better. I still think there are situations and there are still rotations that we’re slow on.”
The Comets wreak havoc in the passing lanes, more so than previous UTD basketball teams. The team is forcing their opponents to commit 25.4 turnovers per game — an ASC best. If this historic pace continues, the team will shatter the program’s single season record of 21.1 turnovers forced per game that it posted in 2002.
“I think it’s a big result of picking up more full-court than we have in the past,” Thomason said. “I think we’ve been a lot more aggressive on the ball and (with) our help side defense forcing more turnovers. With the way our offense has been going, we’ve needed these extra possessions to win ball games. It’s a great change for us as far as the style goes.”
By forcing four more turnovers per game than the program’s next best per game average, the team is getting four more extra possessions on a nightly basis and, as a byproduct, it’s leading to roughly a 12-point maximum swing in favor of the Comets.
Whenever the team is not able to force a turnover, they have been able to secure the defensive rebound at a high clip. The Comets average the fourth most rebounds per game in the ASC while allowing their opponents to grab the second fewest, leading to a plus-5.9 rebounding differential — another ASC best.
Boasting a conference-leading 73 percent defensive rebounding percentage, the Comets are one of the best teams in the ASC at limiting opponents’ second chance points.
“I really think it comes down to who wants it more,” Gonzalez said. “It takes a lot of effort, especially if you’re out around the perimeter, to crash and sprint to get the rebound over defenders, especially when they have the inside position.”
Thomason believes that once the team gets more acclimated as the season continues, the defense will get better and the offense will also begin to pick up the pace.
“Settling in and getting more comfortable taking the shots we need to take is something I hope we really figure out too,” she said.