After practice on Seattle University's media day, coach Joan Bonvicini commented on the size of her new roster as one of the biggest differences between her first year approach to coaching Seattle University and her 17 seasons at the University of Arizona.
"We don’t have a lot of real big players that I’m used to," said Bonvicini. "But I’m very excited – these players have great attitudes, they work hard, they’re very coachable and they’ll do anything we ask them."
Despite her team's attitude and hard-work on the court, perhaps one the biggest challenges for Seattle University in their transition to Division I basketball is captured by the old Red Auerbach axiom, "you can’t teach height."
Bonvicini has used a motion offense and aggressive trapping defense to play to the strengths of the Redhawks’ perimeter players en route to two exhibition victories. However, with bigger teams on the schedule down the road – literally, with the University of Washington visiting the Connolly Center on December 9th – they will eventually have to find ways to stop bigger, more talented post players.
A preliminary test of how SU handles the size of Division I competition, will come tonight at 7pm in the Connolly Center against UC Davis, a team that just transitioned to Division I themselves in 2007. The Aggies have three 6’2" players on the roster – an inch taller than anyone on the Redhawks roster, based on team websites – including junior center Paige Mintun.
Mintun figures to be a handful for the Redhawks as one of two All-Big West players on the UC Davis roster. In 27 starts last season, Mintun led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, and assists. In their lone exhibition game against Humboldt State, Mintun had 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 blocks in UCD’s to help the Aggies to a 83-73 victory.
The five blocks she recorded in their exhibition game suggest that her impact on the defensive side of the ball might be the biggest concern for Seattle U. In addition to finishing third in the Big West last season with a 1.08 block average, Mintun’s 44 steals tied for a team-high last season. The combination of her ability to block shots and get steals indicate a measure of athleticism in the post that Seattle U has not yet see this season.
Although Seattle U relies heavily on aggressive team defense that starts with pressuring the perimeter, dealing with Mintun will primarily be the responsibility of 6’1" junior center Tatiana Heck.
Heck is a versatile, hard-working player, who was the most significant contributor for the Redhawks statistically with an efficient 14 points on 6-8 shooting in Seattle U’s second exhibition win against Saint Martin’s University last Saturday. Bonvicini briefly described Heck’s game on Seattle U’s website.
"Tatiana has become our low post presence," Bonvicini stated. "She has become a good rebounder, reads the court well and is a very good defender. She can really mix it up and plays bigger than what she is."
Heck has demonstrated the ability to both score from the post and facilitate scoring opportunities for others with her passing ability. Most important for tonight’s game will be her defensive ability in the post, but if their exhibition games are any indication, the team will not be leaving her on an island.
An underlying theme in the Seattle Times’ keys to the Redhawks' season by reporter Jayda Evans was the Redhawks focus on intangibles like energy, pressure, conditioning, and activity – all things that should help them against bigger opponents like Davis and Mintun. While it doesn’t figure to have the same effect as it did during their exhibition games (SU forced Saint Martin’s and Northwest University into turnover percentages of 35% and 38% respectively), it figures to have an affect and help them make up for their lack of size, as described by Bonvicini on the Seattle U website.
"I really like our team's confidence," said head coach Joan Bonvicini after concluding the preseason. "We go into every game playing really hard and are a very scrappy team. Our defense affects opposing team's offense and what we lack in size we make up with how hard we play.
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- Another question mark for the Redhawks is how well their pressure defense will work against a team with stronger perimeter players. UC Davis senior wing Haylee Donaghe -- the Aggies’ other all-conference player – did not play in their first exhibition game, but earned All-Big West second-team honors in 2008 before missing most of last season due to injury. Along with 6'2" sophomore wing Lauren Juric and fellow 2009 Big-West all freshman team honoree Kasey Riecks, it should be a bit more difficult for Seattle U's defense to force the turnovers they did in their exhibition season.
- In their second exhibition game against St. Martin's, the Redhawks gave up more offensive rebounds than they would have liked in the first half. Sophomore Maggie McCarthy suggested that the problem was boxing out weak-side rebounders. One of Evans' keys for the team was that everybody be active on the boards and that was the halftime adjustment they made against St. Martin's. Against a team with a talented post player like UC Davis, keeping them off the offensive boards will be a team effort.