About six minutes into last night’s game against Seattle University, Northwest women’s basketball coach Lori Napier was visibly frustrated with her team and yelling, “Calm down! Run your offense.”
Although Napier’s frustration could certainly be attributed to working out early season jitters on the road, a major contributing factor to her frustration – and SeattleU’s 70-48 victory -- was Seattle University’s defense.
SeattleU defenders appeared to be everywhere, trapping the wings after Northwest’s first pass in the offense, forcing turnovers, and collapsing on anything in the middle of the key. Rather than running their offense, Northwest fell into a frenzy, frantically trying to find openings in the whirlwind of SeattleU defenders.
“I think we did a really good job at intimidating ‘em, which is what we want to do at first is intimidate ‘em,” said Murillo. “And then maybe we can drop off more and then we can bring on the attack again later in the game. We’re gonna be a very defensive team and if we can generate steals on defense then we can get a lot of points on offense.”
During practice yesterday afternoon, the coaching staff also stressed containing Northwest guard Jessica Wilkerson, who scored 24 points on 8-16 shooting in an October 31 game against Cal Maritime. Wilkerson is a crafty player, using a variety of moves to get herself open, but it seemed that every time she found a way to get a good look at the basket, another SU defender was flying at her to turn an open shot into a contested shot.
SeattleU’s defense held Wilkerson to 3-14 shooting on the night.
SU intimidated Northwest into 27 turnovers and finished the game with an eight point advantage in points off turnovers and a 14-2 advantage in fast break points. Maggie McCarthy was a major beneficiary of those transition points, finishing with a game-high 18 points as well as a team-high nine rebounds.
“I just had some amazing passes from my teammates,” said McCarthy. “They saw the open floor, I was just trying to run -- like Cassidy [Murillo] says, the transition points are what we’re really good at. We have a lot of players that run the floor and finish. And we have great point guards that see the floor and get us the ball.”
However, the player deserving the most statistical credit of the night might have been forward Ashley Brown who did a little bit of everything, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and shooting 4-7 from three-point range. She also made a major defensive contribution, recording six steals and two blocks.
From first impressions, new head coach Joan Bonvicini has wasted no time in establishing an identity for her team: hard-nosed defense.
“That’s just my style – I like to be aggressive,” said Bonvicini.
If Bonvicini wanted a point guard to be the extension of her aggressive style on the floor, then the aggressive and focused style of Murillo is probably the perfect fit. While Bonvicini has repeatedly referred to all of her players as “coachable”, Murillo stood out as the clear floor leader, quietly embodying the spirit of the team.
Murillo’s aggressiveness was on display early in the game, as she set the tone for SU’s scrappy play on one of their first possessions with an offensive rebound off a teammate’s miss, a hard dribble, and drawing contact between a pair of Northwest post players to earn two free throws.
She leads by example, doing the little things as well as managing the team’s offense. At the end of practice yesterday afternoon, Murillo commented on her goals for the year, which included her role as the team’s leader.
“To be a good leader,” she said when asked about her personal goals. “To be the level head on the court because we have a lot of young people that will be playing. And shoot more and to keep getting my assists.”
In last night’s victory she was able to do all three. She anticipates potential opportunities and gets the ball to them the moment she recognizes that they’re open, whether it be finding a cutter in traffic, finding open shooters on the perimeter across the court, or pushing the ball and getting the ball to open players on the break. She’s clearly in tune with her teammates and able to set them up.
Her ability to see angles also helps her create her own scoring opportunities, using her crossover to get to the basket for layups or drawing contact to get to the free throw line. She appears to have a total awareness of what’s going on in the moment which allows her to make the best decision – whether it be scoring or distributing – for her team.
On the court, while Murillo does not necessarily possess blazing speed, she is quick and decisive with the ball in her hands using a combination of efficient ball handling and changes of pace to make plays for herself and others.
Observing her during practice, an exhibition game, and in post-game interviews, part of what makes her such a strong leader is her singular focus on the game and attention to the little nuances. As long as she is wearing SeattleU colors, she seems to exude an unwavering intensity and dogged determination.
“Cassidy is a leader,” said Bonvicini, with a glimmer increased enthusiasm. “There are kids that are leaders, she’s a really great leader. But she has something that I don’t normally say about someone her age: she’s like wise.”
Off the court, she’s already angling for success as well, demonstrating the same commitment to her life beyond basketball as she displays on the court.
“This girl who already is very amazing, she did an internship this summer for Boeing – she’s very bright, business major,” said Bonvicini. “She’s already guaranteed a job for when she graduates. And I’ll tell you, with the economy, not many people can say that. She’s bright. She’s really the true reason why when you say you want a student athlete. And I think for me the opportunity to coach someone like that is a real privilege.”
Murillo is one of those inspiring college basketball stories. Just as Bonvicini enjoys coaching her, it will be a privilege to watch her play this year.
Click here to see a gallery of pictures from last night's game.