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A True Team Effort: Seattle University Bench Leads a 17-0 Run in Second Exhibition Victory

Seattle University held Saint Martin’s University to 18 second half points and used a 17-0 run of their own to cruise to a 70-44 victory in their second exhibition game last night.

The approximately nine minute second-half run exemplified the emergent character of the Redhawks -- they played as a cohesive unit with no individual stealing the show. Yet each individual’s contribution was vital to the team's success as a unit.
 
“We played well as a team,” said sophomore Maggie McCarthy. “We got great support from our bench – they just told us we had 31 bench points. Everybody was part of the effort tonight.”

To say that they “got great support” from the bench is almost an understatement – the bench was responsible for 15 of the 17 points during the run and scored 20 of its 31 points in the second half.

Seattle University is a team that is paying more than lip service to the idea of “team basketball” – it’s not the prevalent model of one or two stars carrying the load, while everyone else fills a role to support them. The responsibility is truly distributed across the roster.
 
It’s a brand of balanced basketball that relies on both efficient and disciplined offense as well as aggressive and intimidating defense. Combined with a hard-nosed, no-nonsense attitude that seems to emanate from coach Joan Bonvicini, the Redhawks are starting to epitomize what it means to play team basketball on both sides of the court, even if they have not reached their peak.

“We just put it together tonight,” said junior post player Tatiana Heck, who led the team in scoring with 14 points on 6-8 shooting. “We just knew we had to pick it up in the second half. We knew what we had to do and got it done.”

A “tale of two halves”

Although the team did not exactly come out “flat” in the first half, they were not able to set the tone they seem to prefer – aggressive and intense team basketball.

“It was a tale of two halves – in the first we just weren’t playing hard enough, we were not playing with the intensity we wanted to,” said Bonvicini. “I just thought we played much more intense in the second half – we held them to 18 points.”

They took the same number of shots in each half – 29 – but found easier baskets in the second half, doing a better job of finding cutters and scoring 20 points off turnovers, nearly tripling their seven points off turnovers from the first half.

The biggest symptom of their insufficient first half intensity was giving up a number of offensive rebounds, though they only resulted in 4 second chance points. Nevertheless, it was one of the key halftime adjustments they made.

“We just weren’t prepared on the weak side,” said McCarthy. “We just made that adjustment to try to fight harder on the boards.”

However, it was the adjustment in mindset made by Heck in the second half probably best represents the team’s overall shift. While she scored 10 of the team’s 33 points in the first half, she only scored 4 of the team’s 37 second half points, looking instead to set up her teammates from the high post and low block.

“Most of my points were in the first half, but in the second half I was just passing the ball and looking to pick up those assists,” said Heck who recorded both of her assists in the second half. The second assist came during the big run on a beautiful play between her and senior guard Cassidy Murillo, who cut sharply off Heck in the high post and received the ball in the lane for an easy layup. 

It was that sort of unselfish ethic of playing for others without concern for who gets the credit that has made SeattleU successful in their two exhibition games. Although it’s not the level of competition they’ll see during the regular season, it’s a fundamental quality of successful teams.

“We just clicked very well as a team – everybody hitting the open player, everybody playing hard,” said sophomore forward Maggie McCarthy, who scored nine of her 13 points in the second half, at least partially as a result of changing her response to mistakes.

“In the first half when I made a mistake, I hung my head,” said McCarthy about her mindset. “In the second half, the coaches and players told me not to hang my head and just make up for it on the next play.”

In addition to – and perhaps as a result of -- the change in her response to mistakes, McCarthy demonstrated a heightened awareness of creating scoring opportunities for herself by moving without the ball, playing off her teammates, and finding gaps between defenders.

McCarthy’s ability to play off the ball is essential

Just before the big second half run began, McCarthy made a sharp cut to the basket and Murillo found her cutting to the basket from the wing for an easy layup, placing the ball perfectly between defenders and in McCarthy’s hands for the layup.

Although McCarthy played point guard at times – including portions of the nine minute second half run – her performance tonight demonstrated that she is best when she is moving without the ball and finding gaps rather than creating opportunities for herself one-on-one.

In the first half, McCarthy missed 5 of 6 field goal attempts, many of which came on plays where she drove into traffic and put up contested shots.

However, it seemed that she settled down in the second half going 4-4 from the field by patiently waiting for opportunities to score within the flow of the offense. Three of her four second half baskets came off well-timed cuts to the basket for easy lay-ups off crisp passes from her teammates.

The combination of McCarthy’s awareness off the ball and Murillo's court vision and precision passing could be a dangerous combination for Seattle University moving forward. It just lends further credence to a statement Bonvicini made to Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans:

"I have a gold mine here," said Bonvicini, who said she plans to coach another 10 years. "I feel like I'm back at Long Beach where people say, 'Why should they be so good?' It's about people. Some other places, their facilities may be better. But when you get great people and you believe in what you're doing — that's how you get to be really good.

Transition Points:

  • Defense was no small part of the Redhawks' victory, as evidenced by the 27 points off turnovers. However, in addition to just playing pressure defense and trapping the wings after the first pass, they also kept St. Martin's off-balance by switching to man-to-man, a half court trapping zone, and, at one point, a 1-3-1. It forced St. Martin's guards to hesitate when they brought the ball up court and they occasionally struggled to recognize the defense in time to run the right play in response.
  • While senior point guard Cassidy Murillo didn’t have a great game statistically, her play and leadership at the point guard position is still among the best things to watch about this team. Although she did commit five turnovers – mostly from trying to make difficult passes through the defense – she also had 5 passes that set up open shots for teammates that just didn’t go down. Her ability to create plays for others and manage the offense is a huge asset even if she makes mistakes on occasion.
  • Just before the playing of the national anthem last night, there was a moment of silence for recently shot Seattle Police Department officer Timothy Brenton as well as those who recently died in the tragic shooting at the Fort Hood on Thursday. While not relevant to basketball – or really sports at all – a soldier stationed at Fort Hood recently posted thoughts about the event on The Phinsider, a SBN Miami Dolphins blog. Regardless of one’s political position about the war, it’s a powerful story that illustrates the courage, commitment, and sacrifice of those serving in the military. As someone from a family with many who have served in the military, I have nothing but the utmost respect for what they do and wish the families affected the best as they deal with this tragic situation.