Boise State University coach Gordy Presnell actually found his 500th win against Seattle University yesterday a little disappointing.
"I was a little disappointed in our execution," said Presnell after Boise State's 66-57 win at Seattle University yesterday. "We played Oregon who plays all that Paul Westhead stuff the other day and we played real well and then we got stuck on 44 (points) for seven minutes. We got stuck on 50 here for six and a half minutes. But anyway, it's a good win - I coached here for 18 years at Seattle Pacific so it's fun to get your 500th in front of some friends and family."
Yet even in a win that was far from perfect, the very fact that a Boise State women's basketball team even got up by as many as 28 points on the road against anyone is a testament to Presnell's coaching ability and what he's accomplished since inheriting a program that had endured seven consecutive losing seasons prior to his arrival in 2005.
And aside from acknowledging that his 500th win came in front of friends and family, you might not ever hear him speak a word of his accomplishments.
Presnell's bio on the team website describes him as having a "mild and laid back demeanor" and that could very well be an understatement - although "humility" is a descriptor that is often tossed around in sports in reaction to anybody who seems to provide a counterbalance to the outwardly self-centered prima donnas who crave the spotlight of our celebrity culture, Presnell might be as pure an embodiment of humility-in-action as anyone you'll come across in sports.
And it's certainly not for lack of things to brag about.
Granted, most coaches speak humbly when commenting about such a milestone - as Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said recently when he became the 70th NCAA women's basketball coach to reach the milestone last month, just to infer that one is somehow on par with the likes of UConn's Geno Auriemma, Tennessee's Pat Summitt, or Stanford's Tara VanDerveer is humbling.
To put the accomplishment in perspective for both Fennelly and Presnell, they reached the milestone in their 23rd and 24th seasons, respectively, and Summitt reached it the second fastest ever in 20 seasons (second behind Geno Auriemma). And the fact that Presnell earned 396 wins at nearby Division II program Seattle Pacific University should do little to diminish his worth as a coach - Presnell has never had a losing season as a head coach at any level, which is impressive considering he inherited a mid-major program in Idaho that had endured seven consecutive losing seasons before he arrived. It's not as if his Division I record has been inflated by inheriting a successful recruiting magnet.
But when asked about his ability to stay above .500 for an entire career on the day he became the 71st coach (all NCAA divisions) to reach his 500th win, he brushed it off in his characteristically mild-mannered and laid back way.
"I've had the opportunity to have a number of great players and great assistant coaches," said Presnell when asked about staying over .500. "A number of my assistants are now head coaches in college. And I've just been really blessed and fortunate to be a part of some great people's lives. And they've worked hard and we've accomplished some good things. So I appreciate that question, but - I don't know - I've just kinda been blessed I guess. Just trying to do the best job we can and just hoping the kids have a great time."
However, in watching Boise State mount a 28 point lead, part of the reason for his extended record of success became evident: Boise State might not have the most highly touted players in the nation, but they are quite easily among the most disciplined teams you'll see. And that consistent execution made them difficult for a young Division I program like Seattle U to keep up with.
"They have a very, very good team," said Seattle U coach Joan Bonvicini, who is one of only 18 NCAA women's basketball coaches with 600 wins. "A very smart team, a very good shooting team."
Key statistic: shooting efficiency
BSU's disciplined execution was evident on both ends of the floor.
On defense, it was clear just from the way every single player closed out to instructional video perfection every single time, with the sound of their shoes squeaking against the polished hardwood as an indication of reaching their defender under control on swings or traps, whether in man-to-man or zone. On offense, it was the way they reacted perfectly to shifts in Seattle U's zone defense with cross-court reversal passes to the open shooter.
In the first half, the biggest beneficiaries of those reversal passes was junior guard Kati Isham, who finished with a team-high 20 points and shot 3-3 from the three point line in the first half.
"Kati is one of the best shooters I've ever seen," said Presnell of Isham, an Idaho native who played at Walla Walla junior college in Washington before transferring to BSU. "She was the best player in the Washington in junior colleges the last two years. She's an Idaho product - she was the two-time state Player of the Year in Idaho. And we're just real fortunate to have her. She's just really mentally tough and you just can't leave her open - she has a really quick release."
So ultimately, this game was decided in the first half by Boise State's ability to execute efficiently on the offensive end - they shot an effective field goal percentage (their field goal percentage weighted with the additional value of three point shots) of 64.81% in the first half on the strength of 5-for-8 three point shooting. BSU's hot shooting combined with a really poor first half shooting effort from the Redhawks - they shot 23% on 8-for-35 shooting in the first half - helped the Broncos to a 39-18 halftime lead and seemingly coasting to a relatively satisfying 500th win for Presnell.
However, Seattle U kept fighting and it was the play of forward Janie Bos inside that might have been even more significant to BSU winning the game.
Boise State statistical MVP: Janie Bos
Although BSU ended up winning the rebounding battle overall, Seattle U beat them on the boards down the stretch, with a particularly strong effort on the offensive boards.
"We started out and executed really well and played really well," said Presnell. "And then I think Coach B down here probably challenged her players a little bit and they really got after us defensively. And we didn't handle it very well."
Down by 25 points with just over 15 minutes left in the game, you could hear Bonvicini urging challenging her players to stay focused as she told them, "We can do this!" during a timeout. And from that point on they definitely turned it up a notch on both ends: from that point on, Seattle U got 7 steals - and a very disciplined Boise State team committed 10 turnovers - and grabbed 7 offensive rebounds.
So although BSU transfer post player Janie Bos certainly didn't put on the shooting display that Isham did, but her 14 defensive rebounds were critical to help the Broncos secure the win in the second half. In addition to getting a strong 16% of the available offensive boards, Bos got 10 defensive rebounds - 5 in each half - and that certainly mattered in the context of keeping that offensive rebounding differential that Seattle U won 19-11 for the game from being worse.
But looking at the game more closely, a lot of those offensive rebounds came from guards.
Seattle U statistical MVP: Amani Butler
Selena Dickerson led Seattle U in both scoring (18 points) and rebounding (8) but down the stretch it was sophomore transfer (University of Arizona) Amani Butler who picked her game up most to pull the Redhawks back within 7 after being down 28 on the strength of a 17-2 run during the middle of the second half.
"We started out rough in the first half," said Seattle U senior post Tatiana Heck. "But I think our team really stands for we're not going to go down without a fight. Even though it's late we come back and we show 'em that it's not going to be easy so they'll be pushed to the end."
During that final 15 minutes, Butler had 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal; she essentially put up a game's worth of production in the final 15 minutes as all of those numbers are above her season averages. But her biggest contribution in a game in which the Redhawks controlled the boards well was definitely her rebounding - she pulled in 2 offensive rebounds down the stretch and 3 defensive rebounds, finishing the game with an impressive defensive rebounding percentage of 24.69%.
And with Butler's aggression providing the Redhawks with a perimeter threat, senior center Tatiana Heck was able to step up and provide scoring in the post.
Key player: Tatiana Heck
Heck scored 9 points in that final 15 minutes and most of those came right in the place Heck best operates: on the block with defenders pinned in a position helpless to stop her shot. Although it might be surprising to think that a 6'1" post player could be so effective against a team that played three players taller than her, it was really nothing out of the ordinary compared to last year or most of this season.
It just took her a while to get going.
"I think it just finally clicked for me," said Heck. "I think it was kinda like, 'Oh - baseline. Oh, ok - baseline again.' It was just I finally just put it together in my head. So I was just like, 'Oh ok, I'll go again.' And my teammates got me the ball very well in the second half as well. Daidra (Brown) gave me some great passes in. Elle (Kerfoot) gave me some great passes in. So I think we all just connected a lot."
While the perimeter players assumed responsibility for the rebounding, Heck took charge putting points on the board as the team's most efficient score, finishing with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting and getting to the line five times down the stretch and finishing with a strong free throw rate of 60%.
"We're really looking for a post presence and I thought she did a much better job and we were doing a much better job of looking to her in the second half," said Bonvicini. "She needs to knock down some free throws and needs to get to the boards better, but I like the fact that we were able to get the ball to her."
However, the fact that Heck missed five free throws speaks to the challenge confronting the Redhawks moving forward.
Bonvicini has the Redhawks moving in the right direction
"I'm glad we played a much better second half," said Bonvicini. "I thought we played with intensity. We showed a lot of heart. We took care of the ball. But we had a big mountain to climb. The thing is, we need to make our free throws; we have opportunities - we didn't get a lot - [but] we miss a bunch of free throws and it's not good. So we can do a better job."
Obviously, this was not a particularly good game for the Redhawks overall - their first half was still embarrassing, as Bonvicini noted and that's not what you want to present your home fans, particularly coming off a strong road win.
"It was bad, it was embarrassing, I thought we could have played a lot harder," said Bonvicini when asked about the first half shooting. "I didn't like our effort and I thought we played with a lack of confidence and poise. I told 'em I don't think I did a good job of coaching in the first half because it's really hard for me to coach effort. Part of that is, hats off to Boise State - they shot an incredible percentage in the first half. But a lot of it was because we didn't play hard enough and we didn't play smart enough."
However, in acknowledging that the first half was not up to standard, they showed a very impressive effort to come back when they could have just rolled over and that's also something for the team to build on.
"We take a lot of positives away from the second half," said Bonvicini. "I thought we competed and were much more aggressive but you can't play like that, particularly at home. I think, this team needs to understand we don't have a large margin of error here. When we don't play hard and play poorly, we're going to get beat. When we play hard, we can compete with anyone in our schedule. But you have to do it for 40 minutes."
And on the afternoon he joined Bonvicini in the 500 club, Presnell was left impressed by the Redhawks team that almost tried to delay what almost had to be seen as inevitable.
"She's doing a pretty good job building it," said Presnell. "They have a pretty good recruiting class coming in. And she's done a nice job with the players that she has. I think she'll get it going - she did it at Arizona, at Long Beach, she's one of the all-time legends."