By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — With Indiana State’s women’s basketball team ranking eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference in field-goal percentage (36.5), the Sycamores need as many shot attempts as possible to maintain their standing on top of the league.
Heading into this past weekend’s two-game homestand, coach Jim Wiedie was focused on motivating more production from his post players. He made this clear to his players during a 3-hour, 15 minute practice early in the week.
Wiedie told senior Kara Schilli that her recent rebounding statistics weren’t cutting it. Prior to the Southern Illinois victory on Thursday, Wiedie found that Schilli had only four offensive rebounds in the past seven games.
After apparently studying Dennis Rodman highlights during her spare time, Schilli crashed the glass for nine offensive rebounds in ISU’s sweep of Southern Illinois and Evansville. She had six offensive boards in Saturday’s game alone.
“For a kid that athletic and talented and who’s known for her rebounding, we need more than four offensive rebounds [in a seven-game spa],” Wiedie said. “Kara has taken it upon herself to get back to flying all over the place, bringing that energy and coming up with big, big boards. When she does that and you’ve got Bianca [Jarrett] playing at a high energy level, the rest of those kids just feed off of that.”
The Sycamores converted on just two of Schilli’s offensive boards, with Schilli setting up Jarrett for a layup on one of those. Schilli’s playmaking ability should also be noted as a big spark. Schilli’s 44 assists this season are barely behind Kelsey Luna’s 49 for team-high honors. Luna and Schilli each have 16 in conference play.
“Her intensity level and her effort and her commitment to this team, especially to the rebounding aspect of the game is just incredible,” Luna said of Schilli after Saturday’s victory. “It’s great to have her on our team. She’s the spark plug. She’s the one we look to emulate and copy everything she does because she’s just putting her heart on the floor every single time we step on the floor. That’s her role, and we admire her for that.”
Schilli’s fellow frontcourt starter Saturday, 6-foot-4 freshman Shannon Thomas struggled to be a factor in the game until late in the first half. But Thomas finished with seven points and seven rebounds and continues to be a big reason for the Sycamores’ outstanding defense this season. Thomas has improved dramatically on the boards as the season has gone along — she has two 11-rebound performances in MVC play already — but I’d like to see her add a tad more Bill Laimbeer style physicality to go with Schilli’s Rodman.
ISU held UE’s experienced post duo of Shannon Novosel and Robyn Jennings to a combined 8-for-24 shooting day.
“When you’ve got somebody like Shannon, you just get your hands up and you just keep moving your feet and they’ve got to shoot over 6-4,” Wiedie said.
Evansville coach Misty Murphy was frustrated by ISU outscoring the Aces in the paint 20-14.
“We tried to go over [Thomas] instead of trying to go right by her,” Murphy said.
ISU’s defensive identity this season has been a team effort on the floor, and it’s been an impressive job by the coaching staff in practice and in mixing up the defenses.
ISU is No. 2 in the conference through seven games, allowing just 54.0 points-per-game. Creighton is first at 50.9. The Sycamores also rank third in field-goal percentage defense, holding teams to 36.8 overall 28.0 from beyond the 3-point line for No. 2 in the league in that category.
Keep in mind that five of these first seven conference games have been in the friendly confines of Hulman Center. How this team, which will rely more heavily on some inexperienced freshmen now that Leah Phillips and Deja Mattox are lost for the season, stays composed on the road is going to be key in how they finish this season. ISU’s 77-53 loss at Missouri State may be a warning of some rough road moments to come.
Regardless, it’s been a solid start to MVC play. Luna talked about heart. Maybe if the Sycamores continue to want it more than their opponents they can keep on rolling.
“… They just keep battling and find a way to get it done,” Wiedie said. “We got stops when we needed to, got baskets when we needed to.”
• • •
• Close call — The coaching staff got a scare with five minutes to go in Saturday’s game when Thomas landed awkwardly after an ISU possession. She grabbed her ankle in pain and left the game before returning with under a minute to go.
“It’s like what else can happen,” said Wiedie after already losing Deja Mattox to an ACL tear Thursday and Leah Phillips to the same injury Jan. 1. “We were worried [Saturday] in shoot around.”
“Kara tripped over a line,” added assistant coach Clint Weddle.
Wiedie continued: “They ran into each other a few times. I thought good Lord, we’re going to get hurt in shootaround.”
Because of the injuries, Wiedie alluded to getting more minutes from other freshmen such as Megan Burton, Kayla Mullins and Amanda Pedro. Wiedie likes the 6-2 Burton’s ability to shoot the 3 and grab some rebounds.
Kelsey Luna and Brittany Schoen each played 39-plus minutes.
“We’re going to have to ride it out and find a couple other players to get some more minutes.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4357.