Playing in Canyon last week taught the TWU Pioneers a valuable lesson about defense that paid dividends Saturday in a hard-fought victory at Eastern New Mexico.
After letting their defensive effort be affected by their struggling offense against West Texas A&M on Thursday, the Pioneers turned in a stellar 40-minute defensive showing against the Zias that resulted in a 46-40 win, snapping a two-game losing streak.
“Against West Texas, we were in that game and down by just three at halftime,” TWU coach Beth Jillson said. “But we came out in the second half and weren’t scoring points, and our defense just collapsed.
“Against Eastern, we played 40 minutes of good defense, so I think they learned from that first game that even if you’re not scoring points, you have to defend. Especially on the road, you have to be able to play defense and get stops, because you’re not used to that facility and your shots may not be falling.”
The Pioneers (4-8, 2-4 Lone Star) will need another strong defensive effort tonight when they play host to Abilene Christian in a conference matchup at 7 p.m. The Wildcats (8-3, 4-2) are tied for second place in the LSC.
While the Pioneers have frequently struggled on the offensive end of the floor, they have become one of the conference’s strongest defensive units. Bolstered by Saturday’s work in holding the Zias to 40 points, TWU ranks second in the LSC in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 61.8 points per game.
“We’ve got five people out there playing well together,” Jillson said. “We’re just doing a good job of playing team defense. Against Eastern, the girls did a good job of grinding out that game.”
The Pioneers have held five of their six conference opponents at or below their season scoring averages.
Move working out
A move from the backcourt to the frontcourt apparently has worked out for Rebekah Cluley, who has paced the Pioneers in scoring the last three games.
Cluley started the season as a guard before moving inside to forward when injuries struck TWU last month. Cluley posted her first career double-double in Saturday’s win over Eastern New Mexico.
“Rebekah has really stepped up,” Jillson said. “She’s being more aggressive going to the basket and taking some high-percentage shots. She can score in so many different ways. She’s really emerging.”
The Wichita Falls native dropped in 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in leading TWU to its 46-40 win over ENM. Two nights earlier, Cluley scored 15 points in a loss at West Texas A&M. On Dec. 19 against visiting Incarnate Word, the 5-foot-8 junior led the Pioneers with a season-high 16 points.
Junior guard Thurmond back from injury
Junior guard Tabbatha Thurmond returned to action last week after missing three games due to injury, strengthening the Pioneers’ depth and offensive punch.
Thurmond played in a reserve role, scoring six points against the Lady Buffs and five against the Zias.
Thurmond ranks second on the Pioneers with 5.8 rebounds per game and third with 8.0 points per game.