Why TWU has been playing better on the road than at Kitty Magee Arena recently is a mystery to coach Beth Jillson, but the Pioneers’ three-game road winning streak has given them hope of beating Lone Star Conference rival Tarleton State tonight after the visiting TexAnns defeated TWU 72-60 on Dec. 1.
Kiara Wright led the TexAnns with 22 points and 17 rebounds in the first matchup, and Peyton Adamson scored 13 points.
“[Wright] and [Adamson] score most of their points, but they have a lot of solid players that can step up and score,” Jillson said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. They are a very disciplined team. We do need to do a better job pushing [Wright] off the block. We can’t let her catch the ball easy, drop-step and score. That’s never our game plan and we allowed that too many times in that game.
“[Adamson] is a great 3-point shooter and she does a good job drawing the defense in and getting to the free throw line. Last game, I was happy how our guards stepped up and made her work for every shot.”
The Pioneers (6-10, 4-6 Lone Star) beat Cameron 52-50 on Saturday with a last-second layup by Barbara-Scott Kolb.
After the Pioneers struggled early in their last home loss, Jillson said it was both a good start and a strong finish that gave them the key win against the Aggies.
“We started the game really quick,” Jillson said. “We went out on a 10-3 run, and we had really talked about needing to start well. Then they went on a 14-0 run, but we ended the game really well. We were down nine points with three minutes left, so we definitely had some players step up. I don’t remember during my time here that we’ve been down that much and come back in regulation. I was proud of the fact that they responded.
“We’ve got to put better minutes together to be a more complete team,” Jillson said. “You can’t play really good for four minutes, then bad for eight minutes. We’ve got to be on the same page for 40 minutes.”
The Pioneers’ inconsistency has been boosted by consecutive turnovers, Jillson said, and the Aggies ran an unfamiliar zone defense for the entire game.
“Anytime you let one turnover become two and three turnovers, that’s a problem,” Jillson said. “We can’t allow teams to score multiple times on us.
“We only had 14 turnovers last game, but a lot of those were in the first half. We thought they were going to play man on us, and they came out and played a 2-3, 3-2 zone the whole time. So our players had to adjust, and anytime you go on the road in the Lone Star Conference, it’s loud and they had a hard time hearing us [coaches].”
Jillson said she thinks TWU is the best defensive team in the LSC and can get better.
“I thought it was a great strategy,” Jillson said of Cameron’s zone defense. “We hadn’t been shooting the ball that well. We shot 33 percent for the game and still won, and I think that says a lot about our defense. I think right now, we are still the best defensive team in the Lone Star Conference.”
Jillson said the Pioneers’ defensive success stems from preparation and communication.
“They are very prepared,” Jillson said. “Our perimeter defenders do a very good job of calling out screens. Our post players do a good job on ball screens, which really helped us against Cameron because all they do is run constant ball screens.”
With Wright looking to give the TexAnns a season sweep over the Pioneers with her post presence, Jillson said the defensive focus will be on denying her early position under the basket. On Dec. 1, the TexAnns outscored TWU 36-20 in the paint.
“We know that we have some improvement to do down low, especially from the inside, defensively,” Jillson said. “That just comes down to toughness. We need to defend early, not allow deep posts, move on the pass and be quicker. As good as our defense is good in our conference as far as stats, we are always looking to improve.”
TWU getting up to speed
TWU is looking to build on its last meet as it heads to Colorado for a four-way meet at Air Force on Saturday.
In the Pioneers’ first home meet of the season Saturday, TWU placed third with a score of 191.475 behind No. 13 Arizona (195.800) and No. 25 BYU (193.450). Wisconsin-Whitewater took fourth with a 185.900.
TWU coach Lisa Bowerman was encouraged by her team’s progression and seeks to get the Pioneers firing on all cylinders in all four events.
“There have been a lot of positive things happening in the first two meets,” Bowerman said. “The first meet, we had an awesome performance on [balance] beam and fairly good performances on bars and floor [exercise]. In the second, we had a tough go on beam. Bars made some improvement, but bars and floor really, really improved in the second one. So now our job is to get comfortable putting it together, get four great events every meet and build on our scores that way.”
Bowerman said some gymnasts are in different points of their season due to injuries and other factors, but the Pioneers have plans for solidifying their landings on vault.
“On vault, a lot of what we’ve been working really hard on is landings and the details to make sure they aren’t getting extra deductions,” Bowerman said. “The first meet of the year, we weren’t competing all of our most difficult vaults, so their start values were a little bit lower. In the second meet, we had one of our athletes do her more difficult vaults, which brings her scoring potential up. There are several athletes that are capable of getting up to a 10.0 start value.”
Bowerman said the goal is for all Pioneers to be performing at their best late in the season, and because of that each gymnast has their own timeline.
“They understand that our goal is that the six girls that compete should have 10.0 start values, but our depth in [vault] isn’t as strong as we would like it to be,” Bowerman said. “We have been very cautious with bringing [injured gymnasts] back slowly so they can build their confidence on the easier vaults.”
On Saturday, the Pioneers cleaned up small mistakes on floor exercise.
“On floor, the biggest thing is how clean they performed in the second meet,” Bowerman said. “In the first meet, they stepped out of bounds and had a few extra steps that added up for unnecessary deductions. I think it was confidence. When you get out on the competition floor with adrenaline and a little extra energy that you don’t have in practice every day, you tend to go a little bit harder and bigger, and that creates some of those missteps and wobbles. This week, they were more comfortable having a routine under their belts and remembering how to control that adrenaline.”
The Pioneers will face Division I opponents Missouri, California-Davis and Air Force on Saturday, and Bowerman said she expects her team to show its strength.
“All of them are great opponents,” Bowerman said. “We are certainly capable of winning. Missouri joined the SEC this year. They’ve had a good start and generally do very well, but I don’t believe that any of those three teams are out of our reach. UC Davis is a Division I program that is doing really well this year.
“Air Force is also a Division I program, but the significance with them is they compete in our USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships, so we will be seeing them there. It’s always good to get a measuring stick of where we are against those teams.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .