ARGYLE — As his team finished up practice Wednesday, Argyle girls basketball coach Skip Townsend brought up a notion that will steal sleep from opposing coaches.
“We’re not nearly as good as we’re going to be someday,” Townsend said. “I can tell you that right now. This team has a chance to play shutdown defense. We’re not quite there, but we’re getting there.”
The defense that’s shined throughout the postseason has at least one more opportunity to be on display. The Lady Eagles (33-1) face the Canton Eaglettes (27-7) at 8 tonight at Texas A&M-Commerce in the Class 3A Region II semifinals.
“Our defense has made the difference in almost all of our games,” Argyle senior forward Bailey Eschle said. “If we didn’t have the defense that we have, we would not be playing.”
The winner will play Celina or Crandall at 1 p.m. Saturday in the regional final. It’s Argyle’s first regional tournament appearance since 2009, when the Lady Eagles reached the 3A state championship game.
If anyone knows what shutdown defense looks like, it’s Townsend.
Townsend’s teams at Brock, where he won six state championships, were built on a taxing brand of defense. Brock held Winnsboro to 26 points on its way to the 2011 2A championship. Townsend recalled a time when Brock played Aubrey in a regional quarterfinal and the Lady Chaparrals had three points with five minutes left.
In this year’s playoffs, Argyle’s defense gradually has resembled the teams Townsend built dynasties with.
Through three playoff games, Argyle has surrendered eight total field goals in the second half.
Townsend’s concept of team man-to-man defense, in which all five players are collectively guarding the player with the basketball and their own defensive assignment, took a few years to get established.
Argyle junior guard Jesse Sheridan said she and junior center Delaney Sain were puzzled freshmen in practice when Townsend began to teach the defense. But in Townsend’s third year, the team has started to execute the system that held Decatur to one second-half field goal on Tuesday.
“I’ve seen it really come about this year,” Sheridan said. “Thinking back to the first game [this season], I can see how much it has improved. It’s really surprised me how well we can shut teams down. I think it’s been a great part of our team.”
It took awhile for the team to finally buy in to Townsend’s gospel. Last year, Townsend said, he couldn’t get five players to follow the model. This year’s team is the first Argyle squad that has committed to his style of defense.
“Whenever the Townsends first got here, we didn’t buy in to what he was talking about,” Eschle said. “As this season went on, we all realized that we all have the same goal. And to achieve that goal, it’s going to be on defense.”
But Argyle’s is not a shutdown defense, Townsend said. That happens only when the opposing team fails to get any good looks at the basket.
Tonight, the Lady Eagles will have to stop Canton’s Kassidy Wilkerson, who leads the Eaglettes with 14.2 points per game.
Sheridan said that since Argyle’s playoff-opening win over Sanger, the team has improved with each ensuing half of basketball. While the defense is there, Townsend says the defense and the rest of his squad, which hasn’t lost to a Class 3A team this season, can get better.
“I never think we’re as good as we can be,” Townsend said. “If you’re as good as you can be, there’s only one way to go, and that’s going down. We’re always thinking we can do better.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.