With ball in hand, chemistry clicking, adrenaline pumping and eyes on the hoop, the Gators prepare to wipe away the memories of last year’s disappointing 20-loss season with replenished ambition and a few new faces.
Returning this season with a strong, experienced front line and eight new players, women’s basketball head coach Joaquin Wallace hopes to not only improve last year’s 7-15 conference record, but try to repeat the 15-win season the team had in 2010.
One of the problems the team had last year was not having a solid group of substitutes to come in off the bench, according to Wallace.
“Our first five, I feel, could play with anybody in our conference. It’s just thereafter that we would have a lack of athletes to come in and play,” he said. “In turn, (our starters) would be playing large minutes on Fridays and Saturdays and they would just get tired.”
Gator starters logged most of the minutes last year, playing on average close to 75 percent of each game while the remaining nine players filled in the rest, according to last season’s statistics.
Now, however, Wallace hopes the addition of three freshman and five transfers from junior colleges will bring depth he wants in team play.
“Hopefully with the additions we’ve added to the team — I think the depth will be a lot more conducive to what we want to do, and I think we’ll be able to definitely benefit from that,” he said.
Even though almost half of the Gators’ roster is made up of new players, returning players don’t think it will affect team chemistry.
“I think it’s good,” senior Nicole Hicks, a four-year veteran, said. “Everyone seems to work well with each other.”
The reason for this could be the fact that new additions to the team have joined with the mindset of college-level athletes.
“I think that, since (Wallace) was saying that most of the new players are smart already when it comes to basketball, it helps a lot because we all kind of know how to play,” said junior Angela Van Sickel, 20, who is starting her third year with the team. “It makes it easier for the team to work together even if we don’t know each other.”
New “impact players,” as described by Wallace, include players like freshman Shalane Jackson, who scored 1,185 points in her high school basketball career as East Union High School’s all-time leading scorer. Others include freshman Brianna Harden, who was League MVP and best defensive player in 2010 and 2012 while attending Los Banos High School and junior transfer Jennifer Le, who was team MVP at Evergreen Valley High School.
In addition to having more dependable players to substitute, the Gators start this season with four senior athletes, two of which are starters — an important factor since the team had seven seniors graduate after its 2009-10 season.
“I think that we have the opportunity to be much more fluid offensively because we do return five of our starters from last season,” Wallace said. “So I think we should be a little bit more efficient this year.”
According to Wallace, this is the first year he has had five starters return for the following season, which is the most he’s ever had. He has high expectations for underclassmen like Hicks, who scored 667 points in her Gator career so far and may score 1,000 by the end of this year.
Although the Gators averaged 51.3 points each game last season, their opponents averaged 59.9. This seemingly small difference prevented the Gators from making it to the playoffs.
This is something Van Sickel and her teammates want to change.
“We want to get into the postseason,” she said. “We’re tired of not being in playoffs for the past two years.”
The Gators start their 2012-13 season Nov. 4 with an exhibition game against the University of Nevada at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.