Despite tough start, women’s basketball continues to fight

The SF State’s women’s basketball team continues to fight for a win despite their poor record this season.

With only ten games left, the team has had a difficult time, going on a 0-16 start, the worst since the 1988-1989 season, when the Gators went 0-23, according to Assistant Sports Information Director Matt Fontenot.

As the underdogs in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, the Gators show up to the court with full force despite their record.

“We still come to the game 100 percent knowing that we can win,” said SF State’s guard and team captain Michelle Sutton. “We play hard every game, the whole game, and we bring the energy.”

The team has improved in their energy levels as the season continues to unfold and now believes in coach Dennis Cox’s new fast-paced, up-tempo system.

“I don’t think everybody bought into the new rotation,” said SF State’s forward Kristian Juarez. “Now, I feel like everybody is starting to see it and believe in it more. Because of our record, usually teams will fall apart and that hasn’t happened at all. We prepare ourselves like we’re going to win every single game.”

Newly-hired Athletic Director, Charles Guthrie, first announced Cox as the new women’s basketball head coach in July of last year. Cox relocated from Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, where his coaching led to the 2011 win of the NCAA Division II title and a 256-57 record, making him the most active winning coach in the NCAA Division II.

Cox knew coming into a new program meant confronting new challenges. Starting off with only seven players remaining from the past season meant he had two weeks to recruit a full roster to start preparing for the season ahead.

He expected the team to be undersized up against the tough CCAA opponents but didn’t shy away from the various obstacles the season might bring and made a strategic plan to improve the team on the court.

“There’s three things we said we were going to try to teach this team going in the year,” Cox said. “We said we were going to teach them how to work hard first, and they’ve done that. We wanted to teach them how to compete, they’re doing that now consistently. Now we just have to learn how to win. I really believe it’s going to happen.”

The battle on the boards has been a crushing factor  this season for the Gators, who average only about 30 rebounds per game compared to their opponents who average 44.

Defending the paint has also been a recurring issue for the the team. On average, opponents score a total of 74 points, with most coming from around the basket or second chance points.

In the past five games, however, the Gators have shown signs of improvement especially when it comes to full court press and forcing their opponents to 18 turnovers per game.

“Our full court defense has improved a lot,” Sutton said. “In the beginning of the season, we weren’t buying in on the full court defense. We chose when we wanted to do it. Now, we’re really buying in.”

Although the team is starting to play Cox’s full court pressure and up-tempo style of game, there are still moments in games where the team falls back to its old ways. In the last minutes of several games, the Gators have cut the deficit to five points but then stopped playing as a team.

A lack of energy from the Gators is not what has cost the team to go on a 0-16 start. Instead, it has been the inability to close out games and make smart choices when running the offense, Sutton said.

“We need to learn to close out a game and be able to take the best shots when we run our offense,” Sutton said. “We still come to the game 100 percent knowing that we can win. We play hard every game, the whole game, and we bring the energy.”

As the season wraps up, Cox and the team will focus on playing together and remembering why they love basketball instead of going after wins.

“I haven’t been in this situation ever in my career, so it’s been a real learning experience,” Cox said. “I took a step back a couple weeks ago and I said ‘Let’s stop chasing the win and let’s remember why we play. We play basketball because we love to play.’”

The Gators will now embark on a four-game road trip starting Jan. 29 where they will face off against CCAA opponent Cal State San Bernardino. The team hopes a win will come within the next ten remaining games of the season.

“I promise you we really want to do this, not just for ourselves, but for everybody,” Cox said. “It’s a tough thing what these kids are going through because a lot of teams would have fallen apart by now, but these kids continue to stay hungry and continue to be coachable. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

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