It’s something different every game.
One night? Rebounding. The next? Turnovers. Saturday at Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota Crookston women’s basketball missed three free throws in the final minute, ruining their chances at what would have been perhaps the biggest upset in the NSIC this season, instead losing to the 11-3 Bulldogs, 68-67.
“I think what has transpired is everyone realizes how close we are,” said Golden Eagles head coach Mike Roysland on Wednesday. “Would have, could have, should have, but I do think that they're feeling confident that they are doing things better and there's a great opportunity.”
If UMC (2-10, 1-7 NSIC) is to take advantage of this opportunity, Roysland believes it will come down to consistency — often a meaningless buzzword, but not in the Golden Eagles’ case.
A lack of consistency has been the story of their season — a 28 percent 3-point shooting team, UMC hit eight threes in the first quarter at Northern State in December before scoring just 38 points the rest of the game. It beat 10-4 Wayne State for its lone conference win, and, of course, it’s coming off the near-miss in Duluth.
Talk to Roysland, and you get the sense he doesn’t believe he’s coaching a 2-10 team. Look at the Golden Eagles, and you get the sense Roysland’s belief isn’t misplaced.
“There's just a lot of youth,” Roysland said. “And what ends up happening is that's there’s a big learning curve, and that's where patience needs to prevail here.”
Roysland came into the season expecting a young outfit that could go as many as 12 players deep. That can be a luxury, but on a team with as little experience as Minnesota Crookston, it made it more challenging for players to get used to their roles.
But with half the season gone by, Roysland believes that the Golden Eagles are starting to settle in — and that perfomances like last Saturday’s are the result.
“I think the kids are more confident, I think the kids understand what they need to do, we just haven't executed enough in enough possessions,” Roysland said. “ … It's been up and down and not enough steadiness throughout the whole course of the game. I need to find about two to three players I can constantly count on, where you're gonna get either 12 or 15 points out of a couple people and somebody that's adding 10.”
The Golden Eagles have made an effort to get Abby Guidinger (Jr., G/F) more touches as of late, and she’s rewarded them by scoring in double-figures in five of her last six games. Roysland also praised Mary Burke (R-Fr., F) and Alyssa Peterson (Fr., G) for their performances last weekend — Burke knocked down four 3-pointers in on Saturday and Peterson averaged 13 points against St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth.
“As much as we need (Guidinger) to score we need her to be a great facilitator as well,” Roysland said. “I think she's understanding her role very well. … (Peterson’s) starting to find open space and she's looking for her shot, and, multiple coaches have said (to me), I think you've got a dynamite player.”
While depth is still one of the Golden Eagles’ strong suits, a few reliable players might be just what they need to find the consistency that UMC is striving for.
Roysland feels he’s closer than ever to finding those players. As a result, his team is closer than ever to getting over the hump — from competing against the NSIC’s best to actually beating them.
“But close is not good enough.”
That’s a hard truth to swallow — but for now, the Golden Eagles don’t have a choice but to do that. And afterwards, to keep getting better.
“We feel we’re tired of losing,” Roysland said, “and we have the capabilities to win.”
The Golden Eagles’ frontcourt took a hit when Bren Fox (So., C) came down with mononucleosis this week. Roysland said that Fox is out indefinitely, and that the Golden Eagles might be without her until mid-February.
Fox was as close to a sure thing as UMC had this season, ranking second on the team in scoring (7.3 points per game) and leading in rebounding (7.1). She had started 11 of the team’s first 12 games in the middle, while no other Golden Eagle has more than nine starts.
“We’ve just lost a really good rebounder and defender,” Roysland said. “We're gonna need to be able to have other people step up, but I do think we were moving in the right direction before this anyway. So I don't see it as a major step backwards, just that there's gonna be more sense of urgency.”
Burke could see her role expand with Fox out, but she’s currently dealing with a sprained ankle, although Roysland said he’s hopeful that she can play Friday. Julia Peplinski (So., F) has been an efficient scorer and rebounder off the bench, averaging 5.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 13 minutes per game, and Amber Schoenicke (Sr., C) is also in line for an increase in minutes.
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