In recent weeks, Minnesota Crookston women’s basketball has looked very much like a team missing its top post presence.
Bren Fox (So., C), who averaged 7.3 points and 7.1 rebounds over the Golden Eagles’ first 12 games, was diagnosed with mononucleosis in early January. Fox has missed UMC’s last four games, all double-digit losses, and isn’t expected back until mid-February at the earliest.
While Fox’s absence has been far from the only ill plaguing the Golden Eagles (2-14, 1-11 NSIC) during their seven-game losing streak, statistics bear out just how much impact her loss has had.
In Saturday’s game at Upper Iowa, UMC was nearly doubled up on the boards, as the Peacocks grabbed 53 rebounds, 15 of them on the offensive end. The latter resulted in 19 second chance points, compared to just two for the Golden Eagles — almost exactly the difference in an 82-67 defeat.
For all of Minnesota Crookston’s struggles, rebounding wasn’t really one of them until Fox went down. The Golden Eagles won the board battle in seven of their first 12 games, and opponents were outrebounding them by an average of 0.4 boards per game. Over the last two weeks, that margin has ballooned to 11.5.
Fox’s interior defense has also been sorely missed. UMC has been outscored in the paint, 174-82, in her absence — Upper Iowa outscored the Golden Eagles in the paint by a whopping 50-8.
“Julia (Peplinski), Mary (Burke), Abby (Guidinger) and Amber Schoenicke have to fill that role right now,” said head coach Mike Roysland. “ … We just have to do the best we can in the moment.”
Part of that comes down to understanding that UMC just doesn’t have another 6-foot-3 player on the roster. While Peplinski, Burke, Guidinger and Schoenicke shouldn’t be sold short — Burke grabbed 17 rebounds total last weekend — Roysland believes that by and large, the Golden Eagles will have to make up for their lack of height through their offense, especially perimeter shooting.
“We don’t have enough inside presence right now,” Roysland said. “Our inconsistency from deep just accumulates.”
In this regard, there is somebody that could help.
Vetsch busts out of slump
Prior to last Saturday, Mattea Vetsch (Fr., G) had started 12 straight contests, having established herself as one of UMC’s top markswomen early in the season. However, she hadn’t hit a 3-pointer since Dec. 13.
But shooting is as mercurial a skill as any in basketball, and Vetsch’s 15-point, five 3-pointer outing coming off the bench against the Peacocks showed as much.
“One night you go 50 percent, the next night you can't throw it in the ocean,” Roysland said. “That's the thing we're having a hard time explaining. It's just a confidence thing that (Vetsch is) gonna have to stick with. It’s typical of a freshmen.”
While Vetsch is a legitimately strong shooter — she’s hitting 36.4 percent from downtown, the best of any Golden Eagle who’s taken more than 20 threes — she’s a stand-in for the entire team. UMC, at 28.5 percent from deep, is second to last in the entire NSIC, but it’s had two games in which it’s hit 14 3-pointers: Jan. 4 at Minnesota Duluth and last Saturday.
There’s reason to believe that more consistency could come, or at least more hot-shooting nights in the future. The Golden Eagles’ freshmen have attacked the rim well as of late, according to Roysland, generating open looks from deep.
Vetsch has been improving her all-around game and decision-making, knowing opponents will key in on her outside shot. But she, like anyone else, is subject to a steep learning curve.
“At this point in the season, we would prefer more,” Roysland said. “Let me tell you that.”
Burke establishing herself
If one player has benefited most from Fox’s absence, it would be Mary Burke.
Burke (R-Fr., F) might have seen an increased role anyway, after she scored 16 points and nailed four triples against Minnesota Duluth. But the loss of Fox opened the door for Burke to jump into the starting lineup, where she’s remained for the last four games. Over that stretch, Burke has averaged 11 points and six rebounds.
While Fox was a prototypical interior player who could post up and use her height on defense, Burke’s best attribute is her ability to stretch the floor. 47.7 percent of her shots this year have come from 3-point range — and while she’s made just 27.9 percent of them, that’s more or less in line with the rest of the team.
“She's getting better at defending the post,” Roysland said. “She's getting more comfortable. She's getting to be a tough matchup because she can shoot the outside shot and she's learning how to attack the rim.”
Getting comfortable has been perhaps the biggest theme for Burke this year. She played in just two games as a freshmen before missing the entire season, which has led Roysland to group her with Vetsch, Alyssa Peterson, Emma Carpenter and the rest of the Golden Eagles’ freshmen.
Burke, though, does have the benefit of having had a year-long close-up of the college game already. This season, once she got her legs under her, has been about putting that on display.
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