If your goal is to win a basketball game, you’ll probably want to hit at least one 3-pointer.
But let’s say you fail to do that.
Your options, at this point, are limited. But playing stout defense, getting to the line and having strong post play are good ways to proceed.
Minnesota Crookston women’s basketball’s 64-53 win over Southwest Minnesota State last Friday was the Golden Eagles’ first game without a made three in 14 years. Instead, they allowed the Mustangs to shoot just 34 percent, went 18-for-22 from the line and got 34 points in the paint and a combined 31 points and 15 rebounds from Bren Fox (So., C) and Julia Peplinski (So., F).
The mere presence of Fox, who scored 16 in 20 minutes, was a pleasant surprise. She had been diagnosed with mononucleosis in early January, and at the time, coach Mike Roysland said that she might be out until mid-February. But all the while, UMC hoped to have Fox back much sooner.
“We were right on target with what she was saying when she was back home and what her physicians were saying,” Roysland said. “But what was nice about it is, she played better than I expected her to with limited practice.”
The 6-foot-3 Fox's effect could be noticed not only in her own stat line. Without her, the Golden Eagles’ interior defense suffered — they allowed an average of 41 points in the paint in the six games she missed. Against SMSU and Sioux Falls on Saturday (a 77-59 loss), they gave up just 40 combined.
Furthermore, Fox’s illness gave opportunities to backup bigs Peplinski and Mary Burke (R-Fr., F), who made the most of them during Fox’s absence and continued doing so last weekend. The void Fox left behind has become a rotation.
Peplinski’s been perhaps UMC’s most efficient offensive player this season, averaging 7.1 points on 48 percent shooting in just 16.8 minutes per game. An aggressive playing style and propensity for fouling, though, has often kept her off the court for longer stretches, but she’s committed just three fouls over her last three games.
Burke, meanwhile, looked the part of a go-to scorer with 77 points in the six games Fox missed, including a game-clinching seven-point run down the stretch against Minot State on Jan. 25. It’s been a process for her, too, just of a different nature — reacclimating to basketball after a knee injury took away almost all of her true freshman season.
“We were pretty limited with some of that,” Roysland said. “With Bren being out we weren't as deep as we wanted to be inside, and I think we lost some games because we didn't have that inside presence.”
But with both bigs having found a groove of sorts, coupled with Fox’s return, Roysland has the luxury of versatility. While Fox is exclusively a center who prefers to work with her back to the basket, Peplinski and Burke can switch between the ‘4’ and the ‘5’: Peplinski is adept at attacking the rim and crashing the glass, and Burke possesses a smooth face-up game and outside shot.
“It’s nice that we have the depth we have right now,” Roysland said. “ … Each one of them (is) different and unique in their own right and they all bring a different piece to the table, so to speak.”
The Golden Eagles shot better from 3-point range in Saturday’s loss, but not by much: just 3-for-18, even on plenty of solid looks. This has been a theme this season — UMC has shown the ability to knock down shots in bunches, but on many more nights can’t find the range.
There’s only one way out of that: repetition. Sooner or later, Roysland knows, the outside shots will start to fall. But in the meantime, Minnesota Crookston’s post trio has done its part in both keeping the offense somewhat afloat, as well as generating the shots the Golden Eagles need in order to find consistency from deep.
“We had great presence inside, which as we move forward here, that's gonna get a lot of people a lot of good looks outside,” Roysland said. “ … If we can continue that and get some more out of our guards, we can be more consistent here.”
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