GEORGETOWN, Texas – The Southwestern University Pirates women's basketball team returned home closer to full health than they've been all season but still a ways away from full strength, losing to the McMurry University War Hawks 58-44.
Noel Pratts and Tori Carraway returned to the starting lineup, giving the Pirates their preferred starting five for the first time this season. The worst parts of it showed as familiar faces in unfamiliar (for this season) roles disrupted an offense still working to find itself.
Between Woolfolk's combination of strength and soft touch and Carraway's length and slashing first step, there's enough variety to throw at defenses to compensate for players who prefer to work in similar spaces. However, such offenses also rely on all five players working in tandem, coordinating cuts, passes, and quick reads with precision.
With first year point guards directing the offense and inadequate time to mesh an attack equal parts station-to-station movement and improvisation, the Pirates' offense stalled in the first quarter. Post entry passes proved difficult with two frontcourt players working within a few feet of each other—on the elbow and block—on the strong side.
The Pirates committed six turnovers in the first quarter to just two assists in a clogged half-court offense. Compounding matters was a number of missed layups when opportunities did present themselves as Southwestern shot just 2-for-13 in the first 10 minutes, falling behind 13-5.
To compensate, the Pirates' young guards tried to move at a quicker pace but strayed too far from their own comfort zones, rushing their reads and throwing the ball around to the tune of nine second-quarter team turnovers to trail 29-13 at the break.
Southwestern University head coach Greta Grothe adjusted at half time, turning to a more experienced lineup with Zhazze Brown working as the point guard alongside Chloe Drum, Pratts, and the frontcourt combination of Carraway and Woolfolk.
Before the third quarter started, Grothe stood near midcourt, instructing her group to raise their arms in their defensive stances, lifting her own for emphasis.
In addition to more experience, the group wielded more length, which was made all the more apparent when they stretched their arms out in tandem. The group worked on defense, disrupting the McMurry offense with deflections and collapsing on dribble penetration without overextending to the point where it couldn't recover to shooters.
The Pirates held the War Hawks to just 4-for-13 shooting (30.8 percent) in the third quarter with no made 3-pointers and only four free-throw attempts. Southwestern also worked on the boards, outrebounding McMurry 14-7 in the quarter.
Southwestern University's defense allowed its offense to get downhill. Ideally, spacing is created through long-range shooting. When that's in short supply, it can be generated through movement.
Playing with a quicker pace, the Pirates were able to find entry passes and driving lanes by getting into their offense before the War Hawks could set their defense. This also gave Southwestern more shot clock to run through more options.
The more experienced guards moved the McMurry defense side-to-side, throwing skip passes over the top of the defense to expose driving lanes on the weak side. The Pirates broke the press with faster decisions, punishing the War Hawks' extended defense by finding Pratts in the open court for quick-hitting layups.
Transition opportunities and skip passes opened more real estate in the middle, where Carraway and Woolfolk combined for six of the Pirates' seven third quarter offensive rebounds.
Pratts and Brown combined for 14 points on 5-for-16 shooting in the third to help Southwestern take the quarter 22-10 and claw back to within four at 39-35.
The Pirates' offensive struggles resumed in the fourth quarter, shooting just 4-for-12 with only a single 3-pointer attempted and one assist to five turnovers, scoring only nine points in the quarter to McMurry's 19.
For the game, the Pirates shot just 34 percent, including 2-for-10 from deep while making only 8-for-18 from the free-throw line. Southwestern outrebounded McMurry 40-25 but failed to capitalize with only an 11-7 advantage in second-chance points while turning the ball over 23 times to surrender 31 points off turnovers.
Pratts led the Pirates with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting and Carraway had a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds as the only two Southwestern players in double figures.
Skyler Reyna led the War Hawks with 14 points and nine rebounds, working off pick and pop jumpers and pin downs to shoot 6-for-13 from the field. Sarah Doherty slithered her way into the lane for 12 points on eight shots with five assists and Brittany Rodgers contributed 10 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the free-throw line off the bench.
With the loss, the Pirates drop to 1-8 on the season as McMurry improves to 2-8. Southwestern University will begin conference play next weekend with home games against Johnson & Wales University on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 1:00 p.m. and Colorado College on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 1:00 p.m.