Women’s Basketball: ‘Don’t Beat Yourself’

Danny Daly

After strenuous calisthenics workouts during Tuesday afternoon practices, the Wildcats get a drink of water and retreat to their locker room. Off to the left, immediately after the entrance, is an area equipped with a projector and two rows of plush, black leather chairs. “Don’t beat yourself” is scrawled on the white cinderblock wall across the room.

This is where Northwestern comes to watch game film in preparation for its next opponent. Coach Joe McKeown has repeatedly stressed that he is more concerned with getting his squad prepared to do what it wants to do than worrying about how the other team might plan on playing.

Still, film sessions are valuable instructive tools. Especially because the young players are still adjusting to McKeown and his systems, the sessions help the Cats see how their new coach thinks and teaches. Last Tuesday, NU got ready to square off against Illinois, its home challenger two days later and a team it had a reasonable chance to beat.

It ended up being a close game – just as McKeown predicted beforehand – but the Cats came up one point short because of another poor team shooting performance. Although the final result was unfavorable, the players were prepared for everything and did many of the things the coaching staff said were necessary to have a chance to win the game.

After a few opening words from McKeown expressing his satisfaction at his team’s defensive production and desire for better offensive output, assistant coach Daniel Prince began going through his Illinois scouting report. Each player had found a packet outlining Prince’s presentation lying on her seat at the beginning of the session, and they followed along as he spoke.

The first order of business was a rundown of every opposing player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.

“Don’t take any of her shot fakes – let her get out of control, step up and take a charge,” Prince said about one player.

Others were characterized as out of control, and Prince mentioned that one player in particular was apt to try fancy no-look passes. The Cats were warned to be careful of shot fakes and to not leave their feet until their man did so.

One Illinois player was noted to have a long wingspan but also a tendency to take a lot of breaks and rely too much on her mid-range jumper. Prince pointed out another’s inclination to turn into her right shoulder with no dribble, but need to put the ball on the floor when turning into her left. Every player was analyzed, though the Illinois bench played just five minutes in the game and made no significant contributions.

Next the team reviewed the Illini’s general offensive and defensive preferences. Prince said Illinois wanted to run and have a fast-paced game to take advantage of its athleticism. He added that the Illini struggled from the outside and mentioned three players to watch in transition, including one that “cherry picks.” In the game, NU’s transition defense stepped up and allowed just six fast break points.

Defensively, he said Illinois played mostly man-to-man except occasionally showed a 2-3 zone in dead ball situations like in-bounds plays and coming out of timeouts.

Before moving on to the film, Prince also laid out five goals for the game: take charges, make hard cuts, communicate, box out and reverse the ball.

The players watched footage of the Illinois offense against Iowa’s zone defense. There were multiple sets – isolation, box set, transition and dribble entry to name a few. Prince identified many of the tendencies he pointed out earlier.

“Notice here,” he said. “(She’s) going to pop out, and all they’re doing is diving down and trying to set a backscreen initially and then come off. Right into her right shoulder, just like she wants it.”

Prince also showed examples of the Illini’s 2-3 zone defense, pointing out the lack of aggressiveness in it and numerous gaps for the Cats’ outside shooters.

McKeown chimed in at times, asking Prince to rewind the video so he could emphasize something.

“Watch the cutter coming through,” McKeown said. “The bottom player stays with her, see that? Now she stays with the other cutter – it’s called a point-zone. Everybody see that?”

The Cats did not achieve all their goals in the game. Most notably, they did not draw any charges and committed one of their own in the final minute.

But now NU has gone head-to-head against Illinois and has some first-hand game footage to use for the rematch in just over a week.

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