Women’s Basketball: Reed learns to relish her reserve role

Danny Daly

Prior to last season, Meshia Reed had always been the center of attention on the basketball court. Then coach Joe McKeown assumed control of the Wildcats and drastically revamped Reed’s role.

“He was asking me to come off the bench, which is something I’m not used to doing,” the junior guard said.

While Reed admitted to being frustrated at first, she is thriving as Northwestern’s top reserve this season. In Big Ten play, Reed leads the Cats in field goal and 3-point percentage.

One win shy of securing a winning regular season record, NU (14-11, 5-9 Big Ten) will rely on Reed to give the team a boost in Thursday night’s home contest against Indiana (13-12, 6-8).

“She brings an instant spark,” said junior center Amy Jaeschke, who rooms with Reed on roadtrip. “She just attacks offensively and gives us a lot of confidence when she comes in. She’s not going to back down to anyone. When you see another player do that, you’re like, ‘I should do that, too.'”

Reed starred for nearby Hillcrest High School, averaging almost 20 points per game along with nine rebounds and five assists. She twice earned All-Conference honors and also played for a premier AAU team, Chicago Hoops Express.

Her success continued when she arrived in Evanston. Beth Combs, who preceded McKeown as the Cats’ coach, regularly inserted Reed in the starting lineup as the conference season progressed. By year’s end, she was second on the team in scoring and third in minutes per game.

But NU fired Combs, and Reed struggled to pick up the new system.

“There were two issues,” McKeown said. “Number one, I was asking her to do some things defensively that she had a hard time with, and then I was trying to get her to understand the things we had to do as a team to win halfcourt-wise. Meshia’s a great transition player, and that was difficult for her.”

Reed began the next year as a starter, but her inability to take care of the basketball limited her effectiveness. In six of the Cats’ first eight contests last season, Reed committed at least four turnovers.

McKeown made the difficult decision to bench Reed against DePaul, a rivalry game for the Chicago-area native. Reed started only two more games after that, and her statistics decreased from the previous season.

“She would take crazy shots and think it was OK, because that’s what she knew,” McKeown said.

The change wasn’t easy. Whereas starters get a feel for the pace of the game from the opening tip, reserves are thrown into the action and expected to contribute quickly.

With so many players returning with starting experience this season, Reed expected she was headed back to the bench. She concentrated on making the most of her situation during the offseason, working to control her aggressive style, improve her range and alter her mindset.

“It was frustrating,” Reed said. “But after talking to coach and getting an idea of what he wants, you start adjusting mentally. That’s what I did over the summer, that’s how I prepared myself. I figured that would be my role this year.”

The results speak for themselves. Reed is shooting 46 percent from the field, the third year in a row she has bettered that number.

Even more impressively, she is handling the ball better, averaging slightly fewer than four turnovers per 40 minutes this season compared to more than six miscues in her first year under McKeown. By embracing her new niche, Reed has helped the Cats double last season win total.

“She’s been a lot more consistent,” McKeown said. “I give her a lot of credit. I’ve challenged her a lot. She’s a big reason we’re having a winning season right now.”[email protected]