Women’s basketball in thick of playoff race

Published by Brendan Howe, Author: Brendan Howe - Senior Rocket Contributor , Date: January 24, 2019
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For Bobby McGraw, it’s plain and simple. 17 games into his team’s schedule, the head women’s basketball coach sees a trend. If his defense keeps the team on the other bench from reaching the 70-point threshold, he feels, a win will usually follow. Results support this assumption.

Eight times The Rock has held an opponent below that mark, each time walking off the hardwood with a win. In the nine that it hasn’t, the result was the opposite.

The latter was the case Wednesday night as McGraw and company fell to the visiting Mountain Cats of Pitt-Johnstown. The defeat was the latest depression on what has been a rollercoaster ride for Slippery Rock.

Since Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play opened in early December, it has been up and down for the Green and White. The team got off to a 4-0 league record before going into an unfortunate New Year’s slump, dropping four January contests in succession.

Despite the below-.500 record, the team believes it can topple a ranked in-conference foe. It will have two such opportunities in a matter of one week in February. On February 2, the Rock will welcome California (Pa.), 13th in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) poll, before visiting top-ranked Indiana (Pa.) four days later.

“I think we have a chance of knocking off a ranked team […] If we play, we can play with [Cal U], and probably beat them,” said forward Morgan Henderson, the PSAC’s leader in rebounding average per game.

“Anybody can beat anybody at any given point in time,” said junior guard Brooke Hinderliter, who paces the offense with 17.9 points per game. “We just need to work harder and stay focused.”

With little over 6:30 left against previously ranked no. 16 California Univeristy (Pa.), SRU led by 11. That fourth-quarter advantage went up in smoke thanks in part to seven subsequent turnovers.

“You’re going to make mistakes during the game. It’s how you recover from that one mistake. Or do you let that one mistake become two or three or four in the next four possessions?” McGraw stated, referring to that encounter with the Vulcans.

The confidence in the Green and White extends to a conference rival who lost by 25 at Morrow Field House on Jan. 16.

“A Clarion coach sent me a nice text message saying, ‘I think you have enough to win it all,’” McGraw said.

Averaging a little over 69 points a game, the team’s offense ranks in the top third of the PSAC. Redshirt senior guard and emotional leader Ciara Patterson’s .339 three-point percentage is good enough for tenth in the conference. Hinderliter is in the top ten in both scoring average and overall shooting percentage (.459). She is only a few baskets away from becoming the second SRU player in the last 14 years to score 1,000 career points

Yet, the defense, which allows 73.9 points per night, is the league’s worst. Johnson denoted her team’s intermittent underestimation of opposing teams as a particular hindrance. Promise, however, can be found in the Rock’s defensive effort at Mansfield on Friday. Surrendering only 39 points, it was the program’s third-lowest single-game total against a Division II adversary and the school’s lowest in ten years.

McGraw sees this as one of the weaknesses the team still needs to improve upon, saying, “We need to clean up some things against the top-tier teams for this home stretch to solidify our [playoff] spot right now.”

At 8-9, Slippery Rock is on the outside looking in regarding postseason seeding. The division is tight, though, as a playoff berth is a reasonable possibility for multiple schools. Five of the team’s next seven matchups will come on the road, but over half of the team’s remaining schedule is against schools it has already seen this season.

“If we focus in on the players that got us the first time, the second time we can shut them down,” Johnson said.

“This is a wide-open conference right now […] You never know what’s going to happen when it gets to that tournament time, when it’s survive and advance,” McGraw said. “We got to get in first then we’ll be able to make a run.”

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