The road to the playoffs

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At the start of the season, the Slippery Rock women’s basketball team seemed to have high hopes and looked like a team that would be able to wiggle back into the playoffs behind the scoring ability of senior guard Brooke Hinderliter. But, a season that has been characterized by close losses, defensive breakdowns and a lack of scoring has likely ended the hope of a return to the playoffs.

This season has been doomed by the lack of defense, and although The Rock’s offense has kept them in games most times, it has not been enough. This season The Rock has allowed 70 or more points in 16 games and in four of their wins The Rock has allowed 70 points.

There has also been a number of games where The Rock scored enough points to win, but breakdowns in defense have allowed easy buckets and left regrets for Slippery Rock.

“We need to absolutely start playing better defense, we’ve lost a game where we scored 86 points and we’ve lost plenty of games where we have scored enough points,” McGraw said.

The loss that McGraw mentioned came early in December against Shepherd University on the road, who, at the time, had only one loss. The Rock had three players score over 20 points in that game and with nine seconds left, The Rock held a one point lead. But in the end, turnovers and a lack of defense gave the game away. In 15 of Slippery Rock’s 17 losses, 86 points would have been more than enough to win.

To McGraw, defending is not an option next season after the team has missed the playoffs three of the past four years with one of the most prolific scorers in program history.

“It won’t be an option next year, you’re either going to guard or you will not play here, plain and simple,” McGraw said. “Playing defense is a personal decision if you have the physical ability to do so, it’s a personal choice and there is no one on the roster who has said, ‘coach, I’m not guarding anybody,’ but there have been some personal choices to not give 100% on some nights.”

The trend of only guarding for part of the game has been huge this season and so far, The Rock has been outscored 471-409 in the fourth quarter. Slippery Rock has only scored over 20 points in the fourth eight times, while allowing opponents to 11 times. The most notable occasion was when The Rock walked into the fourth quarter with a one-point lead on Cal U, but then lost by 17 points after they were outscored 26-10 in the final ten minutes.

“Mercyhurst is the only game we’ve guarded for 40 minutes. There has been plenty of other games where we’ve guarded for three quarters and that doesn’t win games in this league and that doesn’t get you to the postseason,” McGraw said.

Although there has been a lack of success on the court this season, the chemistry of the team off of it and the production in the classroom has been unmatched.

“Maybe this group isn’t the best defensive group that I’ve coached, and they aren’t by far and they know that, but they’re the best group of people and students I’ve coached,” McGraw said. “And I tell them all the time, this isn’t the end of the world. I’m not in the Marines anymore, and this isn’t a combat zone. We’re playing a basketball game, and it just stinks when we don’t give maximum effort.”

In the fall, SRU set the program record for cumulative GPA, and that record had been held for nearly 25 years.

“If we guarded every night, we would absolutely have a chance to win this league, period,” McGraw said. “And I say that because of the offensive firepower that I know we have. Daeja Quick is as good a point guard as there is in this league, Brooke Hinderliter might be the best scorer in this league, and Madison Johnson is a division one player that could go for 20 points every single night. Other teams don’t have the offensive firepower that we do, but they guard every single night.”

In order to get back to the postseason, McGraw is going to bring a new formula that starts with putting everything together. Next season, The Rock will lose Hinderliter and have to replace her production, or make up for as much of it as possible. That formula includes bringing in experience, whether it’s JUCO transfers or a D1 transfer.

“When it comes to the next couple of kids we sign heading into next year, it’s our job as coaches to make sure we’re bringing in defenders because that’s what we lack right now is a nightly defensive presence,” McGraw said.

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