UMBC women’s basketball has begun the season with their best start in program history: a 6-0 record after a recent defeat of Notre Dame, 81- 43. The team controlled the game against the Leprechauns on every level, from rebounding to field goal percentage to points from the bench.
One year removed from a horrendous season plagued by injuries and stagnant game-play, this year the Retrievers are nothing to laugh at. This team has changed its image drastically with the addition of six freshmen, four of which are international players. Head coach Phil Stern has gone back to his roots, utilizing a strategy called the Princeton offense, which allowed Stern to win his 200th career victory at UMBC in the 2011 season. The Princeton offense is an offensive strategy that emphasizes constant motion with inept passing, back-door cuts, picks on and off the ball and disciplined teamwork.
Stern elaborated on how his team looks for that extra pass within the offense, saying, “We [do] work on that a lot during practice … [and] we have some great passers too, so that’s a good combination. Good passers, unselfish players and good shooters.” So far that philosophy has worked well this season for the Retrievers, as they have averaged 15 assists per game. With the ball in constant motion, the team is able to attempt more shots. The Retrievers have converted 44 percent of their shots while averaging 60 shot attempts a game.
Statistically, the Retrievers have improved drastically across the board including winning more games in one month than they did all of last season. They have also averaged six more rebounds per game than they did last year, a feat that can be attributed to sophomore-forward Janee’a Summers and junior-forward Lucrezia Costa. Costa has played a unique role in the Retrievers’ early success, often using her height to an advantage. Her ability to command a presence in the paint has made it very hard for opposing teams to get shots inside.
Summers is leading this team in points per game at 15 and rebounds per game with six. She has been the focal point of this offense, something that was on full display during the season opener against Gettysburg. In the Retrievers’ first game, Summers dropped a career high of 22 points with 12 of them coming in the first half. She would finish the night with a double-double snagging 10 rebounds.
While there has been excitement for the women’s basketball team, nobody expected this historic season. The offense has been flowing through the hands of junior-guard Te’yJah Oliver and the newly recruited freshman-guard Paula Rubio. Rubio has found herself in a system that benefits her play style especially when the team is in transition. Rubio has gained praise not only from the fans but from her coach as well.
“Paula is just a really good all-around player,” Stern said. “She has had two really good games [but] she doesn’t need to score to have a good game.” Rubio can knock down shots with the best of them but can still prove her usefulness in other areas in the stat sheet. She has finished with four more rebounds in four of the six games the Retrievers have played. In the Notre Dame victory, Rubio struggled offensively but did a tremendous job of getting her teammates involved, finishing with seven assists.
Oliver, one of the unsung heroes of the team, has scored in double digits in three of the six games. In those three games, she scored over 13 or more points shooting efficiently and grabbing defensive rebounds to push the team into transition for quick and easy shots. The team has not relied on just one person to do the scoring. Everyone on the team has contributed — including the bench, which has provided relief to the starters, who often start the games off strongly, sometimes with over 50 points before being relieved.
In the six games the women’s basketball team has played so far this season, they have had blowouts in four of them, scoring as many as 81 points throughout games against Notre Dame and Eastern. The Retrievers have set the tone for the season by owning home court advantage with an impressive 4-0 record. In those four games, the team has averaged 74 points a game while shooting over 40 percent from the field. It is important to gain as much momentum as possible at home especially when it is time for conference play. One of the biggest advantages the team has is their ability to successfully shoot three-pointers. Last season the team shot the three at just under 30 percent.
While that seems like a low percentage for a team, it speaks to the team’s ability to take the open shot. This season, however, not only are the Retrievers taking open shots, but they are also cashing in on those opportunities, which can be seen with their three-point field goal percentage of 34 percent. The shooters from last year, sophomore-guard Kristen Teklits and junior-guard Dominika Skrocka, have been showcasing their talents from outside the arc. Teklits has had a golden touch, completing 50 percent of her shots from the three-point range. Skrocka has also had major success with her quick release.
Skrocka has proven to be a menace to her opponents as she has converted on 40 percent of her shots. Five of the six games she has played in she has managed to make at least three three-pointers. In a game against the University of Texas at San Antonio, all 15 of her points came from behind the three-point line, shooting 5-9. Shooters that are as efficient as these can make it easy for any team to feel confident that they can shoot their way out of any situation. The team would prove this fighting spirit in their come-from-behind victories against Coppin State and Kennesaw St.
In both of those victories, the Retrievers had to learn how to keep their composure under pressure, especially during a late run against Kennesaw St., where Skrocka made her presence felt by scoring all 9 of her points in the fourth quarter, giving the Retrievers their fourth win. Red-shirt freshman-guard O’lesheya Braxton also made her presence known, scoring eight quick points over a two minute period that would help the Retrievers secure their victory. Coppin State required more of the Retrievers new found defensive prowess to get the job done.
The Retrievers would go on to outscore the Eagles 19-9 in the fourth quarter. The stifling defense of the Retrievers forced five crucial turnovers and made quick work of them, scoring on three of those possessions. Summers and Costa contributed to almost half of the Retrievers 19 fourth-quarter points, contributing 6 on their own. The Retrievers are turning heads this season with their amazing ability to get the most out of all of their players. With the motivation and focus that this team is playing with they can go far — maybe even with a little “madness” of their own.