Courtesy Daily News Record, Dec. 6, 2011
Kevin Griffin said he’s been asked why his two leading scorers — Bianca Ygarza and Raiven Patterson — don’t start, but the Eastern Mennonite University women’s basketball coach just shrugs it off.
The seventh-year coach admits it’s an unusual arrangement, but after opening the season 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, he’s not going to mess with something that works, regardless of how unconventional it may be.
“It’s just what has worked, and I wasn’t going to change it after the start we had,” said Griffin, who picked up his 100th career win Saturday against Hollins but paid for it when his players soaked him with a guerilla cooler-dunking in the locker room afterward.
EMU and its uptempo, run-oriented offense leads the ODAC in points per game at 80.7, more than six ahead of secondbest Virginia Wesleyan, which averages 74.2.
NCAA national rankings were not updated on the organization’s website Monday, but if the Royals had averaged 80.7 points per game last season, they would have ranked third out of 424 D-III teams. And, again, they’re doing this while starting games with their two best scorers on the bench.
Griffin — whose substitutions are more like line changes, as he rotates about 10 players — said it has to do with keeping the right personnel combinations on the floor: mixing youth and age, experience and inexperience, quiet and vocal.
Apparently, the players don’t mind.
“When you start, that’s your chance to get everyone excited,” said Patterson, a 5foot-8 freshman forward. “But when you come off the bench, that’s your chance to just observe everything, and it’s kind of easier because you can make up for what other people’s mistakes were.”
Patterson, despite being a reserve, is second on the team in points, averaging 11.2. She’s also shooting 52.8 percent (28of-53) from the floor and averaging 5.8 rebounds.
Ygarza, a 5-8 sophomore guard and Patterson’s fellow sub, leads the Royals in scoring, averaging 14.0 points per game while shooting a white-hot 65.9 percent (27-of-41) from the field. She’s also grabbing 8.2 rebounds and making 88.2 percent (30-of-34) of her free throws.
As a team, EMU is shooting 44.7 percent (178-of-398) from the floor — tops in the ODAC.
“We do have tons of speed, but it’s not like we’re blowing teams out because we’re just fast break after fast break after fast break,” said 5-10 sophomore forward Kala Yoders, the 2011 ODAC Rookie of the Year. “I feel like we have the potential to do that, but I feel like we wear teams out in the second half because we do have such depth and other teams only have their six or seven people, and we just keep going at them.”
But EMU isn’t just about out-scoring the other team. It has the best defense in the ODAC, limiting opponents to just 52.7 points per game. The Royals also lead the conference in steals, averaging 15.7 per game. Those, they turn into instant offense in their fast-break happy, all-run style.
“It’s a mindset,” Ygarza said. “You’re on defense, and coaches talk about this to us. ‘You need to get frustrated when a girl scores on you. That should make you [mad].’ The girls, we keep talking about this and stuff. Play with your heads, play your hardest and don’t worry about where the points come from how many points you get.”
Of course, it helps when you’re winning.
The Royals have even knocked off defending ODAC champ Randolph-Macon, winner of six of the last nine titles. In that game, an 85-78 victory on Nov. 22, Patterson had 18 points and Ygarza had 15. And they did it, surprise, coming off the bench. “They’re comfortable with it,” Griffin said. “We’ve talked to them about it; we’ve talked to the other kids about it. I’m not one that usually tries to fool with that a whole lot. Let’s leave it as is.”
People might even stop asking questions.