Friday, December 3, 2010

A wonderful trip to watch Glenville State

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. -- Where to start? From the chance to sit right behind the bench and here various strategies, to keeping a close eye on the substitution patterns, to hearing coach-to-player and player-to-player instruction, my trip Thursday to Bluefield to watch the NCAA Division II women's team at Glenville State was completely worth it. And, who knows, given the convenience of the trip and the chance to meet up with a friend from college, if coach Bunky Harkleroad continues to lead this program, it might become an annual trek!

First, the details: the Pioneers jumped out early and stayed on top throughout, beating Bluefield State 118-63 on the road in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Really, I know it's somewhat of a cliche, but it could have been much worse.

Now Glenville State finally returns home after eight consecutive road games to open the season; incidentally, one of those games only will count in the conference standings, since Ohio Valley used an ineligible player in its overtime victory over the Pioneers on Nov. 16. So Glenville State's record improved to 4-3 overall, 2-0 in the WVIAC. Weird.

In this one, the Lady Blues (1-3) dressed only eight players, so even if their level of talent would have been equal (it wasn't), the toll of running with Glenville State for 40 minutes likely would have been too much. Coach Harkleroad backed off in the second half after taking a 62-27 lead the break, employing only a half-court trap following made baskets for the first 8 minutes or so before completely abandoning any type of full-court defense in the final 8 minutes.

Still, the Pioneers got their numbers. Here are The Formula stats:

- Attempted 87 shots
- Attempted 46 3-pointers
- Rebounded 40 percent of their misses on offense
- Forced 33 turnovers
- Attempted 11 more shots than Bluefield State

The point guard tandem of Miranda Reed and Danielle Woodmore completely dominated, particularly once fatigue started playing a role. They combined for 40 points, 17 assists (only six turnovers) and eight steals, a wonderful display of solid basketball. Woodmore had 22 points, seven assists and five steals, with Reed going for 18 points, 10 assists and three steals. Seven players in all reached double figures in scoring for Glenville State, with Kenyell Goodson (14 points), Kristen Golden (14 points and 13 rebounds), Autumn Davis (12), Tenisha Wilson (11) and Tiffani Huffman (10) joining Reed and Woodmore.

All 12 players scored, with a 3-pointer by Kim Stephens with 2:20 left in the game getting her off zero. Everybody got plenty of run, as always, prompting my friend that went with me, Dave Barr, an old roommate from my time at Elon, to say about 5 minutes into the game: "Everybody's played so far, right?" Yep, Dave, everybody played.

Really, the details of the game likely aren't worth repeating. In one way, this wasn't a great game to attend because it wasn't very competitive. Yet, in another aspect, it was the absolutely perfect game to watch, since Coach Harkleroad was able to focus so much on getting his team to stay true to The System.

"Keep your shape!" he instructed many times while his team was on defense, essentially asking the players to retain the look of their press, even in the half-court.

"No fouls, keep running!" he told them, hoping to keep the game moving to allow the Pioneers' superior depth to take over.

"Score that!" he pleaded with Golden, one of his post players, when she grabbed an offensive rebound and immediately looked to pass back out.

Great stuff. Dave and I were fortunate to arrive early enough to secure our prime seats, so everything was right there in front of us. We were able to hear the shifts called out, including which players were involved and when they were scheduled to go on the court, which was very fascinating.

Here are some other observations from the game:

- The competitiveness and focus of Glenville State's players was evident throughout. Not sure how else to put it. The looks in the eyes of the players during the entire game was something that surprised me. It wasn't even that I expected it to be anything different, it was just so easy to see why each of them is contributing to a college program.

- It was nice to see the Pioneers get going a little bit from the perimeter. Of course, last season against Bluefield State, they set the all-division NCAA record with 29 3-pointers on 62 attempts, another all-division high. Oh, and in case you didn't know, or I didn't share, Glenville State set a few other all-division marks last season: 3s in a season (394, old record was 386 by Clarion in 1992), 3s attempted in a season (1,286, old record was 1,101, Clarion, 1993) and 3s made per game (14.1, old record was 13.3 by Clarion, 1992).

This time, the Pioneers finished 17-for-46 in the game, but made 10-of-22 in the second half. Goodson was 4-for-9 and Davis was 4-for-14.

- Coach Harkleroad has a wonderful sideline demeanor. Sure, the score really never was in doubt, but you know he never took that for granted. He didn't stomp his foot or scowl at his players (anyone ever seen the behavior of Andy Landers, the women's coach at Georgia?), preferring to teach in a calm voice, one-on-one. He also rarely had any words for the officials, even when they were missing traveling violations on the players from Bluefield.

- Speaking of the refereeing, I've often read posts on the Yahoo! board about how sometimes a majority of calls goes against System teams. It happened in this game. In passing, I've mentioned the numerous traveling violations against Bluefield that weren't called; yet, a handful were called against the Pioneers that weren't nearly as egregious as the ones committed by the Lady Blues.

Also, midway through the second half, with the score a bit out of hand, Wilson was called for an intentional foul while jockeying for position on defense. Certainly, she might have meant to elbow Bluefield's Kateishia Wright, but it appeared to me as if both players were simply jostling for the spot. In any regard, shortly after that, Glenville State's Beth Deren had possession of the ball while being harassed by a pair of defenders. She appeared to pivot in an attempt to avoid giving up the ball, but she, too, was called for an intentional foul.

This led to a timeout from Coach Harkleroad, where he no doubt instructed his players to avoid contact all all costs!

- Anyone who believes System teams "don't play defense" (you there, Johnny Rain Cloud?) needs to watch a game in person. Sure, Glenville State gave up some open looks with its press, yet the amount of effort each player gave to create traps was something to behold. Watching Reed or Woodmore sprint down the sideline to cut off a dribbler, or watching Golden creep in from the back of the press, or watching the face-guarding going on during an in-bound pass, there is no way to deny they were playing defense.

- The men's teams had a game scheduled immediately after this one, so the Glenville State squad sat amongst Dave and I to watch the women. And almost to a man, at least the players sitting close to me, they tracked the game with a keen eye, encouraging the Pioneers to keep up the pressure. I even heard the comment: "They're going to reach a hundred tonight, for sure." I will tell you the Bluefield State men's team wasn't as involved.

Would this have happened if Coach Harkleroad's team walked it up the court and won 50-40? I doubt it.

- A nice group of fans traveled to watch Glenville State, including, I'm sure, many parents. Still, neat to see them congratulating the team following the game, hugging all the players and really exemplifying a family atmosphere.

- There seemed to be occasions when a handful of Pioneers' players weren't sure what to do on defense, which happens when you have several new faces. Again, Coach Harkleroad treated these moments as ones meant for teaching, not criticizing, and once they get it, it's easy to see this is a supremely talented team.

- Glenville State went with an interesting defense in the final minutes, one I remember the late Jim Valvano often employing at North Carolina State. There were three defenders playing man-to-man, with the two others ("bigs," to use coaching vernacular) guarding the paint. It stifled Bluefield State almost as much as the press, which was interesting.

That's it for my observations. I'll let you hear what Coach Harkleroad had to say about this one, and the season so far, in our conversation after the game:

(Was this just another step in the process?)

Coach Harkleroad: "It was, we needed a game like that, where we could get on somebody early and stay on them. Because we've been playing such good competition, and playing on the road, so hopefully we can keep the momentum. We needed a momentum game, so hopefully we can carry that into Saturday. We've got a home stretch here before Christmas."

(I'm guessing it will be nice to get back home.)

Coach Harkleroad: "Our gym's great. It's an older building, but we've got great fans. People really get into women's basketball. We're excited about that. All our news kids haven't experienced it yet, except for a scrimmage, so we're excited about it."

(The effort against Liberty, a Division I team, in the game previous must have been pretty good.)

Coach Harkleroad: "The first 10 minutes were basically a wash, and then they go on like a 23-3 run in the last 10 of the first half. Then we competed in the second half. We got beaten by 18. We did things that we can control, the effort on the offensive glass, and a pretty good defensive effort, those were big positives. We couldn't control some of the shots not falling, we were trying to make them. They were so good defensively, though, we settled for a lot of bad shots that were NBA 3s, and we don't practice those."

(How about the shooting in the second half against Bluefield State, it appeared you got on a little hot streak?)

Coach Harkleroad: "Hopefully, we're doing a better job of making a steal and then kind of settling down and finding somebody in rhythm. Like I said, shooting shots we practice. Toeing the line instead of just rushing. With our shooters, we were talking in the huddle; at practice, we have to get on them about going harder, and then in the games, we're having to get on them to slow down."

(What are some things you want to clean up before Saturday?)

Coach Harkleroad: "Oh, turnovers, big-time. Tonight was better. We do so many things with the ball that we really shouldn't. A lot of them are aggressive mistakes, and one of the struggles with The System is you have to get them to go, go, go. So aggressive mistakes you can live with for a while, but then it becomes a matter of discipling yourself and making the easy pass. We're still not doing the best job, either, of ball reversal. We'll throw it to the point, and we'll have a wide-open shooter on the wing. And it may not be our primary or our best scorer, but still, share the ball and make pass. And we're not doing a good job of recognizing what the situation is or what the easy pass is."

Good stuff there. Again, thanks to Coach Harkleroad for his hospitality at the game (the man gave up his halftime stats to me and Dave!), and congratulations on the victory. Unless something bizarre happens, it's unlikely I'll catch Glenville State in person again this year, but I will follow them right to the end.

Good luck to him and his team the rest of the season, beginning Saturday (at home!) against Pitt-Johnstown in another WVIAC matchup. Game time is 5:30 p.m. EST.

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