The hours the Columbia Women's Basketball team spends practicing set plays in Levien Gym paid off. In this weekend's two home games, the Lions notched a combined 38 assists, with most of their motion-filled possessions leading to a basket. Their only problem? The opposition often responded within seconds of regaining possession.
Although head coach Paul Nixon's run-and-gun offensive game plan worked to perfection against Dartmouth and Harvard in the final weekend of the season, Columbia's defensive effort again came up short, with their opponents, especially Harvard, fully exploiting their significant advantage in height and size.
The Lions' struggles in containing the opposition's offense were especially apparent in the number of opponent free throws attempted. In Saturday's game against Harvard, the Crimson had 17 attempts from the charity stripe, while Columbia, excluding Megan Griffith, attempted just two.
Nixon attributes this disparity to the ability of opponents to get the ball inside with ease. "Overall, as a team [Harvard], they're bigger than us at every position," Nixon said. "It does two things: number one, it deters us from driving in there [the low post], forces us to take pull-up jumpers. And then on the flip slide, because they do have a size advantage, they feel like they can drive to the basket a little bit more freely."
The inability to make a defensive stop without fouling became the team's Achilles' heel. In the game against Dartmouth, with the team leading at the midpoint of overtime, Columbia's defensive problems became painfully evident. A string of quick Big Green layups quickly equalized the score. With the ensuing Light Blue possessions coming up empty, the Lions' attempt at an upset was denied.
It was the same story the next night against Harvard. Even with the offense sizzling in the opening minutes against the Crimson, Columbia was unable to build a significant advantage. Harvard was able to counter in transition, with freshman forward Katie Rollins often leading the charge, as she scored many of her 20 points in the opening minutes. "She was able to make layups before our help-side [defense] could get there," Nixon said.
Without the ability to consistently stop opponents from scoring, the pressure often becomes too great for the offense to handle. "We hit threes in some big moments," said sophomore forward Michele Gage, "and it helped put points on the boards. Obviously we didn't stay in the game that well, and that's because we started missing. We can't rely on three-pointers to keep us in the game."
Going into next season, Nixon knows that the key to an improved record is an improved ability to match up on defense. "I think our time in the weight room this off-season is going to be extremely important," he said. "We can't always rely on the folks in the striped shirts to blow the whistle when we're getting pushed around underneath. We need to get stronger."