Last season, three Lions averaged over eight points per game: guard Kathleen Barry and center Lauren Dwyer, the only two seniors on the team, and then-freshman guard Brianna Orlich. Earlier this season, Orlich was forced to cut her college basketball career short due to knee injuries, leaving the Lions without any of their top three scorers from last season.
The departure of these three players has exacerbated an already-pressing issue: creating good shots. Last season, while the Light Blue took 4.1 more shots per game than its opponents, it converted on only 33.7 percent of those attempts, while its opponents hit 42.6 percent of their shots. This season, the Lions are shooting 33.1 percent from the field and their opponents are shooting 40.9 percent. While there are only small reductions on both sides, this year’s team is being outshot by one basket every two games. As a basis for comparison, the top two Ivy teams last year—Princeton and Harvard—both shot over 44 percent from the field.
Altogether, Columbia is averaging five fewer points per game. If the Lions were able to produce the same output as last year, they would have had a fighting chance in the closing minutes the eight losses it suffered by 10 points or fewer this year. With 39.5 points per game, the Light Blue ranks last in the Ivy League—five points behind seventh-place Dartmouth and less than half of first-place Harvard’s average.
“For us, it’s really got to be about our shot selection,” head coach Paul Nixon said during the Ivy midseason teleconference.
“We’ve had some games where we’ve done really well in that department, and we’ve had some games where we’ve done a little too much outside of the framework of the offense, and taken some shots that I don’t even think [the best players] could make consistently.”
Nixon was optimistic, however, citing the team’s improving shot selection as how Columbia will be able to hang on during Ivy play. Two games into conference play, the team has had mixed results.
“Well, certainly the shot selection at Princeton I didn’t think was bad,” Nixon said. He identified the team’s 30 turnovers as the primary concern from that game. The following weekend against Cornell, however, bad habits returned.
“I thought, in the Cornell game, we settled for too many long, outside, contested shots,” Nixon said.
“I don’t think we did a good job of getting enough high-percentage looks around the basket.”
Even if the team as a whole was having trouble choosing good shots, a few players did have strong games. Junior guard/forward Tyler Simpson, who went 6-11 from the field and scored 13 points, attributed her success as the result of simply taking good shots.
“I think I was just being aggressive, getting a lot of shots up, and not giving up when a certain shot doesn’t go in,” Simpson said. “We didn’t play as aggressive as we know we can, and I just think next time we’ll go out with a lot more aggressive mentality.”
“We’re just really focusing on developing a more consistent offensive identity and knowing what are good shots for this team,” Nixon said.
He sees potential improvement in this regard coming from the team’s freshmen.
“I think all our freshman are capable of contributing,” Nixon said. “I think in different games through the course of the rest of the Ivy season, they’re going to have their opportunities.”
During the Ivy teleconference, he singled out guards Miwa Tachibana and Caitlyn Unsworth as being particularly productive.
With games against Penn, Dartmouth, and Harvard—none of which have held opponents to shooting under 36 percent—coming up over the next two weeks, the Light Blue has a chance to work itself into a rhythm offensively.
“I think it’s going to be better, but it’s not where we need to be yet,” Nixon said.