Delving deeper than statistics and win-loss records is key to understanding and appreciating the progress Linfield women’s basketball made in the program’s second year of the Casey Bunn-Wilson era.
The 2016-17 team made great strides in playing team basketball, improved shot selection, familiarity with an up-tempo style of play and increased ability to make reads and improvise within an offensive set.
Statistically, Linfield led the conference in free throw accuracy (72.8 percent) and had plenty of opportunities (485-most among any non-tournament team) thanks to an aggressive, attacking style of basketball.
“We have great 3-point shooters but for us to take our program to a different level we have to be multi-dimensional,” Bunn-Wilson said. “Being able to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line was huge for us.”
Transforming culture and mindset is not an overnight process. While the team’s four seniors may not have enjoyed the fruits of their labor in terms of wins and losses, their on-court presence allowed the Wildcats to step onto the court each night with belief in a positive outcome.
“Whether we came out with a W or not, they came in thinking they could win,” Bunn-Wilson said. “That’s a huge step for us: having that confidence that we can compete with anybody.”
But admittedly, the team struggled to transfer confidence and intangibles into consistent on-court play and as a result finished the year tied for seventh in the Northwest Conference at 5-11 in league play and 11-14 overall.
While the Wildcats executed their defensive game plan and often limited their opponents to lower-than-average shooting percentages, they also yielded 69.5 points per night, second most in the league. The team suffered through a late six-game losing streak before wrapping up the season with back-to-back wins.
Bunn-Wilson pegged some of those losing outcomes on decision-making, but also pointed out a key mental shift between a late-game collapse against Whitworth, a game in which the Wildcats led by seven in the fourth quarter before losing by 10, and a near wire-to-wire victory against Willamette, in which Linfield withstood a fierce rally and put together a strong fourth quarter to put their rivals away for good.
“When we’re up, how are we handling ourselves and what decisions are we making?” Bunn-Wilson inquired. “When a team goes on a run, are we bouncing back instead of crumbling? That’s culture and mindset, and it drives the decisions you make in those situations.”
Individually, all-Northwest Conference honorable mention Dani Krier topped the offensive chart with 13.3 points per night. In addition to ranking among the league’s top 10 statistical leaders in eight categories, including third in 3-point percentage, Krier received praise for improving her defensive prowess.
“I’m happy with how hard she worked on her defense, because she knew that was something she needed to do to help the team,” Bunn-Wilson said.
Krier was just one of five Wildcats to average 8.0 or more points per night. Starting point guard Quincey Gibson and fellow senior Riley Graham contributed 16.6 points as well as great veteran leadership. Gibson’s stamina and poise allowed her to dictate the offense 32.4 minutes per night, while Graham was hugely impactful in areas that don’t necessarily show up in a box score.
Jade Everage continued to serve the team as a tenacious defender, and also stepped up her offensive contributions with her ability to get to the rim and charity stripe.
Countering Linfield’s potent outside shooting threats were Audrey McMillan and Molly Danielson, both underclassmen. The duo combined for a near double-double (19 points, 9.2 rebounds) and constituted a tough defensive presence in the paint. Annalise Beshears was the fourth member of that impactful senior class, and also averaged 5.6 points over the final six games of her career.
“Molly earned her way into a starting spot,” Bunn-Wilson said of the freshman center. “She’s really coachable, open to learning and receptive to our philosophy and what’s needed to get to the next level.”
Linfield’s freshmen and other reserve players also enjoyed steady improvement throughout the year. Rookie guard Erin Burns came off the bench in 24 of 25 contests, and all active (non-injured) Wildcats saw action in at least five games.
With the team expected to return 12 next season, and just four of those seniors-to-be, the Wildcats have much to look forward to.