When Matt Corkery was elevated from an assistant to head coach of the AU women’s basketball program prior to this season, he installed essentially brand new offensive and defensive systems.
There’s been an adjustment period, to be sure, but overall Corkery is quite pleased with the way his team has adapted to his full-court press and motion offense philosophies during its 11-6 start (through Jan. 16).
“I feel pretty positive about the improvements we made from Nov. 14 at NJIT until Brown on Jan. 6,” he said of the first portion of the season. “Defining roles, understanding and learning the system, that’s really what the preconference schedule is about. Our players are buying in.”
Convincing them didn’t take much.
“It’s a fun style to play, we all love it,” said Nicole Ryan, a redshirt junior guard. “As players we’re all aggressive, and that’s Matt’s style too.”
Ryan is among those who have played a huge part in AU’s success. Out all last season with a broken wrist, she’s bounced back to average 11 points a game, third on the team.
“She’s really gotten up to speed in a short period of time, and she’s contributing in a major way,” Corkery said.
Speed is a key for the Eagles, who strive to get up and down the floor at a quick pace.
“Most teams can’t keep up with our tempo,” Ryan said. “We go so hard and fast the whole game.”
With six freshmen and four sophomores, this AU squad is fairly young. Despite last season’s success, which included the program’s first-ever Patriot League regular season title, the transition to 2009 hasn’t always been smooth. AU dropped its Patriot League opener at Lehigh 77-69.
“We’ve always taken pride in our conditioning, but we do have to play harder for longer in this type of a system and we’re still learning how to do that,” Corkery said. “We haven’t mastered that as evidenced in the Lehigh game where we really didn’t do a good job of pressuring in the full court and then finishing that off with a solid defensive possession in the half court. We gave up too many open looks. That’s still a work in progress.”
The team’s character appears to be solidified. It bounced back big time by beating Bucknell 61-55 on Jan. 14 to even its league record at 1-1. Senior point guard Pam Stanfield, pictured left, scored a season-high 13 points and added six rebounds and five assists.
“Pam is really the engine that makes our team run,” Corkery said. “On the offensive end of the floor she has a lot of responsibilities to create and generate shots for other players, and she sets the tone for us defensively as well with ball pressure and guarding the other team’s point guard.”
With the meat of its conference schedule still remaining, AU knows it must continue improving if it wants to reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament. But Corkery and his players certainly feel as if they’re on the right track.
“We know we can win on every given night when we show up ready to play and play hard, and we also know we can lose to any team in the league if we aren’t ready to play,” Corkery said. “We want to be at our best when our best is needed, to quote John Wooden. We want to be playing our best basketball in March. That’s when it counts.”