FORT WAYNE – It was the second time inside three minutes that junior guard Erin Murphy didn’t get a rebound that was in her neighborhood, and IPFW women’s assistant coach Lee Larkins gave her an earful about it.
Get on the glass, Erin! Larkins said. And it wasn’t a request.
They were chewing on them pretty good, head coach Chris Paul said afterward of his assistants’ intensity.
The antithesis of the normally positive practices is all part of a grand plan as the Mastodons (12-16) prepare for their first-round Summit League tournament game against Western Illinois (14-15) on Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Sixteen regular-season losses aside, Paul is convinced his team is talented enough to win the championship, which carries with it an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. After all, the Mastodons had recently won five of six before losing their final two games on the road.
This particular fire and brimstone practice was about honing toughness, the non-statistic intangible that separates champions from the eliminated.
We, as coaches, were sitting there talking; scheming about this and that, Paul said. And I said to them, Today is practice 95. We’re not going to change too much in three or four days.’
We’re going to tweak it, obviously, based on who we’re playing, but when you get to the conference tournament, it’s about who we are.
The concept is to take what he’s got and make them mentally tougher.
I think they’re trying to build us mentally; that’s why they’re yelling at us, sophomore point guard Haley Seibert said.
But it takes a lot out of us physically and mentally. I think it’s helping. At the moment, we’re mad, but looking back, I think it helps us a lot.
Through it all, Paul said he hopes his team understands the importance of defense.
When the Mastodons were winning six of seven games, their defense average was 56 points per game. In the season-ending road losses, Western Illinois and IUPUI averaged 77.5 points.
We were playing pretty good defense, and we stopped playing defense on this road trip, Paul said. If anything, it gets us back into understanding, You know, coach has been harping on defense; and I don’t know whether I believe him or not, but when we played defense, we won six out of seven; when we didn’t play defense we lost two in a row. So maybe we’ve got to play some defense on Sunday.’
The No. 4 seed the Mastodons wear this weekend is a far cry from where they were predicted at the beginning of the season, since the preseason coaches and media poll had them eighth.
Still, Paul doesn’t consider his team a dark horse.
We’ve had a lot of coaches be complimentary of our basketball team this year, saying we were a lot better than they expected, Paul said.