When two teams that tied for the national lead in 3-point percentage last season match up together, scoring runs should be at a premium.
Columbia College women’s basketball coach Taylor Possail tells his team constantly that the sport is a game of runs, especially when both teams can shoot lights out from deep.
But it wasn’t just 3-pointers that CC had to rely on in its 76-64 win over College of the Ozarks on Monday evening, especially in the second half. It was old-school poundin’ the rock inside that made the difference.
Senior forward Mai Nienhueser scored a game-high 22 points, 16 of which came in the second half, on 9-for-17 shooting as the No. 9-ranked Cougars improved to 4-0. Shooting 52% from the field for the game, CC had four players finish in double figures, all without hitting a single trey in the second half.
Don’t be mistaken, CC still had its hallmark shooting prowess in spurts. The Cougars hit their first six 3’s in the first quarter as they rocketed to a 28-11 lead. But the fact that Columbia didn’t live and die by the deep ball Monday shows to Possail that the Cougars have offensive versatility.
“We’re continuing to show that it isn’t, ‘Oh, this team just shoots 3’s.’ No, this is a team that can beat you in a lot of ways,” Possail said. “(Mai) picked a great time to be really good. And it wasn’t just layups; she was knocking down jump shots, she knocked down free throws, she got to the line, she got some and-1’s. I mean, those were big plays.”
The Bobcats never led, but even with the 17-point deficit to deal with in the first quarter, they made the game close for quite some time. College of the Ozarks went on a 17-2 run of its own, narrowing the gap to as little as one point in the second quarter.
The Bobcats sent extra help around the 3-point arc after Columbia lit them up in the first quarter from deep, which did temporarily throw the Cougars off-balance. But Possail noticed this and told his team, up 39-35 at halftime, that all the help defense the Bobcats sent to prevent outside shots left huge gaps inside for Columbia — which had a height advantage — to expose.
“If I didn’t have my teammates make those shots in the first half ... they were double-downing on me,” Nienhueser said. “So being able to have a team that can shoot out and be able to shoot inside the middle is pretty awesome.”
Possail said it wasn’t just Nienhueser finding open space to work with that made the inside game so effective. He thought his guards did a solid job of using dribble drives to attract defenses to the ballhandler, leaving a wide open shot for forwards like Nienhueser, Raegan Wieser (15 points) or Ukari McKinney (10 points).
The ballhandler that was the best at doing that wasAll-American point guard Jordan Alford. The senior flirted with a triple-double but settled for a double-double with 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds — yet another stellar game for the Cougars current leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.
“I’m not overwhelmed,” Alford said. “I know my role on the team and I know what’s expected out of me day-in, day-out. Those rebounds, they come off of my other teammates boxing everybody out. The assists as well, if Mai doesn’t set great picks and roll real hard to the basket, I don’t have anyone to throw it to. I just kind of know my role on the team and try to do what’s best for us.”
Harris-Stowe State awaits the Cougars on Thursday at the Southwell Complex in the Cougars’ American Midwest Conference opener. The Hornets played single-digit games in both meetings with CC last season, with Possail expecting the same type of close, gritty game this time around.
“They like to get north and south, a team that really flourishes around the rim,” Possail said. “We’re going to have to make sure that we’re steady, not picking up cheap (fouls). Definitely a team that is unique to what we’ve seen so far this year.”