The season hasn’t started off on a positive note for the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville women’s basketball team, but coach Paula Buscher is certain that won’t last.
SIUE dropped its first two games on the road – 75-68 to South Dakota on Friday and 82-49 to South Dakota State on Sunday. Twenty-nine turnovers were damaging for the Cougars, who resume their schedule with a game at St. Louis University at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Buscher is encouraged by the Cougars’ depth and work ethic as they try to improve on their 18-13 record of last year, which included a 12-4 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“We’re not happy with our start, yet I think this team will continue to grow and get better,” said Buscher, in her fifth season. “It was a tough road stretch, but it’s early. We’ve taken huge steps just in the last two days of practice. This is a young team with one senior. It’s going to take us a little bit of time, but once we get it, we’re going to be tough to stop.
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“We don’t want to be 0-2, but how we start off isn’t our final record. I’ve always been a firm believer in the process. As long as we continue to grow and get better, we’ll be happy with the results at the end of the season. That’s the most important thing, how you finish.”
Beck is back
The Cougars graduated leading scorer and OVC Player of the Year Shronda Butts, who averaged 20.8 points. CoCo Moore, who averaged 10.3 points, also graduated.
But offense shouldn’t be an issue with the returns of juniors Donshel Beck (11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds) and Gwen Adams (10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds). Juniors Sidney Smith (6.8 points) and Lauren White (6.4 points) figure to play even larger roles on offense.
Buscher expects the 5-foot-9-inch Beck to be among the top players in a league in which the Cougars are predicted to finish fourth of 12 teams.
We’re not happy with our start, yet I think this team will continue to grow and get better. It was a tough road stretch, but it’s early. We’ve taken huge steps just in the last two days of practice. This is a young team with one senior. It’s going to take us a little bit of time, but once we get it, we’re going to be tough to stop.
SIUE women’s basketball coach Paula Buscher
“She plays super-hard all the time,” Buscher said. “She ended the season last year on such a strong note. She’s a physical presence because she plays so hard all the time. She plays the game the right way. She’s going to go after rebounds and give you everything she’s got. She’s a tough player to defend.”
The 5-11 Adams gives the Cougars a threat in the post, while White has improved her jumper and uses her quickness to get to the basket. Smith could be the team’s best 3-point shooter.
Another junior, Micah Jones, returns after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Jones, who stands 6-1, averaged 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in 2014-15.
“She’s been out for a year so it’s going to take her a little time to get back to her true form,” Buscher said. “Micah’s got the ability to rebound and score.”
Buscher has a deep bench and won’t be afraid to use it. Eleven players received minutes in the South Dakota game, followed by 13 players in the South Dakota State game.
“We’ve got a lot of depth and we’re going to have to use that depth as the season progresses,” Buscher said of a group that includes Elina Berzina, Sydney Bauman, Nakiah Bell, Maddie Greeling, Amri Wilder, Cloe Churchill, Cassidy Sherman and Dearria Watson, some of whom could become established as starters.
The 6-3 Bauman could develop into a force in the middle. Bell, a 5-5 point guard, was redshirted last season after transferring from Iowa State.
“We have a lot of options,” Buscher said. “We’re probably deeper in the post than we’ve been in a long time and I think we’ve got more weapons on the outside. Bell and Smith are great 3-point shooters and Elina Berzina can shoot the three well.”
Buscher expects parity to reign in the OVC.
“The thing about the OVC is, depending on the team you’re playing, one night you can have this style, the next night you have a totally different style of team,” she said. “In some conferences, a lot of teams play the same. We’ve got a lot of different styles of how people play in our conference.”