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Stingy defense leading to efficient offense for DWU women's basketball

Tigers rank in the NAIA's top-40 for several defensive statistics along with offensive field goal percentage

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Dakota Wesleyan University women against Bellevue University on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 during a game at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade
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Anchored by staunch defense and steady, balanced offense, the Dakota Wesleyan women’s basketball team has roared out to a 10-2 start and won seven-straight contests dating back to Nov. 21.

Through 12 games, DWU boasts a defense ranked in the top-40 nationally of 235 NAIA teams in points allowed (58.7) and opponent field goal percentage (35.5%), as well as being top-30 in rebounding margin (8.3).

“We’re not a real flashy team,” said coach Jason Christensen. “... We really pride ourselves on defense and I keep telling our kids that if we can hold teams around 60 points, we should be in games.”

Christensen’s 60-point marker has proven to be a winning one, as the Tigers are 6-0 when holding opponents below 60 and 9-0 when opponents score less than 65 in regulation this season. Most recently, DWU won its first game of the season allowing more than 70 points by knocking off 22nd-ranked Dordt on its home court on Dec. 11.

Senior guard Kaylee Kirk, whose 3.1 steals per contest is tied for 17th-best in NAIA this season, believes that while defense has been the Tigers’ strength, they can do even better on that end of the floor moving forward.

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“I think the biggest thing for us is keeping adjustments and staying solid on defense all four quarters,” Kirk said. “It just seems like we take a quarter off here or there and [the opponents] start making a run. We just want to be consistent, especially in our defense, throughout the entire game.”

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Dakota Wesleyan University women against Bellevue University on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 during a game at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Another area where DWU excels is with its offensive efficiency. Just as the Tigers’ scoring defense ranks in the top-40, so, too, does their team field goal percentage (43.4%). Almost without exception, this efficiency comes from a balanced offensive approach where Christensen says his team doesn’t have a true “go-to” player.

In 12 games, five different Tigers have led the team in scoring. At least four players scored eight points or more in each victory, with four reaching double-digits in points during the same game on six of those occasions.

All five starters — Rynn Osthus, Isabel Ihnen, Kirk, Jada Campbell and Matti Reiner — average between 7.5 and 13.3 points per game, and the three most used players off the bench — Aspen Hansen, Lacey Sprakel and Natalie Gottlob — average between 5.8 and 6.7 points per game.

“It’s really important and hard to guard,” said Kirk, who has been the Tigers’ leading scorer in two contests. “... How do you lock down just one person? As soon as you take someone out, we have someone else stepping up, and that’s huge.”

Added Christensen: “We play 10 kids a lot in the first half and try to get comfortable with whoever is playing well and then move to a seven or eight-person rotation. That seems to be working and I think our kids are doing a really good job of sharing the basketball.”

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DWU carries its current win streak into a gauntlet of four games in six days starting on Dec. 15 — all of which are away from the Corn Palace — that features an opponent from Division I (South Dakota State) and Division II (Augustana). Both of those contests will be played as exhibitions for the Tigers.

It’s part of a larger seven-game away spell, the Tigers’ second such stretch of the season, adding to what Christensen refers to as the “grind” of college basketball. But the coach and Kirk are in agreement about where the team stands with approximately one-third of the regular season behind them.

“We’re never satisfied with where we’re at, but we’re feeling good and finding ways to win games,” Kirk said. “We’re showing up every day, taking it one team at a time, focusing on what we need to do in that game and then moving on to the next.”

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Dakota Wesleyan University women against Bellevue University on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 during a game at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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