Howard White Jr.
January 10, 2019 9:49:21 AM
A few losses haven't altered Howard White Jr.'s plans.
Even though the Mississippi University for Women's women's basketball team lost its final two games of 2018, White Jr. feels his team is in good position to hold on to its No. 1 ranking in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association's (USCAA) national poll. The W (10-4) will kick off the second part of its return to intercollegiate athletics at 3 p.m. Saturday when it takes on Wesleyan College (0-12) in Macon, Georgia.
The W defeated Wesleyan College 84-43 on Dec. 8 in Columbus. The victory was part of a five-game winning streak at the tail end of 2018. Unfortunately, White Jr. said the Owls fought through lineup issues in road losses to Huntingdon College at Belhaven to close the first part of the season.
In 2019, White Jr. vows the Owls will be more aggressive on defense and will continue to attack on offense.
"Ten and four is not a bad record," White Jr. said "We had a couple we should have won because we had some kids out and couldn't make it back because of family problems, so we were a little bit short in the Belhaven game and didn't play well against Huntingdon. I like where we are and what we're doing for the second half of the season."
White Jr. said he talked to his players in December about the changes he envisioned for 2019. At the top of that list is a desire to play more pressure defense, which means you can expect to see the Owls use more player-to-play defense. He said they will continue to use their matchup zone, but he said he wants to pick up the pace and be more active on defense. That plan should suit the Owls well because they are a guard-oriented team that has a lot of depth in the backcourt.
White Jr. said the Owls have spent the first practices back this week working on help defense in three-on-three and four-on-four sets. He said the players welcomed the news about playing more player-to-player defense when he told them late last year. He said he is anxious to put it into action.
"I think that will get us more active on the defensive end of the floor so we're not standing around in a zone," White Jr. said. "We're going to mix it up."
On offense, White Jr. said the Owls will continue to try to push tempo. Even though they are a guard-oriented team, the Owls don't rely on 3-pointers. The W has attempted only 161 3-pointers this season to 404 for its opponents. The Owls also have attempted 395 free throws to 179 for their opponents. The W is shooting 56.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Former Columbus High School standout Rokila Wallace leads The W in scoring at 18.8 points per game. She also leads the team in minutes (33.8). Former West Point High standout Qiayon Bailey (12.8 ppg.) is the only other player in double figures. She is averaging 8.2 rebounds per game.
Despite only having two players in double figures on a team that averages 70.1 ppg., White Jr. said he likes his team's balance. Tenazhia Hinkson, Autumn Taylor, and Keyahna Jones also have been key contributors on offense. White Jr. said he would like to extend his bench in the second half to push his rotation to as many as 10. Nine players averaged double-digit minutes a game in the first half of the season. White Jr. said that plan will help the Owls push tempo and allow them to play more aggressively.
"It will give our reserves some more playing time and experience on the floor so we can rest some of my big girls so they will be good enough and ready come tournament time," White Jr. said. "That way we don't have any knees that are hurting or backs that are hurting."
White Jr. said he scheduled a lot of the tougher games, including several aagainst NAIA programs, in the first half of the season to see who could contribute. With a better sense of how his players will react in tight games, White Jr. said the Owls are prepared to hang on to the No. 1 seed -- a position they were in for most of the first half of the season -- and play for a national title.
"We are right where we want to be," White Jr. said. "We are well above .500 and playing well. We just want to change some stuff defensively. We have got games in the second semester that we should win. We want to go into the tournament as the No. 1 seed. If we can do that, I think we will be fine."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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