Before each drill in practice, the Three Rivers College women's basketball team will shoot for possession. If you make it, you get to choose whether you want to be on offense or defense for the drill. Nine times out of 10, the person who makes it chooses defense. "I've never had a group do that," said Raiders coach Jeff Walk, adding that most college kids choose offense. "You try to recruit kids like you would like to coach. We lucked out this year and got a lot of kids who like to press. Usually you get one or two stuck in there and you don't have all 10- 11. This year we got the majority of them off pressing teams and it makes how we like to coach a lot easier. "And it's fun to watch." That passion for defense produced 29 steals, 39 turnovers and 44 points off turnovers as the Raiders won their season opener 103-41 over Lindenwood-Belleville JV on Wednesday at the Bess Activity Center. "I think we like the challenge," sophomore Alex Kohler said of why the team chooses defense. "We want to get better, we want to challenge the offense.
"We know that's the only way we can make each other better, to make our offense work harder for the tougher games when the pressure is on," Kohler added. Earlean Davis, in her Raiders debut, was a steal shy of tying the single-game school record of seven. Ten of the 12 Raiders had at least one steal after everyone played at least 10 minutes in the blowout. Three Rivers pressed throughout the first half, but it was when it switched to a half-court defense after halftime, with a 25-point lead, that the defense shined. The Raiders held Lindenwood to three points in the third quarter. The Lynx scored in the first minute after halftime, and added a free throw with 8 minutes on the clock and didn't put anything through the net for another 9 minutes. "I thought we were guarding them pretty well. I didn't know we were guarding them that well. Three points in a quarter, I don't care what the final score is, that's hard to do," Walk said. "That's defensive tenacity and pure old grit. These kids like to play."
When Gaby Baptiste scored for Lindenwood to open the fourth quarter, Three Rivers had more than doubled its halftime lead and it swelled to as much as 62 points in the fourth quarter. Lindenwood shot 26 percent on the night compared to 49 percent for Three Rivers. "We can guard on the half court just as well as we can in the full court. We have to get better on some things, defensively on some screens and stuff, but that's why you have practice every day," Kohler said. Kohler had 19 points off the bench to lead the offense and was one of four players to score in double figures. She was 5 for 6 on 3-pointers and 7 for 11 overall. In the middle of the second quarter, Kohler caught fire and scored 11 points within 2 minutes. "This is my first game back, really healthy, since my senior year in high school. I was just feeling it. People talk about having those crazy games, and it was one of them. I've never shot like that my whole life. The ball was going up well and I just kept shooting it until I missed," said Kohler, who had double labrum surgery two years ago and missed most of last season with Achilles problems. Walk added that what fans saw last year was an injured Kohler, and this was Kohler 90 percent healthy. "I think when she bumps up to the 95-96 percent area, Alex has some good basketball ahead of her," Walk said. Kohler started with a toe-on-the-line 2 from the corner. Next trip down, she caught and shot a 3 from the three-quarter spot. Feeling it, she then swished a 3 from the corner and smiled her way back up the court as the crowd roared. She got the ball right away on the next possession, but this time kicked it to Hailee Erickson, who sank her own corner 3. Next possession, Kohler dribbled and buried a pullup 3, and just held her hands out wide like Michael Jordan in the 1992 NBA Finals. "I just wanted to come in and bring energy. Coming off the bench, I wanted to make sure my second group is good right off the bat, as good as the first group," Kohler said. "I want to get everybody involved and even if I'm not shooting like I was, I want to get everybody involved and scoring and be happy and want to get back on." A couple minutes later, she tried another 3 and hit the back iron. Kohler, deciding she was back to her normal self, didn't score again until midway through the third quarter. It was her only missed 3. "I had to keep shooting until I missed," Kohler said.
Deanay Watson finished 8 for 9 shooting for 18 points, making more than a few transition buckets. She scored eight of the final 10 points of the third quarter. Erickson was 3 for 7 on 3-pointers and 6 for 10 overall to get 16 points and Davis had 10 points. DeNayia Holmes, the starting point guard and only starter who wasn't a freshman, finished with five points, three rebounds, four steals and seven assists in an all-around game. Sydni Williams led Three Rivers with seven rebounds. Everybody grabbed at least one rebound. Three Rivers started Holmes, Erickson, Williams, Kahliya Murry and Lakeita Chappel for the season opener. The bench had 60 points.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic