Things have been quiet on my end of Wake Forest women's basketball coverage for the better part of two weeks. Being a daddy, husband, brother and son supersede any writing I do, and I've immersed myself in my family of late as we grieve the loss of my grandmother, Rita.
My grandmother was 106 when she passed, and had long suffered from dementia. However, she chose to spend her last years on this earthly plane much like she spent the majority of her life: working or seeking work. As we were reminded at the funeral, Rita believed in perseverance, hard work and education. Those were the common threads that ran through her entire life from her time in finishing schools, to her work with the U.S. government to her final 10 years in a retirement home.
As that reminder of those core values still lingered in my ears days later, my thoughts turned to a group of women I've talked to who are trying to adhere to those same principles. Coach Jen Hoover's Wake Forest basketball team, at least those I've spoken with, is a collection of intelligent and passionate student-athletes that wear their hearts on their sleeve. I love interviewing them after a win, and have a hard time looking at them while they speak after a loss. The hurt is so evident.
Especially after the last four games.
By all accounts, this is a close-knit team that works hard and cares about the result of their work. They have also lost four straight contests after beating Boston College on the road January 20. From talking to them, it's not the losses that bother them, it's they way they keep losing. Namely, too many easy buckets for their opponents.
"It's defense. Our offense is fine. We can score on anybody. That's not the problem. It's just defense," said a frustrated Chelsea Douglas after a painful 79-78 home loss to Miami. The stats bear that out, as Wake Forest ranks last in the conference in scoring defense (allowing 70+ points per game). Additionally, they occupy last place in defensive field goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot an average of 43 percent per game.
Conversely, the Deacons rank in the upper half of the ACC in assist/turnover ratio, assists and field goal percentage. Douglas is right: they can score on anyone. To achieve their season goals, the Deacons need to commit to the defensive end of the floor and make their opponents' easy baskets disappear. In losses to Miami, Virginia, Georgia Tech and N.C. State the Lady Deacs would likely have come out on top if they'd forced a couple of extra stops.
Their next opportunity comes Friday night against seventh-ranked Maryland (6:30 p.m., RSN). Coach Brenda Frese has her team rolling towards tournament time, allowing 53 points a game and 33 percent shooting from the floor. Maryland is also head and shoulders ahead of the entire conference in rebounding margin at an otherworldly plus-17.
In order for the Deacs to score the upset, they must value the basketball on offense while getting Lakevia Boykin and Asia Williams involved early. A big game from the Wake Forest post players will be essential to combat the Terps' efficiency down low. Allowing easy baskets is never a good idea, and it will be even worse against a team like Maryland.
Don't expect Wake Forest to shy away, though. This is a team that has played Connecticut, Purdue and Duke. If I know this team, they won't blink. They are very well prepared and are very self-aware when it comes to their strengths and shortcomings. So much so that they are tired of me asking them the same questions.
Friday should be a good window into the soul of Wake Forest women's hoops. Where is their confidence after four straight losses? Can they consistently rebound against strong teams? Are they poised for a turnaround?
One thing is for sure: Maryland should expect a fight. No matter the outcome, I've yet to see this Wake Forest team quit on the floor. The future is bright for this team, but the door is not yet shut on the present.