Exit Interview: What Went Right and Wrong for SUU Women’s Basketball

Borrowing a bit from The Ringer’s exit interview series, let’s take a look at how the 2018-19 SUU Women’s Basketball went and what needs to happen in the future.

With their 88-71 loss to the Northern Colorado Bears, SUU fail to 7-22 overall and 4-16 in conference play. Barring a miraculous performance in the conference tournament, the T-Birds season is over and it’s time to look toward the future.

What Went Right

Head coach Tracy Sanders more than doubled last season’s win total and had a pretty solid start to her tenure at SUU. Transfers Harley Hansen and Jessica Chatman stepped up nicely, while returning guards Rebecca Cardenas and Bre Reid had the best seasons of their respective careers.

The assists were down for Cardenas (from 105 last season to 89 this season), but her points per game went up (10.8 this season compared to 8.4 last year). She started to come into her own as a primary scoring option and took 50 more three-pointers this season than last season. Cardenas made a nice stride forward, as she has the last two seasons.

As a team, SUU scored 62 PPG this season, up from 58.7 PPG last season. They managed to only allow one point per game more this season than last despite the uptick in offensive output.

This team played hard. Sanders instilled a sense of pride in doing the little things. SUU won games against superior talent just because they hustled more than their opponents. The T-Birds also got a massive upset win against BYU back in November. The Cougars finished second in the West Coast Conference and had a stint in the top-25 later in the season.

SUU played well at home for the most part. A 6-8 record at home for a team that at times felt heavily overmatched is a nice accomplishment to hang their hat on.

What Went Wrong

This team looked outgunned in almost every game they played. They only won one game by more than ten points and couldn’t rely on sheer talent to keep them in games.

Hustling and team chemistry can only take you so far. If you’re not working with quality materials, it’s hard to paint a beautiful picture.

Sanders had to confront that a few too many times this season, as their best four players (Cardenas, Reid, Hansen and Ashley Larsen) were terribly inconsistent and just couldn’t seem to all play their best on any given night.

If Cardenas was on, then Reid was off. If Hansen was scoring, Larsen disappeared.

The hot-and-cold nature of the team caused it to stagnate on offense often. There were countless times where the shot clock got down to eight seconds and the T-Birds hadn’t even threatened the defense. That situation almost always led to Cardenas or Reid throwing up a low-value shot as the buzzer sounded. There were just too many unproductive possessions this season.

SUU was held under 50 points six times this season. The team couldn’t turn to one player to get things going and were too reliant on Reid’s and Cardenas’ playmaking abilities.

Outside of their four best players, major contributions were few and far between. Jessica Chatman, Megan Kamps, Claudia Armato, Kiana Thomas, Geassy Germano, and Peyton Shepherd all had nice moments, but couldn’t be relied on to consistently contribute.

Sometimes the defense was softer than a piece of cardboard. There were stretches were opponents got 5-8 open looks at the rim in a row. Interior defending was a struggle all season long for the T-Birds. A huge reason for this being starting center Hannah Robins missing almost all of conference play due to injury. When she comes back next season, she’ll need to lock down the paint.

How to Fix It

Priority One: Stop the Bleeding

SUU was plagued all season long by 13-0 runs and quarters where the entire team seemingly forgot how to play together. If SUU is going to improve, they need to find a way to slow down and stay composed.

Part of this comes down to Coach Sanders’ timeout usage. There’s value in letting players play their way out of a funk, but sometimes you have to stop the momentum.

Breaking an opponent’s’ momentum also comes down to being able to score without a concrete play call. Sometimes SUU just needed a bucket but had nowhere to turn. There was little to no post scoring on the squad, which kept the team from consistently finding open looks throughout the season.

Priority Two: More Inventive Playmaking

Bre Reid leaves a large hole in the offense. She provided a spark and took a lot of shots because no one else on the team was willing to shoot.

Reid was a solid player, but by no means a star. She was terribly inefficient and, at times, fussed up the offense’s rhythm with her constant need to put the ball on the floor.

However, her playmaking meant a lot to the team and her graduation means that someone else has to pick up the creativity.

Cardenas will shoulder much of the load, but Claudia Armato will need to develop quickly this offseason. She showed that she’s capable with the ball in her hand, but lacked the confidence to score in traffic or capitalize in small amounts of space.

Option B is finding someone via recruiting. There will be backcourt minutes available for the taking, and an impact recruit could see substantial playing time from day one. Someone needs to fill Reid’s shoes, but they need to develop into a more efficient scorer than Reid.

Priority three: Clogging the Lane

This has to do with priority one, but SUU could not stop anyone around the rim last season. Every opponent that had a semi-competent pick and roll scored at will against the T-Birds. They need someone to step up as a strong rim protector or find ways to help more.

Robins’ return will help that, but she can’t be the only defensive force. They’ll need to rotate and position themselves better on defense to discourage scoring in the paint.

Sanders will continue to scheme ways to slow defenses down, but SUU needs to defend aggressively and either funnel players away from the paint, or toward a strong rim protector.


Final Verdict (TL;DR): Expectations were low coming into the season, but SUU managed to exceed them. For the rebuild to continue, the T-Birds need to start patching the many holes that presented themselves in Sanders’ first year.


Story by: Connor Sanders
Photos Courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication