DePauw vs. Williams - a defensive showdown


HOLLAND, Mich. - Kris Huffman said she's done a lot of praying.
DePauw's head coach jokingly remarked when asked about how her women's basketball team would contain Williams College forward, Claire Baecher. Baecher averages 14.1 points per game, pulls down 7.3 rebounds per game and blocks more than two shots per contest.
The senior leads an Ephs (26-5) team ranked No. 1 in blocked shots per game at 8.0. She also leads a defense No. 2 in Division III holding opponents to 29.5 percent shooting from the field.
The strategy to contain her?
"We have plan A, B and C to try and slow her down," Huffman said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. "But a lot of it is with team defense with us. If we pay too much attention to her someone else will go off."
The Tigers (32-0) will deploy a host of schemes tonight in the DeVos Fieldhouse in Holland, Mich., in the NCAA Division III semifinal. But Williams isn't the only team with defensive prowess. DePauw has held teams to 50 or less points on 25 occasions during the season, and is No. 3 in fewest turnovers committed per contest (12.3).
On the minds of Ephs players is how to stop a potent DePauw offense that is ranked No. 2 in scoring margin at +26.8.
"They are definitely a running team with a lot of great shooters," Baecher said. "They play a similar style to us. We like to run and we have great shooters, and we have a little bit more patience than they do which I think will come to our advantage. We really need to be prepared to be calm and composed on offense."
This is Williams' first appearance in the NCAA semifinal in its 39-year program history. The senior class has reached the NCAA tournament in each of their four years.
The amount of time spent on the court has helped to improve communication defensively, said Ephs head coach Pat Manning.
"You can't play good defense unless you talk," Manning said. "It's almost like they know what the other one will do before they do it."
"This team is the best defensive team I've ever coached, and the most cohesive team I've ever coached and also the most laid back. It lends for a lot of fun moments," she added.
The question for Williams is can its offense sink more buckets than the Tigers?
Four Ephs players average more than eight points per game.
"I think we have a lot of strength on offense and a lot of different weapons," Manning said. "We really need to move the ball and find the open player."
That's what the Ephs did last weekend in the round of eight against Whitman College. Williams downed Whitman, 63-53.
"We played the best first half we've played all season," Manning said. "The ball was just moving, and when we do that and go inside to outside, it's up to us to make the smart decisions."
The question for DePauw is once again a question of length. Baecher is listed at 6-foot-3, while the tallest Tigers player to receive considerable minutes is Ellie Pearson, listed at 5'11".
Because of the length of Williams, Huffman invited to practice this week a men's practice squad to simulate the extra length. DePauw faced a similar height mismatch against Washington University in St. Louis last week, and still came out ahead, 58-42.
"(Washington) was a similar type of team in the perimeter and in the post, and we had to adjust to play that game," Huffman said. "So hopefully we can move the basketball, that's the best solution we have right now, and not be afraid to get it inside."
Tipoff from the DeVos Fieldhouse is slated for 7:30 p.m.