Wright State women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury has led the program to new heights with a combined 51 victories in the last two years. And while he’s continued to keep the team on a winning path this season, he hasn’t been doing it in his usual way.
In a departure from their pattern of overwhelming foes with a relentless pace on offense, the Raiders have been riding a smothering defense to success. They’re holding opponents to 35.1 percent shooting, which ranks first in the Horizon League and 45th out of 344 Division I teams.
Their average national rank in field-goal-percentage defense during Bradbury’s first five seasons was 165th.
“Defensively, we’ve been really good all year,” he said. “We’re not as potent offensively as we have been in the last few years. We just don’t have enough people that can score. But defensively, we’ve been good, and we’ve got to continue that. We’ve got be good defensively and then get the rebound and go score in transition.”
The Raiders (13-3, 3-0) are still leading the league and are 14th nationally with 80.1 points per game, but that’s a little skewed with robust outputs of 117 and 107 against two Division III foes and 106 against D-I bottom-feeder Southeast Louisiana.
They’ve been pushed in their three conference wins, squandering leads but doing enough to prevail.
Against Northern Kentucky, a 25-point edge was reduced to one, but they held on for a 66-61 victory. Against Valparaiso, a 20-point advantage was whittled to five in an 80-63 win. And UIC chopped a 23-point deficit to single digits before falling 73-62.
“We lose our focus and discipline. … We’ve got to make sure we play with the same intensity the whole game,” Bradbury said.
All three of those wins were at home, and the Raiders will face tougher tests as they embark on a two-game road trip against Detroit at 7 p.m. Thursday and Oakland at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Raiders were picked to finish second in the Horizon League preseason poll despite losing about 90 percent of their scoring and rebounding, and they’re showing why voters had such high confidence in them.
Senior guard Kim Demmings, a former conference player of the year who sat out last season with a foot injury, is averaging a league-leading 18.8 points. Emily Vogelpohl, a 5-foot-8 point guard from Cincinnati, has been named the league freshman of the week three times and is averaging 12.6 points and 4.0 assists and is scoring at a team-best 15.3 clip in the conference.
And the Raiders have gotten a major lift from Riche van der Keijl, a 6-foot-5 junior from the Netherlands. She’s averaging 8.8 points and is first in the league in blocks (2.0 per game) and second in rebounds (8.9).
She’s the kind of rim protector the Raiders normally have trouble attracting.
“If she’s not the defensive player of the year in the league, I don’t know who would be,” Bradbury said. “She is absolutely a huge asset for us. She alters way more shots than she blocks. She’s been tremendous defensively.”
The Raiders are off to their best start since joining Division I in 1987-88. They’re only losses have been to power-conference teams Georgia, Iowa and Miami (Fla.).
They went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2014 and made a WNIT appearance last season. They appear poised to make another postseason trip.
Asked how he’s gotten the program on such a roll, Bradbury said: “I think, one, you’ve got to have talent, and we’ve got talent. Now, it’s just putting them in positions where they can be successful. So far, we’ve kind of done that.
“We played a really tough nonconference schedule and got through it in pretty good fashion. Now, we’ve got to continue to do that in league play.”
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