Ohio Women’s Basketball: Life Beyond The Arc

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When the three becomes a focal point of an offense, it not only loses its novelty, but a cold shooting performance from downtown is all that stands between winning and losing. No matter how many open looks a team creates from three, a team is either feeling it, or not feeling it.  

Ohio University women’s basketball continues to walk the fine line between maintaining the three-ball’s unpredictability and establishing a repetitive system in which 3-point shooters can thrive.

First-year head coach Bob Boldon inherited an Ohio program that had compiled a 6-23 (1-15) record the year prior. Not only did the program hold possession of last place in the Mid-American Conference, but the team’s tallest player, who had played consistent minutes, was 6-foot-1 sophomore Lexie Baldwin.

Like any wise coach, Boldon opted to adjust to his team’s needs. The adjustment came in the form of a new motion offense.

The motion offense is designed for athletic teams that lack size up front. Off-ball screens, weave formations and constant communication create open looks for 3-point shooters who waste no time firing away once the ball arrives in their hands. The scheme is also designed to create driving lanes when defenders step up on shooters. The more 3-pointers a team makes, the more spread out the defense becomes.

A basketball fan will be hard-pressed to find players posting up or taking mid-range shots in the motion offense. In addition, all five players will park themselves along the perimeter unless they are setting a screen, coming off of a screen or driving to the hoop.

Boldon is not the creator of the motion offense, nor is Ohio the only team that runs it. However, the motion offense, and the numerous amount of 3-point shots that accompany it, has revived a program that was left in shambles less than a year ago.

In 16 years of coaching, Boldon has run the motion offense for 11 of those years as either an assistant or head coach. He brought the system to Ohio with the intention of giving his team the best chance to win.

“When we reevaluate the tape, I say, ‘Are we getting good shots?’ and, ‘Are the right people shooting them?’” Boldon said. “Most of the time, I’d say yes. We’re getting the best shot under the circumstances.”

Junior guard Mariah Byard, who shot 35 percent from downtown through 13 games before suffering a left forearm injury, said the new offense allows for a free range of motion.

“We’re out there playing basketball, as opposed to having to setting up, running a play and actually having to get in spots,” Byard said. “I think it really fits our team … anyone can score at any given moment.”

Though Byard expressed approval for the new offense, Boldon has found difficulties is bridging the gap between his coaching philosophy and former head coach Semeka Randall’s philosophy.

The majority of his players were recruited by Randall and many are not 3-point shooters by nature. Players like Destini Cooper, Quiera Lampkins and Lexie Baldwin will take threes when they are available, but all three players have proven to be more efficient on cuts to the basket.

However, Boldon sees potential in all of his players because he feels as if the 3-point shot can be taught. He hopes that his current freshmen strive to shoot in the upper 30s or lower 40s, in terms of percentage, by their senior year.

“It takes a lifetime to learn how to shoot, but I think that in a year or two, you can become a better shooter percentage-wise,” Boldon said.

With an offense that is based off of shooting plenty of 3-pointers, 23.5 per game to be exact, and cuts to the hole, Ohio runs the risk of becoming predictable.

Boldon refuses to allow his squad to become predictable. His ever-changing offense never begins with the same screens or off-ball movements. It is all about taking what the defense presents and adjusting accordingly.

“If they chase us, we curl up. They go underneath, we pop back out. They close out hard, we drive it,” Boldon said. “You’re not just teaching a kid to run from A to B to C, you’re teaching a kid to read and you have to teach five kids to do it simultaneously.”

“If the guard the drives, then we’ll just keep shooting threes and vice-versa,” Byard said.

Ohio’s motion offense was showcased well in its 84-36 thrashing of University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The ‘Cats sank a MAC single-game record 19 treys, shooting 54.3 percent from downtown. Byard described the December matchup as a contest where everything was working, especially from beyond the arc.

“That’s the feeling that basketball players live for,” Byard said.

While the ‘Cats are not setting conference records in every game, their offensive productivity has risen in comparison to last season. For starters, through 21 games, this season’s team is averaging 62.9 points per contest, almost ten points more than the 53.7-point average last year’s squad at the same point.

The rise of point average can be partially attributed to the increased number in three-point attempts. The 2012-13 squad made 148 3-pointers all season. This year’s squad has already connected on 156 treys and they have at least nine games left to go, pending upon how far the ‘Cats advance in the conference tournament.

Furthermore, the distribution of wealth has been widespread this season. Erin Bailes and Shavon Robinson and Kiyanna Black were the only players to crack the 200-point barrier. Seven different players are within 76 points of the 200-point barrier this season, with Black and Lampkins already above the threshold.

It is easy to detect this team’s improvement on paper, but Boldon is happy to see his team play in-sync with each other. The growth of the team’s organization has benefited the development of his young team.

As compared to Ohio’s opening games in November, Boldon sees that his offense has a plan that expands from simply getting a shot off before the shot clock expires. The first-year coach sees much more movement and takes to the bucket that are not met by a group of defenders.

The future of the motion offense beyond this season has yet to be determined. Boldon insisted that there will be adjustments made, especially with a new crop of freshmen coming to Athens next season. On the flip side, with every active player returning next year, bits of the motion offense are sure to remain going into next season.

Until then, the learning curve continues. The 2013-14 campaign has been a roller coaster ride thus far, but the motion offense remains a key component of a program with a new look and a new attitude.