Defense sacred for Tech women

HOUGHTON – When Kim Cameron came to Houghton in 2001 as a player, the Michigan Tech women’s basketball team was already known for its particular brand of no-frills, straight-up man-to-man defense.

With a plethora of banners hanging the walls in the SDC Gym and a career 71-42 record in her four seasons as a Tech guard, Cameron saw no reason to change that culture when she became head coach in 2010.

If anything, Cameron has upped the emphasis the Huskies place on defense, drilling that side of the game with a perfectionist approach from day one in training camp. All basketball coaches preach the defensive side of the ball, but likely few commit to it the way Cameron and the Huskies do.

“Our first few practices of the year are nothing but defense,” redshirt sophomore Dani Blake said. “And it’s not even exciting defense, like one-on-one, it is just positioning. It is being in the right spot, doing the right thing every time. And as soon as you mess up that whistle is blown and you get to start over all over again. It’s definitely grilled into us from day one.”

“It’s zig-zag, it’s shell, it’s positioning (drills),” junior Jillian Ritchie added. “There is no offense the first few days of practice, no games to look forward to. So you better love playing defense.”

The scheme and personnel have come to a head this season, with the Huskies leading the GLIAC in points allowed (60.8 per game) and shooting percentage against (34.7 percent) through eight conference games. While tempo-free stats are not available for Division II basketball, the smart bet is Tech leads the conference in those categories too.

On a related note, Tech ran through the South Division undefeated for the first time since the 2010-11 season. The same season they went to the National Championship game.

“We have a young team, and with our offense not quite there yet, we have needed our defense to step it up every single game,” Cameron said. “And undefeated in conference, they have.”

The beauty in Tech’s defense comes from its straightforwardness.

There is no trapping, no gambling for steals. Pressure does not extend past the three-point line.

There are a few rules – don’t give up middle on penetration being the big one – and a few tweaks depending on opposing three-point shooters, but the Huskies have shut opponents down this season (and most every season before that) by relying on the golden principle.

The farther a shot, the harder a shot.

“It is just keeping people in front of you and protecting the basket first,” Cameron said. “It is all about trying to protect the basket.”

“There is no secret, teams know what we are going to be doing on defense but it still works,” Blake added. “It is just maintaining that discipline.”

Most impressive, the Huskies rank as the top defensive squad in the 16-team conference despite a lineup of middling athleticism.

Only Blake would be considered a superior athlete in terms of quickness and length, but team’s still struggle to find the rim thanks to a cohesive five-man unit built from the ground up.

“When freshmen come in, they really struggle with what we are trying to do. But as soon as it clicks, it clicks,” Blake said. “You can almost feed off each other. Like I will know that when I move here, (my teammate) will move there. I’ll help and she will sink, and once you get it, it’s so fluid and so hard to crack.”

North Division play kicks off today with Ferris State at the SDC (5:30 p.m.) and Grand Valley State Saturday.

With even more familiarity between North teams thanks to a double round-robin schedule, Tech’s basic defensive principles become even more important as gimmicks or weaknesses become exposed under a familiar light.

“I’m from Midland, so I’ve talked with the Northwood girls about it before, just kind of curious what they thought about us,” Blake said. “They say we are the hardest team in the league to get a shot up against, we are just all over the place. It’s awesome, that is exactly what we want them to say about us.”