If the Lady Raiders were sentenced for all the stealing they’ve done in the last few years, they probably wouldn’t see much outside the high fences of a state prison.
Even though it’s still early in the season, Tech’s avaricious defense already has picked up where it left off from years past.
Tech leads the Big 12 Conference in steals per game, a feat they also accomplished last season. Nationally, the Lady Raiders rank 13th with 14 steals per contest.
“We want to get quick points,” said guard Monique Smalls, who ranks fourth in program history with 271 steals. “We want to get transition (baskets). We want our defense to make our offense every time. So steals — after a couple of steals and after they adjust, that gives us time to work on our plays and work on our offense and execute them.”
Tech has had its problems shooting the ball consistently this season, but one thing it has done exceptionally well is giving itself more chances to shoot.
The Lady Raiders lead the Big 12 in turnover margin (+10.14) and sit in fourth place nationally.
Tech’s strong tunover margin will be put to the test when it hosts Illinois at 7 p.m. tonight. The Fighting Illini rank second in the Big 10 Conference in steals per game (10.4).
On Saturday against Lamar, when the Lady Raiders needed to overcome a six-point halftime deficit, Tech forced 14 second-half turnovers — including eight instances of thievery — en route to an impressive 26-0 advantage in points off turnovers.
“I think we say it enough that our defense is our offense and we can control the tempo of the game and get up and pressure the team,” said Casey Morris, who leads the team with 23 steals through seven games. “I think that’s more of the game we want to play.”
Smalls, who also must keep her team’s turnovers down by running the point, said the Lady Raiders work hard to get deflections and turn those into points. Smalls said she loves seeing Morris get in tight with opposing players, leading to easy baskets as the Lady Raiders run down the wings of the court.
Furthermore, almost not just the Lady Raider guards can take a steal and run coast to coast for a quick two points. Forward Kelsi Baker showed that last week when she intercepted a New Orleans pass at midcourt and drove the rest of the way for an athletic layup.
Before leading the league in steals per game last season, Tech ranked second each of the two years prior.
Tech coach Kristy Curry said that has become a mainstay of Lady Raider basketball with this senior class, and she hopes to see more of it when the Lady Raiders face Illinois at 7 p.m. Wednesday in United Spirit Arena.
“That’s who we are,” Curry said. “I don’t think you go away from being who you are. You know, whether you’re zone or man, you have to have great ball pressure. It’s one-on-one ball pressure regardless of the defense that you’re in. “Its just understanding man principles and doing a great job with those.”
The Fighting Illini are coming off a 69-62 loss to Colorado, and Smalls expects them to be out for revenge after a tight Lady Raiders win last season.
“I’m expecting them to pressure a lot,” Smalls said. “I’m expecting them to try to kick our butts because of what happened last year. I mean, it’s going to be a tough game, all of the returners know that. So we’re not expecting this to be an easy game. We know this is going to be a tough game, and we’re going to win it because we’re not going to lose on our home court.”
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