It’s about getting your own house in order first.
Although the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team faces a talented Tennessee Tech squad in tonight’s season opener, head coach Karen Kemp said the focus is more on fixing her team’s mistakes than worrying about the upcoming opponent.
“On Wednesday, we definitely focus a lot more on us,” said Kemp, whose Lady Bucs finished 19-12 last season. “Thursday, we watch the tape and break it down with their personnel and do a scout. This early in the season, however, we have to correct our stuff. I feel like if we can correct the little things we’re doing wrong, we will be OK.”
Regardless of the preparation, Kemp knows the Lady Bucs face a tall order in tonight’s Preseason WNIT matchup against the Golden Eagles, who finished 23-8 last season after advancing to the postseason for a fourth straight year. They are the defending Ohio Valley Conference regular-season champions, and the program’s 16 OVC titles overall are the most of any school in the conference.
Tech is again the league favorite, led by preseason player of the year Tacarra Hayes, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game a year ago. Kemp compared her to former Lady Buc Siarre Evans, who was a two-time Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year.
“They are a really good basketball team, guard-oriented,” Kemp said. “They have the preseason player of the year and she looks a lot like Siarre, just not quite as big. She led the team in scoring and rebounding and we’re going to have our hands full with her.”
On the flip side, Tennessee Tech could have their hands full with ETSU’s Destiny Mitchell, who posted 11 double-doubles last season before going down with a knee injury.
She led the team with 18 points and five steals in Monday’s exhibition victory over King. However, she’s yet to prove herself in the mode of recent Lady Bucs — TaRonda Wiles, B.J. Banjo and Evans — as far as being a big scorer on a nightly basis.
“Hopefully, it will be more of a team effort this year,” Kemp said. “I don’t think you’ll see that same person being the leading scorer every time. We know we have to play more as a team since we don’t have that one go-to player. If we did at this point, it would be Destiny, but hopefully everyone will step up and give us those eight, 10, 12 points a night.”
Seniors Natalie Pickwell and Gwen Washington will be looked upon to pick up some of the scoring load.
Pickwell, a former Sullivan South star, had a slow start against King with just two points in the first half. Not to be disheartened when her shots weren’t falling, she rallied to end with 14 points.
Washington has been fighting a shoulder injury, but Kemp expects her to play tonight. She’s certainly not the only Lady Buc hurting.
Racked with injuries, there were only eight players dressed for Monday’s exhibition, and at times the Lady Bucs had three freshmen on the floor.
Kemp’s heart skipped a beat when freshman Amy Duke took a hit late in the game and laid on the ground a couple of minutes before being helped up by a trainer.
“It scared me when Amy when down,” Kemp said. “I was like, ‘Oh no, we don’t need another (injured) one over there.’ It is a concern because late in the game we were getting winded. When Brianna Bogard picked up a fourth foul, we didn’t have another point guard. It makes it crucial when you’re down to eight players.”
Those injuries exposed a couple of areas of concern.
“I was pleased that we forced 32 turnovers, but there is no way we should have 18 turnovers against King,” Kemp said. “Shawn Randall did have to play some point (guard), which we hope she doesn’t have to do that much for us. But, she still should not have had six turnovers. We definitely have to cut down on that.”
The head coach wasn’t slamming Randall’s play, noting that some of the turnovers came from the sophomore guard trying to be aggressive.
It was just a concern, same as the the team’s outside shooting. The Lady Bucs were just 2-of-13 behind the arc against the Lady Tornado
“We’ve got to do a much better job from the perimeter,” Kemp said. “Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot of zone this season. We have to start knocking down some outside shots.”