Analysis: Three takeaways from AU women’s basketball’s opening weekends

Edwards’ ascent to stardom, a shallow bench and perimeter defense define Eagles’ start

Analysis: Three takeaways from AU women’s basketball’s opening weekends

Junior Jade Edwards (#10) in a game against Lehigh University on Jan. 9

After 10 months of anticipation, the American University women’s basketball team finally returned to the floor on Jan. 9 in their season-opening series against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks — the first AU athletic competition since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. 

With the basketball season underway after two weekends of action against Lehigh and Navy, the time has come to evaluate the Eagles’ past and its future.

1.) Jade Edwards continues to show that she can be the number one option for AU on both ends of the floor

During the opening four-game stretch for AU, one claim rings true above the rest: Jade Edwards has come ready to hoop this year.

“She’s an exciting player to watch for sure,” head coach Megan Gebbia said. “She is learning the game better and better. She understands people’s rotations and how they are defending her. I think you're going to see more success from her throughout the season.”

In the first four games, Edwards is averaging a stellar 22 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.8 steals and three assists per game while shooting 55.4 percent from the field, 20 percent from the 3-point line and 79.3 percent from the free-throw line.

The third-year guard is also averaging a career-high 36.8 minutes per game. Her extended playing time has already proven to be effective for the team, as she broke her single-game highs in points, rebounds and steals all in the double-header against Lehigh. In the second contest against the Mountain Hawks, Edwards finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds and five steals in 39 minutes, despite the 89-71 loss. 

“She has added the midrange game, which she didn’t have for a lot of last year, so her pull-up jumper is a part of her game now which is nice to see,” Gebbia said of Edwards’ growth. “I just think she is rebounding the ball better, especially on the offensive glass. … That’s something we need from her especially if we are not shooting the three well.” 

Edwards is eager to continue improving her game, referencing her outside shot. 

“For sure shooting,” Edwards said when asked where she needs to improve. “I think I can only get better from the free-throw line, midrange [and the] 3-point shot. I think I can still become a better ball handler and can always be in better shape, but if I were to say right now, I think 3-point shooting.” 

Regardless of the sport, coaches and teammates love when the team’s top option is a player who continuously wants to improve their game rather than resting on their laurels. 

Edwards believes that she can still improve all aspects of her game, even during the best season of her career, which is a scary thought for opposing teams in the Patriot League. 

AU must now figure out how to supplement her phenomenal play given the team's 1-3 start. It takes time to build chemistry after a long layoff, but the Eagles will need to find answers quickly because of the shortened season.

2.) AU needs to find more consistent scoring off the bench to reach true potential as a team

AU’s bench rotation bears partial responsibility for the team’s 1-3 start to the season. The second-string rotation is averaging just 15.5 points per game with vastly different results in their back-to-back weekend matchups, Lehigh and Navy. 

For perspective, Lehigh’s bench unit to open the season averaged 29.2 points over the course of six games, while Navy’s reserves averaged 11.5 points in their opening six games. 

AU’s bench right now is composed solely of freshmen and sophomores, so getting time on the court to become comfortable with each other will take time and repetition. The Eagles had just three active players off the bench for Sunday’s contest with starting point guard Emily Fisher sitting out.

American lost both games against Lehigh, while splitting a series with Navy the following weekend. For AU to reach its true potential as a team, the bench needs to contribute. Most starting fives in college basketball can't carry a team every single night.

“I think that what you're seeing with Lehigh, though, is two of their better scorers come off the bench,” Gebbia said. “Our starters can’t sustain just the scoring alone, and as a coach, it's a little scary in the sense that it's young people and there’s gonna be inconsistency with that. It would be nice to have 15-20 points a game off the bench. That would be ideal.” 

Sophomore forward Karla Vres said the team got over the “initial shock” of the first two games of the season before pulling off a win against Navy.

“I think that this helped a lot,” Vres said. “So whoever came in was able to work well with anyone who was on the court, looking for the shots we shoot again and again in practices, and it worked out for us today.” 

The bench also scored within the range Gebbia was hoping for in the third contest. Right now, building chemistry and consistency from the second unit is the key to helping take the scoring load off the starting rotation, which will help AU succeed this season. 

3.) AU needs to find a defensive rhythm guarding the three-pointer

AU has been outmatched from beyond the 3-point line in three of its first four games, a trend the Eagles must reverse if they wish to turn their fortunes around.

AU had great difficulty controlling Lehigh’s 3-point heavy offense, as the Mountain Hawks shot 29-67 from deep in the series. In the second game, Lehigh tied a Patriot League record with 16 3-pointers made.

AU simply cannot allow a team to shoot that many 3-pointers, especially if its own offense isn’t focused on the outside shot. 

Gebbia took note of AU’s struggles defending the perimeter in the Lehigh series and knew adjustments had to be made, which were emphasized in practice the week after.

In response to this, the team took a different approach defending the three in practice, specifically working to recognize the matchups where players are guarding 3-point shooters. Those players need to be in front of their matchups, giving pressure much sooner than they have been. 

The approach worked against Navy, as the Eagles held their opponent to 8-30 from behind the arc in the series. Even though both teams shot at least 25 percent from outside against the Eagles, the proper emphasis on defending the 3-pointer will mitigate the opponent's shooting volume in future games. 

This four-game stretch may not have played out the way AU hoped, but ultimately the team is giving the right emphasis to the areas that it’s struggling in. If the athletes keep this tenacious attitude in practice as well as games, their record will only improve throughout the course of the season. 

zcohen@theeagleonline.com

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