Dons hope offense can lead climb up conference ladder

The tired sporting cliche about defense winning championships may still prove accurate, but, as evidenced by last season’s USF women’s basketball team, a little offense never hurt anyone. The Dons, who finished 10-21, averaged a West Coast Conference-worst 58.6 points per game, including three games in which they scored less than 40 points.

Second-year coach Tanya Haave thinks the Dons have found the answer for those scoring woes in 6-foot-1 junior forward Necolia Simmons, a transfer who was a junior college All-American at San Joaquin Delta College last season. Simmons gives the Dons something they sorely lacked a year ago — an interior complement for guard Dominique Carter, a three-time All-WCC first-team performer.

“Obviously, we had some problems putting up points last year,” Haave, whose team opens their season Sunday at Northern Colorado, said. “Necolia gives us another option down on the block that we didn’t really have. I think we’re going to see a lot more open looks now from the perimeter with a scoring threat down low.”

Simmons, who had 19 and 18 points, respectively, in the Dons’ two exhibition wins, joins a veteran cast that includesfour returning starters. Along with welcoming back Carter, USF also returns junior point guard Shay Rollins, senior center Lisa Olden, senior forward Nykia Peace and sophomore forward Heidi Heintz, who was named to the WCC All-Freshman team. Haave also said she expects major contributions from all three of her freshmen — forwards Jakkie Boka-Timmerberg (Urban High School) and Donnisha Taylor and center Jordan Kuzma.

Finding someone to take the offensive load off Carter, who led the team in scoring in 19 of the Dons’ 31 games last year, will be essential.

“We know we’ll be better if everyone steps up their offensive game,” said Heintz, who averaged 6.4 points per game last season. “We’re going to get a lot more wins if we have three or four of us scoring in double figures, instead of just the two we had last year.”

Despite her scoring achievements, Carter struggled at times defensively, which led to her sharing starting duties with Heintz. Haave said she has since noticed a marked improvement in Carter’s commitment to defense.

“I think she’s put in the effort knowing this is her last shot,” said Haave, who will attempt to lead the Dons back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. “She still has some work to do, but I think she’s really focusing on becoming a more physical player.”

The Dons’ inconsistencies of a year ago — they beat Atlantic Coast Conference power Florida State, yet lost twice to last-place Portland — could be attributed to the growing pains of getting adjusted to Haave’s expectations. With a year to work out the kinks, both coach and players say they have a better feel for each other.

“We’re all on the same page now,” said Rollins, the Dons’ second-leading scorer last season at 10.7 points per game. “At every practice, we talk about sustaining our energy and intensity. I think we let up a lot of times last year. We realize now that we have to play 40 minutes of basketball each night and we can’t let up ever, not in a game or in practice.”

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