The Long Beach Beach State women’s basketball team has been hanging its hat on defense since head coach Jeff Cammon took over the program. This year, that defense has been wreaking absolute havoc on opponents as the Beach have gotten off to an undefeated 4-0 start, with every game decided by at least 16 points. In 16 quarters so far this season, Long Beach has held opponents to single digits in three of them, and to 11 points or fewer in seven of them.
They’re averaging 24 turnovers forced per game, a number they actually eclipsed in an impressive win over undefeated Santa Clara Sunday afternoon in the Walter Pyramid, 66-50.
“We’re deeper than we’ve ever been,” said Cammon after the game. “We’re starting to play the game within the game–we’re communicating and playing with more IQ than we’ve played in the past.”
That was obvious in Sunday’s game, as Long Beach played like an expert fighter, using the first half to feel out their opponent’s strength and then mercilessly disabling it in the second half. The Beach trailed after the first quarter and led 35-30 at halftime, but the real game began after that.
The Broncos–also an aggressive-defending, undefeated mid-major team–got a huge start from Lindsey VanAllen, who had 15 points in the first quarter. The Beach coaches and players made an adjustment on how she was being defended before and after she had the ball, and she had one point for the rest of the game.
In the third quarter, it was obvious that the Beach had cracked the Broncos’ offense. They were in passing lanes, they were in driving lanes, and the only reason the game was close after the third was that the officials were whistling the game so tightly. Santa Clara got 18 trips to the free throw line in the third quarter, and scored 14 of their 16 points in the third at the charity stripe, with Long Beach whistled for 11 fouls.
“I thought the only way they were able to score the basketball was at the free throw line,” said Cammon after the game. “I like the way we pushed through some adversity today–it wasn’t really going our way with the officiating, which is part of the game. Not to blame the officials, but it’s good to push through and gut it out and find a way to win.”
The Beach continued to play lock down defense in the fourth, but there was a change in the way the game was being officiated. With no fouls called against Long Beach, they held the Broncos scoreless for the first seven and a half minutes of the quarter, jumping out to a 14-0 start, and cruising to an easy victory.
“There are some nights where there’s nothing as players you can do,” said Justina King, who led the Beach with 17 points, five assists, and two steals. “We just kept our hands up the whole time, I would say in both quarters. What can I say about the decision of when to blow whistles or not? But they all stopped blowing the whistles at the same time.”
What was most impressive about the Beach’s defense on Sunday was watching them figure out Santa Clara in real time, shutting off VanAllen but then ultimately expanding that smothering effort to the entire floor. The Beach held the Broncos to just four made field goals in the second half. Coaches and players agreed that the intense defensive scout the team does for each opponent plays a big role in it, but that adjustments players make throughout the game might be even more important.
“Our coaches do a great job with the scout, but as the game goes on you just have a feel,” said King. “You get a feel and adjust accordingly–that’s coaches in timeouts as well as players.”
Maddi Utti had a complete game for the Beach with eight points, six assists, seven rebounds, four steals and a block. Her defensive intensity was a big part of the Beach’s 27 points scored off turnovers, which included a halfcourt steal and run-out layup by Utti.
“We focused on shutting (VanAllen) down after she came out how, and then we tried not to let them get it in the paint,” she said.
Their success in doing so, and in turning the Broncos over, is how the Beach was able to comfortably win a game where they were outrebounded 41-23. Prioritizing ball defense over rebounding has been their priority, and against mid-major caliber opponents (which they’ll see all season in the Big West), it’s been a winning strategy.
Long Beach State (4-0) is the lone undefeated team in the Big West and hits the road for the UVA Cavalier Classic this week, playing Richmond on Friday and Rhode Island on Sunday. Their next home game isn’t until December 17 against Portland State.