By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
About a month ago, The Master’s University women’s basketball team went looking for an identity.
What it found was an amoeba.
At least that’s the name TMU gave an ever-evolving zone defense that has sparked one of the stingiest spans of basketball in program history.
As of Monday, Master’s ranked second in NAIA Division 1 in opponents’ field goal percentage (32%) and eighth in scoring defense (53.1 points per game).
The Mustangs (12-4) recently held the nation’s No. 11-ranked team without a point for an entire quarter, and that was the second time in six conference games they’ve held a team scoreless for at least 10 minutes.
“That may be some of the best defense I’ve seen any of our teams play,” said head coach Dan Waldeck after the No. 21-ranked Mustangs beat No. 11 Menlo College, 65-21, on Saturday.
When it hosts Bethesda University at TMU tonight at 5:30, Master’s will look to continue a promising trend. The Mustangs have held their last eight opponents to an average of 43.3 points a game, a number almost 20 points lower than through the season’s first eight games.
The difference can be credited, at least in part, to a scheme that sometimes looks like a 2-3 zone. Other times it appears to be a 1-3-1 or a 1-1-3, even a 4-1. There are basic principles, but nothing rigid. It’s based mostly on reads and aggressive, timely trapping.
“It changes,” said Waldeck. “It adapts to the need of the moment.”
After eight games, the need of the moment was a spark defensively. The Mustangs began the year an uninspiring 5-3, and after a 71-63 loss to Arizona Christian on Dec. 1, they knew something needed to change.
“We were all really mad and frustrated,” said guard Hannah Throns. “We looked at film and we figured out what was going wrong. We figured out it was our defense.”
Over the next few weeks, the Mustangs recommitted themselves to that end of the floor, dedicating large portions of practice to the basic principles of guarding and rebounding.
“It was hard,” said Throns, “but now we’re seeing the benefits of that.”
Around that time, Waldeck began employing his amoeba zone more often. The strategy has worked for several reasons.
For one, it plays to TMU’s length. Across its frontcourt, the Mustangs start Stephanie Soares, Anika Neuman and Rebekah Throns, all of whom stand at least 6-foot-1. Soares is 6-6, and she leads the country in blocked shots with 84, already besting TMU’s single-season record.
The insertion of Rebekah Throns, Hannah’s younger sister, into the starting lineup after six games has been crucial.
“Her length and rebounding on both sides of the ball is gigantic,” said Waldeck. “She has really come into her own this year.”
At the top of the zone, Mustang guards fly around and force turnovers. Hannah Throns, Tristen Coltom, Jamilee Iddings and Sabrina Thompson all had two steals on Saturday.
“We have this camaraderie where we’re able to be super aggressive and can trust that someone is there to back us up,” said Coltom.