Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

With nine players, women’s hoops team tries to stay above the rim

Second-year DU women’s basketball coach Erik Johnson says his team has the system, culture and work ethic in place to be successful. There’s only one problem.

He’s only got nine players. Without a lot of depth, the team will need to stay strong throughout the season, Johnson says, and all players will get major minutes. Managing substitutions will be another challenge, he says.

“Our margin for error is slim, but we are not going to back off,” Johnson says. “We need to stay in shape, healthy, and disciplined. We are going to keep taking steps forward.”

Even with the shortage of hoopsters, Johnson says he’d like to see the team build on last year’s accomplishments. In the 2008-09 season, the Pioneers were picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) west division but finished tied for second and earned a No. 3 seed in the SBC tournament.

This year, the team — picked to finish second behind Arkansas-Little Rock in its division — will be utilizing the leadership and experience of their five returning players. One of those returning players, sophomore Kaetlyn Murdoch of Temple, Texas, should allay some fears generated by the short bench.

Last year, Murdoch was named SBC freshman of the year after averaging 9.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, while shooting 58.6 percent from the floor and 60.8 percent from the free-throw line. Murdoch also tallied one of the best performances by a freshman in an NCAA game, turning in a 13-block, 11-rebound effort against Arkansas State, which set a new DU and conference record for most blocks in a game.

Another key player to the teams’ success will be Emiko Smith of Los Angeles. The 5-foot, 5-inch freshman is likely to start at point guard and will be responsible for directing the action up and down the court.

“Having a freshmen point guard is like having a rookie quarterback,” Johnson says.

The Pioneers will play 14 home games, including the season opener against Wyoming on Nov. 13 and Colorado State on Nov. 18.

“There will be huge dividends this season from knowing what it takes to win and having tasted it,” Johnson says.

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