Women’s basketball should win title

Jacob Hutchinson, sports editor

The women’s basketball team is talented. That’s no surprise. Since its first season in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 2012-13, the team has made the postseason every year and has made three finals appearances. The only thing that’s missing is a conference championship.

This should be the year that changes.

The Panthers haven’t lost a game since New Year’s Eve. Since then, they have won all nine of their games in the conference.

What makes this team so good? Balance. Chapman has players who contribute in every aspect of the game. The team leads the conference in shooting percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, assists per game, steals per game and scoring per game.

That’s indicative of fluid ball movement and a great defense. Chapman’s conference opponents average the lowest three-point percentage and third-lowest field goal percentage, and Chapman is second only to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in fewest points allowed in the conference.

A huge benefit for Chapman has been sophomore point guard Lucy Criswell’s emergence as a starter. After averaging less than 5 points and 3 rebounds per game in the conference last season, Criswell leads the team with 16.2 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game in the conference this year.

The team’s leading scorer, senior guard Jaime Hum-Nishikado, just hit 1,000 total points for her Chapman career, and is on pace to move into Chapman’s top-10 all-time leading scorers by the end of the season. Hum-Nishikado and Criswell combine to average 30.7 points per game in the conference.

But Chapman’s ball movement and defensive pressure is stoked by both junior guard Jaryn Fajardo and sophomore guard Paige Endo, who each average more than four assists and two steals per game.

Chapman’s only real weakness is its defensive rebounding. In a playoff game where teams get desperate and seek to exploit mismatches, Chapman will need to box out more effectively, or risk giving its opponent second-chance points and free possessions. A great defense is only impactful when a team finishes out the possession with a rebound more often than not.

While Chapman is third in offensive rebounds, the team is seventh in defensive rebounds. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is second in offensive rebounds per game and has the leading rebounder in the conference with sophomore guard Maya Love, who averages 10.9 boards a game. In addition to Love, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps has four players 6 feet or above. None of Chapman’s players are taller than 5 foot 11.

If Chapman meets Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the playoffs, which looks to be a likely conference final matchup, the Panthers need to create an effective game plan to not only get defensive stops, but to finish out the possession with a rebound.

Chapman did this effectively when it beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 68-56 Jan. 13. That’s already an improvement from last season, when Chapman lost to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps three times, including the conference final.

Chapman has the ability to decide its fate for the coming season. The team has six games left, four of which are at home. Securing a home court advantage in the playoffs would be a huge benefit to Chapman’s title chances, and an away game at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps could decide where Chapman is seeded.

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