BOULDER – Linda Lappe had an idea that scoring this season on her Colorado women’s basketball team would be spread around, but she might not have foreseen just how balanced the Buffs have become. Unforeseen element No. 2: Just how efficient Lexy Kresl has become in playing point guard.
Granted, it’s only been four games, but through those four, five players are averaging in double figures with a sixth – Kresl – inching toward double digits with a 9.5 average. CU’s double-figure five: junior forward Jen Reese, 11.3; junior guard Jasmine Sborov, 11.0; senior guard Brittany Wilson, 10.8; sophomore forward Arielle Roberson, 10.7; and freshman wing Lauren Huggins, 10.0.
That kind of balance, said Kresl, a junior, is the product of identifying deficiencies and spending the off-season fixing them: “We all worked on our weaknesses this past summer . . . now every single person is a triple threat. You can’t just take away their shot because they’ll drive, you can’t take away their drive because they’ll shoot. It’s making things come a lot easier for us.”
The No. 14 Buffs’ goal is continuing that this weekend. They are unbeaten (4-0) heading into their Omni Classic at the Coors Events Center. CU, which has won 16 of its 25 holiday tournaments since the event was introduced as the Coors Classic, plays winless South Alabama (0-4) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Rice (3-4) and Samford (1-3) precede CU-South Alabama at 5 p.m. Friday’s winners play for the Omni championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with the losers meeting at 5 p.m. in the consolation game.
With the Buffs apparently settling very nicely into their first season in the past four minus the versatile Chucky Jeffery, Lappe says she “likes the fact that we don’t lean on one player to do all the scoring. When you have everybody that feels a sense of ownership in scoring then it’s really hard to guard.
“The ball moves well; you don’t wait for somebody to do something. Everybody knows it their job to move, to screen, to have their feet set to score, to rebound . . . I really like our flow right now. It’s almost like, ‘if I don’t do it then no one’s going to do it.’ Everybody has that same mindset, which is a good thing.”
Another good thing is how that sense of engagement on offense has filtered toward defense. “Offense is the fun part of the game, defense is a little more of a necessity and that’s hard work,” Lappe said. “If you’re scoring and getting the ball and have a great role in the offense then it makes it a little more easy to get them to play defense.”
With the exception of Jeffery, CU returned most of its firepower from 2012-13, so the balance Lappe is seeing so far wasn’t a total surprise. “Chucky had played a lot of minutes, but so had a lot of other players,” she said. “Last year we were pretty balanced, and this year we’re even more so. We felt like with what we had coming back, we knew we had a lot of experience.”
But it wasn’t necessarily at positions that Lappe is asking some of her returnees to play this season. Take Kresl . . . she had some experience as a point guard in high school (Paradise Valley, Ariz.) and at the club level, but playing it efficiently in the Pac-12 Conference was a steep step up.
In her first two college seasons, Kresl was more of a catch-and-shoot three-point threat who, according to Lappe, had to gain confidence with having the ball in her hands more and find her comfort level as a distributor. Accomplishing those two things was accelerated due to a preseason leg injury to Brittany Wilson that forced Lappe and her staff to experiment at the point.
Most of the experimentation involved Kresl and Sborov, and now that Wilson is nearly fully recovered it’s not unusual for all three of Lappe’s point guards to be on the floor simultaneously. In fact, all three are listed in the starting lineup for Friday’s first-round game. But now, it’s Kresl that Lappe usually charges with getting the Buffs into their offense.
“You’ve got to have two point guards,” Lappe said. “Lexy and Brittany can’t play 40 minutes . . . some games it might be more beneficial to have Lexy, sometimes Brittany. (But) right now Lexy is our point guard and she’s doing a great job and everybody else is falling in around her.”
Lappe said Kresl has “always been able to drive and change speeds really well and do some of the things she’s been able to do this year. But I think she’s more confident and comfortable with the ball in her hands. It’s just allowing her to break down defenses and she doesn’t have to think about it. Last year every time she put the ball on the floor it was this big deal. This year it’s not a big deal at all because she’s been doing it for eight weeks.”
Asking Kresl to do those things last season wasn’t really necessary, said Lappe, although she would have liked Kresl “to be a little more aggressive. But it was just a little out of her comfort zone. Now it’s in her comfort zone to be aggressive and make plays for other people and get by the defense – and she’s doing it.”
Kresl leads CU in assists, with her 16 through four games more than half of her 29-game total (30) from 2012-13. Also, her 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio is sixth in the Pac-12.
“Just the fact that I have the ball in my hands more now, I have a larger opportunity to see open teammates,” Kresl said. “It’s a lot easier and I’m getting more comfortable with the position. I realize it’s not such a demanding role when you do what you’re supposed to and help everybody else out.”
Lappe said Kresl’s court awareness was evident before she began concentrating on playing the point this season. Lappe told of a highlight clip from last season that featured Kresl bringing the ball down and making “a fantastic pass around a defender . . . it was like, ‘How did she see that?’ Those are the passes we’re seeing all the time now. She’s a good passer, sees the floor well. She just has a good flow in the game right now.”
In CU’s most recent win – an 85-53 romp last weekend at New Mexico – Kresl recorded a career-best five assists. She’s not focused so much now on scoring, but that capability hasn’t diminished, nor has her rebounding. In CU’s season-opening win at Colorado State (63-59) she grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, and in the runaway against Alcorn State (83-53) she hit her 100th career three-pointer – the 11th CU player to reach that plateau.
Kresl also has made defense a focal point in her third season, but she didn’t have much choice in that decision. Defense, she said, “is a big part of the culture . . . I figured it out about halfway through my freshman year. It makes things a lot easier on this team. I mean, not necessarily every team is like that.”
Her immediate goal is to contribute to CU winning this Omni Classic and next season’s. “And hopefully we don’t lose it after I leave,” she said. “It’s a pretty big tradition to uphold. It’s not much pressure, but you just want to protect your home court.”