Basketball Season Preview: A New Order

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL — Fans will notice several big changes when the UCSD women’s basketball team takes the court Friday night for its conference opener against Cal State Los Angeles. With three new coaches and two new starters, the Tritons will look to improve a 2–5 nonconference record after a 30–3 season last year that ended at the NCAA West Regional Finals.

New to the Tritons’ bench is head coach Heidi VanDerveer, a veteran of several WNBA and collegiate teams — most recently at Occidental College in Los Angeles. VanDerveer takes the reins from Charity Elliott, who coached UCSD for five years before leaving for Loyola Marymount University after last season. VanDerveer is joined by assistant coach Betsy Butterick, who coached with VanDerveer for her last four years at Occidental. Chelsea Carlisle ’12, who, as point guard, set a school scoring record and was the Tritons’ co-captain last season, will return to the bench as an assistant coach.

“I hit the jackpot when Chelsea came on board,” VanDerveer said. “[Carlisle and Butterick] work well together and complement each other well, and they really help me a lot.”

On the court, the Tritons are entering conference play with three returning starters in fifth-year captain Daisy Feder, senior guard Emily Osga and junior forward Erin Dautremont. Feder, a shooting guard who sat out her first year due to injury, leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.6 points in seven games this season. Dautremont is averaging 14.4 points and five rebounds, also notching a double-double in last Saturday’s 74–66 loss to the University of Tampa. Osga is also averaging over 10 points per game this season to match 5.4 boards per game.

New to the starting lineup are sophomore point guard Miranda Seto and senior forward Erin Grady. Grady played in 21 games last year, and Seto came off the bench in 17 games. Grady is filling the void on the block left by senior Lauren Freidenberg, who has maxed out her NCAA eligibility. Seto replaces Carlisle at the point.

“I think she’s done a great job of adapting to the role,” VanDerveer said of Seto. “She learned a lot [last year] and now she now has the opportunity to apply it, even though it’s a big challenge.”

Preseason, the Tritons had been ranked eighth nationally and had been picked to finish third in conference. Three of the nonconference opponents UCSD faced were ranked in the top 25, though after losses to those three and two unranked teams, the Tritons have fallen from the rankings.

“What matters is our record at the end of the season,” Feder said. “We’ve played some tough teams, and we’ve fought hard and we’ve gotten better every game. We’re fired up and we’re really looking forward to the conference games.”

With the new coaching staff and starters, the Tritons are also working with a new motion offense. Similar in pace to the offense under Elliot’s direction, the Tritons are still adapting to the new system.

“We want to run our offense at a very high pace and with a new offense, sometimes you might have to think a little bit and that might slow you down,” VanDerveer said. “The less we think and the more we just play, the better off we are.”

Osga, a junior starter, is confident that the team will adapt well to the changes to the lineup and offense.

“We’ve all already played together, but now we’re playing together with a new offense and we need to adjust to that,” she said. “Once we get into the hang of it, we’ll start to flow better.”

The Tritons officially have a 16-person roster, though depth is limited because of injuries. Sophomore forward McKennan Bertsch is out for at least two more weeks after an appendectomy. Three junior guards have all been haunted by knee injuries: Nicole Anderson-Jew is sidelined by a knee injury, and Stephanie Yano will not play this year after knee surgery for a meniscus tear. Rachel Marty, however, has returned to gameplay after a knee injury of her own.

After a less-than-stellar start, the Tritons are harboring postseason aspirations. “We expect to be at the top,” Dautremont said after practice Nov. 27. “That’s where our program has set the tone every year. We’re expected to be one of the best in our conference. Anything less is unacceptable.”

MEN’S BASKETBALL — An experience unique to collegiate athletics is the opportunity to watch a group of individuals who are totally outside of your acquaintance progress over the span of four years.

Senior forward Justin Brue came to UCSD as a versatile small forward with a promising mid-range jumper, rotating in as the third post. Senior Tyler McGrath, UCSD’s majority threat from the perimeter, saw limited minutes in his early career due to a tendency to frustrate on the court.

In their senior seasons, the two have been tasked to produce the bulk of UCSD’s points. McGrath, still dangerous from the outside, has since added a penetrate-and-kick facet to his game that should account for a number of his points this season. Brue, along with his production in the paint, has also established himself as a presence on the boards in UCSD’s first four pre-season games.

“Coach has always talked to me about being one of the best rebounders in the league, and that’s what I’m working towards,” Brue said. “I want to be the best, and lead the league in rebounding.”

With the departure of 6-foot-8 center Christian Hatch, the squad’s leading scorer for the past two seasons, returning starters McGrath, Brue and point guard James McCann have picked up the slack. Senior guard Ryan Peters and one of two forwards — Brandon Blanchard or Drew Dyer — round out the starting five.

The Tritons, who finished 11th in the 12-team conference last season, start 2012 with a 1–3 record. UCSD earned a win against Fresno Pacific University at the Dixie State Classic at the beginning of November, while kicking off conference play with an 82–90 loss to Cal State San Bernardino.

“We’re really encouraged; we’ve done a lot of good things,” UCSD assistant coach Eric Olen said. “We’re doing some different things offensively, because our personnel’s a little different, so there’s a little more of a learning curve then we’ve had in the past, where we’ve kind of kept things the same.”

The loss of Hatch in the paint may prove a mixed blessing. Without the center, the Tritons go without 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. But by replacing the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Hatch, UCSD — a comparably small squad in relation to the rest of the conference — opens up the option to play a faster-paced, full-court offense, a system that will work well with the smaller, athletic forward like Brue.

“We’re gonna try and play with a little more tempo,” Olen said. “This year we’re a little smaller, but a little more mobile. We’re putting guys in different situations, where they’re not just sitting on the block, they’re using their agility to their advantage when they’re playing bigger guys.”

One player who should benefit from the change of pace is 6-foot-4 guard Peters. Bigger than a shooting guard and smaller than a small forward, Peters has had difficulty finding a role in the offense. In the past, the guard has largely been tasked with smothering opposing teams’ marquee players, but this season, he will look to pose more of a threat in the attack.

“Coach likes to call me ‘Mr. Versatile,’” Peters said. “That way I can play the 2, the 3, multiple positions — but I think one of my big strengths is one the defensive end. On the offensive end, I’m looking to spot up or attack the basket, so those are some of my strengths, but I’m trying to do a lot of the little things, that maybe goes unnoticed, but keeps us in the game.”

McCann will continue bringing the ball down the court for UCSD. The junior point guard, small for collegiate competition but with an uncanny ability to see seams and get to the basket, appears to be on pace to put up bigger numbers than last season. McCann posted 12.3 points per game last year, along with 104 rebounds. In 2012, McCann has recorded 13.5 points per game, and will only look better in conference play.

Working alongside Brue on the block, the Tritons have been alternating between sophomore Brandon Blanchard and freshman Drew Dyer. Both over 6-foot-6, the pair provides a bit of height for the Tritons, and has put up significant numbers early on. Dyer is averaging nine points per game, while Blanchard averages 7.5.

“[Blanchard and Dyer] both have huge roles,” Brue said. “They’re both gonna put up big minutes this season.”

In its 11 seasons of Division II competition, UCSD has never won a conference title. The last time the Tritons qualified for the eight-team CCAA tournament was five seasons ago, finishing fourth in the conference. Despite a patchy record, the Tritons have confidence going into season play.

“Our goal is to get to the playoffs, and once we get there, anything can happen,” Brue said.

The Tritons are scheduled to play their second conference game this Friday, Nov. 30 at home against Cal State Los Angeles. The UCSD men’s team will play at 7:30 p.m., while the women will play at 5:30 p.m.

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