It could be called “DiDi defense,” really. But something that can’t be said without a smile has proven deadly to opposing sharpshooters when Baylor’s DiDi Richards guards them.
Connecticut’s Katie Lou Samuelson can tell you all about it. One of the best shooters in women’s college basketball was held to nearly half of her average against Richards and the Lady Bears. The usual “money” efficiency with which she shoots behind the 3-point line was overdrawn.
“It’s something I take pride in,” Richards said. “Before it was, like, second nature just to play defense. Now it’s like something I’m going to be good at and practice to be better at. … Before, I was getting yelled at because (Mulkey) knew I was a better defender than what I was showing. Now it’s like I don’t want to be yelled at. If I don’t want to get yelled at, I’m going to play defense and make sure the other team’s best player isn’t scoring.”
Behind the lead of Richards, the Lady Bears held the Huskies to their lowest shooting percentage in 20 years.
Three days later in the Big 12 opener at Texas Tech, Richards moved over to freshman sniper Chrislyn Carr of the Lady Raiders. Carr finished 3-for-11 for eight points in the second quarter and went 1-for-9 in the third for four points. In those two quarters alone, Baylor as a whole held the Lady Raiders to 25 and 9.5 percent shooting from the floor, respectively.
“She’s one of our best defensive players,” sophomore Trinity Oliver said. “Without DiDi and her energy and stopping the best players the other team has, I don’t think we’d win as many games as we are winning. She’s a key person for us.”
On Wednesday, Richards will again draw the assignment of defending the opposing team’s best player. And against Kansas State, that means Kayla Goth.
“(She’s) a great mid-range shooter,” Richards said of Goth. “My defensive assignment is to not let her score as much as she normally scores.”
Goth, a 6-1 guard, joined the 1,000-point club for her career with a triple in the Wildcats’ last game against Oklahoma. She’s averaging 12.3 points per game and is responsible for 44 percent of Kansas State’s buckets this season. As if that’s not enough, Goth is also the Big 12 leader in assists with 6.2 per game.
“Well, she’s finally a senior. It seems like she’s been there forever,” Mulkey said. “She’s just a big guard that can shoot the mid-range and can and will make the 3 as well. … We’re going to defend in man, like we always do, and know strengths and weaknesses. And it starts with Goth. She’s a big scorer for them.”
While Goth is the best all-around player for the Wildcats, the top scorer is actually Peyton Williams. Does her name sound familiar? The 6-4 junior is a two-sport athlete for Kansas State as she also plays volleyball.
So far this season, Williams is averaging a near double-double with 14.4 points and 9.9 rebounds.
Goth and Williams form a deadly duo. Last season, they were the only set of teammates in the country who each improved their scoring average by 10 or more points, as Goth went from 4.8 to 17.5 points per game and Williams increased from 3.7 to 14.7 points per game.
More than likely, Lauren Cox will get the assignment of guarding Williams, who is shooting 57.8 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from the 3-point line (6-for-13).
“Cox can also defend on the perimeter,” Mulkey said. “I thought our assigning those two to (Napheesa) Collier and Samuelson in the UConn game was really the right move. They were active, long, could talk and communicate and switch if need be. And without question.”
Along with Goth and Williams, Kansas State owns a couple of willing shooters in Christianna Carr and Rachel Ranke. Carr, a 6-1 freshman, hasn’t found her rhythm from deep yet at 26.1 percent from 3, but look out when she does because she’s already putting up nearly 10 points a game. Named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team a year ago, the 6-1 Ranke is shooting 34.4 percent from the perimeter to average 10.6 points per game. She’s coming off her season’s best offensive output with a 19-point outing.
Actually, the Wildcats put up their season’s overall highest numbers in the 86-56 thrashing of Oklahoma as the 86 points were the most Kansas State has scored this season and the Wildcats shot a season-best 54.2 percent from the floor. K-State also caught fire in the second quarter to shoot a season-high 78.6 percent in that frame.
“We have to rush them off the 3-point line for sure,” Baylor’s Oliver said. “We have to make them dribble, make them attack instead of getting those set shots. Goth, we have to keep her from getting in that rhythm early. We have to make them turn the ball over, and not let them get hot early.”