There are two players on the Cal State Bakersfield women’s basketball team that head coach Greg McCall gives, what he calls, a green light to on defense: guards Jazmine Johnson and Dalis Jones.
Aside from telling Johnson and Jones what hand to push the player they are guarding to, McCall backs off the instruction and lets his players decide how to defend.
“I kind of leave them alone and let them figure out what they need to do against the guards,” McCall said. “What they end up doing is a lot of times they’ll either get a steal or they’ll get a hand on a deflection.”
Johnson and Jones are the “heart and soul” of a CSUB defense that is 24th in the country and first in the Western Athletic Conference, allowing just 56.4 points per game. The Roadrunners (9-10, 3-2 WAC) are tied for third in the conference despite being the second worst scoring team in the league. They depend on defense to get wins and the success of the defense is reliant on Johnson and Jones.
“They make us go,” McCall said. “They make our defense go. Our girls depend upon them each and every night.”
Johnson is the No. 1 defender in her redshirt junior season at CSUB. The transfer from Seattle — which CSUB plays at home on Saturday — has started every game this season and usually begins the contests on the Roadrunners’ top scorer or ball handler.
She leads the team with 30 steals and averages the second most minutes per game (27.6) on the Roadrunners’ squad.
“She’s setting the tone,” McCall said. “She’s a tenacious defender. Then I’ll bring in Dalis and back her up.”
Jones, a 5-foot-2 sophomore, makes up for her lack in size with her quickness and constant pressure trying to poke the ball away.
“Oh, you better protect the ball because she’ll get it,” Johnson said. “I just love Dalis. Watching her, I actually feed off her, which she probably doesn't notice. I feed off her energy and how she locks down people. That gets me pumped and makes me want to lock down a person.”
The most difficult player Johnson has defended this season is Utah Valley guard Taylor Christensen. Johnson’s personal goal is to get at least two steals per game and hold her opponent’s top scorer to about five or six points.
Johnson has been that way since at Lynwood High School in Lakewood, where she was the most valuable player her final three years, leading the team in steals in a “defense first and only defense” system.
She locks down her matchups by knowing their sweet spots on the floor and disrupting the rhythm of passing and dribbling.
“I just want to be the best defender ever just because I know that at the end of the day it will help the team,” Johnson said.
At times this season, McCall had to pull back Johnson’s defensive intensity, yelling “don’t reach, JJ” as she runs down the court.
The Roadrunners are second in the conference with 18.7 turnovers forced per game. Their 36.9 percent opponent shooting percentage is best in the conference and 47th in the nation.
Though CSUB’s defense also features Jazmyne Bartee, the conference leader in blocked shots per game, its success is tied mostly to the two guards up top and sometimes even a one-player press from Johnson or Jones.
“Those two right there are the heart of our defense and they know it,” McCall said. “They get us started. When they get that on-ball pressure going, it’s hard for guards to bring it up against them.”
Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.