The Cal State Bakersfield women's basketball team huddled around their head coach, Greg McCall, repeatedly during timeouts. His team was in the middle of a seven-minute stretch against Omaha last Monday where it made only one basket, but he didn’t reach for the dry erase board and marker.
“There’s no magic play I can draw up right now because we’re getting every shot we want to get,” McCall told his team. “We’re getting the open looks. We’re getting inside, we’re getting the outside looks.
“We’re Division I basketball players. We gotta continue to play like it and knock down those open shots.”
The Roadrunners added new wrinkles to its offense in the offseason and McCall knew there would be growing pains. But CSUB’s struggle to score this year isn’t a result of that. The plays are working, McCall and his players said, they’re just missing the shots.
CSUB’s 33.1 shooting percentage is 339th out of 345 Division I teams. Its 54.6 points per game is 330th. The Roadrunners are confident, though, that the shots will eventually start falling and CSUB will be hard to beat. In the team's most recent game, a 65-59 win at Boise State on Dec. 20, the Roadrunners shot a season-high 43.3 percent from the field.
“I’m not worried personally,” junior guard Jazmine Johnson said. “... In due time, our shots gonna fall and when they do, it’s over for everybody.”
After the 2016-17 season, CSUB associate head coach Xavier Johnson and assistant coach Zack Grasmick asked McCall to check out a new offense they were interested in. Some ideas McCall considers and turns down. They kept bringing this one to him, however.
It was an offense similar to what CSUB already ran but featured more screens, both off and on the ball. It worked around creating a bit of chaos, keeping most of the players in motion the majority of the time instead of stationary alternatives.
“I took a look at it several times before I made a decision on if this was something we wanted to run,” McCall said prior to the season. “And then finally, I went into it saying, ‘I like it a lot,’ and then I added some wrinkles to it that will fit what we need to fit.”
The coaches started installing the new playbook with the players during summer practices. It looked like a huge mess at first, McCall said, but he learned from his mentor and CSUB men’s basketball coach Rod Barnes to trust the process, not rush it.
Point guard Alexxus Gilbert would call or text McCall questions while at home in Dallas, Texas, so she could draw plays up on her own whiteboard.
After the first week of practice in the fall, CSUB’s players raved about the offense.
“You simply you can’t guard it,” Gilbert said. “You cut off one thing, it’s another thing open. People say that about every offense, but a lot of teams will trying to be figuring out what we’re running. They will be Googling what we’re running after this year.”
McCall knew he’d be smoothing out bumps in the offense early in the season, but the biggest problem has just been making shots.
The Roadrunners missed 52 of their 70 shots in a win over Omaha on Dec. 18. In a loss to Southern Methodist on Dec. 3, CSUB shot just 19.2 percent and was held to 29 total points.
The 29 points in that game was CSUB’s lowest output since starting Division I play in 2006-07. The previous low was 40 against Missouri-Kansas City in 2016.
The players and coaches are hesitant to hit the panic button just yet. The players have spent more time in the Icardo Center shooting. Some think it’s a matter of time before everyone starts to shoot well.
McCall has made a concentrated effort of pushing the ball off steals and missed shots recently in hopes of getting open layups. CSUB’s season highs in fast break points, 18, came against Boise State their last time out.
“I’m excited about the fact that our team, we haven’t peaked too early,” McCall said. "Defensively, we’re doing a really, really good job. It’s gonna be scary to watch us when we start being able to put the ball in the basket at a lot easier rate.”