LOGAN – Jerry Finkbeiner is very positive about his team as it prepares for the upcoming season. The Utah State women’s basketball coach has a very young team, but is a group he believes has talent to win some games.
Overall, the team has six freshmen, seven sophomores, no juniors and just two seniors. It’s a team that went 14-17 overall and 8-10 in conference last year, but was the conference’s most improved in terms of conference wins the year before that. During the 2014-15 season the Aggie women went 5-13 in conference.
Finkbeiner said last year was all about traction. This year is about expectations.
“We are expecting, as a team now, to be in the top third (of the conference standings),” he said. “That’s just what we’re expecting. With returning experience, new kids coming in and just the evolution of our program, our expectations are now winning more than we are losing.”
A major storyline from a year ago was when sophomore point guard Funda Nakkasoglu, the conference’s leading scorer, abruptly left the team. Finkbeiner said Nakkasoglu left in “a classy way despite not honoring the scholarship commitment.” He said it came as a complete shock, but believes he’s found some good replacements.
“People are going to forget about Funda real quick,” he said. “These two that replaced her are really good players.”
The replacements, Eliza West and Shannon Dufficy, like Nakkasoglu, are both from Australia. Finkbeiner said he expects both to start the first game. He was especially enthusiastic about West, who he said was the MVP of the women’s national championship rugby team in Australia. He said what Nakkasoglu was to scoring, West will be to passing.
Finkbeiner said the last two sets of recruits have been some of the best, and this year is “by far the best.”
“You’ve got a group coming in that is used to winning, that knows how to win and works hard,” he said. “They’re a good group.”
USU lost five games a year ago in the final 45 seconds, with three of those at the buzzer. Because of that, and the confidence Finkbeiner has in the replacements of last year’s losses, practices have already been more focused on situational play – more last-second drills and last-minutes simulations in scrimmages and less of the basics.
“I think if this year’s team has kind of been there and done it, been through that fire, we’ve got to give them the tools to have some options down the stretch when the game is close,” he said. “So we are putting a lot of time into that.”
The team will start the season with a five-game homestand that begins November 11 against Westminister. It will begin conference play at Boise State on December 29.