By Bailey Johnson
Last week, coach Nicki Collen introduced a new drill to the Dream’s practices. She was hesitant to begin using it because it can become so competitive that players get hurt, but Collen knew that the Dream needed to lock down on defense and compete harder.
In the drill, one team is on defense for three straight minutes while the other team tries to score. The team on defense gets points for things like deflections and rebounds with the goal of getting eight points, and if they give up an offensive rebound, the score resets to zero.
“Who wants to play defense for three straight minutes?” Collen said Tuesday. “You don’t normally get points on defense, so when you have a drill where you get points for deflections, you get points for stops, I think it forces competition because — and if you miss a box out, the score goes back to zero.
“If you’re a competitor and your goal is to get eight points on defense, then you kind of have to sit down and defend and get rebounds and get your hands on passes. It’s just brought a different level of competitiveness when it comes to the defensive side of the ball.”
In Tuesday’s practice, Collen put the Dream through two rounds of the three-minute defense drill. The gym was filled with the players calling out where to be and celebrating — sometimes dramatically — every point the defensive team earned.
Renee Montgomery battled for points with the navy team, and she made sure everyone in the gym knew how many points her team had. When Alex Bentley’s light blue team was on defense, their shouts and celebrations emphasized the level of competition the three-minute drill encourages.
“That’s the thing,” Bentley said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re competitive in practice and we don’t do it in the games. We only do it half the game or three-quarters of the game. We need to put the whole 40 minutes together.”
Bentley pointed to the three-minute drill as a specific example of the Dream competing harder in practice than they sometimes do in games. Player after player threw her body around to block a shot or get a rebound in the three-minute drill, and Bentley feels strongly that her teammates need to bring that same energy to every single minute of every single game.
“It doesn’t make any sense for us to beat each other up in the gym and not do it when we’re playing people we don’t even like on the court,” Bentley said. “We’re competing against other teams and we’re not doing the same effort that we’re competing against each other. We need to transfer that. … If somebody came to our practice, they’d see a completely different team than what we’ve shown on the court in the games.”
In recent losses, the Dream has gotten down early in the game and been unable to come back from the deficit. It wasn’t until Sunday’s loss to Connecticut that the Dream was able to come back and tie the game after being down 12 points at halftime.
When a team gets into a large deficit and loses games by a wide margin, it’s easy for things to snowball, according to Collen.
“You don’t play well, you don’t make shots, and all of a sudden everyone that comes in, it’s still snowballing,” Collen said. “This last game, I thought our subs gave us a huge lift and then we started and competed with our starters to start the second half and it was a different look. I don’t think it’s a matter of translating as much as it’s just continuing to fight regardless of the score.
“You can be down twelve, and you have two choices. You can cut it to 10, and then eight, or it can go from 12 to 24. I think in this last game was the first time we got down and kind of chipped away at it and played how we’re capable of playing.”
After a competitive, intense practice Tuesday, the Dream seem to be building the level of energy they need to get back in the win column on Saturday. And after losing by just six points to Connecticut, it’s likely that the Dream will be even hungrier for the win.