CEDAR RAPIDS — Even with some new faces, Olivia Usher sees similarities between this year’s Kirkwood women’s basketball team and the undefeated national champions from last season.
The sophomore post player and Cedar Rapids Prairie graduate noted that while both teams took time to find a rhythm as teammates, the resulting chemistry produced the same long string of wins.
“We’ve definitely gotten better since the beginning of the season,” said Usher, who will help NJCAA Division II No. 2 Kirkwood face Iowa Central in an ICCAC women’s basketball game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Johnson Hall. “That’s been encouraging. … We’re starting to play better together now, which happened last year, too.”
After a 2-2 start, Kirkwood (21-3, 7-0 ICCAC) has won 11 games in a row and 19 of its last 20. Usher has started all 24 games and averages 8.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest, but her value to the team is often measured in adjectives not located in a box score.
“She’s an unselfish player,” Kirkwood Coach Kim Muhl said. “She’s deceiving because she does so many things for us. She can bring it up (the court), she’s strong with the ball, she can shoot the 3, she goes inside a little bit. She just does a lot of dirty work, a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed, but most people know she is a pretty good player.”
Usher is one of two returning starters (guard Tayana Wilson) for the Eagles and has six double-figure scoring games this season. With so much lost offensive production from last year, Usher has been encouraged to shoot the ball more.
“Coming into this year, I was nervous about what I would do on the offensive end,” Usher said. “Just because I was able to rely on sophomores last year. … I looked to score more as the year has progressed and being a leader for the freshmen.”
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The scoring this season has been more evenly distributed. Five players average at least eight points a game, but only Wilson has an average in double figures (10.4).
“I think we’re a little deeper,” Muhl said. “We don’t have that kid that we know will score 15 or 20, depending on what you need in a game. We do it by committee.”
A variety of scoring options allows the Eagles to focus their efforts on the two hallmarks of the Kirkwood program.
“Defend and rebound,” Usher said. “Coach emphasizes that all the time and tells us that offense will come as long as we continue to defend and rebound.”
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