Man-to-man defense is what basketball players learn as they are introduced to the sport.
It is a staple for any player who aims to reach the college ranks.
To play man-to-man defense at the college level after years of relying on a zone, however, requires some defensive reprogramming. That is the task at hand for new TCU women’s basketball coach Raegan Pebley.
“Everybody kind of feels like a freshman again because they’re all learning this system,” Pebley said.
Senior guard Donielle Breaux and sophomore center Klara Bradshaw haven’t played a full game of man defense since high school.
In the first two years of Big 12 play under former coach Jeff Mittie, TCU ran a 2-3 zone to help an undersized squad in rebounding.
This season, TCU’s third in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs boasts six players over 6 feet, led by Bradshaw at 6-foot-6.
The switch to man-to-man fits into Pebley’s system. Aggressive, man-to-man defense, she hopes, will create turnovers to open a transition game for the offense.
“We enjoy putting pressure on the offensive team,” Breaux said. “Our length is a real factor in this because everybody is so quick to the ball and everybody is so long. We try to be aggressive and deny passes and stuff. It’s going to be fun.”
Defensive pride is one thing that has carried over from the previous coaching staff. TCU led the Big 12 in steals last season, averaging 9.89 a game. That helped TCU rank second in the conference in turnover margin at plus-3.83.
Breaux finished third for TCU in steals with 48. Senior forward Chelsea Prince led the team with 67, coming off the bench for half of the season.
The biggest learning curve in the transition comes in the frontcourt, where post players, especially Bradshaw, have to be less of a free safety and more involved in every play.
“Personally, in zone, I’m looking for certain cues to move — certain things that make the light go green for me,” Bradshaw said. “Here, it’s not reading off of other plays or other time limits. For man, it’s more looking for my player and having to anticipate rather than react to other moves.”
The Horned Frogs run their new defense for the first time Sunday in an exhibition game against Texas Wesleyan. They start the regular season Nov. 14 against Houston Baptist in Fort Worth.
While the foundation of the new defense has taken root, Pebley said not to expect to see the full product immediately.
“The man that they’ve played is man they’ve played in pickup or open gym that has no structure to it,” she said. “There are some growing pains in that, and it’s baby steps. We’ve got probably only half of our system in right now, and it may need to stay at that for a while until that foundation is really solid.”