Women's college basketball: 'Road warrior' Commodores off to hot start to the season
Given how late Rory Kuhn took over the Gulf Coast women's program and how hastily he had to put together an almost entirely new roster, some early season struggles would be more than understandable, they would be expected.
Following a season-opening loss to nationally-ranked Eastern Florida State, however, the Commodores have started the season on fire with five consecutive victories, most recently taking two lopsided wins of 23 and 41 points over Miami Dade and Monroe Community College last weekend in Tallahassee.
It has been a nice start to the year for the Commodores (5-1), particularly given where they were in the summer when the team first convened.
"We were so far behind," Kuhn said. "I got here in July and started putting the team together. We're all still getting to know each other and how to play together, but we're finally starting to settle in. They're starting to get to know me better and know what I want out of them.
"As stupid and simple as it sounds, the practices have been good and we're just getting better every day. It's been a positive mindset, just being locked in and settling into playing for me and the rotations and things like that have started to settle in. They're knowing what to expect from me and what we need to do to be successful."
The Commodores have been led thus far by Auburn transfer point guard Morgan Robinson, who is averaging 19 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the field and 81 percent from the free throw line.
Robinson leading the team in scoring is not a surprise, but the overall offensive balance has been an encouraging sign with five other players averaging between eight and 14 points per game. Freshman guard Ciante Downs is second on the team with 14.3 points per contest and one of five players averaging double figures along with Robinson, Anaya Boyd (10.7), Ava Miller (10.0) and Imani Smith (10.0).
"The interesting thing to me is you keep looking at the stats after our games and it seems like it's always somebody different that steps up from a scoring standpoint," Kuhn said. "It's a little bit spread out, which I think is a sign of a team gelling together and starting to figure it out a little bit. I've been pleasantly surprised by how many different people are stepping up every night, which makes you feel like more of a team. It's definitely a little more balance than I thought we'd have."
The most impressive win so far has come against No. 11 Georgia Highlands 85-77 in the WER Invitational at Chipola on Nov. 12. It's one of two games that Gulf Coast has played against nationally-ranked teams this season, winning one and losing the other.
The Commodores will get a chance to avenge that one loss on Sunday when Eastern Florida State, ranked No. 17 in the nation and No. 4 in the state, comes to the Billy Harrison Field House for a rematch of the 75-68 Titans victory in Melbourne on Nov. 5.
"I think the girls are focused and ready to go," Kuhn said. "We played them on the road in a true away game. For our first game compared to where we are now, we've grown a little bit and become more settled. I think the girls are excited to play that game. They're a good team and (Titans coach MJ Baker) does a good job. They're ranked whatever they're ranked and we know they have a good team. It should be a good game. Hopefully we can get this one and get some momentum going toward the rest of this schedule before the Christmas break."
Incredibly, Sunday marks the home opener for the Commodores, who have spent almost the full first month of the season on the road. It's also the only home game of the pre-conference schedule for Gulf Coast. The Commodores will be in Tuscaloosa for two games next weekend, and will have six away games after that between the Florida Southwestern Holiday Classic in Fort Myers and the South Georgia Tech New Year's Classic in Americus, Ga., before opening Panhandle Conference play on Jan. 4.
Only having one home game in the first two months of the season isn't exactly ideal, but Kuhn said that he and his players are embracing the challenge.
"We've been road warriors, we've been living on the road," he said. "To be honest, I was just telling my assistant I kind of like being on the road. I think those trips when you go away the girls are able to bond a little bit. They spend a lot of time together and it helps you get closer as a team and obviously it helps when you win games. To be honest, I don't mind being on the road at all. It's a business trip, you go win a game and get out of town. It's been good honestly, we've had no complaints from anybody."