Coach Bob Boldon knew he had options even if Cierra Hooks fouled out.
With 6:37 left in Ohio's game against Ball State on Saturday, Taylor Agler fouled out. Dominique Doseck had already fouled out, so Hooks, who had four fouls, was the only point guard left.
The Bobcats subbed in Olivia Bower and Kendall Jessing throughout the fourth quarter because the team was lacking players. Hannah Thome was available, too.
But if Hooks fouled out, the Bobcats’ chances of maintaining their lead was meek.
“If I was out, it was going to be really hard,” Hooks said after the Ball State game. “And I wanted to win, so I had to be smart about it.”
Hooks didn’t foul out, and the Bobcats defeated the Cardinals 80-76 in The Convo. Even though Doseck and Agler fouled out, even though Amani Burke was out for the game, Boldon and the Bobcats adjusted. That’s because the Bobcats have lineup flexibility.
Hooks was the only point guard left, but Bower, a junior forward, is a capable ballhandler. She occasionally brought the ball up the floor, and near the end of the third quarter, the Bobcats had a lineup of Bower, Jessing, Alexis Stover, Katie Barker and Gabby Burris.
For the Bobcats, that’s a relatively big lineup. Bower, who is 6-foot-1, is one of the Bobcats’ tallest players along with Thome, who is the same height.
But Bower, along with Stover, another capable ball handler, helped maintain the lead when Hooks and Agler were on the bench near the end of the third quarter.
“We have pretty much interchangeable parts,” Boldon said. “It was just a matter of getting into offense. (Bower) did a good job of it. You know, (Bower) played some point for us two years ago.”
Bower was a freshman two years ago, but she didn’t play much because the Bobcats had a host of quality guards in Kiyanna Black, Yamonie Jenkins, Quiera Lampkins and Mariah Harris.
Bower plays point guard occasionally in practice as well, so playing the position wasn’t new for her. The lineup flexibility Boldon’s roster boasts shows how his offense operates. He has his main ball handlers in Hooks, Doseck and Agler. But his team has some overlap too in terms of players’ skills.
Hooks can defend anywhere on the wing, and Agler and Doseck apply ball pressure well, too. Also, if Boldon wants to use a bigger lineup but be quicker at the same time, he can put Stover on the wing. He did that against Miami because he thought Stover would defend the RedHawks’ isolation ball screen well.
Along with his primarily ball handlers, Boldon also has top shooters in Barker and Doseck. Burke and Burris both possess a variety of skills offensively. They’re able to move without the ball and score, and they can also make open 3-pointers. Hooks is apt at driving to the basket and finishing at the rim.
If the regular rotation isn’t in place, the Bobcats have depth and flexibility that allows them to maintain leads.
With under six minutes left in the Ball State game, Bower hit a 3-pointer to put the Bobcats up 66-60.
Though she’s gotten minutes in the rotation, she needed to be a key player off the bench Saturday. Hooks and Burris, who usually lead the bench, were starting for the first time in their careers.
Bower had only made one 3-pointer in her career before this season. This season she’s made seven, but she’s also averaging the most minutes of her career at 9.8 per game. Still, Burris wasn’t surprised when she made the shot.
“I’d say it’s a part of her game, she can shoot,” Burris said.
Bower’s ability to shoot is just another example of how the Bobcats boast a multitude of skills. The Bobcats’ lineup flexibility, particularly on offense, has been there this season.
On Saturday, it needed to be used to perhaps its fullest extent. It was.
“We got the ball where we wanted to get it to,” Boldon said. “And got good enough shots.”