The Long Beach State women’s basketball team looked to produce its first winning season since 2016-17 this year. Last season was characterized by some big losses but also plenty of hope after some stellar individual performances.
After health issues stalled the 2018-19 season, the return of a few key players was expected to help. Shanaijah Davison, preseason All-Big West selection junior guard, had a stellar sophomore season leading the Beach (3-5) scoring with 14 points per game.
Her counterpart Naomi Hunt and fellow Big West award winner hasn’t had the same luck.
Long Beach announced at the beginning of the season that sharpshooting forward would be out for the year, and would be redshirting her junior season after tearing her ACL.
The loss of Hunt is a big one for the Beach and one that will be felt all season. Long Beach has been preaching equal opportunity offense, and the players seem to be buying in, according to head coach Jeff Cammon.
“It is a tough adjustment in a sense where you don’t have someone who you know can get anywhere between 10 to 20 points a night,” Cammon said. “For us though, we already work on equal opportunity offense, so we are used to having multiple scorers.”
Hunt wasn’t just an average player last year for the Beach, playing in all 30 games for Long Beach, including 30 starts, on her way to making the All-Big West second team.
Hunt finished second on the team in scoring with 10.8 points per game and led the team in three-point shooting at 39.7% from deep.
Davison may be feeling the effects of not having Hunt the most, as she is scoring less and shooting lower from the field than last year.
“It’s been tough without one of our main leaders and scorers, so you have to do some adjusting,” Davison said. “This year though, I am focusing on being more of a facilitator in order to make some of my teammates better.”
One of those teammates is redshirt sophomore guard Ma’Qhi Berry, who caught the eye of Cammon and her teammates.
After missing all of last season, Berry emerged as another scoring option for the Beach, recently scoring 22 against Loyola Marymount and 14 against Penn State.
“We expected Ma’Qhi to come back and be a scorer for us this year,” Cammon said. “Obviously she had to sit out last year, but that allowed her to understand the game from the sidelines, as well as grow mentally and physically.”
With Berry averaging 8.4 points per game so far this season, she sits third on the team in scoring. For Davison and sophomore guard Justina King, however, who averages 13.4 points per game, scoring has been harder to manufacture.
Long Beach is averaging 60.4 points per game on 37.6% shooting, good for fifth and seventh respectively, out of nine teams in the Big West Conference. But the Beach only has three players with at least 20 shots per game while shooting 40% or better from the field.
Sophomore forward Jasmine Hardy is another player getting an opportunity to prove herself with increased minutes due to Hunt’s injury. Hardy currently sits third on the team in scoring with 8.5 points per game, shooting second lowest on the team at 34.7% from the field.
Senior forward Cydnee Kinslow has seen more minutes this season than last, as she currently has the second most minutes played on the team and leads the defensive charge with two steals per game. Kinslow has translated her growing role into two more points per game and one more rebound per game but her three-point shooting is slightly down.
Even Davison, the second-leading scorer on the team with 13 points per game, is struggling due to issues with spacing and a lack of shooters, connecting on only 32.3% of her shots.
Despite the team’s dedication to giving others an opportunity, the stats thus far have shown the team is missing Hunt’s impact on the court.
However, injuries haven’t stopped the team from bonding in their quality time off the court. According to Hunt’s teammates, the time spent together as a team has still been fun and energetic.
“I can’t tell a difference in her morale at all,” Hardy said. “She’s not distant at all and she’s committed to helping us improve while she is off the court.”
Watching from the sidelines will help Hunt see the floor in ways she potentially didn’t before when she was playing. Based on the praise of her basketball IQ and attitude from Cammon and her teammates, Hunt is soaking up as much as she can while sitting on the sidelines.
“We have some tough young ladies and we don’t make excuses,” Cammon said. “We talk about grit and mental toughness, but we always have to be tougher than the situation. For us, it’s just ‘Hey, next person up.’”
In order for the Beach to improve upon their early-season struggles and compete in the Big West after being projected to finish eighth by the coaches in the Big West preseason standings, the next player up mentality must take place.
“These kids are resilient and they believe in themselves when nobody else does,” Cammon said. “And I think … I don’t think, I know, that we are going to prove some people wrong.”