Column: Eastern’s guard play leading the way for women’s basketball

Adam Tumino, Women's Basketball Reporter

Seven games into the 2019-2020 season, the Eastern women’s basketball team is playing as well as any team in the OVC.

The Panthers possess the third-best offense in the conference and the stingiest defense, and are therefore outscoring their opponents by 12.4 points per game. This mark is 4.4 points higher than the second-best margin. 

Sophomore forward Abby Wahl has been the Panthers’ leading scorer thus far. Her average of 14.6 points per game is the seventh-best in the conference, bolstered by 23 points against Wisconsin Nov. 26 and 16 points against Lipscomb Dec. 1.

But perhaps the key to the Panthers’ success has been the play of three guards: Karle Pace, Taylor Steele and Jordyn Hughes.

Pace, last season’s leading scorer, is second on the team this season behind Wahl. She is averaging 13.4 points per game, the eighth-most in the conference, and she is leading the OVC in steals per game, averaging 2.6.

Pace also ranks fourth in the OVC with 3.7 assists per game and second with a 1.6 assists/turnover ratio.

It is still early, but Pace’s field goal, three-point and free throw percentages are all lower than they were last season, but she is just 0.5 points per game behind last season’s average.

Steele has increased all of her shooting percentages from last season and is third on the team in scoring this season, averaging 12.3 points per game, which is 1.3 points more than last season. But her biggest leap forward has been in rebounding.

Steele was sixth on the team with 2.9 rebounds per game last season. She has more than doubled this average this season and is not only leading the team with six rebounds per game, but also ranks 15th in the conference in that regard.

Steele is also just 0.5 steals per game behind Pace in steals per game, ranking fifth in the conference with 2.1.

Hughes exploded on to the scene in the Panthers’ very first game of the season, scoring a career-high 24 points against Lindenwood Nov. 5. She also scored 24 points in the team’s most recent game Dec. 1 against Lipscomb.

She has been Eastern’s best three-point shooter in both volume and efficiency, leading the team with 13 three-pointers and tying with Wahl for the team lead with a .500 three-point shooting percentage. Hughes ranks 16th in the OVC in points per game (10.7), making Eastern the only team in the OVC with four players in the top-16 in scoring.

Besides Pace, Steele and Hughes, the Panthers have also seen production out of guards Kira Arthofer and Lariah Washington.

Arthofer has not been relied on much for scoring, averaging 3.4 points per game. However, she ranks seventh in the OVC in steals per game (2.0) and eighth in assists per game (3.3), the third-and second-best averages on the team respectively.

Washington is the team’s fifth-leading scorer as a freshman, averaging 7.4 points per game. She is third on the team in rebounding (4.6 per game) and fourth in steals (1.7 per game), the latter ranking 13th in the OVC.

Behind the play of these backcourt contributors, and with Wahl anchoring the frontcourt, the Panthers could outplay their position on preseason polls and make a move in the OVC this season.

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]