It didn’t take long for Brandon to see Cassie Cooke was a scoring machine for the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball team, but fans are starting to see a different look this semester.
Since the Christmas break, the former all-Canadian has become more aware of how teams are guarding her and trying to find ways to wear her down during Canada West conference games, so she’s adjusted her game accordingly.
Although Cooke is still putting a lot of points — she’s currently leading the country with an average of 25.9 while logging 37.5 minutes of court time per game, the most in the country as well — the third-year import shooting guard from Westminster, Md., is starting to rely on her teammates more instead of simply putting the team on her back every game. In the first semester, Cooke averaged 3.3 assists per game, but that number has spiked to seven assists per game in the four games since the break, and Cooke knows that will help both her and her teammates.
"I think a lot of teams try to take advantage of me driving and tiring myself out when that’s not really going to help my team," Cooke said. "It really helps when everyone is scoring all around, which everyone has been doing. Even our posts are getting more comfortable scoring from the foul line, which is making it a lot easier for them to score.
"I play 38 minutes a game and it’s hard to play offence and defence, especially the last six minutes of the fourth quarter. For us, a lot of the time it’s close in the fourth quarter and I need to have that energy and they need to have that energy. Everyone needs to collectively understand how much one can take, especially at the end of the game so that we’re all on the same page, especially when it’s loud so we can hear each other and focus."
Cooke’s focus on finding her teammates more has helped the Bobcats win three straight games to improve to 5-9 on the season.
In the four games since Christmas, Cooke has put up 31.6 per cent of Brandon’s points, as opposed to the 45.8 per cent she scored in the Bobcats’ first 10 games, which means teams have to be more aware of players like Kaela Cranston, Stephanie Haynes, Aleah Bridges, Amy Williams and Jaynell Gillett.
Brandon has won three of its four games since the break and its only loss was by three points.
Bobcats head coach Novell Thomas is happy to see better ball distribution and believes the biggest reason for it is the players getting more comfortable with each other and his system.
"We just had an abbreviated training camp over the break with a little bit higher intensity and working players harder and it’s just carrying over," he said. "There’s nothing new coming in now and they know what to expect from me and know what to do offensively and defensively. There’s just that comfort level and they’re settling into a mode where the end product on the floor is better."
Having other players step up to score has Cooke excited as she knows she has occasional off-nights and this gives the Bobcats, who have already set a team record by winning five games for the first time since joining Canada West in 1999-2000, a better chance to win every night.
That balanced scoring will be key as the Bobcats prepare for a home-and-home series with the Winnipeg Wesmen that begins on Thursday at the Healthy Living Centre before moving to Winnipeg on Saturday.
"It’s important, especially against a team like Winnipeg coming up," Thomas said. "They exploit your weaknesses, so if you have somebody on the court who can’t do something, they’ll exploit it. It’s good to have other players step up and really be threats."