Till embracing 'big' role

BY CODY GOODWIN | JULY 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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Claire Till does not tower over her opposition when she stands in the paint. Her 6-foot frame is often dwarfed, really. It’s never by a huge margin but noticeable enough to make a difference.

Till didn’t dwell in the paint during her freshman campaign with the Iowa women’s basketball team. She never had to. But during this summer’s Game Time League season, she has made the transition into the paint — mostly on the defense — becoming a “big,” of sorts, for her team.

“It’s different, kind of, but I like it,” she said. “Having a little team, you’re able to run up and down the floor really fast and push the ball. That’s what we like to do, and it seems to work.

“I have no problem going against the big girls. I think that’s fun.”

Her summer-league coach, Randy Larson, knew he drafted a team that was primarily small. The usual advantage for such teams is their ability to spread the floor on the scoring end.

Till’s matchup with opposing bigs heightens this benefit. The native of Dubuque normally plays guard, as she has for most of her basketball life. This is evident on the offensive end, when Till possesses the ball out near the 3-point line.

In each of the first three summer-league games, Till has lured centers and post players out near the wing. This allows for more open space near the basket and gives her the opportunity to skate by her big defender and take the ball to the hoop.

“Claire has a lot of speed, and she’s so aggressive at the 4 [position],” summer teammate Melissa Dixon said. “She has an advantage on the bigs just because she can take them to the basket every single time.”

Till is a threat from deep, too. She often uses her quickness (one advantage over the bigs she prides on) to make space for deep 2s and 3s when she finds the defense becoming hesitant.

Till also knows that drawing the defense toward her — whether it be through driving the paint or standing on the wing — allows for her teammates to make cuts and set screens through the paint, opening up the other perimeter shooters on the team. And Till often finds them.

“We play that 5-out so she can have that matchup,” Larson said. “It gives us a situation where [the opposition] needs help, and they leave a good scorer open. Claire can beat her girl and has embraced the idea of not always scoring after she beats her. That’s something not many are willing to embrace.
“And the shooters have made it easy for her because they’ve made their shots.”

Still, there remains a challenge of defending the opposing big. Till’s matchups have ranged from defending an All-Big Ten talent in Morgan Johnson (who scored 26 and snagged 15 boards against Till in the first week) to lesser known but still potent competition in Nicole Smith (who recorded a double-double against Till with 18 points and 11 rebounds on Monday).

These matchups have caused Till to think more strategically in terms of how to defend and garner rebounds, and she’s flourished to the tune of a double-digit rebound performance in each of the three Game Time games she’s played.

“I’m undersized when I play, but you have to use your quickness and athleticism to try and get around to different angles,” she said. “They definitely have me on height, but I try to muscle them up as best as I can.”

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