Road to Perfection: Butler's Tigers travel to Virginia for ACC clash

by - Staff Writer -
Kendall Spray is shooting 54% from three. (Courtesy ACC)
Kendall Spray is shooting 54% from three. (Courtesy ACC)

Coming off of a 5-0 start in out of conference play, Amanda Butler likes what she sees from her women’s basketball team.

The Tigers open ACC play by traveling to Charlottesville to take on Virginia Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. in a game that will air on ACC Network Extra.

Clemson has three players – Delicia Washington, Kendall Spray and Gabby Elliott – all averaging in double figures as the Tigers are averaging over 80 points per game. Overall, Butler likes where her team is through the first five games of the season.

“I think we've got a lot of different combinations that can be effective,” Butler told TigerNet ahead of the matchup with Virginia. “I think when you look at statistical outcomes, we've had different people in double figures in just about every game, so when you think about the offensive side of the ball, we've got a lot of very capable scorers and there is a lot of versatility and variability in those groups and in those individuals. That should make us, theoretically, harder to guard when we see different teams - a zone team, a man team, a pressing team, a team that defends inside out - we've had some answers for different scenarios that we've been in and that's been great.

"The other thing is that we've got a lot of confidence in a lot of players on our team. We've got some people we feel like are outstanding on defense and we're trying to get them on the floor as often as we can in those defensive opportunity situations. That would probably be a starting point. We've got some options on offense and then we've got some serious defenders on the other side of the ball.”

Spray –- the redshirt senior out of Tennessee -- is shooting 54 percent from three, and Butler said she must be accounted for with or without the ball in her hands.

“Weapon is the best word you can use,” Butler said of Spray. “Because she shoots at such a high percentage and she's so threatening wherever she is on the floor - in transition or in the deep corner or coming off a ball screen, but in particular when she doesn't have the ball in her hands yet but you have to account for her - it really opens the floor up for our attackers and it takes the pressure off of our players whose job it is to get buckets in the paint. It definitely allows you to move her around and we're certainly always trying to find ways to create shots for her or give her scenarios where she can create her shot by making good reads.

"Just having her on the floor means that if you're going to give her the attention she deserves, then we get to play a 4-on-4 game with a more open floor because even if she's in the corner not moving, you've got to stay stuck to her all the time or she'll make you pay.

“The thing that I'm really impressed with Kendall and her growth is her ability to find her shots in transition and the areas of her game that have really grown - shots in transition coming off of ball screens or the early offense screens that are really just hard to guard. Whatever your strategy is for taking Kendall away in transition, you haven't had a chance to get that strategy set yet and she's doing a really good job of making the transition from defense to offense, getting down the floor and finding the ball, and her teammates as passers finding her when she's open.”

Defensively, Clemson is holding opponents to just over 47 points per game and 33-percent shooting, but Butler said her team is a work in progress on that side of the ball.

“Slowly, it's coming. I think the effort is there and I think we're doing a better job of communicating, which are two foundational elements of good defense,” she said. “I think we've got to get better with our details and our levels of awareness in different coverages. We have to be really decisive about what we see, calling it out and then acting in the appropriate fashion to whatever that coverage is. I've definitely seen improvement, but we've got a long way to go before I think we're approaching our defensive best.”

As the Tigers head out on the road for just the second time this season, Butler said her team is facing a new reality in 2020 and must adjust to playing in front of limited crowds and figuring out how to bring their own energy.

“It doesn't really matter because it's reality. I like the noise. I like that adversarial energy that you get from an opponent's crowd,” she said. “I know for me personally; I miss it a little bit. I don't know how our players think about it. I hope they're a lot mentally tougher than me and they're just focused on each other. It does make it a little bit easier to hear, but there is that void of energy that you get - whether it's a home crowd or an away crowd - that as a competitor you always feed off of. That's an adjustment. When we go into these gyms - at Charlotte, there were 100 people there - and it feels more like a scrimmage sometimes than a game and that's just an adjustment we have to make.

“We have to generate our own energy. We can't let our bench being all separated and not having that closeness that we're used to, we can't let that impact our energy that we get from the sidelines. I think there are a lot of areas that we have to adjust to. There's a reality to the way we're going to play this season and we've got to adjust to them and we've got to try to adjust to them at an elite level because I think we're an energy team.”

Looking ahead to the Cavaliers, Clemson only has three games of film to look evaluate because of game cancellations, something that can be both an advantage and disadvantage for the Tigers.

“In terms of preparation, we would much rather have five looks at them instead of three looks at them,” Butler said. “I don't think rest and some of those things that seem to be the obvious things, I don't think it's a disadvantage for us because we've played more games. Just in terms of trying to discover who a team is and what they're really after on defense and on offense and in the game or quarter situation, the more opportunities you have to watch them in those game situations, the better. Maybe they've gotten a little bit more rest by not playing the game last week, but I wish we had the opportunity to have more eyes on them and really try to evaluate them at a deeper and more detailed level.”

Virginia is off to an 0-3 start this season. Butler thinks a big reason for the slow start is a young Virginia team is looking to replace two star guards off of last year’s squad.

“You can't overlook the fact that they lost arguably the best perimeter tandem in the league last year in (Dominique) Toussaint and Jocelyn Willoughby. Willoughby was one of my favorite players - not to play against but to watch. I really admired her game,” Butler said. “Those were two kids that in any situation - offense, defense, transition, game-winner - they could go get a bucket and were pretty consistent, high-level playmakers. You're still trying to figure out, I think, if you're Virginia, how are we going to get that type of production. I really like their team. I think they've got size, length and they've got ballplayers.

“The kid playing the '4' right now, she's shooting 77-percent from the floor. That's ridiculous. That's an amazing level of consistency and efficiency. They've definitely got some really, really good parts. I don't think 0-3 is indicative of are they good or are they bad, what kind of year this is for them. I think they are very, very capable. What I know is they are playing at home; they've got kids that can make plays - especially getting to the rim - and their length can definitely be a problem for us when they're on defense. We've got to be a better version of Clemson than we were yesterday and hope we are our best version of Clemson (Thursday).”

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