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Bench helping DWU women in climb of GPAC standings

Jan. 15—MITCHELL — Whether Grace Fryda drains a clutch 3-pointer or Mya Wilson comes up with a momentum-changing steal, the Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball team has looked to its second unit at times to energize the rest of the team.

Through the first half of the season, the Tigers' bench has come through in big spots.

DWU has started the season at 12-4, as the Tigers currently sit fourth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference standings in part due to its depth on the roster. DWU's bench has averaged 30.9 points per game, accounting for approximately 40% of the team's scoring this season. Rotating as many as nine players on a regular basis during a game, finding the right combination on the floor presents a unique but good challenge for the coaching staff.

"As coaches, we're always trying to find combinations and which combination is going to work," Tigers head coach Jason Christensen said. "We're trying to find kids that can play together and it's a good problem to have when we can play nine kids right now."

The second unit scored a season-high 55 points in a blowout victory against Hastings on Nov. 18. They've also kept the Tigers in games as well, scoring 25 points against Concordia (Neb.) on Jan. 6 as the team remained in striking distance until the final quarter. Each member of the Tigers rotation has also stepped up to produce big games throughout the year.

Fryda has scored at least 18 points in three games this season, including 18 against Hastings when she went 6-of-9 from the field. Taliyah Hayes also collected a career-high 18 points against Mount Marty on Dec. 9. Producing those games comes from their mindset of always being prepared from practice as the moment can find them without warning.

"We work on situations in practice that help us be more confident on the floor," freshman Taliyah Hayes said. "We also work on being confident in ourselves as players and our teammates being confident in us as well."

While it may not reflect necessarily on the scoresheet, the situational work from the DWU bench has helped the players be ready to contribute to the Tigers in key moments. For instance, Hayes came up with a big steal on Jan. 10 against Morningside (Iowa), leading to points on the other end and proving instrumental in the Tigers' comeback victory.

Later in the game, Wilson converted a pair of crucial free throws to extend the Tigers lead. The players in the second unit have learned to make the most of the opportunity they're given, even if they have shooting struggles.

"Obviously, if you're not hitting well, you can always make up for it on defense," Hayes said. "It's something that they really look for as defenders. If you're shooting well, then it's your night, but you can always make something happen during the game."

It's also a point of emphasis the coaching staff makes to all the Tigers players, including the bench, given the variables over the course of the game.

"We talk about it all the time," Christensen said. "You got to have your mind right and be ready to go. You got to value your minutes. Your minutes might be seven minutes one game, your minutes might be 32 (the next). Value your minutes, accept your minutes, and go out and play hard."

DWU returns to the floor Wednesday, Jan. 17 in Sioux Center, Iowa to take on GPAC rival and No. 1-ranked Dordt at 6 p.m. Through all the combinations the Tigers send to the floor during the game, the players have learned to work together and develop trust to produce the best outcome possible.

"We all get along very well," Hayes said. "I like being on this team as we have a very good team chemistry which I think helps us on the court, and it's just fun playing with the girls.