It's hard to trust every number you read, especially when it comes to sports.
Take, for instance, the Madras girls basketball team and its current record of 2-3 through five games.
If you only look at the number, you might get the impression the team has taken a clear step back — but you would be missing out on some key context about those games. For instance, the first four games of the season came against opponents from the 5A and 6A classifications, one and two rungs above Madras' 4A.
In their first 4A matchup of the season, Madras went on the road and beat Banks 51-43 last Friday. Just as importantly, the coaching staff now has more data to work with — meaning the numbers are increasingly trustworthy.
"We played good," said head coach Jerin Say. "We had a couple hard practices after our (Dec. 14) loss to Bend. As a team, we focused in on our team goals, our team stats. We compiled a few games of data, so we kinda homed in on that."
"We created a lot more intensity and a lot more buy-in in our last two practices before Banks," Say added. "The girls came out of the gates playing really well as a team."
That was a welcome sight for a team coming off a tough 44-27 loss at home to the Lava Bears of Bend.
"In the Bend game, we played a lot of 1-on-1 basketball and got away from who we were as a team," explained Say. "Things weren't working well for us, and then people revert back to old habits — bad habits. So we just checked ourselves on that and came out against Banks with a whole new focus."
For Say and the other Madras coaches, statistics play an important role in how the team defines and tracks its goals. This use of analytics to inform decision-making is increasingly common at every level of basketball, and Say's squad is no different.
"Looking at stats as a team," said the coach, "I can start to to think about, 'OK, right now, if we're struggling on defense, what can I do to find a different group on defense that's going to set a different tone?' That's what we did at Banks."
Say noted a tweak to the starting lineup — bringing top scorer Sasha Esquiro off the bench — that paid off last week. The team set goals for itself related to shooting, rebounding and turnovers. While rebounding is still a work in progress, the shots are falling and the team is playing more carefully with the ball.
It seems that sometimes it's good to put some trust into the numbers.
Madras continues its run-up to the Tri-Valley season next week, when the Buffs head to Sisters for a three-day tournament. Other teams in the event include Banks, Henley, Junction City, La Grande and Molalla.
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