Dec 20, 2013
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Most players look for their own statistics in a postgame box score to judge what kind of game they had.
Southern Illinois guard Mercedes Griffin is more likely to gauge her performance on her opponent's stats. The Saluki sophomore has always taken pride in her defense.
"I've always enjoyed defense," Griffin said. "People really don't expect you to love defense as much as you love offense. It's a hard role to embrace, but I love to do it."
SIU head coach Missy Tiber said it is rare to run across a player like Griffin who puts defense ahead of offense. Tiber often relies on Griffin to guard the opposition's best player.
"She's extremely confident on the defensive end of the court. She would be OK with scoring no points as long as she shut somebody else down," Tiber said. "It's just her mentality. It's a mindset that it is something she loves to do and she prides herself in it."
Some of Griffin's success on the defensive end of the court comes from her quickness. SIU's fastest player, Griffin was a state champion sprinter in high school and considered running track collegiately.
"I've always been fast. I can think back to my childhood days I used to race people in my neighborhood all the time," Griffin said. "I never lost much."
Tiber said Griffin's speed alone, however, isn't what makes her a great defender.
"Lots of kids are gifted athletically and don't play defense as well as she does," Tiber said. "She knows how to read an angle and beat a kid to a position."
Tiber credited Griffin with playing a key role in the biggest SIU win over the past few seasons when the Salukis beat preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorite Missouri State 78-72 last season in Carbondale.
Griffin was also one of the lone bright spots in SIU's loss Sunday at Missouri. She kept Mizzou's leading scorer Morgan Eye, the nation's leader in 3-pointers made, to just seven points and one made 3-pointer.
"She's a tremendous on-ball defender, but we learned at Missouri, she can face guard someone too, and the chances of them catching the ball are slim to none," Tiber said.
Because she sat out a year after transferring from Marquette, Griffin is a older than her fellow sophomores. Tiber said Griffin's emotional maturity is going to pay dividends for the Salukis down the road.
"As we do a better job as a coaching staff of figuring out what she can do and what player she needs to be matched up on to get the best out of her, I think our basketball team will get better as well," Tiber said.