By: Alex Smith
As we await the beginning of the second semester, the Boston University women’s basketball team has had a busy holiday season. They opened up conference play with losses to Holy Cross and Lehigh, two teams that project to finish in the top half of the 10-team Patriot League. That pair of losses has unfortunately been a theme for the Terriers, who sit winless at 0-13.
There is no denying that coach Katy Steding’s team has struggled immensely this season, but it wasn’t unexpected. Steding came into the season with her first recruiting class after taking over for Kelly Greenburg, who resigned amidst accusations of psychologically abusing her players two seasons ago (per Boston Globe). Along with the resignation, four scholarship players quit the team, which sent what had been a consistently winning program into a complete rebuild.
Steding has been faced with the tough task of breathing life into a squad that had been bereft of identity. At her disposal is an interesting mix of Greenburg-era survivors, the former coach’s last recruiting class (current sophomores who never actually played for Greenburg), and Steding’s own inaugural recruiting class.
That class has yet to make major waves for the Terriers this season. After featuring heavily early on, rookie guard duo Lauren Spearman and Payton Hauck along with forward Naiyah Thompson have seen their roles reduced as a couple of more experienced teammates have returned to good health. The trio combined for 7.1 points per game, and none have seen more than 10 minutes in either conference game. Milla Ekstrom, the 6’5” Finn, has yet to make any major contributions on the floor, and seems to be regarded as one for the future by coach Steding.
Last year’s group labored to a five-win season, and this year’s team will hope that they can eclipse that mark with 16 games remaining in the new year. Though they are currently winless, they can take confidence from a pair of strong performances against the two Patriot League foes they’ve faced so far.
BU’s struggles early in the season were mostly due to their inability to rebound and lack of an inside presence, but the Terriers outrebounded Lehigh and Lexi Martins, the second leading rebounder in the NCAA, in their last game.
Kara Sheftic has stepped up her role within the offense and solidified the interior defensively, especially since first semester came to a close. The sophomore’s much improved post game has been on display since the season began, but in the early going she was hampered by poor shooting, having only recently raised her field goal percentage to .322. Look for that number to continue to rise as Sheftic has consistently created high quality looks for herself on the low block and her teammates continue to find her down low with increasing frequency.
6’1” guard/forward Corrine Williams’ return to Steding’s starting five is undoubtedly the other half of the equation as far as BU’s new-look interior presence. After missing the three-game opening home stand with a leg injury, and then BU’s second non-conference home series due to concussion protocol, the sophomore has been immensely productive defensively in BU’s last three games, snatching a combined nine steals and rejecting five shots over her first healthy home stretch for the Terriers.
Throw in forward Meghan Green’s offensive consistency as BU’s leading scorer and what was a weakness early on (-34 rebound margin after three games) has been completely flipped (+5 in two conference games). This presence down low should help open up the floor for BU’s biggest offensive weapon, Sarah Hope.
Hope struggled to find her form early on in the season, as you’d expect from a player coming off of ACL reconstruction. Once she hit her stride, though, she did major damage, especially from beyond the arc. She tied a school record with her seven triples against URI, and shoots a blistering .407 from deep. Most recently, she posted 18 points on 6/6 shooting in the narrow loss to Lehigh.
That said, she averages just 8.5 points per game. Part of this can be attributed to the aforementioned slow start, but after her record-tying performance, she has been the focus of every defense the Terriers have faced which has proved challenging for her. She is constantly hedged hard coming off screens, and defenses even shadow her several feet outside the line, which is done easily enough seeing as BU doesn’t offer many other threats from deep. However, she must remain a factor offensively for the Terriers to compete this season. She has vanished too often for BU, and while her 6/6 shooting night is impressive, it also asks a crucial question: in BU’s only close game of the season, why did she only attempt six shots?
With BU’s newfound inside presence, finding a clear offensive identity will be key as the Terriers seek to pile up some wins in the latter part of the season. The team found something new in their comeback attempt against Lehigh, and the energy and confidence was palpable from the bench as BU whittled away a 14 point halftime lead to just two points with 45 seconds to play. It was the first time they were in a game in the fourth quarter, and now that they’ve whetted their appetite, there is no reason that they won’t be back for more.