By: Andrew Mason
Let’s Get You Caught Up: (8-9 overall, 3-4 Patriot League)
After Head Coach Katy Steding’s first three seasons ended in sub-.500 records, there was a lot of weight on her and the BU Women’s Basketball program to deliver in 2017-2018. With a newly revamped roster, Steding and her team were able to do just that in the early stages of this season.
The year began with not only the first opening-night victory in four years – a 74-73 home thriller over Northeastern – but a notable 5-2 record through the first chunk of non-conference action. But after a three-game winning streak was ended inside Case Gym by a 2-7 Marist College team, BU found it difficult to continue playing at a high-caliber level on a consistent basis, dropping the next two games to finish out the non-conference schedule.
Heading into Patriot League with five wins – as many non-league victories as the last three seasons combined – and five losses, the Terriers were ready to make some noise. A one-point defeat over Army on the road proved Steding and her players had the grit to become serious contenders in the conference once again.
The rest of conference action has provided both ups and downs for the Terriers, who have just about alternated wins and losses each game. Currently at a 3-4 league record, BU is tied for sixth place with Lafayette out of 10 schools, and are four games back from 7-0 American University.
As most BU students were at home the past month for the holidays, the women’s basketball squad embarked on their most difficult part of their schedule. The team has travelled for eight of the last 12 days, playing four games in four different states. The most recent contest resulted in a 66-50 loss in Washington D.C. against PL’s best, American.
There has been no greater standout in the 2017-18 season than freshman Katie Nelson. The Falmouth, Mass. point guard took the reigns of the team right from the hands of 2017 graduate Sarah Hope. But as famous author Stan Lee once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and Nelson has delivered.
At just 18-years-old, Nelson has started all 17 games for BU, averaging 10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. She has received multiple Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors. In addition to leading the conference with 35.4 minutes each night, Nelson has gained the respect of her teammates early in her college career.
“Point guard is not an easy position and everyday she seems more comfortable and is being more vocal,” said senior captain Corrine Williams. “The coaches had a lot of trust and faith in her from the beginning and she will only continue to grow and get better going forward.”
Interestingly enough, Nelson claims she was not a point guard in high school, where she preferred the two-guard position.
Although now her main job is to be the orchestrator of Steding’s offense, Nelson is one of the best 3-point shooters on the team. With a team-high 34 3-point makes this season at 41 percent shooting from deep, Nelson finds herself in fifth in the league at 2.0 threes per game.
Anyone who followed the team a season ago knew that Nia Irving had a ton of potential at the forward position. Peaks of greatness seen during her freshman campaign have turned into daily performances, as the Fairfield, Maine native has become the leading scorer of the team during her sophomore year.
At 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, Irving has notched four double-doubles so far in 2017-18, and is currently the team’s leading scorer. As a player that has proved she is reliable both in starting lineup or coming off the bench, Irving is a coach’s dream who has grown tremendously in one year’s time.
“I’ve been getting in and shooting a lot on my own, so I think that’s helped my confidence out on the court,” said Irving. “I know that we need someone to step up and be a scorer during games, and I just try to do that to help the team.”
Perhaps her greatest game this year came in the final contest of 2017. The Terriers travelled to West Point, N.Y. to take on Army in the Patriot League opener. Down by one point with under 13 seconds remaining, Irving received the ball under the basket on a bounce-pass from Williams. Irving put up the shot and scored with 11.8 seconds remaining to ultimately give BU the win on the road. Irving would finish the game with 22 points and 14 rebounds, kicking the Terriers off to a hot league start.
Irving hasn’t cooled down either, establishing herself as one of the more consistent offensive components on this team. In the most recent loss at American, Irving grabbed 18 points and seven boards off the bench.
It’s hard to have confidence when Steding’s three seasons leading up to this year boasted a 21-69 record. Imagine the difficulty of believing in yourself while having to play opponent after opponent that has likely beaten you for multiple years in a row. Tough, huh? Not according to this team.
It’s apparent that Steding believes in her team more than anyone. She has set guidelines and expectations that every player behaves and trains like champions. While still respecting opponents, Steding encourages a mentality that BU can win every time they step onto a court.
Each practice comes with a competitive edge needed to succeed in the NCAA. Each game comes with the desire to take down foes and restore BU to the top of mid-major basketball.
Many players’ individual confidence has clearly grown as well. Sophomore Vanessa Edgehill (3.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals) is playing smoothly in her limited minutes. Freshman Tenisha Pressley (2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds) hasn’t shied away from big moments early in her first year, playing well in her 15 minutes per game, some of which have come in crunch time.
Any team worth anything needs some form of chip on its shoulder, and this team is beginning to construct that culture.
Many teams in the PL have one or two players that do all the talking, with three or four niche players that fill in the gaps. At BU however, the roster runs deep, with many weapons in Steding’s arsenal.
The Terriers have six players averaging over five points per contest. The leading scorer of the team also changes on what seems like a nightly basis. One night it’s junior Payton Hauck (8.3 points, 2.1 rebounds), who’s set a new personal career-high in points three different times this season. The next game it’s Katie Nelson, who has recorded three games this season of 19 or more points.
Co-captains Corrine Williams and Sophie Beaudry have reached double-digit scoring in eight and four games, respectively.
The Terriers’ bench also contains notable talent, something not found on every PL roster. Junior Naiyah Thompson (5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds) is one of the best on-ball defenders on the team, and can attack the rim at will. Senior Kara Sheftic (3.5 points, 2.2 rebounds) provides a strong presence in the paint and is motivated to rebound just about anything within a five-foot radius.
Look at it this way: anytime junior Lauren Spearman is struggling to find minutes, you know you have a special team in front of you. The Los Angeles native makes a strong argument for having the best step-back shot and 1-on-1 game in the Patriot League.
The Highest High: Win at Delaware
The most memorable moment of the season thus far has to be the 85-79 overtime victory at Delaware back in mid-November. The game provided a chance for the then 1-1 Terriers to pull out their first win on the road.
BU pushed the game to OT against a solid Blue Hen basketball program (currently 11-5 overall). In extra minutes, the Terriers had possession of the ball up two points with under 40 ticks on the clock. As the shot clock ran down, Nelson launched a deep three-pointer from the left wing.
The shot sailed in the air for what seemed like 10 minutes until in finally clanged inside the hoop. Nelson had nailed the dagger, handing Delaware what is still their only home loss on the year.
“It was a huge win for us,” Williams recalled. “That game especially showed what type of season we can have this year.”
Giving up too many offensive rebounds has become a regular habit for BU.
The Terriers allow opponents 14 offensive rebounds per contest. Even more eye-opening, BU has given up 20 or more offensive rebounds on four separate occasions, including 25 at Delaware.
“We need to be more aggressive on the boards, simple as that,” Williams said. “Boxing out isn’t something we have been doing consistently, and we need to start attacking boards more.”
There should be no reason that BU is not at the top of the conference in rebounding. With six players listed over six feet tall, the Terriers have the weapons to control the paint every game.
Protecting “The Roof”
The Terriers need to do a better job at protecting their own home court. A current 3-4 record inside Case Gym is better than in years past, but holds room for improvement.
The first two home contests of the year fell in the way of BU, in thrillers against city-rivals Northeastern and Boston College. The Terriers have just one win at home since, to go with four losses, two of which were by 15 points or more.
The next few weeks will test this team’s resiliency at home, as four of the next five games take place inside “The Roof.” Not that home games are locks, but a team that wants to be a serious contender in the Patriot League Tournament will need to be able to defend their house properly.
The biggest hurdle this team has to overcome is turnovers. The Terriers turn the ball over 18.2 times per game, fourth most in the conference – winless Colgate is first with 18.6 per contest.
With such talented shooters on the team, like Nelson, Williams and Edgehill, as well as a dominant inside from Shaftic and Beaudry, you can’t help but wonder how many more points this team could put up if they protected the ball more.
Reducing turnovers starts with Nelson, who leads the team with nearly four per game. Of course, playing over 35 minutes each night will result in some mishaps, but she could take her game to the next level is she is able to cap her turnovers at three each contest.
My Overall Midseason Grade: C+
This team receives a C+ because they can do more. They are much better at this point in the season than in the last three years, but settling for just better than before is not good enough: they have it in them to be at the top of the Patriot League.
The Terriers make up a very talented roster that poses threats at every spot on the floor. Each player is capable of making a play. They need to work on their weaknesses and turn up the momentum heading into the back half of league action.
Being a middle-of-the-pack team is not the goal for Steding and her squad. With almost 20 games together under their belt, and less travelling in the coming weeks, this team has a great shot of moving multiple games above .500.
Corrine William’s Midseason Grade of Her Team: B-
“Right now, I’d say we are about a B-. We need to be more consistent. Some days our defense looks great and our offense lacks or vice versa, we have to start playing consistently on both ends of the floor,” Williams said.