By: Ethan Fuller
Boston University women’s basketball is off to a strong 3-1 start — its best to open the season since 2007-08. All three victories came courtesy of the team’s recent voyage, affirming the growth of a program that lost every non-conference road matchup last season.
A year of experience playing together undoubtedly helps head coach Marisa Moseley, her staff and her returning players. But one of the keys to success has also been an increased emphasis on preparedness. In the year-and-change that Moseley has led the Terriers, she has worked to instill an “expect to win” attitude.
“And the reason you can expect to win,” Moseley said on Friday, “is because you prepare to win. If we put in the work and we do everything we need to do, then we should win these games. [The players] feel confident going in that, ‘You know what, we’re the more prepared team.'”
If the record is any indicator, that culture is paying off.
“I think I’m more prepared, and as a team we are more prepared in our game plan,” Moseley said on Saturday, “and I think our execution has been a lot better.”
Here’s what stood out from the Terriers’ winning streak:
Game-planning defensively, according to Moseley, has improved significantly.
“We’ve made even more of an emphasis on making sure we know the scout and who we want to limit on [the opponent’s] team,” she said.
Perhaps the chief example comes in the performance of Albany’s 6-3 senior Alexi Schecter. The Great Danes’ leading scorer managed just eight points against the Terriers last week in large part due to BU’s scheme. Moseley explained that her team, despite being undersized, limited Schecter by double-teaming her when possible and crowding the paint with a “sagging” man defense. It was effective — Schecter struggled to find open shots and made just two of her six attempts in the contest.
BU also incorporates an extremely fluid defensive approach that involves rapid switching between man and zone defense throughout a game. As Moseley said, “communication is key” when making these schematic switches on the fly. In their home loss to Marist, the Terriers hard a hard time switching cleanly between the two defenses, but during this road trip the defense trended upward.
“I think also, understanding what the defense is trying to do [is important] so that triggers for everyone and they see it,” Moseley added. “And Katie [Nelson] has been our ringleader with that; she sees stuff really quickly.”
The Terriers have relied on four new players to make a quick leap to Division I basketball. Though they have all made the expected freshmen mistakes, each player has contributed meaningfully to the squad’s hot start.
“They’re gonna make some mistakes where you either just don’t have the experience or they’re just like a high school kind of play,” Moseley said. “But I think they’re all really driven to be good players and they want to do whatever they can to help our team.”
After dazzling in her season debut, elusive guard Sydney Johnson has not lit up the scoreboard in the same way, but still averaged 11 points over the three road games. Johnson has also demonstrated a nose for the ball defensively, grabbing nearly three steals per contest.
“I think Syd’s really just scratched the surface of what she can become,” Moseley said. “A lot of it is just mentally for her.”
Annabelle Larnard, the second freshman starter, has grown into a reliable shooting presence; her astonishing 53 percent clip from downtown is the best on the team. Larnard has gotten into foul trouble frequently (reaching three or more fouls in three out of four games), but overall her nine points and 4.3 rebounds per game both slot in as solid starting numbers, especially for a first-year player.
“She has a lot of natural skills. So it’s now about learning to hone those skills within everything we do,” Moseley said of Larnard.
Off the bench, sweet-shooting guard Maggie Pina has knocked down half of her looks this season and been a steady presence as a backup ball-handler.
“She’s a really, really good shooter, Moseley said. “And I don’t think she’s been getting as many shots in the games, but she’s going to be an asset for us.”
Perhaps the greatest improvement over the course of the road trip came from 6-3 forward Maren Durant. The Winchester native has made 75 percent of her shots this season and put up nearly four points and four rebounds across just 12 minutes per game thus far.
Durant has also been a significant interior presence defensively, holding her own against physically imposing frontcourts in UNH and Albany. Moseley said that the exposure to tough interior players has really helped accelerate Durant’s development.
“She’s a sponge,” Moseley added. “She wants to do exactly what you say, and so she’s very coachable in that way.”
“It’s understanding physicality, it’s understanding position; she wants to be out there and contribute in every way she can. Her size really helps us.”
And the fifth freshman? Liz Shean, a 5-8 guard from Virginia, has been officially cleared to play after dealing with injuries, according to Moseley. Shean will have to work her way up to game speed before competing for a rotation spot, but she’s off to a good start.
“She’s a top-level spark,” Moseley said. “She’s full of energy, passion and really a tough kid, so I’m excited to get her somewhere in the rotation.”
The one glaring weak spot for BU comes at the charity stripe. Despite getting to the line an astonishing 24 times per game, the Terriers have made only 64.6 percent of their free throws and squandered a potential 34 additional points over their four contests.
Free-throw issues may seem difficult to fix, but Moseley is trying a plethora of options in practice.
“We shot a ton of free throws while we were tired, and we shot them in different combinations — sometimes we’d shoot ten straight, sometimes two and rotate,” Moseley said. “We have been shooting a decent percentage in practice. So we’re trying to have one person step up at a random time and hit two right now and all that.”
The head coach recognizes that poor free-throw shooting is a weakness that can easily kill momentum or haunt the team in close games.
“It’s huge,” she said, “and yeah, I don’t want that to come back and bite us because we have been in these close games, and the other night [against Albany] we could have but that game away — no doubt about it.”
A subtle but powerful difference between this year’s Terriers and last year’s squad is the immense shooting upside that this team possesses.
The 2018-19 BU team fluctuated wildly between hot and cold nights from beyond the arc, relying heavily on the trio of Katie Nelson, Payton Hauck and Lauren Spearmen. But this season the roster features a diverse group of players who can step out and knock down shots. Larnard, as previously mentioned, is already a proficient spot-up shooter. Meanwhile, sophomore forward Riley Childs hinted before the season that she could expand her range, and has hit half of her three-pointers to open the season.
Off the bench, Maggie Pina has the trust of Moseley and a 40 percent clip from deep early, albeit in a small sample. The ceiling really comes down to the development of BU’s starting backcourt. Sydney Johnson and Katie Nelson are shooting a rough 23.1 percent on threes to start the season, and though they both have demonstrated perimeter ability, making the shots with consistency would open up a lot of space for them to drive.
The Terriers’ defense came on strong during the road trip. If they add scoring diversity on offense, BU can become a dynamic two-way threat in preparation for conference play.
Featured image courtesy of Brady Gardner.