For the second time this season, the Boston University women’s basketball team won a close and gritty battle against one of its bitter America East Conference rivals, the University of Hartford, by adjusting on offense and continuing its strong defense, coming away with a 42–40 victory.
“There’s not much to prepare for, to be honest with you,” said BU (18–4, 8–1 America East) coach Kelly Greenberg. “Our team knows everything they run, they know everything we run, and they’re just a very good defensive team.”
With that in mind, the Terriers knew they had to match the defensive intensity that the Hawks (14–8, 5–4 America East) would bring into the gym if they wanted to compete and win the game. Earlier this week, Greenberg told her team it needed to focus on all of Hartford’s key players, namely forward Nikkia Smith and guard Amber Bepko.
The first half of the game saw the Terriers follow through on this defensive game plan, and the Hawks offense was stymied throughout. Hartford had trouble getting any sort of offensive continuity or flow going, and the team as a whole only hit eight field goals and shot 29.6 percent from the field.
BU mainly focused on Hartford’s two offensive juggernauts, both of whom averaged 10.8 points per game coming into the contest. Smith and Bepko were held to a combined eight points in the first half as the Terriers clamped down on them and forced poor shot attempts.
Although the Terrier defense was strong in the first half, they began to struggle on the offensive side of the ball. BU initially came out attacking the paint. Junior forwards Whitney Turner and Rashidat Agboola scored the first six Terrier points, all from the painted area.
“We know they really don’t help off of our guards,” Greenberg said. “They just keep playing us. It opens up some lanes for [Agboola and Turner] to score.”
Although BU did open up to a 10–6 lead, the Hawks began to defend the paint more effectively and played BU senior guards Mo Moran and Chantell Alford very tight. The Terriers shot a lowly 21.4 percent from the field, which put them in a 22–19 hole going into the second half.
“As the game moved forward they started doubling our post,” Greenberg said. “There were a lot of different strategies and adjustments going on for both teams.”
BU knew it needed to get some offensive rhythm going to pull out a comeback win, and it adjusted accordingly at halftime.
Starting early in the second half, the Terriers had much better command of the game on offense. They went on a quick 8–0 run within the first five minutes of the half to get out to a 27–22 lead. The Terriers opened up the floor a bit more, with their three guards scoring during the run.
Overall, the Terriers improved to 45.5 percent from the field in the second half.
“I think our team has good personality and they’re tough,” Greenberg said. “They were like, ‘alright we can’t make a shot, let’s figure this out.’”
The BU defense came out strong again and held the Hawks without a field goal for nearly the first seven minutes of the second half. The Terriers forced the Hawks into taking some tough looks, frustrating Bepko. Bepko only hit one field goal in the first half and none in the second half. He shot 0-for-7 from 3-point range in the game.
Although Bepko and the majority of the Hartford offense was cold, Smith and senior forward Ruthanne Doherty kept the offense going as they helped Harford take a 40–36 lead with 1:53 remaining in the game.
Covering Smith in the paint was tough for BU, as Smith utilized her impressive post moves and was one of the keys to the Hawks taking the lead down the stretch. With Smith being a force on the inside, the Terriers needed a stop to have a chance at winning.
“I thought the biggest play for us is when they went to get it into Nikkia Smith and Danielle [Callahan] and another guard both clamped in, and Mo [Moran] grabbed the loose ball,” Greenberg said. “I thought that was huge.”
Alford took the game into her own hands, as she drained the Terriers’ last six points, including what ended up being the game winner on a driving layup where she was fouled and completed a 3-point play.
“It felt great,” Alford said. “My emotions were all over the court. We needed it.”