Basketball, Sports

BU hosts Hartford with top spot up for grabs

First place and control of the America East conference will be determined tonight when the Boston University women’s basketball team plays host to the University of Hartford at 7 p.m. at Case Gymnasium.

The Terriers (10-6, 4-0 AE) enter the matchup with the Hawks (8-7, 3-0) riding high on a five-game winning streak. Senior co-captain Jesyka Burks-Wiley has led the charge for the Terriers, averaging 21.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game during the run, including three double-double performances.

Burks-Wiley put up 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds in a 79-62 win over the University of New Hampshire last Saturday. The scoring performance tied a career best for the 6-foot-1 forward and a layup midway through the second half placed her in choice company, as she became the 17th Terrier to surpass the 1,000-point career mark.

More history could await the Kansas City, Mo., native, as her 494 career rebounds place her just six boards away from joining BU’s elite 1,000-point, 500-rebound club. Seven other Terriers have achieved the task, led by 1981 graduate Debbie Miller, who tallied 1,869 points and 1,198 rebounds in her career.

BU coach Kelly Greenberg has been beyond pleased with Burks-Wiley’s emergence as one of America East’s best forwards.

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if [Burks-Wiley] did average 20-plus points a game for the rest of the season,’ Greenberg said. ‘She just keeps taking care of business game-by-game, and I think she’s one of the best players in the America East. I’m not surprised by her performance because she is an experienced senior who plays extremely hard and, at times, plays with a recklessness that I love.’

Greenberg said that she and her squad would love to jump on Burks-Wiley’s back and let her carry the team as far as she can, but insisted that BU is in no way a one-girl show.

‘I do think there will be teams that are going to be more prepared for Jes, and they’ll look to take some things away,’ Greenberg said. ‘We don’t want to put too much weight on her shoulders . . . I do think that eventually there’s going to be a game where somebody is going to really go out of their way to shut her down, and I think that’s going to be okay because we have a lot of other weapons with which to counter.’

If there’s any America East team that could be up to the task of slowing Burks-Wiley down, it’s the Hawks. Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti’s teams have a reputation as being tough defensively, and this year’s squad is no exception.

Hartford has allowed a conference-low 58.3 points per game on the season, and no conference opponent has scored more than 54 points against the Hawks yet this year.

‘[Hartford] plays a lot of man-to-man, and they’re very aggressive,’ Greenberg said. ‘They do mix in some zone, and they do mix in some half-court traps. They just really make every possession difficult for teams in all the game tape we’ve watched.

‘They make every play very difficult, and we just have to be patient and take our time, and things will fall into place.’

The job of quarterbacking the BU offense falls in the hands of one of the conference’s most efficient point guards, senior co-captain Christine Kinneary. Kinneary is second in the conference with 4.6 assists per game and a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.

As opponents have focused their attention on Burks-Wiley and fellow senior Kristi Dini, Kinneary has found herself isolated on the perimeter with increased regularity. As a result, Kinneary has been left with the opportunity to drive and score more often than at any other point in her career.

The 5-foot-8 guard’s confidence to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket when called on have grown exponentially, as evidenced by her 22-point outburst against Binghamton University on Jan. 14.

Meanwhile, the Hawks’ size will challenge the relatively undersized Terriers on both ends of the floor. The Hawks’ starting five has occasionally featured four players standing in at 5-foot-10 or taller, including three players 6-feet and up.

‘I think [Hartford’s] size really helps them,’ Greenberg said. ‘They’re very aggressive and they use their size to their advantage.

According to Greenberg, forwards Erica Beverly (10.0 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game) and Diana Delva (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) will provide the toughest matchups for BU.

‘[Hartford] has their two inside threats in Beverly and Delva,’ Greenberg said. ‘They both have a lot of experience and confidence, and they’re the key to that team. They’re big. They’re strong. They can score in different ways.’

The Terriers and the Hawks are very familiar with each other, and have developed quite the rivalry after meeting in three of the last four conference championship games, including a 62-45 Hartford victory in last year’s title bout.

‘This isn’t a game where I really have to [pump up] my girls a whole lot,’ Greenberg said when asked about the budding BU-Hartford rivalry. ‘When we’re playing Hartford, our team is going to be up for it, and I think it’s going to be a fun game for everyone involved and for everyone who is at the game.’

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