Columnists, Sports

FLAGLER: Women’s teams are primed to play into March

It’s hard to imagine a college sports team falling faster than last season’s University of Texas men’s basketball squad. The Longhorns won their first 17 games of the season and were ranked No. 1 in the country before their season came undone. They dropped nine of their last 17 games before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Wake Forest University.

Sound familiar?

The No. 15 Boston University men’s hockey team has beaten just three Hockey East opponents since the Terriers rose to the top ranking in the polls in early November. And things aren’t getting any easier for BU, who will face four straight top 10 teams in their next four matchups.

The team understands that this stretch will make or break this season. Hopefully that knowledge will motivate them to turn around a season that is dangerously close to flying off the rails.

Unfortunately, hockey fans can’t turn their attention to the men’s basketball team to bring up their spirits. BU hoops dropped an embarrassing 71-67 contest in Baltimore against a lowly UMBC team on Monday.

The Retrievers earned just their second win of the year and their first in the conference. In its previous game, UMBC was blown out by 38 points at home by Vermont, a team that BU defeated at home.

If the result itself wasn’t tough enough to swallow for fans, the way BU lost the game was doubly painful. BU rallied back from an early 13-point deficit to take a 9-point lead with less than five minutes left. UMBC then closed on an 18-4 run to win the game.

In a competitive America East conference, BU will have to avoid showing that lack of focus and close weaker teams out on the road if the team wants a chance to make a run in the conference tournament like they did last season.

Luckily, the men’s teams are not the only athletic squads representing BU for the spring athletic season.

The BU women’s hockey and basketball teams quietly put together an undefeated winter break between them. In fact, the women’s hockey team hasn’t lost a game since they dropped a 6-3 contest at BC on Nov. 20.

Strangely, that day was also a turning point in the men’s hockey team’s season. The BU men beat the University of New Hampshire at Agganis Arena 4-2 that night. In their next six contests, the men’s team managed just two wins and gave up an astounding 32 goals.

Meanwhile, the No. 3 women’s team could not be playing better hockey right now. The Terriers pulled out maybe their most impressive win of the season this past weekend by beating No. 7 Boston College on the road on Jan. 15 4-0.

The win earned BU the top spot in the Hockey East standings, just a point better than the Eagles. And the next night, BU followed up with another dominant performance by beating Maine 5-2.

Over the team’s 10 game winning streak, BU has outscored their opponents by a ridiculous 40-11 margin and shut out the other team four times. BU now boasts four of the top six point-scorers in Hockey East, with freshman Marie-Philip Poulin tied for the conference lead with 38.

The only bad news for the BU women is they don’t have the advantage of a neutral site to play the Beanpot. The Terriers will have to make a third trip to BC in February’s opening round of the tournament, where they will face the difficult task of beating BC for a third time this season.

Not to be outdone, the BU women’s basketball team has also put together a great run over the past month. The team is undefeated in 2011 and 5-0 in the conference. Sophomore Chantell Alford has led the charge by putting up 16.2 points a game this month and shooting 47 percent from the field. The Terriers’ win over Albany on Saturday was the most impressive of their early conference-season hot streak.

The victory was head coach Kelly Greenberg’s 200th as a BU coach, and Alford put up 20 points, then was named conference player of the week. Most importantly, it was Albany’s only conference loss so far this season.

There is still plenty of time left for the BU men’s teams to turn their seasons around. But the next few games could determine whether the men’s hockey team is in or out of the tournament. And with junior Jake O’Brien still injured, the men’s basketball team will need to grind out some tough wins to keep themselves near the top of the conference standings until his return.

But whether the men’s teams step up to meet those challenges or fall flat, BU’s women’s teams have put themselves in a great position to keep playing into March.

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