Basketball, NCAA, Sports

PREVIEW: Women’s basketball ranks No. 1 in Patriot League, looks toward strong 2022-23 campaign

The Boston University women’s basketball team ended the 2021-22 season with a disappointing 70-48 loss to American University in the semifinal round of the Patriot League playoffs.

Second-year head coach Melissa Graves and the Terriers are looking to rectify that loss starting on Nov. 7 at 4:30 p.m. when they tip off the 2022-23 season against Northeastern University at Case Gym. Here’s what to look for heading into the new season.

The Boston University Women’s basketball team cheering in a game against Army on March 7, 2022. The Terriers were placed first in the conference in a preseason poll by the Patriot League. ELIZA NUESTRO/DFP STAFF

BU earns No. 1 ranking in Patriot League

A recent preseason poll by the Patriot League ranked the Terriers No. 1 in the conference heading into the season. This marks the first time in program history BU has earned that award since joining the conference in 2013.

“I told (the team) to enjoy this moment, really understand what this means for us as far as gaining the respect from the league,” Graves said.

However, Graves acknowledged that the honor is meaningless unless it translates to winning basketball.

“You still have to earn that [ranking],” said Graves. “No one is going to hand that to you.”

Graves said the players don’t feel any extra pressure despite the lofty expectations, but the spotlight on the No. 1 ranked Terriers is sure to attract attention from around the league.

“All that means is you have a target on your back,” said Graves. “It means that you’re respected, but it also means everybody is coming for you with their best every night.”

Sydney Johnson leads the Terriers’ high-powered offense

The depth of offensive talent and versatility on the Terriers’ roster likely influenced their preseason ranking. The leader of that offense, senior guard Sydney Johnson, recently became the first Terrier to earn the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year Award.

Johnson is a dynamic three-level scorer and the centerpiece of the Terriers’ offense. In 2021-22, she averaged 15.7 points per game the most by a Terrier since joining the Patriot League.

Johnson’s offensive prowess is vital to the team’s success, but she’s also assumed a leadership role and serves as one of the team captains.

“(It’s) bigger than how many buckets she can score. She’s been leading the team really well,” said Graves. “She’s come a very long way with accepting that she’s a leader, that she’s the face of the program.”

The Terriers have retained most of their key players and continue to grow as a team.

“This group is really fun,” said Graves. “They really put in a lot of work and committed to the process.”

The bench’s depth and the players’ chemistry create the potential for BU to become an offensive juggernaut in the Patriot League.

“The offensive execution is going to be exciting this year,” said Graves. “I think we can score at every position.”

The Terriers are dedicated to improving on defense

Throughout the offseason, the Terriers have focused on complimenting their dynamic offense by improving on the defensive side of the floor.

Graves emphasized the importance of consistently applying the basic fundamentals that can change a defensive possession’s outcome.

“The little details of how we’re closing out, what do we want to force, our communication habits all those things have been a big focus for us,” said Graves. “We’re capable of scoring a lot of points … but can we control the defensive end? Those are the things we’ve been talking about.”

Senior forward Maren Durant is vital to the success of the Terriers’ defense. Durant was named to the Patriot League All-Defensive Team last season and recently earned the Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year award.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Durant makes life difficult for opposing offenses.

“She can block shots, and not only that, she can alter shots,” said Graves. “It’s hard for other post [players] in our league to score over her.”

Durant’s gameplay epitomizes the defensive effort Graves has been preaching.

“Aside from blocking shots, the way she rebounds the ball, how hard she goes and how much she talks. She is talking every possession non-stop … that is huge for us defensively,” said Graves. “She’s someone the team can really look to as an example.”

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