Coming off its first 20-win season in 20 years, the Boston University women’s basketball team returns eight letter-winners and three starters to the 2008-09 squad.
BU coach Kelly Greenberg’s team went 20-12 last season and 11-5 in America East, good for third in the regular season. The Terriers defeated the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and the University of Vermont in the America East Tournament before falling to the University of Hartford in the championship.
Greenberg has been pleased with the leadership of senior co-captains Jesyka Burks-Wiley and Christine Kinneary in the preseason, and she expects it to continue throughout the season as the team hopes to finally dethrone Hartford, which has defeated BU in three of the last four conference title games.
‘They’re great captains,’ Greenberg said. ‘I meet with them regularly. They do a great job. They just have to be who they are. If they’re Christine and Jes every day, there’s no worry in that category. They’re both very outgoing, very confident, very competitive and both really, really want to win this thing. They’re just sick of being the bridesmaid.’
Primetime perimeter play
The graduation of 1,000-point scorer Cheri Raffo undoubtedly hurts the Terrier backcourt, but with returning seniors Kinneary, Amarachi Umez-Eronini and Kristi Dini, guard play is still BU’s greatest asset.
Kinneary returns as one of the country’s most efficient point guards, finishing third in the nation last season in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.68) and tying for eighth in assists per game (6.7). Down the home stretch, Kinneary blossomed from prototypical point guard to legitimate triple-threat player, beating opponents with the pass, the shot and the dribble.
‘Christine’s got to know that teams are going to play her differently,’ Greenberg said. ‘Last year, maybe they let her shoot a little more and next thing you know, she’s got 17 [points]. They’re not going to give that up to her this year.’
Umez-Eronini returns as one of the most unique and versatile players in America East. Originally from Imo State, Nigeria, the 5-foot-10 guard is a defensive specialist, leading the ’07-’08 Terriers in steals (58) on her way to AE All-Defensive Team honors.’ Additionally, Umez-Eronini finished tied for third on the team with 5.3 rebounds per game, including a career-high 16 boards against UMBC on Jan. 30.
The job of replacing Raffo falls on Dini’s shoulders. The 5-foot-10 guard’s .359 3-point percentage ranks fourth on BU’s all-time list, while her 99 3-balls tie her for eighth.
‘We really lost a lot of shots and a lot of minutes with the departure of Cheri,’ Greenberg said. ‘Dini’s had a great, great preseason. She brings a lot of energy and scores from different places. She has wonderful confidence.’
With Umez-Eronini slated to spend minutes spelling BU’s banged-up frontcourt, Kinneary’s heir apparent at point guard, sophomore Kat Briggs (7.6 minutes per game in ’07-’08) should see an expanded role in ’08-’09, while freshman Alex Young’s offensive abilities should earn her at least a few minutes per game.
Limping in the low post
Up front, the Terriers are expecting big things from Burks-Wiley. The Kansas City, Mo., native earned a Second-Team All-Conference selection last season after leading BU in scoring (13.2) and rebounding (5.8).
BU will have to replace 6-foot-3 center Kasey Devine (10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg), who was lost to graduation.
This will be a tough task to start the season, as junior Aly Hinton (8.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is day-to-day coming off two knee surgeries in the last seven months, while junior Maggie McKemie, a transfer from Furman University, is out four to six weeks.
Once Hinton is healthy, Greenberg expects her calmness to complement Burks-Wiley’s athleticism and energy.
‘They can both shoot the three, but they both give us something different inside,’ Greenberg said. ‘Jes is just so much more athletic with the ball inside and can do different things, where Aly’s more of a calming presence. More like a Tim Duncan I guess ‘-‘- takes her time and she’s a very good passer.’
McKemie will bring aggressive offensive rebounding to the Terriers.
‘She’s an offensive rebounder,’ Greenberg said. ‘No one else on our team does that. Maggie’s one of those players where a fan watching might not notice some of the things she does, but she always seems to come up with a loose ball or a rebound.’
Sophomore Kerry Cashman and freshman Caroline Stewart will also see playing time up front.
‘They’re going to battle for time and as Aly battles back into the picture, and Maggie, we really hope we can be very deep and very good at the forward spot,’ Greenberg said.
Hit the road, Rhett
The Terriers open their season tomorrow night at the University of Rhode Island before returning to Case Gymnasium ‘-‘- where they have not lost since Feb. 21, 2007 ‘-‘- to host Siena College next Thursday.
The team then embarks on a five-game road trip, including a contest at Northeastern University on Nov. 25 sandwiched between two trips to Big Ten country for the Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa, Nov. 22 to 23 and the Buckeye Classic in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 29 to 30.
Other notable non-conference games include trips to Marist College on Dec. 13 and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on Jan. 2 and home games against Harvard University on Dec. 9 and St. John’s University on Dec. 30.
BU opens conference play Jan. 7 at Stony Brook University and finishes up with a home game against the University at Albany on March 7. The conference slate also features two games at Agganis Arena against Binghamton University (Jan. 14) and the University of Maine (March 1).