Basketball, Sports

W. bball’s perfect season ends with perfect Senior Day

Senior Day could not have possibly gone any better for the winningest class in Boston University women’s basketball history. With a 95-72 thrashing of the University at Albany at Case Gymnasium on Saturday, the Terriers completed the fifth undefeated regular season in America East history. Each member of BU’s senior quartet netted at least 15 points to carry BU into the postseason on a high note.

Senior guard Amarachi Umez-Eronini led the way with a career-high 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting to go along six rebounds, four assists and two steals. It’s only fitting that the defensive specialist exploded on the offensive end in her final game at The Roof. Umez-Eronini would’ve been a critical part of this team’s season regardless of how much she scored, just because of the tenacity and vision she brings to the defensive end.

But this year, the Washington, D.C. native has upped her 8.4 points per game average from last year to 11.3. In addition to adding a reliable jumper to her repertoire, Umez-Eronini has sliced through the lane like a knife through butter, resulting in innumerable layups for her and precise kick-out passes for her teammates. Her ability to handle the ball and serve as something of a second point guard means that focusing on Christine Kinneary is no longer a guaranteed way to slow down the Terrier offense.

Saturday was just the latest and best example of this, and Umez-Eronini credited her success in part to the emotions permeating throughout Case.

‘We knew it was a big day of our career,’ Umez-Eronini said. ‘You try not to cry, starting from practice all the way down to when they introduce us with our parents. This is the best moment of our lives, as seniors, going undefeated. It’s just an amazing feeling, knowing that we’ve left behind such a great legacy.’

‘I guess it’s because of Senior Day,’ she said of her performance. ‘It’s just a great feeling. Offensively, it was taking what the defense gives us. And the defense really gave me a lot of wide-open lanes today, and I took advantage of that. Christine had great assists. Just taking off, and she knows where to find me.’

Speaking of Kinneary, the senior point guard, like Umez-Eronini, had one of the best games of her illustrious career. The program’s all-time assists leader scored 18 points and dished out a season-high 11 assists. She opened the game’s scoring with one of her patented falling-to-the-right layups and never slowed down. She even threw in a rare 3-ball, just her fifth of the season.

The combination of the Terriers (22-6, 16-0 AE) pushing the pace and the Great Danes (5-24, 3-13) struggling to get back and pick up their defensive assignments allowed Kinneary to drive into the lane with ease and draw defenders to her. This opened up multiple options every time down, whether it was Jesyka Burks-Wiley in the post, Kristi Dini behind the arc or Umez-Eronini sprinting toward an open lane.

‘I think everyone was running the floor really well,’ Kinneary said. ‘To start, I think Dini had like four 3s in a row. They weren’t switching on our staggered screens, so we just wanted plays to her to get her shot off. She’s been hitting that all year. And then, if [Umez-Eronini’s] getting out and running, I’m definitely going to get her the ball. I think that she’s probably the fastest player in the America East.’

‘We really wanted to get to the banquet and get to going out later,’ Kinneary joked when asked about the game’s fast pace. ‘But no, a fast-paced game has been our emphasis all year. We look good when we’re running, when we’re pushing the ball . . . When we’re in transition is definitely when we’re at our best.’

Other than when BU coach Kelly Greenberg pulled all four seniors out of the game with 1:36 left, it was an intoxicating minute-and-a-half first-half stretch courtesy of Dini that drew the loudest roars from the crowd of nearly 300.

Starting 4:44 into the game, the program’s all-time trifecta leader hit four straight 3s, giving BU a 25-7 lead when it was all said and done. First, Kinneary found Dini open on the elbow out of a timeout. Then, Umez-Eronini drove and dished to an open Dini on the right wing.

The next time down, the Putnam Valley, N.Y. native created her own open shot as Albany was slow getting back after a turnover. The outstanding run was capped off with a straight-on swoosh on another helper from Kinneary, resulting in a standing ovation and a Great Dane timeout. Dini finished the game with 15 points, all on 3s.

Thanks to a Player of the Year-caliber season, Burks-Wiley’s 17 points and seven rebounds actually brought down her season averages of 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds. But her impact Saturday and her impact all season go far beyond the numbers anyway. Opponents have to either double-team her or have a second defender ready to help when a pass goes into her, opening up lanes for Kinneary and Umez-Eronini and setting up inside-out passes back to the guards.

For most of the America East season, these four veterans have blended together into a perfect smoothie of dominance, resulting in a bunch of blowouts like Saturday’s. But even when one or more of the members of BU’s fearsome foursome has had an off game, the Terriers have had enough talent and depth to overcome it.

Such was the case in the team’s two games prior to Saturday’s ‘- lackluster efforts against the University of Maine last Sunday and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Wednesday that BU won solely because of a significant talent advantage.

‘We definitely talked about how, even though we won the last two games, we haven’t played BU basketball,’ Dini said. ‘We wanted to go into the tournament with a good win, not just getting by.’

The Terriers will begin their quest for their first conference championship since 2003 at 2 p.m. on Friday at the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena, when they take on the winner of Thursday night’s play-in game between Albany and Maine. Full Court Press will have live coverage of all of BU’s tournament games at www.dailyfreepress.com/hoops.

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