Women’s basketball starts CAA play strong

By Charlie Wolfson, news staff

The Northeastern women’s basketball team has righted its ship following an eight game losing streak and now holds a 6-9 record with an admirable 2-1 mark in Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) play.

The team closed out what was an ugly non-conference season, going 2-2 in their last four games. Those consisted of a 49-68 loss at the University of Maine on Dec. 7, a 44-78 defeat at Michigan State University on Dec. 18, a 72-69 win at the University of Denver on Dec. 20 and a 61-50 win at home against Siena College on Dec. 28.  

The Huskies kept trending upwards at the beginning of the CAA season. They triumphed on the road against Hofstra University 53-51 in overtime on Jan. 2, won 72-64 at home against Towson University on Jan. 6 and lost at home to Drexel University by a score of 33-63 on Jan. 8.  

Head coach Kelly Cole had a tough task on her hands in getting a 4-8 team ready for conference play, but she downplayed any effect that it may have had on the team’s preparation.

“I think, for the most part, we prepare, mentally and physically, as coaches and as players, the same way we do for every other game,” Cole said. “The only thing that maybe affects it is that we’re more familiar with their styles […] Some of them, they’re just dying to get out there and play against certain opponents, but I think that’s the way it is against all conference opponents.”

Against Hofstra, Northeastern strayed from their tendency to live and die by three point shooting. They attempted just 10 threes, making three of them. One of the things that allowed them to succeed despite not getting much production from beyond the arc was the play of senior center Francesca Sally. Sally was 11-for-23 from the field, racking up 23 points on the evening.  

Cole said that it was their intent to utilize Sally in the paint in that game.

“Fran stepped up and was dynamite,” she said. “I think part of their [Hofstra’s] plan was to shut down our perimeter scorers and make us beat them on the inside. That’s always our game plan—to get them with the inside-outside. They just didn’t have an answer for our inside.”

Northeastern also had one of their best rebounding days of the season against Hofstra with a 51-35 advantage on the glass. Cole attributed that to the previously mentioned size advantage, as well as to Hofstra’s offensive results.

“They didn’t shoot a very good percentage,” Cole said. “Which increased our rebounding, because they had a lot of misses.”

In the win over Towson, the Huskies’ brightest performances were not from the usual suspects. Junior guard Claudia Ortiz scored 27 points, including four three-pointers, and junior forward Maureen Taggart went for 20 points.

“They’ve been moving in the right direction all season,” Cole said. “When teams try and shut down Jess [Genco] and Fran [Sally], we need those other kids to step up. Both Claudia [Ortiz] and Maureen [Taggart], they’ve both stepped up. Early on we didn’t have kids stepping up into those spots. We’ll call this, hopefully, a breakout game for both of them.”

Cole thinks that the Towson game was not merely a blip on the radar for the pair, but likely an indication of continued success.

“The more teams focus on Jess [Genco] at the point, and Fran [Sally] in the paint, the more it’s going to free up others to knock down those shots,” she said.

The Huskies’ lone setback thus far in CAA play, a defeat at the hands of Drexel, came as a result of offensive shortcoming. Cole’s diagnosis of the loss did not reflect poorly on the defense, which might be expected in a 33-63 loss, but it was that the team needed more from its offense.

“I think, defensively, we did what we set out to do,” Cole said. “We couldn’t score. Our problem was that we couldn’t do anything on the offensive end. Anytime you hold Drexel, or any team really, to under 65 points, that’s a game you’re looking to get a ‘W’ in.”

Cole further absolved her defense, framing Drexel’s high shooting percentage as a credit to Drexel rather than a signal of weak defense.

“As I went back and watched the film, they shot the lights out,” she said. “They were probably as good as I’ve seen them all year long yesterday. We made them work for shots, we gave them looks we wanted them to take, and they were just knocking them down.”

One thing that dogged the Huskies in all three games, regardless of the outcome, was turning the ball over.  They had 21 turnovers against Hofstra, 19 against Towson and 18 against Drexel. Cole related this issue to a common theme of this season: The team’s overall youth and inexperience.

“The mentality of a conference game, because they know there’s an increased importance to it, could just be a little tight,” she said. “It could just be that we’ve got a really young team and we’re still trying to work on our confidence. You can make a pass and it’s just not there, or there could be some tightness in how we approach those types of things that are leading to turnovers.”
The team will try to maintain a winning conference record with as they take on the College of William & Mary on Jan. 13 and James Madison University on Jan. 15. Both games are on the road.  

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics

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