After historic regular season, women’s basketball enters CAA tournament with great expectations


Elizabeth Scholl

Junior guard Halle Idowu (right) and junior forward Deja Bristol (left) lunge to catch a rebound for the Huskies. Northeastern will play Stony Brook in the CAA Quarterfinals Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Eamonn Ryan, news staff

Right before the Northeastern women’s basketball team (18-11, 13-5 CAA) left Boston for the CAA Tournament, they came together to reflect on their historic regular season. Each member of the team shared why they thought they had accomplished so much, and each answer came back to the hardworking culture of this group.

“Our ability to commit, care and connect [is why] … we’re here where we are today,” said Huskies head coach Bridgette Mitchell. “Our energy’s light and great because we’re not changing anything.”

The Huskies won a school record 13 conference games, shared the regular season conference title with Towson and Drexel and secured the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. They’ve won eight straight games and are red-hot entering their first matchup Friday night at 7:30 as they take on No. 6 seed Stony Brook (18-12, 11-7 CAA) in a quarterfinal matchup at SECU Arena in Towson, Maryland.

 “You win, you stay. You lose, you go home. And for our team, it’s not pressure for us. I think for us, it’s excitement,” Mitchell said. 

 The recognition in terms of conference awards has come along with the impressive performance as a team. Mitchell was named Coach of the Year in the conference in just her second season at the helm.

 Her turnaround of a program that hadn’t reached double-digit conference wins since 2017-18 has been remarkable. Before this season, she brought in multiple impactful transfers, including junior guard Derin Erdogan, junior forward Deja Bristol and senior wing Jaelyn Batts, and instilled a fast-paced, transition-based offense that has given the Huskies huge momentum shifts against tough opponents.

 But Mitchell won’t take all the credit for that — her own coaching philosophy is focused on the collective effort.

“I’m flattered and I think it’s cool, but it’s not about me,” she said. “We as a program have our number one rule … put the program above yourself. And that’s something that I not only ask for myself and my players, but also the staff.”

 In terms of players, the Huskies boast one of the best backcourts in the conference, with both junior point guard Derin Erdogan and sophomore combo guard Gemima Motema averaging over 10 points a game and being recognized by the CAA. Erdogan came away with First Team All-CAA honors and Motema was named to both the All-CAA Third Team and Defensive Team.

Erdogan, who transferred from the University of Arizona, looked stellar running the offense en route to averaging 14 points a game and finishing the season with 24 double-digit scoring games. After a top-notch high school career in Portland, Maine, Motema took great strides in her second year with the Huskies. She averaged 12.8 points a game and was second in the conference with two steals a game, often thriving in Mitchell’s transition game.

Any team the Huskies face in this tournament will have trouble with these two, because even when one is off, the other can light up the scoreboard. Erdogan will hit threes and make pretty passes while Motema is a true slasher and gets downhill quickly.

“[Erdogan’s] been our point guard and our leader … [Motema] has been consistent, she’s one of the top people in steals,” Mitchell said. “The numbers don’t lie for them. It’s the other people that didn’t get the awards that have been really helping our teammates buy into their roles.”

Junior forward Deja Bristol was also recognized postseason, as she became the first Husky to earn the CAA Sixth Player of the Year award. Bristol works down low and was a force to be reckoned with in the paint off the bench, averaging 7.8 points a game.

To get to a coveted CAA title — something the Huskies have never achieved since joining the conference in 2005 — they’ll need to pass some tough tests. Beating Stony Brook is no cakewalk, as they found out earlier this season in their narrow 68-63 win over the Seawolves, and more difficult opponents lie ahead.

The Seawolves have three scorers who have played 20-plus scoring games and average double-digit tallies. Graduate student guard Anastasia Warren leads the way with 16.7 points a game and was named to the All-CAA First Team. 

“A number of players on [Stony Brook] are scoring threats,” Mitchell said. “So for us on the defensive end, that poses a challenge because of the way that we like to pressure.”

The Seawolves beat No. 11 Elon 54-51 in a second-round game Thursday night, but it wasn’t pretty. Without their second-highest scorer — sophomore forward Sherese Pittman, who averaged 13.7 points a game this season — they couldn’t get anything to fall in the paint. 

Stony Brook shot just 19-for-66 (28.8%) from the field and 2-of-21 (9.5%) from three-point range in an ugly win, but as is the old saying with March basketball: survive and advance.

Second-seeded Drexel, who will play the Huskies in the semifinal if both teams win their quarterfinal games, is the only team in the conference with less than 10 losses, but Northeastern is responsible for one of those. After falling 67-56 to the Dragons in Boston Feb. 3, Northeastern drove down I-95 to Philadelphia and beat the Dragons 71-64 just two weeks later — their first win over Drexel in 18 matchups against the Dragons. 

The top seed in the tournament is host Towson Tigers (19-10, 13-5 CAA), who finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak and will host the No. 12 Hampton Pirates Friday at noon in another quarterfinal. The Tigers beat the Huskies in January, by just a six-point margin in a very winnable game for Northeastern.

No matter which way you slice it, this Huskies team has already shown its togetherness and strong bonds on and off the court. Whatever comes next will only be a testament to their team play and philosophy.