Under Tony Bozzella, the Seton Hall women’s basketball program continues to grow.
This season, the Pirates got off to their best start in school history with 13 wins in their first 14 games. They are scoring almost 73 points per outing while only giving up an average of 62.
But in a rather strong conference, and with back-to-back losses against DePaul and St. John’s, there may be some doubt starting to seep into people’s brains. Is this team good enough to win the Big East?
The Pirates cruised through non-conference play, with the only setback coming in a blowout loss against Georgia due to poor second-half shooting.
Then, after winning the first three games of conference play, they suffered a 12-point home loss to No. 24 DePaul and couldn’t finish a valiant comeback effort against St. John’s.
In 10 of SHU’s 16 games this season, Tabatha Richardson-Smith was the team’s leading scorer. Aleesha Powell was the leading scorer three times, Tiffany Jones twice and Shakena Richardson once.
Richardson-Smith leads Seton Hall with 18 points per game. Powell is scoring 13.2 points per game and Richardson is chipping in 12 points and 5.6 assists. But after that, things start to fall off.
Jones is the only other Pirate averaging double digits in points per game. Starting center Lubird- ia Gordon averages just about six points a game but takes fewer than five shots a contest.
And there is almost no bench scoring. The highest scoring non-starter is freshman Taylor Byrne, who contributes 3.7 points per game.
The unreliability of the bench means that Bozzella can’t rest his starters in close games.
Even if they’re playing well defensively, they aren’t shooting much, and they certainly aren’t scoring enough.
When you don’t have a bench that can score and take pressure off of the starters, it means that the star players like Richardson-Smith and Powell might not have enough gas left in the tank in late-game situations. Or, when the star players are attempting to mount a comeback at the end of the game, there is no secondary scoring to accommodate the main players. The defensive focus will be on Richardson-Smith and Powell, but there needs to be secondary scoring outlets.
For example, DePaul is a much more balanced team. Both Chanise Jenkins and Megan Podkowa average over 15 points per game. Jessica January averages almost 14 points and three others average over eight points per game. Plus, there is more scoring and minutes from the bench.
To place first in the Big East, Bozzella and the Pirates are going to really need to focus more defensively. Through the first 12 games, Seton Hall allowed more than 60 points just three times, and that was a huge reason for their success. But the last four games have seen the opposition score 68 points or more, including two games with more than 80 points.
The Pirates need to get back to that same defensive structure that helped them win 13 of their first 14 games. If the bench scoring isn’t there, and the Pirates plan on finishing atop the conference, they simply can’t give up 86 points to DePaul.
Defense, and in this case some relief off the pine, is what will win championships.
Bobby Bevilacqua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @rbp725.