It is no secret that this year’s Seton Hall women’s basketball team is able to score. After putting up more than 80 points just once last season, Tony Bozzella’s squad has already eclipsed that mark three times in just five games, including a 91-point outburst in the team’s opener against St. Peter’s on Nov. 10. While the offensive front for the Hall may be promising, Bozzella knows that his team will struggle if they are unable to handle their defensive responsibilities.
Throughout the preseason, Bozzella emphasized communication and effort. Knowing offense would be the easy part, he made a point to focus practice and position-battles on the defensive end of the floor. Due to the shooters he possesses, the fifth-year Pirates head coach knew that the best way to create open shots for his players would be to get out in transition and run.
In the first preseason game against Division-III Jefferson on Nov. 4, the Pirates scored 89 points despite shooting just 5-for-25 from three-point-range. Many of those buckets came from their strong transition offense, but the transition defense on the other end of the floor left Bozzella irritated.
“We really were out of sync for long periods of this game,” Bozzella said after the game Jefferson contest. “Our transition defense has been disgusting. We just can’t play this way and if we don’t start fixing that, we are going to get run out of the gym.”
Since that lackluster preseason effort, the Pirates have shown considerable improvement on the defensive end. In their first regular season game against St. Peter’s, the Pirates forced 33 turnovers. That stingy defense is also the reason why they were able to drop 91 points, turning their defense into easy offense.
“That’s how we’re gonna play,” Bozzella said. “We’re gonna get up, we’re gonna force turnovers, and we’re gonna play basketball that way.”
Improvement on defense has generally continued each game since, even in the Pirates’ two-point overtime loss to Princeton on Nov. 16. Losses will come, especially for this young team. The only way to improve will be to gain more experience on the floor together, where dips in form due to inexperience are expected to be seen as part of growing pains.
In the first game of the SHU Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 25, for instance, Bozzella saw holes in his defense, despite holding Rider to 49 points and 28.1 percent shooting. He worried that a better team would not miss the open shots that his team gave away early on.
“We have to be even better,” Bozzella said. “If we don’t [get better], we’re going to struggle to score because we’re not going to get the easy baskets that we need to give us confidence. I thought they had some easy looks early on and we didn’t do a good job of defending them. They missed, but we need to make them miss.”
In the final against Jacksonville State on Nov. 26, however, the Pirates stepped up to capture their 18th SHU Thanksgiving Classic title. Sophomore guard Kaela Hilaire credited her teammates’ communication and focus as reasons for the win.
“We communicated so well today,” Hilaire said. “Everyone was picking up for each other, going back and forth. No one was guarding just one person, so we played better team defense today.”
Through five games, it is clear that offense will be the forte of this Pirates squad. But if the side from South Orange continues to win, it will be because of what is happening on the defensive end.
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.