This season has been a roller coaster for Seton Hall’s women’s basketball team.
After Taylor Brown went down with an injury and Donnaizha Fountain departed the program, Seton Hall quickly found itself without its two leading scorers and rebounders. With the team in the midst of a tough conference schedule, the Pirates needed someone to step up.
So far, that person has been Inja Butina.
The 5-foot-9 junior guard from Zagreb, Croatia has played the role of a facilitator rather than a scorer for the majority of the 2017-18 season. Entering the Georgetown at home game on Jan. 14, Butina had only once put up more than 10 points in a game – a 13-point performance against Marist back on Nov. 30. She thrives on the defensive end and in the passing game, leading the team in both assists (4.0) and steals (1.8) per game.
However, Butina showed her offensive capabilities when the Hoyas came to South Orange. She went 5 for 8 from the floor and knocked down five free throws en route to a season-high 17-point performance. She also racked up eight assists and five steals to help lead the Pirates to a five-point victory.
One week later, in the team’s first game without Donnaizha Fountain, Butina again stepped up. Facing the fourth-place St. John’s Red Storm on Jan. 21, Butina led all scorers with 15 points and also dished out five assists. Her last-second three-pointer at the end of the third quarter tied the game and gave the Pirates momentum in the fourth. That helped SHU earned its first pair of consecutive wins in conference play this season.
Shooting is certainly not the premier aspect of Butina’s game – she is averaging just 6.8 points per game – but she believes that her teammates’ trust allows her to shoot with more confidence.
“I think I was more relaxed because the team has confidence in me, and they were encouraging me to shoot the ball,” Butina said. “They were supporting me in whatever I do. If I miss, if I make, they’re always there for me.”
Butina believes that this scoring mentality can help improve other facets of her game as well.
“Coach told me to keep attacking more and look at the rim, and when I did that a lot of opportunities came along the way,” Butina said. “Even the rebounds and assists, not just my baskets.”
Coach Tony Bozzella had high praise for Butina following the St. John’s game, noting that her mentality and clutch shooting helped push the Pirates ahead.
“She’s just more confident,” Bozzella said. “She’s a tough kid. She played well, played with a lot of heart and a lot of passion, and wants to do well. She made big shots, and sometimes it’s not the amount of points you score, it’s when you score them.”
Bozzella added that he is proud of the effort from players like Butina, who are competing in the Big East for the first time, saying that they keep fighting and keep getting better as conference play continues.
Butina’s ability to score will be important for the Pirates going forward, but her ability to maintain strong defense and passing is key. While she has stepped up and guided the Pirates to back-to-back Big East victories, this is uncharted territory for Butina. She took a season-high 14 shots in the St. John’s victory and has only taken more than seven shots in a game three times this season.
Butina still has to prove herself as a reliable and consistent shooter. Fortunately for the Pirates, her passing and defense are more than proven, and she does not sacrifice these aspects of her game when she is knocking down shots.
Matt Lapolla can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.