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What’s Up With BC Women’s Basketball?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After going 20-12 overall and 11-7 in conference play last season, expectations were high for BC women’s basketball coming into this year. Losing Emma Guy to graduation was always going to be a big blow across the board, but the Eagles returned Taylor Soule, were hopeful Akunna Konkwo would be healthy and ready to play, and had highly touted freshman Jojo Lacey joining the roster.

Things looked good when BC started the season with 4 straight wins, including an 88-38 victory over UMass Lowell, but the season quickly went into a downswing and BC was 5-10 with just a single ACC win heading into Sunday’s game against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were 3rd in the ACC with an 11-4 conference record heading into the matchup, but BC matched their pace and earned an upset win. So what has been happening for the rest of the season, and how did the Eagles finally pick up a victory (and against a very good team, no less)?

The biggest issue the Eagles have been dealing with this season is bench depth. Seniors Sydney Lowery and Milan Bolden-Morris both transferred early in the year, with Lowery moving closer to home to attend Fairfield, and Bolden-Morris transferring to Georgetown. Bolden-Morris likely would have played a big role for this BC team, while Lowery is sure to get more playing time at Fairfield than she would have at BC. On top of the transfers, both Konkwo and Lacey, who were expected to be important factors for BC this year, have each played in just 7 games this season due to injuries.

This lack of depth means the BC roster has been missing some major pieces, but it also means they’re more likely to get tired and sloppy than their opponents, because players don’t have as much time to rest. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Eagles have been pretty foul-happy this year, which has resulted in top players like Taylor Soule having to sit out large chunks of games to try and avoid fouling out.

Then you add COVID into the mix, and things get even worse. For much of 2021, the Eagles have been dealing with COVID protocols. Since January 21, the Eagles have had 6 games postponed due to COVID protocols on either their own squad or the opposing team. Quarantining on BC’s roster has resulted in cancelled practices as well as individual players having to miss practices and games. Adding this inconsistency into an already short roster means that the Eagles have had a tough go of it in terms of staying in game ready condition.

It’s also important to recognize that this is a young team playing through a global pandemic. Youth isn’t an excuse, but with no seniors on the roster and just 5 juniors, it becomes easier to understand why this team has had a tendency to fall apart late in the game recently, particularly taking all of the above into account.

So what changed this weekend?

Honestly, with all the losses (some of which have been by pretty large margins), I think it has gotten lost how good this team really is and how much just getting worn out has affected them. BC also has a pretty tough schedule this year.

The Eagles have played the top teams in the ACC, Louisville and NC State, twice each. They are 1-1 with Notre Dame, losing the second game pretty much based on a rough second quarter, and they lost to Pittsburgh by just 3 points after missing 3 straight games due to COVID protocols. Many of the Eagles’ recent losses have been the result of late-game meltdowns, which makes a lot of sense when you consider how sporadic the team’s ability to play and practice has been of late.

And when you start looking at the numbers, you can really see how competitive this team would be if the players were at peak performance. The Eagles have 3 players averaging double digit points - Soule with 16.2 (4th in the ACC) and Cameron Swartz and Makayla Dickens with 12.1 each. Dickens is 2nd in the ACC in 3 point percentage, shooting 43.2% from behind the arc. Marnelle Garraud leads the conference with 2.2 steals per game. BC is 2nd in the ACC with a 77.5% free throw percentage as a team, which is a pretty big drop from how they were shooting early this season and has likely been affected by the lack of practice. And the Eagles lead the ACC in steals per game with an average of 9.19.

Even when they are losing, it is clear that there is a lot of skill of the court. Honestly it was just a matter of time until the team figured out how to pull it together and win. And while the Eagles played really strong defense against Georgia Tech, this win wasn’t even BC’s strongest offensive game recently! Almost three quarters of BC’s scoring on Sunday came just from Cam Swartz and Taylor Soule, while everyone else was pretty inaccurate with their shooting.

Probably the biggest reason BC was able to pull off this win is that the roster has depth again, which resulted in the Eagles having a strong final quarter instead of getting tired late in the game. In fact, BC’s defense limited Georgia Tech to just 2 points in the last 10 minutes of play.

So where did this depth come from? Ally VanTimmeren and Allie Palmieri. These two highly touted recruits were scheduled to join BC in fall of 2021, but graduated high school early when their seasons were called off. VanTimmeren has been with the team for slightly under 2 months, but just returned to the bench after missing time due to COVID protocols. Palmieri joined the Eagles about a month ago. Just having extra bodies on the bench would be enough to help with some of BC’s tiredness, but VanTimmeren in particular has made an immediate impact. She’s averaging 6.9 points a game, scored a career high 17 points against a top ranked Louisville team, and her height and aggressiveness add a lot to BC’s defense.

This one win isn’t going to turn the season around for BC with only one game remaining, but it should remind fans that this season hasn’t been a good indicator of where this team is going or what the Eagles will look like next year.

Taylor Soule improves her athleticism every game and seems to be getting her propensity for fouling a little more under control. Marnelle Garraud and Makayla Dickens have both really been developing their 3 point shooting. Cam Swartz continues to have breakout games that show how talented she is when she doesn’t rush plays. Ally VanTimmeren, Allie Palmieri, Kaylah Ivey, and Jaelyn Batts all seem poised to have breakout seasons as college sports hopefully begin to regain some normalcy and consistency. Akunna Konkwo and Jojo Lacey will bring a lot to this team once they’re healthy, which they hopefully will be next year. And Clara Ford and Sydney McQuietor bring good height to this roster. Combine all of this with BC’s strong coaching staff and hopefully we’ll be writing off this year as a COVID-era fluke.