It's not what they wanted – but it's what they've got. And now, it's up to the BC women's basketball team to make the best of it.
After being squeezed out of the NCAA tournament field despite a 20-11 record and a top-50 RPI ranking, the Eagles were relegated to the WNIT.
"They were all pretty down about it at first… but I told them, look, we have a chance to become the first team in Boston College history to win an NIT championship, men or women," said head coach Sylvia Crawley. "Once I got the team to look at it like that, they thought, ‘yeah, we do!,' and the attitude of the team changed."
"I told them that if we don't take this tournament seriously, and do what we did [last season]… and win one game, then get knocked out of the NIT, it just proves the committee right," she continued. "But now, our seniors know that they're on a mission – they can prove themselves, and be one of just two groups of players to end their college careers with a win."
The team had to overcome both the disappointment of missing the NCAAs and the rust of being off for over two weeks in their first NIT game against Boston University on Monday night. BU came out firing, hungry to knock off their crosstown rivals - and it showed, as the Terriers jumped out to an early nine point lead, and led BC 34-31 at halftime.
"I could have jumped on them at the half, but instead we took a positive approach," said Crawley. "I knew we were rusty and off our game. We took a look at the stat sheet and saw that we were leading them in every statistical category except for three-point shooting and points off of turnovers… we said hey, if we tighten up on these areas, we're going to win this ballgame."
And that they did, cruising to a 68-53 victory in a dominating second half, and disappointing BU's traveling legion – which included their pep band, cheerleaders, dance squad, associate athletic director, the infamous BU student who travels to every game wearing a hot dog costume, and hundreds of energetic fans.
"We survived their run… we knew they wanted this one badly. We talked about [the rivalry] and how this was a very serious game for them. We had to make sure our kids didn't take it lightly," said Crawley.
With BU past them, the Eagles now stare down another old rival – St. John's.
BC's former Big East foe has been a thorn in their side over the past two seasons. The Red Storm knocked BC out of the NIT last year, and edged them again, 72-63, this past December in the St. John's holiday tournament.
"We very rarely get a second chance, and we have that opportunity now. We can correct our mistakes and get it right," said Crawley. "It was almost the exact same situation last time – at their place, in a tournament."
"We've watched tape of that game, and… pulled up some stats. We found out that we've outrebounded our opponent in every game but six – and in five of those six games, we lost," she said. "If we outrebound our opponents, we have a very, very good chance of winning. So we're going to box out, only allow them one shot, and… have our D spark our offense."
She describes St. John's as a "tough, athletic team."
"They're very aggressive," she said. "They have a lot of different threats, so you can't really [focus on] one player… you have to honor everyone on the court."
"I can't really think of [an ACC team] to compare them to. They have a couple of shooters, but mostly they beat us by penetrating. In the last game, they beat us off the dribble… If I had to pick an ACC team to compare them to, I'd say maybe Miami or Clemson, just because they're so athletic. And they take some shots that look like wild shots, but they're very capable of making those shots."
The Red Storm went 16-13 in the regular season before dropping a 2nd round Big East tournament game to Notre Dame, 62-45.
They defeated Harvard 83-60 at home to kick off their NIT campaign, then went on the road to beat Hartford 70-59 on Sunday.
"We're all excited about the chance of ending the season successfully," said Crawley. "The team is just very focused right now – especially Carolyn Swords. They're all really focused on… winning this game and moving on to the next round."
Crawley Talks NIT
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