[The St. Bonaventure bench was all smiles during a game they controlled from the opening tip – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]
By Joe Phelan, Assistant Sports Editor, @jphelan13
Trying to avoid an 0-3 start in Atlantic 10 Conference play, St. Bonaventure took to Reilly Center court with determination and it was evident from the opening tip.
The Bonnies employed a stifling defense that seemingly frustrated UMass throughout the game and helped Bona pick up a 61-49 victory.
However, the game did not come without some drama.
The Bonnies nearly blew a 16-point lead, but Doris Ortega and Alaina Walker withstood UMass’ late surge.
“I thought Alaina (Walker) had kind of brought us to that point,” said St. Bonaventure head coach Jim Crowley. “And I thought Doris (Ortega) did an amazing job of wanting the basketball and making plays and really trusting the execution.”
Ortega had eight points of her season-high 19 in the last four minutes of the game.
“Our coaches talk to us about teams are going to make runs but it’s that answer shot that stops their run and just helps us going,” said Ortega
The Bonnies offense featured Ortega at the top of the key for an isolation.
Ortega either did a spin, head-fake to draw a foul or a step back fade away jumper
As much as the Bonnies needed Ortega down the stretch, Walker provided the biggest all around spark.
Walker scored 21 points, had eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.
Walker also had one turnover in 32 minutes of play.
“They (my teammates) always want me to be aggressive and when I am not aggressive it hurts the team,” said Walker “I try to get everyone involved at first and that opens up driving lanes and I am able to finish or kick to one of these guys.”
After losing to Richmond on Wednesday, coach Crowley wanted one of his starters from last season’s Sweet 16 to step up.
“I challenged them the other day, who is going to be the leader, who is going to want the basketball and they both (Ortega and Walker) responded in a terrific way, which is the way we figured they would,” said Crowley. “They’re great competitors.”
As alarming it might sound to nearly surrender a 16-point lead (the closest UMass cut it was to one with 4:26 remaining) Crowley sees the victory as beneficial.
“When you are struggling to figure out who you are those things happen,” said Crowley.
But Crowley was pleased with how the Bonnies turned a scare into a 16-point triumph.
“It was really good for our kids to have some adversity, handle it, trust each other and good things happen,” said Crowley.
Ortega put it best: “We didn’t panic, we just continued to executed. We didn’t let that lead effect us.”
A key matchup for UMass was Jasmine Watson.
Despite getting off to a hot start (two baskets in the first one minute and 50 seconds) the Bonnies did an excellent job in containing her for the rest of the game.
After Katie Healy had a difficult time covering Watson the first few possessions, Crowley made the decision to put Ortega on the six-foot-three senior.
Watson finished with eight total points.
“Doris had 19 points, but we are not talking about how well she defended inside,” said Crowley “That allowed Katie’s length to help a little bit which I thought was a really good thing. A really good job by Doris, but also by her teammates to ball pressure and be there and not let her (Watson) get any easy turns.”
The pressure inside and out forced 16 UMass turnovers, which resulted in 13 St. Bonaventure points.
“I think all three of our conference games we’ve done a really great job buying in and understanding what our defense is supposed to do,” said Crowley. “And how we can feed off it. “
The Bonnies not only created turnovers, but they held Massachusetts to 32.1 percent shooting for the game.
“They’re bigger than us, at almost every position, but because of our positioning and because of our willingness to trust one another,” said Crowley. “We were able to create a low shooting percentage for them and do a pretty decent job on the boards.”
The Bonnies take on Rhode Island on Wednesday night at the Reilly Center. They will look for their second Atlantic-10 win.