By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team may have been picked ninth by Atlantic 10 coaches at the conference’s media day last month, but junior guard Imani Outlaw is thinking much bigger.
“We definitely want to be one of the top four teams in the A-10 this year,” Outlaw said.
The Cincinnati, Ohio native’s goal isn’t all that unattainable if the team plays up to its potential. Bona is deep, with 12 scholarship players capable of earning playing time and producing.
To be one of those three at the top of the league heading into March Madness, head coach Jim Crowley will rely on Outlaw to continue her progression. The 5-foot-8 guard played 267 more minutes and 10 more games than she did in her freshman year, scoring 81 more points, grabbing 31 more rebounds and dishing out 21 more assists.
“Imani had a really good summer; she worked really hard,” Crowley said. “We need her to get to the paint (offensively) and we need her to play good ball pressure defense. If we can get those two things, good things are going to happen.
“When she’s ready on catches and attacks, she’s as good as anyone. It’s just being consistent with that, being a playmaker and creating things for herself and her teammates. She has the ability, now it’s just incorporating it every day.”
Outlaw, an elementary education major, had the best offensive game of her career so far at Fordham on Feb. 5, when she scored 14 points on six-of-nine shooting from the floor. Eight of those points, all on jump shots, came in a four-minute stretch where it seemed like she just couldn’t miss, and the performance showed that she was more than just an exceptional driver offensively.
Outlaw said she worked on that jumper a lot during the offseason.
“Over the summer I definitely worked on my 15-footer a lot, and I think I find confidence in my shot when I get to the rim a couple times,” she said. “If I get a couple of drives early, I think it’s more likely that I take that 15-footer and be confident with it.”
In Outlaw’s freshman season in 2013-14, the Bonnies were a borderline NCAA Tournament team, making the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) instead. SBU won the first tournament game against Charlotte before falling at Bowling Green. Overall, the team finished at 24-11, with an 11-5 conference record.
Last season, however, Bona experienced a significant dropoff, finishing at 15-15 and going 5-11 in A-10 play. It was a disappointing year for a program that had made a postseason tournament in five of the previous six seasons.
Outlaw noticed a lack of team unity from 2014 to 2015, which she acknowledged the team needs to focus on this season.
“(Our focus is) definitely playing together,” she said. “My sophomore year we didn’t do as well because we all went our individual ways. We did so well my freshman year because we all played for each other and together and I think that’s why we were so successful.”
One way college teams work togetherness as a group is staying on campus for most of the summer, training and taking classes. Outlaw felt that this summer’s sessions helped the Bonnies as a unit.
“We get to work with our coaches over the summer and it really helps our team chemistry and bonding,” she said. “We’re the only ones on campus, so we only spend time with each other and we really get close over the summer.
In addition to working on her jumper a lot in the offseason, Outlaw knows her defense is a main priority.
“Individually, I definitely want to be a better defender,” she said. I want people to be scared to come against me; I don’t want anyone to get in the paint.
“I want to get lots of stops defensively because I know that will help our team.”