[St. Bonaventure’s 13 wins tops all Atlantic 10 Conference teams’ win totals prior to conference – Photo courtesy of GoBonnies.com]
By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13
St. Bonaventure started the 2011-12 season chosen sixth in the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference poll. On the eve before conference play, the Bonnies instead have the best record in the A-10, garnering votes in the Associated Press poll and broke a 25-year-old program record by winning 13 non-conference wins.
Do not think the Bonnies had a cupcake schedule, either. Wins at St. John’s (Nov. 12), at West Virginia (Nov. 18) and vs. Marist build a strong portfolio for the Bonnies come March.
Yes. NCAA Tournament became a reality after an undefeated record on the road.
Five of those games, including four wins, were played without senior Megan Van Tatenhove, a preseason First Team All-Conference selection. Van Tatenhove, admittedly rusty, returned in Tuesday’s win vs. Sacred Heart from concussion-like symptoms, and said she is healthy for conference play.
Because with a healthy Van Tatenhove, St. Bonaventure looks like a No. 6 seed in a NCAA Tournament region, let alone the sixth best team in the A-10.
The two losses occurred at the hands of No. 20 Delaware and No. 21 Villanova. Van Tatenhove missed the Villanova game, while starting point guard Armelia Horton was sidelined for Delaware.
Delaware has the leading scorer in the country, but Elena Della Donne needed 26 shots — the most she attempted all year — to get 26 points for Delaware in an 11-point Blue Hens win.
[Related: Podcast of press conference after the 61-49 loss to Delaware]
The reason for all this success can be attributed to the Bonnies defense.
Only two teams have scored 60-plus points on the Bonnies, and their scoring defense is second in the A-10 with 51.3 points allowed per game. The Bonnies win with defense, hustle, and 3-point shooting.
Speaking of threes, Jessica Jenkins, a preseason Third Team All-Conference selection, dazzles the crowd and dazes her opponents with her impeccable 3-point shooting.
Van Tatenhove has sneaky range, too, but the Bonnies are not a two-women wrecking crew.
Coach Jim Crowley uses up to ten players during any given game — showing not just depth but trust.
Alaina Walker continues to astound, scoring 14 of her career-high 18 points Tuesday in the second half. The junior guard is the best on-ball defender on the team. Crowley said she does the little things that sometimes don’t fill up a stat sheet —and definitely should not be overlooked.
[Related: Video recap of St. Bonaventure winning a program-best 13th non-conference victory Tuesday]
Sophomore Doris Ortega is a physical forward who rebounds well and plays brilliant defense, but she shoots 33 percent from the field.
However, her team-leading 29 offensive rebounds make her a crucial offensive weapon. She generates second chance opportunities for herself and her teammates. Although she is a forward, her 27 assists lead the team.
The most underrated player on this team, however, might be its eldest.
Redshirt senior Armelia Horton is the heart and soul. Every year she battles through injuries, but manages to help her team win.
In fact, she has won more games than any other player in St. Bonaventure history.
At 5-feet-10, Horton is a taller guard who is able to use her size to force opposing players into difficult shots.
A knock on Horton is that she turns the ball over too frequently — leading the team with 28 turnovers. Aside from turnovers, Horton struggles with assists.
As a team, the Bonnies are dead last in assist per game with a shade under ten. Having said this, Horton might not necessarily have the glamour, but she does have desire and a track record of winning.
But it’s not just the starters who stand out.
Chelsea Bowker, who started in place of Van Tatenhove when injured, is used primarily as a 3-point specialist. Her 43.8 percentage from down town is good for thirteenth in the nation.
CeCe Dixon is a speedy, offensive point guard who gives Crowley a valuable change-of-pace weapon. She has developed a reliable 3-point shot — she made a career-best four threes on Tuesday — and is a momentum changer. As the ladder stages of the season come, Dixon could be the difference maker.
[Related: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again]
Jennie Ashton and Jordan McGee are both role players with outstanding defensive abilities.
McGee leads the team in blocks and has incredible length and athleticism. Ashton, a fan favorite, has come along way. She spent many practices battling with Dana Mitchell, the only woman to have her jersey retired at the Reilly Center. Those battles helped ripen a tough, hardworking Ashton.
Ashley Zahn is slowly developing into a consistent 3-point shooter, and if she can continue to improve, then it will give the Bonnies another formidable option from long range.
A magical non-conference season it was, but this season is far from over.
“We are going to continue to play hard,” Van Tatenhove said.
Bonaventure hosts Duquesne (12-3) Saturday in the A-10 opener for both teams. Duquesne, along with Fordham, Richmond and St. Joseph’s, will contend St. Bonaventure for a conference crown.
Crowley said to his player that no matter what happens this point on, no one can take away what they accomplished.
The players, coaches, alumni and fans know that if this season is to be labeled a success, the Bonnies need to be dancing in March for the very first time — setting another program record when no one else but themselves thought they could do it.
“I enjoy being the underdog. I like being overlooked,” Van Tatenhove said. “We’re in a good state right now to make some noise. Thirteen wins is great for us, so I’m really excited for conference.”