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COLUMN: Johnson Reflects On Improvements During His First Year At The Helm

Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013

Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 01:03


The scouting report was out on Boston College women’s basketball.

Switch every screen. Close out hard on the 3-pointers. Force the Eagles, full of killer spot-up shooters but shaky drivers, to beat you off the dribble.

That worked for most of ACC play, and then, against No. 15 North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals last week, junior guard Tessah Holt took advantage of the expectations.

Head coach Erik Johnson told Holt to attack whenever she could. Center Katie Zenevitch would set a screen and off Holt would go. Left or right, it didn’t matter, she blew past the bigger defender switching over to her and finished scooping finger-rolls at the rim.

Those plays, along with hot 3-point shooting from freshman Nicole Boudreau and senior Kerri Shields, gave a BC team with a 5-12 conference record a second chance to upset one of the ACC’s elite teams during the tournament. The same North Carolina that defeated the Eagles by more than 20 points in both regular season meetings.

Johnson’s squad fell short, losing 62-57, but the performance in that game as well as the two games prior, a win against Georgia Tech in the regular season finale and then an opening round victory over Virginia, show that the program is headed in the right direction.

The team loses Shields to graduation next year, but a squad that struggled with depth issues all season might see a more full rotation in 2013-14. There will be three new freshmen and BC’s two transfers from this season, Karima Gabriel and Lauren Engeln, will get to see the court after sitting out this year. 

Johnson is also high on rising sophomore forward Alexa Coulombe, who played 19 minutes against the Tar Heels and has been a good defensive presence.

Shields, Boudreau, Zenevitch, and junior forward Kristen Doherty all played more than 30 minutes a game this year and Holt averaged 28 minutes herself. With more depth entering the roster, not only will the starters get a little more time to rest, but Doherty, who played a lot of power forward this season, will be able to move to the perimeter and check the opponent’s better wing players.

Johnson saw a significant improvement on the offensive end, with his players skipping the ball around the court quickly for better shots. He still wants to see the offense develop more fully so scoring doesn’t all have to come from perimeter passing or Zenevitch one-on-one inside. That’s something he and men’s head coach Steve Donahue discussed a lot during the season. Donahue has worked hard the past two seasons to make his young team competitive in a tough conference, and Johnson has been a sponge.

He realized during the season that his team was missing something on defense. The Eagles were undersized in pretty much every ACC matchup. Rather than constantly fix every aspect of their execution, Johnson told them to focus on something else.

“We just had to be tougher,” Johnson said.

To make up for the size, he honed in on ways that the team could be tough on the defensive end. Putting a body on cutters when they try to make a move. Making it a mission not to get beat off of the dribble. Giving out cards for charges to incentivize his players to help hard and sacrifice their bodies.

That all started to come together against the Tar Heels, but Johnson, in typical coaching fashion, wasn’t satisfied.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think we even played that well,” Johnson said of the two ACC Tournament games.

He gave his team credit for all the progress they made up to that point, but he knew it could be better.

He’s out on the road now, recruiting more players to help him get BC back to the NCAA Tournament. He was here as an assistant when the program made the Sweet 16. With his optimistic, engaging, yet all the while demanding persona, that goal shouldn’t be out of reach for much longer.

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