The Playas Step Up To Take Down UVA

Erik Johnson wanted to know where the playas were. As his team wasted away yet another possession deep into the shot clock while trailing Virginia by 15 points midway through the second half Thursday night, the Boston College women’s basketball head coach pressed his hands helplessly against his cheeks. He looked aimlessly at the floor before Katie Zenevitch had even lifted the ball into the air for yet another brick. The Eagles looked doomed for a sixth straight loss—the Cavalier 2-3 zone giving BC horrid fits—but then the playas showed up.

“I wanna see where the playas are,” Johnson joked to his team in the locker room before the game. “Where’s the playas?”

Eventually, they showed up for the Eagles. Sparked by hot shooting from guards Kelly Hughes and Nicole Boudreau, BC rattled off a ridiculous 24-4 run over the course of six and a half minutes to take a 62-57 advantage late. The Eagles wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the game’s final two minutes, killing their losing streak with a 69-65 victory.

The turnaround started with the BC players finding a way to quell Johnson’s frustration on the sidelines. The Eagles hadn’t needed to play much zone offense all year. Most other teams have been too afraid of BC’s soft touch from behind the arc—which stands at fifth in percentage in the ACC and second in makes—to try the 2-3. Virginia didn’t care, though. The Cavaliers usually run the zone, so that’s what they stuck with, and it almost destroyed the BC offense.

The Eagles put up 25 points in the first half, coughing the ball up a dozen times and allowing 13 second-chance points.

“There’s no excuse for our 12 turnovers at halftime,” Johnson said.

Virginia jumped passing lanes in the zone, but that aggressive play meant someone was open. Johnson saw it, and halfway through the second half, his players finally started to see it too.

Johnson doesn’t have the flashiest definition for playas on his squad. They jump stop, they find the open scorer, they don’t freak out against traps, they pivot, and they get deflections. They, essentially, do all the little things right. For the first 30 minutes of the game, the BC bench and pockets of vocal Eagles fans got a monotonous lesson in counting down from 10, as the home team hopelessly worked the ball around the perimeter deep into the shot clock with little success.

And then, they finally started to ball fake. Hughes sank an open three, Boudreau drilled another, and suddenly, the Cavalier zone was in trouble. Virginia made the game about concept basketball, and BC was finally cracking the code. Defenders rushed out to BC’s shooters, creating wide-open looks off short corner and high post feeds for Lauren Engeln and Zenevitch.

“Once we got that open you saw the energy in our players,” Johnson said.

The BC bench started erupting during the scoring run. The Eagle zone, which had been torn apart inside by the Cavaliers for most of the night and was seriously missing the injured Kristen Doherty, finally started rotating properly. Kat Cooper and Zenevitch made up for mistakes with smart contests and timely blocks. There wasn’t much for Virginia to do.

Ataira Franklin did her best to pull the Cavs within reach and make the game interesting at the end, but a few clutch foul shots and a key rebound from Cooper sealed the victory. Hughes, a freshman, led the way for BC with 23 points, but Johnson pointed to all of his playas as the key to success.

“Guys, where’s the playas?” Johnson asked when he reached the locker room after the game. The Eagles had watched second half leads slip away and turn into losses for three games in a row. Finally, they were the ones making big plays and forcing the other team into costly errors.

“Coach, we’re right here,” they said. “We’re right here.”

February 6, 2014