At 17-2, St. Bonaventure women seeking respect
Coach Jim Crowley isn't going to hazard a guess when - or even if - his St. Bonaventure women's basketball team might start attracting a bit of national attention.
Nor is he going to spend time worrying about votes, polls or theories on how a small school in the Atlantic 10 Conference with an inconsistent track record and no NCAA tournament experience can emerge as a power.
If getting off to a school-best 17-2 start this year, and coming on the heels of three straight 20-win seasons isn't worthy of a second look, then staying under the radar is fine by him.
''Our kids deserve more,'' Crowley said of a team that earned two votes in The Associated Press poll and none in the ESPN/USA Today poll this week. ''But you know what, all you can control is how you prepare and how you play. And if other people take notice of it, that's fantastic.''
So forget asking whether the Bonnies might be underrated.
''Not by me,'' Crowley said. ''But I'd rather be under than over.''
The Bonnies' 17 wins are already the fifth-most in school history and rank tied for third in the nation with Ohio State (17-1). With a 7-0 record on the road, they join top-ranked Baylor and No. 12 Green Bay as the only teams in the nation without a road loss.
Opening the week 46th in the RPI rankings, St. Bonaventure's only two losses have come against No. 16 Delaware and Villanova.
It might be time to start paying Crowley and Company their due after the deep and senior-laden Bonnies improved their conference record to 4-0 with a 75-59 win over Richmond (14-4, 2-2) in what was supposed to be a showdown of A-10 elite on Wednesday night.
St. Bonaventure led 38-28 at the half despite having star forward Megan Van Tatenhove miss all but the first 70 seconds after picking up her second foul. The Bonnies didn't miss a beat, efficiently picking apart the Spiders with a balanced attack.
Jessica Jenkins hit two of her four 3-point baskets during a decisive 14-4 run. Backup forward Jennie Ashton had a career-best 10 rebounds. And the Bonnies' defense limited the Spiders to shoot 20 of 52 from the field.
''People know their role, and they're not afraid of it,'' Crowley said of a team that features four seniors and three juniors. ''That's the thing I'm really pleased with, most pleased with, is that they knew they had a chance to do some good things and they committed to it.''
The Bonnies make up for a lack of size - at 6-foot-2, Ashton's their tallest player - with a cohesive approach. They're patient on offense, and yet can open it up on the transition. And their tough on defense, allowing 52.6 points a game.
At 6-1, Van Tatenhove is an all-around threat in having become just the ninth Bonnies player to score 1,000 points and have 500 rebounds. Guard Armelia Horton and forward Doris Ortega are both physical in driving the basket. And Jenkins gives the Bonnies an outside shooting presence. With 287 career 3-point baskets, she's five short of setting the A-10 record.
Count Spiders coach Michael Shafer as a believer.
After preparing his players to contain Van Tatenhove, that plan went out the window when the Spiders had difficulty defending the Bonnies' drive-to-the-basket approach.
''They are a very experienced group that's played together and has developed a chemistry and a toughness,'' Shafer said. ''I think this league, this year is wide open. ... But that being said, I think they're a tough out when you get to the (A-10) tournament.''
The Bonnies' schedule hasn't been easy, considering they opened with a 64-58 win at then No. 25 St. John's; have won at West Virginia; and last week won at Temple, where the Owls had only lost four times in their previous 23 games.
All that for a team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason conference projections, despite returning the core of a team that's coming off three straight WNIT appearances.
''We've always had the underdog role, and that's something we've kind of embraced,'' Jenkins said. ''It's not really that big of a deal to us right now until the end.''
The Bonnies next big test comes Saturday at Charlotte (12-6, 4-0). In six weeks, it's the conference tournament, where St. Bonaventure has never won consecutive games.
Crowley is not looking too far ahead, though he's pleased with what his team's done so far.
''We're like the squirrels you see around campus, grabbing acorns and putting them in our tree,'' Crowley said. ''And no matter what happens, I'm never going to look back and say, `Oh, shoot,' because it's incredible what we've done.''