Bonnies back on the road to face VCU

St. Bonaventure sophomore Asianae Johnson looks to get to the basket during Sunday's Atlantic 10 conference game against Davidson at the Reilly Center.

Since Jan. 8, the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team has alternated weeks of back-to-back home games followed by back-to-back road games. It’s a scheduling quirk that coach Jesse Fleming can’t explain, but it has made for some long road trips (and missed class time) for the team.

The pattern ends this week with games tonight at VCU (105.9 FM, 6 o’clock) and Sunday at Rhode Island, and for the Bonnies (7-17, 4-7), if they want to keep up the good vibes they have created the last two games, they’ll have to snap some unflattering marks.

The team is just 1-10 away from the Reilly Center this season, 0-8 all-time against VCU since the Rams joined the Atlantic 10 prior to the 2012-13 season and historically struggles in the city of Richmond (including Feb. 2’s overtime loss at Richmond).

This season, all four of the team’s conference wins – six of its seven overall victories – have come at the Reilly Center, and the other win was at a neutral site, meaning the Bonnies have no true road wins. For them to have a realistic shot of hosting in the Atlantic 10 Tournament first round they are likely going to have to win one of their three remaining road games – tonight, Sunday at Rhode Island and/or Feb. 26 at Dayton. Two of those games happen to be against the conference’s top teams, however.

“For stretches we have played well on the road,” Fleming said. “I’ve liked our energy but if the other team makes a run we haven’t responded well.”

FOR THE Bonnies, it was a successful past week as they picked up a pair of wins at the Reilly Center over George Wasington (59-55) and Davidson (68-56). A furious rally got them those win wins – they trailed 43-29 against GW and 36-26 versus Davidson in the third quarters yet found a way to win both. Overall in the two games forward Emily Calabrese had the best week as she combined for 24 points and 15 rebounds. Asinae Johnson had a combined 33 points, but it was freshman Olivia Brown who led the charge against Davidson with a 20-point outing off the bench. Brown had reached the 20-point mark twice before Sunday but had a string of single-digit outings before her big performance.

“Olivia is one of the most confident kids,” Fleming said. “She could miss 10 shots in a row and she has – and it won’t shake her. She’s in the gym every single day. I would love to see more consistency, but she was active.”

Defensively, the Bonnies held both opponents to less than 60 points. That isn’t a benchmark but it’s an indicator of success for the team. In their 11 conference games they are 0-6 when allowing 60-plus points and 4-1 when allowing less than 60, the lone loss a 58-point outing from Duquesne.

“We are making shots harder for (our opponent),” Fleming said. “We defended better, we were doing a good job through the first three quarters (in both games). We prepare like we can win every game but we could also lose every game.”

IT WAS the Rams who were selected as the preseason favorite for this season, as 11 of the 13 other coaches in the league selected them to finish first. True to form, VCU went unbeaten in January (7-0) but has gone 1-2 in three February games thus far. Most recently, the Rams lost to George Washington, 56-55, just days after the Bonnies proved victorious over the Colonials. The Rams sit in second place behind league leader Dayton, and the teams will meet on Sunday.

“VCU has always defended, they’re probably the best defensive team in the league,” Fleming said. “They have kids who can guard the ball. They play good half-court defense and can bring size off the bench.”

Junior guard Tera Reed leads the team at 15 points per game. Senior center Danielle Hammond averages a tick better than 11 points per game while shooting nearly 65 percent from the field, junior guard Taya Robinson is at 10 per. Reed (First Team), Robinson (Defensive Team) and Hammond (Third Team) were all selected to the All-Conference teams last season.

“Reed can just finish,” Fleming said. “Her and Robinson are two-players; they defend well, are good on the wing and they can score it at three different levels. Robinson is leading the league in three-point shooting. Williams is good on and off the ball, Hammond is a good shot blocker and is a top offensive rebounder.”

in an upperclassmen-heavy the Rams team have just one freshman on their roster under head coach Beth O’Boyle, the 2019 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, and a former coaching partner of Fleming’s.

“Their upperclassmen have played together a lot,” Fleming said. “These two classes (current juniors and seniors) were supposed to get them over the top. They’re probably tops in minutes played together.”