After the Binghamton women’s basketball team finished Wednesday’s practice, sophomore guard Kai Moon was seen alone on the court, casually attempting layups. Moon hasn’t played since injuring her left foot against Albany last Thursday, and is still in a walking boot.
So with Saturday’s America East (AE) quarterfinal match against sixth-seeded Hartford looming, third-seeded BU (19-10, 10-6 AE) enters the postseason with uncertainty at its guard rotation. Moon’s ability to run the Bearcats’ offense without turning the ball over has been important to the team’s best season since BU head coach Linda Cimino took over in 2014.
“[Moon]’s pretty much day-by-day so we’re not really sure where she stands for Saturday or Sunday,” Cimino said. “If [Moon] doesn’t play, we’d have to look at [redshirt junior guard Jasmine Sina] and to [freshman guard Lizzie Spindler] to step up and eat those minutes for us at the guard position and move [senior guard Imani Watkins] back to the wing. I wasn’t comfortable with Imani at the point last game, so we’d have to have somebody else run the point for us.”
Watkins saw extensive run at the point with Moon out against the Hawks (17-12, 9-7 AE) last Sunday, a game that Hartford closed on a 15-0 run to secure the win over BU. Frequent turnovers contributed greatly to the Bearcats’ late collapse. Watkins shot two-for-11 from the floor and committed nine turnovers, and the absence of Moon’s ability to facilitate was palpable.
“[We have to] take care of the ball [in the rematch against Hartford],” Watkins said. “Definitely picking our spots a little bit better, just [making] different reads.”
Watkins and senior center Alyssa James head into the tournament with uncertainty over which game will be the last of their Bearcat careers. Both Watkins and James have racked up plenty of individual honors during their time at BU, but enter this weekend with their minds strictly set on team-oriented goals. Watkins is in the running for the AE’s Most Outstanding Player award after putting up per-game averages of 20.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 steals.
“[Individual awards] don’t matter if we don’t win,” Watkins said. “All those things come second to victories.”
James has averaged 10.1 points, a career-high 10.0 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.3 steals per contest. James’ ability to dictate how an opposing offense operates has her in the running to win her third consecutive AE Defensive Player of the Year award, but she still echoes the same sentiment as Watkins.
“I’ve given [winning Defensive Player of the Year] a little thought, but it’s not my top priority,” James said. “Winning is my top priority.”
Spearheaded by its versatile tandem of seniors, Binghamton is prepped with its most experienced and successful playoff team since Cimino took over as head coach in 2014. She has coached this team to its highest seeding in the AE Tournament since the 2010-11 season, and for the first time in her tenure at BU, Cimino will be coaching a team with a favorable seed in the tournament.
“We’ve been building this program, and I think our kids are ready,” Cimino said. “This is our first time having a favorable seed and I’m excited. I think we’ve worked hard all year, and we know that we need to get through Hartford on Saturday and redeem ourselves from playing them last week.”
Binghamton split its two matchups against Hartford this season. Boasting one of the best press defenses in the conference, the Hawks led the AE in steals this season. The effectiveness of Hartford’s press and its ability to create turnovers has played a large factor in determining the outcome in its matchups with BU this year. Cimino will look to dictate the game’s pace in order to move on to her first AE semifinal appearance since 2016.
“Biggest thing we’re focusing on going into this tournament is taking care of the basketball and not turning the ball over against [Hartford’s] pressure,” Cimino said. “They struggled to score against us in the half-court, and our half-court defense looks really good. We just have to take care of the basketball.”
With the success the Bearcats have seen this season, James has noticed a unique vibe within the team compared to years past.
“I think the aura on the team [stands out], the dynamic is a lot different,” James said. “I think this is probably the most talented we have been in years, and I really have faith in my teammates.”
The winner of Binghamton’s quarterfinal matchup with Hartford will face off against the winner of second-seeded Albany and seventh-seeded Vermont. BU is set to tip off the last of Saturday’s games at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine at 8:15 p.m.