Aleah Bridges gave the BU women’s basketball team a credible ball-handler at the point in her first season with the Bobcats.
The Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball team took a major step forward in making the program more legitimate during the 2013-14 Canada West conference season.
Second-year head coach Novell Thomas guided the Bobcats to six victories, their highest total in a season in 30 years. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
The squad began the year on a 67-game losing streak, but it rolled off six wins during the season, setting its highest mark in 30 years and matching the total number of conference victories the Bobcats had in the previous nine seasons combined.
It’s with them that we continue with the year-end reports.
With such a dismal recent history for the Bobcats, BU head coach Novell Thomas wanted to make the team more legitimate and respected in the conference, and that’s exactly what he did. It started with bringing in import point guard Aleah Bridges and former all-Canadian shooting guard Cassie Cooke. The pair gave the Bobcats a pair of solid ball-handlers who could set up the team in the offensive zone.
The result was an average of 60.7 points per conference contest, the most the Bobcats posted since joining Canada West in the 1999-2000 season. A lot of that was from Cooke, who led the country with 23.6 points per game, although the Bobcats made a disappointing 31.9 per cent of their shots from the field.
Brandon also improved defensively. The Bobcats led the conference in turnover margin by forcing opponents to 4.09 more turnovers per game than they gave up. They also held opponents to 69.8 points per game, which is the lowest mark the Bobcats have allowed since the 2003-04 season, when they gave up 67.25 per game.
All that helped BU stay in a lot of games and post a 6-16 record.
While Thomas felt the team took a big step in the right direction, he felt the team’s record was a little deceiving.
"I think we were better than that, but we had some core players who were with the program for a short time," he said. "I’m not afraid to use that as an excuse, but I think there were two or three games there where if we were together for a little longer then we might have been able to pull those off."
There isn’t any doubt that Cooke, who was named a Canada West first-team all-star but somehow missed out on being an all-Canadian, played a key role in Brandon’s success. Her name went into the Canada West record book 19 times this season and she was in the top 10 in eight different statistical categories — scoring (first, 23.6 points for game), steals (first, 3.6 per game), three-pointers (first, 2.9), minutes played (first, 36.9), assist/turnover ratio (second, 1.7), assists (third, 4.6) and defensive rebounding (sixth, 5.5).
However, other players stepped up in big ways for the team. Bridges, in her third year of eligibility, averaged 35.5 minutes and 2.8 assists per game, while third-year guard Kaela Cranston wasn’t far behind in minutes, with 33.3 per game, and developed into a legitimate three-point shooter, averaging 2.4 per contest.
Stephanie Haynes, also a third-year guard, quietly posted 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, while rookie guard Keegan Robinson showed her defensive prowess, and first-year forward Amy Williams showed a lot of potential in the post.
"I think for the most part they quietly had big seasons for us," Thomas said. "Kaela was among the nation’s best in three-point shooting, and it got to the point where you couldn’t leave her open, which for penetrators like Cassie and Aleah, it opens things up. Steph quietly went about her business and had some great double-double games. Just (flew) under the radar and quietly went about her business and really helped us out.
"Same with Keegan as well. Some double-digit scoring games, something I really didn’t expect of her. … Amy had a slow start, but come the second semester she got going. … When she’s (healthy and) fit, she’s at her best and she’s a strong girl, good height and is pretty crafty around the hoop in terms of finishing."
LOOK TO THE FUTURE
The improved play of a lot of Brandon’s players has created hope that the team can continue to improve next season, but it looks like they’ll have to do it without Cooke, who dropped out of school to go back home to deal with family issues earlier this semester and isn’t expected to return.
While there are some solid pieces in place, there are a lot of holes to fill. The Bobcats are small and need some bigs to play under the hoop, another player to help bring the ball up the court and a solid shooting guard. However, the team has two import spots open and Thomas is working hard to fill those holes and find some talented Canadians to come to Brandon and continue developing the Bobcat brand of women’s basketball.
"We definitely need more pieces," he said. "… We still have to continue to bring them (current players) along slowly and productively and hopefully some other pieces will join us and be able to step up."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 14, 2014