The future is now for Brown women’s basketball

Prior to the 2016-17 season, the Brown women’s basketball team was picked seventh in the Ivy League media poll.  Despite three league wins in 2015-16 and a youthful roster that did not have any seniors, the Bears ended up with a 17-13 record (7-7 Ivy), a fourth-place tie in the conference, a slot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament, and a first-ever postseason victory with a win over UMBC in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) Tournament.  With the loss of only one player, Brown will look to establish itself as a first-division team, challenge the Big Three for conference dominance, and achieve greater post-season success.

All five starters and the top five scorers will return for the 2017-2018 season.  In fact, Brown will keep 92 percent of its minutes, 94% percent of its points and 96 percent of its rebounds.  The Bears will be led by junior Shayna Mehta, sophomore guard/forward Justine Gaziano, and junior Erika Steeves.  Mehta, who is the 2015-16 Rookie of the Year and a second-team All-Ivy last year, averaged 15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 33.7 minutes a game.  Gaziano, another second-team All-Ivy, averaged 16.5 points and 4.0 rebounds a game.  Steeves, who averaged 12.9 points and 8.4 rebounds a game, has gained additional experience through two tryout camps with the Canadian national team.

Brown was a high tempo run and gun team last season and don’t look to change this year.  While they have no problem putting up points (72.3 overall, 70.5 Ivy), they struggled in rebounding, posting a -5.2 margin overall and -8.5 in league play.  With a five-member recruiting class, hopes will be high that 6′ 5″ center Jenna Benzinger (career 1,000-plus points and 900 rebounds), 6′ 0″ forward Morgan Clausen (15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.7 blocks per game in ’16-’17), and 6′ 0″ guard McKenna Dale (Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year; career 1,792 points, 747 rebounds, 264 steals and 162 blocks) will be able to help on the defensive side.

The Bears recently released their 2017-18 schedule and will open with a home contest against in-state rival Bryant.  After a road visit to Central Connecticut State, Brown will host the California Golden Bears for its first-ever home game against a member of the Pac-12 conference.  Then, the Ivy Bears will head to California for the Turkey Tip-Off at Pacific, where they will face Hampton, the MEAC representative in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, on November 24 and either San Jose State or Pacific on the 25th.

After Thanksgiving, Brown will welcome Holy Cross before the local Ocean State Tip-Off Tournament at Providence.  The Bears will play the hosts in the first round and either URI or Bryant on the second night.  Following that early December tournament, Brown will play Sacred Heart, Boston University and Johnson & Wales at home, while traveling to Colgate and Howard before entering Ivy play.

The Bears will start the conference schedule with two games against an improving Yale program on January 12 and 19.  The Bulldogs won four of their last five contests last season, including home victories over league champion Penn and third-place Harvard.  After playing its travel partner, Brown will visit Dartmouth and Harvard on the 26th and 27th of January before a crucial home series against Penn and second-place Princeton the next weekend.  The team will complete the first round of conference play with a trip to Cornell and Columbia on February 9 and 10.  For the latter part of the season, Brown will host two weekend back-to-backs against Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia and Cornell before concluding the regular season with challenging matches at the Tigers and Quakers on March 2 and 3.  Expectations are high that the Bears can end that weekend with a return ticket to the Palestra for the Ivy Tournament on March 10 and be the first team since 2011-12 to break the hold that Harvard, Penn and Princeton have had on the top three spots in the Ancient Eight.