Opinion: BU Women’s Basketball is juggling two eras at once, and it’s becoming hard to know what to think

Featured image by Jacob Ireland

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

It is becoming clear that Caitlin Weimar represents even more than meets the eye. That’s a remarkable feat for the BU senior, who’s been named the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, been added to the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year watchlist, averaged a double-double through 20 games (while leading the Patriot League in both scoring and rebounding) and poured in at least 20 points eight times. But here we are.

Until Saturday at Lehigh, Weimar had yet to miss a game this season and hadn’t missed a start since November. BU arrived at Stabler Arena enduring a disappointing start to league play after entering it with the tied-best overall record and the vibes were, you know, not tremendous after a loss the previous Monday at first-placed and dreaded rival Holy Cross.

How quickly the conversation changed, though, without Weimar on the trip to Bethlehem.

BU lost, 64-62, and head coach Melissa Graves didn’t have a bad word to say.

“You know, I told the team after, really proud of their effort,” she said.

An understandable takeaway, but not the tone you’d expect out of the defending Patriot League runner-up after it had just dropped to .500 in conference and fifth-place in the standings. Rather, the rhetoric of a coach thinking long-term. 

And that’s the thing.

Weimar isn’t just a ludicrously good player, but an inflection point of time — too good to allow one era to end but, simultaneously, too good to let another start. As eight new players, including six freshmen, appear to swing BU toward a rebuild, Weimar remains — so dominant alongside junior guard Alex Giannaros that BU is, almost by qualification, a contender. In the end, neither side of the seesaw hits the floor.

It is an awkward place for BU to be. 

Against the Mountain Hawks, the Terriers climbed out of an early 11-0 hole, eventually took the lead in the second half and were within one possession until the very end, when Giannaros missed a contested layup with four seconds left that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

Giannaros scored 17 points and made half her shots. Freshman guard Aoibhe Gormley (13 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) put together the best offensive performance of her college career.

BU can take a lot from that. The Terriers are not far away from the ‘rebuild’ side of the seesaw very much hitting the floor — Weimar is a senior — so, if still a loss, Saturday was a comforting sign.

“It was as if she wasn’t there,” Graves said. 

Lovely. But Weimar will be back (Graves said she expects her to return this Saturday against Bucknell), and the immediate priority when you’ve got arguably the conference’s best player on the roster isn’t exactly to plan for life without her.

And as far as life with her goes, the Terriers were losers on Saturday, now for the fifth time in conference play as they limp into February. BU is in fifth place. It is three games behind defending champion Holy Cross and it’s now officially in the second half of the conference slate.

Graves deflected talk of the Terriers’ position in the standings  — “I think it’s just so early to look at that,” she said — and her team is still just a game behind second and third place. But the clock is ticking. 

BU is coming off a devastating conclusion to its best season since it joined the Patriot League and, if you squint, is just about recognizable enough to warrant similar expectations. Weimar is still around. The Terriers still finished second in the preseason poll. They started 8-3 and finished the non-conference slate receiving votes for the Mid-Major Top 25. Add in Giannaros, a key part of last year’s run but playing on an entirely different level this year, and it would be no stretch to conclude that BU is making another run at the whole thing.

So if it’s running it back, BU has to start winning, and it needs to start winning away from Case Gym. It is 1-5 on the road so far in league play.

“I think it’s just a comfortability piece,” Graves said. 

BU was never going to finish conference play 17-1 like it did last year. But to be just 5-5 halfway through the conference slate after entering it with the best overall record is tough. To lose on the road three weeks ago at Bucknell, at the time a last-placed team on a five-game skid, was even tougher. To lose on the road a week later at Army, a team Graves had never lost to in six prior matchups, was alarming.

But at the same time:

“Working with a team with six freshmen, two transfers, and only five returners, I just feel we’re very young,” Graves said of her team’s struggles on the road.

Right — whatever it is about playing on the road has a certain “no s**t” feeling about it; a team full of freshmen struggling on the road isn’t exactly a headline. And it’s not like the Terriers are free-falling when they leave Comm. Ave — BU lost in double overtime at American, by four at Army and now by two on Saturday.

“I think we’re right there,” Graves said.

She’s got an argument, but it’s all pretty unsatisfying. BU is a living contradiction of itself, rebuilding and contending at the same time, winners but also losers on Saturday and under the burden of balancing both simultaneously. The Terriers were, inarguably, impressive against Lehigh and given Weimar’s absence, their head coach was justified in her lack of criticism.

But Weimar isn’t gone yet. She will be back against Bucknell, and she’ll be returning to a middle-of-the-pack team that, before the season, wasn’t at all shy about its goals of winning a title. 

The question, now? With its superstar back for the final stretch of what might be her final season, can BU prove that it remains a contender in the Patriot League?