Former Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini’s return to college hoops was a success as her Seattle University easily toppled Northwest University 75-54 in an exhibition opener at Connolly Center on Tuesday.
Bonvicini (pictured right by Arizona) was vibrant on the sideline, stating afterward that she was excited to return to coaching after being fired at Arizona in March 2008 following a 10-20 season. She was 287-233 as coach for the Wildcats, becoming just the 18th NCAA coach to collect 600 wins in February 2007.
Molding her third overall program, Bonvicini had butterflies prior to the matchup with the Eagles, who are based in Kirkland, yet those quickly dissipated as the Redhawks took a 40-25 lead at halftime.
Among the highlights were senior guard Cassidy Murillo’s between the legs dribble-drive to the hoop for a layin to make the score 31-19 and SU’s trapping defense where senior forward Ashley Brown collected four opening-half steals.
Brown missed the entire 2008-09 season due to injury. She had 14 of her final 15 points in the first half. Teammate Maggie McCarthy, a 5-foot-10 sophomore forward, was the leading scorer with 18 points, nine rebounds, and three steals.
McCarthy’s layup off a Murillo assist in the paint pushed the score to 68-48 with 5:42 in the second half, moving Bonvicini to lighten the team’s pressure defense.
Freshman guard Emily Drivstuen led NU, a NAIA school, with 15 points in 25 minutes of play off the bench.
But, in typical coach’s form, Bonvicini found plenty for her team to work on in practice in preparation for a tough regular-season schedule. One is free throw shooting.
SU was aggressive, drawing the fouls to get to the line to Eagles coach Lori Napier’s chagrin. But the Redhawks missed 18 of its 40 attempts.
NU was limited to just 13 FT attempts.
“We definitely need work on our free throws,” Bonvicini said, adding rebounding and offensive fluidity to the mix.
Seeing level talent on her roster, especially with star Breanna Salley suspended for the at least the fall quarter, Bonvicini rotated players “like a hockey team.” She also used a different offense that she hadn’t run in the past and tweaked her defense to fit her new team.
Bonvicini started transfer Kourtney Parks, a 5-5 sophomore guard, and 6-1 junior center Tatiana Heck alongside Brown (5-11), Murillo (5-7), and McCarty. The coach hopes to keep the same starters through the season, hosting Saint Martin’s in an exhibition finale on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“I’m really pleased we won,” Bonvicini said. “I thought it was going to be a closer game because I was really impressed when I watched them on tape.”