BOWIE — Not only is the Bowie State women’s basketball team on an earnest mission to become the team to beat in the CIAA, but is out to claim the conference title and make a run in the postseason.
At about the midpoint of the regular season, the Bulldogs boast a 14-1 overall record, a 6-0 CIAA record and a 7-0 record at home. And though Bowie is not known as the CIAA’s offensive juggernauts, they hail as the top defensive team in the league, statistically.
Led by Coach Shadae Swan, who began her stint at Bowie as the interim head coach in 2015, Bowie allows only 48.9 points per game, holding its opponents to a CIAA-low 31.5 percent shooting from the field. Moreover, the Bulldogs’ margin of victory is more than 15 points.
The major difference with this year’s team, despite their offensive struggles, averaging only about 38 percent shooting from the field, is the motivation the players have displayed on the court, Swan said.
“The biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team is the energy,” Swan said.
Bowie’s defensive prowess has allowed the team to come together, Swan suggested, considering that they lost four starters from last year’s squad, and went from six seniors to one this season.
“I think that we have a better defensive presence,” said Swan. “Our young ladies aren’t worried about scoring; they just go out and play. And I think that’s the biggest difference. We had more scorers last year, more talent, but this year this team just works 10 times hard as the team from last year.”
Bowie has won three CIAA championships (1997-99) in school history, and Swan believes she and her staff have the formula to lead Bowie to a CIAA championship this season. She is in charge of a group of young women determined to bounce back from a decent-yet-disappointing 2017-18 season.
The Bulldogs reached the conference championship game on March 3, 2018, only to fall short to Virginia Union, 73-57.
Less than a week after dropping the CIAA title game to VUU, the Bulldogs topped the No. 1 Panthers, 63-56, in the opening round of the NCAA Atlantic Region Tournament. BSU then captured a 79-75 win over Edinboro University (Pa.) in the Atlantic Region Semifinals to reach the Division II Sweet 16 for the second time in program history.
On March 12, 2018, the Bulldogs fail to No. 2 Indiana University (Pa.), 75-60, in the NCAA Atlantic Region Championship game, which brought their 2018 season to an upsetting end. BSU entered regional play seeded eighth and finished the season with a 22-10 overall record.
Kyaja Williams is a crucial part of Bowie’s 13-game winning streak, averaging team-highs of 14 points and 8.9 rebounds. She does a swell job of positioning herself to get offensive and defensive boards which explains why she is one of the top rebounders in the league.
The 5-foot-8 junior forward said the recent 49-40 comeback win over Livingstone “basically let people know we are here.”
“We were always looked down as the underdogs because Bowie hasn’t done a lot of things in a couple of years but we just gotta play each game to make a statement and let every know that we are here and that we are coming to play,” Williams said.
In their current form, the Baltimore native said the Bulldogs are “definitely” the team to beat in the CIAA.
“We stay together as a team, we play as a team, which makes it hard for other teams to really try to break us down and pick us apart when playing us,” she said.
“Since her freshman year, she just comes on the court and plays a hundred percent,” said Swan of Williams. “It doesn’t matter if she’s gonna play two minutes, 10 minutes, 40 minutes – she’s going to give you the same energy every time she steps on the court.
“I love her energy because it sets the tone for the team and she’s an excellent role model for the younger ones that we have.”
Just like last season, Virginia Union (13-1, 4-1 CIAA), looks like Bowie’s biggest threat right now. The two face off on Jan. 23 at 5:30 p.m. in Bowie.
After their home victory Livingstone at home on Jan. 7, Swan said she has high expectations for the then-upcoming three-game road stretch. Bowie took on CIAA Southern Division opponents Saint Augustine’s, Shaw and Fayetteville State in a four-day span.
“Well I’m expecting to go down there and win every game,” Swan said. “And I do believe it’s possible as long as we come out and we play.
“Our last two games (Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone), for some reason, we’ve had a slow start. But if we can come out and play for 40-plus minutes I think we’ll be victorious because we have a good group of young ladies [who] do a good job with adversity, making adjustments and just finding a way to win.”
So far, the Bulldogs seemed to have met Swan’s expectations, prevailing over two of its road opponents.
On Jan. 10, Bowie overcame a slow start against Saint Augustine’s with a rally in the second half to beat the Falcons, 60-52, in Emery Gymnasium.
Leading the way for the Bowie offense was Williams, who shot a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity strike to score a team-high 16. Pere Alexander contributed with 11 points and seven boards while Chyna Butler added 10 points.
Against Shaw University, Williams recorded a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds, Alexander added 13 points and the Bulldogs used a 14-0 run at a point in the fourth quarter to defeat the Bears, 58-44, inside the C.C. Spaulding Gymnasium on Jan. 12.
BSU hopes to culminate its road trip with a win over Fayetteville State, which will tip off Jan. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Felton J. Capel Arena.
Senior forward Alexander, one of BSU’s leaders and team captains, stressed earlier this season the critical role that team defense has played in her team’s success. She is averaging 12.1 points and seven rebounds this season.
Alexander, also a Baltimore native, said that defense will be the key to remaining unbeatable as the Bulldogs are on a quest to claim their first CIAA title in 20 years.
“If we could play defense… and hold teams almost 15 points under their average, then I honestly feel there’s nobody who can beat us.”