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Guardedly optimistic

Backcourt trio has Greenberg, Terriers thinking big

Top shooter Alex Young is one reason BU has its sights set high in 2010-11. Top shooter Alex Young is one reason BU has its sights set high in 2010-11. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / November 6, 2010

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This should be a fun season at Case Gym. The Boston University women’s basketball team is experienced and everybody knows how to score. All five starters from last year’s 16-15 team — a squad that defied tepid expectations to finish third in the America East Conference and earn a second consecutive WNIT bid — have returned, and the Terriers’ three-guard offense is ready to pounce.

As freshmen, they were surprising. Mo Moran was fast, quick, and smart on the court. Chantell Alford was powerful, fast, and smart on the court. The two teamed with sophomore Alex Young to give BU a backcourt full of surprises, turning a rebuilding year on its edge.

This time, all three have been named to the preseason all-conference team, Alford as a unanimous choice. And the Terriers, who also welcome back junior Caroline Stewart and senior Kerry Cashman in the frontcourt, were tabbed the preseason No. 1.

Heady stuff, but not for the guards of BU.

“We feel like last year with the three of them, and Mo and Chantell freshmen, that some people weren’t ready for them, and they were terrific,’’ said coach Kelly Greenberg, “So I thin k our challenge this year is that so-called sophomore slump, what college athletes at every level go through. Now teams are going to be more ready for Mo and Chantell. We’ll see how they respond.

“But they’re going to be better, to be honest with you. Last year they were skinny little freshmen, now they’re more mature, they’re physically stronger, they’re more comfortable with me, my staff, their teammates. It’s different and we’re excited about it.’’

Moran, from Hopewell Junction, N.Y., is the point guard. She’s a talented scorer, averaging 12.4 points per game, third on the team, in her debut season, but she said her first impulse is to pass.

“I always think pass first, which sometimes is good and sometimes isn’t,’’ Moran said. “But none of us are selfish players and we all feed off each other well.’’

Moran is looking for the shot or the pass, but not the limelight.

“Imagine having a [Rajon] Rondo,’’ said Greenberg, “but [she] can really shoot it.’’

“And I’m a Rondo fan,’’ Greenberg added quickly. “He’s quiet and Mo is a lot like him. She’s very, very athletic — quick and fast — and she can create her own shots. She’s crafty. She has a wonderful feel for the game.’’

Moran averaged 4.3 assists per game in her debut season, and had the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the America East at 1.5.

“We definitely have a target on our backs,’’ said Moran. “Everyone’s going to want to beat us, so we can’t be afraid of that. We have to use that to our advantage and come out even stronger. And then prove them right [with regard to the No. 1 preseason ranking], I guess.’’

Alford, from West Haven, Conn., is the one who diced up the BU scoring records in her first year, setting the freshman mark with 447 points en route to being named the conference rookie of the year. She’s a powerful 5 feet 8 inches.

“She’s so strong that we can post her up inside,’’ said Greenberg. “She rebounds the ball for us. She’s a heck of a defender for us, and really the two of them together [Moran and Alford] just have first-rate basketball sense. Their basketball IQ is very high and it has nothing to do with me, they had it coming in. They’re special basketball players.’’

That leaves Young, a 5-9 junior from Hickory, N.C., in the role of elder statesman in the backcourt. Young is a persistent 3-point threat, who connected on 58 of 169 attempts last season while averaging 14.5 points per game, second to Alford.

“Alex is a tremendous shooter,’’ said Greenberg. “She shoots the three and she can really shoot pullups off the dribble. She really has the ability to score. Some nights she’s just basically unstoppable.’’

When Young was a freshman, she had the opportunity to develop while backing up another strong three-guard unit, which helped BU to a 25-8 record and 16-0 conference mark. Now it’s her turn to lead.

“We’ve been playing together for over a year now, so I think our chemistry is down,’’ said Young. “Definitely in guard play you have to be comfortable with one another. We know what each other is going to do and we kind of play off each other. Our post play is good, too, but that is just an added bonus.’’

“We’re able to push the ball a lot and we’re able to create our own shots and that ends up leading to post players being open,’’ added Alford. “I think it’s hard to defend, once we get going.’’

With the 6-foot Stewart (7.3 rebounds per game in 2009-10) and 6-2 Cashman (4.0 rpg, 36 blocked shots) manning the frontcourt, BU is dangerous everywhere you look.

“We do have five experienced players now,’’ said Greenberg, “and even though they’re young, they have that year under their belt, or two years. When you have the same group returning, you can do a lot with them that second year together.’’

Greenberg said Moran and Young have the ability to bring the ball up, giving her great flexibility.

“To have the three of them be so interchangeable is great,’’ Greenberg said. “Offensively, it gives us the opportunity to have a lot of different looks, which is a lot of fun.’’

Fun seems to be the expectation at BU this season.

“Well, look at where we are, it’s a great place,’’ said Greenberg, extending her arms. “You’ve got to have balance. If you take everything away from them, that’s all they’re going to want. Balance is very, very healthy.’’

The Terriers open the season Friday, hosting Boston College. The Eagles won last season’s meeting, 69-61, so the challenges begin immediately.