File // THE CHIMES
(This story was originally published in print on Feb. 20, 2020).
After a tumultuous transition period from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, the women’s basketball team has finally spread its wings. With the season rapidly approaching its end, the Eagles are playing some of the best basketball they ever have under head coach Alan Nakamura—and there is plenty of reason to believe they can keep it up. With an overall winning record of 16-9 and a PacWest record of 12-7, the Eagles have secured themselves a spot in the PacWest Conference Championship, beginning on March 5.
Nakamura’s team has been one of the best defensive teams in the PacWest this season. They have only allowed opponents to score 59 points per game thus far, which is good enough to place them in the Top 3 for opponents points-per-game in the conference, a considerable improvement in comparison to last season’s 65.2 opponent point per-game.
The keys to their success on the defensive end of the floor have been their full-court press and 3-point defense. In PacWest play, they hold teams to 28% shooting on average from behind the arc, which is the second lowest in the conference, just behind Hawaii Pacific University. The Eagles’ 10.5 steals-a-game is tied for second in the conference.
“Our aggressiveness on defense, our full-court press has been a good thing for our team, we get a lot of steals off that. Our athleticism this year has shown a lot with our quickness [and] our strength,” said senior forward Mikayla Greens. “They always talk about [how] good defense leads to offense and it’s really true. In every game we’ve seen that—every time we have a good defensive run, that’s when we start getting buckets.”
For the first time in his 5-year coaching tenure at Biola, Nakamura has a roster full of his own recruits. With eight returners from last year, the Eagles had a reliable foundation. Throw in a class of talented freshman, including five-time PacWest freshman of the week Stephanie Lee, and it’s easy to see how Nakamura’s recruitment has paid off.
Not to mention the quality of leadership the seniors and upperclassmen offer. Alongside senior guard Jelissa Puckett and senior guard Tatum Brimley, Greens is one of three returners who were named captains for this season. Nakamura says the captains have brought a new dimension for the Eagles.
“We have had the foundation in place for a season like this for a couple of years, and this year we’ve had outstanding player leadership and ownership by the players, and that’s working to take the team to a higher level,” Nakamura said.
In their third season at the NCAA Division II level, the Eagles are finally eligible for postseason play. The past two seasons have been provisional years, as the school moved from NAIA up to Division II. During those two seasons, the team was ineligible to compete in the PacWest tournament as Biola Athletics was still integrating changes to meet Division II standards throughout all programs. The membership process requires schools to meet these standards before competing in postseason play.
In 2018–19, Nakamura’s team finished in sixth place, which would have been good enough for a postseason berth had they been eligible. This year, with only three games left in the regular season, the Eagles have already clinched a spot in the PacWest tournament. Currently sitting in fourth place, they could move up to third with some luck.
Concordia University Irvine is one spot ahead with a 12-6 record. However, in their final four games, CUI has to face second-placed Azusa Pacific University and Biola.
Despite all the postseason jitters and hype, the Eagles are staying focused for their next three games. With wins in all three, and another loss from CUI, they would move up to third place in the conference.
“We are definitely taking it game by game, but [the postseason] is something we’re looking forward to since it’s our first year to ever qualify,” Puckett said. “It’d be great to go in and win and set the tone for the future of Biola women’s basketball.”