It would be forgivable if junior guard Shay Burnett and the Elon University women’s basketball team showed off a little bit of their confidence right about now.
The Phoenix has won nine straight games — a program record for the Division I era and the longest winning streak since 1981-1982 — and currently sits alone atop the Colonial Athletic Association standings, holding a perfect 5-0 conference record and a 13-4 record overall.
But Burnett is following the direction of her head coach, Charlotte Smith, and trying to keep the displays of confidence to a minimum on the court.
“Coach says, ‘Don’t let your head get too big to where you can’t get through the door,’” Burnett said. “We’re a confident team, but we try not to show it. We don’t want to be too confident where we’re too hyped for a game and let it slip away from us.”
But Burnett acknowledged that Elon is feeling “hyped” when it’s in the locker room or practicing among itself, as Elon seems to be clicking on all cylinders. It’s something that Smith can agree with, too.
“I’m just really pleased and excited with the way the team is playing right now,” Smith said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence, and that makes all the difference in the world right now, and we’re playing together.”
The Phoenix has been clicking offensively, averaging 74.1 points per game in the nine-game winning streak. Smith has really been impressed with how the team has handled the different looks defenses are sending at them.
“Offensively, I feel like we really, really understand our zone offenses a lot better,” Smith said. “We’ve seen a lot of zone, and we’ll probably continue to see a lot of zone, so I feel like we’re doing a good job of executing. Man-to-man defense — our offense against that is bread and butter.”
That was on display Sunday against Drexel University, the best defensive team in the conference and the eighth-best defensive team in the country entering the game. After beating the Dragons 48-45 in Philadelphia Jan. 6, the Phoenix dropped 75 points on Drexel in a 10-point victory. To beat the Dragons twice in a 10-day span was something that Burnett believes sent a message.
“They were number one in the mid-majors a couple of weeks ago before we beat them, so we’re getting ourselves out there by winning, beating the number one team in the mid-majors. That’s huge,” Burnett said, stretching out the ‘U’ for emphasis. “That’s a big team accomplishment, and we’re making history.”
But Elon’s commitment to defense shone through as well, holding Drexel to 40.4 percent from the field. It’s the best a team has shot against Elon during the streak, even though the number barely edged above Smith’s stated goal of keeping opponents under 40 percent. Drexel’s number had Burnett and Smith joking with each other after the game.
“They got 40.4? It’s unacceptable, but we’ll let it slide this time,” Burnett said.
Smith retorted, “They’ll have to come back tonight to run sprints.”
Smith has been impressed with the team’s ability to learn, understand and execute defensive philosophies, and senior guard Maddie McCallie — who made all four shots she took against Drexel, including three 3-pointers — feels that the focus on defense is key for the nights when the offense isn’t there.
“I think just continuing to be really strong defensively [is key],” McCallie said. “That’s always been our focus, so that when shots aren’t falling down, we’ll fall back on our defense. So just continue to do that here on out.”
The wins over Drexel leave just one program left in the CAA that Elon has not beaten: three-time defending conference champion James Madison University. Burnett finds it convenient that Elon’s next opponent is none other than the Dukes.
“I’m glad that they’re next because we’re on a high right now,” Burnett said. “It makes me feel better that we can go in and beat them. Especially with the crowd out here [Sunday] — our fans were amazing, and I hope they’re that way against JMU. We’ve got to come in, be levelheaded and play like we know how to play.”
Elon will get a chance to beat James Madison for the first time in its sixth try since joining the conference, with the sting of the two painfully close losses last season still lingering for the returners like Brown. But she was quick to clarify that the team isn’t treating the game as do-or-die.
“Definitely approaching this game, we want to beat them. Just like Drexel, we haven’t beaten them yet, so it’d be a huge win for the team,” Brown said. “But we try to go into each game with the same mindset, be emotionally stable and know, if it’s us against perfection and we do the little things, we put ourselves in the best position to be successful and hopefully pull out a win.”