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Big wave of transfers has Stony Brook women’s basketball contending for CAA title

Center Khari Clark (left) defends a shot from shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez (center) while fellow shooting guard Victoria Keenan (right) looks on. The three are all transfers who have deepened the Stony Brook women’s basketball team with their arrivals. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After losing superstar shooting guard Annie Warren and a couple other impact players, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team went shopping to address its depth issue.

Head coach Ashley Langford stayed busy this past offseason, bringing in four new transfer students to help deepen her otherwise thin team. All of them bring a different set of skills to the floor and figure to play key roles this season, regardless of where or when they play. 

The Seawolves struggled last year on defense. They allowed 65.8 points per game, which was the third-most in the Colonial — now Coastal — Athletic Association (CAA). They also did not make many splash plays on defense, as they made the fifth-fewest blocks and the sixth-fewest steals in the CAA.

To address the defense, Langford brought in multiple defensive specialists, the first being 6-foot-2 center Khari Clark. Now a graduate student, Clark played four seasons for the Loyola Marymount Lions of the West Coast Conference (WCC). While there, Clark did a little bit of everything.

She spent her freshman and junior seasons as a role player coming off the bench. In her sophomore and senior years, she was a regular in the Lions’ starting five. As one of the team’s defensive stalwarts throughout her career, she blocked 111 shots and picked up 88 steals across 117 games played. Last year, her 32 blocks in 30 games led the WCC. As a shot blocker, she ranked in the conference’s top 10 every year and only missed out on the top five once.

Clark stressed the importance of teamwork on defense to create a well-rounded team.

“It’s all about communication,” Clark said. “Making sure we communicate and know where we are at all times on the floor … that will help a lot.”

Clark has some offense in her game, too. She averaged 6.6 points in only 19.8 minutes per game in her career with Loyola Marymount while shooting 43.8% from the field. She has averaged 7.7 points per game over the last three years, including a career-high 9.9 in her sophomore year of 2020-21.

Langford will look to utilize her height and skill set down low.

“She gives us a low post presence, which we were missing last year,” Langford said. “I don’t think people realize … how good she is at inside scoring. Smart player, high IQ. I’m looking forward to her.”

Clark can stretch the floor as well and shoot from mid-range, meaning that she may see a lot of action at power forward this year. She is also respectable from the free-throw line, as she has knocked down 70% of her career attempts. Last year, she knocked down 82.9% of her free throws. However, she has only attempted 16 three-pointers in her career — a number that Clark wants to increase this upcoming season.

Combo guard Zaida Gonzalez is another key piece who will help address the defensive issues from last year. She spent the first two years of her career at Florida International University (FIU), where she, like Clark, played multiple roles. She was a full starter as a freshman and a rotational player in year two, amassing 64 games played with FIU.

She averaged only 19.6 minutes per game with the Panthers, which hurt her overall numbers. However, in her limited time, she still recorded 43 steals. She also has good size for a guard, as she stands at 5-foot-9, which makes her an effective rebounder. Gonzalez totaled 146 rebounds at FIU, 47 of which came on the offensive end.

Gonzalez plans to show off her defensive skills this year.

“I love defense,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got to get a stop before you can go on offense. Defense comes first … I take pride in defense.”

As for the offensive side of the ball, Gonzalez’s numbers at FIU do not pop. She shot only 37.3% from the field and 24.4% from deep. She attempted only 90 threes in her stint with the Panthers. She has improved from the free-throw line, as she went from 65.3% as a freshman to 73.8% as a sophomore.

However, those numbers may increase this year, as Gonzalez believes that some of her struggles came from the system she used to play in.

“Mid-range is my game, I just wasn’t able to shoot [them] at my previous school,” Gonzalez said. “It wasn’t a shot that they really liked. I love mid-range. I would also say, at FIU … it was partially confidence with three-pointers. I just wasn’t shooting as many [of them].”

Gonzalez likes to drive the lane and get points around the basket. Langford also believes that she will bring playmaking to the table.

As for her three-point game, she is confident that being with a new team will help her improve her numbers.

“I could shoot my three,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve just got to be in rhythm. But I’m definitely a three-level scorer, and that’s what it’s going to be here.”

After losing Warren — the program’s all-time leader in three-pointers made — to graduation,  shooting guard Victoria Keenan will try to provide a boost to Stony Brook’s three-point game. Keenan spent the prior four years with the Seton Hall Pirates. However, she dealt with several significant knee injuries that caused her to play in only 41 games in those four years.

When Keenan was healthy, she proved herself to be a lethal shooter. Her impressive .420 three-point percentage will provide a boost to a Seawolves team that shot 31.1% from deep last season. Warren (.402) and former power forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes (.353) were the only two players from last year’s squad that shot over 35% from deep.

Now that both Warren and Vargas-Reyes are gone, Keenan fits a vast area of need.

“We needed a shooter,” Langford said. “She’s a sharpshooter with deep range. We need her to come stretch the floor for us. She fits exactly what we want.”

While Keenan’s three-point shot is her strong suit, she will also look to improve her ability to get to the free-throw line. She only attempted two free throws in her career at Seton Hall.

Now a couple of years removed from her significant knee injury, Keenan plans to go downhill to draw more fouls.

“I’m very confident in my foul shots,” Keenan said. “I didn’t like to drive because of my knee, but this year it’s going to be totally different.”

Point guard Breauna Ware rounds out Stony Brook’s quartet of transfers. As a scorer, she is effective at going downhill and getting to the basket. In her first and only season with the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, she averaged 6.0 points per game while shooting 45.0% from the field.

As a freshman, she was the team’s top option off the bench and ran its second unit, averaging 17.6 minutes per game. Her 53 assists were the second most on St. Bonaventure’s roster despite playing only the sixth-most minutes on the team.

Ware is not much of a jump shooter, attempting only 15 three-pointers last year. Instead, she plays like a prototypical point guard.

“I’m a playmaker for sure,” Ware said. “Getting my teammates involved first, then it opens up the floor for me. Get to the hole, and-one, drop-down passes to my bigs.”

She spent the summer working on her shot with Stony Brook’s coaching staff and intends to show off her improvements this season.

Ware’s skill set gives her the potential to run Stony Brook’s second unit as the sixth player. Langford believes she offers a different playstyle than starting point guard Gigi Gonzalez.

“[Breauna] is more crafty,” Langford said. “Having her and Gigi offset each other is nice. If we want to put Gigi on the wing, we can put her on the wing now.”

While she managed an impressive field goal percentage, free throws were not Ware’s strong suit. She shot just 67.2% from the line on 64 attempts.

Ware is looking to improve from the charity stripe for both her and her teammates’ sakes.

“As a point guard, we’re the head of the snake,” Ware said. “If I start missing free throws, it trickles down to my team. That has improved over the summer.”

By adding these four transfers, Langford has raised external expectations for her team. Stony Brook was recently picked to finish second in the 2023-24 CAA women’s basketball preseason poll.

However, the Seawolves’ goals go far beyond second place, and the new girls on the block are in lockstep with that thinking.

“This is the first time I’ve experienced everyone being on the same page,” Ware said. “Our chemistry is amazing and our goal is to win a championship.”

Mike Anderson contributed to reporting.

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