Manhattan women’s basketball ready for big stretch


It may not always be pretty, but a win is a win. Manhattan collected eight in 11 tries in non-conference play, and now enters the grind of the Middle Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule with a full head of steam.

It was unclear how Manhattan would perform this season after last year’s most valuable player in the program, Dee Dee Davis, announced her decision to transfer to University of Rhode Island. That was 64 percent of scoring that departed from last season’s roster,  and a clutch trait that Davis relied on in some big games for Manhattan, none bigger than the 2022 MAAC Championship game in which she erupted in a loss to Fairfield.

When thinking about the point guard situation, that’s where Anne Bair becomes part of the equation. In the defensive battle against Hofstra, which included a combined zero points over the first four and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, Bair buried four threes which helped reward the Jaspers with an eight-point win, 53-45.

Bair’s clutch form from deep is what can take her game to the next level and ignite a collective confidence that is needed for Manhattan not to lose trust with their shots when adversity strikes. At Hofstra, Bair’s opening three at the 4:41 mark of the first quarter sparked a 15-0 run that erased a five-point deficit and, in turn,  established a 19-10 lead for Manhattan at the end of the opening frame.

“Anne is going to outwork you,” Manhattan head coach Heather Vulin said of Bair, who has eight times the number of threes with 16, in only a third of the way through the season. “I tell her to just trust her reps and that she deserves the success she is having right now.”

Being able to create early chemistry between Bair and UNC Greensboro transfer Nitzan Amar has also been a plus.

Vulin is excited about what she has seen from Amar, who leads with just over 12 points per game, who can both score and ratchet up the intensity on defense like Bair does. That backcourt duo is an indispensable part of Manhattan’s identity.

“It’s such a luxury,” Vulin said about the backcourt pairing . “I am really spoiled with two of them out there.”

The ball movement was superb for stretches against Hofstra and yielded 18 assists, 12 of which came during the first half.

Although the offense went cold at times, the little things like getting assists and grabbing rebounds were done right, and the Jaspers had just enough left in the tank to make enough plays to win against an equally gritty Hofstra team.

“We were expecting it to be a defensive game and we also have so much respect for Hofstra and how hard they play,” said Vulin, whose Jaspers limit opponents to 51.5 points per game.

Simply put, Manhattan center Petra Juric was a stalwart rebounding over Hofstra and getting her usual points in the paint. She has been a revelation in every way, especially since the Jaspers have been looking for a go-to option in the paint since program legend Courtney Warley graduated two years ago. Juric finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, falling one carom short of her fourth double-double of the season.

As special as Juric has looked, Vulin has also been pleased with the growth of senior Jade Blagrove, who has offered another post option for the Jaspers.

“Jade has been so consistent for us this year,” Vulin said about Blagrove, who had to develop for a few seasons before turning a corner to now average eight points and 7.5 rebounds. “She has really been a senior.”

The reinforcements are on their way, too, which is a luxury for the battles that will ensue against conference foes. Juric’s younger sister, Kristina, has yet to play this season as a freshman and projects to get in the rotation almost immediately upon her return, according to Vulin.

Both Juric and graduate student Narrie Dodson, another ball-handler to use, will both be available to make their season debuts when Siena visits Draddy Gym on Thursday afternoon.

“She reminds me a lot of Courtney Warley in terms of her ability to guard the 1 to 5,”  Vulin said of the younger Juric. “Everything we say she listens.”

As satisfactory as 8-3 sounds, Vulin is ready to get more out of her team. She wants them to do a better job getting steals defensively, while waiting for a breakout from three-point range, an area they only convert from 30 percent of the time. Also, the turnovers are noteworthy at a hair over 16 per game, which will warrant better ball security from the guards.

“I have a vision for this team and we are not even close to where I think we can be,” said Vulin, who amassed back-to-back MAAC Championship game appearances after inheriting a rebuild in 2016. “We are already a good team.”

Manhattan is keeping its eyes fixed on Fairfield, who is gaining national attention with their 10-1 start to the campaign under the auspices of rising coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis. Fairfield handed Manhattan their worst defeat of the season in an 82-58 decision on Dec. 18 in Fairfield.

“Fairfield is definitely a front runner right now in terms of what they are doing offensively and they are really good defensively too, said Vulin, who admitted to being disappointed with her team’s defensive energy in that game.

Manhattan will get another shot at the leading Stags when they visit Draddy on March 2 for the third to last game on the regular season docket.

“I am really excited for our shot at them at home,” Vulin said.

If there is one skill Vulin has sharpened, it’s getting her team ready for March after back-to-back years finding their stride in the win-or-go-home stakes of Atlantic City.

“Implementing some of the new kids back in the offense and more reps will help us get better,” Vulin said. “We find a way to peak in March.”

Manhattan College, women's basketball, Jaspers, MAAC, Anne Bair, Nitzan Amar