BIG EAST -- ROUND 1
Day One of the Big East Women's Championship Tournament more than validated the format change which this year allowed all 16 of the league's teams to play in the tournament. The session saw victories by Number 13 St. John’s, Number 16 Cincinnati, and Number 15 Seton Hall, three teams that would have been sitting on campus last year watching the tournament play out on TV. It was also an indication of the overall strength of the Big East, or at very least, of the parity at the bottom of the league.
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|#13||ST. JOHN'S || v. ||#12||SYRACUSE
|63 (W) || ||61 (L)
The noon game featured eight ties and five lead changes. Syracuse led by 11 in the middle of the second period, but after Kelly McManmon hit a three for St. John’s at the 6:19 mark, neither team led by more than four.
Chandrea Jones tied it at 61 with two free throws with 15 seconds left, on a foul that should never have been called. St.John’s had pressured an in-bound play with 24 seconds left, and Jones clearly traveled after leaping for the rushed pass. But there was no call, and the play continued to a foul and the tying free throws.
Coach Kim Barnes-Arico called time out and set up a complex three-option scoring play. All three options broke down, but Sky Lindsay, just 3-16 on the day, calmly sank a 14-footer with one second on the clock.
|St. John's Sky Lindsay drives past Syracuse's Erica Morrow during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Friday, March 6, 2009. St. John's won 63-61. Lindsay, who was just 3-16 on the day, scored the winning shot, a long jumper.|
“It was a broken play,” Barnes-Arico said afterwards, with a big smile. “The thing about Sky Lindsay is that she could be 0-25 and sometimes as a coach you want to tell her to stop shooting . . . but she wants the ball in her hands at the end of a game and she made the play,” the Coach continued. “ Not a lot of kids have the guts to take that shot, and she does.”
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|#16||CINCINNATI || v. ||#9||MARQUETTE
|60 (W) || ||54 (L)
The second game was also a nail-biter, as Cincinnati's freshman point guard Shanasa Sanders, sloppy and passive through 38 minutes, came alive to dominate the last two minutes of regulation. With her team down three with 24 seconds remaining, Sanders drove through traffic to pull within two, then drove again to hit a layup with just seven seconds remaining to tie the game.
|Cincinnati's Shanasa Sanders shoots while being guarded by Marquette's Tatiyiana McMorris during an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Friday, March 6, 2009. Sanders missed the shot, forcing overtime and Cincinnati went on to win 60-54. |
In overtime, Sanders and fellow freshman forward Val Schuster took over. Schuster hit a 12-footer, stole the ball, and scored a back-door layup on the first three possessions of the overtime. Sanders hit both ends of a one-and-one to put her team ahead by four with twenty-one seconds remaining, then blocked Angel Robinson’s last second three to assure a victory.
A Break for the Yearly Awards
The major Big East yearly awards were announced between sessions, and the coaches voted Maya Moore Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, only the second time any player has won two years in a row, and raising the possibility that Moore could win four times by the time she graduates.
|Connecticut's Maya Moore receives her trophy for Big East player of the year from Big East associate commissioner John Marinatto at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Friday, March 6, 2009. |
Geno Auriemma and good friend Harry Perretta shared Coach of the Year, each crediting their teams for making it possible. It was Auriemma’s eighth award, and Perretta’s second.
The Scholar-Athlete Award went to senior Jill Stephens of Cincinnati, who is already pursuing a Ph.D. in Audiology, after having completed her undergraduate studies with a 3.98 GPA.
Freshman of the Year honors went to De’Shena Stevens of St.John’s over Tiffany Hayes of Connecticut, perhaps because she was a larger contributor to her team’s overall success, than Hayes was on a team with a raft of scorers.
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|#10||GEORGETOWN || v. ||#15||SETON HALL
|45 (L) || ||70 (W)
Game three is probably still available as streaming video on the Big East website. Go see it next time you have insomnia.
In the second half, Georgetown, the Number 10 seed, shot 5 for 32, and missed 11 of 21 free throws. The Hoyas were called for 22 fouls, and scored just 20 points in the half.
Number 15 Seton Hall played only a little better, but advanced (70-45) for a trifecta of lower seed victories on the Tournament’s first Friday of play. It was the Pirates second victory over Georgetown in five days.
|Seton Hall's Ebonie Williams takes the ball past Georgetown's Monica McNutt during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Friday, March 6, 2009. Seton Hall defeated Georgetown, 70-45.|
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|#11||WEST VIRGINIA || v. ||#14||PROVIDENCE
|53 (W) || ||48 (L)
In the day’s final game, the home team finally held serve, but not easily. In a game featuring 10 lead changes and never a double-digit lead, the teams shared offensive futility. The victor, West Virginia, shot just 39.6%, Providence just 29.5%.
It’s not that it was helter-skelter, just that nobody could put the ball in the basket. The two clubs actually combined for 25 assists on 37 made baskets.
|Providence's Chelsea Marandola scores two of her team-high 12 points while being guarded by West Virginia's Alex Sanabria during an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Friday, March 6, 2009. West Virginia won 53-48. |
The Mountaineers took the lead for good at 11:16 in the second half, and held on for the win.
BIG EAST -- ROUND 2
On Day Two, he upper half of the league showed why they are the upper half. All of the upper seeds won, three of them easily. West Virginia nearly upset DePaul in a game that went to overtime only because the Mountaineers could not hit free throws with a lead.
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|#5||NOTRE DAME || v. ||#13||ST. JOHN'S
|62 (W) || ||45 (L)
The score at the half was 20-22 in favor of St. John’s in what Irish Coach Muffett McGraw called “not a spectator-friendly half....It was really awful.” The teams were a combined 17-57 (.298), and had 17 turnovers.
In the second half, Notre Dame took over with a 16-2 run, capped by an Ashley Barlow three with .5 seconds on the shot clock. Both coaches called the shot a “dagger,” and it visibly deflated St. John’s team.
Coach Kim Barnes-Arico conceded that her team “ran out of gas a little” in the middle of the second half, and it showed: They missed a several chippies, and closed out half a step slower on defense, allowing freshman Natalie Novosel and senior Lindsay Schrader to score a combined 21 points in the half, after being held to 10 in the first stanza.
|Notre Dame's Lindsay Schrader looks up to take a shot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, March 7, 2009. Notre Dame defeated St. John's 62-45. Schrader was high scorer for the game with 16 points.|
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|#16||CINCINNATI || v. ||#8||SOUTH FLORIDA
|58 (L) || ||68 (W)
Cincinnati played hard in their “bonus” game, actually leading, 22-20, at the half after trailing, 0-11, to start the game.
But riddle me this: South Florida's Jasmine Sepulveda averaged just 25% from beyond the arc in conference play, but is clearly a streak shooter: She had seven 0-fer games, but also a 6-12, several 2-4s, and a 2-3. So, when she shoots 3-4 in the first half, wouldn’t most opposing coaches focus the defense on stopping her?
Not, apparently J. Kelly Hall of Cincinnati: Sepulveda hit 5-7 threes in the second half, and she was wide open on nearly every one. Her eight treys tied a Tournament record (Sheila McMillan, Notre Dame, 1998), while South Florida's combined 14 threes became the new Tournament record.
Hall pointed out that just a week ago, the South Florida posts outscored his team, 47-24, in the paint. So, it made sense for him to concentrate there at the outset. But part of the job is to make adjustments. Cincinnati did not.
Junior center Michelle Jones showed nifty post moves and great strength when she received the ball (6-11, 14 points, two assists, one turnover), but played just 27 minutes, and was limited by her own guards to just 11 shots. Huh?
The game was Cincinnati’s to win, but the missed opportunities sent them home. For USF, the win helped their NCAA resume, but the opponent (16 seed rather than the nine seed) hurt.
|South Florida's Jasmine Wynne, left, is fouled by Cincinnati's Jill Stephens, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, March 7, 2009. |
Rutgers hit Seton Hall like a hurricane. Speed, aggressiveness, and good shooting looked nothing like the Rutgers even of February.
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|#7||RUTGERS || v. ||#15||SETON HALL
|79 (W) || ||45 (L)
Redshirt Freshman Kadijah Rushdan finally looked comfortable at the point, and rocketed down the court on every possession, apparently unhampered by the large metal brace on her right knee.
Seton Hall never got settled for any defensive possession for the bulk of the first half. Rutgers never runs like this, except off turnovers. But here they were, a fast-break team without a semblance of the walk-it-up, milk-the-clock, limit possessions basketball that has always been the misguided hallmark of C. Vivian Stringer’s offense. If she were to allow her athletes to run like this, Rutgers would have a chance to win this tournament.
Not all was perfect, however. Kia Vaughn had just two points, despite being bigger and stronger, as always, than the opposing post players. Still, the guards did not get her the ball. Stringer removed her, probably to save her energy for later games, late in the first, and early in the second half. Rutgers will have to play four games and beat the top three seeds, to win the tournament.
Seton Hall's freshman point guard Shanai Heber looked poised, while her teammates mostly looked shell-shocked, and the game was over by midway through the first period. Rutgers' heralded, but seldom used, freshmen finished out the last eight minutes, as the starters rested.
|Rutgers Brittany Ray passes the ball as Seton Hall's Noteisha Womack defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, March 7, 2009. Rutgers defeated Seton Hall 79-45 to advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament. |
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|#6||DE PAUL || v. ||#11||WEST VIRGINIA
|75 (W-OT) || ||72 (L)
Quickness versus structure. Almost another upset.
But for the free throws. West Virginia, last in the league in free throw percentage at .606, went home because of failure from the line.
In the first half, West Virginia’s quickness was evident, and seemed to overwhelm DePaul at times, until one looked at the scoreboard and saw it tied; or two points to DePaul; or three points to West Virginia.
Liz Repella and Sarah Miles were very aggressive, and carried the load for the Mountaineers, but the supporting cast was not very supporting.
DePaul established, then abandoned, Natalie Williams inside, then hit enough threes to stay in the game.
The game remained close throughout, with five ties and 16 lead changes. Eight of those lead changes were in the final 5:41 of the second period.
A steal by West Virginia senior Ashley Powell made it 64-67 with 36 seconds to play. An offensive rebound and put-back by DePaul’s Keisha Hampton brought the Blue Demons within a point, and they fouled Powell on a drive to the basket. She missed the first, then the second free throw.
Dierdre Naughton grabbed the board with 11 seconds, and drove the length of the floor to put DePaul up by one with five seconds. Powell took the inbounds, drove to the basket and was fouled.
|West Virginia's Liz Repella, left, steals the ball from DePaul's Deirdre Naughton during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, March 7, 2009. |
At the line with a chance to win the game, Powell missed her third free throw in nine seconds, then made the second to limp into overtime in a game West Virginia had every opportunity to win.
In a sloppy overtime featuring five turnovers and four fouls, DePaul prevailed when Sam Quigley made her two free throws with seconds remaining to seal a 75-72 victory.
|DePaul's Sam Quigley, right, is fouled by West Virginia's Ashley Powell (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, March 7, 2009. Quigley's two from the line sealed the game for DePaul in OT.|
BIG EAST QUARTERFINALS, Sunday, March 8
One surprisingly easy #4 v. #5 victory in what was supposed to be a close contest. One blowout (guess who?). A double overtime thriller. A three-point squeaker.
Sunday's quarterfinals were fun to watch, but why not when all eight teams playing are certain NCAA contenders? When the games finally ended after 11 p.m., the top four seeds moved on to the semifinals as anticipated.
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|#5||NOTRE DAME || v. ||#4||VILLANOVA
|47 (L) || ||58 (W)
Villanova controlled the pace, Laura Kurz was unstoppable by Notre Dame in the post, and the Wildcats outscored the Irish by 15 in the second half to take a relatively easy victory into the second round.
Kurz, the senior transfer from Duke (after Gail Goestenkors left), finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, after missing her first four shots, all jumpers. Asked what changed to allow Kurz to hit eight of her next ten, Coach Harry Perretta replied, “The coach became un-brain-dead and just posted her up.”
The change was remarkably effective. Six of her remaining made shots were layups off post-moves at the expense of Notre Dame’s sophomore Becca Bruszewski. Kurz also was fouled twice in the paint, making three of four free throws.
|Villaova's Laura Kurz (3) goes up over Notre Dame's Melissa Lechlitner for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Sunday, March 8, 2009. |
Notre Dame led, 25-21, at the half by shooting 46%. Villanova’s 18-8 run to open the second half, sparked by a flurry of four treys and a few inside buckets by Kurz put Villanova ahead for good.
Coach Muffet McGraw decide to foul with 2:51 remaining, but Villanova hit eight straight free throws to seal the victory.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s Lindsay Schrader was held to nine points, 10 below her average.
McGraw summed up the game succinctly: “[T]he thing about playing Villanova is that they are going to give you open shots and if you make them you can win. In the first half they missed a lot of open shots and in the second half they made them all [Villanova shot 50% in the second half]. We shot well in the first half and poorly in the second.”
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|#8||SOUTH FLORIDA || v. ||#1||CONNECTICUT
|52 (L) || ||87 (W)
This game was over at 12:41 when Maya Moore’s offensive board and put-back made the score 20-1. In that stretch, the Huskies had 10 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points. South Florida had just two rebounds during the stretch.
Connecticut shot 50% for the game, and held the Bulls to 11% shooting in the first half.
Maya Moore, playing much more aggressively than she has recently, had a double double in 15 first-half minutes, and finished with 18 and 14. Kalana Greene had 18 and 8 in the first half, and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
|Connecticut's Maya Moore, center, scores two of her 18 points while being guarded by South Florida's Jessica Lawson, (23) and Jazmine Sepulveda during an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Sunday, March 8, 2009. Moore also had 14 rebounds in Connecticut's 79-42 victory. |
Connecticut shifted to a zone, then subbed liberally in the second half, allowing USF to make the score somewhat respectable.
|The services of Connecticut's starting line were not much needed during the second half of UConn's quarterfinal rout of South Florida. From left to right, Connecticut's Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene, and Maya Moore watch during the final minutes of their team's 79-42 victory over South Florida in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Sunday, March 8, 2009.|
UConn had a 51-19 rebounding advantage for the game. South Florida Coach Jose Fernandez said wryly after the game, “I think we have a pretty good basketball team. We won 22 games. The first four or five shots they hit were contested shots and they just jumped on us and attacked the glass. I think the only way they are going to get beat is if they beat themselves.
The only worrisome aspect of the game was Renee Montgomery’s 1-10 shooting, and the team’s 3-16 from beyond the arc. Of course, Montgomery was 7-12 from three-point range just a week ago at Rutgers, so the issue could well fade away completely in the next game. And UConn did win by 37.
Connecticut moves on to meet Villanova in the semifinals at 6:00 pm on Monday.
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|#7||RUTGERS || v. ||#2||LOUISVILLE
|82 (L) || ||87 (W-2OT)
The unanswered question from Day One was answered: Rutgers was going to continue to run. And in the first five minutes, it looked like they were going to run Louisville out of the building.
Louisville settled down, however, and forced Rutgers into a half-court offense. They tied the score at 17 at the 12:00 mark, with a run that included two treys from little-used freshman Becky Burke, who hit all three of her long distance attempts in the quarter.
Rutgers doesn’t have a half-court offense. There are no screens, very little movement, and an occasional pick and roll, badly executed. Otherwise, the offense is letting athletic players do it one-on-one.
But for some reason, the worst officiating crew available (Barb Smith, Bonita Spence, and Luis Gonzalez) at the tournament was assigned to the game likely to be fastest and most competitive. (By contrast, the league wasted the excellent Dennis DeMayo and Denise Brooks on the Uconn-USF blowout). These three allowed Angel McCoughtry to be repeatedly mugged without a call, and Rutgers managed to convert enough of those opportunities to stay close to Louisville, trailing just 32-36 at the half. McCoughtry had 11 on five-of-12 shooting.
The second half started with less fury and more control. Gwen Rucker was called for her fourth foul for being slapped in the head by Rutgers’ Kia Vaughn, at 16:50, eliminating one of the Cardinals’ best defenders for most of the second half. Nevertheless, Louisville slowly moved ahead to 48-38, and at the 13:45 mark Coach Stringer pulled her entire starting five for over a minute. Louisville took immediate advantage, scoring four points before the starters returned.
Rutgers' full-court press, and a decision to feed Kia Vaughn, got the Scarlet Knights back in the game, closing to 56-51 at 7:53. Then it became Angel vs. Epiphany, a battle won, slightly by Prince, as she hit two key threes and took a rebounded free throw the length of the floor to force overtime. McCoughtry, fouled twice in the last 48 seconds, missed two of four free throws, before Prince tied it.
The overtime was sloppy, with both teams looking tired and taking poor shots. Burke hit her fourth three of the game to put Louisville up 73-69, but Brittany Ray answered with an ill-advised (until it went in) long ball on the other end with just over one-minute left in overtime.
Indeed, the teams seemed to be competing for who could take the dumbest shot, as Prince fouled out on a charge, and McCoughtry tried a shot through a triple team with 6.4 seconds still left. Double-overtime!
Candyce Bingham and McCoughtry hit back-to-back threes in overtime, and McCoughtry and Becky Burke hit six free throws to seal an 87-82 victory for Louisville, who will face Pittsburgh in tomorrow's semifinals.
|Louisville's Angel McCoughtry takes a jump shot as Rutgers Nikki Speed, left, tries to block her in the second overtime of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., Sunday, March 8, 2009. Louisville defeated Rutgers 87-82 in double overtime. /font>|
Rutgers’ Kia Vaughn was 8-10, but had only 10 shot opportunities. Coach Stringer said afterwards, “Do you want to know how many sets were supposed to go to her? The guards just didn’t get her the ball. They were content to just jack up threes.” She continued, “Why do you think I subbed them all out?”
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|#6||DE PAUL || v. ||#3||PITTSBURGH
|59 (L) || ||62 (W)
What everyone needed after double overtime was a fast-paced game, and Pitt and DePaul did not disappoint. On paper, this was to be a matchup of Shavonte Zellous’s 22.6 points a game versus DePaul’s deep bench sharing the load.
The first half showed other Pitt players carrying the load, as Zellous was held to just three points, all from the line. Reserve center Chelsea Cole was especially active for Pitt, while Sam Quigley took it upon herself to be the go-to player for DePaul.
Neither team shot well, or both teams defended well, but the halftime score was just 27-28, with Zellous shooting 0-6, and DePaul’s leading scorer Dierdre Naughton 0-7.
Pittsburgh stepped up the defense, holding DePaul scoreless early in the second half. Zealous finally got on track, and the Panthers appeared to have the game in control at 45-32.
Sloppy turnovers on three consecutive possessions around 12:00 led to six unanswered points from DePaul, and the game was once more in doubt. Midway through the half, DePaul began raining threes, pulling within one with 44 seconds left, as Keisha Hampton hit one of two free throws.
With Pitt leading by one, Zellous took the ball up against the press and was forced to pass it. Mysteriously, she then stood at the sideline, a spectator, as her team forced up a bad shot without the participation of their star.
Dierdre Naughton, held to five points below her average, saved the day for her opponent by forcing up a shot into a double team. The resulting jump ball went to Pitt, with 1.9 seconds left.
Pitt survived to play Louisville at 8 p.m. in Monday's semifinals.
Though her team ultimately lost, the star of the game was clearly DePaul senior Natasha Williams, basically unstoppable in the post in the second half, despite opposing 6’6" Pepper Wilson and taking primary responsibility for shutting down Zellous in the first half. Her 21 points led all scorers.
|DePaul's Natasha Williams grabs a rebound from Pittsburgh's Shayla Scott during Pittsburgh's 62-59 victory in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Sunday, March 8, 2009. |
Zellous closed the game with 18 points for Pitt.
Pitt Coach Agnus Beranato, asked if she was looking forward to playing Louisville, said, “I’m just happy to be playing another game. We just played them a week ago,” she added, “and they handed us our only home loss [75-51]. It was a great game for about 37 minutes, and then we let it get away. We’ll see tomorrow if we’ve gotten any better since then.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO MONDAY'S BIG EAST CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
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|#1||CONNECTICUT || v. ||#4||VILLANOVA
In their last meeting, Connecticut won 74-47. Coach Geno Auriemma, asked if he wanted to play his good friend Harry Perretta again, answered an emphatic, "No."
Auriemma pointed out that Villanova always forces a team to grind it out. "They always make you play at their pace," he added.
That pace is slow, structured and methodical. Fast break baskets are limited.
Coach Harry Perretta, always one to emphasize his team's underdog status, quipped: "I saw some of the UConn players and I was kidding them, 'You have my permission to kick the crap out of us, now that we won today."
The outcome is not in doubt.
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|#2||LOUISVILLE || v. ||#3||PITTSBURGH
Just a week ago, the Cardinals handed the Panthers their only home loss, 75-51. Both teams will be tired. But Angel McCoughtry versus Shavonte Zellous is no contest. McCoughtry is the best (or second best) player in the league. Zellous is not.
Candyce Bingham had 15 rebounds against Rutgers, and Louisville should have the edge against Pitt's less mobile Pepper Wilson as well.
Becky Burke had a great quarterfinal, hitting every shot, including four of four threes. Her secret? Angel McCoughtry made her get up at 6:15 a.m. yesterday and shoot. Coach Walz had challenged Burke to put in extra gym time, but it took McCoughtry to get her on the court. If she plays well, the inside will open for McCoughtry.
Pitt's best chance? Pressure Louisville point guard Desiree Byrd, who looked exhausted after yesterday's action, and can be turned over easily.
Louisville should prevail in another hard-fought contest.