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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Big East Notebook: Top-10 Showdowns Highlight the Schedule, as Irish Take on Tennessee Monday

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Photo Caption: St. John’s has risen steadily in the BIG EAST standings since the return of Da’Shena Stevens to the line-up. The senior forward was selected to the BIG EAST’s preseason first team, but sat out the Johnnies’ first 10 games of the season while rehabilitating an off-season knee injury.  Stevens returned to the line-up on December 17, initially playing limited minutes off the bench.  Though Stevens remains far from her pre-injury form, averaging just 8.1 points, 6.7 rebounds per game since returning to action as compared to career averages of 12.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, the Red Storm quickly dropped out of the national rankings as they went 5-5 without her. Since Stevens’s return, St. John’s has gone 8-2, with wins over nationally ranked Louisville and Rutgers, and have risen to fifth place in the BIG EAST standings with a 13-7 record overall, and 5-2 in conference play.

Photo Credit: Courtesy St. John’s Athletics Media Relations

By Mel Greenberg

Though the BIG EAST sent a conference, and NCAA-record, eight teams to the Big Dance last season, no one knows at this point just how many members of the league will be part of the 64-team field come March when the tournament committee announces its choices on Selection Monday.

That’s why, though there’s still a week-and-a-half left in January, here in the BIG EAST Conference, with its six nationally ranked teams plus a steadily improving seventh one very much part of the discussion, most of the group of postseason aspirants are already in NCAA-tournament mode night after night.

On top of that, the BIG EAST elite are regularly putting their national rankings and BIG EAST standings on the line in big step-out games against other ranked opponents, with severalstep-out such games ahead in the near future.

The next step-out game of major consequence comes Monday night when No. 9 Tennessee visits Notre Dame in the first meeting between the two since last spring, when the Irish upset the Lady Vols in the Dayton Regional to advance to the Women’s Final Four and eventual championship contest, losing to Texas A&M.

Last year’s win was the first for the Irish, currently ranked No. 2, in 21 meetings with Tennessee.

Will Monday night see the second?

The Irish have been an offensive and defensive force behind the troika of Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Deveraux Peters.

But Tennessee offers more of a post presence than Notre Dame has seen in a slew of big games inside and outside the conference, the major exception being the Brittney Griner-led Baylor bunch which handed the Irish their only loss of the season to date.

Notre Dame, unbeaten in BIG EAST competition this season, smoked Pittsburgh on Tuesday night in South Bend, 120-44, and is coming directly off an easy home in-conference win Saturday against Villanova, 76-43.

Tennessee has struggled with a recent spate of injuries, most notably Shekinna Stricklen, who had to be carried off the court last week after injuring her right knee, and Glory Johnson, who injured her left shoulder in a rebounding collision but was able to return later in the game. Both got nicked in last week’s knockdown drag-out with LSU in Knoxville, ultimately won by the Lady Vols, 65-56. (LSU, however, suffered an even heavier casualty toll in the game, losing senior point guard Destini Hughes for the remainder of the season with both ACL and MCL tears, as well as back-up point Jeanne Kenney who suffered a concussion after catching a Tennessee elbow and has already missed a game.)

Taber Spani has been sidelined since December 26 with a bone bruise to her left knee. She could return in time for Monday’s match-up with the Irish, but that’s a tough venue in which to be shaking the rust off.

Elsewhere in the BIG EAST

No. 3 UConn Continues to Cruise

Next week No. 3 Connecticut takes another step-out turn when the Huskies visit No. 5 Duke, which landed an impressive win at home Sunday over No. 8/7 Maryland in an Atlantic Coast Conference battle in Durham.

UConn, of course, has already taken a firm whack at the ACC. Last Monday, Connecticut crushed North Carolina (then ranked No. 24 in the AP media poll), 86-35, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs It was the worst-ever loss suffered by the Tar Heels in terms of both scoring differential and their own scoring output (or lack thereof).

The winning Huskies were also just two points off their program mark of most one-sided wins over a Top 25 team. UConn beat Pittsburgh by 53 points in 2009.

In another top-25 game on Saturday, Connecticut, which had followed up its win over North Carolina with an 80-37 shellacking of Cincinnati, battled the Midwest weather on the road but gained an easy win over a banged-up No. 21 DePaul team, 88-44, in Chicago as Huskies freshman sensation Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis tied a season high with 25 points.

Brittany Hyrnko registered 18 points for DePaul, which has another tough one ahead of it this Tuesday night when the Blue Demons travel to Rutgers.

No. 7 Rutgers Recovers from Stumble at St. John’s

Last Tuesday, No. 7 Rutgers was short-circuited for the moment from its designs of gaining the top of the BIG EAST standings.

The Scarlet Knights, drawing back to the good old days in the middle of the last decade, were poised to make a significant run to the end of the month, when on consecutive schedule nights, Rutgers will host Notre Dame and then travel to Connecticut.

But on last Tuesday night an unranked St. John’s squad that has shown considerable improvement since the return of senior forward Da’Shena Stevens, an All-BIG EAST selectee who was sidelined for much of the early season rehabbing an off-season knee injury, got a piece of Rutgers, handing the Knights their first loss in conference play with a 62-57 victory on Long Island. Until then, Rutgers had been locked in a tie with Notre Dame for first-place in the conference standings as the two remaining unbeaten teams in the league.

Rutgers and St. John’s will get another crack at each other on Sunday, Feb. 12, this time in New Jersey, and perhaps will meet again in the conference tournament in March as part of the BIG EAST scramble that will determine who will get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

St. John’s followed up its victory over Rutgers by beating Cincinnati, 51-34, on the road Saturday as Da’Shena Stevens posted a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Rutgers proved its resilience and ability to perform on the road by beating host South Florida, 72-66, on Saturday, behind 23 points and 10 rebounds from senior April Sykes and 16 points from classmate Khadijah Rushdan.

Mixed Results for No. 19/17 Georgetown, No. 18/15 Louisville

No. 19/17 Georgetown, fighting to remain among the BIG EAST’s upper echelon, had an easy time of things in beating host Marquette, 67-39, on Tuesday night.

But in yet another BIG EAST battle between nationally ranked teams, No. 18 Louisville beat the Hoyas in Washington, DC’s McDonough Arena, 64-61, Sunday, as Shoni Schimmel scored 19 points for the Cardinals.

Sugar Rodgers posted 24 points for Georgetown, which almost overcame a 10-point deficit with a late rally that ultimately fell three points short.

The win put the Cardinal at 5-2 in BIG EAST action, the first conference loss coming two weeks ago at St. John’s where Louisville fell, 64-72, and the second a week-and-a-half ago at No. 7 Rutgers, 68-71 in overtime.

Meanwhile, the Hoyas fell to 4-3 in conference play and 15-5 overall, good enough for seventh place in the tough BIG EAST. Georgetown’s other two in-conference losses came at No. DePaul, 50-59, during the first week of January, and at home against No. 2 Notre Dame, 60-80, a week later. The Hoyas still have tough games ahead of them before the conference tournament, including a road trip to Connecticut and home games against Rutgers and St. John’s.

Syracuse, Seton Hall Slowly Sinking

Syracuse became part of the national discussion as they amassed an 11-3 record in pre-conference play, albeit against embarrassingly soft competition. But the Orange have gone 2-4 since BIG EAST play got under way, putting them in the bottom third of the conference standings with home losses to West Virginia (72-76) and St. John’s (58-70), road losses to No. 7 Rutgers (44-55) and No. 19/17 Georgetown (42-69), and no wins over the conference’s elite teams. Syracuse also has visits from UConn, Notre Dame and Georgetown and trips to Louisville and DePaul, ahead on its schedule.

On the other hand, it could we worse. On Sunday, Syracuse, posted a 70-66 win over Seton Hall, keeping the Pirates winless in conference play. Cincinnati and Pitt are tied with the Pirates in the conference cellar, none having yet notched a win against any BIG EAST opponent.

Punishing Defectors?

Could it be that the Huskies and Irish have been hired as hit women to shoot down anything presently affiliated with the Atlantic Coast Conference, such as North Carolina, as well as current BIG EAST members defecting to the ACC as soon as they can—for example, Pittsburgh and Syracuse?

West Virginia is also escape-bound, in their case, for the Big 12, as soon as the Mountaineers can get their exit papers. Though unranked nationally, West Virginia is having a good—if not spectacular—season, currently in sixth place in the BIG EAST, at 4-2 in conference action and 14-5 overall.

Wounded Warriors: Injuries Continue to Shape the Dynamics of the Conference Race

Though DePaul is hanging in the Associated Press poll despite the loss of Keisha Hampton and several others, the Blue Demons are starting struggle, losing Tuesday night 66-63 at South Florida in overtime.

DePaul also lost Taylor Pikes, the 2011 Big East Sixth Player of the Year, to a knee injury.

Louisville is another team that might slide out of the poll, though its win over Georgetown may give the Cardinals some time. The Cardinals blew a 16-point lead at Rutgers, losing in overtime, and is going the rest of the way without Monique Reid (knee) and Tia Gibbs (shoulder).

St. John’s, on the other hand, is finally back to full health and the Red Storm is starting to make an impact as the win over Rutgers suggests.

Current Standings

BIG EAST Women’s Basketball Standings
(As of Jan. 23, 2012)
Rank School Conf. Pct. Overall Pct.
1 Notre Dame 7-0 1.000 20-1 .923
2 Connecticut 6-1 .857 17-2 .895
3 Rutgers 5-1 .833 16-3 .842
4 Louisville 5-2 .714 16-4 .800
5 St. John’s 5-2 .714 13-7 .650
6 West Virginia 4-2 .667 14-5 .737
7 Georgetown 4-3 .571 15-5 .750
8 DePaul 3-3 .500 15-5 .750
9 USF 3-3 .500 11-9 .550
10 Marquette 3-4 .429 12-8 .600
11 Providence 3-4 .429 11-9 .550
12 Syracuse 2-4 .333 13-7 .650
13 Villanova 2-4 .333 12-7 .632
14 Cincinnati 0-6 .000 9-10 .474
15 Seton Hall 0-6 .000 7-13 .350
16 Pittsburgh 0-7 .000 8-12 .400
Source: BIGEast.org

Villanova Best In Philly

Though, as in the rest of the country, appearances and advancement in the postseason are what ultimately defines the best of the women’s teams in Philadelphia, the winner of the local “Big-Five” competition is always given special consideration to make that claim.

For the second time in three seasons, Villanova is at the head of the class in the still-to-be-completed Philadelphia round-robin, clinching the Big Five title outright with a 4-0 record.

The Wildcats (12-6 overall, 4-0 Big Five, 2-3 BIG EAST) completed their City Series work Tuesday night at home in The Pavilion, beating a vastly improved Penn, 52-30.

Villanova forward Laura Sweeney, a junior, who is likely to be named the city’s best player (Drexel is not a Big Five member though at times there is reference to the Big Six), had 22 points and 12 rebounds against the Quakers (7-7, 0-3 Big Five).

‘Nova newcomer Lauren Burford, a redshirt freshman forward from Fairfax, Virginia, added 17 points.

No one from Penn scored in double figures and sophomore Alyssa Baron, Penn’s top player, was shut out altogether by the Wildcats, who head to Notre Dame Saturday for the resumption of their BIG EAST schedule.

Villanova has now matched its entire win total of last season at 12, which is also the same number picked for the Wildcats’ finish by the Big East coaches.

Their RPI, which has been in the teens in both ranking and schedule strength, has reflected Villanova’s resilience from last season.

But the Wildcats got tripped up with a one-point nonconference loss at Monmouth of the Northeast Conference and then recently on a 40-foot-long desperation three-point shot at the buzzer that carried Marquette to a one-point win.

Erase those two setbacks and Villanova would already be a safe bet to make the NCAA field.

The Next Maya Moore? UConn Rookie Mosqueda-Lewis Continues to Make Her Mark

Though Maya Moore is now in the WNBA, newcomer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is quickly making UConn fans stop aching for Moore’s return.

Mosqueda-Lewis is racking up the BIG EAST rookie awards – she got another this week – and now could be considered along with Duke freshman Elizabeth Williams as the leading candidates for the national Freshman of the Year awards.


Looking Ahead to this Week’s Upcoming Action

Besides the games already mentioned above, on the Tuesday night BIG EAST slate has Cincinnati visiting Villanova in a game the hosting Wildcats, still winless in BIG EAST play, must win to have any hope of staying in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee, despite their strong RPI.

Georgetown is at West Virginia in a game the Hoyas also need to stay with the pack, though the Mountaineers also need the game to have any shot of attracting NCAA committee attention.

In other major conference showdowns of the week, Notre Dame visits St. John’s on Saturday while Rutgers travels to Georgetown on Sunday.

BIG EAST To Boast Two Representatives on U.S. Women’s Olympic Team Coaching Staff

Chicago was the site Friday when USA Basketball officially announced that DePaul coach Doug Bruno will serve as an assistant to UConn’s Geno Auriemma for the Summer Olympics in London. WNBA Atlanta Dream coach Marynell Meadors will also be on the Olympic coaching staff, as will former WNBA Los Angeles Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom (now an assistant with the Washington Mystics). Gillom who also won a gold medal as a player.

The “news” was anything but a surprise as all three were aides to Auriemma when the USA squad won the FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic a year ago.


Originally published Mon, January 23, 2012

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.