Day 3 of the Big East Tournament at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut left many people shaking their heads, groaning and thinking that maybe North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell was right when she said that the game might be getting too physical. To put it nicely, the quarterfinals of the tournament displayed an offensive ineptness that few could have imagined coming into this tournament. Part physical play, part archaic systems the games just had you feeling bad for the rims getting abused game after game.
My apologies to Rutgers and Marquette. Last night I called their 2nd round game in the 2012 Big East Tournament the worst basketball game in the history of the game. Between bad offense, missed layups, and the inability to put the ball on the floor before moving your feet I was floored. Then today happened and West Virginia and Georgetown took the floor.
Neither West Virginia or Georgetown were going to wow you with offensive numbers coming into the season. West Virginia scores 65.5 points per game at a 41% clip. Georgetown averages 61.8 points at 35.9%. Then they took the court together and it was as if a meteor exploded at the XL Center.
The game started as if both teams were auditioning for WWE. Bodies were hitting the floor at an alarming higher rate than the ball hitting the bottom of the basket. And the refs let them play which led to an average shooting percentage of 19.8%.
"We knew this game was going to be physical," said WVU Bussie . "Last time we played them, I didn't get too many clean looks. But I think our guards really stepped up and played, and got this win for us because they stepped up big time."
The first half saw a concerted effort by both parties to clog the lane. Neither team has shown the ability to hit jump shots on a consistent basis this year. Georgetown focused in on limiting All Big East First Teamer Bussie and West Virginia focused in on First Teamer and All-American candidate Sugar Rodgers.
West Virginia forward Jessica Harlee spent an incredible amount of energy and effort to limit Sugar Rodgers to 14 points on 5-20 shooting, 2-9 from 3. With Rodgers struggling to get on track offensively she did not have the supporting cast to help free her up. The remainder of the Hoyas were 5-48 from the field (1-7 from 3) for 18 points.
The scoring drought seemed to take Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flourney by surprised, who thought this game was destined for another outcome.
"Its mind boggling that we didn't hit shots, because, like I just said, I knew we'd win the game with them shooting like that," said Williams-Flourney. "If we would just finally hit some shots, if a basket would just fall, it would give them the confidence that they needed to continue to shoot. We played defense. We forced them into 22 turnovers. We rebounded with them. We did everything defensively that we needed to do. [Ayana] Dunning and Bussie didn't hurt us inside even with us being undersized. You look at the stat sheets from the top up to West Virginia, if you see Georgetown scores, it's totally different."
Yes coach, I can assure you that if you want to win your team should have more than 10 field goals, shoot better than 11.4% from the field in the first and 14.7% for the game and make more than 60% of their free throws. I can also say that if you hold a team to 39 points, 13 field goals, 25% from the field, force 22 turnovers and your opponent shoots 37.5% from the free throw line you should win. But in the end you have to score more points than your opposition.
The difference between West Virginia success and Georgetown’s lack thereof virtual came down to supporting casts. While Rodgers struggled no one else from Georgetown got their bearings. Rubylee Wright did score 5 points, collect 5 rebounds and dish 4 assists but she also had 6 turnovers. West Virginia was boosted by the play of Taylor Palmer who hit some big 3’s to keep Georgetown at arm’s length in the 2nd half.
"I think Taylor Palmer coming in and hitting those threes was really big for us to open up the lead a little bit," said Carey.
Akilah Bethel was also able to make her presence felt with some dribble penetration.
While Palmer and Bethel were bright spots West Virginia was also marred by a countless number of mistakes and sloppy play including 8 missed free throws in the final minute.
"It really wasn't a pretty game, needless to say," said Carey. "But you know what, you just try to survive, and we just tried to survive that game. We struggled all night. With that being said, I want to give our girls credit. We didn't get shook up. We continued to play defense. We didn't let our offense affect our defense, so that was key."
West Virginia and Georgetown combined for the fewest points in tournament history at 71 points. The previous low was 87 points achieved by Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech in 2002 and St. Johns vs. Seton Hall in 2005.
West Virginia awaited the winner of #1 Notre Dame vs. #8 Depaul
It was to DePaul’s benefit and detriment that they were able to play USF yesterday in the 2nd round. While DePaul had their sea-legs in this wobbly world, Notre Dame took a few minutes to get acclimated to their surroundings. Unfortunately for DePaul, Notre Dame eventually picked up exactly where they left off, dusting the competition.
"I think historically when a team plays a game [before] they’re a little bit more game ready," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "I think we kind of were trying to get back into game mode, so I thought we played much better in the second half, and really to end the first half, as well."
This match up was the only match up of the day that featured any resemblance of teams that had an offensive game plan. Early on for Notre Dame it was guard play with Kayla McBride and Skylar Diggins leading the way. Later it was Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel carrying the load. When the Fighting Irish needed someone to step up they got someone each and every time.
Most impressive was senior Peters. Peters collected 16 points on 8-14 shooting, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 steals. While earlier this season, while on the Geno Auriemma Show I was critical of the tall girl syndrome where a person who blocks a lot of shots is a good defender, she again proved why there were people with a lot more knowledge make those decisions. She altered shots, she corralled rebounds and made the paint her personal stomping grounds.
Depaul went inside early to junior Katherine Harry. While Harry had success early 14 points and finished with that did not open unanimous first teamer Anna Martin for more shots. After exploding for 33 points against South Florida, Anna Martin had 5 turnovers and was contained to 7 points on 3-10 shooting. Mostly by lock down defense by Notre Dame guard Brittany Mallory.
"When you have a good guard such as Anna Martin who's a great shooter who you can put on the floor and who has a nice pull up, as well, you have to be ready for her to come off a lot of screens, and she moves," said Diggins. "She's constantly moving without the ball, and I thought Brittany and Allie did a great job of tag teaming, chasing her off the screens and tag teaming and talking. I thought the team did a good job of trying to figure out where she was every possession because when you have a player like that you have to find her first."
While the defense was common place the highlight was the offense and the balance that Notre Dame possessed. There were no bad shots, no rushed shots and a clear purpose as to where shots were supposed to come and where.
DePaul was also as equally impressive because they never put their heads down. Notre Dame came out of the 2nd half and went on a mini run but Depaul came roaring back with contributions from everyone. All 7 available players played at least 15 minutes and contributed at least 4 points. It was turnovers that got them untracked and a few scoring droughts that has plagued every team in this tournament so far.
No team has gone on a longer scoring droughts then Notre Dame’s next opponent West Virginia.
Notre Dame has the chance for redemption. There one blemish in conference was a 65-63 loss to the Mountaineers at home to Feb 12th.
"I think it's good to have the advantage in a tournament where there's so many good teams, any team can beat you," said Diggins. "But definitely we'll come out with a chip on our shoulder. I think we play better with a chip on our shoulder. And it's good to have a second chance because they beat us at home and it gives us another opportunity to advance into the championship."
The Big East coaches have arguably the best stand up comedians in the country. Geno Auriemma, Mike Carey and Jeff Walz are like Moe, Larry and Curly. You just never know what is going to be said or done. The highlight of this quarterfinal match was Louisville coach Jeff Walz being so flabbergasted with a call by Bonita Spence he decided that he needed to take a break. On top of the scoring table.
This game was marred by calls being made late, out of position and just plain incorrectly. The highlight was the wrong team being given the ball at the beginning of the 2nd half and not discovering this for 2 minutes into the game.
It’s really interesting when (the referees) can’t figure out whose ball it is to start the second half," he said. "I mean, I wasn’t sure if we were at a YMCA AAU event or this is actually the Big East Tournament."
The game itself was a series of runs in which no team was able to get into an offense rhythm and had little flow. Louisville stayed in the game early with some unbelievably gutsy shots by Shoni Schimmel.
Walz was quoted this weekend as saying something to the affect Schimmel could have played absolutely anywhere but couldn’t play for anybody. That sums it up perfectly. While her shot selection can be questioned at times she gives her team a chance to win when everything else is against them.
She is even better when she mixes it up and gets her teammates involved like they were in the 2nd half. Schimmel’s early success lead to Antonita Slaughter being able to nail 3 3-pointers and score 16 points and 9 rebounds. Asia Taylor even marred through foul trouble has 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Despite outrebounding St. John’s 52-38, nailing 10 3-pointers, the Cards simply couldn’t stop turning the ball over and didn’t have enough to compete with a complete team.
St. John’s have won 9 straight games and seem stronger than ever. They have this unbelievable aura of confidence of ‘We Got This.’ While Da’Shena Stevens struggled a bit with her floor game, Shenneika Smith again elevated her play. Smith finished with a team high 24 points and a team high 8 rebounds but even more importantly became Schimmel’s shadow in the 2nd half and overtime.
One area of concern is that St. John’s was only able to play 6.5 players in a game that went into overtime in potentially a 3 game tournament.
"Yeah, I think one of the biggest things we really haven't talked about is that we are down a starter. She hasn't been back, and we still have been able to pull it out and grind these games out without her. But it definitely has taken a toll, and we've had to go a lot smaller and it's affected our rebounding, obviously, as you can see tonight. But at this point in the year, it's survive and advance, and these kids got to dig down and be ready to play. They've got to go back and get ice baths and drink Gatorade. I think a lot of it is mental. They're young. You know, they're in the best shape of their lives. So mentally they've got to say to themselves they're ready to go and they've got to bring it tomorrow."
The only thing left to determine was which team they were going to face, #3 Connecticut or # 6 Rutgers.
Game 4: #3 Connecticut 49 #6 Rutgers 34
This game was the cherry on top to a sawdust sandwich. These teams combined for 28 missed shots, 20 fouls, 22 turnovers, and only 6 assists in the first half. Great defense right? Sure. But mostly on display was the inability to conjure up and execute an offensive game plan for Rutgers and the inability of UConn to adjust to things that are taken away from them.
"We talked all day along that the Rutgers games are," said Geno Auriemma. "They all have the same patterns. It does not matter who you have on your team or who they have on their team. All of the games take on a similar characteristic. It is difficult to get things flowing in a positive way and get open shots."
Connecticut started out on fire from 3. In the early going was Caroline Doty with 2 3-pointers to start the game. She quickly followed that up with 2 fouls in quick succession. No problem, freshmen Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to the rescue. Mosqueda-Lewis promptly hit 5-6 3 pointers and you had to wonder if Rutgers got a scouting report.
Erica Wheeler provided a seldom seen offensive spark. She scored 9 points to keep it close for Rutgers who seemed sparked by a 5 minute break close to the end of the half to figure out where the shot clock should be. Rutgers scored the next 5 points and UConn went from the game being out of reach for the offensively challenged Scarlet Knights to it being a game again.
The 2nd half saw that the Scarlet Knights receive the Fed-ex delivery that Mosqueda-Lewis could shoot. So Rutgers does one of the things that they are known for. They took her out of the game. And UConn showed what they have shown all season, that they don’t have a plan B or C when their press or jump shots are not falling.
UConn center Stefanie Dolson was able to get going a bit when playing alongside freshman Kiah Stokes. But that also had limited success and UConn was only able to accumulate 19 points in the 2nd half.
While their offense was missing in action, their defense again showed that it is world class.
"I know we missed a lot of open shots tonight so our defense had to win the game for us," said Auriemma. "I thought our defense was great for forty minutes and that we guarded them the way that we wanted to. I tip my hat off to our team. It takes a lot of effort to concentrate that hard on defense. Overall it was a pretty gutty performance by our team."
Gutty? Yes. But there was nothing pretty about it. Bria Hartley, once touted as a legitimate All-American candidate was unable to get anything going and continues to struggle with her shot. Tiffany Hayes was nothing more than a decoy and a distributor until 6:43 remained in the game and she finally connected on a 3. UConn had a season low 9 assists and shot 58.3% from the free throw line.
The elephant in the room seems to be UConn’s offensive struggle. No one seems to know what the issue is or what has happened. In the last 5 games UConn is averaging 6 less points per game and 2 less assists but Geno Auriemma seems to be at a loss on how to correct it.
"Right now, we're just not very good offensively," said Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, who team scored a season-low in points and shot a season-low percentage (32.7 - 16 of 49). "No rhythm, no flow. People are wondering where the next shot, the next pass is coming from. It's a lot of indecision."
Connecticut gets to advance and perhaps get a bit of their offensive mojo back come Monday evening when it faces a team that took away their chance for their first goal, the Big East regular season trophy.
"Is there a chip on our shoulders? Definitely," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "You don't want someone to come into your house and beat you the way they did. We'll be different [Monday]. We are going to be an entirely different team."
Hopefully the entirely different team that shows up can muster more than 49 points.
So today marks the revenge tour. Notre Dame will try to avenge their only blemish in the Big East when they take on West Virginia in the first semi-final at 6 PM on ESPNU. St. John’s will also try to prove they have arrived and their first victory was no fluke when they take on Connecticut at 8 PM on ESPNU. Hopefully by tonight the rims have recovered from their abuse.