It happens in all tournaments. If you do your work in the regular season, you get rewarded in the post season. It typically involves an easier path or perhaps even fewer games. Sunday's quarterfinals saw the four teams that earned double byes advance to the semifinals after just arriving to the party, sending the teams who were in town for the first 2 days of the tourney packing.
The higher seeds are 11-1 through the first 12 games of the tournament, with the only ‘upset' being Providence dropping an overtime decision to Villanova.
The most prevalent theme of the day is that fresh legs and defense is the key to the 2011 Big East tournament.
Rutgers came into the game against Marquette on fresh legs after earning the double bye based on their head to head matchup over Marquette during the regular season. Sunday's quarterfinal game was a battle of wills with both teams imposing themselves on the other at times.
Rutgers came out on fire from the field and was up 9 - 3 2:17 into the game. Rutgers led by as many 12 points in the first half but was unable to distance themselves from the Golden Eagles. Marquette started to hit shots and Rutgers was unable to contain Jasmine Collins who had 10 points in the 1st half. Rutgers reverted back to their old ways and couldn't find an offensive flow, scoring only 2 points over the last 9:24 of the first half.
While they struggled to score the ball, Rutgers will not struggle to defend and disrupt. They were able to force Marquette into 9 turnovers, in the 1st half and 13 for the game. This pressure was Marquette's downfall as they started to rush shots.
Rutgers also hit the backboards, doubling them up in the 2nd half to secure a 42-33 edge on the boards.
Rutgers increased their intensity and pressure getting their lead to as many as 15 points with 4:32 remaining. Marquette made some 3's, Rutgers missed some free throws leading to the final score of the 68-62 victory.
Rutgers had a balanced attack with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and 6 turnovers for April Sykes; 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals for Chelsey Lee; 18 points, 7 rebounds for Monique Oliver; and 13 points, 3 rebounds for Erica Wheeler. They limited Marquette to 36% shooting on 59 shot attempts.
Angel Robinson had 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. Jasmine Collins had 17 points and 9 rebounds for the Golden Eagles.
After the game, Connecticut was on the mind of the Scarlet Knights even though the Huskies had yet to play the Georgetown Hoyas.
"It's what everyone expected it to be," Sykes said of a match up with UConn. "They [Connecticut] are the number 1 team in the country for a reason. We have to worry about ourselves tomorrow and play the best we can. We have to do what we need to do. We have to play like Scarlet Knights."
Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer had a similar sentiment. "[We] have to bring out A-game all the time physically and mentally. I have to be on my A-game as well, me and my assistants, because Geno is an outstanding coach and his players are clearly some of the nation's best."
Lucky for Rutgers and their advance premonitions of a rematch with UConn that the Huskies have Stefanie Dolson and a fierce home crowd. The Connecticut Huskies came out and traded baskets with the Georgetown Hoyas and was tied at 7, 2:40 into the game. UConn then finished the half on a 30-10 run.
The Huskies penetrated the Hoyas zone and cleaned up the boards well. They also used their dribble penetration to get the ball to Dolson on the block. Georgetown did not have a match for the agile 6'5" center, who scored 12 first half points.
While Dolson shined, Big East Player of the Year Maya Moore sputtered. Moore struggled to find her rhythm with the physical Hoyas and only had 2 of her team's 37 points at the half. However, Moore did have 9 rebounds to lead UConn.
UConn was also solid on the defensive end holding All Big East First Team member Sugar Rodgers to 5 points primarily on defense by Kelly Faris and Moore.
Everything that went right for UConn in the first half went wrong for it in the second. UConn allowed Georgetown 42 - 2nd half shots, while Connecticut only had 46 shots for the entire game. The Huskies can take solace in the face that they did hold the Hoyas to 21.4% on those 42 shots.
Sugar Rodgers did eventually score 17 points for the game but she needed 20 shots to do so.
"We take tremendous pride in the fact that we are going to play really hard on the defensive end and play smart and try to make the other teams do something that they're not comfortable with or get their points in a way other than the way they normally get them," Geno Auriemma said. "I thought we did a great job of that tonight. I think we forced them into taking a lot of shots they probably wish they hadn't taken or, you know, taking longer to get those shots than they normally would. That's what good defense is."
Moore finished with a season low 6 points, her least amount of points since she scored against Marquette in 2008. It is only the 5th time in her career that she has not scored in double figures. Bria Hartley had 8 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds and Dolson finished with 24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in their first Big East tournament.
"It's a different level of intensity that you have to come out with," Bria Hartley. "You have to know that if you lose you go home, so you have to come out and play hard. I think it's a great experience so far."
While Connecticut can find comfort in their freshman performing well in their first tournament, there are still questions to be answered including the depth of their team. UConn played only 6 players for any meaningful minutes in the game. Tiffany Hayes played 40 minutes, Hartley 38, Kelly Faris 36, and Moore and Dolson had 34. Lorin Dixon while she has proven that she can be a valued member of the team had 16 non-productive minutes that only resulted in her collecting a rebound, foul and a turnover.
Tired legs tend to show up in the later rounds as the shots get shorter and the ball gets heavier. UConn advances to play the only team in the tournament that has as shallow of a bench as they do.
Depaul is finesse at its finest. St. John's is as workmen and methodical as a factory worker. They collided in a match up that saw St. John's never lead, never threaten but also never go away. Getting down by as many as 15 points, twice the Red Storm battled back each time.
"DePaul came out and took advantage of us early," said St. John's head coach Kim Barnes-Arico. "We were battling back all game. I was proud of the effort our kids gave and we made some runs to try and close the gap and make it a good game. But DePaul has some great players and they put it away down the stretch. They came away with the victory, but I was proud of how our kids fought, especially in the second half."
St. John's trouble was exactly what I thought it would be, the inability for the Johnnies to score enough points to stay with Depaul. St. John's came into the game only averaging 63.6 points compared to Depaul's 74.9, while shooting only 42% on the season. On a positive note, the Red Storm were able to force the Blue Demons into 17 turnovers, including 11 steals and scored more points in the paint then the much taller Demons.
Depaul had a balanced attack with Anna Martin's 17 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists, Keisha Hampton had 10 points, 4 rebounds and Katherine Harry with 10 points, 7 rebounds.
St. John's will be a tough out for someone in the conference led by Nadirah McKenith with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 7 steals. Da'Shena Stevens also had a solid night with 10 points, 6 rebounds. The Red Storm will need a more consistent effort from senior Sky Lindsay in order to advance.
I must admit that this is the one game I had wrong from the tip. Notre Dame's glaring strength is the Louisville Cardinals glaring weakness. While Keisha Hines is as good as a center as there is in the league, she is also prone to foul trouble. I thought that Notre Dame would just pound it in to Devereaux Peters and Becca Bruszewski until Louisville relented. That did eventually happen but it took until the 2nd half.
While Louisville had 20 more shots than the Fighting Irish and out-rebounded them by 5, they were unable to find the bottom of the net. Shoni Schimmel scored 12 for the Cardinals on a 17 tough shots. Monique Reid had 6 points, 11 rebounds and Hines added 9 points, 2 rebounds. This game was ultimately won at the foul line where Notre Dame shot 20 - 25. Louisville managed to get to the line just 7 times because of their insistence in taking jump shots. The Irish went to the basket and forced the refs to make a call.
Notre Dame like every other top seed understands the game is won on the defensive end and only allowed Louisville to shoot 38% from the floor.
Most Improved Player and 1st Team All Big East Natalie Novosel was limited to 9 points in a foul plagued 28 minutes. Defensive Player of the Year Peters did had 7 blocks to lead the Irish.
Next up for Notre Dame is a rematch with Depaul, a game they lost on the last night of the regular season 70-69 on a last second basket.
"Obviously it's a good redemption opportunity for us," Skylar Diggins said. "DePaul is a great team; we know that from their record and you know, how they've shown it in Big East play so we knew they were going to have a great game tonight. It will be a great match‑up again. We have to do a better job of contesting and getting out on the shooters and a better job of team defense and those are the things we worked on in practice this past week. We're excited for an opportunity and a chance to avenge."
The Big East Semi-Finals begin tomorrow at 6:00 PM on ESPNU. First game has (1) Connecticut vs. (4) Rutgers. The 2nd game will feature (2) Depaul vs. (3) Notre Dame, 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first.
If the regular season matchups of these teams say anything they both should be great games!