Chicago, IL -- Remember that age when the line between shrill screams and cheering is very very blurry? Well, I was reminded of that line this afternoon in the McGrath-Phillips Arena for field trip day at DePaul University. Thousands of school-aged fans packed the arena to cheer on the Blue Demons as they faced the Seton Hall Pirates.
Head Coach Doug Bruno on field trip day said, "DePaul was one of the first schools in the country to start these field trip days many years ago. And imitation is the greatest form of flattery, they have been copied all over the nation including the WNBA. What you saw out there was another effort to grow this game of women's basketball."
This matchup was of special importance in the Big East Conference as both teams were regular season co-champions last year and in the opening game of the conference season this year, the Blue Demons bested the Pirates in South Orange, New Jersey. Not only was the game an essential revenge matchup, but the implications of coming out with either a W or L were massive, as the conference season dwindles down and the NCAA tournament looms.
"One, we move within a game of first which is our goal," Coach Bozzella said on the importance of this game. "Two, we get a little bit of separation between second and third, and three, at the end of the year if we aren't to win the Big East Tournament, the NCAA tournament looks at at-large teams and this is another great check on their home floor."
While the matchup between these two teams is always thrilling, as a basketball fan, it's also a must-see game in that two of the Big East's most legendary coaches square off head to head.
On one end of the floor, Coach Bruno is coaching in his 30th season with the Blue Demons, and on the other side of the court, you have 2014-15 Coach of the Year Tony Bozzella. A head coach notorious for being one of the most animated head coaches in all of NCAA basketball.
Painting the picture a bit more clearly, if one were to solely watch the Pirates bench and Coach Bozzella, no matter the game or the score, you would think his team was down 20, attempting to mount a miraculous comeback. Even though his team came out and held DePaul to six points in the first quarter, while his team dropped 21.
There was never a point in which the stomping, yelling and falling arms ever relaxed. While he may have been out of the coaches box on more than one occasion, he was no question in the game and subsequently so was his team.
Tabitha Richardson-Smith on her head coach, "Our coach is great. He loves the game, and he loves us. He is here to win games and play as a family on the court and off of the court."
Even though the Blue Demons outscored Seton Hall 22-14 in the second quarter, the Pirates headed to the locker room with a confident 35-28 lead, led by Aleesha Powell with 10 points and Tabitha Richardson-Smith with eight.
Coach Bozzella stated on Tabitha Richardson-Smith, "A lot of people, look at the young lady to my left as a scorer, which she is. But her engagement on defense and her commitment to speaking with her teammates, helping them through and then taking responsibility on the defensive end, shows a tremendous amount of responsibility and why she will be a great player at the next level."
The second half was much more of a battle, the swings in momentum loudly announced by Chicago's public school youth. DePaul never led or tied in the second half, but they made sure they were always within striking distance.
That is until the last four minutes when the traditional DePaul fast play within a system was abandoned and replaced with what looked like a panicked slew of poorly chosen three-point shots. Maybe it was the pressure to please the audience or the fact that WNBA scouts were sitting courtside. DePaul lost it's focus and Seton Hall capitalized.
Richardson-Smith showed her team, her coach and the audience her knack for leadership along with 20 points and seven rebounds. And the top scorer of the night for the Pirates was Powell with 24 points and six rebounds.
"I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates to find me and run the play through. We played team basketball today and if we keep doing that we will have great success," Richardson-Smith said on her scoring performance.
Whatever the result, absolutely no one left the arena without knowing just how much Head Coach Bozzella wants to win, and how that translated to his team's confidence on the court. The Seton Hall Pirates beat the DePaul Blue Demons 83-74, next up they have Marquette in Milwaukee this Sunday, January 31st.