Chicago, Ill— Seton Hall’s aggressive defense, led by Nicole Jimenez, moved the Pirates a little closer to the prize as they defeated Xavier 66-42 on the first night of the Big East Tournament.
As the postseason begins and the butterflies are flying around Wintrust Arena, some would expect there to be a slow start amongst the #10 seed and the #7 seed. Luckily for Seton Hall, the Pirates had a better -- although unfortunately, it was still sluggish -- start than the Musketeers, taking an early 14-8 lead at the end of the first period.
The reason for the increased pace to the Pirates’ game was because, during one of Seton Hall’s first quarter timeouts, head coach Tony Bozallo looked directly at me, telling me what needed to change for his team.
“We need more rebounds and we need to score. That’s what we need to do.”
Seton Hall then tightened up their defense and did exactly what their coach said they needed to do. The Musketeers struggled to score against the Pirates’ in-your-face defense. In fact, by halftime, Xavier was held to 27% from the field on 8-for-29 shooting.
The Pirates’ Jimenez entered the game with confidence and it only kept growing as the game clock shortened. After an elegant dance in the paint, Jimenez’s next possession was a very confident three — right in her defender’s face. She held her dangled wrist in the air for three extra seconds as that basket gave her 12 points in the game.
“I am very proud of her [Jimenez]. She embodies what this team is about,” Coach Bozallo said after Jimenez not only led her team offensively, but also snagged a career-high of seven rebounds.
On top of Jimenez’s spunky offensive demeanor, the Pirates also excelled in rebounding in tonight’s match-up. Seton Hall outrebounded Xavier 25-15 in the first half. Proving their discipline and timing in practice prepared them for tonight’s game. The Pirates ended the night with 45 rebounds while their opponent only snagged 30 boards.
“They prepared us for this. We were ready,” Jimenez stated after the win.
However, at least 10 of the Pirates’ 35 defensive rebounds were just given to them as they could also have been tallied as steals. That’s how bad Xavier shot the ball tonight. Many of the Musketeers’ shots looked like a rainbow-high pass to their opponent. For a postseason game, “Airball” was chanted too often in the arena.
It could have been the nerves, Seton Hall’s intense defense, or the fact that Xavier is one of the youngest teams in the Big East with nine underclassmen.
“Well, we didn’t see it coming the way we it worked out,” said Xavier's head coach Brian Neal in disappointment. “We didn’t coach well and we didn’t play well.”
Jimenez led with 12 points alongside teammate Shadeen Samuels who added 10 of her own. Selena Philoxy’s aggressive 10 points played a very important role in tonight’s victory as well.
Xavier’s Imani Partlow led her team with nine points and six rebounds followed by Kindell Fincher who showed heart tonight with eight points, two blocks, and two steals.
Seton Hall will take on DePaul on Sunday night as the Big East Tournament heads into the Quarterfinals. Tip-off is at 6 pm CT at the Wintrust Arena.