January 10, 2023 

Tony Bozzella has Pirates cruising in BIG EAST play

Seton Hall sits at second place in conference standings

PROVIDENCE, RI — Sitting just behind the Seton Hall bench during a Sunday matinee game at Alumni Hall on the campus of Providence College, one could hear the urgent pleas of Pirates’ head coach Tony Bozzella.

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“Let’s play Seton Hall basketball!” Bozzella yelled, between more general screams of “LET’S GO!”

Coach Bozzella is as fiery of a coach as there is in the BIG EAST conference. During Sunday’s game, he was in various states of chirping at the referee, yelling at his team to get back on defense, offering individual coaching to a player who just got to the bench and cheering on hustle plays.

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Bozzella’s Pirates would go on to defeat the Friars, 76-60, behind a career-high 22 points from senior Sha’Lynn Hagans. Dynamic duo Lauren Park-Lane (19 points and 9 assists) and Sidney Cooks (18 points) also had strong contributions for Seton Hall. The win is the Pirates’ fourth straight and win number 11 out of the past 12 games.

A fight for the top

As of Jan. 9, the top four spots in the BIG EAST standings are fairly closely-matched. UConn is the only undefeated team. However, they have not played a full conference schedule, having postponed their Sunday matchup against DePaul due to injuries. In second place is red-hot Seton Hall at 7-1, followed by St. Johns and Villanova, with 5-1 records.

BIG EAST Rankings (conference record, overall record)

1.       UConn (6-0, 13-2)
2.       Seton Hall (7-1, 14-4)
3.       St. Johns (5-1, 14-1)
4.       Villanova (5-1, 14-3)

Last week, Seton Hall handed cross-town rival St. Johns its first loss of the season, a 72-41 home-court rout of the Red Storm. At the time, St. Johns was ranked No. 24 in the AP poll and riding a 13-0 record. The win was the second win over a ranked opponent for Seton Hall this season, having defeated a ranked Marquette team in December.

“[St. Johns] was a great win,” Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella said. “I was really proud because we came out defensively, really competed, really pushed them, really got them out of their rhythm…I think they’re a really good team; I just think we made them look not good.”

One blemish on Seton Hall’s conference record is a 25-point December loss to UConn in Hartford. In that game, the Huskies made a good Seton Hall team look not so good.

“We [went] into UConn and we played so passively and so non-aggressive. I mean, we let them just take it at us. You know, it’s one thing to lose by 25; it’s another thing to get your ass kicked by 25,” said Bozzella.

Coming up next week, UConn will have another chance at UConn, this time at home at Walsh Gymnasium on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Bozzella remarked that the Pirates could lose again, but they certainly won’t do it playing passively or with a lack of urgency.

Before the UConn game, though, Seton Hall has to get through a Creighton team this Wednesday, Jan. 11, in Omaha. After reaching the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament last season, the Bluejays have been a bit slow out of the gate in conference play, sitting in sixth place with a 4-3 record against BIG EAST teams. Despite the slow start, Creighton is a dangerous team that can get hot offensively in a hurry.

Also, following last season’s Seton Hall upset of Creighton in the BIG EAST tournament quarterfinals, there’s a little extra spice between these two teams.

“We beat them in [the conference tournament] and had a lot of bad blood during the game, elbows and stuff, so that’s gonna be a really hard game,” Bozzella said.

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Postseason potential

Now in his tenth season as Seton Hall’s head coach, Tony Bozzella has led the Pirates to six postseason appearances, including two NCAA tournament appearances. In 2020 and 2021, Seton Hall qualified for postseason tournaments but did not compete either year due to the coronavirus pandemic (2020-tournament cancelled; 2021-declined postseason play for safety reasons). Last season, Seton Hall reached the WNIT final.

As discussed on last week’s episode of the Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast, Seton Hall looks like an NCAA tournament team at this point in the season. The Pirates are receiving votes toward the AP Top 25 this week. They are predicted to be one of the “last four” in on both Charlie Creme’s bracketology and Autumn Johnson’s early bracket predictions.

Seton Hall is the hottest team in the BIG EAST conference right now and the team’s play emulates its coach’s fiery, competitive spirit. As conference play continues, look for Seton Hall to position itself toward the top of the conference rankings and to make a strong case for an NCAA tournament bid.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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