January 29, 2024 

BIG EAST notebook: Streaming deal, best performances and an Irish upset

Top stories from around the conference

We’re halfway through the 2023-24 BIG EAST regular season, with each team having played at least nine of 18 conference games. The top four teams are UConn, Creighton, St. John’s and Villanova. To date, UConn is dominating the competition, winning conference matchups by an average of 33.7 points per game. The Huskies are steamrolling conference competition, and the second-place Bluejays are a full two games behind the defending BIG EAST champs.

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  1. UConn (17-4, 9-0)
  2. Creighton (16-3, 7-2)
  3. St. John’s (13-9, 7-3)
  4. Villanova (13-7, 6-3)
  5. Marquette (16-4, 5-4)
  6. Providence (11-11, 5-4)
  7. Georgetown (14-6, 4-5)
  8. Seton Hall (12-8, 4-5)
  9. DePaul (10-12, 2-7)
  10. Butler (9-11, 1-8)
  11. Xavier (1-17, 0-9)

Third-place St. John’s has far exceeded its No. 7 preseason ranking, and Villanova and Marquette have become familiar in recent seasons with occupying the top tier of the conference. Providence, Georgetown and Seton Hall are neck and neck in the middle of the BIG EAST pack, with DePaul, Butler and Xavier looking up from the bottom. With just over a month before the BIG EAST Tournament tips off, let’s take a look at some of the noteworthy happenings from around the conference.


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WSN partnership

Earlier this month, the BIG EAST announced that a select number of games would be streamed on Women’s Sports Network (WSN). On Jan. 20, WSN aired its first of seven BIG EAST games. Launched in 2022, WSN is the first ever 24/7 network dedicated exclusively to women’s sports. The network’s partnership with the BIG EAST includes seven games of the week this season.

“The Women’s Sports Network is thrilled to add a BIG EAST game of the week as we get closer to March Madness,” WSN president Carol Stiff told The Next. “BIG EAST marks our first collegiate conference deal for the network and a great addition to the Home of Women’s Sports.”

Each of the games aired on WSN are also simulcast on FloHoops, which has been the home of the BIG EAST Digital Network since the 2021 season.


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Providence rising

Fighting their way back from a 15-point deficit, Providence upset Villanova 82-76 in overtime on Jan. 24 at Alumni Hall in Providence. Senior guard Grace Efosa (29 points) and forward Marta Morales Romero (26 points) combined for 55 points. Junior forward Olivia Olsen recorded her ninth double-double of the season on 11 points and 13 rebounds. The junior forward also chipped in three assists, three blocked shots and three steals. On the defensive end, the Friars were able to contain Villanova guard Lucy Olsen below her average of 23.7 points per game, with 18 points. Olsen also fouled out before the end of regulation, a key advantage for the Friars in the overtime period.

“It wasn’’ about stopping Lucy Olsen, never was. It was about trying to slower down, limit her touches,” said Providence head coach Erin Batth. “Try to keep her under average, if we can do that. … I was switching one through four, so everybody knew you were gonna get to get an awesome opportunity to guard the great Lucy Olsen, so get your mind right. … It just turned out in our favor. I’m just so proud.”

This week, Efosa was named BIG EAST Player of the Week, averaging 20.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, and 50% shooting across each of Providence’s matchups. It’s the first time a Providence player has earned the honor since Feb. 18, 2019.

The win is significant for a Friars program that has struggled in the BIG EAST for decades. Providence hasn’t had a winning record in the conference in 30-plus seasons. Since then, five head coaches have tried to make the program competitive in the conference with little success.

When Batth stepped on campus last summer, something felt different, and the program seems headed in the right direction. Halfway through the conference schedule, the team stands at sixth place in the BIG EAST with a winning 5-4 record. After defeating Xavier on Sunday, the Friars’ five wins exceed their total number of wins last season (four). The program’s win streak is now at three, the first such streak the program has enjoyed since 2018-19.


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Hoophall awards

Last week, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) announced their midseason top 10 candidates for the position-based Hoophall awards. Four BIG EAST players were selected across three of the award categories.

UConn guard Paige Bueckers is in the top 10 for the Ann Meyers Drysdale award, honoring the nation’s best shooting guard. Bueckers, who in 2021 won the Nancy Lieberman award as the nation’s best point guard, has shifted her role a bit during her UConn career. The 2021 national player of the year is having an elite shooting season, averaging 20.0 points per game and shooting 55% from the field (including nearly 50% from beyond the arc.

Featured on the Cheryl Miller award top 10 list for the nation’s best small forward is Marquette’s Jordan King. A 2023-24 Preseason All-BIG EAST selection, King ranks in the top 10 in the conference in usage rate. Averaging 12.2 points per game, King is a steady scorer and one of the team’s most experienced veterans, choosing to use her COVID-19 year of eligibility to return to Marquette as a graduate student this season.

Listed in the top 10 for the Katrina McClain award honoring the nation’s top power forward are Marquette’s Liza Karlen and UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards. Karlen has been named BIG EAST Player of the Week three times this season and was named AP Player of the Week on Dec. 19. She averages 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Edwards continues to be consistent in the post for a guard-heavy UConn team. She averages a steady 16.3 and 8.4 rebounds per game. The 2023 BIG EAST Tournament Most Outstanding Player and Third Team All-American is crucial to UConn’s success, especially with five players — including two bigs — sidelined for the remainder of the season.


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Notre Dame spoils Husky homecoming

The Uconn faithful began to shuffle out of a packed Gampel Pavilion on Saturday in the final minutes of a 82-67 loss to longtime rival Notre Dame. It was a night that started with jubliant promise as the Huskies honored the 2002-03, 2003-04, 2012-13 and 2013-14 UConn national championship teams. Huskies VIPs like Diana Taurasi, Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were in the house, and fans were poised to watch the home team defeat the Irish.

The Irish played spoiler at the event, taking advantage of defensive miscommunications and uncharacteristically poor offensive execution from UConn. The Huskies had no answer for Irish freshman Hannah Hidalgo, who finished the game with 34 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

It was a fitting game to bring back UConn alum due to the history between the two premier programs. Three of the four championship teams honored Saturday competed against Notre Dame while both teams were still part of the BIG EAST conference. In the spirit of conference history, a recap of those matchups

2002-03

When UConn faced Notre Dame in South Bend on Jan. 20, 2003, the defending champ Huskies were riding a 55-game win streak that dated back to a 2001 Final Four loss against … Notre Dame, led by then-point guard and now head coach Niele Ivey. In the January 2003 iteration of the series, the Huskies handily defeated their conference rival 72-53. A few weeks later in Storrs, UConn again bested the Irish, 77-59.

During the 2003 conference tournament, both teams fell to Villanova — Notre Dame in the semifinals, and UConn in the finals. That game ended the Huskies’ win streak at 70 games.

2003-04

UConn and Notre Dame faced off just once during the 2003-04 season — a Jan. 13 matchup in South Bend. The Irish took this one 66-51, deflating a UConn squad by handing it its second loss in 10 days, exceeding the total losses the team had across the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.

“This may not be as big a win as 2001, but it is certainly a bigger upset,” then–Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said postgame. “Anytime you can beat a great team like this, it is great.”

The programs wouldn’t meet again that season, as Notre Dame fell to Rutgers in the conference tournament quarterfinal and UConn lost a 73-70 stunner to Boston College, which went on the win the conference tournament title.

2012-13

Fast-fowarding about 10 years, the UConn–Notre Dame rivalry became the biggest in the sport, emerging to replace the UConn-Tennessee series, which was called off in the summer of 2007. When the teams faced off for the first time that season on Jan. 5, 2013, the Irish were riding a four-game win streak against their conference foe, which included wins in the 2011 and 2012 national semifinals. The Irish would extend that win streak by two that regular season, stealing a 73-72 January win from UConn in Storrs and winning a 3OT thriller in South Bend in March.

Just a few days after the teams met in March, they faced off again in the BIG EAST Tournament. Again a Skylar Diggins–led Irish team emerged victorious, handing the Huskies a 61-59 OT loss in Hartford. The loss ended a run of 19 straight seasons that UConn had won either the BIG EAST regular-season or postseason conference title.

“I’ve had a lot of big wins in my years here — wins against UConn to go to national championship games, it definitely is up there,” Diggins said at the time. “It means a lot not only to me, means a lot to coach and our program.”

UConn alum and WNBA player Breanna Stewart is pictured in a purple-and-black-spotted sweater. She is clapping with the UConn student section and cheerleading team in the background.
UConn alum Breanna Stewart and her teammates on the 2012-13 and 2013-14 national championship teams were added to the school’s Huskies of Honor program on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo Credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Unfortunately for the Irish, they would go on to lose to UConn in the national semifinal. Freshman Breanna Stewart scored a career-high 29 points to accompany four blocks in an 83-65 UConn win, ending Diggins’ illustrious college career without a national title.

That game was the last time the programs faced off as conference opponents; in the summer of 2013, UConn left the BIG EAST for a seven-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, and Notre Dame departed for the ACC.

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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