December 3, 2023 

BIG EAST notebook: Tony Bozzella reaches 500 wins, Lucy Olsen is a baller

Top stories from around the conference

With a a 68–57 victory over East Carolina in the finale of the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship, head Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella clinched his 500th win as a head coach. Bozzella, a 1989 graduate of Seton Hall, shared with The Next that it “means a lot” to achieve this accomplishment at this alma mater, where he has been head coach since the 2013–14 season.

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Seton Hall has special meaning for Bozzella beyond basketball: it’s also where he met his wife, Maria, to whom he’s been married for over 30 years. They currently reside in West Orange, N.J., and have two children, Samantha and Joseph. As he looks back on his accomplished career, it’s his family that he credits with his growth as a coach.

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“One of the things I’ve learned is to enjoy the journey,” Bozzella told The Next. “I really started to enjoy the journey a lot more than the final result. The past few years the final result was really important — we wanted to make the tournament, we wanted to rebuild, we wanted to do that … But really right now I’m just trying to enjoy the journey to be honest with you and I learned that from my daughter.”

“My daughter got married this past August, and the 20 months leading up to it were fantastic,” Bozzella continued. “She included everyone, she made everyone feel important in the whole process, she handled herself, she was detailed — but we enjoyed the whole journey so on the wedding day wasn’t sad. It was like, ‘wow, this was an amazing journey.’ We just had 20 great months of doing it. I learned a valuable lesson from her, and that’s what I’m trying to do now, is enjoy the journey.”

During his journey as head coach with Seton Hall, Bozzella guided the Pirates to the program’s first regular season BIG EAST title in program history, was named 2015 BIG EAST Coach of the Year and has mentored 20 All-Conference performers and a pair of Honorable Mention All-Americans in 10 seasons. He has transformed Seton Hall into a perennial conference contender and holds the best winning percentage in modern program history. Prior to his time at Seton Hall, Bozzella held coaching positions at Southampton, LIU and Iona.

Bozzella acknowledges that the game has changed significantly in his decades-long coaching career. The transfer portal has forced him to change his approach to roster construction, his long-time assistant and former player Lauren DeFalco has moved on to new opportunities and conference realignment has shifted the composition of the BIG EAST. After 500 wins and over three decades of coaching, what motivates Bozzella to continue in the profession?

“I love the competition. I’m still a big competitor …. And then the other thing is I just enjoy being around the kids. They keep you young,” Bozzella said. “We have a tremendous group this year. It’s actually one of my favorite, favorite, favorite groups [that] I’ve coached in my 31 years as a head coach. They’re nice kids, they work really hard. We lost some great players so maybe people don’t think we’re going to be as good, but this group has been a great team.”

Seton Hall is 5–3 on the season. Led by graduate student Azana Baines, the Pirates have shown they can compete against top competition. On November 20, they lost by just 10 to USC, currently the No. 6 team in the country. On Wednesday, the Hall took No. 25 Princeton down to the wire, falling just short of an upset in a  75–71, two-overtime defeat. The Pirates have three more non-conference tests before beginning BIG EAST play on Dec. 20 against Georgetown.

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Lucy Olsen’s career night

When Maddy Seigrist announced that she was forgoing her final year of college eligibility to declare for the 2023 WNBA Draft, it was the end of an era for the Villanova Wildcats. Siegrist stepped off campus as the all-time leading scorer in Villanova basketball history, a two-time BIG EAST Player of the Year (2022, 2023), a Katrina McClain Award Winner (2023) and an AP All-American. She accounted for 41% of Villanova’s scoring per game last season, and was the unquestionable best player in the conference.

With Siegrist gone, Villanova’s new dominant scorer is junior guard Lucy Olsen. Averaging 24.8 points per game, Olsen is the only player on the Wildcats squad averaging double-figures scoring. She can score in so many different ways and is efficient from behind the arc, shooting nearly 40% from three on the season. In the Wildcats’ home opener against Philadelphia Big 5 opponent Temple, Olsen went on an absolute tear, notching a career-high 40 points on 12-for-22 shooting, including a 4-from-6 from long range.

“It’s exciting, but I just want to win the game,” Olsen said post-game. “Whatever has to be done [to win] … my teammates did a great job finding me, setting screens for me to be open. I would not have been able to score that much without them all being a threat.”

Villanova is 5–1 to start the season. In a 67–57 victory over Richmond on Nov. 30, Olsen netted 30 points, connecting on 48% of shots from the field. Villanova begins BIG EAST play on Dec. 16 under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, and Lucy Olsen is ready for the spotlight.

Golden Eagles are soaring

As the season nears the one month mark, just one BIG EAST program remains undefeated. The Marquette Golden Eagles, led by head coach Megan Duffy, are off to a program-best 7–0 record. On Monday, Marquette entered the AP Top 25 for the first time this season, ascending to No. 24.

While on the way to an unblemished record in November, the Golden Eagles clinched the Fort Myers Tip-Off championship with a 74–58 win over Arkansas. Senior guard Rose Nkumu was named the tournament’s most valuable player with 14 points, seven assists and three steals in the title game. Nkumu averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals through the two games.

Marquette is winning by committee to start the season. Behind double-digit scoring averages from Nkumu (11.1 ppg), senior forward Liza Karlen (16.6 ppg), sophomore guard Mackenzie Hare (16.1 ppg) and grad senior Jordan King (15.0 ppg), the Golden Eagles rank in the top ten nationally in field goal percentage, three point percentage and points per play.

What makes Marquette’s non-conference success extra impressive is how Coach Duffy has blended talent new and old. This year’s squad consists of six new players: four transfers and two freshmen.

“Like any great team, you have to have that chemistry on and off the floor,” Duffy said. “It just doesn’t happen on game day, when we open up. So they’re working really hard at it. We challenge them with certain things. We try and put them in situations where they have to figure things out. Just like there will be adversity this season.”

BIG EAST play begins for Marquette on Dec. 13, when they face off against Creighton at home in Milwaukee.

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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