March 9, 2024 

BIG EAST Tournament: Day 1 sights and sounds

Providence, Seton Hall and Georgetown advance to quarterfinals

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The BIG EAST Tournament tipped off from Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday. No. 9 seed Providence, No. 7 seed Seton Hall and No. 6 seed Georgetown all survived and advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals. Let’s dig in to some of the day’s major storylines.

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Friars shine on big stage

No. 9 Providence 75, No. 8 Butler 60

Providence head coach Erin Batth was beaming as she addressed the press following her team’s 15 point victory over Butler.

“There are so many things that they’ve gotten better at, but I really — the culture of this program, you saw it today on the floor. It is the high-fives. It is woman down, woman up. We’ve had adversity with injuries, but our women just keep stepping up,” Batth said.

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With the win, the Friars clinched their first BIG EAST Tournament win since 2021. They did so with a balanced offensive effort that featured four Friars scoring in double figures for the seventh time this season. Guard Emily Archibald scored a team-best 17 points on 7-9 shooting from the field. Twelve of Archibald’s points came in the second half, securing the win down the stretch for Providence.

Like she’s done all season, BIG EAST All-Second Team selection Olivia Olsen held it down in the paint for Providence. The junior forward notched her 12th double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Her surge this season has contributed significantly to the growth of the program just one year into Coach Batth’s tenure.

“A lot of credit to Coach Batth, Coach Molly, Coach Kaili,” Olsen said after the game. “They’ve made a big impact on me and my game as well as the other post players. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

As much as the Friars shined on the offensive end, it was their pressure defending the basket that helped them pull off the upset against the Bulldogs. They pushed Butler out of their comfort zone and scored 20 points off turnovers.

“Every mistake we made, they punished us for,” said Butler head coach Austin Parkinson.

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Next up for the surging Friars is a rematch against No. 1 UConn on Saturday. The teams last met just seven days ago on Senior Night in Providence. The Huskies handily defeated the Friars by a score of 65-42. Despite a significant talent and experience gap between the two programs, Coach Erin Batth is ready to embrace the challenge.

“If you had told me my first head coaching job I would be coaching against Geno three times in one season, I may not be here,” Batth said. “But, no, I think it’s a positive. It’s all right. I’m glad we’re playing them. I’m excited.”

Providence first year head coach Erin Batth (center) huddles her team following the Friars’ 75-60 BIG EAST Tournament victory over Butler on Friday, March 8. (Photo Credit: Domenic Allegra/The Next)

Azana Baines powers Pirates

No. 7 Seton Hall 71, No. 10 DePaul 64

The Seton Hall Pirates tipped off this season with a lot of unknowns. Guard Lauren Park-Lane, a two-time Seton Hall Athlete of the Year (2021, 2022) used her extra year of eligibility due to the COVID year to transfer to Mississippi State. BIG EAST All-Second Team selection Sidney Cooks graduated, and this season’s roster included nine newcomers (six transfers and three true freshmen). Amid all of the uncertainty, there was one reliable constant: Seton Hall’s 6’1 graduate student Azana Baines.

Baines stepped on Seton Hall’s campus in South Orange, New Jersey as a senior last season, following two stops at ACC schools to begin her collegiate career. She began her NCAA career at Duke, transferring after her freshman season. She spent the next two seasons at Virginia Tech as a part-time starter with a Hokies program that reached consecutive NCAA Tournaments (2021, 2022), including it’s first NCAA program since 2006. During her five years as a scholar-athlete, Baines has gained valuable experience that has translated into eager leadership.

“[The coaching staff] challenged me every day to be that vocal leader and be the one to get my team to come together so we can accomplish the things that we’ve accomplished and the things we’re going to continue to accomplish … it’s something that I took pride in,” Baines said after Seton’s Hall first round victory over DePaul on Friday. “It wasn’t a challenge that I shied away from or I didn’t think I was capable of doing. I think it’s just been preparing me for this next step, this next phase that I’m going to go into once the season is over.”

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Although Baines was “low-key surprised” by her selection to the All-BIG EAST First Team, her on-court production has made a huge leap this season. She increased her scoring and rebounding averages from 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds last year to 15.1 points and 6.1 this season. She’s one of just three players in the conference to rank in the top 12 in points, rebounds, steals and blocks.

“She’s one of the best players in the league, one of the best players in the country,” said Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella. “She works really hard. She represents our country in the three-on-three, but she represents Seton Hall in a way that stats or words never can [measure]. She’s a tremendous student-athlete and even a better person. When she won First Team, it was super well deserved and more importantly earned by her.”

The Pirates advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal, where they’ll face off against the No. 2 seed Creighton Bluejays, a team they’ve faced off against in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals for the past three consecutive seasons. In the 2021 tournament quarterfinals, they fell to the Bluejays 83-76. In 2022, they defeated the Bluejays by one point, a loss that Creighton avenged last season with a 97-91 double-overtime quarterfinal victory over the Pirates.

“Creighton is a great team. It’s kind of new for us. We haven’t played them since — oh, yeah, last year. Oh, yeah, the year before. Oh, yeah, the year before … I mean, it’s getting a little repetitive,” said Bozzella. “But you know what it means? It means that we have a good basketball team too. Because Creighton is one of the best teams in the country.”

When these teams faced off less than a week ago in South Orange, Seton Hall led at the half and challenged the Bluejays before ultimately losing 72-65. Bozzella was clear that his team will compete once again against Creighton on Saturday evening.

“We have so much respect for them. [Creighton head coach Jim Flanery] is a brilliant coach, but his staff does a great job as well. Morgan [Maly] and [Emma] Ronsiek and [Lauren] Jensen and [Molly] Mogensen, they all know how to win and know how to play. Fortunately, we just played them the other day,” Bozzella said.

“From a scouting standpoint, it’s not that we forgot about them. We know it’s a great challenge. We’re going to have to play a game. Can we? Yes, because we have this year a few times, and we have in the past. But we know it’s a tremendous challenge. For us just the experience of playing the seven o’clock game on championship weekend, I mean — that’s worth a lot.”

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DePaul head coach Doug Bruno isn’t going anywhere

DePaul head coach and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Doug Bruno has been in the coaching business for nearly five decades. His coaching career includes two seasons (1978–80) as head coach and director of player personnel for the Chicago Hustle of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL). During his four decades as head coach at DePaul, 73-year-old Bruno has made 25 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and mentored countless student-athletes and pros as a member of USA Basketball.

When asked after his team’s 71-64 loss to Seton Hall on Friday if he was considering retirement, his response was vintage Doug Bruno.

“My wife hates the answer that I’m going to give you. She’s in the crowd so she’s going to have to listen to it. I’m doing this until I get whacked by the big guy or the little guy. The big guy is the guy in the sky, and the little guy is standing in the back of the room. Dwayne is not a little guy, but the athletic director of DePaul does have to take a second to the big guy called God. Either God is going to whack me or Dwayne is going to whack me, and then I’m going to be done. That’s how long I want to do this. All right?”

“People my age that have done this this long — this is my 50th year coaching, all right? — my 51st year of work since I graduated from DePaul in ’73. But I’m proud to say I’m one of those guys in America that started working when I was 10. My 51st year of work, my 50th at the post at DePaul University. Why do you want to keep doing this? Because some people that have done this this long don’t want any part of NIL and don’t want any part of the transfer portal non-sit-out rules. I want to fight to beat it.”

DePaul head coach Doug Bruno

Hoyas reflect on tough, successful season

No. 6 Georgetown 62, No. 11 Xavier 40

In late October of last year, Georgetown interim head coach Darnell Haney answered questions from reporters during BIG EAST media day at Madison Square Garden. Less than 24 hours before, he learned alongside the rest of the women’s basketball community of the passing of then Hoya head coach Tasha Butts. He answered questions with a quiet deliberation, speaking candidly about the shock and sadness surrounding the Georgetown program.

Five months later, Haney, hoarse from two hours of yelling plays and words of encouragement to his team, reflected on the perseverance his team demonstrated this season amidst tragic circumstances.

“It’s tough on them,” Haney said. “It was tough on them early. But again, when you have a foundation and a standard is set, right? You know, like the biggest things you have to understand with young people, especially young people who have been through some things, you have to be able to manage them emotionally. I think the emotional piece, people start to forget they’re not just basketball players. They’re not just students. They’re humans. Human beings have a feel. It’s a part of it.”

By all accounts, this season was a massive success for the Hoyas. They ended the regular season 19–10 (9–9 BIG EAST) and exceeded expectations by clinching the No. 6 seed in the BIG EAST conference. The team has palpable on-court chemistry, driven by Haney and team captain Kelsey Ransom. Ransom, who earned a BIG EAST All-First Team selection and Co-Defensive Player of the Year, is quick to deflect from personal accomplishment and is the consummate team player.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to know I represented Georgetown in that way and represented the team in that way. It wasn’t like just a me thing,” Ransom said of her regular season awards. “This team has made me feel confident, and they’ve given me the utmost respect and put me in positions of leadership. And they’ve really brought me to where I am right now, and my growth comes from the coaches getting on me in practice, getting extra shots up … It’s really just a team growth. One of us grows, one of us is successful, the entire team is successful.”

Ransom energizes the Hoyas with defensive intensity, and is a large reason why the Georgetown entered the postseason ranked 13th nationally in points allowed per game (54.9). She averaged 2.2 steals per game this season, and tallied four steals during Friday’s match-up against Xavier, coached by first-year head coach Billi Chambers. Chambers opened up her postgame press conference by praising the strength the Hoyas displayed all season.

“First thing I think that’s important to say is how proud I am of the Georgetown team and the way they’ve rallied around Tasha Butts and the way Coach Haney has — and the way they’ve performed,” Chambers said. “That’s the most important. Everyone needs to realize it’s so much bigger than basketball. And that team has put that together and really wrapped each other’s arms around each other to support each other in such a hard time.”

Up next for Georgetown is a Saturday evening matchup against No. 3 seed St. John’s. The teams split their two-game series this regular season. The Red Storm pulled out a one-point win against the Hoyas in January, and Georgetown avenged the loss on their home court with a 51-43 victory. Win or lose, this Georgetown program has a lot to be proud of.

“When you coach these young women and when you coach young people through love, they respect it. They respect it,” Haney said. “They have a sense that you care for them, and they have a sense that they can do anything.”

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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