March 5, 2023
Sights and sounds from the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals
Close contests display depth of conference
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — It was another day of BIG EAST Tournament action, as eight teams took the floor to compete for a spot in Sunday’s semifinals. Let’s break down all the action from a jam-packed day in Uncasville.
Azzi Fudd returns
UConn 69, Georgetown 39
It was a joyous start to the day for the Connecticut faithful as they waited in a winding line throughout Mohegan Sun casino, filing into the arena for the Huskies’ BIG EAST quarterfinal matchup against Georgetown. Murmurs of “Azzi’s back” could be heard as the news of UConn star guard Azzi Fudd’s return was announced roughly 45 minutes before the game’s noon tip-off.
The Huskies began the game with suffocating defense, leading to transition offense opportunities on the other end. UConn committed just one turnover the entire first quarter, a good sign for a team that has struggled to take care of the ball all season.
After the first media timeout at the 4:15 mark in the first quarter, Azzi Fudd checked into the game at last to thunderous applause from UConn fans. Azzi would get on the board with 1:01 remaining in the quarter, sinking two free throws to put the Huskies up 15-8.
“I think we all just took a breath, okay, we’re going into the right footsteps of being a complete team again,” junior Aaliyah Edwards said about teammate Azzi Fudd. “And I think everyone was happy to have her on the court because it was going back to our first game of the season when we felt that we were — everything was clicking for us and we were on to have a great season.”
The second quarter was more stifling defense from UConn. The Huskies held the Hoyas to just four points in the entire quarter. Aaliyah Edwards was dominant on the boards for UConn, pulling down 10 rebounds on the half. UConn held Georgetown to 12 points, the fewest points the Huskies have allowed in a half this season.
The first half wasn’t all good for UConn, though, as sophomore Caroline Ducharme took an inadvertent elbow to the back of the head with 3:10 remaining in the half. Ducharme, who missed 13 games this season in concussion protocol, stayed on the ground for about three minutes after the contact to the head. She was then taken back to the UConn locker room for the remainder of the half. Caroline returned to the bench in street clothes to the sounds of “Sweet Caroline” playing over the PA speakers.
UConn simply outmatched Georgetown in the second, largely behind the stellar play of BIG EAST Most Improved Player Aaliyah Edwards, who scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half. She ended the game with 19 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
“She’s been more consistent. The things that we wanted Aaliyah to get better at, I think her conditioning has been way better. Her ability to sustain a certain level throughout the entire game has gotten better. Her approach to the game, I think, has improved,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said of Aaliyah’s play this season.
“And these were the things that Aaliyah needed to improve on and she has. And she needs to keep doing this, not just for this month — this weekend, this month, but throughout this summer and going into her senior year where she needs to take — there’s even another step or two for her, which makes her one of the best players in the country.”
Fudd, who had UConn fans on the edges of their seats each time she shot the ball eventually sank two three-pointers during the second half, and the crowd went absolutely mad. Fudd would end the night with 10 points in 17 minutes of play in a resounding UConn victory.
How does coach Auriemma see Azzi fitting into UConn’s rotation for the remainder of the postseason?
“It’s only going to get better because all her talents and all her skills, they fit perfectly with what we do,” Auriemma said. “And we haven’t changed what we do even though she wasn’t in the game for the last however many months. So she just steps into something that’s very familiar, very comfortable and doesn’t have to relearn anything at all.”
Marquette ‘against the world’
Marquette 57, St. John’s 47
Sitting courtside during the first several minutes of the St. John’s vs. Marquette matchup, you could feel that this was going to be a heated matchup. Both St. John’s, the No. 4 seed, and Marquette, the No. 5 seed, finished the BIG EAST season with identical 13-7 records in conference play. The teams split their home-and-away series. Both teams also hold the distinction of being the only BIG EAST teams to hand No. 1 UConn a loss during the regular season. The stage was set for a tight quarterfinal matchup.
The teams spent much of the first quarter trading baskets, with St. John’s grad transfer Mimi Reid (seven points) and Marquette senior guard Jordan King (five points) leading the scoring charge for their respective teams. In quarter two, it was more of the same from King, who ended the half leading all scorers with 12 points. The teams headed to the locker room with Marquette up 26-24 on the Red Storm.
It was a physical contest in the post, with both teams battling for the boards and plenty of bodies falling to the floor. For St. John’s, Rayven Peeples shined defensively in the post, doing her best to contain aggressive drives from the Marquette offense. She also pulled down six rebounds in the first half.
“[Rayven]’s been our unsung hero probably all year,” said St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella. “Her development in the years she’s been here is pretty phenomenal. And how she’s been able to transform herself, not only as a player, but just physically, and has put herself in a position to have a pro career, I think.
“She’s been the anchor defensively for us. She really does a good job rebounding and, I think, being a great wall for us in there. And obviously, we continue to want her to push it on the offensive end.”
As quarter three began, the game continued to be a tight contest. The Marquette players and staff were on their feet cheering on teammates, alongside a small but mighty fan army seated directly behind their bench. St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella yelled instructions to his team, pleading for them to keep up the intensity on the defensive end and to make smart plays in transition. At the end of the third, St. John’s clung to a slight 41-40 advantage over the Golden Eagles.
The fourth quarter was when Marquette began to pull away. Marquette senior forward Chloe Marotta scored eight of her game-high 18 points in the final quarter, and Marquette’s stifling defense held the Red Storm to just six total fourth-quarter points. In the end, Marquette’s “big three” of King, Marotta and junior forward Liza Karlen combined for 50 of the Golden Eagles’ 57 points.
“I’m just thrilled. What a great game by our team. I thought just our grit and toughness throughout the 40 minutes was really impressive,” Marquette head coach Megan Duffy said. “That fourth quarter, our defensive effort really changed the trajectory of the game.
“When you play a team for the third time, you’re trying some new things, it’s kind of that rubber match, nothing always looks pretty. Just so proud of our grit, led by Chloe Marotta, especially her second half.”
Next up for Marquette is a rematch with UConn. While Marquette defeated the Huskies just a few weeks ago (Feb. 8) in Milwaukee, Duffy knows that the Golden Eagles cannot rest on their laurels.
“We’re definitely not resting on what happened out at our place and obviously we know when it’s a one-and-done mentality we’re resetting ourselves. They will as well,” Duffy said.
“And, again, just super excited to get this win [against St. John’s] and have the opportunity to be in this facility. We’ll have a lot of UConn fans, and we’ll have our little small group. And it’s kind of the same thing — us against the world sometimes.”
Wildcats win a thriller
Villanova 71, DePaul 70
Just before starting lineups were announced, Villanova senior stepped to mid-court to claim her BIG EAST Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards from conference commissioner Val Ackerman. As she stepped to center court to chants of “MVP” from the Villanova pep band, the crowd gave her a warm round of applause in recognition of what she has accomplished this season. Maddy will graduate as the BIG EAST’s all-time leading scorer, including men’s and women’s basketball. Her accomplishments both in the classroom and on the court have left a permanent impact on the Villanova program.
“It’s an amazing journey that Maddy has been on,” Villanova head coach Denise Dillon said. “And taking us all along with her has been an absolute pleasure. Just seeing her growth in so many areas.”
“But she wants to make sure that everyone around her is getting better as well because how much the program means to her. And she wants to leave her mark but certainly leave it in good hands moving forward. It’s going to continue to be great.”
After the pregame festivities, Siegrist stepped to center court for a jump ball against DePaul sophomore Aneesah Morrow. Villanova won the tip, and the game was underway. When the game got started it was the Wildcats’ other Maddie, junior guard Maddie Burke, who started off with the hot hand, scoring eight points in eight minutes of first-quarter play. Siegrist started slow but eventually got on the board to add six points of her own en route to a 20-14 lead after quarter one.
DePaul started the second quarter on a 14-4 run, eventually taking the lead at the 6:26 mark off a fast-break three-pointer by senior guard Anaya Peoples. DePaul led 28-24 during the first media timeout with five minutes to play in the quarter.
After the timeout, it was Villanova’s turn for a run. As she tends to do, Maddy Siegrist quickly and quietly became the game’s leading scorer, racking up 14 points to accompany eight rebounds. The Wildcats finished the quarter on a 16-4 run, taking a 40-32 lead into the locker room.
DePaul came out hot to start the second half, working themselves back into the game behind nine points from Aneesah Morrow. The Blue Demons brought the game to within two points, 46-44, forcing Villanova to burn a 30-second timeout just before the media timeout. The game remained tight until the third-quarter buzzer sounded. Villanova maintained a two-point lead, 54-52, to end the quarter. Maddy Siegrist and Aneesah Morrow both ended the quarter with 20 points apiece.
To begin the fourth quarter, DePaul quickly took the lead on a three-pointer from junior guard Kendall Holmes. Following two made free throws by Maddy Siegrist, DePaul used a six-point run to take the lead, 66-60 with 4:22 to go in regulation. The squads would trade baskets over the next few minutes before Villanova scored two consecutive baskets to knot this one up at 70 apiece. DePaul had the chance to ice it at the free throw line but missed four from the charity stripe, two at the 1:19 mark, and another two with seven seconds to go in regulation.
“I’m a coach that does not believe in talking about free throws ever,” said DePaul head coach Doug Bruno. “We work on free throws. We prepare for free throws. We shoot free throws in practice… But 6-for-16 is not going to win in March. You put it all together and we blow the game, basically.”
Off the missed free throws with seven seconds to go, DePaul committed two quick fouls, with two to give before entering the bonus. As Villanova inbounded the ball with four seconds to go in the game, it appeared this one was headed for overtime. The Blue Demons committed another fatal error, though, fouling sophomore guard Lucy Olsen with under a second to go in the game. Olsen would make the first shot and appeared to intentionally miss the second. The ball bounced off the back of the rim and time expired. Villanova had stolen this one, winning 71-70. The Wildcats bench stormed the court and celebrated an epic quarterfinal victory.
“My teammates had my back,” Olsen said postgame. “They’re all, ‘you’re good; you do this every day in practice; basketball is fun; just shoot it; you’ll make it; you’re good.'”
Creighton 75, Seton Hall 74
The nightcap game was a rematch of last season’s shocking Seton Hall one-point upset of Creighton in the BIG EAST quarterfinals. For those who need a reminder, then-junior Seton Hall guard Mya Bembry wished the Bluejays “night night” with a clutch corner jumper to secure a 66-65 win. Since that game, these two teams have developed somewhat of a rivalry in BIG EAST play.
It was a tightly-contested matchup in the first quarter. The teams came out with strong shooting performances; Seton Hall shot an impressive 60% from the floor, and Creighton was close behind with a 46.7% shooting percentage. Senior guard Lauren Park-Lane led all scorers, tallying 11 points for the Pirates on 5-7 shooting.
As the game progressed into quarter two, both teams seemed to match each other’s intensity. Creighton did Creighton things, sinking eight three-pointers in the half. Seton Hall’s Lauren Park-Lane ended the first half with 18 points, including a steal and finish with just seconds remaining in the half. After a half that included seven lead changes and two ties, Creighton took a slight 33-31 lead into the locker room.
Quarter three belonged to the Pirates, specifically Lauren Park-Lane. The 5’3 point guard added seven points to her total and seemed to weave her way through Creighton’s defense with ease. The Bluejays went cold from beyond the arc, missing each of their five attempts from beyond the arc. Hall also beat up Creighton on the boards, pulling down 15 rebounds compared to the Bluejays’ five. With two made free throws by senior Kae Satterfield, the Pirates cruised into the final quarter up seven, 49-42.
Entering the final quarter, Creighton seemed to regain composure. The Bluejays’ shots began to fall, punctuated by a game-tying shot by Morgan Maly at the 4:13 mark. Park-Lane remained pesky, though, going on a personal 4-0 run to bring the Pirates back on top 61-57 with 2:33 remaining in regulation.
The final sixteen seconds were chaotic for both squads. After Seton Hall senior guard Victoria Keenan split a pair of free throws, Creighton called a timeout to advance the ball. Following a beautiful, cross-court inbound pass, Morgan Maly sunk a corner three to bring the game to within two, 62-60, with 14 seconds remaining in regulation. Creighton junior Molly Mogensen would foul out on the next play, sending Lauren Park-Lane to the line. Park-Lane went 1-of-2, keeping it at a one-possession game. On the next possession, Creighton capitalized on the missed free throw as Emma Ronsiek sunk a top-of-the-key three to tie the game up at 63. Seton Hall was unable to convert on its next possession down the court, and the game headed into overtime.
In the extra period, the teams swapped the lead seven times. There were four ties in five minutes and, much like the Villanova/DePaul game that proceed it, this one went down to the last basket. With under a second on the clock, Maly converted on a put-back layup to win the game, 75-74, and send the Bluejays soaring into the semis.
“What I really am proud about is that we missed some shots for the greater part of the game, and to still believe in yourself down the stretch is huge,” said Creighton head coach Jim Flanery. “And then the other part that I told them is we executed down the stretch but we won the game on Morgan’s put-back, which is an effort play. That’s just a blue-collar play.”
“And as a team, that to me is more satisfying even than that we executed down the stretch, is that we went and made a play to win the game in that fashion.”
Just like last season, this match was won by one point in the waning moments of the game. Unlike last year, this time Creighton came out on top to advance to the BIG EAST Tournament semifinals.