March 11, 2024 

‘Tasha Tough’ Hoyas make history

And the BIG EAST honors women's basketball legends

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — It’s without a doubt one of the greatest storylines in women’s college hoops this season. The Georgetown Hoyas (22-10), preseason No. 10 in the BIG EAST, overcame tragedy to advance to a program-first conference tournament final. After losing first-year head coach Tasha Butts to breast cancer before the season began, a team of scrappy and focused veterans rallied to a 20-win season, a No. 6 seed and now a chance to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

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“I mean, [we’ve] never been here before, so we’re excited about it, but this is something we’ve been preparing for and something that has been in our aspirations, and we’ve been wanting to make it a reality,” said Georgetown guard Kelsey Ransom. “Even though it’s unprecedented, it’s something we’ve been looking forward to and preparing for, and it’s been a very attainable reality for us since the preseason.”

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This team embodied the spirit of Coach Tasha, whose legacy they evoked all season with each huddle break and on their jerseys with the phrase “Tasha Tough.” Butts, who was set to assume the first head coaching role of her career at Georgetown, would have celebrated her 42nd birthday on Sunday.

“What I know is true is how important and impactful Coach Tasha was for us in the spring and in our fall practices and how clear it was that our next step was just to get back in the gym and work as hard as we could in her honor,” said Georgetown forward Graceann Bennett. “It’s how she started the program, the foundation that she set, and it became our responsibility to do it moving forward and do it out of love for her, for each other and love and respect for the game.”

Georgetown interim head coach Darnell Haney held back tears while speaking lovingly about Coach Butts, who hired him as associate head coach out of Jacksonville, where he had been head coach for five seasons. When Tasha stepped away from the team to focus on her health in September, Haney stepped into the interim head coaching role. Less than a month later, the basketball community learned of Butts’s death.

“When I stepped foot on this campus, the love Coach Tasha showed me and my family, the opportunity to come here and just help her out, I’m incredibly indebted to Coach Tasha because she gave me a shot. Incredibly indebted. She gave me a shot. She gave me an opportunity to be who I was. I didn’t have to do anything else. I was able to be who I was.

“It’s just tremendous that we were able to do this on her birthday, man. … She just was a loving, tough-minded, high-spirited woman with a great family, and I’m just so proud of these young women for honoring her the way they do.”

The Hoyas stifled a Creighton team that ranks in the top 25 nationally in points per 100 possessions (107.9), points per scoring attempt (1.10) and points per play (0.95). Kelsey Ransom, the conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year, was the spark plug, but it was a full team effort to shut down the Bluejays’ high-powered offense.

“We just held the fort, played Georgetown defense. Like I said before, and I say it all the time — as long as I’m the coach at Georgetown — Chick-Fil-A sells chicken, Starbucks sells coffee and Georgetown plays defense,” said Haney.

The Hoyas now turn their attention to No. 1 seed UConn — a team that also played inspired defense Sunday, holding Marquette to 29 points, including a shutout in the fourth quarter. With a win, the Hoyas will punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. With a close defeat, the Hoyas will boost their résumé for further potential postseason play. No matter what happens, one thing is certain: This Tasha Tough team has, amid profound loss, embodied the spirit and legacy of Tasha Butts all season and made the Georgetown community proud.

Kelsey Ransom dribbles through defenders
BIG EAST Co-Defensive Player of the year and Georgetown team captain Kelsey Ransom tallied 14 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals in 40 minutes of play against Creighton during the 2024 BIG EAST Tournament. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next).

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BIG EAST honors legends

The Hoyas’ first appearance in the BIG EAST Tournament finals isn’t the only history to come out of the weekend. The conference also inducted its first class into the BIG EAST Basketball Legends Recognition program. The conference’s 11 member schools selected a former prominent coach or player to be honored at the tournament. 

Butler: Julie VonDielingen Shelton (1989-93)

  • Finished her career as Butler’s all-time leading scorer
  • Only player in Butler women’s basketball history to score more than 2,000 career points
  • 2006 Butler Athletic Hall of Fame inductee

Butler head coach Austin Parkinson: “An incredible player at Indiana. Coached at Indiana. She is a basketball legend. For us to be able to honor her … is a really cool thing as far as Bulldogs go and really represents the Butler way.”

Connecticut: Laura Lishness (1987-91)

  • 1988 BIG EAST Freshman of the Year
  • KODAK District 1 All-American
  • Led UConn to program’s first NCAA Final Four in 1991

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma: “There certainly have been a lot of legends in this league over the years. In my mind, there were two to choose from [as the first Legend], and I thought Laura was probably at the time the most important recruit that we got when I first got here. She took our program from nothing and helped us go to the Final Four her senior year. I just thought it was very appropriate for a Connecticut kid to be honored as a legend.”

Creighton: Marissa Janning Murphy (2012-17)

  • Program’s first freshman All-American and first WBCA All-American
  • Program’s first BIG EAST Player of the Year
  • 2023 Creighton Hall of Fame inductee

DePaul: Khara Smith (2002-06)

  • Progam’s all-time leading rebounder (1,369 rebounds)
  • Four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including the program’s first Sweet Sixteen in 2006
  • 2023 DePaul Athletics Hall of Fame inductee

DePaul head coach Doug Bruno: “Khara came here from Proviso West High School, a suburb and school on the west side of Chicago. I don’t know if many people understand. Her dad is Kenny Norman from the NBA, so Khara does have a lineage. … There’s just a lot of reasons why she should be recognized, but the run of tournaments that we got on there for a while — of about 18 of them — she was the leader of [that run of tournament appearances].”

Georgetown: Kris Witfill (1989-93)

  • Graduated as the Hoyas’ all-time scoring leader (1,885 points)
  • 1993 BIG EAST player of the year
  • 2011 Georgetown Hall of Fame inductee

Georgetown interim head coach Darnell Haney: “Kris Witfill was a big part of the Georgetown build-up in the beginning. One of the teams that she was on was one of the best teams to ever do it here.”

Marquette: Allazia Blockton (2015-19)

  • Program’s all-time leading scorer (2,204 points)
  • 2018 BIG EAST Player of the Year
  • Honorable mention All-American

Marquette head coach Megan Duffy: “Our all-time leading scorer. She’s tremendous. I’ve gotten to know her. Never got to coach her. She graduated my first year when I came in. We actually probably needed her to score a little bit out there for us [in this year’s tournament]. She could get a bucket. She was a walking bucket.”

Providence: Kathy Finn Hill (1980-84)

  • 1984 BIG EAST Player of the Year
  • Two-time Providence College Female Athlete of the  Year
  • 1997 Providence Hall of Fame inductee

Providence head coach Erin Batth: “Baller alert, so do not give her a ball to this day. … Greatness everywhere. It’s really cool because when she spoke to our program, it was very heartfelt, family-oriented. This is her home. She’s a great player. We had a lot of great players. We’ll continue, and that is a goal of mine to help get these women to where they need to be to. To remind people of Providence, not to just surprise them — because we have been good before. We are well on our way.”

St. John’s: Debbie Beckford (1979-83)

  • Member of St. John’s first NCAA Tournament team
  • 1983 BIG EAST Player of the Year
  • 1992 St. John’s Hall of Fame inductee

Seton Hall: Jodi Brooks (1990-94)

  • Led the Pirates to their best season, with a 27-5 record
  • Two-time All-BIG EAST and CoSIDA Academic All-District selection
  • Only Seton Hall player to record more than 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals

Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella: “When I first took over [as head coach], she was at our press conference, and she was one of the first people that came up to me and said, ‘Anything I can do, please ask.’ She’s spoken to our team … and really [has] been a great mentor for them. I’m really just thankful that Seton Hall, but more importantly the BIG EAST, is honoring Jodi because it’s a well-deserved honor.”

Villanova: Coach Harry Perretta (1978-2020)

  • 783 total career wins in 42 seasons, including 11 NCAA Tournament berths
  • Four-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year 
  • 2022 Big 5 Hall of Fame inductee

Villanova head coach Denise Dillon: “It’s always great to celebrate Harry, who has done so much — for women’s basketball, for Villanova University, for our program. But me personally, he is the reason why I’m in this position, to have made the decision to go to Villanova and to play for him. And the development process, it’s what I take seriously each and every day when I’m working with our players. Teaching the game. Teaching them how to play, how it works, how to learn and grow within it and then development … he’s a great mentor, but a friend as well.”

BIG EAST Legends stand on the court holding plaques
BIG EAST Legends are honored during halftime of Game 1 of the 2024 BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Xavier: Ta’Shia Phillips (2007-11)

  • Two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year
  • Program’s all-time leading rebounder (1,552 rebounds)
  • Drafted eighth overall in the 2011 WNBA Draft

Xavier head coach Billi Chambers: “I think [Ta’Shia] is just a great example for our young women. She’s a player that they want to be like. They want to be in her shoes. They want to be exactly where she was and do what she did.”

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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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