March 19, 2023
Two BIG EAST teams still dancing after first round of NCAA Tournament
UConn, Villanova survive while others suffer painful losses
Five BIG EAST teams entered the NCAA Tournament field, the most since conference realignment in 2013. After Friday and Saturday’s first round matchup, two remain dancing. Let’s take a look at how things shook out for BIG EAST squads in the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend.
Marquette loses first round thriller
No. 8 South Florida 67, No. 9 Marquette 65
It was a tough end to a fantastic season for the Marquette Golden Eagles. Head coach Megan Duffy is a poised, disciplined coach and she did a great job leading her experienced, tough-nosed team to an NCAA Tournament appearance this season. Marquette finished the season with a 21-11 (13-7 BIG EAST) record. With five seconds remaining in overtime against South Florida, Marquette freshman guard Mackenzie Hare‘s 3-point shot attempt rimmed in and out of the basket, ending the Golden Eagles’ season in a heartbreaking fashion that is quintessential March basketball.
“Yeah, it’s the hardest day of the year … I just told them I wasn’t going to have a magical speech at the end, just mostly how proud I was of them, their fight, their heart,” said Marquette head coach Megan Duffy about her postgame message to the team.
“I thought we played some great basketball at times today. Even when we got down, what we did to send it into overtime and foul and get a couple jump balls and our pressure, I thought it was really good.”
Marquette’s defensive intensity pushed South Florida to overtime. Strong, solid defense and hustle have built this Marquette program into what it is, a perennial BIG EAST contender with postseason potential.
“I think honestly our defense is what got us to this point here. You’ve seen it throughout the season,” said Marquette senior guard Jordan King. “And I think that today, the way that we showed up and we were able to defend their top scorers at times, blow up their actions, I think that was really huge for us and what was able to keep us in the game at times when we weren’t able to knock down the open shot.”
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Last season’s Cinderella story Creighton tumbles
No. 11 Mississippi State 81, No. 6 Creighton 66
As a No. 10 seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, Creighton made a magical run to the Elite Eight with wins over Colorado, Iowa and Iowa State. This season, the expectations were high in Omaha, with much of the roster returning. Creighton met those expectations in many ways, finishing the season 22-9 (15-5 BIG EAST). A strong regular season earned the program’s highest-ever NCAA Tournament seed at No. 6.
But this time around, Creighton’s 2022-23 season came to an end in the first round on Friday with a tough loss to No. 11 seed Mississippi State.
“Last year we had a magical run,” Creighton head coach Jim Flanery said. “But nothing’s guaranteed and nothing’s given. This wasn’t our day.”
In this year’s NCAA Tournament first round, Creighton’s shots simply didn’t fall. A team that is in the top 25 in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage on the season shot 9-for-34 on just 26.5% shooting from beyond the arc. For a team that relies on its perimeter play and doesn’t have a strong post presence, that shooting performance wouldn’t cut it.
“Teams we play in or out of the BIG EAST are going to be taller, bigger and a little more athletic,” said Creighton junior forward Emma Ronsiek. “We rely heavily on our fundamentals and just our I.Q. in the game of basketball.”
The future of the Bluejays program is bright with all but two players (graduate student Rachael Saunders and senior Carly Bachelor) expected to return next season. Flanery has figured out the formula to get talented, hard-working student athletes from the Midwest to buy into Creighton’s culture that prioritizes strong perimeter shooting and an engaged motion offense. It’s a program on the rise, and you can expect them to continue to make noise in the BIG EAST and beyond.
UConn displays dominance
No. 2 UConn 95, No. 15 Vermont 52
UConn junior and Third Team AP All-American Aaliyah Edwards put up video game numbers against Vermont in Storrs on Saturday. In 29 minutes of play, Edwards contributed 28 points (13-15 from the field), seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks. Her athleticism and physicality dominated Vermont in the lane and led the Huskies to a resounding victory.
“We didn’t have an answer for [Edwards],” said Vermont head coach Alisa Kresge. “Game plan was to try to double her some but, you know, she’s ready for stuff like that. And I thought she did a great job getting us really deep in the paint.”
“She’s just such a worker, she works so hard, she never gives up. She’s really talented and that was quite a mismatch for us. You’ve got to give them credit; they know how to take advantage of the mismatches.”
The Catamounts were simply unable to match the post production of Edwards combined with the contributions from 6’5 forward Dorka Juhász. Juhász added 15 points and 10 rebounds along with six assists and three blocks.
“It was really gratifying today to see us come out and start the way we did and compete with the energy that we had and the focus that we had and then get amazing performances from Aaliyah and Dorka. I just think that’s a great way to start [NCAA Tournament play], and hopefully we can build on that,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.
Next up for the Huskies is a Monday evening matchup against No. 7 seed Baylor, who narrowly defeated Alabama 78-74 on Saturday in a come-from-behind victory.
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St. John’s falls just short of upset bid
No. 6 North Carolina 61, No. 11 St. John’s 59
After an epic First Four finish by St. John’s to advance to the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the magic ran out for the Red Storm. After rallying back from 11 points behind against No. 6 seed North Carolina, the shots just didn’t fall their way down the stretch, and they lost a 61-59 heartbreaker in Columbus.
“I love my team. We have a lot of players who are struggling right now. We knew the season was going to end at some point,” said St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella. “As I told them, I probably won’t have a group that means as much to me as they do. Toward the end, we felt good, and they [UNC] made some plays that finished it. We had a shot at the end, and that’s all you can ask for. We did what we could.
“We fought. That game was everything I love about this group. At the end of the day, we didn’t make the last play that we needed to, and they did. I don’t think this group should be upset or hang their heads at all. The hurt they have is because they really love each other. At the same time, they represented themselves and the university in the best fashion possible.”
Despite the loss, St. John’s season was far from a disappointment. Following a program-best 12-0 start to the season, the Red Storm received votes in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2015. St. John’s finished the season with an overall record of 23-9, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. With the impressive season, the Red Storm have put themselves back in the national conversation.
“I’ve watched them do it all year,” said Tartamella. “My message all year was ‘make them care,’ and they did that. You don’t have an opportunity to be in the games we’ve been in this year and come out successful unless you have a team that’s built for these moments. I’m really proud that the entire country got to see them play. It’s fun to watch. They were built for it.”
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Siegrist reaches another major milestone to lead Villanova
No. 4 Villanova 76, No. 13 Cleveland State 59
Another game, another historic milestone for Villanova senior and First Team All-American Maddy Siegrist. The BIG EAST’s all-time leading scorer, Siegrist reached the 1,000 point mark for the season on Saturday, becoming just the fifth player in Division I women’s basketball history to reach that milestone. With 35 points on the night, Siegrist also matched Las Vegas Aces guard and former Washington standout Kelsey Plum‘s record for the most consecutive 20-point games in a season (35 consecutive games).
The WIldcats took advantage of their earned home-court advantage to take down No. 13 seed Cleveland State. Behind 43.9% field goal shooting, including 40% shooting from beyond the arc, the Wildcats simply outpaced and outshot the opposing Vikings.
After the game, The Next‘s Howard Megdal asked Maddy Siegrist how she feels about the media attention that she’s helped garner for the Villanova Wildcats program. In typical fashion, Siegrist’s response was full of gratitude and selflessness.
“I’m so glad our team is getting so much publicity this year. Women’s sports are really hot right now, women’s basketball is continuing to take off,” Siegrist said. “Whatever I can do to help my team and help all the women who play basketball and all the young girls. If they can see somebody like that and look up to that … if you can impact one little kid’s life, then it’s worth it.”
See Siegrist’s full response here:
With the win, Villanova advances to the second round on their home court with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The Wildcats will face off against No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast on Monday.
Pirates advance to WNIT second round
Besides UConn and Villanova, one BIG EAST team is still competing in the postseason: Seton Hall. Behind an electric 30 point performance from senior Lauren Park-Lane and a double-double from co-captain Sidney Cooks, the Pirates cruised to a 69-61 victory over St. Joseph’s in the first round of the postseason WNIT.
Seton Hall started the game hot, jumping out to a 31-13 lead after the first quarter. While St. Joseph’s worked their way back into the game, the Pirates stayed strong, going 22-for-54 (40.7%) from the floor for the game. The Pirates also dominated on the defensive glass, 42-to-28 en route to the victory.
Next up for Seton Hall is a second round matchup against former BIG EAST foe Syracuse. The Orange are 19-12 on the season under first year head coach and Syracuse women’s basketball alum Felisha Legette-Jack. Syracuse finished 9-9 in a competitive ACC conference, and finished the season ninth in the conference standings. It should be a good matchup between two solid Northeast opponents.
Round two between tips off Monday evening at 7 p.m. ET. Seton Hall will host the game at historic Walsh Gymnasium in South Orange, New Jersey.
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Written by Tee Baker
Tee is a women's basketball reporter and historian. As an author at The Next, Tee covers the BIG EAST conference and contributes articles and media featuring the WBL, the first professional women's basketball league in the United States.
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