The Seton Hall women’s basketball team will play its first third-round WNIT game in program history when it takes on in-state rival and former Big East foe, Rutgers University on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Pirates will look to ride the momentum of their thrilling one-point victory in the second round of the tournament against Princeton, a game the team won 75-74 at Walsh Gymnasium. The game could have gone either way as the 26 lead changes made for a dramatic finish in favor of The Hall.
“We still have a lot to work on, but we all have the same goals,” redshirt junior Ka-Deidre Simmons said. “When it’s time to play or practice we just have one goal, and that’s to win.”
The victory was the Pirates’ 20th win of the season, something the program has only done eight times in history and hasn’t seen since the 1995-96 season.
Seton Hall improved its overall record to 20- 13 after defeating the Tigers, led by Simmons and sophomore Tabatha Richardson-Smith. The duo combined for 42 points and 6 steals in the meeting and Simmons added 5 assists while Richardson-Smith was a perfect 5-of-5 from beyond the arc.
The Pirates finished the regular season with an 8-10 conference record, the best they have done in the Big East since going 9-7 during the 2006-07 season, which was also the last time that Seton Hall made it to the postseason.
Head coach Anthony Bozzella has reshaped the program in his first season with Seton Hall, and expressed his excitement about his team.
“I’m so happy for the girls,” Bozzella said. “They work really hard and they have had some tough times over the years.”
The Scarlet Knights (24-9) received an at- large bid to the WNIT and are led by First Team All-American Athletic Conference honoree Kahleah Copper. She averages 15.9 points per game and has reached double-digit scoring in 27 games, while hauling in 6.2 rebound per game.
Copper’s 19 points and 12 rebounds against Harvard in the second round of the tournament were good enough for her fourth double-double of the season. The Scarlet Knights went on to win that game 63-52 to reach the sweet sixteen.
Junior forward Betnijah Laney is almost averaging a double-double with 12.3 points
and 8.8 rebounds per game. Laney has scored a combined 27 points to go along with 17 rebounds in the two games that Rutgers has played in the tournament so far.
The Pirates will have to battle in the paint against the 6-foot-4-inch center Rachel Hollivay, who averages 3.2 blocks per game which is the eighth best in the country. Her 103 blocks this year is a Rutgers single-season record.
Seton Hall has not played very well against Rutgers in the past, as the Scarlet Knights hold a 32-8 all-time advantage over the Pirates. The Hall dropped 12 out of the last 13 contests against Rutgers and the last 10 games played at the RAC.
However, in the two teams’ last meeting on January 27, 2013, the Pirates prevailed in a 45-42 victory that came down to the wire. The Scarlet Knights had multiple opportunities to tie the game in the final seconds of play, but the three-point shots were off the mark.
The history between these two teams should make for an interesting matchup. Rutgers has the home-field advantage, but Seton Hall has an opportunity to venture further in the tournament than it ever has before.
Mike Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.