The Seton Hall women’s basketball team’s historic season came to an end last Thursday after suffering a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to in-state rival Rutgers in the third round of the 2014 WNIT.
This season, under first-year head coach Anthony Bozzella, the Pirates (20-14) advanced to the postseason for the sixth time in program history, and the first time since 2007.
Seton Hall’s one-point victory over Princeton in the second round of the tournament was a record-breaking moment for the Hall, as its game against Rutgers was the first time the program has ever made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
“I give a lot of credit to the girls and the staff,” Bozzella said. “They believe in what we’re trying to do and they worked hard, and got better. Not just on the basketball court, but as teammates and being a part of the family that we’ve grown here at Seton Hall.”
By winning 20 games this season, the Pirates accomplished something that hasn’t been done since 1995.
And by playing 34 games, the team matched a program record that was set in the 1978-79 season and the Pirates traveled further into March than they have since 1976.
A predominantly young team, the Pirates will look to build off of their successful season with juniors Ka-Deidre Simmons, Alexis Brown and Bra’Shey Ali, along with sophomore, and leading-scorer, Tabatha Richardson-Smith.
The Pirates led the Scarlet Knights, 60-52, with 2:22 left in the second half as the Hall was on the verge of cracking the Elite Eight, and continuing its tournament run. Rutgers responded with a 10-2 run to keep its tournament hopes alive.
Rutger’s Betnijah Laney sank a jumper to make the score 61-60 with 14 seconds remaining in the game, but Simmons responded with an off-balance layup with four seconds left in regulation. Simmons fouled Rutgers’ Briyona Canty with 0.2 seconds left, and Canty made one free throw to send the game to overtime.
The Pirates fell behind in the first overtime, but surged back to tie the game when Richardson-Smith drove to the basket for a layup with 15 seconds left. Foul trouble caught up with Seton Hall in the second overtime period as they were playing without four players, and allowed the Scarlet Knights to open the last period on a 13-0 run and secure the victory, 91-79.
Richardson-Smith finished the season leading the team in points, steals and three-point shooting. She averaged 17.1 points per game, hit 85 triples and had 82 steals. Simmons was right there with her throughout the season, averaging 16.7 ppg and racking up a team-high 174 assists, but her presence on the team was what really sparked the Hall’s tournament run.
“Didi’s (Simmons) quiet confidence and toughness really funneled out to the rest of the players,” Bozzella said. “In that last quarter of the season, she took the leadership role of the team, and put the team on her back. Didi played to win all those games, as opposed to earlier in the year when we were playing to not lose.”
In the final games leading up to, and including, the tournament, Brown and Ali played a large role in the Pirates’ success. Ali had a double-double in the first-round game against American, and totaled 35 points and 45 rebounds in the postseason.
Brown came on strong late in the season with back-to-back double-doubles against Xavier and Providence. Brown finished third on the team in scoring with 11.1 ppg and dished out 102 assists.
“Alexis has turned into one of the better guards in the Big East,” Bozzella said. “Between her, Didi and Tab (Richardson-Smith), there’s no better threesome in the Big East than those three, and they all get to come back.”
The Pirates are only losing two seniors, Janee Johnson and Breanna Jones, but will also be without redshirt freshman Sidney Cook, who has chosen to leave the team.
“I was surprised, and I don’t know if it’s playing time or the position that we ask her to play, but she’s chosen to take a different road, which is fine,” Bozzella said. “We support her and wish her luck, and I hope she can find a place that she feels more comfortable in.”
Cook averaged 6.5 points per game, and finished the season second on the team in rebounds (200) and blocks (21).
Bozzella was satisfied with the season that freshman Tara Inman put together as she started only one game, but played in 31 of the 34 contests. Averaging just over 12 minutes per game, Inman made the best of her minutes with an aggressive style of play that led to her 23 steals.
“Tara Inman was a very un- der-recruited player,” Bozzella said. “We signed her late to fill a role and she certainly exceeded all expectations. I am so thrilled to see a young lady who works extra hard and puts in extra time to take her game to the Big East level and help us.”
Bozzella said that he is eager to get back on the court next season as his players share the same hunger for more success in the years ahead.
Mike Romano can be reached at email@example.com.