Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer
The Pirates (24-4, 13-3) will kick off a two-game road season to wrap up the regular season with a meeting against Xavier on Friday, Feb. 27.
Xavier (15-12, 7-9) sit seventh in the Big East, five spots below the second-seeded Pirates, but that doesn’t mean head coach Tony Bozzella takes them lightly.
“They remind me a lot of our team last year,” Bozzella said. “They’re getting better, they have some transfers, and they’ve done a good job.”
Xavier has split their February schedule going 3-3 in their last six, and are coming off a pair of road losses to Villanova on Feb. 15, 64-48 and Butler, 71-53 on Sunday, Feb. 22.
Meanwhile the Pirates will head into the Buckeye State looking to improve on the road where they are 7-3 this season. Bozzella said he knows his team will have to come in prepared.
“Xavier is taking care of business against teams they should beat,” he said. “They’re a much better team at home than they are on the road.”
In the two team’s last meeting on Jan. 9, the Pirates and Musketeers played a close first half that saw the blue and white lead by just six points before bursting the game open in the second half to win 78-54.
Ka-Deidre Simmons went 7-for-18 from the field, scoring 19 points to lead all players in that game. Simmons, who’s coming off of an emotionally-charged senior day said the team won’t be doing anything different to prepare.
“We prepare for them like we do any other team,” she said. “We prepare for them like they’re a top team. We don’t take our opponents lightly.”
The Pirates will rely on continued offensive support from Simmons as well as Daisha Simmons (no relation), who led all Pirates on Sunday, Feb. 22 with 22 points versus ‘Nova at home and will have to be selective with their shots from behind the arc, going up against the top three-point defense in the conference.
For the first time this season, the Pirates will play as a ranked team, cracking the USA Today Coaches Poll on Monday as the 25th-ranked team in the nation.
The Hall also picked up 44 votes in the AP Top 25, just missing out on a ranking. Despite missing the mark on a ranking, Bozzella believes his team is a top 25 team in the country and is looking toward the bigger goals in mind.
“I think anyone sees us play knows we are,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to take care of our business. If we do, I think we’re going to have a chance to make the NCAA tournament.”
Simmons too has her sights set on the road ahead.
“I don’t think we pay attention to rankings,” Simmons said. “We just know we have to win as many games as possible. We know we have to do it to achieve our goals, which is a Big East title and get to the NCAA’s…That’s what we work toward every single day.”
Simmons, who was honored by the Pirates on Sunday’s senior day has had a roller coaster time at the Hall, but said it’s all been worth it.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity from losing seasons to injury to coach changes,” she said.
Bozzella said Simmons and the other seniors have done a tremendous job in helping energize and bring excitement to him, as well as having a significant impact on the program.
“They made a lasting impression on our program, but we have a little more work to do,”
For the Musketeers, it’ll be junior Briana Glover leading the way. The forward from Manson, Ohio averages a team-leading 11.1 points this season, with a .516 percentage from the field, the third best in the Big East. Glover was held scoreless in the team’s last meeting with Seton Hall.
Versus Butler on Sunday, Feb. 22 junior Aliyah Zantt led the scoring charge with 14 of the team’s 53 points.With just two games remaining in the blue and white’s regular season, Bozzella stressed a few things he’d like to see.
“Consistency, intensity on the defensive end and continued teamwork,” he said. “If we get that we’re going to be successful.”
Tip-off on Friday, Feb. 27 is set for 7 p.m. ET.