Staying positive seemed like a difficult endeavor for the Seton Hall women’s basketball program less than a month ago. After a home loss to Villanova on Jan. 12, the Pirates were 2-5 in Big East play, not playing to their potential while the top half of conference standings were fading from view.
Yet after the comeback win over Butler on Feb. 4, the Pirates are on the rise. After starting 2-5 in the Big East, they have since won five of their past six games and improved to fifth in the conference, tied with St. John’s at 7-6 with five games to play. Three of those match-ups come on a week-long road trip starting Feb. 9 at Georgetown.
The Big East has earned a reputation as a challenging, physical league with no easy opponents. In addition, due to a slew of weeks where games are played on Fridays and Sundays, there is often little time to recover between games.
“I have tremendous respect for everyone in this league,” coach Tony Bozzella said after the Pirates knocked off Butler on Sunday, two days after beating Xavier. Both games featured fourth-quarter comebacks from Seton Hall.
Starting guard Inja Butina was a late scratch from the Butler game due to illness, but the supporting cast stepped up admirably in her absence. Kaity Healy, who has averaged under five minutes per game this season, was tasked with filling the void defensively. While she finished with no points or rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes on Sunday, Bozzella reserved his highest praise of the day for the redshirt sophomore.
“Kaity Healy was the star of the game today, no doubt,” Bozzella said. “I didn’t have to coach. She coached the game out there. She’s ready to play every game and she doesn’t get the opportunities as much, but she’s here every day, and as a coach that gives me so much confidence.”
On the offensive end, Bozzella and the Pirates needed to come up with a new mode of operation after the departure of this year’s leading scorer, Donnaizha Fountain, in the midst of the recent charge up the standings. JaQuan Jackson, last year’s leading scorer, and sophomore Shadeen Samuels have combined to average 30.0 points per game in her absence.
Bozzella has been impressed with Samuels’ contributions on both ends, with Samuels finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds against Butler on Feb. 4. The strong performance earned her Big East Weekly Honor Roll and the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association (MBWA) Player of the Week.
“Shadeen’s amazing on the wing in the zone… she stops everything,” Bozzella said in reference to how the Hall switched to a 2-3 zone defense late in the Butler game.
The change sparked the decisive fourth quarter run with a barrage of steals produced from the adjustment, leading to transition shots on the offensive end.
The depth and next-player-up mentality the Pirates have showcased has earned them much-deserved and much-needed momentum going into the final phase of the Big East regular season. Seton Hall, tied for fifth at 7-6 in the conference, will play first-place DePaul, second-place Marquette and third-place Villanova in its final five games.
The women’s basketball program has turned its season around and the Pirates have earned themselves an opportunity to make a run to the top of the standings. With March around the corner, the chance to earn a spot in either the NIT or the NCAA Tournament may also present itself. The mid-season swing in the Pirates’ play has given Seton Hall a shot.
Kyle Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @notkylebeck.