The Seton Hall women’s basketball team will finish its second year of transition with a chance to compete in the postseason, as the Pirates were announced Monday as part of the 64-team field in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
The first-round opponent for Seton Hall will be Saint Joseph’s, and the Pirates will host the encounter inside Walsh Gymnasium on Wednesday, March 14, with the time to be announced on Tuesday. It will be just the second time under coach Tony Bozzella that the Pirates will host a postseason game inside the historic gym, with the first coming against American in the NIT first round back in 2014, Bozzella’s first season.
“I am very proud of these young ladies to get into the postseason,” Bozzella told The Setonian through Twitter. “Their hard work and determination all year have led to this!!”
Seton Hall finished the regular season 16-15 overall and 7-11 in conference play. Following a season in which six freshmen graced the court, the Pirates introduced five new pieces to their main rotation this season in Inja Butina, Nicole Jimenez, Taylor Brown, Kimi Evans and Selena Philoxy.
Butina provided offense and defense – a knack that Bozzella calls for in his players – as she averaged 8.5 points per game and a team-leading 4.2 assists per game. Jimenez, meanwhile, performed against some of the team’s toughest opposition but truly displayed her potential late in the season, averaging 13.2 points per game in the team’s final five games.
Brown was third on the team in scoring and first in rebounding before she injured her knee in warmups before the team’s game against Villanova on Jan. 12. The injury sidelined her for most of the conference season, but she returned in style on Feb. 23, scoring 10 points in her return before adding 14 points in the regular season finale two days later.
Evans and Philoxy, both freshmen, provided a welcome spark that helped the team when numbers on the bench got smaller later in the season. Evans emerged as a starter late in the season, while Philoxy flirted with several double-doubles while coming off the bench.
Seton Hall lost its leading scorer, rebounder and minutes-grabber in Donnaizha Fountain during conference play but still kept the ship steady, winning four of five games in the aftermath. In a time where the team needed them to, additions like Butina, Evans and Philoxy began to step into their roles, while returning players like Shadeen Samuels and JaQuan Jackson elevated their games to accommodate for the absence.
Jackson was told time-and-time again during the backend of the season that the team would need her to become the player that she was last year, averaging a team-best 15.3 points per game.
“Jackson was our most important player last year,” assistant coach Lauren DeFalco said after the departure of Fountain. “She knows now that she now needs to play well for us to be successful.”
The redshirt senior did get back to playing that way during the end of the season, but the team still struggled against tough opposition, losing its last five games before the Big East Tournament in Chicago, Ill.
The last regular season game for Seton Hall was against DePaul – a team that was announced Monday as a No. 5-seed in the Women’s NCAA Tournament – and the Pirates lost narrowly, 72-68. The Pirates played that same Blue Demons team in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals and lost, 78-52.
When Jackson walked off the court downtrodden after the loss, many thought it would be the last time she would wear the blue and white of Seton Hall on a basketball court. As it turns out, Jackson will have at least one more chance, as will the rest of a Pirate team that will return every other player on the roster next season.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.