STORRS, Conn. (AP) Rutgers move to the Big Ten this season pushed both in-state rival Seton Hall and perennial power UConn off the Scarlet Knights schedule for the first time in two decades.
Then, ”Shazam, the NCAA says come on back to UConn,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said Friday.
Her Scarlet Knights open the NCAA Tournament in Storrs against Seton Hall on Saturday night. The winner gets both bragging rights for the state of New Jersey, and the likely prize of their former Big East rival, the top-ranked Huskies, in the second round.
Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella said he’s excited by the bracket and especially the NCAA’s decision to put the rivalry game in the opening round, something he said will be good for women’s basketball.
”I think the NCAA, especially on the women’s side, needs to get story lines to keep people interested,” he said. ”That’s part of our thing. We need to draw fans. We need to do things.”
Seton Hall and Rutgers have played 41 times, with the Scarlet Knights winning 33 of those games, and 13 of the last 14 meetings. The teams played last year in the WNIT, with Rutgers winning in double overtime on their way to the tournament title.
Seton Hall’s Janee Johnson said the rematch will give the Pirates a chance for a little redemption, and to prove to both of its former conference rivals that it is not the same program that was once the doormat of the old Big East.
”I think this is an opportunity for us to show everyone that Seton Hall is a force to be reckoned with, and I think that’s what is motivating us this time around.”
Here are some other things to watch for during the first round games in Storrs:
BEING BLOWN OUT: This is Bozzella’s second trip to Storrs for the NCAA Tournament. He brought Long Island University here as a No. 16 seed in 2001 and left with a 101-29 loss to the Huskies.
”We took it as a positive, to play with some of the greatest players to play the game at that point,” he said. ”It meant a lot to our kids that they all got into the game.”
Thurston said he will take a similar approach and won’t be watching the scoreboard.
”There’s maybe only eight schools that can contend with UConn,” he said. ”For the rest of us, this is what we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. I think that’s pretty good.”
HOMECOMING: St. Francis, Brooklyn senior guard Sarah Benedetti played her high school basketball about 40 miles away from UConn at Canton High School. She grew up a huge fan of the Huskies, idolizing players such as Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore. ”If someone were to tell me at the beginning of my college career that you would be finishing as a senior at Gampel, playing UConn, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. ”So, this is honestly a dream come true.”
SHOOTING RECORD: UConn’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis comes into the tournament with 381 3-point baskets, just 11 shy of the NCAA record of 392. She also leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, making 51 percent of her shots from behind the arc.
EXPERIENCE: Seton Hall starts one junior, one senior and three graduate students. Bozzella said because of that experience, he often defers to the players when it comes to coaching decisions. ”A lot of times Deedee (guard Ka-Deidre Simmons) will look to the bench, I’ll be like, `Call whatever you want,’ because they are out there playing, and they’ve been through a lot,” he said. ”It is different.”
DRIVING DISTANCE: Seton Hall, Rutgers and St. Francis, Brooklyn all are within a four-hour drive of Storrs. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who has made no secret of being displeased with being sent to play at UConn, acknowledged that’s a good thing for her team’s fans, the players’ families. ”We just took a bus ride in,” she said. ”It was nice, because we got a chance to look at some movies as we were coming here.”