Maggie Dixon Classic honors history of women’s hoops at MSG

NEW YORK (AP) Geno Auriemma fondly remembers one of his first trips to Madison Square Garden when he was an assistant at Saint Joseph’s.

He was given $20 to take the train to New York from Philadelphia and scout Immaculata and Queens College. The two schools were the powers in women’s basketball at the time. Only a few years earlier, those two schools played in the first women’s game at MSG in 1975 in front of nearly 12,000 fans.

That game was part of a men’s-women’s doubleheader on Feb. 22. Most of the fans had left the building by the half of the men’s game between Fairfield and UMass having seen the thrilling 65-61 win by Immaculata.

Auriemma plans to get to MSG early Sunday to watch the first game of the ninth annual Maggie Dixon Classic when Immaculata and Queens will play a rematch of their historic game 40 years earlier.

”I can’t wait to see them play,” Auriemma said on Saturday. ”I hope the people who are playing in that game understand the significance of it. Immaculata and Queens, that’s going back in time. Two heavyweights. Now to see where they are now and how much the game’s changed, it’s kind of nostalgic. I’m glad Jamie (Dixon) put this together. You’re honoring Maggie’s memory and the game.”

Auriemma’s second-ranked UConn Huskies will face St. John’s in the second game of the annual doubleheader that honors the former Army coach Maggie Dixon, who died of heart arrhythmia in 2006 at age 28. Dixon’s arrhythmia was likely caused by an enlarged heart. Her death came three weeks after her first season as a head coach, when she led Army to its first NCAA berth.

UConn has never lost in its three appearances in the Maggie Dixon Classic and beat Ohio State in 2010 to tie the vaunted UCLA men’s basketball record 88-game winning streak. The Huskies went on to break it and win 90 consecutive contests. The Huskies also played in the game last season, beating California.

Before the two former Big East rivals face off, Immaculata and Queens will play. Former WNBA President Donna Orender was a freshman for Queens College in that historic game.

”It was a defining moment for women’s basketball and for women in general,” she said when the game was first announced. ”I can still hear Helen Reddy singing `I am woman hear me roar’ the crowd was screaming and tears rolled down my cheeks on the layup line. I was a freshman and so proud matching up against the more pre-eminent guard in the country – Marianne Crawford Stanley. It is so important we celebrate our heritage and history.”

There will be a symposium hosted by former New York Liberty star Sue Wicks between the two games that will feature some of the former greats from that first game.

The event also includes a health and heart expo.

The first Maggie Dixon Classic was held at Army in 2006 – a men’s and women’s doubleheader. The Pittsburgh men, coached by Maggie’s brother Jamie, beat Western Michigan, and Ohio State routed Army. The past seven Classics have been played at Madison Square Garden.

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