Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Saturday Afternoon in New Rochelle

Yesterday was a busy day. First it was a Saturday morning pancake breakfast with my family to benefit our school here in North Bellmore.  Then it was raking leaves on a blustery day. But I only got the front yard and the side done.  There is still the backyard to do, because I made a promise to see my friend Tony Bozzella's Iona Lady Gaels take on Villanova for the championship of the Iona Tip-Off Tournament.

Iona got to the championship game by beating North Carolina A&T in the first round 85-69.  In that win, Kristina Ford had thirty four points, eclipsing the one thousand point total for her career.  Suzi Fregosi had her first ever career double with twelve points and ten assists.  Meanwhile, Villanova got to the championship game by upsetting #25 Michigan State in the first round, winning convincingly 75-64. 

Along the familiar drive to New Rochelle, I picked up my friend Mal from his house.  The Hoops Trifecta was only a duo yesterday, as our friend Tony Terentieff, aka Tieff, could not make it.  Mal, Tieff, and Coach Bozzella all went to high school together in Glen Cove.  I adopted them all when I became friends with Tieff in college. 

After getting stuck in the usual Cross County exit delay on the Hutchinson River Parkway, we got to the Hynes Center a few minutes into the game. As we walked into the gym, the Gaels' Danika Martinez drilled a three pointer to put Iona up 14-10.  Martinez is one of the Gaels' several freshmen on the team.  The Wildcats responded with eight straight points to go up 18-14.  But Iona would tie the game at twenty with seven and half minutes left in the first half on a jumper by Aleesha Powell, another of the Lady Gaels' freshmen. 

Iona stood toe to toe with their Power Six conference opponent for the next five minutes.  And despite three straight prior possessions ending in a turnover, another Powell basket, a three pointer, put the Gaels within two, 31-29 with 2:40 left.  Villanova though would score the last six points in the half to go up eight, 37-29 at the break.

Still, the Gaels were within range of a team that has been picked to finish in the top half of the Big East.   And Nova came out in the second half and validated why they deserved to be picked that high.  The Wildcats went on a 24-7 run over the first ten and half minutes.  Nova displayed excellent ball movement during this time.  The Wildcats shredded the Gaels' zone with crisp passes that either found someone out on the perimeter for an open three or one of their players underneath for an easy layup.  Villanova was up 61-36 with 9:25 left.  

But Iona kept fighting. Powell, Martinez and Ford, the three leading scorers for the Gaels continued playing hard.  Powell, the Philly native, scored a career high 13 points against a school in her hometown. Ford, the focus of the Wildcats defense the entire night, scored 12 points, while Martinez had 11 points and 7 rebounds. 

But Villanova would go on to win the Tipoff Championship 76-47.   Fregosi and Ford would be named to the All Tournament Team along with Villanova's Rachel Roberts, who took home the Tournament MVP. Fregosi is making her return back after sitting out last season due to injury.  Bozzella considers Fregosi the leader of his team and her point guard play is crucial to the Lady Gaels' success this season.

With the win, Wildcats coach Harry Perretta won his 600th career game, the 22nd Division I coach to accomplish that feat and only the seventh coach to do it for one team.  If you watched yesterday's game in person, you could see how Perretta's teams won 600 games, two Big East regular season conference championships and have had eight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.  What stood out for me was that the Wildcats had nineteen assists and only eight turnovers.   It was truly an impressive performance by Villanova.

Iona presented Perretta with the game ball to signify the accomplishment, which he greatly appreciated with a thanks to Coach Bozzella, who happens to be Perretta's good friend.  In an AP recap, Bozzella stated  "Harry is everything that's right with women's basketball.  How could I not honor him? I'd want my daughter to play for him."

As for Bozzella, history has shown not only do his players want to play for him, they also want to coach for him as well.  Mandy Myers, Toni Horvath and current assistant coach Lauren DeFalco are former players who have coached under Bozzella at Iona.  His players also return to visit with the coach.  After the game, former center Anna McLean and former point guard Marissa Flagg visited with Bozzella.  Loyalty runs deep with Bozzella and the Lady Gaels.

The Lady Gaels are now 1-1 early on in the 2010-11 season.  But there seems to be great promise for this young team that was picked to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason poll.  Before Mal and I left the Hynes Center, I took this picture of the three WNIT banners hanging from the gym ceiling.  Before Coach Bozzella started at Iona, the Lady Gaels had never made a post-season appearance in the history of the program.  Now all he wants to do is add one NCAA Banner to those three WNIT banners.  With the talent the Lady Gaels have, he might just get it this season.

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