Monday, January 19, 2015

Seton Hall Women's Team Shows Their Resiliency

"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!" (Rocky Balboa 2006)
That is one of my all-time favorite inspirational quotes.  The movie, Rocky Balboa, the sixth in the "Rocky" series, was an OK movie.   But the shown above shortened version of the scene where Rocky talks to his son accurately portrays life.   We've all had moments in our lives, where we have been knocked down, often knocked down hard, perhaps even to the point where you want to just crawl in a hole and just hide.

But it's how we respond to adversity that makes us who we are in life. In college basketball, whether men's or women's, the good teams respond to adversity.   A bad loss is followed by a good win, often several good wins.

In the beginning of January, the Seton Hall Women's Basketball team were on an unprecedented streak.  They rolled into St John's Carnesecca Arena on Friday, January 2nd having won twelve games in a row.  They had a win over previously undefeated #14 Georgia, a win over Illinois, a road win over defending Big Ten Champ Penn State and a win over Butler, a team that has had only two losses in the Big East so far this season.  Seton Hall was even nationally ranked for the first time ever with a #23 ranking.

For me, it was a chance to see my good friends Tony Bozzella, head coach of Seton Hall and Lauren DeFalco. one of his assistant coaches, along with Tony's family.  I also was looking forward to see in person an exciting team that I had seen once this college basketball season, a nationally televised win over Creighton.

For about thirty one and a half minutes, the Pirates more than held their own against the Red Storm, as they led 48-43 with 9:30 left in the game.

Then as Coach Bozzella noted in his post game press conference "When a little adversity hit, they punched us." St John's defense clamped down on Seton Hall over the last nine and a half minutes.  The Red Storm finished the game on a 16-2 run to win 59-50.  

Bozzella also noted in the post game press conference "I told Joe, I think the difference right now is your defense is better than ours. St. John’s ‘out-toughed’ us. I pride myself on resiliency and that’s what good teams are made of, but we didn't have that. St. John’s did. And that’s why we are trying to get to the point where they’re at. Our resiliency was poor.”

St John's hit Seton Hall "Rocky Balboa hard" over that span.  The Red storm out-rebounded the Pirates 48-40 and frustrated the Hall so much on offense, especially the last part of the game, that they forced as many turnovers on the Pirates, as the Pirates did to the Red Storm with their press, twenty. Amber Thompson set a St John's record with twenty rebounds in the game.  It was only Seton Hall's second loss on the season.

Seton Hall was beaten at its own game and beaten hard by a team, St John's, that Seton Hall aspires to be; a team that makes the NCAA Tournament every season.  The Red Storm have been to the NCAA Tournament each of the past five seasons.

So the Pirates left Carnesecca Arena licking their wounds.  The question now was how would Seton Hall respond.  How resilient is this Pirates team?

It turns out very resilient.

Seton Hall had one week to work on their defense and resiliency before they played Xavier at home.  The Musketeers came into the game with only one loss in conference and an 11-4 record overall.  The Pirates came out and were up nine in the first half before the Musketeers responded with a rally tie the game at thirty one.  Then up three in the second, Seton Hall went on a 20-4 to go on to a 78-54 win. Ka-Deidre Simmons led five Pirates scorers in double figures with nineteen points.   The Pirates showed their trademark press, forcing twenty two Xavier turnovers.

Then two days later, Seton Hall was on the road at Providence.  The Friars took a 35-27 lead into halftime.  It was only the third time all season the Pirates were down at the half.  The other two times, at West Virginia and at St John's, they had lost.

Providence extended their lead to seventeen, 46-29 with 16:19 left in the game.  Seton Hall had been rocked to the canvas with an 11-2 right hand run by the Pirates.  It looked like it would be the third loss for the Pirates after trailing at halftime.

But the Pirates got off the canvas this time and responded with a rally that Rocky Balboa would be proud of.

Seton Hall came back in the second half, first using a 17-7 spurt to cut the deficit to seven, 53-46.   Then down eight, 64-56 with 4:17 left, the Pirates made another run, outscoring the Friars 12-3 the rest of the game.  Ka-Deidre Simmons would give the Pirates their first lead since 16:27 of the first half ,hitting two free throws to put the Hall up 68-67 win twelve seconds left.  The Hall defense then put their signature mark on the game, forcing a turnover to end the contest.   Simmons led the Pirates with twenty two points, as again again they showed balance as four Hall starters scored in double figures.

Next on the hit list was Marquette this past Friday.  Seton Hall did what you are supposed to do against the last place team in the conference; win and win handily.  The Pirates led by as many as thirty three points before winning 88-58.   The Hall again continued their balanced scoring as four players again scored in double figures.  Daisha Simmons led the way with twenty four points.

Yesterday, Seton Hall faced perhaps so far its biggest challenge of the season.  DePaul, who was in first place in the Big East and had won at St John's in overtime on Friday night, came into South Orange, New Jersey on a four game winning streak.   This was a chance to show the Big East and the Pirates' home crowd at Walsh Gymnasium that Seton Hall was a legitimate contender for the Big East title.

But again, the Pirates would have to show resiliency.   The Blue Demons jumped out to an early 11-4 lead.   The Pirates would respond, rallying to tie the game at twenty two.   DePaul would retake the lead 31-24.   Seton Hall would respond again, outscoring the Blue Demons 17-7 to take a 41-38 lead on a Ka-Deidre Simmons three pointer.  The Pirates would extend the lead to eight, 56-48 before DePaul cut the lead back to three, 57-54.

That was the score after twenty minutes.  TWENTY MINUTES.  The Knicks only scored fifty six points in THREE quarters in their last loss to Milwaukee.

In the second half, DePaul's Jessica January showed it was her month by hitting a three pointer to tie the game at fifty seven.  From there, it was all the Hall.  Ka-Deidre Simmons put the Pirates ahead to stay 59-57 with a layup.  It was the start of a 23-7 run over the next nine and a half minutes as Seton Hall went up 80-64.

The Pirates were not done scoring however as they put up another twenty seven points on the scoreboard as they ran the Blue Demons out of Walsh Gymnasium 107-87.  Seton Hall took over sole possession of first place in the Big East by simply setting the all time single game scoring record in program history.

This time, only three Pirates' players scored in double figures.  But what a total those three players, Tabitha Richardson Smith (35 points), Ka-Deidre Simmons (28 points) and Daisha Simmons (22 points), put together; a whopping 85 points that nearly matched DePaul's total points.  They combined to shoot a scorching twenty seven of fifty one from the field.  The Hall shot fifty five percent from the field, including eleven of twenty one from beyond the arc.  What was really impressive was Seton Hall held DePaul to twenty eight percent from the field in the second half.

So after being "out-toughed" by St John's, the Pirates came back and showed their toughness, winning four games in a row.  The question of resiliency has been answered for the time being. And for now, Seton Hall's world is full of sunshine and rainbows, as the Pirates have sole possession of first place in the Big East.

But with two road games upcoming; at Villanova and at Georgetown, followed by a chance to "out-tough the Red Storm" in their rematch at home with St John's, dark clouds could be on the horizon.

How Seton Hall continues to show their resiliency over the next three games will say a lot about their potential NCAA Tournament future.

As Rocky Balboa might say, they need to keep taking the hard punches and keeping moving forward.  That's how winning is done.

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