On Monday night, with a 71-49 victory against the Seton Hall Pirates (9-20, 1-15 Big East), the Georgetown women’s basketball team (25-5, 13-3 Big East) capped an historic season – quite possibly the best in program history. Featuring a team with 10 sophomores and freshmen, the Hoyas set a school record with a 16-game winning streak that spanned November to January. The Hoyas went 4-2 against top-25 opponents, were undefeated (13-0) at home and have reached rankings of No. 12 in the AP Poll and No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.
All these accomplishments have earned the Hoyas a double bye in the Big East Tournament, putting them directly into the quarterfinals, and they are all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament, which would be their first appearance in the Big Dance since the 1992-1993 season.
“It’s crazy,” junior guard Monica McNutt said. “We started to get recognized by this poll and that poll. We’re excited. We still know that there’s a lot left to do, but honestly, we want to get to the Final Four, and we honestly believe that we’re the only team that can stop us.”
“I didn’t really realize until today, when my friend texted me, that we were tied for second behind [Connecticut],” senior forward Jaleesa Butler said. “But being a senior here and going through the rough parts and looking back, you don’t want to go through the tough parts again. We just want to win.”
On Saturday, the Hoyas added another impressive line to their résumé when they traveled to Hartford, Conn., to take on the No. 1 UConn Huskies, who were riding a 67-game win streak. The Hoyas did not pull off the upset, but they played with the Huskies throughout the first half and consistently pushed the best team in the nation. What the Hoyas did accomplish, however, was a 15-9 advantage over UConn early in the first half. The six-point lead was the largest deficit the Huskies had faced all season, coming, no less, in front of a sellout Senior Day crowd.
“I mean, we don’t believe in moral victories,” Head Coach Terri Williams -Flournoy said. “Saying we did this right and we did this right . if we look at it like, `Hey, we did OK,’ then [the team begins] to think, `Hey, we did OK.’ With this team you have to keep things in perspective. UConn is good, but if you look at other things, if we had done a, b and c, then we wouldn’t have lost by 22 points.”
The Hoyas led for the first 10 minutes of the game and never trailed by more than five until the six-minute mark. It was a stunning start from the Hoyas, the new Big East power on the block.
From there, UConn slowly built their lead with senior center Tina Charles clearing the way. Charles shot 14-of-16 from the field for 33 points, while grabbing 15 rebounds and recording three blocks. The rest of UConn’s squad made 19 baskets, grabbed 24 rebounds and swatted four shots combined.
Meanwhile, the Hoyas displayed a poor performance from the three-point line, shooting just 6-of-30 for a 20 percent clip, which did not help their chances against the UConn machine.
But the fact remains that Charles is a player of the year candidate, and there is little evidence that UConn can be stopped, with a win streak now at 69 games after a win over Notre Dame Monday night. UConn has won every game in its streak by a double-digit margin. This season, UConn has won just two games by less than 20 points.
Impressively, the Hoyas won the turnover margin, committing just 10 turnovers while forcing 16 on the Huskies, including nine steals. Georgetown was perfect from the charity stripe, shooting 8-of-8 on free throws and did a good job of limiting the Huskies from getting to the line. UConn was 12-of-15 from the free-throw line.
The Hoyas won the offensive rebound war 19-12 and dished out 18 assists on 24 made baskets.
Freshman guard Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers and McNutt led the way with 13 points each; sophomore forward Latia Magee added 12. Sophomore guard Rubylee Wright provided six assists and two steals, while senior guard Shanice Fuller added four assists, and Butler led the team with nine rebounds.
Despite the loss, the Hoyas still clinched that double bye in the Big East tournament, which starts on Friday. The Hoyas first game will come on Sunday in the quarterfinals.
Currently, the Hoyas are tied for second place in the conference with West Virginia after the Mountaineers were crushed by Syracuse Monday night. However, the Hoyas will most likely be the No. 3 seed because of their loss to West Virginia on Feb. 14. Under Williams-Flournoy, the Hoyas have yet to win a Big East tournament game.
Against the Pirates last night, the Hoyas cruised to a 41-15 halftime lead after hitting seven of their first eight three-point attempts. The Hoyas were 13-of-25 from three-point range for the evening, setting a new school record for three-pointers in a game.
“Once we hit the first shot, we were rolling. But I think our post players did a great job of finding us,” McNutt said.
“We’re a better three-point shooting team than a transition team,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Monica and [Rodgers] shot the lights out. I think it’s good for them confidence-wise going into the Big East, feeling good about their shot.”
The Hoya bench saw a lot of time in the second half as Georgetown turned its back on the regular season, looking forward to tournament season as the conference cellar-dwelling Pirates played sloppily, despite a solid second half.
“We had no reason to overlook the game,” Butler said. “Last year they beat us twice, so we had a little fire under us to get them back.”
“The game we’re playing is the biggest game, and we wanted to take the momentum from tonight into the [Big East] tournament,” McNutt said.
Rodgers was pristine, shooting 7-of-10 from three-point range to finish with a team-leading 24 points. McNutt added 14 points on 4-of-7 three-point shooting and Magee chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and three steals. Wright dished out a team-high eight assists and swiped three steals, while sophomore guard Alexa Roche grabbed seven rebounds and added nine points.
“They had no idea that Seton Hall was last in the Big East,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We just told them that they beat us twice last year – that’s all they needed to know.
The game was also the last home game for three Hoya seniors: Butler, Fuller and guard Kenya Kirkland.
“This isn’t my last game, I’m coming back,” Butler joked. “I mean, I love it here. I’ll miss it. I’ll be here for every practice. It’s bittersweet, but knowing we accomplished something means a lot.”
“I think these are our first four-year seniors,” Williams-Flournoy said of the girls she recruited four
years ago. “The girls last year were all [junior college transfers], but Jaleesa, Shanice, Kenya and [injured senior] Meredith [Cox] were here all four years and they’ve been through the good times.”
Despite the sentimental feelings that come with the end of the regular season and all the long hours of practice, the Hoyas are ready to focus their attention toward the primetime postseason, when a season’s worth of work is put to the test.
“I think it’s hard to put it all in perspective right now because there is so much that we haven’t done yet,” Williams-Flournoy said, citing a Big East tournament win as next on the list.
Nevertheless, the Georgetown head coach does not plan on changing anything in the next week of practice to prepare for the tournament.
“There’s not something that we have to change,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We’re always going to harp on rebounding. I think maybe they might listen to me one day . Sometimes we get a little anxious in our presses and we have to be patient. But I don’t want to take any of the aggressiveness away from them. But it’s not anything that we need to change – besides rebounding,” she said with a smile. The Hoyas were outrebounded by the Pirates by just one board.
Butler said the Hoyas are prepared to learn lessons from the regular season.
“[The win] puts a little fire into us going into the tournament,” Butler said. “But win or loss, we learn from our mistakes and we move on. We right the wrongs. Every game is a different game.”
McNutt, however, was excited for the future, beyond the tournament.
“For me as a junior, this season is great, but we want to do it again next year,” McNutt said. “We want to build the program here at Georgetown.”
The Hoyas play on Sunday at 8 p.m.