Big East fans that are in the stands today are very fortunate to be there. The games today will include eight teams that are all expected to make it into the NCAA Tournament.
If the Villanova-Georgetown game is any example, it is going to be one heck of a day for Big East basketball.
The Big East, as we currently know it, is going away after this season, but it is going out with teams and coaches taking the high road – reminding us of how basketball used to be played.
I have been blogging about UCONN and my most recent blog just below this one has, what I believe, is a formula for how UCONN women can insure a victory, or two, against Notre Dame.
Some might think I am hallucinating or that I have a lot of nerve for even suggesting something that Geno can do to change reverse how Notre Dame has gotten the best of UCONN over the past several years.
I was a mainframe computer programmer and a web developer by trade and I have never played or coached basketball at any level – except for some intramural basketball at a Boy’s Club in Springfield, MA back in the mid 50’s – yes, the mid 50’s.
Basketball, however, has been my favorite sport to watch on the big screen. As I have said many time before, I choose to watch women’s college basketball over the men’s version because it is cleaner, more civil, and reminiscent of how the game was meant to be played.
Today I witnessed a game that, if I did not know better, was recorded 40 years ago and rebroadcast today as a reminder of the real teamwork that was the foundation of basketball two generations ago.
Villanova is not in the top ten in women’s college basketball – nor are they even in the top five in the Big East Conference, yet they played one of the best games I have seen this year.
To be sure, it is not because they shot the lights out from the three-point range – it is because they passed the ball better than any team I have seen this year in college basketball.
They totally destroyed Georgetown’s zone defense and they might have set the Big East assist record – although I am not sure about that. The announcers said that Villanova did set the three point record for a Big East tournament game.
More importantly, two things were said by the announcers that I think Geno Auriemma can learn a little from – something that might benefit him against Notre Dame in the event they meet for the Big East championship and again if they have the opportunity to meet in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. It is a good bet they will meet at least once again this year.
One thing said today is that Harry Perretta, the Villanova coach, believes in ball control and a much-disciplined style of play – as a result his team usually has above average results against Big East opponents as well as other teams they play during the season.
The other thing said is that Coach Perretta believes the game clock can be your friend.
Villanova seldom is in the top 10 in Women’s College basketball polls, but this is not what is important here – what is important is the ethical way the coach and his team plays the game.
One of the announcers said that a few years ago Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in women’s college basketball, contacted coach Perretta to ask him if he would share his approach to the game. Even though Pat Summitt was the most successful coach at the time, and still is to this day, she wanted to implement any strategy she could to stay that way – and if it meant including a four-corner strategy or very tight ball control, then so be it.
Coach Perretta, from what was said during the game today, was more than willing to share his thoughts with Coach Summitt. That fact really shows the kind of person Coach Perreta is.
Two other things happened during the game that really earned my respect for Coach Perretta.
- With Villanova up by almost thirty points, Coach Perretta replaced ALL his starters at one time with five bench players – something seldom seen in college basketball. I am sure it has happened before, but I cannot remember when. It surely was a dramatic moment in the game and for me it was a sight to witness.
- Sugar Rodgers, the incredible guard for Georgetown, was on a tear today. Not only did she best her previous game high, she also became the highest scorer in Georgetown history – men or women – and that says a lot. Near the end of the game, Georgetown coach Keith Brown took Sugar Rodgers out so she could receive an ovation from the fans – which is a normal thing to do – especially if the player is a senior and playing what might be her last game in a Georgetown uniform. After going to the bench, someone, maybe Coach Brown, realized that Sugar was close to tying or setting the record for points in a Big East tournament game. Sugar had 40 points when she left and the current record was 41 points. With very little time left in the game, it was obvious that something exceptional needed to happen for Sugar to set the record. The “exceptional” came from Villanova Coach Perretta. As most basketball fans know, Villanova seldom commits fouls and this game was no different – until the waning moments of the game. Sugar reentered the game and had the chance to set the record. Coach Parretta, maybe in concert with Georgetown coach Keith Brown, instructed his player to intentionally foul Sugar on an inbounds play to give Sugar the opportunity to shoot two free throws. What was nice about this is that if Sugar was going to set the record – it was now solely in her hands. If she missed them both – then she would neither tie the record nor set the record. Instead, she tied the record on her first shot and set the record on her second shot.
Basketball enthusiasts might remember coach Parretta for doing something similar way back in 1998 – for whom else other than Geno Auriemma. At the time, Geno had a super star player named Nykesha Sales, who was on track to set the UCONN scoring record – except that she ruptured her right Achilles’ tendon in the second-to-last game of the season against, whom else, Notre Dame.
Wow, how this series of events all ties together – Villanova’s style of play, Pat Summitt, Sugar Rodgers, UCONN, and Notre Dame.
Well, anyway, the RUMOR is that Geno conspired with coach Perretta to allow Nykesha Sales to hobble onto the court and score the two points, unchallenged, to set the UCONN scoring record.
What made this gesture harmless is that it was a UCONN record and not a conference or NCAA record. One would have thought, however, that Coach Perretta committed Grand Larceny – or worse.
In return for allowing Sales to make the basket, Villanova was also allowed to make an uncontested basket. UCONN, however, went on to win the game in overtime.
What is fascinating about Sales shot is that it was also preapproved by the Commissioner of the Big East – who later said he never would have approved it in a men’s game.
Coach Auriemma later said the arrangement was made as a sign of affection for a deserving player.
The Hartford Courant criticized the shot and a radio host called Geno a “pig” for making the arrangement.
Geno, who is known for being outspoken, said of the men calling in to the radio show, that they were probably unemployed and called in during the day because they were afraid to call in with their wives at home – if they were married at all.
Back to this game. I stayed up late last night and with the time change, I am surprised that I even got to watch it, but I am sure glad I did.
So how does this game affect the upcoming Notre Dame – UCONN rivalry? To me, I think it gives Geno a chance to do the right thing once again.
Geno might consider not being so stubborn. I think that Geno believes he is either Superman or God’s gift to coaching and that he does not need to alter his game for anyone – or any opponent.
Well, I beg to differ, Geno’s girls always do what he says – they do their best to please him because they know full well that it usually results in victories.
What I am saying here is that Geno, no matter how good or how successful he is, he can still learn a little about the game. Coach Summitt turned to Coach Perretta about incorporating his style of play into Tennessee’s game and I believe if she could do that, so can Geno.
After all, he owes it to his girls to modify his coaching style to help his girls win.
Villanova spread their offense out and played ball control – passing the ball repeatedly until there was a high percentage quality shot available.
As Coach Perretta believes, the game clock can be your friend only if you make it your friend.
Villanova played ball control and managed the clock the entire game – all I am asking Geno to consider is to incorporate Villanova’s strategy for a max of two to three minutes when UCONN is in the lead.
Please, please, please – participate in the polling questions and please leave a comment – pro or con.