Saturday was a thrilling day in BIG EAST action with six league games on the schedule, three of which were decided by three points. No. 8/9 Rutgers had an exciting win over No. 16/15 Louisville 71-68 in overtime, while Providence beat West Virginia 51-48. In addition, DePaul held off Pittsburgh 86-83. All three wins came at home venues.
Elsewhere around the league, No. 2/2 Notre Dame raced past Cincinnati 76-50, and No. 3/3 Connecticut topped Villanova 72-49. USF won at Seton Hall 68-49 in South Orange, N.J.
In the Rutgers (15-2, 4-0 BIG EAST) victory over Louisville (14-4, 2-2 BIG EAST), Erica Wheeler scored a career-high 23 points, including an off-balance 3-pointer with the shot clock running out in overtime.
Rutgers has won six straight games and is off to its best start since 2007-08 when it won 17 of its first 19 games. It was the Scarlet Knights’ first victory over a ranked opponent this season.
Louisville had one last chance to tie it, but Bria Smith’s drive came up short and Rushdan sealed the win with a free throw with 1.2 seconds left.
“One of the coaches was saying they hadn’t seen that kind of fight in us for a while,” C. Vivian Stringer said. “It’s good to see us grind that one out and we’ll be more confident because of this situation.”
Freshman Shawnta’ Dyer led the Cardinals with a career-high 16 points. Dyer, Cierra Warren and Sheronne Vails combined for 40 points, going 18-of-27 from the field.
“We got a great game out of all our posts,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “I know they can do that and that’s encouraging to me. They are learning that college basketball isn’t easy and you have to work at it. Now some of them are starting to realize that. They showed they can do this. I’m going to expect it.”
April Sykes scored 17 of her 19 points in the second half for the Scarlet Knights, who trailed 41-28 early in the second half. Rutgers rallied to tie it 48-48 with 7:35 remaining.
With the win, Rutgers improved to 4-3 in the all-time series against Louisville, with the home team winning all seven games.
In Providence, R.I., the Friars (10-8, 2-3 BIG EAST) scored their first win over West Virginia (12-5, 3-2 BIG EAST) since 2006. It also snapped a six-game series losing streak, and improved PC’s record in the all-time series against WVU to 5-17.
Friars’ guard Rachel Barnes scored a game-high 19 points and was one of three PC players in double figures. Sophomore Alicia Cropper and senior Lola Wells tallied 13 and 10 points, respectively for Providence.
West Virginia won the battle of the boards, 45-32. However, the Mountaineers committed 23 turnovers compared to the Friars’ 13. Asya Bussie finished the day with a team-high 14 points for WVU. Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer added 13 points each. Caldwell added a game-high nine rebounds.
The victory marks the first for Providence this season when trailing at the half. The Friars entered the game with an 0-7 record when trailing at halftime. Providence also improves to 5-0 in games played on Saturday.
No. 21/19 DePaul (15-3, 3-1 BIG EAST) beat Pittsburgh (8-10, 0-5 BIG EAST) behind a game-high 29 points from junior Anna Martin. The Blue Demons are down to just seven players following a slew of season-ending injuries, including Preseason All-BIG EAST forward Keisha Hampton.
There were five ties and 12 lead changes in the game.
Pittsburgh redshirt-sophomore Abby Dowd had 23 points, including seven 3-pointers. The seven long bombs tied a school record for most 3-pointers in a game. Ashlee Anderson, a Chicago native, had 19 points, while Leeza Burdgess added 10 points for the Panthers. Freshman Brianna Kiesel finished with 11 points and a career-high nine assists.
The packed house of 3,451 at McGrath-Phillips Arena sported blue ribbons, as handed out by members of the Autism Awareness Day volunteers, as well as Alpha Xi Delta sorority on campus. The overwhelming pride amongst the crowd translated into an electric vibe on Doug Bruno Court, which certainly helped the Blue Demons in their seesaw battle.
No. 2/2 Notre Dame (17-1, 5-0 BIG EAST) won its 14th in a row, beating Cincinnati (9-8, 0-4 BIG EAST) on the road. The Irish had played four of their last five on the road.
Natalie Novosel scored 21 points and Devereaux Peters had 17 points as Notre Dame emphasized going inside against the Bearcats. The Irish lead the nation with 84.2 points per game, getting a lot of baskets off jumpers and turnovers.
Novosel had 18 points in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame ahead 42-21.
Diggins scored a season-low four points, taking only five shots. Instead, she spent the game looking for teammates. She hit Peters with a no-look pass for a layup that made it 34-17 in the first half. She also had four assists during the 16-2 run that opened the second half. Diggins finished with a game-high 11 assists.
Dayeesha Hollins had 14 points for Cincinnati, which had 11 assists as a team, matching Diggins’ total.
Tiffany Hayes and Connecticut’s (14-2, 4-1 BIG EAST) five-guard lineup overwhelmed Villanova (11-6, 2-3 BIG EAST) at the Pavilion. Hayes scored 14 of her 22 points in the second half and the Huskies harassed the Wildcats into 23 turnovers.
“We tried doing the same things we always do, trying to pick up full court pressure and Villanova isn’t an easy team to press and trap against,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said. “But once we got the pressure deep into their backcourt, I think we unsettled them.”
Rachel Roberts scored 16 points for the Wildcats, who got within five points when two baskets by Emily Leer made it 41-36, but UConn answered by scoring 12 of the next 15 points to retake control of the game.
"I thought Villanova shot the ball really well from the 3-point line today,” Auriemma said. “So it forced us to go the other way. I thought we did a good job with the pressure, and Villanova doesn’t turn the ball over very much, but they turned it over a lot today."
Connecticut went into halftime leading 37-26.
“We had trouble with their press,” Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. “Going with five guards made it very difficult to guard them.”
The final game of the day saw USF (10-8, 2-2 BIG EAST) win at Seton Hall (7-12, 0-5 BIG EAST). USF opened up the game on a 26-8 run and never looked back.
“This league is so tough to go on the road, so anytime you can go on the road and win it is impressive,” USF head coach Jose Fernandez said. “I am just glad that we were able to bounce back and get the win. We had two tough losses in a row against top-25 teams in Georgetown and Louisville that we should have won, so it was good to bounce back,” Fernandez said.
The hot-shooting Bulls shot 42-percent from the floor in the game behind the shooting of junior Inga Orekhova who scored a career high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Orekhova also hit five 3-pointers in the game and was one of three players in double-figures for USF along with Jasmine Wynne, who had 14, and Kaneisha Saunders, who had 10.
Orekhova joined the Bulls as a junior college transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. She sat out the first 15 games of the year after transferring last year. In three games since becoming eligible, she had led the team in scoring 16.3 ppg shooting 40.6-percent from 3-point range. She has made 13-of-32 attempts from beyond the arc and averages 35 minutes per game. The 6-2 guard has three seasons of eligibility with the Bulls.
There are two BIG EAST games set for Sunday, including a televised matchup on ESPNU as No. 18/17 Georgetown (13-4, 2-2 BIG EAST) hosts Syracuse (12-6, 1-3 BIG EAST) at Noon, ET. The Hoyas lead the all-time series 29-24 and have won the last five meetings. The last time Syracuse won in Washington, D.C. was on Feb. 17, 2007.
In addition, St. John’s (11-6, 3-1 BIG EAST) hosts Marquette (11-6, 2-2 BIG EAST) at Madison Square Garden. The game follows the St. John’s-Georgetown men’s game set for Noon.
Material from interviews, school websites, the Associated Press wire service as well as league and team sources was used in this report.