It’s been an incredible last 24 hours for the Seton Hall women’s basketball team that almost didn’t happen.
Coach Tony Bozzella’s squad was faced with a nine-point deficit with 67 seconds left against Butler. Hopes of the first Big East championship in school history and a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament were fading quickly.
The Pirates had scored just 13 points in the previous 14 minutes and looked destined to finish second. But that all changed in the blink of an eye as Seton Hall rallied scoring 18 points over the final 1:04 to beat Butler and clinch the regular season championship and re-enter The Associated Press poll at No. 25 on Monday. The Pirates were ranked for a week earlier this season.
“I don’t know if it can be put into words how important that win was to our school,” Bozzella said. “When we took over this program we wanted to make Seton Hall relevant. We didn’t know if it would take a week, month, a year, two years, but now we’ve done it.”
With Seton Hall entering the Top 25, the state of New Jersey has three teams ranked for the first time in the history of the poll. Undefeated Princeton moved up to No. 13 and Rutgers fell to 23rd.
“I think the three schools are really different, but they all are similiar having Jersey kids on their rosters,” said Princeton coach Courtney Banghart. “It’s amazing how close all the schools are in proximity and yet draw from different populations.”
New Jersey isn’t the first state to have three teams ranked in the same week. The Garden State joins Louisiana, California, Texas, Kentucky and North Carolina to name a few.
“I think it’s great and it speaks to the tradition of quality basketball that has always been here for years,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “Whoever has reached the Final Four has almost always had representation from the state of New Jersey on it. We hope this signals that they don’t need to go anywhere else and can play at the highest level right here in New Jersey.”
The three schools, which didn’t play each other this season, are within 40 miles of each other making them the closest trio to be ranked since North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke did it in the final poll last season. Those three programs are about 10 miles apart.
While the Jersey schools made history this week, UConn remained atop the poll.
The Huskies routed Tulane and Memphis by an average of 55 points. Connecticut visit South Florida on Monday night to close out the regular season.
Notre Dame, South Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee round out the first five. The Gamecocks lost their first Southeastern Conference game this season on Sunday to No. 12 Kentucky. Baylor, which lost twice this week drops to sixth.
The Lady Bears are followed by Florida State, Oregon State, Arizona State and Louisville.
Here are some other tidbits from the poll:
QUEST FOR PERFECTION: Princeton will visit Cornell and Columbia this weekend in its pursuit of an undefeated season. If the Tigers sweep they will improve to 29-0 marking the best start by a team in Ivy League history surpassing the 28-0 record set by the 1970-71 Penn men’s basketball team. It would also clinch the fourth league championship in the past five seasons for the Tigers, who close out their regular season at rival Penn on Tuesday.
UPCOMING SCHEDULE: After an early quiet start of the week with no ranked games on Tuesday or Wednesday conference tournaments get into full swing on Thursday and Friday. The Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and SEC all get underway.
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