November 7, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
TOP TENS ON TAP
Big East Championships features ranked squads
Dominant teams with national prominence are the order of the day in the semifinals of the Big East Championships, which kick off at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., on Friday after being moved from Red Bull Arena.
The first game pits fourth-ranked Georgetown against tenth-ranked Marquette at 5 p.m. (ET), while the nightcap features No. 5 Notre Dame (14-3-1) facing No. 8 Connecticut (15-2-1).
"They're all good teams. There's not one of these teams that's a weak sister," said Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clarke. "They're pretty strong. Whoever you are going to get, you are going to have a challenge. It was the same in the quarterfinals. There was not easy quarterfinal."
Connecticut is the only team returning from last year's final four, a fact that is not gone unnoticed by Huskies Head Coach Ray Reid.
"Itís as strong as itís been the 16 years I've been in the league," Reid said of the opposition. "We've been fortunate. We've been fairly successful.Ē
Clarke and the Fighting Irish are in pursuit of a third Big East Championship after winning it all in 1996 and 2003, while hoping to exact a bit of redemption after failing to qualify for the NCAAs last year for the first time in Clark's tenure.
"I think the lads felt that they'd let the program down, they'd let themselves down, so I think all the returning players were very motivated for this season," said Clarke. "It didn't take a lot to motivate this group, so they were determined to try and sort that out a little."
The Golden Domers started the season on a ten-game unbeaten streak before falling to last year's NCAA final four team Louisville. While the team boasts a number of players who can score, Ryan Finley has been the big gun for the Fighting Irish. Finley ranks second nationally in goals (18) and third in points (40). He has tallied 12 goals in the last eight matches and led the Big East with 12 goals in league play.
He has five multiple-goal games this season, including one hat trick. He set a record by being named Chicagoland Soccer News Player of the Week four times this season. He also was named Soccer News Net Player of the Week once.
"Ryan's had a very good year," said Clarke, who earned his 300th career win this season. "I think the difference between this year and last year, no one really knew him when he came in as a transfer last year, nobody really quite knew what he could do, and I suppose he didn't know what we could do our players that were here could do. People started to understand what he's good at. We have some very good players that play to his strengths and I think he has been able to capitalize on that. The nice thing is we've got a lot people that can score goals. Hopefully that's going to become more apparent as the season hopefully goes on for a little bit longer."
Reid, for one, knows how dangerous the Fighting Irish can be.
"We've got to make sure we donít give them anything," he said "They are so good attacking, you can't give it to them, we can't make any mistakes. They are a very good team, very well coached, three great attacking players in (Harrison) Shipp, Finley and (Collin) Powers. Very well organized 4-4-2, good in the goal.Ē
The Huskies enter this weekend 15-2-1 overall and are led by Mamadou Doudou Diouf, who has registered 28 points on a team-high 13 goals and seven assists. Andre Blake is in net for UConn, allowing only nine goals for a 0.50 goals-against average. The Huskies are making their 28th appearance in the Big East Championship, having won seven titles in their 13 championship finals.
"We' re good defensively, we're good in goal, we have some guys who can score goals. We have depth," Reid said of his team, which started the season on an 11-game unbeaten streak before finally falling to Marquette.
Diouf finished second in the league with 13 goals, while Carlos Alvarez was one of the conference's top setup men.
"I think Alvarez is the key to making them do a lot of things," Clarke said of UConn's playmaker. "They can hurt you in a number of different ways."
The Golden Eagles started the 2012 season on a 12-game, winning streak and the Hoyas snapped it with a 2-1 decision.
Since that game, MU has posted a 4-1-1 record, while Georgetown has a six-game winning streak on the line. Marquette enters Fridayís match with a 16-2-1 overall record and is led by Andy Huftalin, who has 24 points on 19 goals and four assists. Charlie Lyon has played all 19 games between the pipes, making 81 saves and earning 10 shutouts with a 0.71 goals-against average.
The Hoyas (16-2-1) are led by Brandon Allen, who has 12 goals and two assists for 26 points. Tomas Gomez had played in 13 games at goalkeeper, posting a 0.60 goals-against average and recording six shutouts. Georgetown is making its 20th appearance in the Big East postseason and has made it to the final game three times, but will be looking to capture its first title.
Marquette is making its fourth appearance in the tournament and is looking for its first tournament championship.