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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Saturday, February 4, 2012

By Woody Peele

Andruzzi charts return to coaching

By Woody Peele.
All rights reserved.

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Cathy Andruzzi
(Fordham SID file photo)

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Thursday night when East Carolina’s women’s basketball team entertained Tulane, I had the good fortune to visit with former Lady Pirates coach Cathy Andruzzi, one of the top women’s coaches in the program’s history.

In six seasons, 1978-84, Andruzzi’s ECU squads won 105 games, second best among all Lady Pirate coaches and the most by a non-AIAW coach. Halfway through Andruzzi’s reign, East Carolina’s women moved from the AIAW umbrella to the NCAA as it took over women’s athletics in 1981. Under AIAW rules, scholarships were not allowed.

In 1982, the Lady Pirates advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time. They’ve been back only once since then, under Sharon Baldwin-Tenner in 2007. In 2010, Baldwin-Tenner’s final team played in the Women’s NIT.

Andruzzi left East Carolina after the 1984 season, going into private business as a Domino’s Pizza franchiser. She sold her seven stores in the late ‘90s and went back to coaching, serving as an assistant at Rutgers, then at Seton Hall. She followed that up as the head coach at Fordham.

Now on a “Sabbatical” as she called it, she’s interested in returning to the coaching ranks once more, preferably in the South. She’s spending the current season visiting a number of schools to get herself into the picture where a vacancy might occur.

When she was at ECU, she was a proven recruiter, attracting a number of outstanding players, among them Mary Denkler (Shoof), the only All-America player the Pirates have produced.

As the Pirates lost to Tulane for their 12th consecutive loss, we talked about the problems the team had. Among them are the loss of an all-state incoming freshman who was sent on to a junior college following a false report of an assault; the loss of a returning starter from a knee injury, taking a redshirt year; the loss of a 6-5 player to academics; and the suspension of the team’s leading scorer following a DWI arrest, who only returned to play late in the Tulane game.

The big problem for the remaining players is their inability to hit the basket. A number of times against the Green Wave, the Lady Pirates got open shots only to miss them, including a number of layups. Turnovers also played a key role, a number of them unforced.

ECU managed to outrebound the taller Tulane team, 44-38, and played decent defense, holding the Green Wave to 38.9 percent from the floor.

But the Lady Pirates shot just 28.8 percent themselves, despite 17 offensive boards.

Even the present coach, Heather Macy, admitted that shooting was a key in the loss.

A quick look back at the season’s stats would show that 40 percent is a base that needs to be exceeded. Of the six games the team has won, ECU shot more than 40 percent in four of them. But in the 15 the Lady Pirates have lost, they failed to shoot 40 percent in all but two, just cracking that line against North Carolina and in a Conference USA game at Memphis.

Otherwise, the Lady Pirates have shot in the 30s in eight games and in the 20s in five going into Sunday’s game at Southern Mississippi.

The Tulane game also probably finished off ECU’s hopes of a winning season. Now at 6-15 overall, they have eight regular season games remaining, plus at least one in the C-USA tournament. To have a winning season, the Lady Pirates would have to reach the championship game.

The last losing season came in the 2007-08 campaign, at 13-17.

The Lady Pirate record for consecutive losses also looms ahead at 16. That came in the 1993-94 season when they closed out the year having won only twice that year. The streak ended with the first game of the 1994-95 season.

Lebo's challenge: Breaking the historical pattern

While I’m on the subject of streaks, the men’s basketball program, going into Saturday’s game with Rice at Minges Coliseum’s Williams Arena, the Pirates had won two in a row to end a funk they were in, boosting their record to 11-10.

They’re chasing a second-straight winning season, but that may be difficult to achieve. Even second-year head coach Jeff Lebo admitted that earlier this year, noting that people are more ready for the improved Pirates than they were a year ago.

A brief look at the ECU men’s history would confirm that statement.

East Carolina moved from the minor leagues into the majors in 1964, joining the Southern Conference and the NCAA. In the 47 seasons since then (not counting this year), the Pirates have posted but 14 winning seasons, but they have strung together two or more consecutive winning campaigns on only there occasions.

Tom Quinn, who took over the Pirates the year they officially entered the Southern, struggled at first, then went 17-11 in 1968-69, 16-10 the following year and 13-12 the next — three in a row. That’s the most for any single coach since 1964.

Ironically, the following year — after nearly being fired following the 70-71 season — his team went 14-15, but won the Southern Conference Tournament championship, sending the Pirates to their first NCAA tournament.

Quinn’s 73-74 team, his final at ECU, went 13-12, and Dave Patton, who took over for the 74-75 season went 19-9, earning a spot in the postseason Collegiate Commissioner’s tournament. (That was the final year that only conference champions advanced to the NCAA field.)

Over the next 19 years, only three winning seasons were recorded, none back-to-back. It wasn’t until the 93-94 season that Eddie Payne’s team went 15-12 and followed that with an 18-11 mark the next year.

Payne then left for the West Coast, turning the reigns over to assistant Joe Dooley, who went 17-11 and 17-10 his first two years.

Since 96-97, the Pirates haven’t had another back-to-back.

The hopes are still high for this year, but even Lebo knows it’s not going to be an easy task.

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02/04/2012 02:58:21 AM

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