March 1, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - Maybe it was destiny; a script written up on high that mere mortals were playing out on the hardwood throughout the season. Perhaps it was fate that stepped in and made things play out the way they did. Or it could have simply been a case of sheer luck.
Whatever the cause, Green Wave center Brett Benzio had a "Senior Night" for the record book as the four-year starter scored 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to help lead the Tulane University women's basketball team to a 71-43 thumping of Conference USA foe Houston in the regular-season finale for both teams on Thursday evening in Fogelman Arena.
Benzio's production on the scoreboard and off the glass gives her 1,005 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career, making her just the second player in Tulane women's hoops history to hit the 1,000/1,000 plateau and only the third player overall in the Green Wave annals to accomplish the feat. She joins Keisha Johnson (1,826 points/1,048 rebounds from 1990-94) as the only two women's players to hit the 1,000 mark in points and rebounds, as well as former men's standout Jack Ardon (1,106 points/1,062 rebounds from 1959-62).
"I thought tonight was really special for Brett to be able to do that here," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "As we looked over the season, I knew her stats had to be pretty good to make it. For her to be able to do that here at home with the crown, which was great, I certainly feel she got the recognition she deserved."
With the win, Tulane snapped a three-game skid to improve to 20-9 overall and 9-7 in league play. The 2011-12 Green Wave squad becomes the third straight squad and the 11th team in the 37-year history of Tulane women's hoops to reach 20-win benchmark. The Green Wave's victory, combined with home losses by Rice and UAB on Thursday, gives Tulane a first-round bye in the upcoming C-USA Championship as well as the tournament's No. 3 seed. Houston, meanwhile, fell to 3-25 on the year and 2-14 in conference action.
The double-double was Benzio's sixth of the season and her first since scoring 21 points and pulling down 13 boards against Hampton in the championship game of the Tulane/DoubleTree Classic on Dec. 29 in Fogelman Arena. In addition to her scoring and rebounding efforts, Benzio added four blocks, a pair of assists and a steal to her tally.
As a team, Tulane hit 41.7 percent of its shots from the field (25-of-60), including a 15-of-30 performance (.500) in the second half. The Green Wave out-rebounded the Cougars 51-33, forced 12 turnovers - including nine via steal - and held Houston to a 24.6 field goal percentage (.14-of-57). With Benzio leading the charge, Tulane out-scored Houston in the paint, 28-14, and turned 19 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.
Benzio was one of three Tulane players to score in double-digits against the Cougars as freshman forward Adesuwa Ebomwonyi scored 12 while junior guard Olivia Grayson had 10. Ebomwonyi and freshman guard Danielle Blagg finished second to Benzio in rebounds with nine each, junior forward Janique Kautsky had five of the Green Wave's 21 assists, and junior guard Tyria Snow posted a game-high three steals.
"Tonight was just a big night for us," Benzio said. "We've been struggling lately, and to come out and put up 71 points on the board when we've been struggling to score, I think that's really important. That kind of gives us some momentum that we can use going into the tournament. Now we're the three seed, so everything kind of lined up well for us. We got that bye. Now all we have to do is take care of business."
Tulane scored the game's first four points and never trailed at any point. Behind the strong play of Benzio, who had nine points and seven rebounds in the first half, the Green Wave went into the locker room at the break on top 31-16.
Following intermission, Tulane hit three of its first four shots in the second half. A jumper by Houston guard Roxana Button with 15:52 left to play in regulation cut the Green Wave advantage to 19, but a Benzio layup on the ensuing possession gave the home team a 21-point lead which never dipped below 20 the rest of the way.
Benzio pulled down her 10th rebound of the game and the 1,000th of her career following a missed free throw by the Cougars' Amanda Lawson with 15:17 on the clock and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau two minutes later when she hauled in a pass from Snow under the basket and laid one softly off the glass despite being fouled.
"It was amazing," Benzio said of her historic night. "I've seen people get 1,000 points before. Tiffany (Aidoo) got it last year, then Brittany Lindsey, and I saw Turtle (earlier) this year. To be able to do it myself and say that I've accomplished a goal that I set out to do at the beginning of the year, it's just really awesome. I'm overwhelmed right now.
"On that play, I realized they were going to foul me. They're mauling me so I'm just going to put the ball up, get to the free-throw line and get my two free throws. When the ball went in, I was speechless. My teammates jumped me and I can't even describe the joy I felt at that moment. It just worked out. A lot of things worked out for us and that's all that we needed."
Benzio's and-one free throw stretched the lead to 25 at 44-19 and the Green Wave held 32-point margins at 60-28 with 5:25 remaining and again at 71-39 with 1:21 left to play. Button and Danielle Parks scored the final two baskets of the ballgame for the Cougars to account for the final score.
"For us to have that bye was so important," Stockton added. "We'll be able to kind of watch what's going on and it gives us a little more rest. It's a new season for everybody so we've got to be ready to go. We had a great season and I think this is a tremendous reward for the team."
Button led Houston with 16 points and four assists while Parks scored 13 to go with a team-best seven rebounds. Amanda Lawson and Michelle White shared the Cougars' lead in steals with two apiece.
The Green Wave return to action on Thursday, March 8, when they open play in the 2012 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship in Memphis, Tenn. While Tulane will be enjoy a day off during the opening round of competition, the Wave will face the winner of the Tulsa/East Carolina contest in the quarterfinals. The first two rounds of the championship tournament will be held on the University of Memphis' campus at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. From there, the championship will move downtown to the FedEx Forum for the semifinals and title game. The winner of the C-USA Championship will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
For ticket information and admission to future Green Wave home events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office either in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com. The Ticket Office located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center on Ben Weiner Drive, is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.