Worthy of UCT girls basketball top seed: Westfield and New Providence

Westfield, one of the hottest teams in Union County and the Union County Conference’s outright Watchung Division champion, will not be the least bit offended if it does not receive the top seed for the 45th annual girls basketball Union County Tournament.
The seeding meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday morning at the Linden fieldhouse.
“New Providence is having a phenomenal year and I think they have earned the top seed,” Westfield head coach Liz McKeon said.
Group 4 Westfield is 13-5 and on a season-high nine-game winning streak. Group 1 New Providence is 18-1 and after a school-record 18-0 start just lost its first game of the season at Union Catholic 40-36 this past Tuesday.
You can make an argument for either getting the top seed.
“Seeds don’t matter to us,” McKeon said. “You’ve still got to go out and beat some pretty good teams if you’re going to win it.”
McKeon has guided the Blue Devils to three of the past five UCT finals, including last year’s, and each time lost to The Patrick School. The Elizabeth school does not have a team this year.
“I’ll believe that when we get to the seeding meeting,” McKeon has joked several times this season.
While New Providence kept on winning every single game it played, including one week where the Pioneers, all at home, won three close games against Union Catholic, Summit in overtime and then Oak Knoll, Westfield was up and down its first nine, on the bottom side of .500 at 4-5.
Losses included Montgomery at home, to Bayonne in the Len Sepanek Tournament, Hunterdon Central on the road and then at Chatham and at Watchung Division rival Oak Knoll, in overtime, back-to-back.
“We’ve played a tough schedule,” McKeon said. “We had a tough loss to Chatham (47-37) and then lost to Oak Knoll (54-48) in overtime. Our younger girls were just getting started at that point.”
Westfield got back to its winning ways with a 60-53 win over Northfield (Mass.) Mount Hermon. Two days later the Blue Devils dominated visiting Cranford to the tune of 60-43.
“We’re just learning to play as a team and it now seems that every day it’s someone new who steps up,” McKeon said.
Westfield has also had to find a way minus returning sophomore center Grace Klag, out this season with a knee injury. Klag, with a smile on her face, still performs a key function as the team’s scorekeeper.
While reaching the championship game in 2015, 2017 and 2019 was challenging enough, each of those seasons Westfield realized it was going to take a monumental effort to get past Patrick School teams with players from everywhere it seemed.
“There are still so many teams playing well,” McKeon said. “It’s going to come down to who is playing their best right until the very end.”
One of those teams is New Providence. Under 15th-year head coach Cap Pazdera the Pioneers – Group 1 state champions in 2010, 2011 and 2015 – have reached the semifinals, but never the final.
Westfield and New Providence have won the UCT once each, New Providence in 1990 and Westfield in 2008 under head coach Joe Marino. Westfield is scheduled to host New Providence Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
After beating Union Catholic and Summit in UCC-Mountain Division play, New Providence took on Watchung Division school Oak Knoll on the second Saturday in January. Led by 6-foot senior center Paige Morton, the visiting Royals won the first quarter 14-0 and led the game 16-0 in the second before New Providence finally got on the scoreboard.
After New Providence pulled to with six in the third quarter the Royals came back to build up another 14-point lead later in the frame. However, with the help of some sloppy early fourth quarter play by Oak Knoll turning the ball over, New Providence came back again.
Senior guard Kaitlyn Cumiskey scored inside with 13 seconds left to give New Providence its only lead and then the Pioneers held on for an improbable 41-40 triumph.
New Providence will play at Summit Tuesday night for a share of the UCC’s Mountain Division title. Union Catholic is 9-1 and New Providence 8-1 in the division. If New Providence wins then New Providence and Union Catholic will share the crown at 9-1 and having defeated each other. If Summit wins then UC wins the championship outright.
Union Catholic, having one of its best seasons record-wise in a while, begins the week at 14-4. The Vikings lost to New Providence by four on the road and beat the Pioneers by four at home.
Oak Knoll was 8-3 and on a seven-game winning streak when it lost at New Providence. The Royals begin the week at 11-8.
Cranford, which last won the UCT for the second time in 2016, defeated Oak Knoll 42-41 at home on Jan. 28 after losing at Oak Knoll 47-19 on Jan. 7. The Cougars begin the week at 8-10.
Elizabeth (13-6) and Gov. Livingston (12-8) are tied for the Valley Division lead at 8-1 and with one game to go. Elizabeth has to make up a game at Kent Place, while GL will play its final division game at Plainfield Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Elizabeth’s game at Kent Place this past Thursday was postponed.
Hillside captured the Sky Division championship with a perfect 9-0 league record. The Comets, who also won 10 games in a row for the first time in program history, are not scheduled to play their final division game at home against Benedictine Academy of Elizabeth.
Hillside begins the week at 16-2 and on a 14-game winning streak. Hillside is also the only Union County school not to lose to a Union County school, its only losses coming to Morris County schools Morristown and Montville, both in December.
Westfield clinched the Watchung Division title for the first time under McKeon’s guidance with Thursday’s 63-46 triumph at Cranford. The Patrick School won it the past four years and before that Roselle Catholic in 2015.
Westfield seniors Caroline Dwyer and Ali Lisanti shared their views on the Blue Devils going after their first UCT title in 12 years.
“We want it so badly,” Dwyer said. “Even though Patrick School is not in it there are still other teams that are very tough.
“We’ll continue to work hard in practice. We’ve become such a close team by the way we’ve been playing together.”
“We would have liked for Patrick School to still be in it to have a chance to play them again,” Lisanti said. “We have a young team (freshmen Paige Gorczyca and Annie Ryan and sophomore Chloe Kreusser among first 6), but we’re starting to play much better now. We know we have a good chance.”

JR’S 22-TEAM UCT SEEDING FOR 2020:
1-Westfield (13-5) – has won 9 straight and Watchung Division (5-1) title.
Only 1 loss in county – split with Oak Knoll. Is defending finalist.
2-New Providence (18-1) – began 18-0 and is after share of
Mountain Division title. Only 1 loss in county – split with Union Catholic.
Came back from down 16-0 in second quarter to beat
Oak Knoll 41-40 at home.
3-Oak Knoll (11-8) – Split with Westfield and Cranford and
lost at New Providence by 1 point. Three losses against county competition.
4-Union Catholic (14-4) – Only team to beat New Providence, splitting
with Pioneers. Lost to Westfield and Oak Knoll. Three losses vs. county foes.
5-Summit (11-7) – Beat Cranford by 16 at Cranford.
6-Cranford (8-10) – Split with Oak Knoll.
7-Elizabeth (13-6) – Split with Gov. Livingston.
8-Gov. Livingston (12-8) – Split with Elizabeth.
9-Hillside (16-2) – Has won 14 straight. Only team in county
not to lose to a team in county. Beat Scotch Plains.
Undefeated (9-0) Sky Division champions.
10-Johnson (8-11) – Swept Scotch Plains.
11-Scotch Plains (7-11)
12-Plainfield (7-9)
13-Roselle Catholic (4-13) – Beat Roselle.
14-Roselle (12-4) – Rewarding Roselle for record.
15-Kent Place (4-11) – Swept Dayton, 1-0 vs. Linden.
16-Dayton (5-12) – Split with Linden, winning by 25.
17-Linden (5-13) – Split with Dayton, winning by 1.
18-Brearley (8-10) – Swept Rahway.
19-Rahway (5-11) – Swept Roselle Park.
20-Roselle Park (4-12) – Swept Benedictine.
21-Benedictine (3-16)
22-Union (0-17)

Monday, Feb. 10 games:
Kent Place at Linden, 4 p.m.
Roselle at McNair, 4:30 p.m.
Hillside at Newark Collegiate, 5 p.m.

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