WBB Conference Tournament, Day 2: Boilers Lone High Seed To Win
Presumably the market for betting on women's basketball is small, so those of you who read my picks yesterday did not go rushing out to place the family fortune on them. 2-2 straight up is not such a great record, but it was one game better than the high seeds Thursday in Indianapolis. Michigan was the only higher seed to escape the first quarter with a lead, but Purdue was the only one to survive, as they escaped Penn State 70-59 to earn a Friday matchup with Michigan State.
Game Recaps - Those Other Teams
The scoreboards deflated like the RCA Dome roof on its last day, as scores declined steadily throughout the day - a 42-point Purdue second half brought their game even with Rutgers-Nebraska, but the surprise of the day had to be the Iowa-Michigan opener, topping even Northwestern-Minnesota.
The Hawkeyes shot .607 from the field, including .656 in a first half that saw them put up 52; if it weren't for the Wolverines' long-distance accuracy (5 for 9 in the half, 12 for 22 overall), it would have been a blowout. As it was, three Hawkeyes scored 20 or more points in the 97-85 win, led by Megan Gustafson with 25; Michigan's Katelynn Flaherty led all scorers with 31. Gustafson added 10 boards for a double-double, but her stat line was eclipsed by teammate Chase Coley, who managed a ridiculous 20/10/6/6 - it isn't often a player gets within striking distance of a quadruple-double. Whitney Jennings added 11 points, 6 steals and 5 assists.
With that as the opener, you'd be forgiven for expecting Northwestern-Minnesota to end up with an NBA-style score. Instead, neither team shot 40% from the field, and as in the opener, the leading scorer was on the losing team. Rachel Banham scored 26, but it took her 30 shot equivalents (7 for 25 overall, 3 for 14 from three). With fellow shooter Carlie Wagner just 7 of 20 from the floor, the Gophers just missed too many shots to be effective, and with Northwestern getting enough of those boards and more than their share at the other end (the Cats had 19 offensive boards and 54 overall), that balanced out the Gophers' turnover edge, and NU was slightly more accurate in each phase, giving them an 84-74 victory that most likely killed any shot Minnesota had at an NCAA bid.
Nebraska and Rutgers kicked off the next session at a slower pace; they shot somewhere in between the other two games, but this time it was an inside game that made the difference. Rutgers swarmed Big 14 Freshman of the Year Jessica Shepard, holding her to just 4 points on 1 for 9 shooting, outscored Nebraska in the paint 34-10, and used strong performances by Kahleah Cooper (17 points, 9 boards) and Rachel Hollivay (8 points, 10 boards) to oust the Huskers, 66-63. Shrita Parker led the Scarlet Knights with 18; Nebraska's Natalie Romeo led all scorers with 23. The fourth-quarter comeback (NU led by as many as 9 in the quarter and was up 3 with 1:56 to play) allows Rutgers the chance to finish their season against Ohio State Friday.
Game Recap - Purdue
The script clearly pointed toward a Penn State victory, and Boiler fans had to be nervous as the Lady Lions roared out to a 15-4 lead. Fortunately for Purdue fans, the Penn State offense crashed, going the final 1:54 without a basket, and an Andreona Keys shot closed the quarter with the Good Gals down 15-6.
Two Ashley Morrissette misses and a turnover led to a Brianna Banks basket, and Penn State was back up 11. However, the rest of the quarter belonged to Purdue, as once again the Old Gold and Black locked down the basket and hammered away on offense. Hayden Hamby broke a 23-all tie with a pair of free throws, and with slightly more than a minute left in the quarter, she added a three to cap a 22-6 Purdue run. Teniya Page would get the final bucket of the half, but Purdue was up 28-25, and the Boilers were suddenly in much better shape.
Penn State wouldn't go away, though, and at the 6:34 mark, the Lions retook the lead on a Banks layup, 32-31. They would lead by as many as 5, but Purdue scored the final nine points of the quarter, getting 5 from April Wilson and two each from Bridget Perry and Torrie Thornton, and with 10 minutes to play, Purdue was leading 47-43.
Unlike the third, the fourth quarter was all Purdue. Penn State twice cut the lead to one, but Wilson and Morrissette kept the Boilers in front, and the Lions simply couldn't shoot their way back into the game. They hit just one basket in the final 3 minutes, a Kaliyah Mitchell layup at 0:26 when Purdue was up 11, and the Boilers chased away the free-throw woes that had plagued them in previous games, hitting 9 of 10 in the final 2:37 to secure a 70-59 victory.
Wilson led all scorers with 22 points and added 5 assists and 3 steals; Morrissette (15) and Bridget Perry (10, 8-8 from the line) joined her in double figures, and Perry added 9 rebounds. Page led Penn State with 18, and in a much better game than the previous meeting, had 4 assists to just 2 turnovers and added 6 rebounds; Peyton Whitted had a solid double-double (14 and 13, leading all rebounders), and Lindsey Spann had 10 points.
Purdue's NCAA-meter didn't move too much after that win, but it was a win nonetheless, and it opens the door to a game that would certainly help the Boilers' tournament chances.
Game 7 - #9 Iowa (19-12) vs #1 Maryland (27-3), 12:00 noon
Previous meeting: 1/10 at Iowa (Maryland 76-56)
Iowa's best win this season was their win over #35 Indiana; while their loss to Maryland was nearly two months ago, nothing that's happened since suggests that the Hawkeyes have a chance. Their best hope for a stunning upset would be if Maryland isn't focused, and that's entirely possible. With little hope of a #1 seed and no meaningful progress to make until at least the Elite Eight - remember, this is a team that made the Final Four last season and lost by 23 to UConn; although they lost by only 10 to the Huskies in late December, improvement can't be shown until they play a 1 seed - it's possible that Iowa could surprise, but I think that's more likely in the semis. If Iowa does put a scare into the Terrapins, it'll happen early and Maryland will wake up quickly.
Game 8 - #12 Northwestern (17-15) vs #4 Indiana (20-10), 30 minutes after Game 7
Previous meeting: 1/24 at Northwestern (Indiana 91-84)
You'd think Indiana would be pleased to face NU instead of Minnesota, but IU played Minnesota pretty well this season (78-76 loss at UM, 93-79 win in Bloomington), and instead of a resume-building game, Friday becomes a disaster-avoidance day. A loss probably won't knock IU out of the tournament, but it isn't going to help them, and unlike the men's tournament, the women's tournament finishes well before a number of other conferences, so the Hoosiers may end up watching themselves slide right off the bubble if they can't end Northwestern's run. In case you're wondering, Northwestern actually played Maryland pretty well, losing by 18 in College Park and by 9 in Evanston. This Maryland team could beat the Cats a third time, but they won't get the chance.
Game 9 - #10 Rutgers (18-13) vs #2 Ohio State (23-6), 6:30 PM
Previous meetings: 1/10 at OSU (OSU 90-78), 1/24 at RU (OSU 67-58)
The Buckeyes entered the final week of the season holding a sweep over Maryland, with three of their four losses to the top three teams in the country (vs #1 UConn, at #2 ND, and at #3 South Carolina) and a reasonable path to the #1 seed in the Big 14 tournament. As Ken Pomeroy would remind us, road games are not to be taken lightly, and OSU learned that the hard way, dropping overtime games to Minnesota and Michigan State, falling to the #2 seed in Indy and possibly to a #3 seed in the NCAAs. It isn't as though they had comfortable wins against the Scarlet Knights either, and if they look ahead, they'll see either the MSU team that beat them last Saturday or a Purdue team that's effectively the same as Rutgers for NCAA purposes (not much credit if you beat them, a penalty if you lose to them). OSU should advance, but Rutgers will play them tough again, and people will start wondering what kind of magic the Buckeyes used to defeat Maryland twice.
Game 10 - #6 Purdue (20-10) vs #3 Michigan State (22-7), 30 minutes after Game 9
Previous meeting: 1/27 at Michigan State (MSU 68-56)
The Boilers were missing Perry and Hamby in the loss at East Lansing, but the loss wasn't simply due to the shorter bench or the partisan crowd. The Spartans have the talent to match up with just about anyone - an 8-point loss to Baylor on a neutral court, a 5-point loss at OSU, a 9-point loss at Maryland - so Purdue will have to play a complete game to earn another shot at the Buckeyes. As much as I'd like to see that happen, asking for that on the day after a game where the starters had to play down the stretch is a lot. I expect the Good Gals will be in it as late as the midway point of the third, but they won't be able to contain Aerial Powers for four quarters, and they'll have to wait for the draw to find out if the Penn State win was enough to get them back into the NCAAs.