WBB Conference Tournament, Day 3: Boilers 1 Point Short, Cats Advance
Once again, all four higher seeds got off to slow starts, but this time, three of four higher seeds advanced, the lone exception being Indiana, who fell to tournament upstart Northwestern. The Good Gals played a solid game against Michigan State, but needed one more point to force overtime and just couldn't get it.
Game Recaps - Those Other Teams
It was the best of times: Iowa shot out to a 28-18 lead over Maryland after one quarter. It was the worst of times: Iowa scored 27 points in the final three quarters combined, as the Terrapins roared back to take a 39-32 halftime lead, holding the Hawkeyes to four points in the quarter. Maryland outscored Iowa in each of the remaining two quarters, pulling away for a 75-55 victory. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones scored 23 apiece, with Jones adding 15 rebounds and 4 steals and SWK grabbing 8 boards and also recording 4 steals. Maryland outscored Iowa in the paint 50 to 18 and dominated the glass (42-25), outrebounding Iowa 21-18 on Maryland misses. (10 of Jones' 15 came at that end; because 4 Iowa defensive boards were team rebounds, that means Jones came close to matching the entire Iowa team at that end.)
Maggie Lyon missed her third straight game with an injury, but her Wildcat teammates posted their third straight tournament win, holding off fourth-seeded Indiana 79-73. Nia Coffey led the Cats with 26 points and 11 boards; Amanda Cahill had 23 and 13 to lead Indiana, but she was just 2 of 7 from three, and despite entering the fourth quarter down just three and forcing a Coffey turnover, the Hoosiers never got any closer, as Christen Inman and Coffey hit back-to-back layups to put the Wildcats up 7, a lead that held as the two teams essentially traded baskets the rest of the way.
Until the halfway point in the third quarter, Rutgers was giving second-seeded Ohio State all they could handle, leading at halftime by three, opening up a six-point lead to start the quarter, and and answering an OSU 10-0 run with a Kahleah Copper basket to get back within two. What they didn't have an answer for was Kelsey Mitchell. The sophomore outscored Rutgers in the quarter, 12-11, and added 13 more in the fourth for a Big 14 tournament-record 43, and the Buckeyes survived, 73-58, to earn a semifinal rematch with Michigan State. Copper and Tyler Scaife combined for 51 of the Scarlet Knights' 58, with three teammates accounting for the remaining 7. OSU forced 24 Rutgers turnovers and turned them into 30 points, more than enough to make up for RU's dynamic duo.
Game Recap - The Saddening
I was slightly off in my prediction for this one, and for the most part, happily so. The Boilers were in this game until the final five seconds; only the clang of an April Wilson three-point attempt separated Purdue from an overtime and a chance to add a quality win to their resume. Bree Horrocks put back the Wilson miss, but there wasn't enough time for anything else, and the Good Gals fell one point short, 65-64. Aerial Powers did indeed wreak havoc again, leading everyone with 26 points and 12 boards. Bridget Perry led Purdue with 18 points and Horrocks added 12, but MSU did an excellent job shutting down Purdue's backcourt. Wilson had 15 but needed 16 shot equivalents to get there and committed 10 turnovers, Ashley Morrissette was 2 for 12 and managed just 8 points, and Andreona Keys scored only 2 points in 17 minutes.
Purdue outscored Michigan State in each of the first two quarters, going into the locker room up 32-25, but the offense started to go cold in the second half. The Boilers had just 4 points in the first six minutes, and even though they held the Spartans in check most of the way, a late three by Branndais Agee cut Purdue's lead to one, 44-43. The teams traded baskets early in the fourth, and for a while it looked like the game would come down to a final shot, but two Spartan baskets and a three-point play gave MSU a five-point lead that turned out to be just too big to erase. Wilson's bag of fourth-quarter tricks didn't have anything left in it, so even though Purdue managed to cut the lead from six at the 1:10 mark to two at 0:20, and even though Powers missed one of two free throws to leave the door open a crack, the dream ending the partisan crowd was hoping for turned out to be just one point too much to ask.
Random fact #1: This will be the first presidential election year since 1996 where the Boilers were not conference tournament champions. They won in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.
Random fact #2: Purdue lost by two to Penn State in the 1996 final. It was the Lady Lions' second consecutive tournament title (and the second year the conference held a tournament); they haven't won one since.
NCAA Status - In-ish
Charlie Creme is finally updating his bracket, and right now, the Boilers are the third-to-last team in, a 10 seed in a region that doesn't have a geographic name because the idiots who run the women's side haven't figured out what the idiots on the men's side finally learned, which is that people don't give a crap where you play the games, they just want standard names for the regions so that they can do things like compare regions from one year to the next and such. Nobody on the men's side says OMG BUT YOU ARE PLAYING IN LOUISVILLE THIS CANNOT BE THE WEST OMG OMG OMG.
Anyway. Villanova is immediately above Purdue; the Wildcats will face Creighton or Providence as the 2 seed in the Big East tournament on Sunday. Auburn, directly below Purdue, is out of the SEC tournament, losing today to top seed South Carolina, 57-48. (That's actually a really good result; let's hope the committee looks more at body of work. 9th in the SEC?) Temple is the last team in, and as the 3 in the AAC, they face 6-seed Tulsa Saturday.
Duke, the first team out, lost to Notre Dame by 29 today, so I don't think they're moving up. St. Bonaventure lost to VCU, 59-50, in the A-10 quarterfinals; they aren't moving up either. USC fell to top seed Oregon State 63-53 in the Pac-12 quarters, and Princeton's season is over, so at least for now, the Boilers aren't going to be overtaken by bubble teams. The real worry would be one-bid leagues stealing another bid, and fortunately, there aren't many possibilities for those.
- Green Bay is a 9 seed in the Horizon; their tournament runs March 10-13.
- BYU is a 6 seed in the West Coast; Saint Mary's faces USF instead of San Diego in the semis on Monday, so that could be a problem.
- James Madison (Colonial) and Colorado State (Mountain West) are 11 seeds, so those will likely remain one-bid leagues.
Game 11 - #12 Northwestern (18-15) vs #1 Maryland (28-3), 3:00 PM
Previous meetings: 1/17 at Md (Md 80-62), 2/14 at NU (Md 79-70)
Northwestern had just one win over a Massey top-50 opponent prior to today ... but that win was over Ohio State, and the Wildcats lost by just 3 in Columbus two weeks later. (For comparison's sake, Purdue lost by 20 there.) However, this is a Northwestern team playing their fourth game in four days; Maryland will be playing their second. The Cats played Maryland very well in Evanston, but Maggie Lyon scored 25 points in that game and may well miss this game. (Then again, Northwestern shot 6 for 37 - .162 - in the first half, trailed 25-5 after one quarter, and still managed to make a game of it, outscoring Maryland in each of the other three quarters.)
Northwestern ought to get blown off the court. Then again, IU was supposed to take care of them, and that didn't happen. Neutral-site fans love the underdog, and there's no question who that will be, not when the seeds remaining are 1, 2, 3, and 12. The Wildcats aren't going to make the NCAAs unless they win the Big 14, but an upset of Maryland would likely leave them with a team that they beat once and Maryland didn't beat at all ... if Lyon is able to return, I'd give Northwestern a shot here. Stranger things have happened. If she's out, I think this is just too much to ask. There's a reason the higher seeds get more rest, and three upsets in three days for a team missing their best player is a great story, but not so great for seeding Big 14 teams in NCAA play. I suspect Cinderella won't make it to Sunday.
Game 12 - #3 Michigan State (23-7) vs #2 Ohio State (24-6), 30 minutes after Game 11
Previous meetings: 12/31 at OSU (OSU 85-80), 2/27 at MSU (MSU 107-105, 3 OT)
Bookends for the conference season: the opener was the first of four road losses for the Spartans (they dropped just one home game, the inexplicable loss to Penn State on 2/11), and the finale was the game that dropped the Buckeyes into the second seed, making this matchup possible in the semis.
This game is probably more important for MSU than OSU, because the Spartans aren't seeded high enough to host first- and second-round games, but the Buckeyes are comfortably on the 2/3 line. With a win here and a little help, East Lansing should see a couple of home games; obviously if MSU wins out, they'll be a protected seed. Ohio State isn't moving up to the 1 line, but they could be comfortably on the 2, especially if a team other than Oregon State or Arizona State wins the Pac-12.
You all know I'm from Ann Arbor, right? So you can imagine how much this is bothering me. Do I really have to write about how one of these teams is going to have a chance to win the conference title? ugh. fine.
There's a non-zero chance that fans with tickets to Saturday's session will see a blowout in the early game and an amazing battle in the late game. Kelsey Mitchell and Aerial Powers, two of the best players in the conference and unanimous first-team all-conference selections, should make this game worth watching even if they don't get much help from their teammates, and you don't have to be a math major to look up at the previous scores and realize that both of these women do have plenty of help available. The conference may have a lot of bubble-caliber teams this year, but they've got three pretty solid teams as well, and two of them are playing tomorrow in Bankers Life. If you're a WBB fan, you should go watch them. (And root for Northwestern.)