WBB Conference Tournament, Day 4: Cats Fall, Spartans Rout Buckeyes
There was an upset at Bankers Life Saturday, but not the one the fans wanted. Northwestern simply didn't have enough to push Maryland for four quarters, falling 83-62, and Michigan State put Ohio State down 36 after three before resting their starters in the fourth, but still beat the Buckeyes by 19, 82-63. (Adding insult to injury, MSU's men's team beat OSU as well, 91-76, to sweep the Buckeyes.)
Northwestern played a solid first half against the top-seeded Terrapins, taking an early 8-7 lead and hanging around after Maryland opened up a 17-point lead in the second quarter. A 10-0 run cut the lead back to 7, 31-24, and the teams traded baskets through the end of the quarter. The second half was a different story, as the Terrapins slowly pulled away, and in the end there just wasn't enough left in the Northwestern tank. Nia Coffey poured in 31 points, but Allie Tuttle was the only other Wildcat in double figures (10); Ashley Deary was 0 for 14 from the floor, Jordan Hankins was 1 for 9 (1 for 7 from three), and Christen Inman was 3 for 9. Brionna Jones and Tierney Pfirman led Maryland with 17 each.
Like Northwestern, Ohio State led exactly once, by one point: back-to-back threes by Kelsey Mitchell put the Buckeyes up 6-5. Aerial Powers responded with a three, and nearly five minutes later, MSU finished an 11-point run that gave them a 16-6 lead. OSU cut it to 6 at the end of the quarter, and scored the first basket of the second, but the Spartans outscored them 26-6 in the remaining time, and at 44-20 heading into halftime, there couldn't have been many fans expecting a repeat of their last meeting, a three-overtime thriller. Instead, Michigan State finished off the Buckeyes with a 28-point third quarter, and as everyone but Tori Jankoska got a fourth-quarter rest, Kelsey Mitchell and OSU's second team cut into the lead against MSU's second team, but the 19-point final margin was not indicative of the difference between the two teams Saturday.
Powers led everyone with 31 points and 12 boards; Jankoska added 23 points, 8 boards and 6 assists as the only player to play all 40 minutes. Mitchell led Ohio State with 20, but she needed 23 shot equivalents to get there (4 for 18 from the field, 2 for 12 from three). OSU's remaining starters combined for just 14 points: Ameryst Alston and defensive specialist Cait Craft did not score.
NCAA Status - still in
Purdue moved past Villanova into what looks like the #39 spot in ESPN's bracket. Indiana and St. John's are the 10s ahead of Purdue; obviously IU has finished as well, so they're likely to remain in the same relative position, and St. John's faces Georgetown Sunday in the 4-5 game in the Big East quarterfinals, which means they're unlikely to drop.
Temple passed Auburn and is two spots below Purdue; the Owls play 2-seed South Florida Sunday in the AAC semis. The Bulls are currently an 8 seed in the NCAA bracket, so an upset by Temple could push the Owls from an 11 to a 10, past Villanova and maybe Purdue. Among the first four out, Princeton is done, St. Louis lost in the A-10 semis to Duquesne today, Iowa's done, and St. Bonaventure is done. The one remaining team of note below Purdue is Saint Mary's, the third team under Next Four Out. They obviously won't need an at-large bid if they win the West Coast tournament, and they're still far enough back that even a win Monday followed by a loss to BYU won't get them in the tournament.
- Still waiting on Horizon League action to kick off so we can root for 9-seed Green Bay. The Horizon gives the top two teams byes to the semis, so the Phoenix won't play until the 12th. It's possible that if they face someone other than the 4 seed (probably Detroit, although it could be Wright State) and lose, they could drop below Purdue.
- Still waiting on West Coast play to resume Monday so we can root for 6-seed BYU.
Game 13: #3 Michigan State (24-7) vs #1 Maryland (29-3), 7:00 PM
Previous meeting: 2/5 at Maryland (Maryland 85-76)
Maryland fans might be torn: some of them may be glad they won't be facing the only Big 14 team they couldn't beat this season, but some of them are probably wary of facing the team that put nearly a UConn-style whipping on the Buckeyes. If it's any consolation, in the earlier meeting between the two, Aerial Powers had one of her usual games, scoring 31 in College Park, and Branndais Agee had 22, and the Terrapins still won, thanks to the usual suspects: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (30 points) and Brionna Jones (17 points, 17 rebounds). Brene Mosley added 17 of her own off the bench, shooting 9 of 10 from the line.
A key factor in that game was Maryland shooting 36 free throws to just 10 for the Spartans. (Yep, Mosley shot that many herself.) The Spartans were basically Maryland's equals in the paint, but enough of those were on fast breaks (17; interestingly, only 11 were off turnovers) that it hides what was certainly a disparity in times attacking the paint. Michigan State took 15 more shots despite being -1 in turnovers, so you can guess where those other Maryland attempts went: straight to the line.
To pull off the upset, MSU can't send Maryland to the line nearly that often, and the Spartans have to keep providing help for Powers so that the Terrapins can't simply collapse on her. MSU was 7 for 21 from three in that game ... unfortunately, that was actually above their season average (.315, 13th in the conference and 154th overall). Maryland, the best three-point shooting team in the country (.415), was 5 for 12, almost exactly their average. Michigan State hasn't shot better than .500 from three in a game this season, but I think that has to change if the Spartans want to be in this game in the fourth quarter.
Agee leads the team from three, .418 on 110 attempts; Jankoska is shooting more than 100 points worse (.299) on close to double the attempts (194). Agee was 3 for 5, Jankoska 2 for 9 ... turn those attempts around, and MSU can maybe make this closer. What's more likely is that Maryland gets to the line like they did in the first meeting, and whatever Michigan State does from three isn't going to be good enough. Maryland wins, 87-66, and the Terrapins remain unbeaten in Big 14 tournament play.