It's been almost a month since we last checked in on the Lady Boilers, and that means it's time for a desk-clearer. As of my last post, the Boilers had just pulled out a one-point win over Michigan to get their first Big Ten win, leaving them at 10-5 (1-2). While that isn't bad, it's not great either, and the mix of wins and losses meant that we were in danger of missing the tournament. Since that time, the team is on a 6-3 run to put them at 16-8. They are also riding a 6-game home winning streak and in 5th in a tight Big Ten race. More importantly, the latest Bracketology has us as a 9 seed, and rising. So how did we get here? One game at a time.
Win @ Indiana, 55-50
Player of the Game: Courtney Moses - 9 Pts, 5 Ast, 0 TO, 4 Reb, 4 Stl, 1 Blk(!)
The Boilers survived an off shooting night to win a tight one in Bloomington and defend the Barn Burner Trophy. Tight defense and good free throw shooting (21-22) were the keys to this one. Moses did a little bit of everything in this one, but most important was the clean sheet in turnovers. Dee Dee Williams also had an excellent game, holding IU's leading scorer Jori Davis (25 ppg) to just 4 points while she was guarding her. Davis finished with 12 points on 4-16 shooting. 7 Boilersfinished with 4+ rebounds, led by Alex Guyton with 6.
Loss @ Wisconsin, 60-46
Player of the Game: Courtney Moses - 14 Pts, 4-6 3Pt FG
We really never got into the flow of this game. Our offense was simply off, as evidenced by just 10 assists against 19 TO. Courtney was the only real bright spot here. Brittany was held scoreless for just the second time in her career, Guytonfouled out with just 11 minutes logged, and the team as a whole shot just 28% in the first half. Unfortunately, that seems to be the theme in our road games so far this year. We've scored more than 60 in just one away game this year (64 in a loss to NW). we just don't seem to be able to run our offense on the road, something that is puzzling given that the other factors of our game are ususally fine. Whatever the reason, it is something that needs to be fixed, and fixed soon.
Win vs Northwestern, 54-43
Win vs Penn State, 79-69
Player of the NW Game: Drey Mingo - 17 Pts, 11 Reb
Player of the PSU Game: Antionette Howard - 18 Pts, 5 Reb, 4 Ast, 3 Stl
I've lumped these two together because they were both dominant home games. Both games featured early runs to seize control andcomfortable second halves. The closest NW got in the 2nd was 8, Penn State 6. Penn State was actually the bigger blowout, as we led by up to 23 before taking our foot off the gas late. This over a team that is currently leading the Big Ten. Theteam played very well top to bottom in both games, but Drey and Antionette stood out. For Drey, this was her first impact game since her illness. She is still not back to where she was originally, but this was a huge step for her on the road to full recovery. As for Howard, she had struggled for a few games, and our bench production had been lacking because of it. She broke out of the slump in this game and has been playing well ever since.
Loss @ Michigan, 57-45
Player of the Game: Sam Ostarello - 8 Pts, 10 Reb
Once again we struggled to score on the road, although we did at least play well for a half. The score was tied at 25 at the break, before the wheels fell off completely in the 2nd. We scored just 20 points while giving up 32, and the turnover issue raised it's ugly head again. Ostarello was the lone bright spot here. She finally got the chance to log some meaningful minutes, and she made the most of them. She grabbed 10 boards in just 20 minutes of play, an impressive feat. She has been buried on the bench at times this year (somewhat unfairly in my opinion), so it was nice to see her get a chance to play and play well.
Win vs SIUE, 69-39
Win vs IU, 71-57
Win vs Iowa, 60-41
Player of the SIUE Game: Alex Guyton - 16 Pts, 8 Reb
Player of the IU Game: Courtney Moses - 23 Pts, 4 Ast, 3 Reb
Player of the Iowa Game: Brittany Rayburn - 23 Pts, 3 Stl, 2 Ast, 2 Reb
The SIUE game was a beatdown of a far inferior team. We were better in every respect. And that's all there is to say about it. It was that bad. As for IU, it was more or less the same, although IU was marginally better than the service union. Courtney had a great game, but she was hardly the only one. Brittany, Alex, and Drey were all in double firgures too, and Drey collected 7 boards as well. This one was never close. The Iowa game, however, was against a very solid team. Our Most Hated Rivals were ranked #20 coming into Mackey. They left as the victims of a blowout. Our defense was quite simply suffocating. We held a top 25 team to 22% from the field and 12% from three. They scored just 41 points, and never really challenged in the 2nd half. This was by far our best game of the season. We kept the TO numbers down, ran our offense crisply, and quite simply dominated on defense. A close second in the POTG race here was Courtney Moses, all 5-7 of her, who added six dimes and twelve points to an absurd 9 rebounds.
Loss @ Michigan State, 76-57
Co-Players of the Game: Drey Mingo - 18 Pts; Antionette Howard - 10 Pts, 6 Ast, 4 Reb
We never really got on track in this game. We failed to make a field goal for almost 5 minutes, and never really recovered from the early drought. There were a few opportunities to make a run at closing the gap, but they were all derailed by untimely turnovers and/or a mysteriously poor defensive effort. I didn't really expect to beat a borderline top 10 team on the road, but this wasn't how I expected to lose. I thought the offense would struggle some, like it always seems to on the road, which it did, but I didn't expect to be so bad on D. This was especially surprising after we just held Iowa to 41. MSU shot 46% from the field, a number that could have been higher had a few of their open shots fallen early on. Drey had a nice game, and Antionette continued her solid play, dishing 6 of our 9 assists, but our big guns never really had it today. Brittany scored just ten on 2-7 shooting, and Moses finally had an off game, spending most of the game in foul trouble and scoring just 5 and picking up just 1 assist. We even missed 3 or 4 layups, including a very uncharacteristic miss by Brittany. That pretty much summed up the game: things just weren't going our way.
A Look at Seeding and the Big Ten Race
If any of you have fought your way through that wall o' text, here's what it all means: We are currently sitting at 6-5 in conference, 3 back in the loss column from Michigan State and Penn State. Also ahead of us are Wisconsin (8-3) and Michigan (7-4). One game behind us is Iowa, who we hold the one-game head-to-head tiebreaker over. Also at 5-6 is Northwestern, who we split with. Ohio State sits an uncharacteristic 8th, but has enough talent to make a run back to the upper half of the conference. After that are the doormats, who are no longer relevant to the rest of the season.
Our remaining schedule runs @OSU, vs Illinois, @Minn, vs OSU, and @ Penn State. I see the middle three as wins (we're tough at home, as OSU knows from last year) and the other two as somewhat enigmatic. We already own a win over PSU, but they are currently leading the conference, and our game against them might decide the conference. Ihonestly don't see us beating them on the road with that much on the line for them. @OSU, on the other hand, is a possible win. They have underachieved all year, and while they are still extremely dangerous, the wheels are in danger of falling off completely. This could be a make-or-break game for their season, and if we get an early lead they might cash it in. Add to that the fact that the game is at Nationwide Arena (the home of the mighty Blue Jackets!) rather than Value City, and this game looks like a toss-up. A 4-1 finish is not out of the question, but I see 3-2 as more likely, leaving us at 9-7 and likely at least tied for 4th in the conference.
That leads me to NCAA seeding. We are sitting at 16-8, which looks like a bubble record at first glance. However, our losses are not bad at all. Our worst loss is Northwestern, but is forgivable given that it was on the road, without Drey. We have lost twice to Wisconsin andonce to Michigan, both of whom are in the top 4 in the conference. Other than that, we have lost to current #6 Texas A&M, #8 Notre Dame, #11 Michigan State, and#12 Maryland, who we led by 8 with 4:00 to go before falling by a single point. Against that, we have quite a few blowout wins over inferior competition, with no letdown losses mixed in. We also a have a pair of signature wins at the top of our resume. Most recent was our dominating win over Iowa, which should still be fresh in the minds of the committee come tourney time. Arguably even bigger is our win over DePaul in the preseason NIT. Granted, that was a long time ago, but we are one of only 3 teams that can claim a win over them. Currently, they are ranked #10, and any top 10 win is a big deal, no matter when, where or how you got it. Right now, I see us as a comfortable 8-10 seed. We're not a lock by any means, but we should be in barring a total collapse. I think 3-2 plus a win in Indy puts us in for sure, 3-2 puts us just on the happy side of the line, and 2-3 leaves us in the Last Four Out.