Five B1G women’s basketball teams are dancing. (Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Purdue, Michigan State)
Four more made it to the WNIT. (Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana)
To get you set for some of the postseason, below are some of my favorite stories from covering #B1Gwbb throughout the year, and in the conference tournament. This is a chance to storytell about all the conference teams still alive, and about the one which isn’t, but arguably had the biggest postseason punch so far (in Ohio State) in the conference tournament….
What a riot to watch “The Riot”.
Rachel Theriot put on one of the most impressive passing performances in Big Ten history. Her 18 assists were the most in Division 1 this year, the most in the Big Ten women’s tournament history, and the most in Nebraska history in 38 years. (I think it’s still remarkable the 18 is not a school record, but Kathy Hawkins still holds that honor with 19 back in 1976.)
I spoke to her dad, Curtis, who told me Rachel always “played up” two age groups, when she first started learning basketball, around the age of five. She was the smallest on the court at the time, which is why she learned how to pass first. Makes sense — she had to find SOME way to get past everyone else who was bigger.
So her shooting came later.
In fact, Division 1 schools, which were recruiting Rachel Theriot, were wondering about that part of her game: Can she shoot? Most of the big offers stayed off the table. Her decision came down to Xavier and Nebraska.
She eventually decided the Husker way fit best. Connie Yori saw something in her most major schools didn’t. And the playing rotation worked nicely. Theriot could play a year with Lindsay Moore, and then make Nebraska “her” team for the next three.
Interesting to note, though, for a kid who grew up in the Cleveland area, and for a father who was a big Ohio State fan – the Buckeyes never offered Theriot. In fact, in what is meant to be a good-natured reaction, Curtis Theriot ripped up a recruiting letter from Michigan when it arrived at the Theriot home.
MACHINE GUN MAGGIE:
Hard to believe this NCAA tournament will be the last time seeing Maggie Lucas wear a Lady Lion uniform.
She will begin the postseason now as the B1G and PSU’s all-time 3-point shooting queen, passing Kelly Mazzante against Ohio State in the B1G tourney. And in the pregame before she set the record, she looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “I don’t care if I don’t hit another 3-point shot in my career, as long as we keep winning.”
If you don’t believe that? The PSU coaching staff confirmed it … “She has not brought the record up to us, one time.”
“Machine-Gun” came after tons of shots, and tons of creativity on how to practice those shots.
“I always got my thumb in the way when I shot,” Lucas told me, describing her thumb on her guide hand, when she first started playing basketball. “I started to grip a nickel with my thumb when I shot to keep it out of the way.”
Her ability to shoot the ball has particularly impressed Fred Chmiel, PSU’s assistant coach, and the one who’s become Maggie’s personal rebounder, whether it’s practice or pregame. “We went around the horn at the five major spots from three. Shot ten balls in those five spots, and I watched Maggie hit 50 in a row,” Chmiel laughed. “I looked at her and said, ‘OK! We’re done. Let’s move on to the next drill.”
Just a personal observation, but it looks like to me that Iowa’s chemistry is peaking at the right time. Did you miss the Lisa Bluder “wobble” (her description) celebrations postgame this year? Check out one of them after beating PSU here.
The Hawks always pick a motivational tool to push the team through the next challenge. Stand by for the NCAA tournament version, but for Indy, it was wearing t-shirts that had “#nextquestion” written on it.
It’s Sam Logic’s saying, when asked anything about the team …
“Can Theairra Taylor comeback from knee surgery?” Next Question…
“Can Iowa get to the Big Ten Tournament Championship game?” Next Question…
“Can Sam Logic become Iowa’s next best passer?” … Next Question…
Yup. Logic has already answered that one, passing former Hawkeye Cara Consuegra in the last game of the regular season. If you missed the story, Consuegra, who is now the head coach at Charlotte, sent over a dozen gold roses to the Iowa women’s basketball offices.
Lisa Bluder has had a chance to coach both. “Both were/are strong point guards; both are students of the game,” she said. “Sam watches basketball all the time. Cara used to bring a notebook to practice every day and take notes to help prepare her to be a coach.”
“Pretty neat young women! Both of them!”
Purdue will try to make a late postseason push without its fifth-year senior point guard KK Houser, who tore her ACL in February.
Remarkable to see how the Boilers have responded without KK. Purdue has gone 6-1 since, holding opponents to 62.3 ppg, and both Courtney Moses and April Wilson have upped their production. (Moses from 15.7 ppg to 18.9ppg, Wilson 4.6 apg to 6 apg and 10.1ppg to 10.9ppg).
Sharon Versyp talked about a moment the Purdue seniors had together in the lockerroom after the MSU game, when KK hurt herself.
“For about 30 minutes, the seniors (Dee Dee Willams, Houser, Moses) all had a moment together, they had their moment, and some closure,” Versyp said.
KK has since had her ACL surgery on March 10. Reports are that she has begun her rehab and her spirits are high. She will be Purdue’s biggest cheerleader in the NCAAs.
When people talk about the progress of Michigan State’s Aerial Powers, they think offensive production. Suzy Merchant thinks defense.
She told me the biggest maturing step Powers took throughout the year was becoming a more complete player, which meant she had to learn how to play defense.
“Aerial called me after we won the championship,” Merchant said about MSU getting a share of the B1G title on the last day of the regular season. “She called me at like 11 o’clock that night, and said she wanted to thank me for making her a defensive player. She told me if she had gone anywhere else, she wouldn’t have been the kind of defensive player she is today.”
Merchant laughed, “I was so touched, that I hung up the phone and called my high school coach (Jim Anderson in Traverse City, MI) to thank him for making me a defensive player, so I could make Aerial the defensive player she is.”
GOPHER GOLDEN THINGS AHEAD?
Minnesota sat on the NCAA bubble, and saw it burst Monday night. The Gophers are one of the three teams below who will play in the WNIT.
Head Coach Pam Borton thinks her star guard Rachel Banham has perhaps the best chance to be the best pro compared to anyone else in the B1G this year. Borton added that Banham needs a chance to play in the NCAAs to showcase her talent on a national stage. She will have one more year to do so.
Banham will play in the WNIT and have one more year with Freshman of the Year honoree Amanda Zahui B.
And with Zahui’s journey from Sweden, it’s not what you know but who you know.
Associate Head Coach Curtis Lloyd first saw Zahui play when he was an assistant at Virginia. When she was 15 years old, Zahui was competing in the European U-18 championships at the time. Borton hired Lloyd to Minnesota, and Lloyd told her Zahui was a “can’t miss” recruit.
Zahui at the time was deciding between going to college and pros in the EuroLeague, but she would have been the first person on her Dad’s side of the family who would NOT go to college.
After a visit to Minneapolis and building a relationship with her parents, Borton and company sold them on pursuing an education before going to the pros first.
Leading the B1G in rebounding and double-doubles this year wasn’t a bad way to start on the court either.
Wanna know how tough Kim Barnes Arico is?
She was so sick with bouts of nausea in Michigan’s B1G tourney game against Indiana, coaches and players didn’t know if she would be able to make it through. One of her biggest messages to this team is “act your way into feeling.” It was something Barnes Arico did that night, and something her young team did all season long.
“We always talked during the year about Cal Ripken, who they’re too young to know who he is,” she joked and continued, “and just how people play with broken fingers and people play with the flu, and people play when family members pass away. It’s just something that you’ve got to do. I tried to be out there for them. They really carried it. I was so proud that they told me before the game, I said guys, I might need to lean on you a little bit today. They said no worries, Coach, we got you. And then after the game they were just giving me hugs, which I hope I didn’t give them any germs. I was proud of the way they responded, and from a coaching perspective, that’s all you can ask of your team. They just were unbelievable today.
The Wolverines, like the Hoosiers, are inexperienced and young and will benefit by using learning experiences from the WNIT – and to learn from coaches who have had NCAA tourney success.
Northwestern’s Joe McKeown is doing his best to get the Cats back to championship form. The last time they won a title was back in 1990, and McKeown broke out that trophy for this year’s team during practices in preparation for the postseason.
This year, he had a trio of freshmen who helped considerably with that this year, led by Freshman of the Year candidate Nia Coffey.
Consistency helps, and McKeown is now in his sixth year. After the retirement of my own college coach, Don Perrelli, NU went through a period of time where they had three new coaches in nine years, none of those years producing winning seasons.
McKeown has now found something that is working. Three winning seasons in the last five years. He told me, “I have to rebuild this program twice. Once to get it to the point where a player like a Nia Coffey would consider coming to play here. Now we rebuild again. And now that we have a Coffey-like player, we can try to rebuild toward a championship.”
Talk about rebuilding, Curt Miller can sympathize with McKeown’s take.
In fact, he sold to Indiana’s athletic director Fred Glass a “six-year plan.”
“I told him I would change what happens off the court immediately,” Miller told me. “The basketball would be the last to improve.”
Miller, much like McKeown, has been building for that star player, the program changer. Maybe he has it in a Larryn Brooks already. But when he was hired, he told Glass he would build from the backups forward. That his “second team” or bench players would start to become more competitive with other B1G benches, and they would begin to work their way to the starting group.
Having set all kinds of program records this year, Miller might be ahead of schedule.
Ohio State is one of the teams not dancing.
After being one of the best stories of the conference tournament, Ohio State did not receive a bid to the WNIT, but they end their season on a powerful note.
OSU scored a Big Ten tournament record 99 points, in knocking off the #1 seed Penn State. And first-team All B1G guard Ameryst Alston put herself in tournament scoring lore. Her 63 points in a two-game span were the second-most in Big Ten Tournament history, behind only PSU’s Kelly Mazzante’s 64 in 2002.
And Cait Craft? Known best for her defense and her older brother, averaged 16 ppg in the first two games of the conference tourney, and it didn’t go unnoticed by big bro.
“Aaron’s teammates told me he was watching our games and jumping around in their lockerroom back in Columbus,” Cait told me smiling ear to ear. “He told me later he was so proud of what me and my team did. It was probably the nicest thing he has said to me in my life.”