|Purdue Fort Wayne||6||6||–|
Despite being pushed by Northern Kentucky a bit on Friday in a defensive slog, the beat kept rolling for Green Bay, as the Phoenix cruised to their seventh straight win on Sunday by taking care of a hot Wright State team at home. Just like in the first meeting between the teams, a long run got the job done for UWGB against the Raiders, as a 15-3 spurt during the second quarter took what was a tight affair early and kept it safely out of reach the rest of the way. Sydney Levy led Green Bay with 17 points against WSU, though Natalie McNeal was the team’s top all-around player, as the Saint Louis transfer added 16 points and 16 rebounds, her best game since joining the Phoenix last summer. Bailey Butler hit several clutch free throws late against Northern Kentucky, contributing to a team-high 17 points, though the Norse held their hosts under 30 percent from the floor on what decidedly wasn’t a day for offense. Green Bay still has to survive a trip to Youngstown State this weekend, while Cleveland State takes on NKU at home, but those are the only major hurdles remaining before the February 23rd Phoenix-Vikings matchup at the The Kress stands as, essentially, a regular season championship game.
While Cleveland State officially slayed the IUPUI dragon last month in the Wolstein Center, it’s still hard to overlook the significance of their winning a game in The Jungle on Saturday, as that place has been an absolute house of horrors for the Vikings since the Jaguars joined the conference. Destiny Leo (23 points) and HL Freshman of the Week Jordana Reisma (14 points, two blocks) starred in that rout, though Leo’s most memorable play of the week came two days later at Purdue Fort Wayne. With the Mastodons throwing the kitchen sink at the Vikings and climbing back within single digits after trailing by 19 at the end of the third quarter, Gabriella Smith missed a pair of free throws with just under two minutes to play. However, two offensive rebounds later, Leo beat an expiring shot clock with a heave from just past the center court line to seal the result. The Vikings will now look towards that aforementioned showdown with Green Bay – though they’ll have to get past a Northern Kentucky team that beat them last month first.
It’s hard to avoid a bit of a creeping feeling about Youngstown State. Sure, the Penguins won at Green Bay on January 20th, but since then, a series of results – a loss to Purdue Fort Wayne, a blowout at Cleveland State and, most recently, barely scraping by against Detroit Mercy at home on Saturday – have made the earlier victory look like a bit of an outlier. On the bright side, Lilly Ritz pushed herself firmly back into the Player of the Year conversation thanks to a phenomenal weekend that included 26 points and 12 rebounds against the Titans, following up 31 and nine against Oakland on Thursday. The 31 points in the earlier game, and the 15 made field goals that helped produce them, were the highest totals by a YSU player in eight years. The Guins haven’t been eliminated from title contention just yet (though that seems inevitable at some point), but they remain a very solid third place.
All in all, Northern Kentucky had about as good of a trip to Wisconsin as could have reasonably been expected, as the Norse took Green Bay to the wire on Friday, and pretty well shut the Phoenix down in the process, before rallying from an early deficit to top Milwaukee on Sunday. Given UWGB’s nationally-elite defense, Kailee Davis’ 21 points in that contest stands out as particularly impressive, and it was nearly enough despite the Phoenix doing their thing to the likes of Lindsey Duvall and Ivy Turner. Duvall and Turner were back to their usual selves two days later with 22 and 19 points, respectively, a must for a team that doesn’t have any significant depth. The Norse still trail IUPUI by one game for fourth place (and, of course, home court advantage in the increasingly-likely quarterfinal meeting between the two teams), but they wrap up with Purdue Fort Wayne, Detroit Mercy and Oakland after a game at Cleveland State on Thursday, which at least offers the hope of tracking down the Jags (though IUPUI’s schedule isn’t substantially different in terms of difficulty, in fact they play the Michigan teams as well).
Once again, IUPUI showed to be one of the hardest teams in the league to figure out, as the Jaguars absolutely throttled a Purdue Fort Wayne team that had been playing some really good basketball on Thursday, before being crushed at home by Cleveland State on Saturday. The Jags will finish the regular season 0-4 against the Vikings and Green Bay (with three of those games being blowouts) and yet… they defeated Youngstown State in their only meeting so far, split with Northern Kentucky, and have a random clunker of a loss to Robert Morris thrown in there. Beyond that loss to RMU, the Jags have largely taken care of business against the bottom of the league, and they remain in great shape to receive a first-round bye and host a quarterfinal game. However, given the hot and cold nature of their three-point shooting (Rachel Kent and Destiny Perkins went 7-for-14 against PFW and 1-for-10 versus the Vikings) and Jazmyn Turner’s foul issues, it’s hard to see a ceiling much higher than that.
Purdue Fort Wayne didn’t have an amazing week by any objective standard with losses to IUPUI and Cleveland State, but their game against CSU on Monday showed the significant growth of the program over the last two years. The Mastodons seemed like they were on their way to a reluctant blowout before coming alive in the fourth quarter, using pressure to rattle the suddenly-mistake-prone Vikings and trimming a 20-point deficit down to single digits a couple times before Leo’s heave unofficially buried the comeback. Shayla Sellers, after a up-and-down season, is playing her best ball at the right time and collected 21 points against her hometown school, while Aubrey Stupp did her usual admirable job as a 5-11 post player spelling a foul-ridden Jazzlyn Linbo. At 7-9 in the conference and two games behind NKU, the Dons likely won’t finish higher than sixth (their current position), but a home game against Detroit Mercy in the first round followed by a possible trip to Youngstown seems like a feasible path to Indy for Maria Marchesano’s crew.
Though Wright State is still just 4-12 in the Horizon League after their 20-point loss at Green Bay on Sunday, it’s impossible to ignore the momentum that’s been building late in Kari Hoffman’s second season. Thanks mostly to a bevy of elite three-point shooters, the Raiders have come to life in February with wins in three of their previous five games, including a contest at Milwaukee on Friday where Emily Chapman went absolute bananaland on the Panthers with 28 points on a 12-for-15 line from the floor (4-for-6 from three-point range), an effort that had a lot to do with the Raiders hitting more than half of their shots overall. Could WSU come from the depths of despair halfway through the season to end up hosting a first-round game? With three of their final four games against Purdue Fort Wayne, Oakland and Detroit Mercy and two games to make up on the teams immediately in front of them, I’m certainly not ruling it out. Either way, Wright State has clearly become that team nobody wants any part of right now.
It wasn’t that long ago that Oakland seemed poised to possibly compete for a Horizon League tournament bye, as the Golden Grizzles went on a mini-run of three wins in four last month that included beating Northern Kentucky and a highly-respectable overtime loss to Youngstown State. Since then, however, OU has skidded to six defeats in seven games. Three of those losses were to CSU, YSU and Green Bay, which is understandable on some level, though the Grizzles did 22 points worse against the Penguins on their second try. Much harder to explain is a 74-43 loss to Robert Morris on Saturday, one that saw Oakland hit just 23.5 percent of their shots from the floor and featured only Linda Van Schaik in double digits. It’s not entirely a lost cause for Jeff Tungate’s squad, which remains in position to host a first-round game at the O’rena and can still move up a spot or two through a manageable final four games that include Detroit Mercy and Wright State, but they’ll need to pivot quickly to repeat last year’s surprise semifinal run.
While Milwaukee’s on-court results haven’t really been there this season, the Panthers are 3-9 in 2023, it’s hard to ignore the youth that continues to make a big difference on their roster. In fact, the only upperclassmen on the team are Megan Walstad, Emma Wittmershaus and grad transfer Jessi Giles. While those are big pieces (literally and figuratively) that will need to be replaced by the time UWM is ready to contend again, the team’s less-seasoned student-athletes have been very impressive. Redshirt sophomore Grace Crowley and redshirt freshman Anna Lutz both established new career highs in the Panthers’ loss to Northern Kentucky on Sunday, as the pair of forwards logged 19 and 16 points, respectively. Sophomore Kendall Nead has become a reliable scoring option as well, and though the team’s point guards have struggled at times, they’re, um, young point guards and gaining valuable experience.
Following a string of increasingly-competitive results, Detroit Mercy had, arguably, its best weekend in a long, long while thanks to downing Robert Morris on Thursday (securing a season sweep of the Colonials), followed by a game that saw the Titans go blow-for-blow with Youngstown State for an entire game at the Beeghly Center before falling in the final seconds. Emma Trawally Porta had 22 points – on 9-for-10 shooting – while grabbing nine rebounds against RMU while Irene Murua added 16 points and 12 boards. Two days later, Trawally Porta was arguably even better (given the upgrade in competition), as she scored 21 points and added seven caroms against the Penguins’ formidable post game. It seems useful to point out that she’s a sophomore, part of an extremely youthful roster that Kate Achter will be able to carry over into year two of her tenure, meaning that the Titans’ late-season momentum may develop into something longer in term.
Robert Morris, pretty well out of nowhere, has come on to win two of their last three games after losing ten of eleven, including victories over solid Purdue Fort Wayne and Oakland teams. The loss in that stretch? Detroit Mercy. If you truly have any idea what to do with those data points, feel free to apply to write for this site, but it’s hard to place a team tied for ninth in the standings (and multiple games in arrears of OU, PFW and Milwaukee) much better than that in the power rankings. Throw in Thursday’s head-to-head result against the Titans and Wright State’s play of late and, well…someone has to be last, and I suppose the fact that it’s now a difficult decision speaks to the improvement among several teams near the bottom of the league. In the Colonials’ 31-point beatdown of Oakland on Saturday, RMU’s defense once again came to the fore, fueling a 20-2 run over the second and third quarters that cracked the game open. Rebecca Dwomoh led the way offensively with 19 points.
Player of the Week
Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State)
Though Leo’s clincher (not to mention the other 28 points) on Monday was enough to give pause, ultimately it was impossible to bypass Ritz’s incredible two games littered with “first time since” accomplishments.
Also considered: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State), Emma Trawally Porta (Detroit Mercy), Emily Chapman (Wright State), Natalie McNeal (Green Bay)
November 14: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
November 21: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
November 28: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State)
December 5: Malia Magestro (Youngstown State)
December 12: Brittni Moore (Cleveland State)
December 19: Sydney Levy (Green Bay)
December 26: Rachel Kent (IUPUI)
January 2: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
January 9: Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State)
January 16: Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland)
January 23: Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State)
January 30: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
February 6: Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State)