|Purdue Fort Wayne||5||6||+1|
When you step back and think about it, the run Green Bay has been on is pretty staggering. At one point of the season (December 1st, to be specific) the Phoenix was 3-3 overall and 0-1 in the Horizon League after dropping their conference opener at Milwaukee. They’ve literally won 20 of their 21 games since then, with most of them not being particularly close, and have overcome the losses of two of their headliners entering the season (Maddy Schreiber to injury, Hailey Oskey to departure) on the way there. What’s more, they avenged the one blemish in the 21-game tear on Sunday with a wire-to-wire victory at Youngstown State that was never really in doubt, behind a career-high 17 points by Callie Genke. Really though, UWGB’s hallmark is its defense, which holds opponents to a 38.6 percent effective field goal rate, sixth best nationally. On Thursday, Kevin Borseth’s squad will host Cleveland State, with the game between the 16-2 HL teams essentially standing as a regular-season championship game.
Cleveland State successfully avenged one of its two conference losses on Thursday by edging Northern Kentucky on a pair of Destiny Leo free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining, and they’ll try to take care of the other one on Thursday at The Kress. The Vikings head into that showdown in the rare position (at least this season) of underdog, though their 3-3 mark against Green Bay over the last three seasons is certainly a vast improvement on the historical trend of the series and with a nine-game winning streak in hand, CSU seems to have fully recovered from a brief slide that saw a decisive loss to the Phoenix in the first meeting of the season, along with the loss to NKU the following weekend. Amele Ngwafang, whose all-conference-level play this season has been a large part of what’s powered the Vikings to this point, matched a career high on Saturday with 25 points against Wright State, and with Leo likely the focal point of UWGB’s stellar defense, she and Brittni Moore will likely need to be at their best again this week.
If I were a bit more reactive to current trends versus the cumulative body of work, Youngstown State may very well be down in sixth or seventh, because the Penguins are not finishing the season well at all. YSU has lost four of their last six games, and though two of those came against the league leaders, the other two came against their less-heralded travel partners. And one of the wins was a squeaker against Detroit Mercy. It’s more than a little bit of a head scratcher, because the Guins have avoided major injuries, Lilly Ritz and Megan Callahan are both playing well, and structurally, they haven’t changed much from last year’s regular season co-champions or even the team that won at Green Bay a month ago. In their most recent games, home losses to Milwaukee and that same Phoenix team, Ritz managed double-doubles both times out, including 20 points and 14 rebounds on her Senior Day against UWGB.
Sorting everything after Green Bay and Cleveland State essentially involves two or three tiers of messes, but IUPUI has separated from that first pack to some extent with an 11-7 conference mark that is two games better than the fifth and sixth place teams immediately below them. In fact, the Jaguars would be tied with YSU for third place right now…had they not biffed one against Detroit Mercy on Thursday. That’s not quite the embarrassment that it used to be, but it still seems like a recurring theme for a team good enough to beat anyone in the league (with the possible exceptions of the top two) but still capable of throwing a random clunker out there against the likes of UDM or Robert Morris. The Jags did bounce back against Oakland on Saturday thanks to a vintage Jazmyn Turner game (21 points, ten rebounds), and they’ll now try to officially lock down a bye and a home quarterfinal in their closing home games against YSU and RMU.
Purdue Fort Wayne? Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons bounced back from their Monday night loss against Cleveland State (their third defeat in a row at the time) to take down Wright State and Northern Kentucky at home over the weekend. The win over the Norse – which pulled PFW into a fifth-place tie with NKU at 9-9 in the HL – was led by Audra Emmerson, who scored 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 5-for-8 from three-point range. Emmerson’s career-high-equaling effort was just the latest data point in a late season surge for the sophomore, who has collected five of her six double-digit scoring games against Division I opponents since January 14th. The WSU clash, where she scored 14, was another of those, although Amellia Bromenschenkel was the centerpiece that time around with 25 points. With recent wins against the likes of NKU, Youngstown State and Wright State (which has been playing pretty good basketball of late) and a deep enough team to receive contributions from several players, the Dons will be a dangerous team in the tournament.
After giving Green Bay (on February 10th) and Cleveland State (on Thursday) everything they could handle on their respective home courts, Northern Kentucky crashed hard on Saturday by losing to Purdue Fort Wayne and surrendering sole possession of fifth place. Ultimately that latter fact might not matter too much, given that NKU closes with arguably the easiest possible conference weekend, at home against Detroit Mercy and Oakland, while the Dons take on the Wisconsin trip that’s long been considered the HL’s toughest, but the fact remains that the Norse mirrors IUPUI’s maddening inconsistency. With Lindsey Duvall’s team-carrying potential (she had 27 of NKU’s 56 points in the near-upset of CSU) and the existing results it could certainly be argued that Camryn Whitaker’s squad has a higher ceiling than either of the two teams above them here and possibly YSU as well, though the Guins did sweep the Norse this year, but it’s also true that their minimal depth makes them more susceptible to off nights and lockdown defenders.
Milwaukee defeated Youngstown State at the Beeghly Center on Friday – blew them out, actually – and even though that result doesn’t shine as much as it did a month or two ago, it’s still the latest confusing result for a squad that can do things like that, then turn around and lose to Robert Morris two days later while committing 23 turnovers and scoring 45 points. Or beat mighty Green Bay in December, then between then and the YSU game without beating anyone currently placed higher than eighth in the standings. It’s probably fair to write off inconsistencies like that to the roster’s youth, though winning by 21 in one of the league’s toughest environments shows that the talent is there. Angie Cera had 20 points in that contest, and Megan Walstad added 17 with 11 rebounds, but the real star was a Panthers defense that held the Guins to exactly one point over a 12:06 stretch spanning the second and third quarters. Milwaukee scored 23 over that period, and that was pretty much the game.
Brooke Quarles-Daniels’ spinning one-hander from the paint with four seconds remaining on Monday night lifted Oakland to a Metro Series win over Detroit Mercy, a victory that snapped a seven-losses-in-eight-games skid that began right after OU defeated the Titans in their first meeting of the season, on January 18th. It was a gigantic win for the Golden Grizzlies beyond the dramatics as, with a 7-11 conference record, they’re now tied with Milwaukee for seventh place and have essentially clinched a home game in the first round of the tournament. Quarles-Daniels, the likely Horizon League Freshman of the Year (I think it’s fair to say that at this point), scored 19 points in all, following up a 12 point, 9 rebound effort in a loss to IUPUI on Saturday. She’s among the top 20 in the conference in rebounding despite being a 5-6 point guard and a pretty serious building block for a team in transition given that Monday was Senior Day for longtime core player Breanne Beatty.
Wright State received a small dose of reality last weekend through losses by 13 and 38 points to Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State, though that doesn’t change the trajectory of a team that still has a chance to end February with a 4-4 record thanks to home games against Oakland and Detroit Mercy to close the season. The Raiders – who, again, didn’t win a single Division I game until January 13th – have positioned themselves to possibly finish above a couple teams in the standings and pull a manageable first round game (though a win there would almost certainly mean a trip to CSU or Green Bay for the quarterfinals). Still, for where they were, where they are ain’t bad. Emily Chapman had a stellar game against the Mastodons on Thursday, throwing in 19 points and firing off eight assists as well. For a brief moment, her back-to-back second quarter threes had WSU in the game against CSU before a second half avalanche arrived.
After looking like an abject disaster for a lot of the season, Robert Morris has put together three straight split weekends, including wins over Purdue Fort Wayne, Oakland, and Milwaukee. What’s more, the Colonials still somehow have a (remote) chance to host a first-round tournament game. They’ll have to beat both IUPUI or Youngstown State to pull it off, but either way, RMU is certainly one of the teams leading the way in “hey, the bottom of the league actually isn’t bad” conversations. Charlie Buscaglia has a pretty solid young core to build on, and with a bit of work on depth and roster construction, the Colonials could surprise some people next year. Or this year, for that matter, as a couple pretty good teams can attest – for all of their struggles generally, RMU still ranks third nationally in opponent three point percentage, 86th in points against, and within the top 100 in several other defensive categories. Defense travels, as they say, and RMU probably won’t be an easy out next week.
Despite an extremely impressive win over IUPUI on Thursday, Detroit Mercy draws the short straw this week and slides into the basement. The fact that they probably would have been two spots higher if not for the last-second loss to Oakland on Monday night speaks to how difficult these decisions have become, but ultimately and despite their very obvious improvement, the Titans still just have three conference wins. In that game against the Jags, UDM limited a very good shooting team to just 48 points produced by a 25.4 field goal percentage, including a 1-for-11 line from Jazmyn Turner and 3-for-16 from Destiny Perkins. Irene Murua scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, then followed up with a career-high 23 points in the tight loss to OU. Emma Trawally Porta hauled in 15 boards against IUPUI and 16 against Oakland, bolstering a pretty sturdy case for all-defensive team honors.
Player of the Week
Irene Murua (Detroit Mercy)
Brittni Moore won the league’s award thanks to three straight double-doubles, though Monday’s CSU contest at Purdue Fort Wayne was considered as part of two weeks ago in this space despite counting towards last week for the HL. Moore’s 28 points and 28 rebounds over the Vikings’ other two games is certainly still a very strong case, as is Amellia Bromenschenkel’s 39 points, ten rebounds and five steals across two Mastodons games, including a big win over Northern Kentucky. However in a week without an extremely obvious pick, Murua seems deserving, given an output of 36 points, 16 rebounds and three steals as her downtrodden UDM team was four seconds from their first weekend sweep in six years. Her 23 tallies against Oakland was a career high, and she was also the Titans’ leading scorer in their win over IUPUI, easily the biggest upset in the league last week.
Also considered: Brittni Moore (Cleveland State), Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State), Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne), Audra Emmerson (Purdue Fort Wayne), Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky), Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State)
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)
February 13: Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State)