|Purdue Fort Wayne
What do you even say about Green Bay at this point? The Phoenix have now won nine straight games overall and 18 in a row against the rest of the Horizon League during the regular season, dating back to a home loss against Youngstown State last January 20th. Their latest efforts, though not against their closest challengers, were among their most impressive in those streaks, including batterings of those Penguins and Robert Morris by 38 and 32 points. Natalie McNeal scored 18 points against the Colonials, ten of those in the third quarter as the Phoenix blew the contest wide open after something of a sluggish start, while offering 14 with nine rebounds to the YSU effort two days earlier.
It’s generally been accepted all season long that the Phoenix and Cleveland State are 1-2 in the conference, and the Vikings did their part to hold off two teams that may have had some issue with that statement in defeating Detroit Mercy and Purdue Fort Wayne last week – though a third, Wright State, awaits on Wednesday. CSU’s starting backcourt led the way in both wins, including Colbi Maples’ 29 points and seven assists on Saturday against the Mastodons, preceded by Mickayla Perdue scoring her team’s first 15 points on the way to 25 total against UDM. If there’s a negative with the Vikings right now, it’s simply that they’re probably going to have to be perfect the rest of the way to have any chance at the regular season title, given the way Green Bay is playing and CSU’s loss to the Phoenix last month.
Wright State’s only action last week was a 74-64 victory against an IUPUI team that put forward a solid effort for most of the contest, but the way that the Raiders handled a Jaguars team that’s pretty strong in the middle of the floor is notable. WSU limited Jazmyn Turner and Katie Davidson to a combined 4-for-25 and nine points, the latest bit of evidence that Kari Hoffman has shored up the Raiders’ defense and interior. Arguably the two biggest forces behind that have been Layne Ferrell and Rachel Loobie, players with good size and athleticism who can play almost anywhere on the floor. Loobie was particularly impressive against the Jags with seven points and 12 rebounds, the latest productive game from a player who is averaging 8.3 points and 6.5 rebounds across 21.7 minutes per game – more than double the playing time she received in any of her previous three collegiate seasons (the first two of those at Central Michigan).
It’s been an up-and-down few weeks for Purdue Fort Wayne who, appropriately enough, split their two games last week. In their loss against Cleveland State on Saturday, Jazzlyn Linbo was just about unstoppable with a career-high 20 points and 12 rebounds, a notable accomplishment against one of the league’s stronger inside games. The Dons game scoring leaders list has about as many different names on it as an arrivals/departures board at a major airport, with Linbo offering yet another dimension to a team that can win with several different players. One of them, undoubtedly, has always been Amellia Bromenschenkel, who went for 19 points (on 9-for-13 shooting) in a win over Oakland on Wednesday that saw PFW pull away in the fourth quarter.
Things are slowly rounding into shape for Milwaukee, a team that’s taken care of business against the bottom of the league over the last three games, while also showing as very competitive with the likes of Cleveland State and Wright State. The Panthers latest efforts, against Robert Morris and Youngstown State, were largely run by Kamy Peppler. The second-year guard and all-league candidate has truly come into her own this year, including 40 points across the two games, alongside nine rebounds and seven assists. Another young player, Jorey Buwalda, followed up her HL freshman of the week honors by going for 17 points against the Colonials. Buwalda’s 56.5 field goal percentage in conference games ranks eighth and unsurprisingly, she gets to the free throw line as well as almost anyone.
One of the more stunning results of the season so far took place on Saturday, when Detroit Mercy was splattered by rival Oakland at the O’rena, 89-55. The Golden Grizzlies had been playing pretty well of late, but that doesn’t fully explain a result where you almost have to laugh it off and move on if you’re the Titans. Still, it is a bit concerning that UDM has now lost three of four, with two of those three against teams they probably should beat more often than not (and yes, it still is weird to say things like that about Detroit Mercy), although a win against Purdue Fort Wayne in that stretch offers a solid counterpoint. The Titans were never truly in their game at Cleveland State on Wednesday, but Imani McNeal was outstanding, including 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting and five rebounds.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what suddenly went right for Oakland in their demolition of UDM on Saturday. The lopsided score was probably a one-off, but what isn’t is the contributions that OU has been getting from the likes of Kennedie Montue (20 points against the Titans) and Miriam Ibezim (14 points, 11 rebounds), secondary players that have stepped up to offer the Golden Grizzles a surprising level of depth. Oakland also gets foul shots at an elite rate – they’re seventh in the entire nation in free throw rate – and they remain an incredibly opportunistic, high-pressure team defensively with 11.3 steals per game (17th nationally). Put it all together, with top-end players like Brooke Quarles-Daniels and Markyia McCormick, great depth, and a well-executed system, and the idea that they can continue to beat good teams isn’t a crazy one.
It’s not fair to judge any team too harshly against the miseries of the Wisconsin trip, though what had been developing into a decent few games for Youngstown State has dissolved into a three-game losing streak, two of those being blowout losses to conference leaders Cleveland State and Green Bay. The other? A game against Milwaukee where YSU cut a large Panthers lead to two with 2:20 to go…and then didn’t score the rest of the way. The good news, however, is that the Penguins have gotten most of their toughest conference games out of the way early on. They’ll have another when they host Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday, but after that? Northern Kentucky, Robert Morris, IUPUI, Milwaukee and Oakland. There aren’t easy nights anywhere in the league right now, but if YSU is going to get back into the race for things like home court in the first round or possibly even a bye, it’s imperative that they come out of those five games well.
It’s tough to explain IUPUI’s Katie Davidson, other than to say that she can do anything that needs to be done on a basketball court. That was never more evident than on Sunday when the out-of-nowhere player of the year candidate went off for 27 points (on 11-for-14 shooting), seven assists, four steals and four rebounds as the Jags scored 59 second-half points and flew past Northern Kentucky. Davidson wasn’t at her best when IUPUI couldn’t stay with Wright State on Thursday, but all in all, Kate Bruce’s team has been playing some pretty good basketball this month. After dropping both ends of a road trip to Robert Morris and Youngstown State over the New Year’s weekend, the Jags bounced back with an upset over Detroit Mercy, a good look against WSU, and the comfortable win against NKU.
Like their former travel partners in Youngstown, Robert Morris has also seen a brief stretch of some modest promise come to a screeching halt, with a rather large assist to the Wisconsin trip. The Colonials have now dropped five straight games – a lot of that without Naomi Barnwell, though Barnwell did make a brief return in RMU’s latest game, against Green Bay. For a team that struggles to score points, the Colonials simply can’t afford to be without one of their more explosive and athletic players, especially in reasonably close games like their recent losses to Oakland and Milwaukee. Freshman Tuana Coskun had something of a breakout game at Milwaukee on Thursday, hitting all five of her field goals on the way to 12 points in 14:25 of playing time. Those 12 tallies equaled her combined total from all other games this season.
It’s tough to figure out where Northern Kentucky goes from here, because when the Norse are 2-13 (0-6 HL) and were just blown out by an IUPUI team that was 3-12 (1-5 HL) entering the game, there aren’t a ton of other places left to look for a few wins (though it should be noted that NKU was without Khamari Mitchell-Steen on Sunday and has both RMU and YSU in the next ten days). Against the Jags, Carter McCray had the best game of her young career with 25 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out late – and she did it against a team that, between the likes of Jazmyn Turner, Abby Wolterman and Faith Stinson, doesn’t give things away easily in McCray’s preferred area of the floor. Western Kentucky transfer Macey Blevins had one of the best games of her life as well, and Kailee Davis had a good second half to help the Norse score 60 points in those two quarters.
Player of the Week
Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State)
Of the several solid candidates this week, Perdue best combined production across multiple games, a strong degree of opponent difficulty, and threw in a wow moment (her scoring CSU’s first 15 points against Detroit Mercy). Sometimes it really is that simple.
Also considered: Natalie McNeal (Green Bay), Colbi Maples (Cleveland State), Carter McCray (Northern Kentucky), Kamy Peppler (Milwaukee)
November 28: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
December 5: Maddy Schreiber (Green Bay)
December 12: Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State)
December 19: Danielle Vuletich (Robert Morris)
December 26: Alexis Hutchison (Wright State)
January 2: Cassie Schiltz (Green Bay)
January 9: Katie Davidson (IUPUI)