|Purdue Fort Wayne
It’s probably silly to say that Green Bay got mad after losing to Oakland two weeks ago, but the Phoenix certainly played like it in barreling IUPUI and Wright State in their most recent games. Jasmine Kondrakiewicz was outstanding in both outings, posting 21 points and 12 boards against the Jags before going for 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals against WSU. There’s little that remains unsaid about GB at this point, but it is worth noting that the Phoenix averages 75.5 points per game this season, a mindblowing total for a program that’s generally considered to be built on defense, efficiency, and a lot of wins by scores like 61-45. The number is a 7.6 point increase over last season and the most by Green Bay in at least 15 years. A win in a showdown at Cleveland State on Saturday would all but lock down a repeat of last year’s Horizon League regular season title.
Teams generally struggle when playing at Iowa and Green Bay, but Cleveland State should probably be a little bit concerned with how rough they occasionally looked during their road trip to Oakland and Detroit Mercy, two teams the Vikings have generally expected to beat in recent years. UDM, of course, pulled off one of the shockers of the Horizon League season (second, perhaps, to Oakland’s takedown of Green Bay two weeks ago) on Saturday, but even in the game CSU won at the O’rena on Thursday, the Vikings struggled with ball security and an offense that suddenly looks extremely top-heavy. Mickayla Perdue was once again lights-out in both games, however, as she led her team with 24 points against Detroit Mercy, two days after burning the Grizzlies with five straight second-half threes to put that game away.
What’s already been an impressive turnaround for Kate Achter and Detroit Mercy this season hit another level when the Titans stunned Cleveland State on Saturday. Without Myonna Hooper available, and with the Vikings doing a decent job on Irene Murua, UDM had to find some quality depth – and they did, though Amaya Burch, who delivered four threes and a team-high 20 points. She and her teammates did two things that few manage to accomplish against CSU: they out-worked the Vikings on defense, and they managed to limit run-out situations through turnovers and rebounds while holding their guests to a season-low 56 points. On Wednesday, the Titans controlled Robert Morris 56-39 behind Emma Trawally Porta’s 14 points and eight rebounds.
Though the degree of difficulty hasn’t been the highest offered by the HL, Purdue Fort Wayne seems to be fully back on line, as the Mastodons have now won three games in a row. The most recent effort, a 61-55 home win against an improving Northern Kentucky team, was led by Shayla Sellers, who blew up for eight points in a 4:22 span immediately after the Norse cut what had been a solid PFW lead for most of the afternoon to just one in the fourth quarter. In all, Sellers scored 20 much-needed points during a game where the Dons otherwise struggled offensively while adding six rebounds and her usual stellar defensive work. Amellia Bromenschenkel fell just short of a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds, and also scored 21 on 9-for-11 shooting in a rout of Chicago State on Tuesday.
It’s been a bit of an uneven road there, but Milwaukee definitively proved itself as an upper-echelon team with a 93-87 overtime win over Wright State on Friday that may have been one of the best games in the conference this season. The Panthers jumped out to a 26-8 lead early in the second quarter before WSU caught up by halftime. From there, it was a blow-for-blow affair with plenty of twists, and the Raiders looked likely to win with a four-point lead in the final 90 seconds of regulation. However, a bucket from Kendall Nead and two Jada Donaldson free throws forced overtime, where Grace Crowley took over. The senior forward scored seven points in the extra period, totaling 15 for the game, along with ten rebounds. Donaldson and Anna Lutz each scored 20 points, while Kamy Peppler fired off ten assists.
It’s getting a little tough to tell if Wright State is a darkhorse championship contender or merely decent. That’s not as much a comment on the Raiders’ loss at Green Bay on Sunday – assigning any sort of expectation to that game would be unreasonable – as it is on the fact that WSU doesn’t really have much of a resume against any of the league’s top teams. The Raiders are now 0-3 against Green Bay and Cleveland State (with all three losses moderately decisive, though with their moments), and 1-2 against Purdue Fort Wayne and Milwaukee, thanks to their overtime loss at the Klotsche Center on Friday. Oddly, Wright State has yet to play either Oakland or Detroit Mercy, though that’s about to change though a pair of home games this week. Despite her team’s two losses, Alexis Hutchison was once again spectacular with 34 points against Milwaukee and 17 against the Phoenix.
Oakland continues to be a team that seems like its record ought to be better than it is, given the way that the Golden Grizzlies defend and make life uncomfortable for even the best teams in the conference. That much was evident in OU’s loss to Cleveland State on Thursday, a game that was a Perdue heater and a couple bounces away from going to the wire, just five days after their upset of Green Bay. In a sense, Oakland’s bounceback win at IUPUI on Sunday was a really nice one, given that most of the Grizzlies stars struggled offensively – including a sub-30 shooting percentage as a team. Nevertheless, OU got big production from Maddy Skorupski off the bench and made the necessary plays down the stretch, including a Brooke Quarles-Daniels drive through Katie Davidson to seal the win in the final ten seconds. With a conference schedule that’s significantly backloaded, it’s crucial that the Grizzlies continue to play well over the next couple weeks.
One reason that I don’t just copy/paste the standings for these posts (though that would be a lot easier) is for cases like Northern Kentucky, a team that’s struggled to work through injuries and roster turnover for a lot of the year, but that suddenly looks pretty dangerous. A 2-2 run over the last couple weeks isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but the two losses were extremely competitive outings against Wright State and Purdue Fort Wayne. Carter McCray is a walking double-double, including 15 points and 20 rebounds against the Dons, and the Norse were a couple more shots and a Sellers explosion away from winning that game. In a victory over Youngstown State, McCray had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Macey Blevins scored 20 – though the Norse only managed one field goal over the final 11:55 of the game.
Time will tell if Youngstown State finds itself by the end of the year, particularly given the chaotic nature of the Penguins’ season to this point, but the early signs are at least encouraging. YSU did drop their game to Northern Kentucky on Wednesday, though that’s not nearly the blemish it was even one month ago. They bounced back to pound Robert Morris on Saturday behind 23 points from Emily Saunders, who has once again become the focal point of the Guins’ offense. Arguably, the 20 added by Malia Magestro on 6-for-9 shooting is even more encouraging for the Mahoning Valley outpost, as the preseason all-conference selection re-discovering her form would be an extremely positive development for interim coach John Nicolais. Haley Theirry played a career-high 34 minutes against RMU and delivered six points, 11 rebounds and four assists – the latest bit of evidence that the junior will be one of the team’s leaders next season.
Though it should be pointed out that two of the games in IUPUI’s current three-game losing streak were Cleveland State and Green Bay, something about the Jags’ 4-15 (2-8 HL) record feels a lot different than Northern Kentucky’s identical mark. That might sound like a bizarre comment given that IUPUI downed the Norse pretty decisively just a couple weeks ago, but at the same time, NKU had far more turnover of consequence entering this season, leading to the idea that more internal growth was possible on the other side of the Ohio River. Though Katie Davidson pulls most of the attention in Indy, Abby Wolterman and Tahlia Walton have both been great after huge leaps this year, the former from her freshman year with the Jags, the latter after a four-year run at Kentucky Wesleyan.
Robert Morris has continued to struggle mightily even in games that, on paper, should be attainable for the Colonials. Losing to resurgent Detroit Mercy is one thing, but on Saturday, RMU visited a Youngstown State team that has seen its fair share of tumult and struggle this season and got their doors blown off 71-46. The Colonials have now lost nine straight games, and though that skid started with an overtime game against Wright State, the margins since then have been 12, 6, 15, 32, 32, 28, 17 and 25. It’s ugly, getting uglier, and with no real end in sight, given that Bobby Mo has Milwaukee, Oakland, Detroit Mercy and Green Bay for their next four games. With ten points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes at the Beeghly Center, Naomi Barnwell had her best game in quite a while, and RMU will need plenty more of that if they’re to turn things around this season.
Player of the Week
Jasmine Kondrakiewicz (Green Bay)
Kondrakiewicz has been one of the Phoenix’s unsung heroes for a long time as a player that presents all sorts of matchup issues, while also being lethal in the context of Kevin Borseth’s systems. This past week, she took a turn in the spotlight with the first two 20-point games of her career in a pair of dominant Green Bay wins, while also stuffing the stat sheet in several other ways.
Also considered: Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State), Amaya Burch (Detroit Mercy), Shayla Sellers (Purdue Fort Wayne), Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne), Carter McCray (Northern Kentucky)
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)
January 16: Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State)
January 23: Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland)