by Troy Sparks
If beating De Paul, the seventh-ranked team in the country at home, Feb. 26, on Senior night, at the Al McGuire Center, went according to the script, then what a way for the Marquette women’s basketball team to go out.
The No. 24 Golden Eagles, who entered the game against the Blue Demons with a 9-5 Big East record, made me and the 2,004 fans sweat until the end for the 60-53 win that put them in the double digit column in conference wins at 10-5 going into their final regular season game at Cincinnati.
Winning more than 20 games this season was huge for Marquette. They last won more than 20 games in 2007-08. Most people didn’t expect the Golden Eagles to beat any of the ranked opponents on their schedule. They own a 5-3 record against ranked opponents, only losing to De Paul the first time, Notre Dame and UConn. The wins over ranked teams included UW-Green Bay in non-conference and league wins over Georgetown, West Virginia, St. John’s and De Paul in their second meeting.
The biggest accomplishment of this season as a team was getting back to the NCAA Tournament after playing in the WNIT’s the last three years. Don’t get me wrong. There was nothing wrong with Marquette playing in the WNIT. They won the whole thing in 2008, and they have the banner to prove it.
Angel Robinson, Tatiyiana McMorris, Paige Fiedorowicz, Jocelyn Mellen, Jasmine Collins and Courtney Weibel took on the task as seniors to lead the squad back to the NCAA’s, and the last time that happened was in 2007 when Mellen, a fifth-year senior, was a freshman.
With convincing wins over four ranked Big East opponents and three Big Ten teams, the NCAA selection committee won’t leave them out. Not bad for a team that was picked to finish 10th in the 16-team league. Currently they are in the top five.
“I have been blessed to coach a great bunch of women who decided that this year was going to be different, and they were going to be leaders and they were going to bring our program back to where it belongs, top-25, back into the NCAA’s and leave a legacy to our underclassmen who understand that there’s only one way to do things,” Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said.
It will be up to five of the six healthy seniors to take the Golden Eagles as far as they can go in the Big Dance. Mellen, who was injury-prone throughout her career, will be cheering from the bench. It was really unfortunate that we didn’t get to see Mellen play to her full potential throughout her time at Marquette. Sometimes, the injury bug robs players of what could have been, and they have to realize that life goes on. The seniors have bigger fish to fry before saying their last goodbyes.
“The last couple of years, we were a bubble team,” Robinson said. “And now it just feels good that we actually know that we were going to be in it (NCAA). We’re not worrying about like, ‘If we win this game in the Big East, what’s gonna happen. If we lose, what’s gonna happen.’ So now we’re just . . . Our focus is to take it up a notch and get ready for the Big East (postseason tournament). And after that, get ready for the NCAA’s.”
Now that the goal to reach the NCAA Tournament has been met, it’s all about how Marquette finishes the regular season and the postseason tournament. The results in the final two weeks will determine the seeding they earn from the selection committee.
“At the start of the season, us seniors, we said that we were gonna get this team to the NCAA’s,” McMorris said. “And it was just so great that we’re probably going to do that most likely. It was a great feeling that we had a goal that we wanted to accomplish, and we’re probably going to accomplish it.”
I should have told Tatiyiana that the goal was already accomplished. The Golden Eagles are going back to the Big Dance, which happened only one other time in their six seasons as a member of the Big East Conference.
Basketball Playoffs to Begin for Boys
We all know that Milwaukee Riverside went through the City Conference undefeated and won the boys championship for the first time since 1947, but what are they going to do about it in the postseason? The Tigers will play at home in the second round against the winner of Vincent and West Allis Hale, March 5. Looking ahead of the crystal ball, I see a King and Marquette matchup in the third round, which will be a rematch of last year’s sectional finals.
I think Washington will eliminate Riverside in the third round and meet the Generals in the fourth round at West Allis Central on March 12. I think King will grab one of the four semifinal spots in the Division 1 state tournament by winning the Super Tuesday final against Madison Memorial at UW-Whitewater.
In another Super Tuesday final, I think Germantown will lose to Appleton East at UW-Oshkosh. My other final two teams in Division 1 include De Pere and Racine Case.
I don’t like this new five division format, which goes according to school enrollment, but it is what it is. Tosa East, Pius and Nicolet who were in Division 1 before has been moved down a notch. I think that Wisconsin Lutheran and Whitefish Bay Dominican will represent the area at the state tournament in Division 2 and 3, respectfully. Let the playoffs begin because I want to know who will be the last team standing.
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