The Marquette women’s basketball team has had a roller-coaster of a season so far through 11 non-conference games. Just like opening up presents on Christmas morning...there’s always some good, some bad, and some ugly (at least in my experience). Let’s divvy up what’s happened to the Golden Eagles so far this season just like that, shall we?
I’ll start with the best of what MU has done this year so that you can stop after this if you don’t want to read the less desirable stuff.
Where do I begin... Remember Loyola-Chicago? Ooh that was fun. Marquette set a program record that day by beating the Ramblers by 62 points. Fun stat of the day: MU held Loyola-Chicago to 1 point in the second quarter. Fun stat of the day #2: Marquette held the Ramblers without a field goal for the entirety of the second and third quarters. Good times.
Natisha Hiedeman also made history recently by surpassing 1,000 career points against Notre Dame. She hit a three-pointer late in the first quarter to become the 26th player in program history to reach that milestone. I’ll pause for a moment so that you can give her a round of applause. [watches Hiedeman’s halfcourter against DePaul in the Big East title game again] Hiedeman now sits in 25th place all time with 1,005 points in her career and has a great chance of moving up before this season is done. She’ll definitely pass Kiesha Oliver, Serena Simmons, and Danielle Kamm who have 1,061, 1,073, and 1,079 respectively. Top 20 is well within reach as Lori Goerlitz has 1,133 career points. She already has 150 points in the 10 games she’s played which means she’s on pace for 270 more points this season. That, my friends, would put her just two points shy of...wait for iiiiit... her own coach Carolyn Kieger who sits at #15 all-time with 1,277 total points with her senior year still to play. Just something to keep an eye on as this year progresses. Important to note that her teammate, Allazia Blockton, is well into the all-time scoring list sitting at #13 with 1,328 points and should be at #12 by the end of MU’s next game.
These two individuals have been a key pieces of the whole team effort that we’ve seen from the Golden Eagles this season. Five MU players are averaging double digit points this season. Aside from Hiedeman and Blockton, Erika Davenport, Danielle King, and Amani Wilborn are all major contributors to the MU offense. This productivity has helped them have a 45.7 overall field goal percentage which is good enough for 30th in the nation according to HerHoopStats. MU is also scoring an average of 83.5 points per game which is ranked 18th in the country. Not too shabby. On average, they are out-scoring opponents by 13 points per game. If you put more points on the board than your opponent, you’re going to win more games than not. Just throwing some basic common sense at ya. At first, glance Marquette’s record of 6-5 this season is not flattering. However, they are 4-0 at home this year. In their road and neutral game losses, four out of the five came against teams currently ranked inside the AP top 25. Two of those came in overtime against #2 Notre Dame and #7 Tennessee. The fifth loss, if you must ask, was at New Mexico who’s currently in the receiving votes category... so really no bad losses for Marquette this year. The Golden Eagles have really been battle tested so far this year. Although they haven’t gotten that much desired victory against a ranked opponent or even a high profile one, they enter Big East play ready to do some serious damage.
(Note: Skip these next two sections if you’re an optimistic fan that doesn’t want to put a damper on your merry holiday spirit)
Marquette has been just okay from three-point range this season. As good as Hiedeman has been, she has yet to really have any consistency from behind the arc. Allazia Blockton is hitting 37% of her threes which is respectable but again not consistent enough to pose a real threat game in and game out. Their 3-point specialist, Isabelle Spingola, is shooting a team best 40% (14-35) but averages just 8.9 minutes per game. What’s my clever solution to this? I know I’ve said all season that Marquette (specifically Hiedeman) needs to get better from 3-point range but I think it’s time for them to stop trying so hard to hit the three ball. Hiedeman’s put up 70 three-pointers and only made 22 (31%) this year. That is right around the average of MU as a team as they’re hitting 32% of their three pointers. Where does that rank nationally? 145th, which is right about middle of the pack. So not great. The Golden Eagles need to stop insisting on shooting the three (especially Hiedeman) and shift towards shooting it when it’s open. More importantly, they should get the ball inside to Davenport and let her work her magic in the post. Or, let Blockton, Wilborn, and King work their way inside the paint (which they’re very good at) and get buckets the easy way. Hell, MU is making 52% of their 2-pointers which is 28th in the nation. Why settle for the three ball when you have so many weapons inside? Side bonus: defenses collapsing to the interior may leave shooters wiiiiide open, which should lead to an uptick in the shooting numbers from outside.
This brings me to my second point: free throw rate. I know this oftentimes goes unnoticed but Marquette has been pretty bad at getting to the free throw line this season. Their 23.5% free throw rate (the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts, expressed as a percentage) ranks 302nd in the nation, and that percentage has been falling every year under Kieger. Yikes. You don’t need an expert to tell you that the Golden Eagles need to get to the line more. This comes by driving to the basket. More specifically, putting less emphasis on the three and more and getting to the rim. The MU offense works best when it gets to the basket. As I already mentioned, they have a 52% 2-point field goal percentage. Plus, the more “and one” opportunities they can get, they more they can convert three-point plays anyway. So why not get three-pointers the easy way instead of the hard way? Especially when you have a player like Allazia Blockton who’s shooting an incredible (and career high) 91.4% from the free throw line. That mark is good enough for second in the Big East behind Providence’s Jovana Nogic who’s shooting 93.2% from the line. Morale of the story: instead of taking contested threes, focus more on the dribble drive and getting to the free-throw line.
I’ll keep this short and to the point for obvious reasons: Marquette has had two opportunities to beat a top 10 team this year and they’ve fallen juuuust short. Both #2 Notre Dame and #7 Tennessee were very winnable games. And sadly, Marquette did more to lose the game than the opponent did to win it. Unforced errors were the demise of the Golden Eagles in both games. I don’t really remember how they lost to Tennessee because I’ve already erased that heart-breaker from my memory. The only thing you need to know is that they lost by two points (101-99) in overtime. I do remember very clearly how they lost the Notre Dame game. Marquette failed to block out the free throw shooter late in the fourth which led to a made basket that caused Marquette to lose their slim two point lead. They would not regain that lead after that and lost by six in overtime. They were essentially one horrible mistake away from beating the #2 ranked team in the nation. Marquette has to be better in crunch time if they want to have success in Big East play. They won’t face anyone as good as Notre Dame or Tennessee but they’ll still have more than worthy opponents in #20 Villanova (currently undefeated) and DePaul who’s in the receiving votes category.
Marquette has shown real toughness and grit so far this season. They have given the best in the nation all they can handle and then some. This gives me confidence that they are ready to dominate Big East play. They really just need to focus on two things to give themselves the best chance to win every Big East game. The first is to have a change of mentality. They need to shift away from taking an excess amount of three pointers and instead work to their strengths by getting to the basket. The second is to be smarter in crunch time and avoid silly mistakes. If they can do that, this team has a realistic shot at going undefeated in Big East play. You heard it here first: 18-0 in conference play is definitely doable with this Marquette team. Get EXCITED for your Marquette Golden Eagles heading into Big East play and enjoy the rest of your holidays!