Well, Marquette women’s hoops came up ever so slightly short against #6 Mississippi State on Thursday. MU took their second road loss of the season down in Starkville, losing 87-82 after having a chance to possibly force overtime at the end of the game. The Golden Eagles had repeated spots in the game where they looked like the clearly better team in the game, and at worst, looked like they belonged on the court with a team that has gone to back-to-back national championship games and has their eyes set on a third.
But, alas, it’s still a mark in the loss column. It’s also the second mark in the road loss column for Marquette in two tries this season. It’s important to mention that they had the slight misfortune of tangling with two ranked teams for the only road games of the season so far, so these kinds of things are somewhat expected. However, Marquette does find themselves in a position where they need to stack up quality wins and road wins, and that’s where they find themselves on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a game against what appears to be a quality opponent at least to this point of the season. It’s also part of this stretch of five out of six games for Marquette against teams with their sights set on the NCAA tournament and beyond this season. While it’s still a road game against a pretty good team, Marquette kind of needs to snag a win here to put themselves in position to come out of the five game spree with a positive record. They’re already 1-1, and a visit from Notre Dame looms at the end. It’s hard to mentally expect MU to grab that W even after pushing the Irish to overtime in South Bend last season, so the Golden Eagles need to take advantage of a situation that’s a little bit more in their favor.
On top of all of that, MU needs to have a showing here that’s not a letdown after the Mississippi State game. It would be understandable to put it all on the line in Starkvegas and then, after coming up short, come out a little winded and weary in your next outing. The key is to know that’s a thing that can happen and then just push right through it.
Game #9: at RV Northwestern Wildcats (5-2)
Date: Sunday, November 9, 2018
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, IL
Television: Big Ten Network, because Marquette = Ratings
Streaming: Nothing listed on NUSports.com
Live Stats: Nothing listed on NUSports.com
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 3-8 all time against Northwestern. This is the first meeting since 2008, where Marquette picked up a 55-54 win down in Illinois. All I’m saying is that this better be a home-and-home series, because Northwestern has only come up to Milwaukee TWICE in history and one of those times was in 1978.
The Wildcats got off to a hot streak to start the season, winning their first five games, including a road win over an always quality Green Bay squad and a blowout win over then-#21 Duke in their first game back in the remodeled Welsh-Ryan Arena. However, in their last two times out, they’ve been on the short end of the stick. They took a 52-49 loss to Pitt in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and earlier this week, they lost by 16 to #15 DePaul. That’s put a bit of a dent in their national attention, and odds are that NU will end up losing their final two points in the AP poll no matter what happens in this game.
Northwestern’s strength is their interior. They’re ranked #102 in the country per HerHoopStats.com in two-point shooting percentage, and they’re the #34 team in the country in defensive rebounding rate. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah leads the way on that charge, with the Nigerian senior averaging 11.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. At 6’2”, she doesn’t present the same kind of height advantage that Marquette had to deal with against Michigan or Mississippi State, but they’re still going to have to figure out how to keep her off the glass. Kunaiyi-Akpanah is shooting 54% from the field without a single triple attempted and is a top 15 rebounding rate player, and that’s exactly the kind of player that Carolyn Kieger’s teams have struggled to figure out what to do with in the past.
While dealing with Kunaiyi-Akpanah will be priority #1, Marquette can’t ignore Joe McKeown’s other options. There’s a trio of players averaging more points per game than Kunaiyi-Akpanah, so Northwestern will be comfortable going elsewhere to score if they have to do that. Lindsey Pulliam leads the way at 15.6 per game, and Jordan Hamilton is good for 12 per outing. The question is what’s up with Abi Scheid for this game. The 6’2” junior from Minnesota missed NU’s games against UT-Martin and Pittsburgh, but returned to start and play 26 minutes against DePaul. I presume her 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game will be in the lineup, but it’s hard to say for certain.
Marquette has two things working in their favor in this game, as far as I can see. First of all, Northwestern is an atrocious long range shooting team. They rank #246 in the country per HHS in three-point shooting percentage, knocking down just 28% of their attempts. They mitigate that problem by ranking in the bottom 50 in the country in the rate at which they attempt shots from behind the arc, but there’s not anyone that’s a significant threat to let fly. Jess Sancataldo is hitting 55%, but she also attempts only two three-pointers per game.
The other thing MU has in their back pocket is their speed. We saw the Golden Eagles rip the #6 team in the country apart in transition on Thursday night, and Northwestern plays a tad bit slower than Mississippi State. I’m sure that the Wildcats will be expecting it — it’s Kieger’s signature, obviously — but expecting it and being able to do a damn thing about it are two different things.