No one is ever going to consider the full 45 minutes of Friday’s NCAA tournament game between Marquette and Rice to be an instant classic on any level. That’s what happens when neither team shoots over 40%, and both teams commit at least 15 turnovers. It was not a good game.
It was, however, dramatic as hell.
After trailing by nine points with 2:46 to go and by four with 1:53 left, Marquette found a way to even the game, send it to overtime, and finally pull away from the Owls, 58-54. The win advances Marquette to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.
So look. This game was aesthetically awful. There’s the shooting stuff and the turnover stuff that I mentioned at the top. There’s also the fact that we ended up with only 71 possessions in an overtime game, because the game ended up being played at the pace that Rice wanted to play at: S-L-O-W. It was just 12-8 favoring Rice after the first quarter and just 20-19 at the half, and even that score benefited from Marquette getting a steal off an inbound and layup from Selena Lott as the halftime horn sounded.
Rice’s takeover started early in the third quarter, as they built a six point margin with a 9-2 run. Marquette whittled that back down to one possession territory, and for the most part kept it close for a good long while. It looked like the 12/5 upset was coming late in the fourth quarter, when Erica Ogwumike scored four points in a 8-2 burst for Rice that gave them that aforementioned nine point lead. In this game, to that point, nine points felt like it could have been 20. If Marquette hadn’t been able to accelerate the game before now to put Rice off balance, what hope was there to think that they could pull it off with less than three minutes to go?
Allazia Blockton buried a triple, her second of the game, with 2:33 to go, and two free throws by Danielle King with 1:53 to go made it just a four point game. That much more reasonable to work with, but Marquette just wasn’t hitting shots. How would they fix that problem?
Simple: Get Amani Wilborn to the rack on the break after a turnover by Ogwumike. Two point game. After another turnover by the Owls, Blockton did what she does and knocked down an elbow jumper, albeit more twisty in the air than normal from her, and BANG — tie tame, 1:06 to go. The lead had seemed insurmountable, but it had been summited in less than two minutes.
All Marquette had to do here was get a stop and run their offense to get a game winning look..... and then Ogwumike came up with an offensive rebound. No problem, Nancy Mulkey missed the second chance try, Marquette rebounded, called timeout, advanced the ball to their end of the court, and they got Natisha Hiedeman open in the corner with seconds left and the game in her hands......
And the 6’9” Mulkey blocked it. She closed out and blocked it.
That gave Rice a split second to inbound it from their own end, but for whatever reason, even though they could only catch and shoot with so little time left, the Owls had their best outside shooter inbounding the ball, which led to a missed shot and thus OT.
Buckets from — surprise!! — Wilborn and Blockton got Marquette out to a four point advantage in overtime, but that doesn’t really explain what happened. See, when Blockton scored, it was with just 1:12 left to go, which means both teams blew chances to do something with this session down through the middle, and Marquette was holding a lead with just seconds to go.
A bucket from Ogwumike cut the lead in half, but Marquette was in a position to burn as much shot clock off as possible. MU eventually got it to Blockton, but her shot missed... and Lauren Van Kleunen was there to clean up the miss with what has to be the biggest rebound of her collegiate career. Some brief keep away and two Natisha Hiedeman free throws later, and the Golden Eagles were advancing while dancing.
Other people had more points than her, but Van Kleunen was clearly the Marquette MVP of the game. She finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and two steals. On top of that, she did the best job she could against Mulkey and her absurd height advantage. Mulkey was 9-for-24 on the afternoon, going for 18 points and nine rebounds, along with five assists and five blocks. Yet somehow, Marquette limited her impact in general, and a lot of if not all of the credit for that goes to Van Kleunen.
Marquette got a 13-6-2 performance from Natisha Hiedeman to lead the team in scoring in this one with 13 points. She struggled to hit shots, going 4-for-18 from the field, but she added six rebounds, two assists, a block, and a steal. Allazia Blockton came off the bench to tally 12 points, but she had a pretty quiet day for her usual standards, adding just one rebound.
Up Next: Marquette returns to action on Sunday afternoon when they face Texas A&M with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16. The Aggies are the #4 seed in the Chicago region, one step above Marquette’s #5 seed, and they are the host institution for this group of games. A&M beat #13 Wright State, 84-61, in the second game at Reed Arena on Friday behind 27 points from Chennedy Carter. That game is set for a 1pm Central time tipoff on ESPN2, although your best bet outside of Milwaukee and College Station to catch the whole game is streaming via WatchESPN.