Much like happened against Colorado a week ago, Marquette women’s basketball’s offense put them in an early hole against Villanova on Wednesday night at the McGuire Center in a battle of two teams trying to jump from receiving votes in the Associated Press top 25 and into the national rankings. Unlike against Colorado, Marquette eventually figured themselves out as the game went along.
While MU trailed early and looked completely out of sorts, they would eventually rally to take a lead, and not just by a point or two. The Golden Eagles were up as many as six midway through the third quarter... but they couldn’t hold it together. That lead had completely evaporated by the end of the period, and MU would never even tie the game in the final ten minutes on their way to a 54-52 loss. Marquette is now 9-4 on the year and 2-2 in the Big East after starting off 7-1 overall and 1-0 in the league.
The big question for Marquette was always going to be whether or not they could defend Maddy Siegrist. The reigning Big East Player of the Year came into the game as the #2 scorer in the country at 28 points per game. The answer, at least early on, was “no, Marquette can not defend Siegrist.” She scored all of Villanova’s first 10 points, and the only thing working for MU at that juncture was the fact that it took her 8:27 to do it. The other problem for the Golden Eagles was that they had scored just two buckets against Siegrist’s 10, missing their first four shots of the game and going 2-for-14 along the way to a 10-4 deficit. A timeout from head coach Megan Duffy immediately shook Marquette out of their funk as they scored seemingly with ease on their next two possessions to make it a two point game, but a triple right before the horn from Maddie Burke left it at 13-8 after 10 minutes.
That timeout from Duffy seemed to solve a lot of problems for the Golden Eagles as they looked like a nearly completely different team from there on out. Whatever dysfunction or lack of communication or [insert difficulty here] was bothering them for the first nine minutes of the game — and for all of the Colorado game, honestly — was gone. They looked like Megan Duffy’s Marquette Basketball from there on out, even while Villanova took a nine point lead early in the second period because Burke decided she didn’t like missing from long range for a minute there. MU fought back because that’s what Megan Duffy’s Marquette Basketball does, and a three-pointer — one of just two in the game for the Golden Eagles, this will be important later — from freshman Emily La Chapell made it a one point game, 25-24, at intermission.
And then La Chapell immediately gave MU the lead coming out of the locker room, and that was followed by Rose Nkumu picking Brooke Mullin’s pocket and running out for a layup and a 28-25 Marquette lead. A three from Lucy Olsen evened it out, but MU scored the next six points for that aforementioned six point lead. The two teams traded buckets, so Kennedi Myles’ only points of the game had MU holding onto that six point advantage for a while. Olsen splashed one from long range again to cut the margin in half and kick off what turned into an 11-4 run to close the quarter for the Wildcats and eventually an 18-6 run capped by — guess what — a three-pointer from Olsen. 48-42 Wildcats.
This was, from a “how is this game going” perspective, the end of it. Marquette solved their problems, rallied, took the lead, and built a lead....and in the span of a bit over seven minutes, Villanova scored a third of the points they totaled up in the game to turn MU’s six point lead to a six point deficit. That is a backbreaking combination.
And yet, MU had a chance to win. Nkumu cut the margin to just two with some free throws with 5:14 to go. Get a kill to use Shaka Smart’s parlance, score once or twice, and see what happens. Yeah, MU couldn’t get the stops. Free throw from Christina Dalce, bucket from Bella Runyan, jumper from Siegrist.... five point game. That’s where the defense held, finally, and with 51 seconds to go, Jordan King fired in a free throw line jumper to cut it to three.... and then MU forced a shot clock violation. Duffy called her final timeout to advance the ball with 19.3 to play.
Here’s where we can play a game of “what was the smarter thing to do?”
It seems like the best move is to burn the whole clock to get a three-pointer of any kind to try to tie it. Worst case scenario, you take a quick layup to leave lots of time to foul and then see what happens after the freebies and you get a chance to do something with 10-12 seconds to go, especially since Villanova had a timeout left and could advance the ball themselves.
Marquette dithered around for a long while and then Jordan King drove for what turned into an uncontested layup — Villanova’s not stupid — with five seconds left. 53-52.
So now MU has to foul Maddy Siegrist on the inbound and hope the All-American misses a free throw to give MU a chance to win it while down just two. If she makes both, Marquette is now in a position where they have to run the length of the floor in five seconds to put up a three to tie it.... which is why it seems to have made the most sense to wait for that last second three to tie originally. But MU was just 2-for-6 on long range shots in the game, one each from King and La Chapell, and both of those buckets were in the second quarter.
Siegrist hit the first and missed the second.
I’m pretty sure that she didn’t mean to, because hitting the second one guarantees that Nova can’t lose and makes MU inbound it with five seconds left. But as it turns out, what happened was Marquette looked wildly unprepared to have to rebound a miss from an 84% free throw shooter, Villanova was happy to just make it hard for MU to figure out how to pick up the ball, and officially, Marquette never got off a shot to win it even though Jordan King was in the clear from about 35 feet when she put it up too late to count.
I disagree with the tactics involved here, but hey: I also disagree with scoring only four points in the first eight minutes as well as disagree with coughing up an 18-6 run to bridge the third and fourth quarters, and if we’re being honest, that was a bigger problem in the whole picture in this loss than the last 20 seconds.
Also a bigger problem: Shooting just 18-for-50 (36%) in the game. A big problem in that regard was Liza Karlen going 1-for-13 from the field, and a wide majority of her misses were point blank. You can’t fault Marquette for going to her if she has a physical advantage inside, and if they’re going to live up to their potential this season, they need Karlen to score. But physics was her enemy in this one, and had she just shot 3-for-13, it’s an entirely different game.
Also a bigger problem: Giving Villanova 15 offensive rebounds. That’s a 36% rate on that end of the court, and for a team that prides itself on cleaning the glass on both ends, that’s a problem. It’s also a problem given that Nova wasn’t scoring well themselves, just 31% from the field and 30% from behind the arc. Extra chances were the last thing they needed, especially with Siegrist. Heck, Siegrist herself was the biggest problem, leading the Wildcats with four ORs.
How about some highlights, such as they are, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and FloHoops?
Up Next: Well, it doesn’t get easier, that’s for sure. Marquette will be back in action with a matinee on New Year’s Eve, and the game in question is their most scheduled loss of the season: Visiting #8 Connecticut. The Huskies moved to 10-2 on the year and 3-0 in conference play with a 72-47 floor waxing of #21 Creighton in Omaha on Wednesday night.