Women’s basketball prepares for Providence in Big East Tournament

Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu
Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

The Big East Tournament has finally arrived for the No. 8 Marquette Golden Eagles (8-21, 4-14), who will take on the No. 9 Providence Friars (6-23, 3-15) in the first round Saturday at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

The Golden Eagles concluded their regular season with a 99-82 loss Sunday to the second-place DePaul Blue Demons. Marquette was uncharacteristically proficient from downtown, hitting 10-of-18 three-pointers in spite of a lackluster .265 3-point shooting percentage for the year. The deluge of threes allowed Marquette to hang with one of the Big East’s best teams and remain within three points of the lead deep into the second half. However, shoddy defense and 18 turnovers allowed DePaul to put together an 11-0 run and ice the game.

Providence also concluded its regular season schedule Sunday, but the Friars finished things on a high note with an 81-66 win against the Georgetown Hoyas. The win snapped a nine-game losing streak and kept the Friars from finishing last in the Big East. Guard Tori Rule paced Providence with 27 points and forward Alexis Harris chipped in 18 points of her own. Georgetown was only able to connect on 30 percent of its shots from the floor.

The Friars and the Golden Eagles split their season series, with each team winning in the other’s building. Marquette built a halftime lead on Providence when the two teams jousted in the Al McGuire Center in January, but they couldn’t maintain that lead and ended up losing 66-58. However, the Golden Eagles were able to maintain their early lead Feb. 20 in Providence and come away with a 72-64 win.

Marquette went through a fair amount of turbulence this season under first-year coach Carolyn Kieger. Only a year removed from a 22-11 regular season mark and a WNIT appearance, the Golden Eagles stumbled to their worst overall record since 1985-86 and their worst conference mark since they went 3-13 as part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1990-91.

The most harrowing part of the schedule for Marquette was undoubtedly the first half of conference play. By the end of January, the Golden Eagles played and lost to eight of the other nine teams in the Big East. The remaining team, Villanova, beat them twice. As the calendar turned to February, Marquette’s record sat at 4-14 overall and 0-10 in the conference. The team’s 10-game losing streak was one shy of tying a program record for most consecutive losses.

Despite these setbacks, Marquette negotiated the last eight games of conference play much better, finishing 4-4 in that stretch. A large share of the credit for that resurgence is due to Marquette’s trio of All-Big East selections: senior Arlesia Morse (All-Big East Second Team) and freshmen Tia Elbert and Kenisha Bell (All-Big East Freshman Team). At least two of those three players put up double-digit point totals in all but one of the final eight games.

In order to advance to the next round, Marquette will need a steady stream of production from their three All-Big East guards. All three of them are capable of driving the lane and either scoring or creating easy baskets for others, which is exactly what needs to happen. Morse, Bell and Elbert will set the tone for Marquette’s offense and the game in general. Marquette has a good chance of making the second round if it plays aggressively.

If Marquette manages to defeat Providence, it will advance to the tournament’s quarterfinals and square off with the first overall seed Seton Hall Pirates. Seton Hall thrashed Marquette when the two teams met in January 88-58, but the Golden Eagles struck back on Feb. 15 and shocked the Pirates 73-70 in the Al McGuire Center for their first and only victory against a ranked opponent this year.

The Providence game will tip off at 2 p.m. and can be seen on the Big East Digital Network.