Marquette Wire

Women’s basketball moves up standings with two-win weekend

Marquette is tied for sixth place in the conference despite being picked to finish ninth.

%28Photo+by+Ben+Erickson%2Fbenjamin.a.erickson%40mu.edu%29
(Photo by Ben Erickson/benjamin.a.erickson@mu.edu)

(Photo by Ben Erickson/benjamin.a.erickson@mu.edu)

(Photo by Ben Erickson/benjamin.a.erickson@mu.edu)

Michael Beiermeister

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No one could blame Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger for having an extra pep in her step when she walked up to the podium following the second of the Golden Eagles’ two victories over the weekend.

“I just want to say I’m so proud of my team,” Kieger said. “The rate at (which) we’re progressing right now and learning and the energy we have, I’ve never seen it from a group this young before…I could not love this group more and they’re a great group to coach.”

Marquette (9-11, 4-5 BIG EAST) dismantled the Providence Friars (4-15, 0-9 BIG EAST), 105-75, on Friday night and upended the Creighton Blue Jays (10-11, 4-5 BIG EAST), 79-72, on Sunday afternoon. This is the Golden Eagles’ first 2-0 weekend in conference play since 2014 and their first three-game winning streak in conference since March of 2013.

“We talk about one game at a time anyways, but right now we talk about it in terms of….we want to keep getting better and we want to keep knocking off that team ahead of us (in the standings),” Kieger said.

Ever since the season started, Marquette has made no effort to hide the type of team it wants to be — fast, swarming, a thorn in everyone else’s side. That philosophy was on full display against Providence as the Golden Eagles ramped up the intensity of their harrowing full-court press. Three Marquette players pressured Providence ball-handlers before they reached half-court after almost every inbounds play early on, and it worked wonderfully. Providence turned the ball over eight times in just the first quarter.

“I think we feed off it,” Kieger said of the full-court press. “When we’re playing it and when we’re doing it well, we’re getting a lot of energy and it’s creating havoc for the other team and it makes us more confident.”

Marquette’s first quarter performance lent credence to that statement. The Golden Eagles started the game on a 14-0 run and would stretch their lead to 20 before the first five minutes elapsed. Providence went on a run of its own toward the end of the quarter and even managed to cut Marquette’s lead to two at the beginning of the second, but the Golden Eagles went on a 19-3 run immediately after that. The outcome of the game was never again in question.

Every Marquette player averaging over 20 minutes per game this season scored in double figures against the Friars. Freshman guard Natisha Hiedeman led the way with 18 points.

Sophomore center Shantelle Valentine also chipped in 11 points and 11 boards for her first career double-double. She attributed her success on the boards to “being in the right spot at the right time.”

“I was super proud of our team,” Valentine said. “Definitely a team effort and I think that’s exactly why we won tonight. There (were) no selfish plays, everyone played well, and I think it helps when we have multiple people playing well. People can come off the bench and score and rebound and assist and make big plays.”

The Golden Eagles’ victory over Creighton was also a team effort, although the game was a lot closer. Marquette went on another rollicking first quarter run to get out to an 18-5 lead, but Creighton struck back with its own 13-0 hot streak. By the end of the half, the Blue Jays had climbed their way to a 34-32 lead over the gold and blue.

Limited production from star freshman guard Allazia Blockton was one of the most notable factors working against Marquette in the first half. Creighton consistently harassed her on defense, limiting one of the BIG EAST’s most talented scorers to only four points on 2-of-5 shooting.

However, Blockton turned it around in a big way during the game’s latter half. She finished with a team-high 21 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists and five steals.

“I was kind of off today with my shots, but I tried to get more steals, more rebounds, you know, create plays for other people so they can score, just impact the game in a different way,” Blockton said. “To me a bucket is a bucket whether it comes from me or my teammate.”

Blockton certainly set up her teammates for success, but took things into her own hands down the stretch. On a day when her teammates shot a paltry 6-for-13 from the foul line, Blockton made six consecutive freebies in the final minute of the game to snuff out any chance of a Creighton comeback.

“I was nervous on the second two (free throws) because I missed my first two of the game,” Blockton admitted. “I just tried to relax and clear my mind and just shoot it like I would shoot it in practice.”

Three other Golden Eagles, freshmen Natisha Heideman, Erika Davenport and Amani Wilborn, scored in double figures. Junior shooting guard McKayla Yentz submitted a typically gritty effort as well, grabbing 10 rebounds and drawing several offensive charges.

Coach Kieger’s squad now sits in the middle of the conference standings, a place where nobody thought it would be at the halfway point of conference play. Marquette is tied for sixth with Creighton. The Golden Eagles have already matched their conference win total from the entirety of last season.

Marquette will have the next four days to practice and recuperate before playing the back leg of a four-game home stand next weekend against St. John’s and Seton Hall.

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