Weekend sweep moves WBB above .500 in conference play

Freshman star Blockton records pair of double-doubles

Video by Patrick Thomas, MUTV


Photo by Ben Erickson/benjamin.a.erickson@marquette.edu

Marquette head coach Carolyn Kieger made perseverance the main theme of the Golden Eagles’ final two-game home stand.

“In our timeouts, we talked about being tough,” Kieger said. “When we get punched, instead of falling down, let’s fight our way back and stand up.”

By the end of the weekend, it was clear that her message had hit its mark. The Golden Eagles (13-13, 8-7 BIG EAST) snapped a two-game skid by defeating the Butler Bulldogs (8-17, 3-11 Big East) Friday and the Xavier Musketeers (17-8, 8-6 BIG EAST) Sunday. Marquette is now in sixth place in the BIG EAST.

“(Our players are) gaining confidence,” Kieger observed. “I’m really proud of their confidence and if we can build on that, I think we’ll be a scary team down the stretch.”

The timidity that had pervaded Marquette’s play during its previous two-game skid was banished right from the opening tip against Butler. Marquette raced out to a 15-3 advantage early on in the first quarter on the strength of three three-pointers.

Even though the Bulldogs drew close at various points in the game, they were never able to take a lead. Butler shot a respectable 43 percent from the field but committed 21 turnovers, which resulted in 21 Marquette points. On the other hand, the normally turnover-happy Golden Eagles committed just 10 errors and finished the game with a 2-to-1-assist-to-turnover ratio.

“The first thing I said when I walked in the locker room was ’20 assists,’” Kieger recalled. “I love that number. Any time we can be above 20 and sharing the basketball that’s a sign of a team that’s unselfish.”

Two Marquette players notched double-doubles: freshman guard Allazia Blockton (21 points, 11 rebounds) and freshman forward Erika Davenport (13 points, 10 rebounds). Freshman guard Natisha Hiedeman also stuffed the stat sheet; she had 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. After the game, Hiedeman credited her team’s commitment to rebounding for making her job simpler.

“When everybody’s rebounding, it makes everything easier because when we get rebounds, we can push (the) tempo,” she said.

Not everybody rebounded in Marquette’s next game against Xavier, but the Golden Eagles hauled in enough of them to win. Two players in particular – Blockton (18 points, 13 rebounds) and junior forward McKayla Yentz (10 points, 12 rebounds) – ripped down over 60 percent of Marquette’s total boards. Yentz also drew three offensive charges, each one launching Marquette’s bench into raucous celebration.

“It’s a lot about positioning and knowing where to be on defense,” Yentz explained. “When the ball moves, everyone moves. When you’re lacking in certain areas such as quickness, you have to outsmart them.”

Quickness was one thing that Marquette, clad in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer for Play4Kay, certainly did not lack against Xavier. Although the Musketeers were able to slow the Golden Eagles’ usual breakneck pace – their average possession time of 14 seconds is a little high by their standards – Marquette still scored 20 fast break points.

Xavier tried to respond to Marquette’s pace by launching threes, but that strategy was ineffective. Coach Brian Neal’s team is only shooting 27 percent on three-pointers for the season, and they went 0-for-8 on them in the first half. Those missed treys were a large factor in Marquette’s 35-27 halftime lead.

“We were definitely packing the paint more because…they don’t shoot many threes. We were playing to their tendencies,” Yentz said.

Worry immediately set in among the Marquette faithful as Xavier began the second half on a 14-2 run to take its first lead of the game. During that run, the Musketeers shot 6-of-9 from the field and finally sank their first three-pointer. Marquette was able to regain the advantage shortly after, but a Golden Eagle lead that had been as high as 12 was only three entering the final quarter.

Such a scenario might have brought Marquette fans painful flashbacks of the Golden Eagles’ loss to Georgetown, where they allowed a 17-point lead to dissipate.

Instead, Marquette went on a 17-2 run in the first five minutes of the quarter. Xavier mounted a small rally toward the end of the game, but it was too late to matter. At the buzzer, the scoreboard showed Marquette 74, Xavier 69.

“I’m extremely proud of our fight and our toughness,” Kieger said. “We weathered their run…and (the team) really responded to each other.”

Now the Golden Eagles will have a four-day reprieve before going on the road for two of their final three games next weekend. Marquette only needs to win one of those three games to ensure a conference record of .500 or better, something that very few people thought possible just weeks ago.