GOLDSTEIN: Defense key for women’s basketball to achieve potential


Photo by Doug Peters

Head coach Caralyn Kieger’s team silenced many doubters with a sixth place finish (Wire Stock Photo)

Andrew Goldstein,

For the first time in years, Marquette women’s basketball has a future worth getting excited about. It may be uncertain, but it’s worth looking forward to.

The Golden Eagles’ season ended with a 93-86 loss to the Seton Hall Pirates on Sunday. Marquette compiled a 14-16 record for the season and a 9-9 record within the conference. Considering last season was the Golden Eagles’ worst in over 20 years, this is quite an impressive turnaround.

There is ample reason to believe that things will get better from here. Marquette had two players – guards Allazia Blockton and Natisha Hiedeman – on the BIG EAST’s all-freshman team, and forward Erika Davenport was a legitimate candidate to make the team as well. These three offer a great foundation to build a program.

Further reinforcements will arrive over the summer in the form of a four-woman recruiting class. That class includes two bigs: forward Alita Anderson and center Meghan Mandel. This is important because Davenport and center Shantelle Valentine are the only interior players currently on the active roster. Adding a greater inside presence is the next step toward building a sustainable program.

It will be intriguing to see how the new post players mesh with Marquette’s identity. This season, Marquette scored 77 points per game (16th best in the country) and gave up 78 points per game (6th worst in the country). It is difficult for a team to be relevant at the national level while staying true to that “run and gun” mentality. It offers the opposing team too many easy looks at the basket. Such a system fit Marquette’s guard-heavy team this year, but we may see a tempered version of it next year with a more balanced squad.

In the end, it all comes down to the same issue. Marquette’s defense is abysmal. Not below average. Not simply bad. Abysmal. Opponents made nearly 45 percent of their shots against Marquette and over 50 percent of their two-pointers this season. The Golden Eagles managed to do some wonderful things on offense, but it is irrelevant until things improve on the other end. Marquette getting to the next level depends on achieving adequacy in on-ball defense.

Still, there is a lot to like about Marquette’s future prospects. A finish in the top half of the BIG EAST next year is entirely plausible, and the postseason is a possibility as well. Marquette finally has a strong foundation and a clear path to improvement, a welcome change for Golden Eagle fans.