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Van Kleunen’s length could solve women’s basketball defensive woes

Lauren+Van+Kleunen+attempts+to+finish+a+layup+against+Loyola-Maryland+last+Sunday.+
Lauren Van Kleunen attempts to finish a layup against Loyola-Maryland last Sunday.

Lauren Van Kleunen attempts to finish a layup against Loyola-Maryland last Sunday.

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Lauren Van Kleunen attempts to finish a layup against Loyola-Maryland last Sunday.

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With three minutes to go in Marquette’s home opener last Sunday, redshirt freshman Lauren Van Kleunen picked up Loyola-Maryland guard Alexis Gray at half court, swiped the ball from her hand at the top of the key and dribbled the length of the court for an emphatic breakaway layup. The layup helped the Golden Eagles to an early 18-9 lead and brought the entire Marquette bench to its feet and on the court to celebrate the freshman phenom’s feat.

Van Kleunen finished the game with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and a block in just 26 minutes. More importantly, after a 23-point NCAA debut at the University of New Mexico, the sweet-shooting, long-limbed forward announced herself to the Al McGuire Center as perhaps the most exciting player of the new season.

“There’s no way to describe it, playing my first college game. It was unbelievable,” Van Kleunen said. “Playing the first home game then, there were no words to describe it at all. It was the greatest feeling ever.”

Van Kleunen earned a spot in the starting lineup in each of Marquette’s first four games, and her 6-foot-2-inch stance and impressive wingspan gives her the versatility to guard all five positions.

Van Kleunen’s presence has helped the offense score at a high rate. She’s knocked down eight of her 19 triple attempts on 42 percent shooting, filling the void left by former forward McKayla Yentz, who hit 40 percent of her threes. Van Kleunen’s slashing ability and size give her the advantage at the rim over most defenses. So far, its led to 14.5 points per game, the third-highest mark on the team.

“Being 6-foot-3, and I think the game is evolving too, I definitely try to work inside-out,” Van Kleunen said. “I originally try to get it inside, and if I can, bring it out to the three. I’m getting more and more confident from the perimeter.”

It’s on defense that Van Kleunen’s impact is most apparent. She’s big for a guard albeit a touch slow-footed in certain matchups. When put in the right situation, Van Kleunen gives Marquette a new look.

In the second quarter against Loyola-Maryland, Van Kleunen was slow on a rotation and her defender blew past her down the baseline. Van Kleunen made a quick turn, recovered, got back into her defensive stance and forced a missed shot.

A few minutes earlier, an opposing player took an open look from the top of the key. Van Kleunen lurched forward and deflected the shot, closing out a step quicker than many players would.

“Personally, I might not be one of the faster people, so I have to be smart about it,” Van Kleunen said. “I think using my length more helps me on deflections and tips. I’m not one of the fastest guards, I know that, so I have to use my smarts and my length to make up for that.”

She averages 1.5 steals per game and is working toward being a solution to the program’s persistent defensive problems.

“She’s a competitor. She’s a leader. She does all the little things that you want her to do,” head coach Carolyn Kieger said. “I look forward to seeing her game blossom.”

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