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Wilborn continues March magic in BIG EAST quarterfinals

Amani+Wilborn+scored+26+points+on+9-of-11+shooting+against+the+Butler+Bulldogs+in+the+quarterfinals+of+the+BIG+EAST+Tournament.
Amani Wilborn scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting against the Butler Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament.

Amani Wilborn scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting against the Butler Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament.

Photo by Wire Stock Photo

Photo by Wire Stock Photo

Amani Wilborn scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting against the Butler Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament.

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Marquette junior Amani Wilborn has always loved the month of March.

“I love March, period,” Wilborn said. “Just being born in March and March Madness.”

Last March, Marquette needed someone to step up in order to give the Golden Eagles their first BIG EAST title in program history, and Wilborn answered that call with a double-double in the quarterfinals and 20-plus point performances in both the semifinals and conference championship to be named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Almost exactly a year later and three days before her birthday, the Milwaukee native is answering another call in another BIG EAST Tournament, this time 94 miles south of campus.

“I think (her birthday) might have something to do with it,” Kieger said Sunday.

In Marquette’s 73-61 quarterfinal win over Butler Sunday afternoon, Wilborn once again stepped up when no one else could.

Not much was going right for Marquette throughout the quarterfinals win against Butler. The eighth-seeded Bulldogs remained within two possessions of the Golden Eagles until the final three minutes of the game, but Marquette’s inability to break through did not affect Wilborn. She scored a season-high 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and five assists.

“She was the one that stepped up most confidently and let it fly,” Kieger said.

Wilborn scored 10 of Marquette’s first 13 points, and at one point, was shooting 5 for 6 from the field when the rest of the team was a combined 5 for 15.

That efficiency continued throughout the game. When Wilborn was on the floor, Marquette had a 13-point scoring advantage; when Wilborn was on the bench, Marquette had a one-point scoring deficit.

Wilborn has averaged 19.3 points per game in her last four tournament games on 80 percent shooting. She has never scored less than nine points in a BIG EAST Tournament game.

Each time Wilborn plays in a BIG EAST Tournament, the junior from Riverside University High School seems to develop new skills to make her an even more challenging matchup.

This year, it appears to be perimeter shooting.

“It might have been last year where she’d hesitate a little bit first and then let it fly. Tonight, she stepped into a couple that she knew she was shooting it,” Kieger said. “The biggest difference right now is the way she’s shooting the three. Obviously, she’s always been a fantastic finisher around the rim.”

She entered play as a 25 percent 3-point shooter in her career, which Butler head coach Kurt Godlevske assumed would continue Sunday.

“She just had one of those nights,” Godlevske said. “Amani made the big shots. We put her in those situations, and she was a player and made those plays.”

Kieger has described Wilborn as one of her four point guards, which is one of the reasons Marquette ranks third in the conference in assists and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio. Wilborn had five assists, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals to go along with her hot shooting performance.

“I kind of just go with the flow with whatever I see,” Wilborn said. “If I have the open shot, I try to take it. I always like to create for my teammates. I was a point guard in high school, so that was, like, my first thing.”

Wilborn’s work isn’t done. Marquette will have a challenging matchup Monday afternoon against the winner of the quarterfinal game between fifth-seeded St. John’s and fourth-seeded Creighton. The Bluejays upset the Golden Eagles at the Al McGuire Center earlier this season in the final seconds and St. John’s took Marquette to overtime in each team’s BIG EAST opener.

In order for Marquette to repeat, Wilborn will need more performances like she had today.

“Her confidence was through the roof,” Kieger said. “Just watching her play today made me more confident.”

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