Golden Eagles set themselves up for greatness with nonconference slate

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Photo by Kate Holstein

Head coach Carolyn Kieger said Marquette women’s basketball “can play with anybody.” The Golden Eagles will be putting that to the test in their nonconference schedule that began Tuesday.

“I wanted to challenge our team, let them know that I believe in them,” Kieger said. “I believe we can play with anybody. We really challenged ourselves nonconference so we can make a deep run come March.”

For the past two seasons, the Golden Eagles have been one of the top teams in the nation, but they haven’t necessarily played opponents above their caliber.

“Two years ago, we went 6-0 against top-25 teams, but we didn’t have a top-10 team on that schedule,” Kieger said. “It would be phenomenal to be able to host the first two rounds (of the NCAA Tournament), but the only way you can do that is to beat top-level teams.”

In its first month and a half of play prior to its BIG EAST matchups, Marquette will take on two preseason top-10 teams and two teams receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

One of the Golden Eagles’ first important matchups will come Dec. 6 when Marquette travels to Starkville, Mississippi, to take on No. 6 Mississippi State. The most notable matchup for the Golden Eagles will come Dec. 22 when they’ll try to defeat reigning NCAA Champion and preseason No. 1 Notre Dame.

The game will also serve as a homecoming for Fighting Irish guard Arike Ogunbowale, who grew up in Milwaukee playing with many of the Marquette seniors.

Marquette squares off in December against two other teams receiving votes in the top 25: the Michigan Wolverines and the Green Bay Phoenix.

But the players said they aren’t dreading these games. They recognize the vast importance of attempting to top high-level squads like those.

“If we want to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, we’re going to have to play those teams like Notre Dame and Mississippi State,” senior guard Allazia Blockton said. “It tests us and it prepares us for the conference.”

Senior forward Erika Davenport echoed similar statements. She said it will be fun playing against top competition and that it will prepare their squad for conference play. 

“The BIG EAST is loaded with a lot of great teams,” Blockton said. “It’s going to be a real test for us, and it will be a great challenge for our senior year to go out with a bang.”

While Kieger said her primary motivation is to prepare her team for postseason, a side goal of the challenging nonconference is to get her squad ready for BIG EAST competition.

“Whether we go undefeated or we lose half our games, it’s still going to prepare us for those moments in BIG EAST Championship play or the BIG EAST Tournament,” Kieger said. “When adversity hits or DePaul is shooting lights out, how do you respond to that? You go back to your training, you go back to your practices and that’s all nonconference.”