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Women’s basketball tries to keep ‘underdog’ mentality heading into BIG EAST Tournament

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Women’s basketball tries to keep ‘underdog’ mentality heading into BIG EAST Tournament

Photo by Elena Fiegen

Photo by Elena Fiegen

Photo by Elena Fiegen

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Senior guard Natisha Hiedeman said she was in shock after head coach Carolyn Kieger told her she was the 2019 BIG EAST Player of the Year.

“She deserved it,” Kieger said. “She was really consistent all year. She worked really hard on the offseason on her weaknesses and making a lot of adjustments that we asked her to make.”

Back in January, Kieger said Hiedeman was playing at an elite level. With reigning BIG EAST Player of the Year Allazia Blockton out, Hiedeman filled the void and became the team’s leading scorer.

“It gives me a lot of confidence going into games,” Hiedeman said. “She tells me I have to believe in myself. When I do that, I am playing at another level.”

This is the second consecutive season a Marquette player has earned the accolade after Allazia Blockton was honored in 2018.

“They’ve put in the hard work,” Kieger said. “They’ve been dedicated. They’ve trusted the process.”

There won’t be much time to dwell on the award this week, though. Marquette, ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll, will likely have to win the BIG EAST Tournament to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

“Obviously (the chance to host) is in the back of our minds; however, we’ve been really focused this season on taking it one game at a time,” Kieger said. “If you think too far ahead and get out of the present, that’s where you lose your focus.”

Marquette will enter the tournament as the top seed, but that’s not necessarily something Marquette is embracing. Kieger said the team would rather be the underdog.

“We’re really confident and we play much better when we are,” Kieger said. “When we’re playing like we have something to prove, and like we have a target on our back, I feel like we play much better.”

“We just have to still have that underdog mentality because that’s when we play at our best,” Hiedeman said.

Hiedeman said maturity will help the team tremendously in the BIG EAST Tournament this weekend. Marquette has appeared in the BIG EAST Championship for three consecutive seasons.

Unlike past seasons, MU has faced plenty of adversity in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Blockton suffered an ankle injury Dec. 29 and was out for almost a month. Now the team is without forward Erika Davenport following her season-ending knee injury Feb. 22.

“Adversity makes you stronger,” Kieger said. “For us, it’s never been about one player. … It’s about each other and it’s about sharing the basketball.”

Even though Davenport can’t be on the floor anymore, she has started coaching her teammates.

“She’s a real hard coach,” Hiedeman said. “She’s been telling us what we need to hear versus what we want to hear. She wants the best for us now and she’s been our greatest cheerleader.”

Kieger said the best thing they can do for Davenport is go out and win the conference tournament for her.

“She’s a key part of our team,” Hiedeman said. “We just have to play for her. She’s our sister. … We know how bad she wanted it.”

Marquette (24-6, 15-3 BIG EAST) will tip off against St. John’s Sunday at noon Central Time. It will be the team’s first trip to Wintrust Arena since its 98-63 loss to DePaul in last year’s BIG EAST Championship.

“We’re very hungry,” Kieger said. “We’re going down to take back the trophy. If we have that mindset like we’re going to take something back, … we play a lot less fearful and a lot more aggressive than passive.”

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