Three takeaways: Lott, Van Kleunen’s defensive efforts lead Marquette to Round of 32

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Three takeaways: Lott, Van Kleunen’s defensive efforts lead Marquette to Round of 32

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

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COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS — No. 5 Marquette women’s basketball (27-7, 15-3 BIG EAST) is one step closer to reaching its first Sweet 16 appearance after defeating the No. 12 Rice University Owls 58-54 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Here are three takeaways from the victory:

 

Offense struggles against Owls

There’s no doubt the Golden Eagles didn’t play their best game offensively. Marquette averaged 83.2 points per game leading up to the NCAA Tournament, but Rice held MU to 58 points.

In the third quarter, the Golden Eagles were shooting a mere 28 percent from the field. But the more blaring problem was from beyond the arc.

Marquette had four players in the top 10 of the BIG EAST for 3-point shooting, but the Golden Eagles shot just 17 percent from deep. Lott, who entered play shooting 46 percent from the perimeter, shot 1 for 5. BIG EAST Player of the Year Natisha Hiedeman was 1 for 8 from beyond the arc.

“Our goal was play old-fashioned defense, guard the ball one-on-one, pack good, help side and finish with a box out,” Rice guard Erica Ogwumike said. “At times we did that. … But then at times, at crucial times, we had our lapses.”

“We did not play our best,” Marquette head coach Carolyn Kieger said. “They stuck together. They stayed focused. They stayed confident down the stretch even though we weren’t shooting the ball well and that’s what you need to do.”

 

Lott, Van Kleunen fill defensive void

Without senior forward Erika Davenport, Marquette needed improved defense from the rest of the team against a much bigger Rice team. Sophomore guard Selena Lott delivered that against Rice.

Lott finished the day with nine points, eight rebounds and a game-high five steals. One of those steals came with two seconds left before the break to put Marquette up 20-19.

“That steal to end halftime was a huge momentum shift for us,” Kieger said. “Her energy really fuels the rest of our team when it comes to the defensive end.”

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Lauren Van Kleunen had possibly her hardest matchup of the season Friday, guarding 6-foot-9 center Nancy Mulkey.

Coming into this matchup, Mulkey was fourth in the nation with 89 blocks and was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. Friday, the redshirt sophomore tallied 18 points, five blocks and nine rebounds.

“She’s a phenomenal player,” Van Kleunen said. “I was just trying to be physical with her as much as possible and get my hands up. … Just alter a shot any way and make sure she didn’t get the rebounds either.”

Despite Van Kleunen being seven inches shorter than Mulkey, Kieger said she was impressed with Van Kleunen’s defense.

“Even when (Mulkey) scored on her, (Van Kleunen) kept a positive attitude,” Kieger said. “The charges that she took, the smart plays that she had, she really played like a senior tonight.”

Veteran experience helps MU outlast younger Rice team

Four of Marquette’s five starters were seniors, and all five starters have played in NCAA Tournament games before.

Rice did not have that luxury. The Owls will return four of their five starters next season after their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

“We haven’t had much experience in tight games like that,” Ogwumike said. “We definitely could have done a better job to focus. … Poise was a thing we were missing toward the end.”

Kieger relied heavily on her veterans in overtime to avoid a first-round upset. Seniors Amani Wilborn and Allazia Blockton made their jumpers, and Hiedeman sunk her free throws to remove any doubt with one second left.

“No matter what the score is, how much time is left, we’re going to give it our all,” senior guard Natisha Hiedeman said. “We didn’t really play Marquette basketball today, but the fact that we were still able to win shows a lot of maturity.”

It was a stark difference from March 12, when the Golden Eagles lost the BIG EAST Championship after failing to convert down the stretch.

“What a difference a week can make,” Kieger said. “They don’t want to lose. … (The seniors) don’t want their last game in that jersey to be remembered as a moment that their offense didn’t go well.”

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