STARTING FIVE: Women’s basketball returns to the Big Dance, first up South Florida


Photo by Katie Craig

Marquette women’s basketball defeated Georgetown 66-49 Feb. 4 inside the Al McGuire Center on National Marquette Day.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Exactly one year ago, the Marquette women’s basketball team was gearing up for its first game in the 2022 WNIT Tournament against Ball State.

Fast forward 365 days and the Golden Eagles are dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 9 seed Marquette tips-off against the No. 8 seed University of South Florida Bulls in the first round of the tournament Friday at 10:30 a.m. CST.

“Madness is here,” Marquette head coach Megan Duffy said Wednesday during a media availability. “We’re thrilled to be leaving today and heading down to South Carolina to play USF.”

Marquette looks to bounce back from its 82-51 loss to UConn in the Big East Tournament semifinals.

Junior forward Liza Karlen led the Golden Eagles with 18 points, shooting 7-for-12 from the field and 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. First-year guard Mackenzie Hare recorded 15 points in 28 minutes of play. 

South Florida enters Friday’s matchup coming off a 65-53 loss to Wichita State in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

Senior guard Elena Tsineke led the Bulls with 19 points, while also earning six rebounds and a block. Redshirt senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu also put up 15 points, six rebounds, four blocks and a steal.

Fun Facts:

  • Marquette has never won a NCAA Tournament game under Duffy. The last time the Golden Eagles were in the Big Dance was in 2021, when they lost in the opening round to Virginia Tech.
  • Marquette is 1-1 all-time as a No. 9 seed.
  • The Golden Eagles have advanced past the first round six times in 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, but have never made it to the Sweet 16.
  • South Florida is 2-4 in neutral site games this year compared to Marquette which is 3-2.
  • The Bulls won the American Athletic Conference regular season title going 15-1 in conference play.

A Look Back:

  • Both teams were conference foes in Conference USA and the Big East from 1995-2013.
  • Marquette and South Florida have matched up 21 times with the Golden Eagles holding a 17-4 advantage in the all-time series. This will be the first meeting between programs since 2013.
  • In their last matchup with the Bulls, the Golden Eagles lost 58-48.

Key Players:

  • Senior forward Chloe Marotta is the only current Golden Eagle to have played in three NCAA Tournament games. This year, she is averaging a near double-double with 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
  • Senior guard Jordan King is Marquette’s leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game while also earning a team-high four assists and 1.9 steals per game.
  • Tsineke is the Bulls’ leading scorer with an average of 18 points per game. The Thessaloniki, Greece native was named one of two Players of the Year in the American Athletic Conference.
  • Fankam Mendjiadeu is the other AAC Player of the Year. This season, she is averaging a double-double with 16.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. 

Five Keys to the Game:

1. First-class performance from the first-years

Hare and first-year guard Emily LaChapell have been key of the bench for for Marquette this season, both earning a spot on the Big East All-Freshman Team.

Hare has helped fill the gap left by former guard Karissa McLaughlin, becoming the Golden Eagles primary 3-point shooter.

LaChapell has found herself in the starting lineup for most of conference play and was an unanimous selection to the Big East All-Freshman Team.

“They’ve been great contributors to us all season long. So try to keep it as normal as possible,” Duffy said. “Good thing about our young players is they played in a lot of big crowds and played in a lot of big moments.”

Both players need to be on their game if Marquette is going to win.

2. Liza Karlen

Last time Karlen was in the Big Dance, she was a first-year and played a mere five minutes and didn’t record any stats.

Now, the junior is fully recovered from a mouth injury that kept her on the sidelines for 32 days and is at the top of her game. In her last five contests, she averaged 17 points and 7.2 rebounds.

“She’s played some awesome basketball,” Duffy said. “She’s scoring for us, she’s rebounding. Just taking the load off Chloe and Jordan a little bit.”

As one of six Golden Eagles with NCAA Tournament experience, she will play a big role on and off the court.

3. Stop the South Florida scorers

South Florida has an elite international presence. Tsineke, from Greece, and Fankam Mendjiadeu, from Cameroon, are highly-skilled scorers.

“She (Tsineke) can score, she can distribute, very good defensively,” Duffy said. “We’re gonna have to do a great job — (it’ll) be a little bit by committee — with our guard group to slow her down.”

Junior guard Rose Nkumu will have her work cut out for her. But it’s nothing new for the 5-foot-7 staunch defender, who has matched up against talented scorers all season.

“I’ve been working with my coaches and watching film,” Nkumu said. “Trying to be able to make sure that I’m always guarding whoever’s the best player, and just getting my reads down.”

4. Stay out of foul trouble

Foul trouble has been a serious issue in big games for Marquette this season.

During the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship Game, King fouled out early into overtime. Inside Gampel Pavilion on New Year’s Eve, she sat out for most of the second frame because she committed two early fouls.

In the Big East Tournament, it was more of the same for the Golden Eagles.

Against the Huskies in the semifinals, Marotta and Karlen each had four fouls heading into the final quarter. At the final buzzer, four players had at least three fouls.

The Golden Eagles need to play clean basketball so late fouls designed to extend the game don’t lead to an expulsion.

5.  Duffy’s depth   

By the start of Big East play, Duffy harped on one thing that catalyzed Marquette to its 6-1 record: depth.

But four months later, that coveted depth has lost its prominence.

While it’s clear the Golden Eagles have talent beyond the starting five, bench players like senior forward Kennedi Myles, senior guard Nia Clark and Hare have not been asserting themselves in the game enough.

For Marquette to play in the second round, everything cannot rely on King and Marotta.

How to Follow:

  • Watch: Tip-off is set for 10:30 a.m. CST and will be broadcast on ESPN2
  • Live Updates on Twitter: @GunvilleJohn, @JackAlbrightMU and @MUWireSports

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached [email protected] or on Twitter @JackAlbrightMU.