Before we get into anything else about where this game fits into the overall picture of things for Marquette Golden Eagles women’s basketball this season, let’s focus on a not-so-minor part of Marquette basketball history that’s on the table for Saturday’s game.
Allazia Blockton has already broken the MU women’s basketball scoring record, surpassing Krystal Ellis’ 1,940 career points. Blockton is currently sitting on 1,979 points after putting up 20 against Binghamton on Monday night. That means she needs seven points to pass Jerel McNeal to become the most prolific scorer in Marquette men’s or women’s basketball history. It also means she needs just 21 points to become Marquette’s first ever player, men’s or women’s basketball, to score 2,000 career points. Odds are that she’ll get the seven for sure. Given Carolyn Kieger’s style, it’s hard to say for certain if she’ll get the 21 against Notre Dame, but I will say that Blockton is averaging 18.6 per contest, so 21 isn’t completely out of the question. She’s just barely outside the top 300 in the country in effective field goal percentage according to HerHoopStats.com, so we know that Blockton can score points in a hurry.
Okay, so here’s what’s what for Marquette on Saturday. It’s the final game in a “five out of six games” stretch against teams with their eyes on the NCAA tournament this season. Over the past five games, Marquette have picked up home wins against Michigan and Green Bay, snagged a road victory against Northwestern, and pushed #6 Mississippi State to the limit before falling by five points down in Starkville. That’s a 3-1 record in the four major quality games in this stretch with Saturday’s finale yet to come. From a purely objective standpoint, Marquette needed to get three wins out of this run in order to head into Big East play with their heads held high in terms of being on track for a third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
But that’s not the goal for the Golden Eagles. They made it to the second round last year before falling in a road game to Louisville. The goal when you bring back all five starters from that kind of a team is to make it one step further. That means a Sweet 16 appearance, the first one in program history. The best and easiest way to make that happen is to be one of the tournament’s top 16 teams and thus get the opportunity to host the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds.
Here’s the good news. Through games played on December 19th, Marquette is currently ranked #10 in the RPI. That kind of a ranking is awfully helpful towards being in the top 16…. if you can maintain it. MU will almost assuredly benefit from merely playing Saturday’s game against the current #1 RPI team, and that’s with the strength of schedule already ranked in the top 50.
But you know what would be really helpful? BEATING the current #1 RPI team. Marquette pushed Notre Dame to overtime last year in South Bend with essentially this exact same Golden Eagles roster. The game is in Milwaukee this time around. Is home court advantage enough to push MU over the line when the final horn sounds? We’ll have to wait and see how it turns out, but if Marquette figures out how to do it, they’ll be on the fast track to playing games in March on that exact same McGuire Center floor.
Game #12: vs #2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1)
Date: Saturday, December 22, 2018
Time: 12:30pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI
Television: FS1, with Lisa Byington and Kim Adams on the call
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is just 8-33 all time against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have won the last five meetings, including last year’s overtime game in South Bend. While the overall series is tilted away from the Golden Eagles, things change a little bit when you look at only games in Milwaukee. Six of Marquette’s wins in the series have come in Milwaukee, where MU has an overall record of 6-12.
As you would expect for a team that won the 2018 national championship and returned three senior starters AND a three-time All-American from an injury that sidelined her for the 2017-18 campaign, Notre Dame has been ripping through teams this season. In their 10 wins this season, they’re winning by an average margin of 27.4 points per game. By the way, they’re not exactly playing chumps out there. Half of their wins this season have come against RPI top 50 squads, including two top 25 wins on a neutral floor, and they’ve won all five by at least 15 points. Their only blemish in the loss column is when they welcomed Connecticut to the Joyce Center and lost by 17 after getting swamped in the fourth quarter.
The game was competitive at the start of the third quarter? #FireGeno
Where were we?
Notre Dame’s five starters all average at least 12 points per game. Final Four hero and Milwaukee native Arike Ogunbowale leads the way at 22.3 per game, and backcourt running mate Jackie Young creates a fearsome pairing. Young is getting 17 per game and both women are averaging over six rebounds and three assists. Young is the much more dangerous long range shooter (43%) but Ogunbowale is willing to (and allowed to) let fly nearly five times per game from behind the arc even though she’s only shooting 27% this season.
Marquette’s weakness in the past has been dominant post players, and I mention this because of Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner. The 6’4” Shepard is averaging nearly a double-double at 16.1 points and 9.0 rebounds, while the 6’3” Turner is good for 12.6 and 7.7 respectively. They’re both amongst the best rebounders in the country, and when you chip in the work elsewhere on the roster, Notre Dame has the 12th best offensive rebounding rate in the country according to Her Hoop Stats. There’s a couple of things that hold promise here. First: Marquette knows what to expect from Shepard, after she went for 13 and 12 in last year’s game between the two sides. The same can’t be said for Turner, as she’s the aforementioned All-American returning from injury. Second: Marquette has spent most of the last month dealing with really good rebounding teams and really good inside presences. Michigan, Northwestern, Mississippi State, all of them can work it inside exceptionally well. Marquette has fared well against them, and hopefully MU can combine the lessons that they’ve learned from those games with familiarity with the Irish roster to be able to move the needle in their favor.