Round One of the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament provided no upsets and little suspense. In fact, until Wisconsin and Minnesota went to overtime in the day’s last game, the only real question was whether an obviously ill Michigan coach Kim Barnes-Arico would survive her team’s game. She did, although her color varied between ashen and green.
Game Four: No. 6 Minnesota 74, No. 11 Wisconsin 68, OT
That fourth game followed the script of so many of Wisconsin’s (10-19, 3-13) games this season. The Badgers played through Michala Johnson, and the transfer from UConn responded by hitting 9 of 17 shots and leading the team with 19 points. While the Badgers were playing well, Minnesota (20-11, 8-8) could not score. Wisconsin took a 14-point lead into halftime and stretched it to 16 early in the second half. Minnesota fought back but was still down by eight with three minutes to play.
Once again, however, those pesky officials insisted on playing 40 minutes instead of 37, and once again the Badgers couldn’t perform in the game's closing minutes. In the final three minutes Wisconsin had five possessions. They missed three three-point shots, missed one free throw and turned the ball over once. Meanwhile, the Gophers scored eight points in that span to tie the score at 61 at the end of regulation and force the extra minutes.
The Golden Gophers outscored Wisconsin 7-2 to begin the overtime and held on from there for a 74-68 win. Minnesota’s two all-league players did not have their usual games. Rachel Banham scored 22 points but was only 5-22 from the field. Amanda Zahui B was held to 12 points, though she made it a double-double by grabbing 19 rebounds to go with six blocked shots.
The only real question entering the tournament was Minnesota’s NCAA chances and this win should place them firmly in the field of 64.
Up Next: Minnesota moves on to face third-seeded Nebraska (22-6, 12-4) in Round Two on Friday.
Thursday's Other First-Round Tournament Action
Game One: No. 8 Ohio State 86, No. 9 Northwestern 77
The other three games of the day went pretty much to form with the teams and players basically doing what they’ve done all year, while, for the most part, fans got to witness some excellent basketball performances.
In Game One, Ohio State (16-7, 5-11) sophomore Ameryst Alston led her team to an 86-77 victory while putting on a show, scoring 30 points, many on acrobatic drives to the basket. As it has for much of the season, the very young Northwestern (15-14, 5-11) team missed too many layups and gave up too many offensive rebounds.
Up Next: Ohio State moves on to face top seed Penn State (22-6, 13-3), while Northwestern returns home to wait for a bid to the WNIT. This would mark the first post-season appearance of Joe McKeown’s tenure and, considering his rotation consists of three freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors, it will likely not be his last.
Game Two: No. 5 Iowa 81, No. 12 Illinois 62
In Game Two, Iowa (24-7, 11-5) and Illinois (9-21, 2-14) played for the third time in three weeks and the result was the same. Iowa easily handled the Illini, 81-62, to move to the second round. Iowa moves the ball as well as any team around; the Hawkeyes led the Big Ten this season in both scoring and assists per game. This time out against Illinois, they had 20 assists on 27 baskets.
Illinois depends on a full-court pressure defense but that left the post area open. Iowa took advantage of that, continually feeding center Brittany Doolittle, who finished with 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Illinois did force Iowa into 24 turnovers but the Illini simply did not have enough to stay with the upper seed.
Up Next: Iowa moves on to face fourth-seeded Purdue (21-7, 11-5) in what should be the best game of Round Two. The two teams are evenly matched, with the under-seed holding the better overall record, but both sides tied at 11-5 in Big Ten play coming into the tournament. Coaching experience could prove a factor: Earlier this season Iowa coach Lisa Bluder moved past C. Vivian Stringer to become the Hawkeyes' all-time winningest coach. Her 24 wins so far this season are the most of her career at Iowa.
Game Three: No. 7 Michigan 82, No. 10 Indiana 57
In the day's third match-up, Michigan (18-12, 8-8) went on an early 18-2 run and rode that edge to an 82-57 victory. Indiana (18-11, 5-11) was never in the game, the key to which was Michigan’s balance. Five Wolverine players scored in double figures, led by Cyesha Goree's 18 points and 11 rebounds. As a team, Michigan dominated on the boards, 42-31, and outscored Indiana 24-8 in second-chance points. Indiana was not able to function well against the Michigan defense and only Alexis Gassion with 12 points hit double figures.
Up Next: The Wolverines move on to face their in-state rival, second-seeded Michigan State in Friday's third semifinal.
Editor's Note: For a more comprehensive look at the Big Ten Tournament pairings from Round One through the semifinals, as well as for a complete tournament schedule, check out our 2014 Big Ten Tournament Preview.