March 3, 2022
Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament: Day One
How Rutgers, Illinois survived and advanced
INDIANAPOLIS — There might not be a better state for a week-long basketball tournament than Indiana. In just over 24 hours of being in Indianapolis, home of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament. I have already felt the passion for hoops from local natives.
On the way back from the first day of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, my Uber driver asked me what I was doing here. I told him I was on assignment as a basketball writer. Immediately, he started giving me a scouting report of Indianapolis high school star and UConn recruit Ashlynn Shade. His breakdown lasted 12 minutes until we pulled up in front of my Airbnb.
“If you have time, you should go and see her,” he said before pulling away.
That won’t happen because I am going to be keeping a daily diary of what is happening in the Big Ten conference tournament. If it is anything like the first round through next Sunday, it is going to be a heck of a week for Big Ten hoops. This is what happened yesterday.
(13) Rutgers 75 – (12) Penn St. 50
In the first of two upsets that occurred yesterday, Rutgers started off slow in the first three minutes of the game before taking off in the second half. Penn St. initially stifled the Scarlet Knights, who couldn’t find the cracks in the Lions’ 2-3 zone. Rutgers scored only three points through the first 4:22 before finding their groove on that end of the floor. Shug Dickson led the offense with 14 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
Acting head coach Timothy Eatman knew his team had to bring a little extra with a familiar face on the opposite bench.
“The thing that we tried to do, you got to realize this, on their staff is a former Rutgers player,” said Eatman, referring to Penn St. assistant coach Myia Johnson. “So everything we run, they already know. So we tried to change the formations up of things, so we could get to the same shots, but we had to try to do it a little bit different.
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“We went into our spread formation and our spread formation we got to the same hits that we would normally get to, but it made us a little bit more unpredictable.”
As for Penn St., the Lions had no rhythm on the offensive end. In the regular season, they struggled to score from the perimeter, shooting 31.7% from three-point range. The Lions also shot 29.4% of their jump shots in the half court in the regular season, which ranked in the 19th percentile, according to Synergy Sports Tech.
It was more of the same on yesterday.
Penn St. went 4-for-23 from three-point range in the first round against Rutgers and had no fluidity in their half court sets. Lions’ head coach Carolyn Kieger thought her team froze on the big stage.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed in how we played today,” said Kieger. “The fight, the level of intensity, the toughness, lack thereof, that we had. Penn State deserves better. The jersey deserves better. The game deserves better.”
Rutgers will play No. 5 Indiana Thursday in the fourth game of the tournament.
(14) Illinois 75 – (11) Wisconsin 66
In what was the more exciting matchup of the two first round games, Illinois recorded its seventh win of the season after it upset Wisconsin last night. It also marked the Illini’s second win versus the Badgers in the last eight weeks.
Illinois, the lowest seed in the tournament this year, hung in with Wisconsin and only trailed by three points heading into halftime. However, they took back the momentum coming out of the break, hitting seven of their nine three-pointers in the second half.
Illinois led by as many as 14 points but Wisconsin chipped away at the lead. Katie Nelson, who finished with 27 points, five rebounds and eight assists, hit a three with 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter to lessen the margin to four points (70-66). However, just like it had done all night, Illinois answered every haymaker the Badgers threw at them. Key buckets from Aaliyah Nye and Adalia Mckenzie was enough to end Wisconsin’s season.
“If anyone’s watched our team or followed us this year, we definitely have a habit of putting ourselves in a position of trying to make it exciting and coming back,” said Wisconsin’s head coach Marisa Moseley. “We made some big plays there and I thought we had the momentum going, but in the end, they made a few more plays than us.”
Illinois will play No. 6 Nebraska in the last game of the second round Thursday. It’s coming off a game where all of its starters scored in double-figures and put up its highest point total since Jan. 16.
“It’s huge, just having the confidence in one our shooters like that, just to know as soon as it goes up I’ll just turn back and run on defense,” said Illinois forward Kendall Bostic. “We don’t even try to grab the rebound because we know it’s going to go in.”