March 5, 2022
Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament: Quarterfinals takeaways
Nancy Fahey retires, Nia Clouden leaves the door open to return and Nebraska hangs on
INDIANAPOLIS — Before the third day of its conference tournament, the Big Ten received some shocking news regarding one of its legendary head coaches. After 36 years on the sideline, Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey announced that she is retiring from coaching.
Fahey only spent five years with the Illini, but some of her best moments came outside of the program. At Washington University in St. Louis, she coached five teams to Division III national championships, including a dominant four-year period when WashU went 118-4 and took home four titles. The Hall-of-Famer ends her career with a record of 779-232. Her imprint on the game of basketball is undeniable, as multiple Big Ten coaches said in their postgame press conferences on Friday.
“Nancy has meant so much to our game,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. “She’s won at every level. But just first-class individual. Someone that we’ll obviously miss immensely in conference. But can’t say enough about her professionalism as well as just who she is as a person as well as a coach.”
Fahey’s time in the Big Ten wasn’t as successful as her tenure at WashU. However, everyone in the conference understood what she meant to the game.
“The thing that I’ve always appreciated about Nancy is even though she’s won a lot of games, she was always very curious about the Big Ten and always would go back and forth, call me, text me, and just talk about the league,” said Indiana head coach Teri Moren. “This is a coach that’s been coaching way longer than I have but always picking my brain, just in terms of taking over a program and so forth. And never, no ego, no ego at all.”
Big Ten vice president of women’s basketball Megan Kahn has only been around the conference for a couple months, but even in her short tenure, she understands Fahey’s impact on the conference and basketball at large.
“Coach Fahey has meant so much to the game of women’s basketball,” Kahn said in a statement to The Next. “Someone doesn’t win 700-plus games and five national titles without significantly impacting her student-athletes, fellow coaches, and the sport as a whole. The Big Ten Conference will miss her leadership within our coaches’ group and her legacy as an outstanding coach.”
Now, on to what happened on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
Michigan State’s comeback falls just short
On Friday, I wrote about how the Spartans had upside heading into their matchup against Ohio State if they limited their mistakes. They weren’t able to do that, but neither did the Buckeyes, who turned the ball over 18 times and shot 40.3% from the field.
After Ohio State outscored Michigan State 22-8 in the first quarter, the Spartans cut the deficit to six points after DeeDee Hagemann went coast to coast with 4:17 left in the game. However, the Buckeyes put together a 10-0 run fueled by threes from Rikki Harris (14 points) and Taylor Mikesell (18 points).
In a game where they needed to play their best basketball, the Spartans fell just short.
“We got off to a great start,” said Mikesell. “I think that started from our defense. Rikki did a great job setting the tone for us. Being an Indy kid, she took that personal, and I think that gave us a spark. As a whole team, I think we kind of fed off of that.”
It was a tough two-game stretch for Michigan State senior Nia Clouden, who led the team in scoring in the regular season but finished with just seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. However, this might not be the last time Michigan State’s fans see her in green and white. Clouden left the door open to returning next year.
“I haven’t made a final decision,” she said without elaborating.
Ohio State will play Indiana on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Indiana gets back on track
Before Mackenzie Holmes went down with a knee injury in January, Indiana was humming on offense. However, it lost its rhythm down the stretch and faltered in its regular-season finale to Maryland. After an up-and-down performance two days ago, the Hoosiers looked like their old selves versus the Terrapins in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, beating them 62-51.
Holmes particularly looked comfortable in the post and won her matchup against Maryland’s Angel Reese. However, she made sure to temper any expectations about her health postgame.
“I’m trying not to put a number on the percentage of how good I’m feeling,” Holmes said. “Just keep doing what I’m doing and the rest will take care of itself.”
As for Maryland, the Terrapins couldn’t get anything going from beyond the arc. They went 0-12 in that area, which let the Hoosiers pack the paint against Reese (14 points and 13 rebounds) and Diamond Miller (four points, 2-for-11 shooting).
“Today it just wasn’t falling,” said Maryland’s Chloe Bibby. “But as I said, you have those games and you have
to go get rebounds and you have to find another way to win. It doesn’t matter because you still got to find a way to win at the end of the day and survive or go home.”
Indiana will play Ohio State, who it beat 86-66 in the teams’ lone matchup this season.
Iowa shakes off rust
I wrote on Friday that Northwestern didn’t have the firepower around Veronica Burton to hang with the Hawkeyes, which drew ire from the Wildcats’ fan base.
The Wildcats hung in for the first 20 minutes, keeping the deficit to 32-31 at the break. At this point, I was beginning to wonder whether I would use a blue or black pen to fill out that form.
However, Iowa shook off its cobwebs in the second half and gradually elevated its lead to 17 points with 5:26 to go in the fourth quarter. The steadiness of Monika Czinano (21 points, eight rebounds) and Caitlin Clark (19 points, 12 rebounds, six assists) paired with Gabby Marshall’s on-ball defense against Burton ultimately did Northwestern in.
“I think that any time you come to the Big Ten Tournament and you haven’t played a game yet like Northwestern has, the first half was just kind of getting used to it, getting a feel for the court,” said Czinano. “Our shoot-around isn’t even here. This is our first time all year coming out here and playing.
“So I think we kind of were expecting to need a little bit of time to figure it all out, but once we did, it was fun, and that’s what happened in the third quarter.”
Give credit to the Wildcats. There were stretches in this one where they could have made life difficult for Iowa. They didn’t convert most of their open opportunities, but their defense battled throughout the game. Northwestern finished the day shooting 28.4% from the field.
Iowa will play Nebraska on Saturday after the Cornhuskers’ late-game thriller last night.
Nebraska downs Michigan
This was the best game of the tournament so far. Any time either Michigan or Nebraska stole back the momentum, the other went on a run to even this 40-minute long tug of war. The Wolverines turned a 14-point deficit into a six-point advantage. Nebraska clawed its way back to take a three-point lead after Alison Weidner (16 points) hit two free throws with four seconds left.
In the one moment it needed to remain calm, the Wolverines panicked and hoisted a contested three. It never hit the rim, and the rest was history.
“We just played a really good team,” said Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They deserve some credit, too. I think that they have been a great team all year. They have been under the radar, and sometimes our league doesn’t get recognized as much as some other leagues out there. But I have a vote in the top 25 every week, and they have been in mine for a really long time.”
Barnes Arico’s assessment is accurate. The Cornhuskers were knocking on the door to being a top-25 team just before the New Year. This season was only the second time in its program’s history that Nebraska took down three top-10 teams in one year. They showed on Friday that they can beat any team in the conference.
The matchup between Jaz Shelley, who set a Big Ten Tournament record with nine threes in Nebraska’s first game, and Clark is going to be must-see basketball on Saturday.