The first two days of the Big Ten Tournament produced seven games that were, on the whole, not as competitive as expected. There were three one-sided games, two reasonably comfortable wins, but two games that came down to the final minutes. The four teams that advanced to the semi-finals include three that were expected to be there and one major surprise.
On one side of the bracket, Ohio State and Iowa, not at all surprisingly, moved on to meet each other in a semifinal round that may well be the de facto championship game. Both the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes were impressive in their quarterfinal victories.
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|#1||OHIO STATE || v. ||#9||ILLINOIS
|70 (W) || ||53 (L)
In the first round, ninth-seeded Illinois (10-21 ) won comfortably over Penn State and hoped to be in the same position they were last season when they defeated Ohio State in the quarterfinals and came within one missed block-out of becoming the first team to go from playing on the first day to winning the championship.
The Number One Buckeyes quickly dashed those dreams, making their first 10 shots enroute to an easy 70-53 victory.
After making those first 10 in a row, Ohio State didn’t miss many as the game went on. They ended up shooting 57% from the field, including Brittany Johnson’s flawless (7-7) shooting for 16 points. Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender led with 22 points, on 10-of-17 from the field, and made it a double double with 11 rebounds.
Freshman Samantha Prahalis dished out nine assists, many of the spectacular variety, as the Buckeyes essentially did what they wanted.
|Ohio State guard Samantha Prahalis, right, battles Illinois forward/center Jenna Smith for a loose ball during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference women's tournament in Indianapolis, Friday, March 6, 2009. Prahalis, a freshman, dished out nine assists in the game, several of them spectacular.
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|#4||IOWA || v. ||#5||MINNESOTA
|79 (W) || ||64 (L)
In the other game in the bracket, Minnesota (19-10) came in badly needing a victory to strengthen its resume before the NCAA awards at-large bids. If it ends up that they needed that win to get a bid, they will be very sad come Selection Monday.
The Gophers ran into the league’s hottest team, the Iowa Hawkeyes (21-9), and Iowa came away with 79-64 victory. Iowa started the conference season 1-3. Since that time their 12-2 record is the league’s best.
The Hawks did what they do best. They shot the ball very well and let sophomore Kachine Alexander and senior Wendy Audesmore do their things. In this game, Alexander’s thing was 15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals and the best one-on-one defense on the team. Audesmore, meanwhile, hit 10-of-16 shots, including four-of-five threes, as she scored 25 points and finished as the team’s second leading rebounder with seven.
In what will likely be the real championship game, Iowa and Ohio State move on to meet in the semifinals.
|Iowa guard Kachine Alexander (21) puts up a shot against Minnesota guard Katie Ohm during the first half of their quarterfinal game at the Big Ten Conference women's tournament. Alexander finished with an impressive stat line that included a double double of 15 points and 13 boards.
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|#2||MICHIGAN STATE || v. ||#7||WISCONSIN
|50 (L) || ||56 (W)
The opposite side of the bracket produced closer games and the tournament’s only upset to date. In the tournament’s first game of the opening round, seventh-seeded Wisconsin (18-13) jumped out to an early lead against Number 10 Northwestern (7-23). Wisconsin failed to fold when the Wildcats made a run and won the opener comfortably, 60-51.
The win advanced Wisconsin to the quarterfinals to face Michigan State (20-10), a team whose collective picture had to be in the dictionary next to the word "inconsistent." The Wisconsin underdogs came away with the tournament's first upset, a 56-50 victory, over the tournament's Number Two seed.
To be fair, the Spartans were without starting point guard Brittney Thomas, lost to a torn ACL. But, while that would normally explain much of their erratic play, Michigan State's problems predated that injury.
To watch this team play is an exercise in head-shaking. There is so much potential, and they can play so well when they all play hard and with emotion, but so often they just seem to be going through the motions.
Six-foot-nine Alyssa DeHaan sets the tone for the Michigan State team. In this, their most important game of the year, she had just nine points on nine shots and grabbed only six rebounds in 32 minutes. She did block four shots. But this is a player who can get a shot virtually whenever she wants, and her lack of aggressiveness hurt her team badly.
Wisconsin, with clearly less talent, made a lot of mistakes but played consistently hard and with emotion. The Badgers shot the ball worse and were out-rebounded, but a number of players stepped up when needed. Undersized post Tara Steinbauer, who plays as hard as any player in the conference, led her team with 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Diminutive 5'3" guard Rae Lin D’Alie added 10 points, and her hustle paid off in six steals and a game-high eight rebounds.
The Spartans are hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament so they won’t have to sweat out Selection Monday too much and, really, given this lackluster performance, that’s too bad.
|Wisconsin center Tara Steinbauer (4)shoots over Michigan State center Allyssa DeHaan (41) during the second half of their Big Ten Conference women's tournament quarterfinal match in Indianapolis, Friday, March 6, 2009. Steinbauer scored 15 points, helping Wisconsin upset Michigan State, 56-50. An undersized post at 6'1", Steinbauer could give the 6'9" DeHaan a few lessons in heart and hustle.
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|#3||PURDUE || v. ||#6||INDIANA
|68 (W) || ||64 (L)
The last of the quarterfinals matched third-seeded Purdue (21-9), which has had much more success in this tournament than anyone, against Indiana (19-10), a six seed which probably needed to win to make the NCAA tournament.
In its opening round game, Indiana had put an end to eleventh-ranked Michigan’s (10-20) disappointing season with an easy 68-50 win behind 22 points from Jori Davis.
The Hoosiers were plainly looking to continue on that roll, jumping out to a quick 14-point lead against the favorites in the quarterfinal match-up. But the Boilermakers fought back and trailed by just one at half.
The second half was close, tightly fought basketball. The game was tied eight times and the lead changed 7 times in the latter period.
Purdue frosh Brittany Rayburn scored 10 points in the second half alone, including the winning basket with 34 seconds to play, helping the Boilermakers to a 68-64 victory. Purdue senior Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton led the team with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Jamie Braun led the Hoosiers, who are likely headed to the WNIT, with 18 points and seven rebounds.
|Purdue guard Brittany Rayburn, left, holds off Indiana forward Whitney Thomas as she picks up a loose ball in the second half of their quarterfinal basketball game at the Big Ten Conference women's tournament. Rayburn, a freshman, scored 19 points including the winning basket as Purdue defeated Indiana, 68-64.
Looking ahead to the Semifinals
Ohio State and Iowa are playing the best basketball in the league and the winner of their game will be the favorite for the championship. But Purdue is playing well and can never be discounted here. Wisconsin, meanwhile, carries the title of Cinderella and they are now closer to playing in the NCAA than they have been in Lisa Stone’s six seasons at the school.
Stay tuned for more coverage as we bring you the tournament wrap-up and a discussion of post-season awards.