Big Ten/SEC nailbiters
By Aaron Sharockman, Special to CNNSI.com
Before the season started, Penn State coach Rene Portland hoped an influx of three new coaches in her conference could raise the Big Ten as a whole in competing with the SEC, America's pre-eminent women's basketball conference.
It was only two games last weekend. And it was the SEC's premier teams (Georgia and Tennessee were busy beating up other programs), but the Big Ten certainly held its own in the first leg of the Big Ten/SEC Challenge.
No. 11 Penn State downed no. 23 Vanderbilt by the slimmest of margins, while Michigan State was on the losing end by one-point to Alabama in the Challenge's other match-up, 54-53.
Lady Lion guard Lisa Shepherd hit a three-pointer from the corner with six sends left to give PSU the win 77-76, it's fifth of the season. Penn State trailed for most of the second half, and was down by as many as 14 with seven minutes to go.
Before the win, former Lion All-American and current Cleveland Rocker Helen Darling had her no. 30 jersey retired.
In the other challenge, Joanne McCallie's Spartans trailed most of the game, but still had the ball with a chance to win on the game's final possession. After forcing a Crimson Tide turnover on a shot clock violation, guard Vnemina Reese's running jumper fall short sinking the Spartans' hopes and their record to 5-4.
The Spartans held their own without star forward Becky Cummings who played only three minutes, still suffering the lingering effects of a torn plantar fascia. She had missed the Spartans' two previous games.
Bluder back home
When Iowa announced the hiring of Lisa Bluder to replace Angie Lee , many Hawkeyes were furious that a Drake Bulldog would be running their program. One letter from a former UI player said Bluder would "always be a Bulldog. And a Bulldog shouldn't be at Iowa."
Well, Bluder is heading back to the Knapp Center and her former school as her Hawkeyes take on Drake this Saturday.
"I'm an Iowa girl," Bluder said. "I grew up here. I played here. I coached here. Believe me, leaving Drake was tough, but Iowa was probably the only place I'd leave it for."
Bluder spent 10 years at Drake shaping the Bulldogs into one of the best mid-major basketball teams in the country. She managed a .638 winning percentage in her ten years and was named Missouri Valley Coach of the Year three separate times.
She knows the team she's facing, and just how good they are. Drake standouts Stephanie Schmitz and Carla Bennett will be tough for UI to stop. All the while, Bluder is trying to bring back respect to an Iowa program that used to ride the top of women's basketball.
Now, it's just another Big Ten team. A team that Bluder's old squad could very well handle.
An interesting side note to Bluder's homecoming is Drake first-year coach Lisa Stone coaching her first game against her alma mater. Stone was a four-year standout with the Hawkeyes at point guard, ranking 12th on the program's all-time scoring list.
Which team is going to show up
Michigan has been the hardest team to get a hold on so far this season. They've been great. And then they've been bad.
Starting right off the bat they upset then No. 8 Louisiana Tech 69-66. But then they turn right around two days later and got thumped by one of the Pac-10's lowly teams, Washington 73-60.
After a solid loss to Arkansas and five-straight regular wins over lesser teams, the Wolverines got beat by Marquette last weekend 67-58.
"I thought the game came down to the fact that Marquette wanted it a little more than we did," UM coach Sue Guevara said. "They chased down the loose ball and out-worked us on the glass. I am disappointed in our effort."
Marquette? This a team Iowa handled to open their season and a team that dominated the Wolverines Saturday?
No, Guevara was right. Marquette didn't win that game, Michigan lost it. They looked so poised, so solid against La. Tech and then looked like a totally different team against Marquette, shooting a frigid 33 percent from the field.
Aaron Sharockman is a reporter for the Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper serving Indiana University.