Conference start doesn't clear picture
By Aaron Sharockman, Special to CNNSI.com
With the Big Ten season a week old, I thought for sure we'd have idea of how the topsy-turvy conference was going to shake out.
Was Illinois ready to wake-up and rebound from a sluggish start or continue its mediocre play? Was Ohio State for real or a team simply posing at the top of the win column? Was Wisconsin a top 20 basketball team? Was Penn State a top 10 basketball team?
I waited two months to get these answers. Well, then I guess another week or two can't hurt.
Through the first weekend of Big Ten play, the questions surrounding the bizarrely balanced conference don't have answers in sight. But we'll examine them anyway.
Inconclusive IlliniThe jury is definitely still out on Theresa Grentz's Illinois squad as another up and down weekend marked its first Big Ten action.
With a seven-point lead deep in the second half, the Illini gave up 11 straight points to Michigan at home to lose their conference opener 68-57. The Illini couldn't pull away from the Wolverines in the first half despite some ugly play from Michigan, including committing 14 first half turnovers.
Illinois was outmuscled as the game went on by the Michigan post game as the three Wolverine frontcourt players combined for 40 points. Forward LeAnn Bies came off the bench from Michigan to score 12 points including the first four in Michigan's decisive 11-0 run.
Illinois' guards were shaky as Shavonna Hunter and Anne O'Neil 4-for-20 from the field and each committed four turnovers.
But just two days later, after another loss, Illinois was a different team with drastically different results.
Freshman Iveta Marcauskaite scored 24 points for the Illini and small forward Allison Curtin added 10 points 10 assists and seven rebounds in a stunning upset over No. 14 Auburn on the Tigers' home floor. The loss was Auburn's first non-conference loss since 1993.
O'Neil who struggled mightily against Michigan added 10 points in the win.
Grentz, who has maintained her young team will improve greatly as the year progresses, thinks the Auburn win may turn the tide for her team.
"I've said all along we'll be a better team in March then we are in December," added Grentz. "We just have to keep working. A win like this is only going to bolster their confidence."
"This was the type of game that can turn our season," Curtin said.
But it's going to have to turn quickly for Illinois, which faces two more top 10 teams this week in Georgia and Penn State. Losses to both will jeopardize any chance at an above .500 record and a chance (minus winning the Big Ten tournament) at postseason play.
Miraculous MazzantePenn State's Ashley Luke was ready to replace Helen Darling. And for three games she did -- and pretty well.
But what freshman Kelly Mazzante has done in Penn State's other 10 games running the point is nothing short of miraculous. Maybe not the vocal leader that Darling was, Mazzante has made her presence known in other ways, grabbing the reigns of the Lady Lion offense as their top scorer.
In 13 games and 10 starts, Mazzante leads the team in scoring, averaging over 17 points a game. As a guard, she also leads the team in field goal percentage, a spot usually reserved for post players, three-point percentage and steals.
Mazzante has already been named Big Ten player of the week for her work on the court and has remained solid as the Big Ten season opened.
In Penn State's 66-63 squeaking win over Ohio State Sunday, Mazzante led all players with 26 points, 15 coming in the first half off 85 percent shooting (6-of-7 FG) from the floor. She also collected a team- and career-high 10 rebounds in the victory.
A dudLast week, I told you to watch the exciting match-up between Camille Cooper and Nina Smith in the Big Ten opening night clash between Purdue and Wisconsin.
Well, I hope you didn't.
The match-up between two of the best big women in Big Ten basketball was a big fizzle. Both were plagued by foul trouble all game long with Smith fouling out in the second half. The two combined shot under 30-percent from the field and between them managed only 11 rebounds.
Smith finished with four points and four turnovers in just 25 minutes of action. Cooper was better, adding eight points in the 70-58 Purdue win. Cooper played only 25 minutes as well.
Aaron Sharockman is a reporter for the Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper serving Indiana University.