The Horizon League tournament is upon us, and for the Valparaiso women’s basketball team, this means a third meeting of the season with Youngstown State in their first round matchup.
The Crusaders finished the regular season at 9-20 overall and 4-14 in Horizon League play. In the two previous matchups with the Penguins, Valparaiso lost by six on the road on Jan.14, but then came back to beat Youngstown State handedly 77-60 at home on Feb. 2.
“They’re beat up like we are, where they are missing some key kids,” coach Tracey Dorow said. “There are a lot of similarities between the two teams. The biggest key for us is to not allow easy points and not give them open threes.”
In the first matchup, Youngstown State shot over 45 percent from beyond the arc and hit 10 3-pointers. The Crusaders’ ability to defend from three will be a key. Along with that, Mary Dunn, who is considered one of the best freshmen in the league, is good to go for Friday’s matchup. She missed the second meeting between these two teams.
“I feel like it’s going to come down to which team comes more ready to play and which team is more consistent for 40 minutes,” Dorow said. “We just have to beat them one more possession than they beat us. When we do that, we can move forward, survive and advance.”
It’s been a wild year as a whole for the Horizon League. With many upsets throughout conference play, the Green Bay Phoenix trailed Wright State by two in the loss column with three games to go. Detroit Mercy took down the Raiders first, and then Green Bay beat Wright State 58-51 in the second meeting between the teams. Given that the Phoenix also beat the Raiders in the first meeting, Green Bay won the conference for the 19th straight time.
That means if the Crusaders are able to take down Youngstown State in Round 1, Valparaiso will match up with the Phoenix in Round 2 of the Horizon League Tournament.
“Looking forward...I do feel good about the way the tournament format is,” Dorow said. “You play two games and then have a day’s rest. The fact that we don’t have to play Green Bay on the very last day really is exciting to me. If we are going to beat them, we need to beat them early.”
The Phoenix have a first round bye, meaning the Crusaders will play a full game before Green Bay touches the floor in game action for the first time.
“For them not playing the day before, I think that’s a big deal too,” Dorow said. “That could be all in our favor, having that atmosphere and experience at the (arena). I think they are a beatable team. I think the tournament is wide open.
When it comes down to it, the Crusaders will have to play extremely well to come out of this weekend as champions. Dorow believes there are a couple crucial keys to big success.
“Rebounding is big,” she said. “Getting extra opportunities and second chance points, while making sure that they’re not getting them is crucial. If we turn the ball over the way we’ve been turning it over in games that we’ve lost, we aren’t going to give ourselves a chance. Defensively, we can’t give up easy points. We have to know their people. We have to not allow their players to do what they want to do.”
The Crusaders will open up their tournament run on Friday at 1:30 p.m at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.