There are a few things synonymous with Bowling Green basketball: hard work, intensity, toughness and Lauren Prochaska.
As the old adage says, "big players always step up in big games" and after Prochaska’s 31 point performance in Bowling Green’s 79-68 upset of #23 Vanderbilt on Wednesday it’s easy to see why the Plain City, Ohio native is one of the most decorated players in Bowling Green State University history.
She’s so proficient, so calm, and so smooth with her shot that her game reminds you of Katie Douglas in how effective she is on the court. Needless to say, when Vanderbilt's Jence Rhoads (14 points) catalyzed a 16-7 coming out of halftime to bring the Commodores within 3, it was Prochaska that responded.
"It wasn’t by design, that was just something that just happened," said Prochaska. "I just got some open shots in that period of the game."
It was more than just open shots; it was the will of the quiet, humble and unassuming superstar from BGSU that was not going to allow her team to squander such a huge opportunity. With about 14:04 remaining in the second half, Vanderbilt started closing in and Prochaska hits a three to push the lead to six. But before you can even blink an eye, she gets the ball back again and gets fouled shooting another three. She of course hit all three as she shoots a staggering 98% from the free throw line. And since they say that all good things come in three’s, well Prochaska seems to live by that mantra as she hit another three to push BGSU’s lead back up to a comfortable 12. And that essentially put the game out of reach.
"She’s a great player, I have to give her credit," said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb. "She creates shots, she creates off the dribble and keeps her dribble alive and you’re trying not to foul her because she shoots so well from the free throw line, so she kind of picks her poison and that’s everything you want in a guard."
"She hit big shots when she needed to."
"She’s our go-to player, we’re going to put the ball in her hands," said Bowling Green coach Curt Miller. "In crucial situations, our team found that and she doesn’t shy away from the moment, she’s going to continue to play hard and look for her shots."
However, it was also clear from the outset that Bowling Green - who entered the game ranked #4 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll - was not intimidated by nationally-ranked Vanderbilt, among the better teams in the SEC.
Early on, both teams were trading baskets and while it’s obvious that Vanderbilt was focused on Prochaska, it was her teammate Jen Uhl (15 points) that got things going for Bowling Green.
"Obviously Lauren has been doing some great scoring all year," said Uhl. "Coach Miller tries to do the inside-outside game so he really has been pushing me to step it up and get that inside-outside game, when they were double teaming or collapsing on Lauren, Tracy or Chrissy, it gave us some wide open dump passes and Lauren had 6 assists, all 6 of them were to me."
It was truly a beauty to watch such precise basketball. Watching both teams run their offense is almost like watching clones of themselves, as they run it with such diligence: screens, back door cuts and motion. But with that being said, Vanderbilt figured to use its one obvious advantage, height, to gain an edge given the similarities between styles of play.
When Vanderbilt’s sensational freshman 6’4" Stephanie Holzer was substituted into the game, it seemed to help give them an advantage. Immediately her presence was felt as she scores 6 points in a 3 minute span to give Vanderbilt an early lead 17-14. As she’s started to enforce her will upon the game, she picked up her second foul with 10:25 left and it gave Bowling Green the freedom to impose its disruptive man to man defense as they had to implore a 2-3 zone with Holzer in the game.
Immediately Bowling Green’s suffocating, in your face defense caused a lot of disruption for Vanderbilt’s offense which is based on rhythm and timing. Their defense became so effective that you heard the fans in Anderson Arena start the famous chant, "Defense, Defense." And Bowling Green responded by going on an 18-7 run to close the half, 44-32.
"They are very, very structured, they are very well coached," said Miller. "And so they are a team when you get into their patterns, we know what they are going to do; now it’s easier said than done to stop it, but you know when they get into their plays what they are trying to accomplish. And I thought we understood their approach offensively, we understood what was coming."
With Prochaska’s relentless scoring, Bowling Green’s suffocating defense and consistent play from Uhl and Tracy Pontius - who did a great job handling Vanderbilt’s pressure - you can surely look for Bowling Green to make a move in some other polls and that’s the AP and ESPN Top 25 poll.
MVP of the Night: Lauren Prochaska (Bowling Green)
31 points on 8-16 shooting (50%), 5-9 on three pointers (55%), 10-10 from the free throw line (100%), 5 rebs, 6 assts and 0 turnovers.
Key Stat of the Night: First Half Turnovers
Although Bowling Green shot 16-18 for 89% from the free throw line while Vanderbilt shot 12-18 for 67%, it was mainly the turnovers in the first half that did Vanderbilt in
1. Vanderbilt had 14 first half turnovers which led to 14 points for Bowling Green
2. Bowling Green had 4 first half turnovers which led to only 4 points for Vanderbilt
Coming out of halftime, Vanderbilt figured to make many adjustments to overcome the 14 turnovers that dug them into their 12 point deficit at the half. Their main adjustment seemed to become more aggressive in attacking the basket as Jence Rhoads (14 points) took heed by constantly driving to the rim.
Unsung Hero: Jen Uhl (Bowling Green)
15 points on 7-9 shooting (77%)
Vanderbilt MVP: Jence Rhoads
14 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds