After beating the University of Arkansas-Little Rock on Friday night, Bowling Green State University can probably expect to move up in the next CollegeInsider Women's Mid-Major Top 25 rankings.
BGSU was ranked #9 in those rankings prior to beating #3 UALR on their way to winning the Seattle University Thanksgiving Tournament this past weekend.
Although the opportunity to showcase mid-major basketball in the early season match up was valuable, that kind of rankings stuff doesn't matter much to BGSU coach Curt Miler.
"Both victories are going to help us in the long run of what we saw, what we learned tonight and learned yesterday, so that's really exciting," said Miller after BGSU's 71-51 win over host Seattle U this past Saturday night in the tournament championship game. "As for the rankings, it's a great recruiting tool. Other than that, for our current team and our current players it really is meaningless."
Far more important to Miller than any rankings was their performance as a team in winning three games in four days, including the one against UALR on Friday night.
"We're excited about the championship - it was a good win for us," said Miller. "It concludes three games in four days for us from the midwest in a game on Wednesday (against Detroit) to Saturday all the way out on the west coast. So it was a tough three games in four days stretch for us and we found a way to the finish line."
Although the focus may remain on Seattle U Thanksgiving Tournament MVP Lauren Prochaska, for more important was how the team responded when Seattle University threw a triangle and 2 defense (click here for explanation) at BGSU in the tournament championship game on Saturday. After Prochaska and point guard Tracy Pontius carried BGSU in their win against UALR, it was a reasonable gamble for an honestly overmatched Seattle U team to try to take the top two players away and force someone else to step up.
"Our game plan was to do some special things to their top two players and we did that - we held them down," said Seattle U coach Joan Bonvicini. "Unfortunately, you're playing a really good team and it forces people to step up. And against a good team, other people stepped up and hit some big shots for them."
And ultimately, the special "junk" defense worked: Pontius and Prochaska shot a combined 2-16 against Seattle U. Nevertheless, Prochaska's ability to find ways to impact the game when her shooting was off - at the free throw line against UALR and defensively against Seattle U - forced her to earn her MVP in perhaps unexpected ways.
The following is a statistical look at the Seattle University Thanksgiving Tournament All-Tournament Team, based on the MVP metric (click here for explanation) which assigns individual credit to game outcomes essentially based on a player's individual percentage of the team's overall contribution in a game.
Tournament MVP: Lauren Prochaska, G, BGSU (5'11", SR) - 42.5 tournament MVP points
The boxscore really doesn't do Prochaska's defensive intensity during the championship game justice. She somehow managed to take it up a notch a night after helping to contain UALR forward Chastity Reed.
"I just think they had good pressure defense and we didn't take care of the ball," said Bonvicini. "We didn't get our posts as involved as I'd like them to, but they're a good team."
What was most impressive was not the 2 blocks, 2 steals or 2 rebounds, but the way she played the passing lanes - she played outstanding denial defense for most of the game and deflected a number of balls out of bounds. As much as Seattle U did to neutralize Prochaska, Prochaska returned the favor by stifling BGSU early on.
"That was one of the big keys we talked about," said Prochaska, when asked about her defensive pressure. "Trying to get them on the move and get them to dribble and not just let them shoot shots and then relying on our teammates to help us when we did get them on the dribble and try to get steals or deflections or charges and I think everyone did a nice job of that tonight."
Again she did manage to get to the free throw line at a high rate of 57.14% to help her earn a respectable 51.36% true shooting percentage despite 2-7 shooting, but her defense was far more impressive than her offense.
Yet although Seattle U's defense was effective in stopping Prochaska defensively, what made BGSU's team effort impressive was the work of their third guard Chrissy Steffen.
Chrissy Steffen, G, BGSU (6'0", So) - 37.1 tournament MVP points
With Pontius and Prochaska combining to shoot 2-16 against Seattle U, Steffen stepped up with a well-rounded scoring effort of 15 points on a true shooting percentage of 6147%, although her 4-5 free throw production came well after BGSU had mounted a 20 point lead. Although most of her output came from scoring, she also finished with a tournament-high 9 steals, with four against Seattle University on Saturday.
"We have to be willing and have the courage for those players to step up and take shots," said Miller. "Chrissy was the recipient of a lot of open shots tonight and to her credit, she stayed confident and made shots and because of tonight's performance earned her way onto the All-Tournament team."
And, again, the defensive effort from Steffen and BGSU as a whole was probably what stood out most, particularly against Seattle U in which they forced the home team into turnovers on 33.33% of their possessions for the game and nearly 40% in the first half. Despite being able to come up with offensive production without a strong showing from Pontius and Prochaska, they managed to win the tournament championship game on the strength of their defense.
That level of toughness was something BGSU was focused on bringing throughout this tournament and it definitely showed up in the championship game.
"We had to be tough and I think we learned a toughness in this tournament," said Prochaska.
Further adding to the defensive effort, was Pontius who had an even worse offensive performance than Prochaska on Saturday but led the team to victory against UALR.
Tracy Pontius, G, BGSU (5'6", Sr.) - 34 tournament MVP points
If Pontius thought she didn't play well in her first game, then her second game was absolutely forgettable - she shot 0-9 and was essentially a non-factor as a scorer. However, where she stepped up was as a distributor.
"That's what happens when a team tries to play us triangle and two - other players are going to have open shots," said Miller. "Lauren and Tracy were unselfish tonight, got the ball to the open people and it's kind of a chess match. That's what Seattle wants."
Pontius had 4 assists and no turnovers against Seattle U for an assist rate of 27.10% and an excellent pure point rating of 7.40. And like Prochaska, part of what Pontius did well doesn't show up in the boxscore - part of Seattle U's "chess match" was mixing defenses in and out of timeouts and despite some questionable shooting percentages, BGSU's ability to handle the constantly shifting pressure was undoubtedly a testament to the play of Pontius.
"To credit Seattle, I think they did a few things that troubled us," said Miller. "I thought their on-ball pressure was very strong all night long. I thought they did a nice job of in and out of timeouts changing defenses so we could never get comfortable - as soon as we decided how to attack a triangle and two or a zone, they'd be back to man. And just when you get comfortable with how to attack their man, they're back in triangle and two or zone. So they did a really nice job of switching it up and keeping us off-balance all night."
Statistically, Pontius earned her spot on the All-Tournament team with her performance against UALR in the first game in which she was responsible for 48.16% of the overall statistical production of the team.
Elle Kerfoot, G, Seattle U (5'7", Jr.) - 24.75 tournament MVP points
To Seattle U's credit, they never stopped fighting despite the bad loss and a significant reason for that was the play of Kerfoot. Although she didn't shoot particularly well with a team-high 15 points on a true shooting percentage of 46.66%, she had a solid 11.08% offensive rebounding percentage as a guard and was a major part of Seattle U's defensive effort in guarding Pontius.
"We were down and were trying to figure a way out to get closer or back into it," said Kerfoot. "But our defensive intensity kept us in the game mentally."
She did turn the ball over on about 16% of her possessions on a few questionable passing decisions, but her overall tenacity -particularly in bringing Seattle U back to within 14 with 6:36 left with two assists on three pointers and then a block and layup to keep it at 14 with 5:51 left - was impressive and definitely made her stand out among the field in the tournament.
Asriel Rolfe, G, UALR, (5'6", Sr.) - 21 tournament MVP points
Playing without star forward Chastity Reed, it's difficult to call UALR's 51-48 win over Montana State just before BGSU's win on Saturday evening a near-upset - entering the tournament, there was arguably no player more valuable to her team than UALR's 6'1" senior forward.
But coach Joe Foley commented after the game that he didn't change much in their offensive schemes and ultimately the tough game was just a matter of early-season conditioning.
"We got a little tired two games in a row - I thought our legs left us a little bit," said UALR coach Joe Foley. "It's one of those games where this time of year you're not really used to playing two in a row and it was a matter of us keep grinding and seeing who came out in the end."
And although offensive rebounding was the big difference in this game - UALR won that battle 44%-31% - it was the guard play of Rolfe and senior Shanika Butler that really helped this team emerge victorious despite missing their star.
Given the gritty tenor of the game, Rolfe's defensive intensity throughout and big plays down the stretch were noteworthy. And with Reed out of the game, Rolfe ended up shooting a few more threes than normal making 3 of 11 attempts. But after missing her first 6 of the second half, she hit a big one with 3:21 left to put UALR up 47-42 and then assisted Hannah Fohne on a layup to put them up 49-46.
Her defensive impact didn't show up well in the stats, but she has to be among the most physical perimeter defenders you'll come across, even if she's only 5'6". Of course, that aggression has consequences - in the first game she had to sit out due to foul trouble and in the second game her tendency to overplay MSU guards led to her getting beat on occasion. But the way she plays defense absolutely had an impact on BGSU's talented guards as well as MSU.
But another player who didn't get all-tournament honors also stepped up for MSU and was a huge part of why they almost pulled off the "upset".
Honorable mention: Ally Schmitt, G, Montana State (5'7", So.) - 35.5 tournament MVP points
Montana State Athlete of the Week Ally Schmitt has a visible confidence about her when she's on the court and was responsible for just over 60% of MSU's production against UALR with 10 points and 8 assists. She played a huge role in their second half comeback by doing a little bit of everything - distributing the ball, driving to the basket against Rolfe, and shooting the ball.
From the boxscore, what stands out most is her efficiency as a passer - she had 8 assists and 1 turnover for an assist ratio of 51.15 percent and a turnover ratio of just 6.39%. Her aggression driving to the rim helped her to a free throw rate of 150% (her 6 free throw attempts were 1.5 times her number of field goal attempts).
Statistically, she was impressive for her efficiency on a team that just wasn't very efficient this weekend, but based on her actual performance it was her play during the final 7 minutes of the UALR game that earns her a mention - she simply took over the game and was involved in almost every single positive offensive play for the Bobcats.
Had MSU beat UALR, Schmitt might have gotten the nod over Rolfe on the All-Tournament team. But as a member of the team that came in fourth out of four participants, it's just a difficult argument to make.