USI’s women’s basketball seniors

The USI women’s basketball team will honor seven seniors at its annual Senior Day ceremony during the game against Saint Joseph’s College. Playing in their final regular-season home game will be Anna Hackert, Mary O’Keefe, Autumn Miller, Libby Ogden, Cayla Herbst, Mariah Nimmo and Taylor Stevenson. Following are comments, edited for clarity, from USI coach Rick Stein on each player.

Stein on the seniors as a group: Very seldom do you get a class where every single member of it is a major factor on the court and in the classroom and in the community, and we have seven of them. Every single one of them has started at one time or another and they’re all in the rotation. It doesn’t happen with every class. It shows a talent level and a commitment level and how they have really grown and come together as a group and brought this whole team together as a group this year. It’s really a special group of seniors.

On Anna Hackert: Anna’s numbers already have her as one of the all-time greats here in points, rebounds, blocked shots and double-doubles. But the great thing about Anna is everything she does it’s trying to help our team win. Her numbers have her as one of all-time greats.

On Mary O’Keefe: I saw a stat of hers that she’s only 17 points away from 1,000 and only eight rebounds away from 500, one of only seven all-time who have done that here at USI, and I think of all great players who have gone through and not gotten that. She’s just been a really consistent force for us all four years. And she’s been a great leader on floor for us.

On Autumn Miller: She’s really taken on the leadership role for us, especially this year. As you watch our team and you see how she’s going, that’s how we’re going. She is a true point guard who really looks at that position as “I’ve got to run the show.” She’s at her best right now.

On Libby Ogden: Libby transferred in before her sophomore year from IPFW. One of things about Libby is I don’t think there’s a stat on the stat sheet that she hasn’t accomplished. You need someone to get to the bucket, she can. You need a 3, she can hit it. And she’s a lockdown defender and a player who can go get a rebound for us.

On Cayla Herbst: What’s been fun to watch with her is her understanding and how she has grown into her role this year. Her role has way expanded than it had been in years past and she has taken it on and hit the ground running. She’s not 20-point game kid, but she’s a kid on the stat sheet who is always a contributor. When she’s not blocking shots, she’s changing shots. She can be a defensive stopper in the paint.

On Mariah Nimmo: She’s probably one of the most team-oriented players you could think of. She’s always trying to find a way to do whatever our team needs to do to win. She’s made a 3, hit a pull-up jumper, made the right pass. More than anyone other than Anna, she has taken more big charges for us in critical games. She’s got a knack for it and loves to do it.

On Taylor Stevenson: Just a tremendous defensive player. I think of the players who have gone through our program, she’s a player that’s athletic and really gets to the basket and makes some plays. I think about her and her defense and what she can do. She has guarded some of best players in our league for a reason — because she can.

And don’t forget the women

They’ve won their last six games. They could conceivably win their final three of the regular season — at home against Indianapolis and Saint Joseph’s (two teams they have already defeated on the road) and on the road at Bellarmine. They also have clinched a first-round bye in the GLVC Tournament, which means they’ll go directly to the quarterfinals at Family Arena in St. Charles, Missouri.

Individually, the keys to USI’s success have been Anna Hackert and her monstrous final season and the emergence of sophomore Tanner Marcum as a scorer to be reckoned with. Hackert is doing what we expected, although it must still be filed in the amazing category because EVERYONE knew — opponents especially included — what she could do. And she’s still done it while being double- and triple-teamed.

And Marcum? Well, I am not that surprised. She played little last season as a freshman, but when she did she looked good. She always played hard and never, ever looked lost; she looked like she’d been playing USI basketball for years. It was just a matter of plugging her into the lineup regularly, then sitting back and watching her shoot the lights out.

Which reminds of a stat that will blow the top of your head off: Marcum is shooting 50.7 percent … from 3-point range. She’s 34-for-67 beyond the arc, far better than anyone else in the GLVC (in second place is Drury’s Annie Armstrong at 48.8 percent). Heck, overall she’s shooting 54.5 percent — that ranks third in the GLVC. A guard shooting well over 50 percent from the field is almost unheard of because guards are mostly jump shooters, even the ones who drive to the hoop. They’re not tall enough to stand under the basket and get garbage points on putbacks off teammates’ missed shots (I am NOT saying that’s easy, just that it’s not quite as difficult as shooting from 15 feet on out).

Remember this season. They don’t come around like this very often (the last one? That would be 2000-01 when the Eagles advanced to the Elite Eight). If nothing else, appreciate the topping off a magnificent college basketball career with one of the greatest individual seasons in USI women’s hoops history while simultaneously watching the advent of another amazing individual career. Now THAT almost never happens.

Rick Stein on Hackert, Carpenter, Miller

The All-Great Lakes Valley Conference women’s basketball team for 2013-14 features three USI players: juniors Anna Hackert (first team, all-defensive team) and Autumn Miller (all-defensive team) and senior Stephanie Carpenter (second team). Following is coach Rick Stein’s thoughts on their selection:

Junior forward Anna Hackert – What a great accomplishment for Anna. Her numbers just keep rising every year. Since she’s been here, so have our win totals. We’ve gotten more overall wins this year (19), more conference wins (12), a higher finish in the East. I think one of the biggest smiles on Anna’s face was (being named to) that all-defensive team. Anna’s all about winning. She’s gonna do whatever she can to help our team win.

Junior guard Autumn Miller (first year on the team) – A lot of times a new player doesn’t get seen as much because they haven’t been around the league two, three, four years. I’m obviously proud of her. It’s awesome to see her name on that list. When Autumn is dialed in defensively, we are definitely a much better defensive team. Not only has she helped us be a good defensive team but she’s helped us be a great defensive team.

Senior guard Stephanie Carpenter (USI’s career record holder for 3-pointers made) – Her career here has obviously been an outstanding one. She’s our No. 1 3-point shooter. Her work ethic is second to none. She’s such a competitor. Over the last month of play she’s gone from being a really good player to one who has elevated her game more. On this five-game winning streak, she’s in the middle of some of the best basketball she’s ever played. That’s not just shooting the ball, that’s basketball.

For USI women, it should be home sweet home

Expect the USI women’s basketball team to play a home game in the first round of the GLVC Tournament, probably on Sunday. If the Eagles win, they’ll advance to the quarterfinals, which will start Thursday at the Ford Center. And USI has a good shot at winning no matter which team it hosts.

At this point, Drury most likely will be the No. 1 seed and Lewis No. 2. Quincy probably will be No. 3 and either Indianapolis or Missouri-St. Louis will probably be the No. 4 seed. I think the Eagles are going to end up No. 6, which means they will probably host a team not only with a losing record but a team they have already defeated, maybe William Jewell or Missouri-S&T.

If USI beats visiting Bellarmine on Thursday night, the Eagles will enter the tournament on a four-game winning streak. That would tie its longest winning streak of the season (it started the season with four straight victories, but all were easy double-digit wins).

The key, I think, has been the much improved play of senior guard Stephanie Carpenter, who has averaged 17.8 points per game — and 51.2 percent (20-for-39) from 3-point range — over her last five games. The only concern came during USI’s last game, when she scored just eight points, going 1-for-5 from 3-point range. For the Eagles to advance far into the GLVC tourney — never mind the NCAA Tournament — they need Carpenter hitting shots from long range. It negates a lot of the double- and triple-teaming on the GLVC’s leading scorer, Anna Hackert. Besides, it’s how USI is designed to play the game, inside-out.

USI meets run and gun

Rick Stein believes that  his USI women’s basketball team will have its hands full Saturday night against a team that presses the entire game and, when it’s not pressing, is creating half-court traps. Davis & Elkins, a Division II school from West Virginia, comes to the PAC for a 7:30 tipoff, but only has a 1-2 record despite averaging 84 points per game. It’s losses were 81-77 to Walsh and 98-85 to Lake Erie before a 91-80 win over Pitt.-Johnstown on Nov. 5. So the Senators will have been off for two weeks when they meet the Eagles.

Stein noted that D&E forces an average of 26 turnovers per game. But the Senators are averaging 22 themselves. They’re also shooting just 36.7 percent from the field, while the opposition is shooting 39.4 percent. Furthermore, opponents have sunk nine more 3-point baskets than D&E, 29-20, while the Nats are just 20-for-84 — that’s a microscopic 23.8 percent — from 3-point land.

The individual numbers are highlighted by Stephanie Wooten, a 5-7 freshman averaging 17.7 points per game, and Alicia Lentz, a 6-3 senior averaging 10.0 points. But this is shaping up as a high-scoring contest, although I think USI will have the high score by a significant margin. The Eagles’ defense should make it most difficult for D&E to get settled and set up, and USI’s offense should be quick enough to beat the press and get numerous easy layups. That said, the Eagles can’t get sloppy on offense and lazy on defense, and that goes for any opponent.

Quotes from the USI-UE women’s basketball exhibition

USI junior forward Anna Hackert, on playing against former Memorial High School teammate Mallory Ladd, now a star player for the University of Evansville: “It just felt like I was playing just another player.”

Ladd on Hackert (courtesy of my colleague and UE beat writer Colleen Thomas): “Anna’s a great player. She’s tough. They’re going to have a great season. It was a battle down there. She’s a strong girl, she’s smart and she finished well, so we really had to focus in and bring the double in on her to force errors.”

USI coach Rick Stein: “We could have practiced for 10 hours (Saturday) and not gotten out of it what we got out of this game. Evansville is similar to teams we’ll play in our league. With the way they play defense and their motion offense, we’ll see that a lot. This is the best (preparation) we could have had.”

Fouls and college basketball

Expect lots of whistles this season. A new emphasis on penalizing hand checks by defenders — just brush your fingers across the backside of any ball handler and you can expect a foul to be called — was evident in Saturday’s exhibition basketball game at the Ford Center between USI and the University of Evansville women’s teams. Officials called 51 personal fouls in that game, 30 on UE and 21 on USI. That resulted in 60 free throws and slowed the contest down considerably.

There’s already been plenty of hand-wringing about this. What an awful decision, people are saying. Touch fouls will become the rule. The game will slow to less than a crawl. Our ears will be ringing with all the shrill whistles.

The idea is to create more offense. Forcing defenders to play hands off will allow more drives to the hoop and closer shots. Hence, more offense, higher scores.

The NBA instituted this rule several years ago. It took a short while to get used to it, but there’s not much complaining about it now. Expect the same in college hoops. Suddenly, players will have to learn how to play defense by positioning their feet and their bodies instead of playing like a defensive back in football. In other words, the game will be played as it was supposed to be played — with your brain rather than with brawn.

You’ve got 10 seconds

That’s how long a women’s college basketball team will have to get the ball past the mid-court stripe this season. Of course, the men’s game has had this all along. But it’s new for the women’s game since it instituted the 30-second shot clock years ago. That should make it more likely that teams will now press more. And I would think that would be right up USI’s alley.

With a coach who spent his assistantship under Chancellor Dugan and her full-court pressing teams, this could get extremely interesting for Screaming Eagles fans. Granted, USI doesn’t have the sort of players it had in the mid-1990s … or does it? The Eagles haven’t really needed to press, which has become something you did against obviously overmatched teams or late in a game when you needed steals and quick baskets. Maybe the 10-second rule will change that. It’s a fact that the women’s game rarely has the ball handlers that the men’s game has. Forcing the issue could turn that weakness into a major advantage for teams that press. I’d look for the press to return, especially for USI.

The pods and USI women’s hoops

USI women’s basketball coach Rick Stein appears to like them, mostly because the pods idea — four teams grouped together that play each other home and away during the season — allows teams to play everyone in the GLVC. That hasn’t happened in nine years. The USI women, like the mens’ team, are group with Indianapolis, Bellarmine and Saint Joseph’s. Indy and Bellarmine are always good in women’s hoops while St. Joe recently hired former Drury coach Steve Harold, who was 129-52 in six seasons at Drury, going 81-27 in the GLVC.

“We’ve had divisions, but we hadn’t played each other,” Stein told me. “I don’t think anybody wanted to overload a schedule and only play conference games. Then you miss out on some other teams in the (Midwest) region. This seemed to be the best answer.”

At the very least it should help coaches select all-conference teams. “When you’re not seeing a team and not seeing their players, when it comes to postseason awards, how can you vote for somebody you’ve never even seen or played?” said Stein.

New Albany guard signs with USI women

New Albany guard Tanner Marcum has signed with the USI women’s basketball team, according to a tweet – forwarded to me by one of the Courier & Press’ intrepid sports reporters, Jonathan Lintner — that quotes New Albany coach Tammy Geron. The 5-8 Marcum averaged 22 points, 5.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 steals for the Bulldogs during her senior season. Marcum ended up third on New Albany’s all-time scoring list with 1,216 points as well as second in career steals (318) and third in career assists (336). She also was named to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Southern Indiana All-Area team. I heard that USI coach Rick Stein had not yet seen her signed letter of intent. According to NCAA rules, he cannot comment until USI officially receives that signed letter.