By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State junior guard Liz Hornberger has only done a little bit of research on Indiana State — balanced team, plays hard, good conference, etc. — but she thinks she’s figured out a foolproof way to win tonight.
“If we play the best we can and Brandi [Brown] drops 40 [points], I personally don’t think a team can beat us,” she said.
Now, this is a little like saying, “If I write the best script I can, and Steven Spielberg directs it, I don’t think I can make a bad movie.” But the truth is, Brown doesn’t need to score 40 for YSU to win.
Twenty-two, maybe. But not 40.
The Penguins (22-9), who are 12-0 when Brown scores more than 21 points, will play their first postseason tournament game in 13 years when they host the Sycamores (18-12) in a first-round WNIT game at Beeghly Center.
The teams have one common opponent. Indiana State beat Horizon-member UIC 64-33 on Dec. 7, while YSU beat UIC by 13 points in both meetings.
Three Sycamores average double figures, led by Anna Munn (14.7 per game). ISU finished fourth in the Missouri Valley, which was the 10th-toughest conference in the country by RPI this season. (The Horizon League was 13th.)
“It’s a very skilled basketball conference, they’re well-coached throughout the conference and they have kids that play hard,” YSU coach Bob Boldon said. “Indiana State definitely fits that mold.”
YSU counters with Brown, the Horizon League player of the year, who averages 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. The 5-foot-11 senior has topped 30 in four of the last eight games.
The Penguins could also have 6-foot sophomore Heidi Schlegel, who injured her knee on Feb. 21 against Cleveland State and has missed the last seven games.
YSU is coming off its biggest loss of the season, a 72-45 drubbing by Loyola in the Horizon League semifinals that led to the longest team meeting of the winter. Hornberger still isn’t sure why the Penguins played so poorly.
“That’s the frustrating part of being on a team,” she said. “I’m happy I’m on a team because there’s no way I could ever win a game by myself. I’m too small. At the same time, it’s frustrating because you have to depend on others.
“I’m not saying I played a perfect game. I’m not saying that I had the best attitude for that game, either. But if two or three [players] don’t want to show up, it goes down the tank. You’re depending on other people and sometimes that dependency can leave everyone else’s hopes and dreams up for grabs, too.”
The good news is, the Penguins are 8-0 after losses this season.
“That’s why I’m proud of this team because when we lose a game, we always win the next one,” she said. “We lost, but we always make the best of it.”
The Penguins’ ultimate goal is to get back to the NCAA tournament, but considering where they came from (a winless season in 2009-10) and who they’re chasing (Green Bay has won the last 15 regular season league titles, including 13 outright), Boldon is justifiably proud.
“By and large, we had a very good year,” he said. “I thought the kids played hard and played well most of the year. It’s a good reward.”