Back at full strength

YOUNGSTOWN – Loyola won’t see the same Youngstown State women’s basketball team it played last month.

The Ramblers rolled past an ailing Penguins team that shuffled into Loyola on Feb. 23 after a tight victory over Cleveland State on a little more than a day’s rest.

It’s kind of the same scenario for tonight’s Horizon League semifinal at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis., but YSU won’t have a traveling disadvantage this time. Both teams go to Green Bay.

Second-seeded YSU (22-8) faces third-seeded Loyola (16-14) with a healthier lineup, starting with 6-foot forward Karen Flagg, who had eight points in Wednesday’s 69-62 quarterfinal win against seventh-seeded Cleveland State.

Flagg had a hand injury that last time the Penguins faced Loyola.

“We didn’t even know she had a broken hand, yet,” YSU coach Bob Boldon said. “We thought it was a bruise. She was playing with a broken hand, wasn’t real effective – 0 for 1 in 22 minutes.”

Flagg had plenty of tape around her right hand Wednesday.

“There’s a pad underneath the tape,” Boldon said. “It’s all preventative at this point. Her range of motion is just fine.”

Flagg’s task is to quell Loyola 6-foot forward Simone Law.

“Having her at full strength helps a lot,” Boldon said. “Simone Law is one of the best players in the conference. That’s the challenge. Defensively, one of Karen’s best attributes is her ability to guard. She did a good job on (Cleveland State’s Shalonda) Winton for the better part of the night (Thursday) night. We need to count on her to guard Law and have Brandi (Brown) help. There’s a big, big help.”

Flagg’s defensive prowess was essential in slowing down Winton, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds against CSU.

“Her best attribute is her ability to guard,” Boldon said. “She’s tremendous passer and rebounder, finishes well around the rim.”

Brown said, after Thursday’s game and before knowing YSU was playing Loyola, sticking to game plan tonight is essential.

“Our focus is always on our defensive and offensive principles,” said Brown, who had 31 points and 13 rebounds against CSU Wednesday. “We know if we do those things right, we can beat either team. We know it’s not going to be easy.

“We are going to have to dig in and guard and run our offense the way it’s supposed to be ran.”

Most of YSU’s offense is run through Brown, the Horizon League Player of the Year. But YSU’s offense isn’t as basic as giving the 5-11 senior forward the ball and, as former YSU coach Ed DiGregorio said, “Get the ball to Brandi and get the hell out of the way.”

“To a lesser degree, that’s true,” Boldon said. “Obviously we go through stretches where we’re trying to get her the ball. There were stretches (Wednesday) night they were trying to guard her with a guard. But, we got her the ball in the block. There were a lot of times where it took us 15 seconds to get her the basketball because of help side. Our players did a good job of passing the ball to the open player and being patient, stretching them out and making them trying to worry about Brown, worry about Monica, Liz and our shooters and things of that sort. If you don’t put shooters out there when you put Brown in the post, they’re going to put two people down there and they’ll pass it to a non-shooter and not going to move.

“The skill levels of the players we have make that philosophy true.”

The winner of tonight’s Loyola-YSU game plays the winner of the other semifinal of top-seeded and No. 20 Green Bay (27-2) against fourth-seeded Detroit (17-12), which tips off at 8:30 p.m.

The winners of the semifinals meet Sunday afternoon in Green Bay, with the winner getting an automatic bid the NCAA Tournament. However, YSU has a good shot of getting a WNIT bid if they don’t win the Horizon League title.

Boldon said 6-0 sophomore forward Heidi Schlegel, who has been out since the Feb. 21 CSU game with a knee injury, is out for tonight’s Loyola game.

“Highly unlikely,” Boldon said. “She has her uniform with her, but I doubt it. I’m not planning on it. We’d love if we could win (tonight) have her dress on Sunday, but that’s more wishful thinking than reality. We’ll see. She’s been progressing very well, happy with her progress. There have been no setbacks. It’s going to take time.

“Hopefully we’ll continue to move forward and have her for the next tournament game, definitely have her for the spring workouts. Hopefully she hasn’t played her last game for us.”