Penguins face Green Bay today in semis
YOUNGSTOWN — The top four seeds have advanced to the Horizon League men’s and women’s tournament semifinals.
On the women’s side, it appears all four semifinalists are capable of hoisting the league’s championship trophy on Tuesday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
In today’s semifinal games, top-seeded Wright State (25-6) faces fourth-seeded IUPUI (20-10) at 1 p.m., while second-seeded Green Bay (21-8) takes on third-seeded Youngstown State (22-8) at 3:30. The winners meet in the title game at noon on Tuesday.
Green Bay and Wright State each have won six straight, while IUPUI has won seven of its last eight. YSU has taken 10 of its last 13.
Penguins coach John Barnes knows his team is an underdog to win the tournament, but doesn’t mind. If YSU plays hard and executes the best it can, anything can happen.
“We’re excited to go to Motor City Madness and have a chance to win a Horizon League tournament championship,” Barnes said. “All four teams are good teams. Any one of them can win it. We’re going to have to play our best basketball for two games and see what happens.”
The Penguins’ first task is beating Green Bay for a second time in a season. The Penguins have not beat the Phoenix twice in one season since the 2013-14 campaign. YSU dominated the last matchup with Green Bay, outscoring the Phoenix 22-10 in the third quarter to win, 70-59.
“We’re going to try to build off the momentum of that game and see what we did right during that game, just use that going forward,” YSU senior guard Melinda Trimmer said. “It helps knowing we were successful against them here.”
YSU had been dominated in the third quarter in two recent losses to Green Bay, the last being in the 2018 Horizon League semifinals. It’s a different mindset for YSU this season. The Penguins are 10-0 against league teams in Youngstown.
“Last year we believed we could do it, now we have proof we can beat every team in the league,” YSU junior post Mary Dunn said. “That intensity has really helped us.”
Green Bay is led by Frankie Wurtz, a 5-foot-8 junior who averages 10.6 points per game. Guards Laken James and Jen Wellnitz, both 5-9, average 9.9 and 8.8 points each. Madison Wolf, 6-3 junior, averages 8.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. Wellnitz did not play in the Feb. 15 game in Youngstown due to a knee injury.
Green Bay has suffered injuries to Wurtz and season-ending injuries to two other players as the Phoenix did not win the Horizon League regular-season title, or even a share, for the first time since the start of the league in the 2001-02 season.
YSU has four players who average in double figures in Dunn, Sarah Cash, Alison Smolinski and Chelsea Olson.
The Phoenix have plenty of height and depth, sometimes going 10 deep. YSU only has nine on its roster, but goes seven deep on most nights.
Barnes said most teams this time of the year usually go with their top seven or eight, which might be an advantage for YSU.
“It could be,” he said. “We’ve been giving rest as much as we can throughout the year, just making sure we have a lot of energy for the games. It’s worked for the most part and that’s what we’re going to do (today).”
Today, no matter how YSU starts, it’s about surviving and advancing. Green Bay led 10-0 early in that mid-February game.
“We were able to fight back from it, kind of calmed down and get going from there,” Barnes said. “Would love to have a different start than that. I guess it proves you can have a rough start and still win the game or have a rough second quarter or third quarter and find a way to win.
“No matter what, we have to find a way to have one more point than them no matter how we start or play in the middle of the game.”