KSU in action at Michigan in last spring’s WNIT. (Photo by David Dermer from kentstatesporrts.com)
Nine months ago the Kent State women’s team walked away from the Crisler Center at the University of Michigan feeling pretty good about itself.
The Flashes had lost to Michigan in the first round of the WNIT but played about as good a second half as they did in their wonderfully surprising 19-13 season. KSU outscored Michigan, the third-place team in the Big Ten, 38-24, in the second half of the 67-60 game. Michigan went on to win the tournament.
Sunday the Flashes go back to Ann Arbor in a game scheduled well before the teams met in the WNIT. Michigan (7-2) is still very good — No. 24 in last week’s AP Poll, No. 21 in the Coaches Poll.
The Flashes (6-4) are still trying to find their identity without Larissa Lurken, who set a single-season KSU scoring record last year and was MAC player of the year. They’ve shown extended moments of good play this season, but, as coach Todd Starkey says after almost every game, they’ve lacked consistency.
Lurken was spectacularly consistent last season. She was averaging 22 points a game on Dec. 1 last season, 22 of Jan. 1, 23 on Feb. 1 and 23.6 at the end of the season. She scored fewer than 18 points just three times.
Nobody was going to replace Lurken. Like an ace baseball pitcher who a team could count on stop a losing streak, Lurken could control the floor when the Flashes started to struggle.
But individual scoring has been up and down this season. Senior Jordan Korinek is scoring 19.8 points a game and can be dominant when she gets the ball. But she’s had two games when she’s scored just 10. Second-leading scorer McKenna Stephens has had as many as 22 and as few as three. Ali Poole has had five games in double figures but scored four and five in KSU’s last two. Same with junior guard Alexa Golden: 18 points against Detroit Mercy Nov. 30, two against Eastern Kentucky five days later.
Teams want to have different player step up on different nights, but such major swings can mean a lack of offensive rhythm.
Defensively the Flashes have been as inconsistent, especially against good teams. KSU’s four losses have come to three teams in the Mid-Major Top 25 and to No. 18 Stanford. In each of those games the Flashes have outscored their opponent in at least one quarter and come within two points in another.
Michigan is another good team. The Wolverines two losses have come to No. 3 Louisville and No. 4 Notre Dame. They’ve beaten only one team with a winning records (8-2 George Mason) and two .500 teams — 4-4 Marquette (82-76 at home on Thursday) and 3-3 Ohio (74-61 in Athens).
Michigan has two players Starkey calls potential All-Americans — senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, the leading scorer in team history (2,230 points), and 6-5 center Hallie Thomas, who averages 17 points and and 6 rebounds a game.
The Wolverines average 74 points a game and have shot better than 50 percent in their last three.
Merissa Barber-Smith, the 6-4 junior who is Kent State’s tallest player, had 13 rebounds and eight points in 19 minutes against Michigan last March. She plays her best against tall opponents. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her and Korinek on the court together a lot on Sunday. Korinek battled foul trouble and scored 10 points in 21 minutes in the WNIT . If Kent State is to have any chance, she’ll need to stay on the court more this time.
To follow the game
Action starts at 2 p.m. If you plan to go, it’s an easy four-hour drive. Here are directions from the Michigan website. They’re toward the end of the page.
Video is available through BTN plus, the paid secondary network of the Big Ten. You can buy a game (actually monthly) pass for $9.95 here. Make sure you cancel it after the game or it will automatically renew.
Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m on Golden Flash Radio.
Live statistics will be available through the Michigan website..
Preview from the Michigan website, including links to its roster and schedule. Here are EKU’s detailed media game notes.
Kent State statistics, including links to roster, schedule/results, record book, etc. I’ll post the preview from the site when it’s available.