Big Ten Women's Basketball Season in Review

April 18, 2008

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The 2007-08 Big Ten women's basketball season saw unmatched parity with five teams winning 20 or more games and nine squads reaching the postseason, tying a conference record. Iowa and Ohio State shared the Big Ten Championship, while the Buckeyes' Jantel Lavender became the first freshman to be named Player of the Year, splitting the honor with Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson. Purdue won its second straight Big Ten Tournament title, earning its 15th consecutive trip to the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.

The 2007-08 season marked the first time in Big Ten history that the first through eighth teams in the conference standings were separated by just four games. It also marked the only time in conference history that the first-place team finished with five losses and the team in the eighth position finished with nine wins. The 2008 Big Ten Women's Tournament bracket featured four ties among the top eight teams as tiebreakers were needed to determine the first, third, fifth and seventh seedings. In three of the four ties, the procedure moved beyond head-to-head competition. Entering the final week of regular-season competition, six teams were mathematically eligible for a share of the conference title. No other conference in the country had that many teams in contention that late in the season. Entering the final day of play, three teams were still in the running for a title share.

20-20-20-20-20 VISION
At the conclusion of the 2007-08 season, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State all claimed 20 or more victories, marking the first time since 2003-04 that five Big Ten teams posted seasons with 20 or more wins. The Hawkeyes, Golden Gophers and Buckeyes each finished their respective regular seasons with win totals of 20, or more, while the Illini and Spartans picked up their 20th wins in the Postseason WNIT. With 23 wins, Michigan State finished as the winningest Big Ten team in 2007-08, while head coach Suzy Merchant became just the second mentor in MSU men's or women's basketball history to eclipse the 20-wins marker in her first season at the helm. The 20-win season was the first for Illinois since 1999-00, and was Iowa's and Minnesota's first since 2004-05. Ohio State posted its sixth consecutive 20-win season, giving head coach Jim Foster at least 20 wins in each of his six seasons with the Buckeyes.

After winning their second consecutive Big Ten Tournament, the Boilermakers extended their consecutive NCAA Championship appearances streak to 15, which is the fifth-longest among all NCAA women's basketball teams.

For the second time in Big Ten history, nine women's basketball teams advanced to the postseason. Four squads earned berths into the 2008 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship, while five were selected for the Postseason WNIT. The Big Ten sent nine squads to the postseason on just one other occasion, in 2002, when six teams earned bids to the NCAA bracket and three were selected to the WNIT. The Big Ten has never had more than nine teams earn postseason berths.

For the second consecutive season, a Big Ten team advanced to the title game of the Postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), as Michigan State played for the 2008 championship. The Spartans earned a first-round bye and the right to host each subsequent round, advancing through the bracket with wins over Bowling Green (74-66), Kansas (58-54), Michigan (45-40) and N.C. State (58-57). Michigan State fell in the title game to Marquette, 81-66. MSU's Allyssa DeHaan and Kalisha Keane were named to the All-WNIT team as Dehaan averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per tournament game, and Keane put up 15.2 points, 5.8 boards and 2.6 steals per contest. Wisconsin reached the Postseason WNIT title game in 2007, giving the Big Ten a total of six appearances in the tournament's championship contest.

Forty-eight women's basketball student-athletes were named to the Academic All-Big Ten team, the conference office announced on March 26. To be eligible for the honor, student-athletes must be letterwinners in at least their second academic year at their institution and carry a cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher. Highlighting the list are Illinois' Lori Bjork, Iowa's Wendy Ausdemore and Krista VandeVenter, Michigan State's Allyssa DeHaan, Minnesota's Emily Fox, Leslie Knight, Brittany McCoy and Katie Ohm and Northwestern's Sara Stutz, who were named Academic All-District earlier in the year. Bjork, Fox and Knight were first-team honorees.

Illinois sophomore Jenna Smith, Ohio State freshman Jantel Lavender and Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson were named honorable mention All-America selections by the Associated Press, it was announced on April 1. Smith is the fourth Illini in program history to earn the recognition. Lavender's award marks the fourth consecutive year at least one Buckeye has been named All-America, and she is the first OSU freshman since Katie Smith in 1993 to earn the distinction. Anderson also received All-America accolades last season, and shared Big Ten Player of the Year honors with Lavender this year.

Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson and Ohio State freshman Jantel Lavender were named honorable mention selections to the State Farm Coaches' All-America team, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) announced on April 5. The award is the second such honor for Anderson as she also earned honorable mention recognition by the coaches for the 2006-07 season. 

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder was named the Region 6 Coach of the Year, the WBCA announced on March 19. The Hawkeye mentor was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year by her peers and the media this season.

Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson was named the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner, the WBCA announced on March 6. The award honors a female collegiate basketball player, 5-8 or under, who excels athletically and academically. The national award is the first in Wisconsin women's basketball history.

The Big Ten conference welcomed four new head coaches to the sidelines for the 2007-08 campaign, all of which saw immediate success at their new campuses. Illinois' Jolette Law led her team as it became the first No. 9 seed in conference history to reach the finals of the Big Ten Tournament and grabbed its 11th postseason appearance in the past 12 years with a first-round bye in the Postseason WNIT. The Illini also enjoyed their first 20-win season since 1999-00. Under head coach Kevin Borseth, Michigan earned its first postseason bid since 2001, won its first postseason game in seven years and won two games in the postseason for the first time in program history. The program reached 19 wins for the fifth time in history and the first time since 2000-01. Michigan State's Suzy Merchant led the Spartans to their seventh consecutive postseason appearance and the team's fifth straight 20-win season. Merchant became the second head coach in school history, men's or women's, to win 20 games in her first season. At Penn State, Coquese Washington's Lady Lions finished 13-18, including a 9-4 mark in early-season action. Washington's first-year resume includes wins over then-No. 20/21 Pittsburgh and then-No. 11/10 Duke in the final game of the Big Ten/ACC Women's Basketball Challenge. The win over Duke marked the first time since 2004 that an unranked Big Ten team knocked off a top-10 non-conference opponent.

Several Big Ten coaches reached major career milestones this season, including Ohio State's Jim Foster, who became just the 13th head coach in NCAA Division I history to reach 650 career wins on Jan. 28. Foster joined C. Vivian Stringer (Iowa, 1984-95), Rene Portland (Penn State, 1981-07), Tara VanDerveer (Ohio State, 1981-85) and Theresa Grentz (Illinois, 1996-07) as coaches with 650 or more wins that have spent time on a Big Ten campus. On Feb. 10, Iowa's Lisa Bluder became the third active Big Ten head coach to reach 500 career wins, joining Foster and Michigan's Kevin Borseth. Minnesota's Pam Borton became the sixth active conference mentor to reach 200 career victories on Feb. 28, joining Bluder, Borseth, Foster, Michigan State's Suzy Merchant and Wisconsin's Lisa Stone.

Iowa and Ohio State finished tied in the Big Ten standings with identical 13-5 conference records to finish the season as co-champions. The title was Iowa's ninth overall and first since 1998. The Hawkeyes have finished as co-champions on five occasions, four of which have been shared with the Buckeyes. Ohio State claimed its 11th overall and fourth consecutive Big Ten crown. It was the sixth time in history that OSU has shared the title. The Buckeyes earned the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Hawkeyes.

Michigan State sophomore Allyssa DeHaan has made school, conference and national history in 2007-08 by setting several blocks records.  On Dec. 16 against Oklahoma, she broke her school's career blocks record with 199 total swats. Just four days later, on Dec. 20 against Providence, she became the fastest player in NCAA history to reach 200 career blocks in her freshman and sophomore seasons, needing just 44 games to accomplish the feat. On Feb. 11 against Purdue, DeHaan became the only player in Big Ten history to record 100 blocks in two different seasons when she swatted six. DeHaan also tied her own single-game school record with nine blocks against Indiana State on Dec. 8. DeHaan tied her own Big Ten single-season blocks record with her 145th block against N.C. State on April 2, and finished the season with 150, just two shy of the NCAA single-season record. When she enters her junior year, DeHaan will be five blocks shy of 300 in her career and 89 away from tying the Big Ten record. She is on pace to record 590 blocks over a four-year period, which would give her 110 more than the all-time NCAA leader.

Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson earned the Big Ten scoring title for the second consecutive season, averaging 19.6 points per conference game. Anderson is the only Wisconsin player to have earned the statistical crown, and took home the first scoring title of her career last season, finishing the conference slate with a 19.3 points-per-game average. Anderson is Wisconsin's all-time leading scorer, men's or women's, and finished her career ranked fourth in the Big Ten women's basketball records book with 2,312 career points. She is just the sixth player in conference history to be named scoring champion in back-to-back seasons.

Ohio State's Jantel Lavender finished her freshman season by becoming the Big Ten's rebounding champion, ending the 18-game schedule with 9.7 boards per contest. Lavender is the first freshman in Big Ten history to capture the conference's caroms crown. The Cleveland, Ohio, native is the first Buckeye since Tracey Hall and Nikita Lowry in 1987-88 to be named the Big Ten's rebounding champion.

Ohio State senior Tamarah Riley became the third different Buckeye in as many years to be named the conference's field-goal percentage champion, shooting at a .637 clip during the Big Ten season. Last year, Star Allen earned the title, shooting at a conference-record .694 mark, while Jessica Davenport earned the honor in each of the previous three seasons. Buckeyes have combined to take home the field-goal percentage title in 13 of the 26 seasons of Big Ten women's basketball.

Seniors Jolene Anderson of Wisconsin and Marscilla Packer of Ohio State were selected in the 2008 WNBA Draft, held on April 9. Anderson was taken by the Connecticut Sun in the second round with the 23rd overall selection, while Packer was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in the third round with the 41st overall pick. Anderson is the third Badger and first in six years to be drafted into the WNBA, while Packer is the ninth player for Ohio State to enter the league. Overall, 59 Big Ten standouts have been taken in the 12-year history of the WNBA draft.

Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Michigan State's Breslin Center have been tabbed as sites for the first and second rounds of the 2009 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship, the NCAA announced in February. Iowa and Michigan State join Ohio State as the three Big Ten institutions chosen to host first- and second-round action next postseason.

Five Big Ten teams ranked in the top 20 in the NCAA in average attendance, which is the highest percentage of schools in any conference in that range. Only the Big 12 had as many teams in the top 20 as the Big Ten. Purdue led the conference and was fourth in the nation, averaging 9,434 fans per game, while Michigan State was 10th overall, welcoming an average of 6,937 fans per game to the Breslin Center. Rounding out the top 20, Minnesota came in 12th (6,596), Wisconsin 14th (6,391) and Penn State 20th (5,159). The Big Ten has ranked first or second in average attendance in each of the past 15 years.

Minnesota was named winner of the sixth annual Big Ten SuperFan Cup in recognition of its efforts to increase attendance at the 2008 Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament presented by Xbox 360 Live. The Golden Gophers increased their all-session ticket sales by 43 percent from the previous season, issuing a total of 200 all-session passes. Minnesota is the sixth different school to win the award in the six-year history of the campaign.

Big Ten women's basketball enjoyed more television coverage than ever before during the 2007-08 season with 65 regular-season games appearing on CBS, the Big Ten Network, ESPN2, ESPNU, and FSN. The conference's 11 teams enjoyed twice as much national television exposure than any other conference in the nation. The Big Ten Network alone carried 55 regular-season women's basketball games, making it the leading national carrier of collegiate women's basketball among all networks. The Big Ten Network also broadcast the first nine games of the 2008 Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament presented by Xbox 360 Live, and was at Conseco Fieldhouse for the duration of the event to provide in-depth coverage and analysis.