Award jockeying starting early for women’s hoops

by Ryan Schuster

In a display reminiscent of the treatment that top blue chip high school sports recruits receive from college coaches, Big Ten women’s basketball sports information personnel have blanketed the 22-person media panel that votes for the conference’s post-season awards with a barrage of mailings lauding their players.
While men’s basketball media voters have received only a few mailings supporting the selection of players for various awards, women’s voters have been besieged by a plethora of mostly meaningless, self-promoting propaganda during the last few weeks.
Seven of the conference’s 11 teams have sent media members positive information about players and teams in a variety of different formats. A sampling:
ù Illinois mailed out several personally addressed and signed letters to the media, a color photograph of 1997 Big Ten Player of the Year Ashley Berggren working in a deli with the slogans “Cash With Ash” and “Bank on Berggren” tattooed all over it and a video of her highlights this season.
ù Iowa distributed a bunch of color foldouts building up its All-Big Ten candidates with phrases like, “Iowa’s Lucky Five and its PowerBall” and a rip-off of the WNBA’s motto, “These Hawkeyes got Next!”
ù But Ohio State may have topped them all with its sad low-budget effort of sending out two identical pieces of paper with Marrita Porter, Jamie Lewis and Larecha Jones’ stats on white and fluorescent orange sheets of paper.
Final farewell
Senior center Angie Iverson and junior forward Sarah Schieber will be honored in a “Senior Day” ceremony before Sunday’s 2 p.m. game against Iowa at the Sports Pavilion, both players’ last home game of their Minnesota careers.
Iverson is fourth on the Gophers’ all-time rebounding list and ninth in career scoring.
Schieber is fourth in Minnesota history for three-pointers in a career with 74. The junior biology major has decided to forgo her final season of eligibility with the Gophers to start dental school at the University next fall. Schieber missed all of last year after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury to her knee in the team’s first practice of the season.
A tale of two teams
First-place and No. 9 Illinois (18-6 overall, 12-2 Big Ten) and second-place, unranked Iowa (14-9, 11-3) can both win a share or all of the Big Ten regular-season title this weekend.
An Illinois win or an Iowa loss Friday will give the Illini, who tied for the conference crown with Michigan State and Purdue last year, at least the share of the title. Any combination of Illinois wins and Iowa losses that adds up to at least two would give Illinois its first outright Big Ten championship.
If Iowa wins both of its games and Illinois loses both of its games over the weekend, the Hawkeyes would take home their second outright conference title in three years. Iowa finished in a two-way tie for fourth place with Northwestern last season.
The Big Ten champion receives the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament Feb. 27 through March 2 in Indianapolis. The top five teams in the conference get a first-round bye, with the No. 1 seed playing a second-round game against the winner of the No. 8/No. 9 game and the No. 2 seed playing the winner of the No. 7/No. 10 game in the second round.
Illinois plays at sixth-place Wisconsin Friday and at fifth-place Purdue Sunday, while Iowa plays at eighth-place Ohio State on Friday and faces the last-place Gophers (4-20, 1-13) Sunday.
Minnesota is virtually locked into the No. 11 seed and will play either Penn State or Wisconsin in the first round of the tournament.