Prochaska, Beverly put on show
Hartford gets best of Bowling Green 65-60 as traditional mid-major powers meet
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti and Bowling Green coach Curt Miller are two of the brightest coaching minds in the sport. Give them time, and they'll not only have their players running their own sets better than your kids run your own sets -- they'll have their players running your sets better than you do.
But sometimes basketball is still no more complicated or convoluted than the game of one-on-one you played in the driveway. Your best against my best. See who wins.
With a clash of traditional mid-major powers hanging in the balance late in the second half Wednesday night at Chase Family Arena, there was Bowling Green's Lauren Prochaska driving toward the basket with Hartford's Erica Beverly rising to meet her.
The score was tied at 57 with just less than three minutes to play, the lead having changed hands nine times in the preceding four and a half minutes of clock time.
One of the nation's best pure scorers with the ball in her hand and one of the nation's best defensive players with the basket at her back. Just like it is in the driveway.
Prochaska went up, contact ensued and the ball fell harmlessly away from the rim. Bowling Green's Tara Breske fouled Hartford's Diana Delva, who hit both free throws to stake the Hawks to a lead they never relinquished in a 65-60 win.
"We thought we were going to get the leading free throw shooter in the nation last year to the foul line," Miller said of what amounted to a four-point swing. "Instead, we foul 94 feet from the hoop and put them at the foul line, and they go up two."
It wasn't a happy ending for the Falcons, but it was the right ending for a meeting of two players most fans don't get nearly enough opportunities to watch.
Despite playing much of the game in foul trouble, Prochaska finished with 18 points and six rebounds, almost exactly at her season averages. The line included 12 points in the second half, helping turn what had been a brutally unappealing first half into a rousing thriller. Listed at 5 feet, 11 inches, although it looks like the junior is 6 feet without much trouble, Prochaska is an offensive tour de force. Her release is quick enough to make you wonder whether she's a long lost member of the Curry clan. And she's all legs and arms when she glides to the basket, offering up plenty of inches of appendages to foul.
Teardrop runners, free throws, 3-pointers, rebound putbacks -- as Rizzotti said after, Prochaska scores pretty much every way it's possible to score.
"Her release on her 3-point shot is so fast that if you give her any kind of space, she can get it off," Rizzotti said. "And as good as a 3-point shooter as she is, she's really streaky. If she makes the one, you know she's making the next one. So she'll keep shooting until she makes them, and then she makes a bunch in a row. And she's just so tough because then you fly out at her, and she's good at getting in there and getting fouled.
"She's tough, she's smart; she's been a scoring player for them since she got there. When you've had that freedom for three years to be that go-to guy offensively, you just find better ways to score every year. So she's just really hard to guard."
And for all that, Hartford walked off the court with the win in large part because its best player was just a little bit better than Bowling Green's best player -- both on the climatic drive near the end of the game and throughout much of the run of play.
Beverly chipped in with big baskets of her own down the stretch en route to 10 points on the night, but the beauty of her game is how much of an impact she had on the entire game, particularly the final 20 minutes, while taking just seven shots. The senior also finished with 10 rebounds and five blocks, and even that doesn't tell it all.
Asked whether any player she has coached has impacted games in such a manner, with as few shots as Beverly takes, Rizzotti paused for several beats, first said no and then finally came up with former America East player of the year Erika Messum. The catch is Messum was a point guard. Beverly does it as a forward -- and an undersized forward at that when she's in the post.
"[Beverly] just takes a lot of pride in what she's good at," Rizzotti said. "And she's worked hard at her offensive game. And there's been games this year where she's struggled, but the one thing that she's never done is let up on her defense. So whether she's 0-for-3 or she's 7-for-10, I can count on her.
"She's going to play 30 minutes because I can count on her to defend on every possession -- every possession. And there's very few players, period, that defend on every possession, and she always does. So when she makes her shots and she's being aggressive offensively, that's a super bonus for us, obviously."
This wasn't a game of one-on-one. Hartford needed big shots from Daphne Elliott, inside scoring from Delva and contributions from a host of other people. And Bowling Green's comeback from a dreadful start was far more than Prochaska, including freshman Chrissy Steffen coming on in relief of the foul-laden star to score eight second-half points -- five fewer than she scored in the team's first 12 games.
But it also proved to be more than a chance to see two great players share a court. It was a chance to see two great players share one of the final scenes in a great drama.
"It was ironic that that play was made with both best players playing against each other," Miller said. "And Beverly made the play without fouling, and Lauren couldn't get the call and couldn't get the basket. It was a great matchup tonight."
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
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