Oakland, UDM women get fresh start in Horizon tourney

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Among all the arenas Jeff Tungate has coached in, several stand out — among them, Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum for its noise level, and Syracuse’s Carrier Dome for its sheer size.

But he’s pretty sure coaching the first women’s basketball game in the history of Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena will take the spot atop his list of memorable moments.

Sha’Keya Graves (5) and Oakland have won three of four entering the Horizon League women’s tournament at Little Caesears Arena.

The Oakland women’s basketball team will play that game at noon Friday, against UIC in the opening game of the Horizon League tournament.

“That’s really, really special,” said Tungate, the fifth-year Oakland coach. “I want our kids to take advantage of that. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in.

“Obviously, we want to make that a great memory.”

Oakland (14-15, 7-11) opens postseason play as the No. 7 seed, going up against league doormat, 10th-seeded UIC (8-21, 1-17).

The five-day Horizon League tournament — the women are in their second year in Detroit, the men in their third — is an opportunity for teams such as Oakland to start fresh, after the Golden Grizzlies were wildly inconsistent this season.

Oakland lost eight of nine from Jan. 13 to Feb. 15, then finished with three wins in its last four games, including an 80-75 triumph in the finale against No. 4 seed Milwaukee.

“It’s been a strange year, because we’ve really practiced well,” Tungate said. “Then we’ll go in stretches in-game where we’re not executing, we’re not guarding.

“It’s one of those things I haven’t been able to figure out. Normally, when you’re inconsistent, you’re inconsistent in practice.”

On the flip side, Detroit Mercy has been incredibly consistent — consistently bad.

A year after storming to the Horizon League championship game, the Titans lost their first 16 games of the season, and have only managed two wins. Still, they’re only the No. 9 seed, at 2-27, 2-16, going up against Northern Kentucky (8-21, 6-12) at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

An ambitious nonconference schedule, including games against Michigan State, Clemson and Michigan, among others, might’ve been a misstep, coach Bernard Scott said. After all, Detroit Mercy lost big-time firepower from last year’s team, including star Rosanna Reynolds, who went on to sign a professional contract to play in Scotland.

Brianne Cohen and Detroit Mercy open as a No. 9 seed in the Horizon League women’s tournament at Little Caesars Arena.

“I thought we were gonna be better. That’s why I made the schedule I made,” said Scott, the third-year Detroit Mercy coach. “This team just wasn’t prepared for that type of schedule.

“It’s been a very tough year. We’re just trying to get through it and regroup.”

While the men’s side of the bracket appears wide open, the women’s side is more top-heavy — especially at the very top, where No. 21 Green Bay is the overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets Tuesday afternoon. Green Bay beat Detroit Mercy, 64-52, in last year’s final, and has made the NCAA Tournament 15 of the last 20 years.

Oakland, behind five players who average in double-figures — led by seniors Sha’Keya Graves (12.7 points), Taylor Gleason (11.8 points) and Leah Somerfield (11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds) — is a smart pick to make at least a two-day appearance. It beat UIC twice in the regular season.

Detroit Mercy, led by senior forward Brianne Cohen (13.3 points) and sophomore guard Anja Marinkovic (11.1 points), lost both its games to Northern Kentucky, but at least was competitive in both.

“We’ve stayed positive, we’ve stayed the course,” said Scott, whose women’s team and Bacari Alexander’s men’s team have combined to go 10-50, 6-30 this season. “It’s not been easy.

“It would feel good at least to get past Friday, help us at least finish the season on a high note.”


What: Horizon League basketball tournaments

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

When: Friday-Tuesday

Local openers:WOMEN -- No. 7 Oakland (14-15, 7-11) vs. No. 10 UIC (8-21, 1-17), noon Friday; No. 8 Northern Kentucky (8-21, 6-12) vs. No. 9 Detroit Mercy (2-27, 2-16), 2:30 p.m. Friday. MEN -- No. 7 Green Bay (12-19, 7-11) vs. No. 10 Detroit Mercy (8-23, 4-14), 5:30 p.m. Friday; No. 4 Oakland (18-13, 10-8) vs. No. 5 IUPUI (11-18, 8-10), 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: Single session (one day), $15-$40. All sessions, $45-$120. They can be purchased at horizonleague.org or at the LCA box office.