Marquette women on a one-way track to the top

We could see this coming.

But certainly not so definitively.

Three years ago, the Marquette women's basketball team was rebuilding and had a young coach ... and even younger players. Very young.

Five freshmen started for second-year coach Carolyn Kieger, just 31 years old at the time, during the 2015-16 season.

But it was clear that even though the Golden Eagles muddled through a 14-16 season, these five freshmen had some talent. OK, a lot of talent. It was reasonable to assume that the next season would be much better for the rookies.

And it was.

But could anyone have predicted such a transformation, that Marquette would go 25-8 and win the Big East tournament championship in 2016-17 with five sophomores in the starting lineup?

Or how about this? Could anyone have predicted that that group of five freshmen from three years ago would all be 1,000-point career scorers now, as seniors?

"I don't think anyone could have anticipated the impact that they have had on this program," Kieger told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of her fabulous five seniors. "For me, senior day is going to be a very, very hard day. I'm trying not to think about it too much.

"This class has meant so much, not only to our program but to myself. They were the first ones to really buy into our vision."

Chicago native Danielle King, a senior guard from Bloom Township, was the last of the group of five to hit the 1,000-point mark in November against Montana State. She joined Allazia Blockton, last season's Big East player of the year, Erika Davenport, Natisha Hiedeman and Amani Wilborn.

Boasting the only team in Division I women's basketball with five 1,000-point scorers, Marquette has literally grown up before our eyes and gone from an afterthought in the Big East to one of the best teams in the country.

And soon, the exciting Golden Eagles are coming to a theater near you. They are going to be in Chicago next weekend to take on one of their fiercest rivals: DePaul.

Marquette, which established records on Monday by earning the No. 10 ranking in The Associated Press poll and the No. 9 ranking in the USA Today coaches poll, will be at DePaul Feb. 3 for a showdown against the perennial power of the Big East.

DePaul has either won or shared each of the last five Big East Conference regular season championships and the Blue Demons have also won three of the last five Big East Conference Tournament championships.

The Golden Eagles became the highest-ranking Big East team nationally since conference realignment took place five years ago with their rankings this week. And they had their way with DePaul earlier this month with a 33-point win at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

Marquette shared the regular-season Big East title with DePaul last year after winning the conference tournament in 2016-17. In their last hurrah this season, the Marquette seniors are also eying their third straight NCAA tournament appearance.

"Every year we've been getting further in the NCAA tournament," Wilborn said. "We're trying to go as far as we can, leave everything we got. We're trying to be the best team to ever play here."

Perfect pregame: Want an exciting way to build up to Super Bowl LIII? Head to McGrath-Phillips Arena in Lincoln Park at 1 p.m. Feb. 3 to watch two of the best Division I women's college basketball teams in the Midwest.

Marquette, which currently sits in first place in the Big East, visits DePaul.

Both teams play up-tempo, both teams average more than 80 points per game. This game will be exciting ... and over by 3 p.m.

You'll be home in plenty of time for the Super Bowl's 5:30 p.m. kickoff. Get your tickets at or call (773) 325-SLAM.

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

Marquette women's basketball coach Carolyn Kieger
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