All of a sudden Coach Trina turned into Dr. Phil.
There were just 5 minutes, 46 seconds left in the seesaw game and Wright State was trailing longtime rival Green Bay by five points when – right there on the Nutter Center sideline Thursday night – Raiders’ coach Katrina Merriweather morphed into the TV talk show psychologist.
Angel Baker – the sometimes magnificent, sometimes mercurial sophomore standout for the Raiders – had momentarily lapsed into the latter.
She had fouled Frankie Wurtz who was launching a three-point attempt and that meant the Phoenix sharpshooter – she’d end up making 12 of 15 free throws and scoring 27 points – would be getting three foul shots.
As soon as Baker had been whistled, the emotions began swirling and she ran the length of the court, stopping near the baseline in front of her own bench. That’s when the frustration and self-flagellation momentarily took hold.
“I was just worked up, telling myself I had to be smarter than that,” Baker said later.
It was her third foul in just 75 seconds and her fourth of the night.
The previous two had come on the same play.
She believed she had cleanly blocked a Wurtz lay-up attempt with 7:01 left, but the official called a foul on her and she emoted enough that the ref charged her with a technical, as well.
“I just got hyped off the block and he kinda took it as I was yelling at him,” Baker explained. “I was just in the moment of the game and caught in my emotions. I thought the block was clean and I’m like ‘Gimme that! ‘
“Sometimes my passion is seen as aggression, but it’s not. So when he teed me up, I was like ‘Whoaa!’”
That meant Wurtz would go to the line for four straight free throws and then Green Bay would get the ball out of bounds.
Although Baker had been equally parts superb Thursday night and led the Raiders with 23 points, she began to wrestle internally again.
Her teammates quickly gathered around her and in sort of a group hug, walked her backwards telling her, as they have so many times, “relax…relax.”
Now just over a minute later, as Baker stood near the Raiders’ bench, it was Merriweather’s turn.
She called the 5-foot-8 guard over, put her hands on her shoulders, bowed her head in and offered some calming advice:
“I just said, ‘Hey, here’s the thing: You’ve played longer than this before with four fouls. We’re not worried about that. Just stay aggressive and keep playing.’”
Later Merriweather smiled when asked about the Dr. Phil confab:
“Angel and I have those moments almost every game. That’s because she wants to win really badly. And sometimes I have to reel her in a little and get her to focus.
“What I say depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s because she starts the game 0 for 5 and you can just see it in her body language. You can see her saying: ‘Uuh ooh! Here we go again!’
“Sometimes I grab her face. Every once in a while I have to wipe a tear away. I just tell her, ‘You’re a really, really good player. You just have to relax and take what the game gives you.’”
And Thursday night after their talk, that’s what happened for a while.
Coming down the stretch, Baker hit another three pointer – her fifth in eight attempts – and then made two free throws to pull WSU to within two points of the Phoenix.
But it wasn’t enough. Green Bay closed out the final two minutes making 9 of 10 free throws – seven by Wurtz – and the Phoenix won, 68-59.
The loss snapped Wright State’s three-game winning streak.
The Raiders had come into Thursday night winners of six of their last seven games, a sting that had begun with a 70-58 thumping of the Phoenix on Green Bay’s court Dec. 30. Baker led all scorers that night with 25 points.
Prior to that match-up, Green Bay had won 63 of its 69 games against Wright State. But the victory a month ago gave the Raiders two wins in a row against them and three triumphs in the last four meetings.
The victory over Green Bay in the title game of the Horizon League Tournament last March sent the Raiders to the NCAA Tournament .
Although just a second-year player, Baker already has gotten caught up in the rivalry.
“There’s just something about Green Bay,” she said. “You go into their gym and you see all those banners and you see that little (confident) walk they got and it’s like ‘I want to beat this team!’”
When she got Baker out of Pike High School in Indianapolis, Merriweather called her “the best freshman we’ve ever signed at Wright State.”
She said she was a more complete, all-around player than WSU great Kim Demmings, who – before joining Merriweather’s coaching staff - was the two-time Horizon League Player of the Year and whose 2,677 career points are the most ever at WSU and in the league.
WSU landed Baker after some other name schools recruiting her backed away following an on court fight she was involved in as a sophomore that went viral and got both teams banished from further play that season.
“I got into a couple of sticky situations,” Baker said Thursday night. “I just made some young, dumb mistakes and a lot of coaches turned their backs on me.
“Trina and her staff didn’t. Trina believed in me, talked to me, stayed with me. She always kept it real with me. I felt some of the other schools just fed me good stuff to get me on their roster. But she let me know when I was wrong. She was caring and she was true.
Last season – coming off the bench as a freshman point guard on a team that had four seniors, including three 1,000 point scorers – Baker carved her own path.
She had some big games – 27 points against Cleveland State, 24 versus Kent State – and she was the Raiders most competitive player in their NCAA tournament loss to Texas A&M. She not only led the team in scoring, but made a no-look, behind the back pass to Teneshia Dixon for a score that made ESPN’s Top Ten Plays of the Day.
This season she and senior guard Michal Miller – an equally talented player – have had to lead the young 12-9 Raiders and it’s been no easy task.
Miller has battled injuries. Along with chronic foot pain and a surgically repaired nose she protects with a face mask, she played Thursday night with an aching hamstring injury suffered a couple of weeks ago.
Baker has done what she can and leads the team in scoring (16.9 points per game), steals, assists and three-point field goal percentage. She’s No 2 in blocked shots and No. 3 in rebounds.
She also leads in Dr. Phil moments.
‘I’m getting there’
“It’s a process with her,” Merriweather said. “Just because we need her to play like a senior doesn’t mean she is one. But take tonight. She played 38 minutes. That’s 15 more than last year. She’s doing a phenomenal job taking on the weight like she has.”
And Baker appreciates what Merriweather is doing for her.
“She’s a coach, a mentor, a person to talk to. It’s a little bit of everything and it’s bigger than basketball. She’s about you as a person. She’s trying to make us young ladies, for real.
“I’ve grown, but I’m not 100 percent perfect. Still I’m better than in the past. I’m getting there.”
And no one will be happier when she completes that journey than Katrina Merriweather.
Dr. Phil belongs on daytime TV.
Coach Trina should have the Wright State sideline to herself.
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