Archdeacon: Led by their ‘champion’, Wright State women headed back to NCAA Tournament

Angel Baker powers Raiders past IUPUI in Horizon title game

INDIANAPOLIS – As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum Tuesday afternoon, Wright State coach Trina Merriweather could feel the surge of emotions all around her on the sideline.

She knew what her players wanted to do…and what she would do, too.

“As the clock wound down, you could see our players were all getting jittery,” she said. “They just wanted to dance and rush the floor and hug and all that stuff.”

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And when the final horn sounded – when Wright State had pushed aside IUPUI, 53-41, in the Horizon League Tournament’s championship game and won a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years and the third trip in program history – the Raiders’ sideline players did rush out and mob their joyous teammates on the court.

They all danced and hugged and tumbled and laughed. And when two little cannons shot cloud bursts of confetti all over them, some players dropped to the floor and made snow angels in the fallen glitter.

As this was happening, Merriweather made her way through the celebration to a player standing by herself off to the side at midcourt.

This was the real Angel.

Angel Baker, the Raiders junior guard, had the game ball tucked under one arm, but the other was free to accept a long, tight hug from her coach.

A day earlier Merriweather had called her “one of the best guards in the country” and Tuesday, once against Baker proved it.

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She lifted her team to victory just as IUPUI – powered by three-time Horizon League Player of the Year Macee Williams; “one of the best post players in the nation,” Merriweather called her - was beginning to inch ahead in this sometimes ugly, back and forth battle.

Midway through the third quarter the Jaguars had taken a seven-point lead, thanks to the 6-foot-2 Williams, who would score her team’s first 11 points in the quarter.

Then Baker took over.

She made three three-pointers in a span of four minutes, She blocked a 15-foot jump shot by IUPUI’s Destiny Perkins and then – though a slight 5-foot-8 – she outwrestled a rebound from Williams and another of the Jaguars inside players.

Baker would finish with 23 points, three steals and three rebounds and that countered Williams 28-point, 13-rebound effort.

But it wasn’t just Baker’s box score contribution that brought her coach straight to her.

There’s a special bond between the two.

When many schools backed away from Baker after she was involved in an on-court melee at Pike High School in Indianapolis, Merriweather saw her for who she really was – as a person, not just a player – and gave her a chance.

Realizing the sincerity and trust that come with the WSU embrace, Baker has blossomed with the Raiders.

She was voted to the Horizon League’s All Freshman Team her first season at WSU and has been an All League first team pick the past two seasons.

And Tuesday she lived up to her billing.

“I always know it is coming,” Merriweather said of Baker’s third quarter, 11-point barrage. “I have every bit of confidence in her. When it’s game time – when the lights are on – Angel is gonna step up. It’s just a matter of when and how.

“Those threes were huge, but I also think she played good defense. She picked some passed off, stayed in front (of her offensive player) and stayed out of foul trouble.

“She’s just a champion. Just a great player. When the game calls for something, she’s has the skillset to be able to give it.”

Williams was impressive, too.

She’s IUPUI’s all-time leading scorer with 1,851 points and her board work Tuesday lifted her to 1,003 career rebounds.

But when the game was on the line, not only did Baker step up for Wright State, but so did the Raiders post players, Tyler Frierson and Shamarre “Tank” Hale, sometimes with help from 6-foot-2 Jada Wright, as well.

They kept the Jaguars from regularly getting the ball to Williams down the stretch and often they muscled her out a little farther from the basket than she wanted to be.

Merriweather praised her inside plyers and also the perimeter defenders who forced IUPUI in into 0-for-15 shooting from three-point range. This is the same team that leads the league in beyond the arc shooting, hitting 36.4 percent on the season.

During the postgame interviews, Baker was surprised when one questioner asked her reaction to being named the MVP of the Horizon League Tournament.

It took a moment for that thought to register with her.

“I didn’t know that,” she finally said. “Aaaah… it feels good, I guess. I finally get a little bit of respect…a little bit of respect.”

That was her first air ball of the day.

She’s getting more and more respect these days.

All she had to do was hear IUPUI coach Austin Parkinson talk about her while she was still out on the court for the postgame trophy presentation and net cuttings.

“She’s a stud,” he said. “She’s one of the best guards in the country.

“I was telling somebody: I was watching the SEC games the other day and they didn’t have anybody as good as her out there on the court.

“Individually she’s so hard to guard. In our case the game plan was to send three people to Angel.”

And yet that still didn’t stop her.

As Parkinson admitted, she just real tough to bottle up.

The only one to really wrap her up Tuesday was Merriweather.