It has been clear for four seasons that Alex Harden is a better caliber of athlete than Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball teams are used to seeing.
She began her last go-around in the Valley in historic fashion, as she tied the school record with 11 steals to help the Shockers defeat Indiana State 63-52 at Koch Arena on Friday evening with 1,882 in attendance at Koch Arena.
Harden was fantastic in every aspect in dismantling Indiana State, scoring 21 points on 50 percent shooting and collecting six rebounds and six assists to turn away a Valley contender. But defensively, it was perhaps the finest performance in a career full of them.
“As far as getting deflections and playing angles, absolutely it was,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “She has the potential to disrupt anyone’s best player, whether they’re a post or a guard. She causes havoc. She’s blessed with the size and the strength and the athleticism to do that.”
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Harden’s game has so many strengths, but it has always been her ability to sniff out an impending pass that has made her otherworldly, at least in the Missouri Valley.
That was on display in the first two minutes Friday, as Harden’s anticipation led to two steals on consecutive possessions and layups for an 8-0 WSU lead.
“She’s so good off the ball,” ISU coach Joey Wells said. “She anticipates and reads the plays before they even happen.”
Every coach writes that in their scouting report to prepare their ball handlers for Harden, yet she still is able to bait opponents into thinking they can get that skip pass to reach its intended target.
That is not by mistake, either. Harden has honed her reaction time and explosion and has mastered the art of slouching off just enough to trick the opposition into thinking the pass is a safe one.
“She’s very smart about how she does it,” Adams said.
Before six minutes had come off the clock, Harden had tallied five steals and the Shockers led 13-5. Indiana State remained competitive by switching its defense to a variety of zones for a nearly 25-minute stretch.
WSU’s offense never could deliver the final dagger, but its defense, with Harden as its maestro, overwhelmed an Indiana State team that was accustomed to doing that to its opponents.
Wichita State (10-3) continues to be one of the nation’s top statistical defenses as it snapped the 10-game road winning streak of Indiana State (10-2) by holding it to 52 points in 67 possessions, 35.7 percent shooting, and forcing 21 turnovers.
“They just play so hard,” Wells said. “Jody does a great job of getting them to buy into five people playing hard. They play hard every single possession, they never take one off.”
When Indiana State rallied to take a 31-27 lead early in the second half, Harden followed with two steals — her eighth and ninth — to key an 11-0 run that WSU used to take back control. The Sycamores never threatened after that.
Like all great defensive players, Harden has had a number in mind of what she thought she was capable of achieving.
After finishing with 11, tying April Banks in the record books, Harden revealed she had surpassed even what she thought she could do.
“I’d never say over 10,” Harden said with a grin. “I was shocked. I didn’t know I got my hands on that many balls.”
INDIANA STATE (10-2): Zurek 2-4 0-3 4, Small 2-8 1-2 5, Wittman 3-8 4-5 12, Mahan 3-7 0-1 6, Franklin 1-8 1-2 3, Newbolt 2-3 1-2 6, Ceazer 1-5 0-0 2, Marshall 3-5 0-0 6, Grier 3-6 0-0 8, Smith 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 20-56 7-15 52.
WICHITA STATE (10-3): Bonner 4-14 1-2 11, Jacobs 4-6 0-0 8, Decker 3-10 2-2 9, Harden 7-14 7-10 21, Mi. Dapprich 6-11 0-0 12, White 0-2 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0, Chapel 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-58 10-14 63.
Halftime—Wichita State 25, Indiana State 23. Three-point shooting—ISU 5-9 (Wittman 2-2, Grier 2-2, Newbolt 1-2, Small 0-1, Ceazer 0-2); WSU 3-19 (Bonner 2-7, Decker 1-6, Jacobs 0-1, Mi. Dapprich 0-2, Harden 0-3). Rebounds—ISU 42 (Small 6), WSU 37 (Mi. Dapprich 9). Assists—ISU 9 (Zurek, Wittman 3), WSU 14 (Harden 6). Fouls—ISU 15, WSU 15. A—1,882.