Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Guru's Musings: Staley and Cardoza Coaching Successes Stem From Days as Stars at Virginia

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s Philadelphia’s future Hall of Famer Dawn Staley and Tonya Cardoza of Roxbury, Mass., by Boston, were teammates associated with Virginia’s Final Four super power which did it all three straight times except walk away with a national title though Cardoza was graduated before the last shot at all the glory under future Women’s Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan..

After their playing days, fate kept them together professionally also and now South Carolina’s Staley and Temple’s Cardoza have each coached their teams for the first time in their careers to the two main Final Fours in the NCAA and WNIT tournaments.

That Staley got there and will be part of at least two and most likely three Philly-bred coaches in the NCAA Women’s Final Four this weekend in Tampa when she goes up against Saint Joseph’s grad’s Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame group is no surprise for those who have watched her grow the Gamecocks since arriving in Columbia in the spring of 2008 after her eight-year stint building Temple into a relevant power earning national rankings appearances.

SC was either one or two all season in the Associated Press women’s poll, rising to the top for the first time after Connecticut’s single stumble in the opening week at Stanford and then dropping back to second after being ruled by the Huskies in a 1-2 matchup in Storrs in early February.

That restored UConn’s Geno Auriemma – the third Philly-DNA coach – and his Huskies back to No. 1.

His two-time defending NCAA champions – a women’s record nine overall in the program --  are prohibitive favorites to punch their ticket Monday night here in Albany, N.Y., in the Times Union Center against the Cinderella seventh-seeded and mid-major Dayton Flyers out of the Atlantic 10.

If UConn wins it all again this weekend into next Tuesday, Auriemma will also tie the late men’s legend John Wooden of UCLA for the overall record total of 10 NCAA titles.

Three-time player Olympic Gold Medalist Staley, incidentally, is one of Auriemma’s assistants on the 2016 USA Olympic staff as is WNBA Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, another Philly product who with DePaul’s Doug Bruno of Chicago combined to guide USA to the FIBA World Championship last fall.

That Cardoza’s Owls  made to a national semifinal date Wednesday night in Morgantown at West Virginia of the Big 12 and former old Big East is the bigger surprise after struggling in the early season and then being one of the last picks by the WNIT after barely making the requirement of needing at least to be .500 or better for at-large selection.

It almost was an all-Philly matchup Wednesday except the same Mountaineers managed to catch Owls’ Big Five rival Villanova Sunday afternoon down the stretch and into overtime 75-70  despite Wildcats senior Emily Leer finishing up with a career-high 29 points and gaining her 1,000th at the end with a foul shot with 7.9 seconds remaining in overtime.

The Wildcats run became an antidote of sorts on campus after Villanova’s top seeded men’s team was upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament last weekend.

Temple, which had already won at tough site Marist, at Ivy runnerup Penn, and in overtime at home in the last second over North Carolina State, prevailed with another road ditty beating Middle Tennessee 69-57 Sunday night in Murfreesboro.

That made it three straight Philly associated squads to get this far with Drexel capturing the 2013 WNIT and Rutgers following up last season with a thrilling last-second victory over Texas El-Paso with a sellout crowd out West.

The other semifinalists are Michigan, coached by former St. John’s mentor Kim Barnes Arico, and UCLA, coached by Connie Close who came from the staff of Sue Semrau at Florida State, which just lost out to South Carolina Sunday in Greensboro.

Cardoza, after 15 seasons on the UConn bench as Auriemma’s assistant, succeeded Staley in 2008 at Temple after her friend answered the financially lucrative call from the South to build the Gamecocks into a power in the SEC and national relevancy.

After her move to Philly, Cardoza was able to thrive initially off of Staley’s remaining harvested talent and keep a string of NCAA appearances alive, missing the first time three seasons ago when the Owls were the first out, similar to the Temple men this time, who, ironically, are on the way to the NIT semifinals in New York Tuesday night.

The last three  seasons have been ones of youth as Cardoza  began growing her own entire product during a time of transition in which Temple moved from an annual challenger in the Atlantic 10 to the newly-created American Athletic Conference in which she gets to go against UConn at least twice a season.

Sunday afternoon prior to knowing the outcomes of the two WNIT games on one side of the bracket in the Elite Eight, Auriemma, during his press conference previewing the Monday battle with Dayton, commented on the Wildcats, coached by his longtime boyhood friend Harry Perretta, and Cardoza’s Owls.

“When you play in Philly and you’ve seen everything imaginable, I’n not surprised,” Auriemma said beginning comments on both teams that were each four games under .500 in the early going – Villanova basically because of three starters out with injuries until they got healthy.

“When you get them in a tournament setting, you got no chance unless you played (Villanova) before. And Tonya has a really good team, really good team. They’ve been really good this year and their young guards are pretty special.

“I’n not surprised and I’m happy for both of them, I really am. They represent that area well, those two. And Harry needs to win. He needs to go back to his role on (Netflix series) House of Cards – Doug Stemper,” Auriemma quipped of the role in which that character resembles Perretta’s looks.

In Sunday’s win by Temple (20-16), in which the Owls reached the magic 20 total for the first time since 2012, they held Middle Tennessee (24-10), a power in the Ohio Valley Conference, to just five field goals in the first half and took a 20-point lead into the break.

Then, tightrope artists that the Owls like to be, they yielded a 15-0 run by the home team to slice the advantage to just five points.

But the Owls were able to stabilize in the final six minutes, shooting 16 of 18 on free throw attempts.

Tonya Williams, the lone Temple senior who suddenly has become an encore queen through the WNIT, had a game-high 23 points, while sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 15 points.

Freshman Alliya Butts had nine points and connected on three of four three-point attempts. Sophomore Safiya Martin had 15 rebounds and junior Erica Covile grabbed nine.

Olivia Jones had 24 points for the Blue Raiders.

Temple’s big team stat was 20-9 on second chance points and the bench outscored MTSU reserves 23-5.

The success has turned Cardoza into a prophet from a postgame press conference in mid-December after the Owls at home in McGonigle Hall had been woman-handled by Rutgers, now with the Big Ten.

“You can see how much experience they got winning the WNIT and getting everyone back,” she said of the Scarlet Knights, who fell last week in the second round of the NCAA to UConn in Storrs..

“That’s what we need to do. We have three weeks to get this thing operating right, try to do well in the conference and find a way to get us into the WNIT and get that same kind of experience.”

Meanwhile, in the Villanova game, Averee Fields got the first six points of the extra period for the Mountaineers (22-14) and finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds as West Virginia earned the right to stay home and host Temple in Wednesday night’s contest, which tips at 7 p.m.

Bria Holmes scored 17 while Linda Stepney finished with 11 points.

The Mountaineers made only 1 of 10 three-point attempts but owned the boards 47-34 against the Wildcats (22-14), who held a four-point lead with 45 seconds left in regulation.

Leer had six treys in her final game for Villanova. The Wildcats’ Caroline Coyer, recently announced as the Big 5 women’s player of the year, had 10 points and six assists, but she also missed three foul shots and a layup in the closing minutes of regulation.

She needs just 36 at the start of next season to join Leer as the next member of the 1,000-point club.

Holmes’ layup with 13 seconds left in regulation, tied the score at 62 to force the overtime.

That’s it. The Guru will be tweeting from the UConn/Dayton game Monday night and Mike Siroky will be offering a recap of Tennessee’s challenge to top-seed Maryland of the Big 10 as part of his SEC ongoing coverage here at Guru central.

Stay tuned.

Mel

 
 


Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: A Final Force (Or Two?)

By Mike Siroky

When does a legend begin? 

Is it when an established success story continues its upward surge to an ultimate challenge?

Whether Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball co-champions South Carolina wins in its Final Four, the journey of a legend is maybe just the getting there.

The Gamecocks, top seed in an NCAA Regional for the second straight season, won one for the first time by coming from behind and dismissing No. 2 seed Florida State, 80-74, in the Greensboro finale on Sunday in North Carolina.

Senior Tiffany Mitchell scored seven of 21 points in the final two minutes. SC needed 61 percent overall from the field to do it. 

FSU had three times led by five in the second half. One way to track it: SC only had the lead for three total minutes of clock time.

There were five ties and seven lead changes in the final 10 minutes. Mitchell's drive made it 69-67 with just under two minutes left. 

The Gamecocks forced a hurried shot and a miss and fed Mitchell again with the 3 from the corner with 75 seconds left, in the lead to stay. No longer threatened, they scored on 6-of-6 free throws and a final layup after that.

Sohomore Alaina Coates scored 14, freshman A’Ja Wilson 10 and junior Asia Dozier made four free throws in the final 20 seconds after the Gamecocks won their 34th against only two defeats. 

 With Mitchell, that is one significant player from each recruiting class, another sign of stability to come.

"I knew we were always in the game," Mitchell said. "We played behind plenty of times. We never doubted for a second that we weren't going to lose this game, and that's the mentality you need against a great team like Florida State."

The best conference in women’s basketball has a quarter of the finalists with a second chance coming up Monday night when No. 2 seed Tennessee takes on top seed Maryland, new to the Big Ten but eminently vetted as a top team of the moment, in Spokane’s West final.

The other team already qualified is No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the Oklahoma City Final, repeating the defeat of No. 2 seed Baylor. 

That’s who SC gets this week, tops in the AC vs, tops in the SEC.

Sense the tradition yet? 

All No. 1s and No. 2s so far. 

All hosted their first and second games.

The UConn conference champ is assumed to repeat a championship sweep, starting in the Albany title game, also Monday night. 

If you don’t think it’s fair to call it the UConn conference, just know 75 percent of women’s basketball fans have no idea what the real conference name might be.

The ultimate historical reference for the women’s game is, of course, there is one really good team – call it elite – and then everyone else.

UConn will beat everyone else, emphatically and eventually. Probably next season, too. Let’s just put it out there.

For now, SC is celebratory. 

If they win out, the conference will drop the middle E on first reference and just call itself SC for at least next season as well. Makes it easier on the uninitiated late arrivals.

As soon as the NCAA can bid itself out to ABC (subsidiary of ESPN) for the women’s Regionals and Final Four, the game will zoom up another notch, with still more games and still less attendance. 

This one, the closest to the SC campus, drew only 6,364, thousands below the home season average.  

Oklahoma City did not admit its attendance, but it drew less than half night for the semifinals.

SC coach Dawn Staley is in the Women’s Basketball  Hall of Fame as a player;  she played in a Final Four and won three Gold medals in the Olympics. She is in the Naismith Hall of Fame for playing and coaching.
Now she is coaching her first Final Four team.

“It’s surreal,” she said, “because this signifies a lotta things. One, basketball is really great to me. Also, I am a true believer in divine intervention. The Man upstairs takes care of me.”

Left unsaid is why He does not take care of others, a particularly hard sell with the Notre Dame, who also believes. And ND does not let teams off the hook late, as the past two foes did.

But back to real basics.

“Our kids, I work them so hard and so much  that they won’t have any breakdowns or lapses,” she said.

As for the endgame, that coaching acumen started with recruiting and signing Mitchell.

“We went inside to our role players to stay in it, but when the game is on the line we went to Mitchell. Time and time again and she delivers,” said Staley.

“Yu stay true to your core values and stay playing what you have been coached to do because this is a game that rewards that. “

So it does. On to the Final Four. Cocks of the walk.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Tennessee Proves It Is Among the Elite

By Mike Siroky

Miraculously, traditionally, Tennessee won an overtime Sweet 16 basketball game Saturday night and are into Monday night’s Elite Eight.

Gonzaga, the lowest seed in the tournament left, at No. 11, gave the No. 2 seed Lady Vols all they wanted before faltering, 73-69, in the Zags' home city of Spokane, Wash.

The effusive Holly Warlick, Lady Vol legend and coach, was as usual thinking faster than she could speak afterwards.

“Gonzaga was just absolutely, they were awesome today,” she said. “Great credit to their coach, the coaching staff and the kids. They fought hard. It was a battle. We had to give everything we had.

“The crowd was phenomenal. I know they weren't yelling for us, but to come out and support Gonzaga, it was huge. That's how about basketball, women's basketball, should be.”

The home team attracted 8,686, the best attendance in this tournament.

“So, I understand how special this place is and the fans and the people here and it's been and it was just they had a great run.”

Until the end, it was an obvious disappointment for UT, maybe moreso because all they had to do was play to their averages and had not.

Most befuddled was junior center Bashaara Graves. She had carried the Lady Vols ever since leading scorer and team leader in all other areas Izzy Harrison blew out a knee, ending her career.

The ‘Zags, playing at home, took control in a four-minute 13-4 run leading to the seven-minute mark and a 17-point lead.

Then UT went to work, mostly on defense. UT whittled it to 10 on a layup by senior Cierra Burdick with 4:4 left. Gonzaga did not score for four minutes.

The Lady Vols got two free throws each from Burdick and Jordan Reynolds around a hard-working layin from Graves. UT was suddenly ahead, 62-61.

Gonzaga’s Emma Wolfram made a layup, assisted by Keani Albanez. 63-62, 42 seconds left.

Reynolds hit another free throw. It was deservedly tied. Both sides missed 3s, had turnovers and the buzzer sounded for overtime.

The Zags went first, winning the jump.

Senior Sunny Greinacher, the former exchange student form Germany, hit a jumper.

UT’s Ariel Massengale turned it over, a steal by Greinacher.

Reynolds and Nared each hit a pair of free throws in a combative game, then Greinacher hit another layup and Warlick called a time out. Tie game. Two minutes left.

Burdick made two more free throws, but Tennessee missed four straight shots, two of them off offensive rebounds.

Then Burdick got another one and was fouled by Greinacher. She hit them both. These seniors were working for one more game.

Greinacher won a jump ball. Down by two, Gonzaga called time inside of a half-minute. UT retained control, but Massengale missed a 3.

Elle Tinkle grabbed the rebound with five seconds left, Burdick fouled her and she hit two free throws to get within a bucket, 69-71, UT.

Reynolds hit the final two free throws and the comeback was complete. UT did not need a field goal in the overtime.

Greinacher finished her career with 24, 11 better than her season average, with 11 rebounds, nine defensive.

She effectively negated Graves. Albanez had 20 points, eight above her average, 4-of-6 3s and five assists.

The Lady Vols were led by Burdick’s 22 with 15 rebounds, UT was 21-of-22 from the line.

Freshman Jamie Nared brought a dozen off the bench.

They had survived the one NCAA game that seems to hit everyone in which the best player – Graves – has an off night.

Burdick, proud of the Lady Vol tradition on every level, said the SEC and the coaches trained them for games like this.

“ Well, I think of the SEC,” she said. “We’ve had our fair share of comebacks considering we were down 15 every and ended up winning championships.

“But nothing tops this. We were down what, 17 at one point and we came back and win in overtime. I mean, I think that just goes to show that no matter how many punches you throw at us we're going to continue to get up and we're going to keep fighting and we never thought we were out of this game.

“That's just Tennessee basketball. That's our mindset.”

The no-longer rookie Nared is creating her own set of memories.

“This is my first year and just being a part of this game was just so exciting and I never experienced it and I was just proud of how everyone fought,” she said.

Burdick swung inside to help the battleground.

“I give a lot of credit to Gonzaga because their inside game is unbelievable," she said. “They're tough. They're physical. A lot more physical than what I anticipated. We knew they were more of a finesse team, but they came out and battled and they made everything hard for Bashaara and myself and Jamie when she was down low.

“So I give them the credit. We had to draw the fouls late to win this basketball game and our free throws are what saved us. The coaches had a plan.”

Warlick said the inside battle and the focus on staying alive were the obvious keys.

“Oh, absolutely. We weren't, they had such strong defense on us inside. We were struggling to score and so we chose, we thought we could take advantage of our height with their guards and we started posting our guards up.

“I tell you, it was huge for us to only miss one free throw, obviously. It was a pressure situation in overtime and we didn't miss a free throw.

“So, we had kids up there that were pretty solid, strong, head strong, and I think we got the right people on the free throw line to take the shots.”

When rookie center Alexa Middleton was called to spell Graves, Warlick said her sudden intensity set a standard.

“Totally. Our goal today was to put pressure on the ball. We felt like we could affect them with ball pressure. Before Lex came in we didn't. Andraya Carter did it a little bit but got in foul trouble and then Lex came in and did exactly what we wanted her to do.

“We had two freshmen step up. They have not played in this, they haven't been down by that much, they haven't played really in an environment in the NCAA Tournament. I thought they came in and made big plays for us, did some big things.

“I thought Jamie got big rebounds. Lex was huge on the defensive end. So I think they grew up and understand that we need them. Not too often freshmen have to step up, freshmen have to step up because something is going to happen.

"And freshmen almost don't know that they're supposed to be nervous or scared.

“They don't know what they're missing out on. So I thought our freshmen really stepped up and helped us out today.”

While it is not part of the game plan to rain 3s, Yet UT took 19 3s and hit six. A simple adjustment, said Warlick.

“We couldn't get the ball we had nothing inside. We had no answer for their inside game. We were getting (seven) shots blocked, they were sagging in.”

UT is on to the Elite Eight, same as last season. This time they have the heady 30 wins that defines truly elite programs.

They get top seed Maryland of the Big Ten, same as last year. Maryland, then in the ACC, eliminated them, as the underseed.

The rematch will be interesting.

And if they should prevail and the nation's top team does likewise in Albany, N.Y., also Monday night, what comes next in the national semifinal in Tampa will be even more so.





- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Guru's NCAA Report: Connecticut Routs Texas While Dayton Stuns Louisville

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Playing in the shadow of the nearby capital of the Empire State, pseudo hometown star Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson helped top-ranked Connecticut tower over fifth-seeded Texas 105-54 Saturday afternoon in an NCAA women’s tournament regional semifinal game at the Times Union Center.

The rout enabled Hall of Fame Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma to pick up his 100th victory in NCAA tournament action.

Then came one of the tournament’s big surprises in the nightcap when Dayton gave all those mid-major fans disappointed with the committee seeding treatment of Ivy champion Princeton something else they can wrap themselves around.

The seventh-seeded Flyers, one of the powers of the Atlantic 10, took down third-seeded Louisville 82-66 dancing their own 40-minute dance version of the hustle after arriving here wearing a Cinderella crown for last weekend’s 99-94 upset of second-seeded Kentucky on the Wildcats’ home court.

And so instead of a reunion Monday night of two rivals of the old Big East who battled in the NCAA championship game won by the Huskies in 2009 and 2013, Auriemma will go against a squad headed by Jim Jabir, who had a six-year period through 2002 of winless outings against the Huskies coaching Providence in that same old Big East.

Six is also now the number of failures by Texas against UConn without any success in their series spread across several decades.

The winner of Monday’s game between the two-time defending national champions and Dayton earns a trip out of the Albany Regional to the Women’s Final Four this weekend in Tampa at the Amalie Arena.

But first things first.

 As the day rolled out, it is suffice to say that Connecticut (35-1) took less time to bring down the Longhorns (24-11) then it is taking to write  this roundup or bring down an old stadium or hotel.

The two-prong wrecking balls for Connecticut were Stewart, who grew up near here in Syracuse and is already two-for-two in Final Four most outstanding player honors, and Jefferson, who, Texas coach Karen Aston said may be the key for the latest phase of the Huskies domination, whose 51-point advantage was their largest at the Sweet 16 level.

Stewart had another signature tournament performance getting a UConn season high 31 points, while grabbed 12 rebounds, dealing seven assists, blocking three shots and grabbing two steals. The points are a personal best in the tournament for the only collegian to be part of last year’s FIBA World Champion USA squad coached by Auriemma.

“You know people are under this impression that just because Stewy doesn’t get 30 every night that she can’t,” Auriemma said. “If Stewy wanted to do what she did (Saturday), she’d do it every night.

“If we didn’t have the balanced team that we have, if we didn’t have the five starters today that we had, she would be doing that every night. Sometimes people forget just how good she really is. And today was another indication of how good she really is.”

Stewart noted, “Today was a lot of fun. Just right from the start, shots were going in and we were being aggressive, and taking open shots. We knew Texas had a big presence inside, big post players, and we knew that once we could get them moving a little bit we could get any shot we wanted.”

Jefferson had 25 points, connected on three-of-four of the overall 13 three-pointers produced by the winners. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 10 points and her two treys brought her within four of the NCAA women’s career mark of 396.

Morgan Tuck scored 14, while Kiah Stokes off the bench rejected four of UConn’s 10 blocked shots.

“I think the biggest thing that is overlooked, because they are so good offensively, is the fact that they are very hard to score on,” Texas’ Aston said. “And unless a team is going to be capable of putting up points consecutively, they are going to have a hard time beating them, because they’re going to score.” 

When it comes to ball handling, the Huskies committed a Villanova-like single-digit six turnovers while forcing 18 that resulted in a 22-5 scoring advantage in the category.

“Decision making is so critical, and 18 turnovers is not good at all,” Aston said. “But we’ve won a lot of games with that many turnovers.”

Ariel Atkins was the only Texas player to score in double figures, getting 11 points.

As for his 100th win in the tournament, Auriemma said, “In the NCAA tournament it is easy to remember (all the games), but because the losses sting so bad, those are really burned in your memory, those are really hard to forget, those losses, because they’re all losses that end your season. They’re tough to take.”

Auriemma had always said the next game is the hardest of all in the tournament, whether it would be facing a known power such as Louisville or a surprise opponent in Dayton.

“Whoever wins actually gets a chance to compete for the national championship, that’s why it’s so hard,” he said. “I’ve always found it’s the most difficult game to prepare for. That to me is way harder than what happens the following weekend.

Dayton Shocks Louisville

Things have worked out much better for Dayton at the back end of the season then they did at the front when the Flyers, preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10, dropped three of their first four and then fell out of the rankings.

They also lost three times to renaissance George Washington, including the conference championship, but all that is old news measured against Dayton’s performance in the tournament.

Louisville (27-7), now with the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time this season, had a seven-point lead just before the 10-minute mark of the first half when Dayton (28-6) made a defensive stand and methodically worked back into a 30-29 lead at the break.

The Flyers stayed ahead the rest of the way, eventually building a double digit lead deep into the final minutes to make Dayton the first conference team to get to the Elite Eight since former member Xavier got there in 2010.

George Washington in the late 1990s was the last existing A-10 member to make it this far.

Andrea Hoover, one of the top A-10 players, scored 26 points for the winners while Amber Dean scored 15 points, Jodie Cornelie had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Kelly Austria scored 10.

Dean’s total was helped with a perfect 10-for-10 from the line.

Myisha Hines-Allen had 14 points for the Cardinals, Bria Smith scored 12, Jude Schimmel, the sister of former Louisville star Joni, who was one of the top WNBA rookies last summer, had 11 points, and Shawnta’ Dyer had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s the first time, really, all year, that I have seen us be as stagnant on the offensive end as we were,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “So we struggled trying to get the ball in the basket. We got some good shots, in the first half and second but we just couldn’t get the drop.”

Smith agreed with Walz’ assessment.

“I think it was a lack of execution with the plays, we were pretty stagnant in our offense and that is what made it easier to guard us,” she said. “We were supposed to get more movement and we just lacked concentration.”

Jabir spoke of Dayton’s strong finish to date.

“Our guys have continuously stepped up and matured and handled themselves better and better with every challenge and the challenges keep getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

“If you’re a basketball coach and you really care about your craft and what you do, then this is the ultimate goal,” Jabir continued. “Getting to this point is what every coach should want to achieve and we’ve been fortunate because we’ve been able to recruit certain kids who can be molded and who can work together and who believe in each other and unselfish and this is what happens when you bring good people together and they all believe in the common goal.

“Until the buzzer went off I thought there was a chance they could come back, but we held it together.”

Xxxx

Mike Siroky will be back with the West regional later off the Tennessee-Gonzaga game that followed Maryland,now with the Big Ten, topping former rival Duke of the ACC.

In the WNIT on Sunday, Temple will try to keep its magical run alive, playing at Middle Tennessee in a quarterfinal game, while Villanova will be at former Big East rival West Virginia in another quarterfinal game.

If both locals win, Temple and Villanova would meet for the second time this season, later in the week in a semifinal game.

The success to date of the two locals follows Drexel winning the WNIT in 2013 followed by Rutgers last season.

 -- Mel 






 


Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Elite Eight Just Won't Wait

By Mike Siroky

Anther season, another first for the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball co-champions South Carolina.

It didn’t come easy. The Gamecocks had a four-point edge at halftime against arch-rival North Carolina, which was just one basket’s worth of points extra to edge the Tar Heels, 67-65, in the Greensboro Regional.

SC is in its second Elite Eight. The top seed will meet two seed Florida State for the Final Four trip.

Second seed Tennessee goes for the same positioning Saturday night in Spokane.

The two SEC teams in the NIT are done in the Round of 32.

Top-seeded South Carolina waited a whole year for this one.

Last season, NC eliminated SC at the same point of the playoffs.

Two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell extended the
Sweet 16, earning the program's second trip to a regional final.

"It is nerve-wracking (late) because you don't want your season to end," SC coach Dawn Staley said. "But I thought our team was really resilient . . .."

North Carolina saw a three-point lead evaporate in the final 90 seconds of their season.

The Gamecocks came from 63-60 down entering the last 90 seconds.

Oliivia Gaines had a 3 bounce in to tie it with 60 seconds left. Such is the luck of a seldom-used senior.

Alaina Coates hit two free throws and put SC ahead with 46 seconds left for a 65-63 lead. NC had one more basket left and the game was tied. On came Mitchell.

"It was kind of emotional but we stayed the course and kept our heads," Mitchell said. "We knew North Carolina was going to give us their best push and we knew they had runs in them, so we just had to answer them and just keep our head."

Fourth-seeded NC had the last shot hit the backboard as time expired.

"They are a great team," NC coach Sylvia Hatchell said, "but I thought we were a great team tonight, too."

By the way, freshman point guard Diamond DeShields led last season’s win by the Tar Heels. She has since transferred to Tennessee and will be eligible in the coming season.

Coates scored 18 points, including those two key free throws, and had 10 rebounds with a 10-for-10 performance at the foul line. It made a mostly home crowd of 6,286 happy, almost twice as much as at any other site.

Staley said, “We're fortunate we only had to take a bus ride" and that even though they are essentially playing "on someone else's home court, I think our fans make us feel very much at home."

SC had not lost since last year’s event, except for UConn and at Kentucky to close this season.

Two players familiar with each other Are seniors N'Dea Bryant and Welch, high school teammates at Goose Creek High School. "We have some great high school memories together, but at the end of the day, it's still your opponent," Welch said. "You love them from a distance. Bryant scored nine points in her final 23 minutes.

Sophomores Allisah Gray and Stephanie Mavunga had been putting up consistently big numbers for the Tar Heels.

Mavunga scored a career-high 27 in the qualifier against Ohio State, most on breakaways. She fouled out battling Coates for a rebond that led to the last free throws.

“I still think we’re the better team,” she said afterwards.

Gray led NC scoring all season at 15.9, She had 54 3s, but none in this one. She scored a dozen.

"I've been waiting for this game, waiting for revenge. The time is now," guard Khadijah Sessions said. "We were just ready for me and my teammates to prove what we should have proved last year."

SATURDAY NIGHT

Tennessee plays Gonzaga in the Zags’ hometown of Spokane. It is Gonzo’s seventh straight NCAA tournament. They earned their way in by winning the West Coast Conference regular season and gaining an at-large bid, as did UT in winning its conference and getting an at-large bid.

The difference is the respect the NCAA gives the SEC winner (a No. 2) vs. the West Coast (11).

Interestingly, each side has a senior point guard and each is coached by someone who spent a long time as an assistant.

Each coach was the recruiting coordinator and so recruited the teams they inherited.

This is Lisa Fortier’s first year leading the ’Zags. A story not many people have awakened to is her husband, Craig, is an assistant with the men’s team.

That has never happened before in the history of the NCAA playoffs, husband and wife both coaching for separate participants.

Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame were the other schools to have men’s and women’s teams in the Sweet 16,

The Bulldogs got this far by winning on someone else’s home court in the sub-Regionals, at Oregon State.

Emma Wolfram with a career-high 17 points, led it.

Germany’s Sunny Greinacher's had a key late layup underneath. Keani Albanez's layup just beat the shot clock to make it 68-64 with 1:26 left and time ran out for the Beavers.

Keani Albanez, the 5-10 point guard, averages 12.9 pintsd this season. Center Shelby Cheslek, at 6-5, doubled her scoring average to 14 this season, and 8.3 rebounds.

She is a redshirt junior. Greinacher, at 6-4, averages 13.8. She was a high school exchange student in Oregon and played hoops on the state titlist there. The other player in double figures is Elle Tinkle, 11.9.

WNIT

The SEC experience in the WNIT ended with both participants losing third-round road games, each one shy of the magic 20-win season.

Middle Tennessee 82, Mississippi 70: For Ole Miss coach Matt Insell it is a second loss to his dad’s team.

If there is any consolation, the Rebels did win the second half, 44-42. But a terrible start decided it early.

These games are the only ones ever in Division 1 featuring a father/son coaching matchup.

The home court advantage had the Blue Raiders start 7-0 and hitting nearly 60 percent from the field, 28-of-47.

Dad was a gracious winner.

"Really Matt has just done a great job this year, and I'm just proud of him," Rick Insell said. "That's what I told him after the game. It's what I told him before the game: ‘I'm very proud of what you've done, son. You're doing a real good job, and you're a superstar and just keep doing what you're doing.’ "

Rick Insell predicts the rematches are going to happen more and more, as he is willing to schedule dad every season. In the men’s game, dads have dominated winning 16 of 18.

The Rebels have their best finish since 2007, with a team that featured eight newcomers. Had the other coaches not gone with mere winning in their voting, he may well have been the coach fo the year in conference.

Matt did not like the home officiating but would not elaborate to avoid a league fine.

His best player, Tia Faleru never got loose with three fouls and ended her career with 17 minutes and four points. She had been averaging 14 points and 31 minutes.

His point guard, Gracie Frizzel, who had been having a nice scoring tournament, also had three fouls and scored three points in 25 minutes.

Erica Sisk had four fouls and scored six points. Leading reserve Bretta Hart fouled out, in 11 minutes.

“I’m not going to say anything,” said Matt. “I'm building a pool house. I'm going to Tampa, Florida, here in a little bit. I'm going to the Kentucky Derby here in a couple weeks. I want to have fun with that money instead of having to pay it."

Both father and son seized on the family angle to promote the game which drew 2,806.

Middle Tennessee even took out a full-page newspaper ad touting "Family Feud II" and "The Battle in the `Boro" for a program in the WNIT only because the home team lost a six-year streak of NCAA Tournament berths.

Rick Insell bought a bunch of tickets for family and friends to turn out at the Murphy Center. But knowing the coach on the other bench only went so far for Matt Insell, a Middle Tennessee graduate himself.

"It's a great place," Matt Insell said. "They got a lot of history here. They got a good basketball team. The one thing that dad does, he recruits winners. Those kids know how to win games.

"They may not be as talented as us, but those kids are winners and they make winning plays and they've been winners their whole life. They've won at high school, won at AAU, they won at junior high."

And dad may have gotten the last word in when asked if Matt gets his fiery coaching approach from his father.

"His mama acts like that every night," Rick Insell said. "You just can't get it out of them. What can I say?"

Michigan 65, Missouri 55: Kentucky, just a couple of seasons ago, used to term its defense “40 minutes of Hell.

Well that hell froze over in the past two seasons.

So Michigan has adopted the slogan “40 Minutes of Fire.

The Tigers got singed in Ann Arbor to close the season.

The Wolverines used their speed and quickness advantage to overcome the Tigers’ size edge.

Missouri hit just 36 percent from the field – 25.8 in the second half -- and was 6-of-27 (.222) on 3s.

Morgan Eye had hit 9-of-18 3s in the Tigers' previous game, but was 2-for-10 from beyond the arc as the sharpshooter ended her career with 367 3s, 25 short of the natuonal record.

Jordan Frericks, MU’s season-leading scorer and rebounder, had her first-half playing time limited by foul trouble. She ended with 14 points.

“It wasn’t a matter of getting outworked,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “It was just a matter of, man, we had a hard time knocking down shots, and we got pretty good looks.

“I feel like those are the same looks that you saw us knock down against K-State, and tonight they just didn’t fall for us,” Pingeton said. “And then defensively, probably our offense kind of dictated our defensive intensity a little bit there.

“I felt like we did a good job chasing them off that 3-point line, but we just had a hard time keeping them in front of us and gave up too many dribble-drive opportunities.”

"They want to go out hanging a banner," Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said of her three seniors -- each one instrumental in this win.

"They're on a mission. They don't want to take off that Michigan uniform. So, we're playing with a passion and enthusiasm that had gotten stagnant for a little bit."

Senior guard Shannon Smith said, "We're trying to do something that's never been done, and that's hang a banner. We're trying to win every game and compete every night."

Just as Mizzou was fighting for the SEC rep, so is Michigan trying to elevate the Big Ten footprint.

This victory was about tenacious defense as much as three seniors who didn't want this to be their final game. Captain forward-guard Nicole Elmblad had 11 points, 5-of-8 fron the floor. Smith had 13.

But the Big, 6-3 forward Cyesha Goree stole the show. She had 12 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and blocked shots.

"Shannon Smith was sensational in the second half, a difference-maker,” said Barnes Arico. “And Cyesha just had a great game overall. Nicole had some really good looks because they were doubling on Cyesha or focusing on our (outside) shooters."

Goree had a steal and drove the length of the court for a basket in the first half.

But in a second-half stretch when Missouri tried to get back into the game, she zapped the Tigers.

Goree had a steal before pulling a rebound away from two opponents. Then she tied up a player for a held ball before forcing a travel.

"That little kick I got or whatever I did to spark the team went well because we took off from there," said Goree.

If the Wolverines were a fire, Goree wielded the torch. Time after time, they blanketed Tigers coming off screens with hopes of getting a clear shot.

The constant pressure wore down Missouri, which often had to hustle just to beat the shot clock.

"It was more of having a killer instinct," Smith said. "Coach always talks about that. We want to fight -- just keep fighting."

“It seemed chaotic at times, but our team really understood what the game plan was and executed perfectly. ... We wore them down," said Barnes Arico.

She thought her team became "stagnant" late in the season, and she emphasized defense and competition more in practice to spark the defensive fire that has led to three consecutive WNIT wins.

"We had some of the greatest practices of the year," she said, "and since then we've been moving forward. It's just a rejuvenation, a renewed attitude."

Elmblad said, "It's a mentality Coach has brought in practice. She's made things more about defense. She's gotten on us about it and made it as important as a score."

Barnes Arico was pleased that the rebounding battle finished 36-36 despite having the shorter team.

"Yes!" said Barnes Arico, lifting a fist high in jubilation when told that statistic. "Cyesha did a great job of defensive rebounding (with 13 on defense)."

On offense, a Michigan team that averaged 6.2 treys per game was able to win despite making only 1-of-7 shots from behind the arc.

"We had to go under them and use our quickness," said Barnes Arico. "And I thought our guards did a great job of getting to the basket. It was a balanced job by our guards. They just scratched and clawed and got in there."

They got enough offense to win with their strong defensive effort. The Crisler Center crowd cheered approvingly as the team filed off the court, and many players shook hands with the fans.

There were 1,383 in attendance which is a big deal in Michigan.

"It was just excitement," Elmblad said of that moment. "I enjoyed it. I love this team and this program. When it comes to an end, it's really going to hit me how much this program has meant over four years.”




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Friday, March 27, 2015

Temple and Villanova Win Sweet 16 Thrillers in the WNIT

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA -- For the third straight year Philadelphia area women’s basketball continues to impact the Women’s  National Invitation  Tournament.

Following WNIT titles won by Drexel in 2013 and Rutgers last season, Temple and Villanova won two thrillers here in town in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite Eight.

Temple, one of the last taken as an at-large squad, overcame a 13-point deficit to North Carolina State, forced overtime in the closing seconds at the Owls’ McGonigle Hall and then sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald hit the game-winner on an off-balance bank shot with less than a second left in the extra period for an 80-79 victory.

The heroics came less than 24 hours after the Temple men won their third straight and advanced to the NIT Final Four in New York.

Meanwhile Villanova was paired up at home in the Pavilion on the Main Line against Big East rival St. John’s.

Tied 40-40 with 9 minutes, six seconds left in regulation, the Wildcats launched a a 13-2 run to hold off the Red Storm and take a 63-55 win.

That sends Villanova (22-13) to former old Big East rival West Virginia (221-14), now with the Big 12, Sunday in Morgantown. The Mountaineers advanced from the Sweet 16 beating Duquesne of the Atlantic Ten  60-39 at home.

Temple (19-16) heads on Sunday to Middle Tennessee (24-9), who beat Mississippi 82-70 with MTSU Rick Insell topping his son Matt with the Ole Rebs.

If Temple and Villanova stay alive they would meet each other next week in the national semifinals, which would mark the second time in the WNIT this season the Owls would match up against a Big Five rival.

Last Sunday the Owls got revenge in a close game and beat Penn at the Palestra to advance.

As Thursday’s game ended the Owls piled up on top of each other as if they might have just upset Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference.

“Knowing we were one of the last teams to get in and to still be standing and play a game like this in front of our home crowd, it was just a very emotional game for us,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said.

“We knew coming in we had to do a really good job defending their guards. Fey couldn’t make a layup but when it counted she won the game for us. It was just great basketball. We could have easily folded but that’s not who we are.”

Freshman Tanaya Atkinson scored 17 points for the Owls and classmate Alliya Butts, the Big Five freshman of the year, scored 16 points.

Fitzgerald added 15 points to the Temple column and senior Tyonna Williams  getting a bonus home game scored 12.

“That’s how you want your last game to end,” she said unknowing whether Temple will get any more chances if the Owls survive past Sunday. “It was just crazy.”

Erica Covile scored 11 points.

Five players scored in double figures for the Wolfpack (18-15) of the Atlantic Coast Conference led by Dominique Wilson’s 18 points.

This is the first time the Owls have advanced to the quarterfinals since the WNIT was expanded to the field of 64.

Meanwhile, it was time for the other Coyer twin to come up big for Villanova with Katherine getting a career-high 23 points, including 6-of-9 from the field and 5-for-7 on three-point attempts.

Caroline Coyer, voted Big Five player of the year last week, scored 15 points and freshman Alex Louin scored 14.

This is the furthest the Wildcats have ever advanced in the WNIT.

The Red Storm (23-11) was led by Danaejah Grant, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds while Amber Thompson had 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Following the conclusion of the Temple game your Guru drove up here to Albany, N.Y., for the NCAA regional and got this written before getting some quick shuteye prior to Friday’s press conferences.

-- Mel

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Brown Glows Making Maryland Shine in NCAA

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

COLLEGE PARK, Md. –
Lexie Brown’s glowing smile never disappears.

Whether it’s dancing with teammates to synchronized routines during pregame warmups, using a selfie stick following a postgame press conference or zooming up the floor with the uninhibited fury of a race car against Princeton during the heat of a second-round NCAA Tournament women’s basketball game.

Brown’s flawless smile is constant.

A 5-foot, 9-inch smooth sophomore guard, Brown plays the game with the joy of a toddler enjoying their favorite toy: Free and easy.

While operating on her hardwood sanctuary, Brown’s thoughts always return to the driveway in her home as a youngster.

It’s the place where it all began for the daughter of former NBA Slam Dunk champion Dee Brown. The fun. The passion. The smile.

“That comes from my family,” Brown said. “Our family is extremely close and we have so much fun. I love the game. Fun and basketball has always been one in the same for me. I love being out there and the crowd was amazing. I love getting the crowd pumped up. When people know I am smiling, it’s a good thing.”

While Brown made all of the Maryland fans blissful with a splendid 23-point, six-rebound effort during an 85-70 win over previously undefeated Princeton Monday night at the Xfinity Center, she was already happier than Pharell because her mother, Tammy, was in attendance.

“My mom’s here and I was in an extremely happy mood,” Brown said. “This weekend was the first time she had a chance to see me play in person this year so that was special having her here. These are the first two games she’s been able to make all season. Everytime my mom is around; I just smile all day long. Today was just a great day.”

Beneath Brown’s radiant smile lies a fierceness.

A human handcuff and pleasant package of excitement, Brown has all the tools to be special by the time she finishes her career for the Terrapins.

She has been the leader of Maryland’s high-powered machine this season. While her physical gifts are plenty, such as her feathery three-point shooting touch and an ability to dissect even the most complicated defenses.

Brown’s poise is the biggest reason why Maryland (32-2 overall) is two wins away from its second consecutive Final Four.

“I am the point guard of the team and I can’t get too high or too low,” Brown said. “Sometimes, I have my moments of spiraling but (Maryland head coach Brenda Frese) reels me right back in quickly.

"I am like the heartbeat of the team so I can’t spiral out of control. I have to stay poised. Mostly though my biggest improvement was my mental game because I think that’s the most important part of the game. ”

She doesn’t get rattled. During the first two minutes against Princeton, Brown missed her first three shots and committed a turnover.

Even after she air-balled a 3-pointer, Brown flashed a brief smile and stayed in attack mode, eventually finding her groove to bring the Tigers’ unbeaten season to an end.

“Her ability to keep us under control when things get tough has been big for our team this season,” said Maryland senior guard Lauren Mincy following her 27-point performance against Princeton. “Her improvement from last year to this year is incredible and she continues to work everyday. She’s going to keep getting better, which is scary.”

Already this season, Brown was named the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, All-Big Ten First Team by coaches and the media and to the five-player All-Big Ten Defensive Team.

In addition, Brown is one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.

She’s helped the Terps win a school record 26 consecutive games and advance to the program’s seventh Sweet 16.

Brown, who averages 13.4 points per game, has scored in double figures 25 times this season and 41 during her career. She has made at least one 3-pointer in 81.8 percent of the games she has appeared in (54/66).

“She’s been rock solid from start to finish this season,” Frese said. “She has more responsibilities this year as a leader, scorer, defender and so many things we put on her shoulders that she embraces and has done a phenomenal job. I love when she plays free like she did tonight. She didn’t have a care in the world. We feed off of that. Her team feeds off of that. She makes this team go.”

While Brown enjoys winning games and playing basketball, she loves being around her teammates more. All of the players live together in an apartment complex which has strengthened the sisterly bond between them.

“Lexie is a goofball and one of my personal favorites,” Mincy said. “She’s like an annoying little sister that I never had.

"She’s always knocking me in my head, running around and doing extra things that a little sister would do. She’s such a workhorse though. Anytime we have an off-day or time before practice, she’s always the first one in here. She’s either running or getting shots up. That’s something I definitely respect her for.”

Added teammate Shatori Walker-Kimbrough: “She’s a great person off the court and great leader on the court.”

The Terps face a familiar foe in former ACC playmate and fourth-seeded Duke, Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in Spokane. As the tournament winds its way to its denouement, Brown is looking forward to silencing more critics.

Despite being ranked fourth in the country and a No. 1 seed, the Terps are playing with a chip on their shoulders.

Maryland’s players made sure to remind everybody Monday night that President Barak Obama picked them to lose to Princeton, more so out of loyalty to his niece, Leslie Robinson, who is a reserve on the Tigers.

“We wanted to prove to people that we were still the Final Four team we were last season,” Brown said. “I am really proud of how everybody took it upon themselves to step up this year. We worked so hard in the preseason and during the summer. Last year was surreal making the Final Four as a No. 4 seed. We were definitely underdogs last year and we have that mentality now.”

More than 30 minutes after the game ended, Brown, wearing a crisp white T-shirt with Sweet 16 on it over her gold uniform, chatted with family and hugged friends while, of course, sporting a smile that could light the Chesapeake Bay, before disappearing back into the tunnel leading to the Maryland locker room.


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Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Conference Co-Champs Advance to Sweet 16

By Mike Siroky

For all the traditions of Tennessee women's basketball representing the Southeastern Conference, remember this is Holly Warlick's first as coach of her beloved program.

Sure, they went all four years when she was their point guard back in AIAW days and so many times as an assistant coach, but now she leads them to the Spokane Regional after a 10-point win over a feisty Pittsburgh team.

It is just UT and South Carolina, co-champs of the SEC, in the Sweet 16 for the conference.

This Lady Vol win was at home, of course, where they are 56-0 in NCAA tournament games (they were a program record 18-0 at home this season).

And their Sweet 16 opponent is an 11 seed, Gonzaga, which already owns one of the tournament's few upsets, at four seed Oregon State, to qualify.

This game was all about the player Warlick calls The Beast: Junior Bashaara Graves.

She has shown up big in every major game UT has had this year.

Bigger still since leading scorer and starting center Izzy Harrison ended her career with a torn ACL a few games back.

Graves had another double-double, 21 points and 14 rebounds, just two points off her career high in the opener.

"It just happens," Graves said. "I don't think it's (that I have) a different mindset. Everyone else says they can tell when I'm quiet during warm-ups that I'll have a good game, but I don't think anything like that."

Senior teammate Ariel Massengale agrees.

"Big-time players step up in big-time moments and make big-time plays," Massengale said. "That's what Bashaara is continuing to do for us."

With 29 wins, they even attracted praise from the star of the game.

Pitt's point, senior Brianna Kiesel scored 24 of a career-high 32 in the second half as her team actually won by two after intermission including a 9-0 run coming out of the break.

"Just playing (Tennessee) today and having the honor of playing one of the best teams in the nation, it was just a great, amazing game," Kiesel said. "I couldn't have asked for a better way to go out."

Warlick agreed, greeting her in the tunnel after the game and kiddingly offering her a spot on her team.

"What a gutsy performance by their point guard," Warlick said. "She was incredible. She was a handful. That's what you do when you get to this point. You battle and play hard."

After trailing by 14 with 4½ minutes left, Pittsburgh cut the lead to 69-65 on Kiesel's three-point play with 37.8 seconds remaining.

UT senior Massengale went 6-of-6 on free throws and made a steal in the final 37 seconds; classmate Cierra Burdick also celebrated a final home with 14 points and 10 defensive rebounds.

She had been scoreless in the opener.

"I was just trying to stay positive," Burdick, one of four in double figures for the home team. said. "I knew today I had to bounce back. It was nice to see the ball go through."

Tennessee won the boards by 17 which keyed this win in front of 5,702 fans which is surprisingly low for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols have at least 40 rebounds in four of the past five games, all wins. It also makes them 27-0 in sub-Regional finals.

UT also locked down on Pittsburgh's Stasha Carey, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the opening-round upset of UT-Chattanooga.

She was held scoreless this time.

"It was a great win for us. We had to battle," said Warlick.
"I am really happy that these two seniors could go out the way they did. They have been through a lot and they have had a lot of pressure put on them since their freshman year.

"I am just excited that they get to keep playing basketball, I am really glad that they got to have two great performances here.

"They didn't want to be done, so B had to step up and do some things, but it was a great team effort and Pittsburgh was so solid.We are happy and thrilled that we are moving on."

She also said the plan indeed is to get Graves the ball, which both seniors acknowledged.

"She is really doing a lot of work before she gets it," said Warlick. "I think when Izzy went out she understood she has to step up and do things for this basketball team.

"How she is playing now has been a result great practices, very intense, very focused.

"We got her the basketball, we are going to get her the basketball. We play the game inside, out. We are going to go through Bashaara Graves. I don't think that is a secret, that is how we play."

Gonzaga will not bring any surprises.

"We have scouted them," said Warlick.

"They spread the floor. They shoot the 3 really well. They are a difficult team for us to defend because they don't so much post up, everyone can shoot the 3, everyone can handle the basketball.

"So for us, it is not a traditional basketball team, they all can play all positions. We are going to have to play a lot better one-on-one defense than we did tonight. That style of play, when you have to help and rotate your defense, that is how they get open looks. We have to really understand the importance of one-on-one basketball.

"We will work quite a bit on that this week."

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Temple Edges Penn While Villanova Tops Old Dominion to gain the Sweet 16 of the WNIT

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA -- Back in November, the idea that Temple and Villanova would be alive at this point in time in the Sweet 16 of the WNIT would have been a bit far fetched.

But Temple, who struggled early and coped with a 4-8 record as late as Dec. 22 after a loss to Villanova, and the Wildcats, who were missing three starters due to injuries and were 3-7 with a bunch of narrow setbacks just before that game with the Owls, are each threatening to be the one to keep a local streak alive in the wake of Drexel (20-13) and Rutgers (20-14) becoming WNIT champs the previous two seasons.

“We’re still going, we’re still going,”smiled Temple coach Tonya Cardoza after the Owls got revenge on Penn from the Big 5 race by rallying to edge the Quakers 61-56 at The Palestra.

An advance to the Sweet 16 by Temple (18-16), however, meant a bittersweet finish for Penn (21-9), the runner up to Ivy champion Princeton, which with the loss meant the grand finale to the most successful senior class in Quakers history.

The quartet of Kara Bonenberger, Katy Allen, Busch, and Kathleen Roche, produced 74 wins, a piece of the Big 5 title, an Ivy title and ensuing NCAA appearance, two wins in the WBI tourney, and then this weekend in the wNIT.

The Owls’ win came a few hours after the Temple men, who had been snubbed by the NCAA committee, beat George Washington at home in the Liacouras Center to get past the second round of the NIT.

Villanova, meanwhile, who had to deal with emotions of having seen their male counterparts, top-seeded in the NCAA tournament, get upset Saturday night in Pittsburgh by North Carolina State, defeated a grand old women’s basketball power of yesteryear in Old Dominion, 71-66, in a second straight home win on the weekend at The Pavilion.

Both games Sunday afternoon took place at the same time and Thursday night the Owls and Wildcats will be home again at the same time with Temple hosting, ironically, North Carolina State, while Villanova (21-will host Big East rival St. John’s.

Temple will play its 7 p.m. game in McGonigle Hall while Vilanova remains in the Pavilion.

Since the Guru was live at the Palestra, having commuted up from Maryland, where NCAA second-round action has the top-seed and fourth-ranked Terrapins Monday night hosting 13th-ranked and eighth seed Princeton, now unbeaten at 31-0, let’s look at the tape of the Temple/Penn battle.

Four of the Philly Six, including Drexel, got into the WNIT action last week but the Dragons fell at home narrowly to MEAC regular-season champion, while Penn beat Hofstra at home for its first-ever WNIT win and Villanova topped Maine. Temple went on the road to a crowded and hostile arena at Marist, a perennial NCAA qualifier out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and won.

When the regular season ended all but Temple knew they were WNIT bound as highest standing teams out of their respective conferences not headed for the NCAA tournament.

The Owls had to wait and was one of the last selectees as an at-large with their rugged schedule helping to beat out other hopeful games on the bubble. 

“The last week after we lost at the conference tournament (quarterfinals to East Carolina at the Mohegan Sun near New London, Conn.,), we practiced to work on concepts for next year and, if we did get to the WNIT, use it to keep playing for Tyonna (Williams, the Owls’ lone senior),” Cardoza said.

“I didn’t want to discuss our chances because I didn’t want them to get their hopes up and then suffer a letdown if we didn’t get picked.”

Temple had lost to Penn 52-50 on January 5 on a late shot by Busch that allowed the Quakers to pick up their third Big 5 win, most ever in a season, and go on to finish in a three-way tie with Saint Joseph’s and Villanova in the local round robin.

The Owls played most of the season with a youthful roster well below the NCAA maximum allowance of 15 players.

Since last meeting the Quakers, coach Mike McLaughlin inserted freshman Michelle Nwokedi into the starting lineup and she went on to make Ivy rookie of the year.

Temple started getting more experience and Alliya Butts went on to make the all-freshman team of the American Athletic Conference.

The duo and Villanova’s Alex Louin are considered front-runners for the Big 5 freshman award. The complete list of Big 5 honors is expected to be announced Monday.

Penn had to play without one of its inside strengths in Bonenberger, who suffered a knee sprain in the season-closer to Princeton and was forced to leave early in the Hofstra game.

She was ruled out for the Temple game, ending a record 117 appearances which were the entire list of games in her collegiate career before Sunday’s matchup.

The game had seven ties and nine lead changes.

Butts nailed the shot to put Temple ahead for good with a three-pointer with 3 minutes, 4 seconds to play. Feyonda Fitzgerald then scored Temple’s last 10 points and shot 8-for-8 in the final minute from the foul line to finish with a team-high 16 points.

Junior Erica Covile had a team-high 13 rebounds and also scored nine points.

Reserve Taylor Robinson making the most of her 10 minutes of action, had nine points, shooting 4-for-4 while Butts had 12 points.

Williams had seven points and made a pair of treys to extend her career mark for the program with 164 from beyond the arc.

On the Penn side, Nwokedi had another strong performance with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks and three assists.

Sydney Stiponovich had 13 points, five boards and five assists, but was limited to just five of her points over the second half. Freshman Anna Ross scored 10 points

“They won a couple of balls late and I thought we had some good opportunities. To their credit they made some very good shots. I thought we defended well but they made some very good shots,” McLaughlin said of the loss by his team..

Meanwhile, with attendance being the driving favor of where games are played as teams advance, Temple understood that if conference rival East Carolina won, the Owls would travel and if North Carolina State became victorious the game would be in Philly.

ECU (22-11), who lost to Temple during the regular season but beat the Owls in the conference tournament, led the Wolfpack (18-14) of the Atlantic Coast Conference by eight with 10:28 left in the game.

But N.C. State rallied and Chelsea Nelson hit a layup with 12 seconds left to give the ACC school the win.

Miah Spencer had five 3-pointers and scored 26 points for the Wolfpack, who also got 11 points from Dominique Wilson and 10 points and 14 rebounds from Jennifer Mathurin.

ECU’s Jayda Payne scored 19 points while Jasmine Phillips scored 14.  

Up at Villanova, the Wildcats (21=7) shook off their dismay over the men’s loss and drove to a 13=point halftime lead before the Lady Monarchs (21-13), the former longtime member of the Colonial Athletic Association now with Conference USA, began to rally.

The Wildcats led 55-40 with 12:12 left to play before ODU stormed back with a 10-4 run to cut the advanced to nine with 7:38 left.

The Monarchs got to within four with 1:31 to go and attempted to get closer when Villanova got a defensive stop on Caroline Coyer’s steal with 47 seconds left to play.

ODU needed to foul and she connected to extend the lead to six.

A three-pointer on the next possession enabled the visitors to cut the advantage in half but the Wildcats ran the shot clock down and with two seconds left to shoot and 5.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Taylor Holeman sealed with with a deep shot inside the arc.

Senior Emily Leer, who was sidelined with back problems and missed the first eight games of the season, had 23 points, shooting 10-for-14 from the field while Katherine Coyer, the twin sister of Caroline, had 13, and Caroline herself scored 11.

Jennie Simms scored 29 points for ODU, paced by her five treys. Villanova went to the line only twice and made both free throws.

After splitting with the Red Storm during the season, including a game in which ‘Nova won at home shooting the eyes out of the ball, the Wildcats got a rematch as Saint John’s put an end to Fordham’s season in a New York City area battle 77-63.

Four players scored in double figures for Saint John’s (23-10) with Aliyyah Handford getting 23 points and 10 rebounds. Jade Walker scored 17 and Danaejah Grant scoring 16.

Emily Tapio scored 10 for Fordham (21-12), the 2014 Atlantic 10 champs whose coach Stephanie V. Gaitley would have faced her alma mater for the first time in a long while and her former coach in ‘Nova’s Harry Perretta if the Rams had won.

Sorry for the delay but that’s the report. Now back to the NCAA channel.

-- Mel       
 

      

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Disaster Sunday Strikes Conference

By Mike Siroky

Top seed South Carolina was the only women's basketball team of the Southeastern Conference to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 on a Sunday of disaster.

Kentucky went splat at home and Mississippi State could not survive a five-minute coma against another home team, while Arkansas did as expected. 

It left the league 1-3 on the day. 

There  is one more league hope, second seed Tennessee at home Monday night.

 If that proves out, only the co-champions of the league spin ahead, which is the best the SEC can do now as the Atlantic Coast Conference ascends to the best this year in the nation.

The big erasure for the SEC is Mississippi State, which saw the season of a lifetime end. 

 The Bulldogs will finish no better than 17 in the final national assessment.

•No. 3 South Carolina followed the script once the contentious home site was allowed. There they eliminated a ACC team, Syracuse, 97-68.

The Orange had won five of six and finished ahead of Duke n the ACC, but like LSU in the SEC, was unranked and destined to be one and done.

The Gamecocks were 28 ahead at intermission and had settled the game by then. 

Syracuse tried, outscoring the home team by six with four minutes left in their season, but did not have enough time to do damage.

Six Gamecocks were in double figures, Alaina Coates off the bench and league player of the year Tiffany Mitchell with 14 each.

Aleighsa Welch hit 6-of-8 for 13 with 10 rebounds. And how do you defend that? Asia Dozer was 4-of-5 on 3s, for instance, 3-of-4 in the opening half as Syracuse scrambled to form an effective defense.

The Orange had one in the four-point loss to SC in the pre-conference Junkaroo Jam in the Bahamas.

 Either they have gotten worse or not many teams can defend SC.

Only UConn among the national teams has figured that out in this 32-win season. 

It was the most points Syracuse has allowed all season and they had bragged about wanting this rematch.

Welch tied a school record with her 134th game played for the program. She will exceed that, of course, in the next round.

Coach Dawn Staley expresses caution for her team.

"It's the same place we've been for a couple of years now," she said. "In order for us get over that hump, it's going to take us playing inspired basketball. It's going to take some focusing in on our opponent. It's going to take executing some game plans because the stakes, they are higher."

Welch, a senior said, "Tonight, we're going to celebrate getting a good win. But we still have a lot of basketball left in us."

"We knew if they made 3s early, we'd have a problem," Syracuse coach Quentin HIllsman said. "We had a problem." 

But, he said, his team had given its all and if they had to play another game the next day, they'd be too exhausted.

A comparison in relative values: SC drew an attendance of 10,485, about the same as the first game, but 2,000 less the home average. 

Syracuse's total home attendance this season: 10,644. 

South Carolina had already started travel selling travel packages to Greensboro on its website by Sunday evening.

"How about that, Gamecock Nation," Staley said. "We'll see you in Greensboro."

SC now gets either Ohio State of the Big Ten or North Carolina of the ACC after that game is played Monday night.

• No. 11 Kentucky, overseeded as a No. 2 and over ranked, stopped a three-year run into the next level, 99-94. 

In the preseason, we assessed how this team has plateaued and they proved the prediction correct.

The literal proof: A 5-5 finish, three of the losses against never-ranked teams, including the Flyers, the second-place Atlantic 10 team.

The kittens are among the few of the 16 home teams  to lose. 

Then again, they were in UConn's bracket and would not survived anyway. Maybe the home fans knew; only 3,300 showed.

One speculative story from Georgia has the 'Dawgs bidding for the man with the next-most years in the conference now that Andy Landers is retired.

 If Matthew Mitchell has worn out his welcome and if he wants a school which better supports the women's game, let the bidding begin.

Kentucky finishes 24-10.

It appears Dayton's seniors wanted it more. 

It started with Mitchell suspending senior Azia Bishop for her final game, in coach speak, "for failing to uphold team standards." 

She had started the past seven games. 

Three others went away quietly, one of them never living up to her rookie season promise and the others non-starters for the majority of their careers.

 In fact, one of the latter didn't even letter one season. Oughtta be an interesting awards banquet.

Irregardless, Mitchell has to replace three long-term players.

Dayton senior Ally Malott did come to play; she scored 13 above her season average, with 28 and 13 defensive rebounds. Senior Amber Deane was also 13 above her senior average, with 23, 4-of-5 on 3s.

That's how upperclassmen step up in a defining game. Sophomore guard Mikayla Epps scored 29 for UK, 27 after intermission.

UK's famed defensive pressure game is but a memory. 

The points are the most given up all year.

 The shooting statistic -- 56.7 -- allowed is also a season high.
The Flyers are on an eight-game winning streak; they are in the first Sweet 16 in program history.

 By the way, like many schools across the nation, the school officially requests the nickname be "Flyers" and specifically not "Lady Flyers" in a show of department unity.

Dayton outscored the home team in the second half and especially closed well.

They came from eight points back in the final 14 minutes.

Deane's 3 from the left corner with 30 second to go settled it. Six straight free throws kept the home team at bay.

"It's funny -- you go to the NCAA Tournament six years in a row and you don't get out of the first weekend (the first five times), and you start doubting yourself a little bit.

 "'What am I doing wrong and what can we do better?'" Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. "Our team is very, very resilient. They really believed that we could win this game. We worked really hard to put them in a place where mentally that they believed they could.

"I really think that was the difference. I really do. They never faltered. In the timeouts, when we were down 10, they knew we were gonna win the game."

The teams combined for 61 fouls and 69 free throws. Dayton converted 28 of 31 from the line while Kentucky was 24 for 38.

"Every time we needed a big bucket, someone contributed and it wasn't the same person every time," Malott said. "We had contributions from everyone -- everyone did their job."

This is a school with both teams still playing unlike, say, Kentucky.

"Our campus is always crazy, regardless of what's going on, so this just really adds to it," Deane said. "Definitely exciting. Everyone's having fun (and) the weather's getting warmer. I think it's really, really cool for our university right now to represent Dayton."

"Malott had a fantastic day and Deane had a fantastic day, and they just played up to their abilities and their best," Mitchell said. "It just didn't seem like we ever had that fire in our belly to advance."

•No. 22 Mississippi State earned the best record  in program history, even with the 64-56 elimination  loss to Duke at Duke,.

They finish 27-7, a program best with four starters coming back.

The Bulldogs had perhaps the biggest challenge for a legitimate contender of the day, playing on a higher-ranked home team’s court. The game turned out to be everything you’d want from a 4 vs. 5 seed.

The first three minutes were even, then State fell asleep offensively for five minutes and Duke edged ahead, 10-3. 

For all the rest of the game, it had been decided, as the deficit then proved the difference at the close, no matter what happened in between.

For the immediate short run, State outscored the home team, 25-14 for the half.

 Victoria Vivians, somehow not considered the rookie of the year in the league despite starting every game, scored the final seven.

Dominque Dillingham had started it with a 3, Jerica James hit a 3 and Kendra Grant three 3s in the 3s spree.

The second half had Duke playing more than catch-up, overtaking State, 42-39, with 10 minutes left in the season. 

The Duke run continued and State had the endline in sight. 

 It was a 13-point deficit with six minutes to go. The deficit grew to 15. Duke was hitting 57 percent from the field, State 30 percent.

With two minutes left, it was still an eight-point difference. It closed to six but time simply slipped away  -- remember that seven-point edge in the opening minutes when they went five minutes without scoring?

Vivians had 15 points and four defensive rebounds; Matha Alwal had  three defensive rebounds in her final game and Dillingham six. 

They were now fighting as hard as they could. But they had to foul and Duke calmly sank three free throws, having not needed a basket in the final 5:25

All State could do was watch.

Said coach Vic Schaefer, finally commenting on his team's not being one of the Top 16 and therefore at home: "I'd like to play them in two days back at the Hump (the Bulldogs' Humphrey Coliseum). Pretty sure that isn't going to happen, though."

If he replicates this season, the ancient rulers of the NCAA will have to acknowledge them next season. This is how they traditionally treat newbies.

So Duke and the ACC eliminates an SEC team, neither of them conference champs and South Carolina eliminates another ACC team.

 Notre Dame advanced from their home court, for the ACC, and that conference still has five teams alive. Tennessee is likely to win its game for the SEC.

If you went all-chalk in your bracket selections, you have a pretty good success rate to this point.

The power conferences are flexing.

•Unranked Arkansas also bit the dust, losing easily at No 2 seed Baylor, the only ranked team from the Big 12.

Their inclusion was another attributed to the strength of the SEC and was revealed as a shadow pick in a weak season. 

They finished 10th in conference and were picked over three higher finishers, never having reached the usual 20-win bar. 

In each of the past five program appearances in the NCAA eliminations, Arkansas has won the opener and lost the next one. 

Baylor is in the Sweet 16 for the seventh year in a row. UConn leads the nation with 21 straight and Stanford has seven. Each are at home Monday night.

It was 73-44, the second seed more than proving its worth in the Oklahoma City Regional led by top seed Notre Dame.

 They were ahead by 20 at half, the largest deficit this season for the Razorbacks.

They could not stop anything. Six Bears hit double figures and they only have one senior.

Big 12 player of the year Davis scored 21 and national assists leader Johnson had 12 more to tie Baylor's career record with 641. She has a conference -- and program record 296 this year alone--  
The team has 21 straight home playoff wins.

"All they care about are championships," said winning coach Kim Mulkey.

"We have multiple weapons that can score," said Davis, an undersized sophomore post player at 5-11. "We're playing great right now and heading to the Sweet 16, I think we just have a lot of confidence going into it."

Baylor took control with a 30-7 run to finish the first half, which ended with first-year Arkansas coach Jimmy Dykes getting a technical foul. "I was fighting for my team,'' he said with no further explanation.

 The free three throws started the second half, technically putting Baylor ahead by 22 at the break.

He had approached each official  and got the T with Baylor already resting in its locker room.

"We had a phenomenal year and a bad day," said Dykes. "We were picked 12th in the SEC. Our first year we got to the NCAA tournament, won our first-round game and had a bad time to play a bad game."

Johnson, whose 296 assists as a junior this season are a Big 12 record, has 641 career assists. That matches the total by two-time All-America player Odyssey Sims the past four seasons.

WNIT Report

At least two more SEC teams have a chance to end the season with a win streak, in the women's NIT.

Missouri answered  the toughest regional challenge and won on the road, 67-48, at Kansas State

Ole Miss took out Georgia Tech at home, 63-48.

Each have 19 wins, more than five other league teams.

•Ole Miss won the second half by 15, including a shutout in the fine few minutes and a sprint from a one-point lead in the final 13 minutes. Senior Tia Faleru led them with 24, 8-of-10 from the line, and 10 rebounds. They earn a third-round game on Thursday at  Middle Tennessee State.

•Mizzou turned a 35-all halftime tie into the rout. The Tigers  actually fell behind by one. Then senior Morgan Eye, the best 3-point shooter un the SEC, started the comeback with ne of those and added three more 3s in the night-minute run to 67-45. So shocked was the home team was that Missouri did not have to score in the final 8:44.

Missouri next gets the winner of Monday night's Michigan/Toledo game.