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
Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: A Final Force (Or Two?)
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The ultimate historical reference for the women’s game is, of course, there is one really good team – call it elite – and then everyone else.
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.
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.
But back to real basics.
As for the endgame, that coaching acumen started with recruiting and signing Mitchell.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Tennessee Proves It Is Among the Elite
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
Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Elite Eight Just Won't Wait
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."
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.
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.”
- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad
Friday, March 27, 2015
Temple and Villanova Win Sweet 16 Thrillers in the WNIT
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Brown Glows Making Maryland Shine in NCAA
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.
- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad
Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Conference Co-Champs Advance to Sweet 16
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."
- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad
Monday, March 23, 2015
Temple Edges Penn While Villanova Tops Old Dominion to gain the Sweet 16 of the WNIT
Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Disaster Sunday Strikes Conference
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.
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.