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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

WNBA Draft 2017: Guru Says Glitz Bumped Away Tradition in New Look

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – In some respects, Thursday night’s WNBA draft as the first event of Season No. 21 was a bit comparable to aspects of the new PBS-TV documentary series The Great War about World War I.

In an early setting, once war is declared, it is very celebratory stateside as enlistees join the armed forces to go to France though later on once overseas the setting is different.

As the annual influx of new talent got plucked off the college pile at least in the first round all was celebratory yet one knows in a few weeks some of the names called or even more than some will either have it all end in a small daily transaction notice or will bounce around a few teams until opening day and by then the festivities at Samsung 837 will seem so long ago.

From what the Guru could gather, this was not a draft for traditionalists among the masses.

Unlike some of the settings of the past, most recently the Mohegan Sun Arena, the scene for those covering live sprawled over several floors.

But in presenting new looks to the broadcast, the scene of each pick sitting with coaches friends and families at reserved roundtables and then walking to the president, in this instant Lisa Borders, to have a picture taken with the new team jersey was not to be.

Actually, as part of the car-wash for draftees, to use ESPN speak, it was to be, but it was to be off to the side and not frontal screen to the delight of fans of the various teams.

For those of us who have covered all of these there was some suspense as to who would do the announcing in the second round – the job handled in the past by longtime deputy Rene Brown, who left the league after last season.

As it turned out, Borders went into overtime making announcements but a new problem arose for the masses because the TV talent, not of their doing necessarily, was busy rehashing the first round while picks were going on in the second round.

More of the media were actually the blogging world as compared to a time many of the national papers used to come to the metro area, when there were many national papers.

Some of the local papers were there – the New York Times has again become a regular – but not as many as the days of yesteryear.

The scene also become more TV and less fans since the general populace was not allowed to be part of this one considering the size of the place, which as mentioned sprawled over several floors but there were limitations to navigate on each floor.

And of course adding to appearance of a mass show of coverage was the in-house WNBA media machine, social and all other things and all the staffing that entails.

And no one has noticed close up but while Mississippi State was the team that bounced UConn from its long-running win streak, South Carolina has for the moment removed the Huskies from existence after replacing them as NCAA champs.

Dawn Staley has become a cottage industry though as she responded last week at the Union League in Philly for the presentation of her Dawn Staley guard award when asked if she had gotten worn out – you don’t feel worn out after you win a national title.

It was a nice touch to have Borders bring up Staley as the former WNBA great, the coach of the NCAA champions, the USA Women’s Olympic coach and then let her announce to the surprise of absolutely no one Washington’s Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Don’t know how costly it would be but remotes from several team watch parties might have solved the no-fans-in-the-house complaints and also show more of a universal enthusiasm for the 21st season.

Of course, as the Guru bad luck for instant research would have it, an oversight managed to have Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald, his one local in the mix, not listed among the draft prospects in the guide.

But she was not a surprise pick because the Guru knew several days ago Indiana had her on their lists the same way Washington had gotten very high on Saint Joseph’s Natasha Cloud several years ago.

Once the draft got under way, Staley again was master of the news with three of her players taken in the first round.

But how quickly it seems people forgot that a year ago UConn actually went 1-2-3 with Breanna Stewart, Moriah Washington, and Morgan Tuck being the first three picks.

Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes announcing a pick was also a nice touch as the league tied its past its future.

And there were names not announced here who will sign training camp contracts with possibly three or four making opening day rosters. Remember one of the most famous or the most famous walk-ons was Becky Hammon.

That said, perhaps more in the next 24 hours, since this is the top story on the draft coverage on our package, the Guru recommends below Lamar Carter’s breakdown team-by-team of the picks, the Guru’s own local feature on Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald taken and the fact that two of the three Owls all-time scorers are now Indiana teammates, and Mike Siroky’s SEC accent story.

For the moment, this is a wrap. -- Mel

WNBA Draft 2017: Team-By-Team Analysis of the Picks

By Lamar Carter (@iamlamarcarter)

NEW YORK, N.Y. --- After all the success that accompanied the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season in 2016, the league officially kicked off the next stage of its history with Thursday’s WNBA Draft at Samsung 837.

Samsung’s flagship location in New York City was a fitting place for the league to host this year’s event.

 The building’s three levels hosted the main draft coverage on the first floor (with Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo & LaChina Robinson doing an excellent job as always); the invited prospects, social spaces, and several media stations on the second floor; and individual player photo sessions on the third floor.

The event possessed a very celebratory vibe and for good reason: the league seen as a novelty in 1997 was bringing in another group of elite athletes and exceptional young women, ready to do their part to keep two decades’ of momentum going.

With that said, let’s take a look at the selections (teams listed in order of their first selection of the day):

1. Kelsey Plum (Guard / Washington)
5. Nia Coffey (F / Northwestern)
25. Schaquilla Nunn (F / Tennessee)

San Antonio did what everyone in the women’s basketball community expected they would do and took Plum, Washington’s all-world guard and the newly minted scoring queen of the NCAA (3,527 career points and 1,109 points as a senior).

Pairing Plum with second-year guard Moriah Jefferson and a healthy Kayla McBride could give the Stars an exciting triple threat in the backcourt. Coffey could contribute on both ends as well if the forward can replicate her All-Big Ten level production (2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds) in the pros.

2. Alaina Coates (C / South Carolina)
9. Tori Jankoska (G / Michigan State)
21. Chantel Osahor (F/C / Washington)
33. Makayla Epps (G / Kentucky)

After losing 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne to Washington in the offseason, the Sky began the process of retooling by taking frontcourt players with two of their four picks.

Coates rebounds extremely well, is strong around the basket, and brings a winner’s mindset to the Windy City after being a major part of South Carolina’s recent emergence. Her ability to get back on the court, along with how well Osahor’s offensive craftiness and rebounding prowess translate to the league, will determine how long it takes Chicago to succeed without Delle Donne.

3. Evelyn Akhator (F/C Kentucky)
4. Allisha Gray (G / South Carolina)
10. Kaela Davis (G / South Carolina)
23. Breanna Lewis (C / Kansas State)
26. Saniya Chong (G / Connecticut)

Gray and Davis rounded out the trio of national champion Gamecocks to go in the first round of the Draft and give the Wings a pair of players that can be effective in a variety of positions.

In Akhator, Dallas provided the first surprise of the Draft but after averaging a double double last season (15.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG) in the SEC, Akhator has a chance to make an impact on a team that can use all the impact players it can get.

6. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (G / Maryland)
18. Jennie Simms (G / Old Dominion)
27. Mehryn Kraker (F / Wisconsin-Green Bay)

Washington added a pair of athletic wing players from the DMV area and a member of one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Combined, the trio provide size, length and scoring ability to a Mike Thibault-led team that wants to excel on both ends of the floor. For Walker-Kimbrough and Simms in particular, playing close to their college homes should help with the transition into the pros.

7. Brittney Sykes (G / Syracuse)
19. Jordan Reynolds (G / Tennessee)
31. Oderah Chidom (F / Duke)

Despite dealing with multiple season-ending injuries during her career, Sykes produced enough as a redshirt season (nearly 20 points and eight rebounds per game) for the Dream to take her with a top-10 overall pick. At full strength, Sykes can score and defend at a high level - skills she will be able to enhance around franchise cornerstone Angel McCoughtry.

8. Brionna Jones (C / Maryland)
13. Shayla Cooper (F / Ohio State)
16. Leticia Romero (G / Florida State)
28. Jessica January (G / DePaul)

Jones gives the Sun a quality frontcourt player to fill the void of losing Chiney Ogwumike to offseason surgery. The Maryland product averaged a double double as a senior (19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds) and led the country in field goal percentage the past two years. A 1,000 point scorer and Olympic medalist (silver in Rio with Spain), Romero’s ability and experience should serve her well in her transition to the league.

11. Sydney Wiese (G / Oregon State)
35. Saicha Grant-Allen (C / Dayton)

The rich get richer in Los Angeles as the defending champions pick up Wiese, a tough guard with size (6-1) and range (Pac-12’s all-time leader in three pointers made). Wiese will benefit from learning from the likes of Candace Parker, Essence Carson and Alana Beard on a team that will be looking to build upon last year’s run to the title

12. Alexis Jones (G / Baylor)
24. Lisa Berkani (G / France)
36. Tahlia Tupaea (G / Australia)

Everything that was said about Wiese and the Sparks can be applied to Jones and the Lynx. The perennial title contenders pick up a top flight point guard (all-conference in the ACC at Duke and Big Ten at Baylor) who should be able to grow her game under coach Cheryl Reeve and veteran point Lindsay Whalen.

14. Lindsay Allen (G / Notre Dame)
34. Kai James (C / Florida State)

In Allen, the Liberty get a pass-first floor general that can effectively run a team. Allen’s numbers as a senior (9.6 PPG, 7.2 APG) speak to a player that can make others better while still providing consistent offense. Also, her experience playing in a system like Notre Dame’s on one the premier stages in women’s basketball should make playing in the toughest media market a big easier to handle.

15. Alexis Peterson (G / Syracuse)
30. Lanay Montgomery (C / West Virginia)

Peterson gives the Storm an option that, if she develops, could keep the seemingly ageless Sue Bird fresh and on the floor longer. The Syracuse guard and ACC Player of the Year checks all the boxes (ability to score, facilitate and defend) for an ideal lead guard and should make a great backcourt mate alongside Jewell Loyd.

17. Erica McCall (F / Stanford)
20. Feyonda Fitzgerald (F / Temple)
22. Ronni Williams (F / Florida)
32. Adrienne Motley (G / Miami (Fla.))

Some may argue that McCall should have heard her name called earlier but the Stanford post lands in a great spot: on a playoff team with veterans in the frontcourt (Erlana Larkins, Devereaux Peters, and the recently acquired Candice Dupree). Leading a Final Four team in multiple categories (points, rebounds, blocks) is a great sign for McCall. In Fitzgerald, Williams and Motley, the Fever have picks with track records of consistent point production.

29. Alexis Prince (G / Baylor)

Phoenix was the only team in the Draft with one selection and the Mercury added Prince, a 6-2 guard that can create her own shot toward the basket or hit from the outside. Her versatility will be needed for a Phoenix team that just made the playoffs last year.

WNBA Draft 2017: Temple's Fitzgerald Taken by Indiana in the Second Round

(Guru’s note: This report will be updated during Friday)

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK -  Temple's  second and third all-time women's basketball scorers behind Philadelphia Sports Hall of Famer Marilyn Stephens are about to become training camp teammates in the WNBA.

Senior Feyonda Fitzgerald became the fourth Owl in the history of the women's program to be picked  in the draft when she was made the eighth choice in the second round and 20th overall by the Indiana Fever Thursday here night.

That means she is now on the same team as Candice Dupree, the former Temple great she passed this season when Fitzgerald finished with 1,824 points ahead of Dupree (1,698), who was dealt to Indiana several months ago after becoming a multi-all-star in Phoenix with the Mercury.

The mega-deal also involved the Connecticut Sun along with Phoenix.

Dupree went to the then-expansion Chicago Sky in 2006 as the sixth overall pick of the first round before later moving on to Phoenix where she helped the Mercury become WNBA champions.

Fitzgerald, a native of Norfolk, Va., is a month removed from a disappointing finish to her collegiate career when Temple fell short by one point to eventual Elite Eight participant Oregon in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

However, she can now bask in the glow of becoming the second pick out of the program who was a recruit of Tonya Cardoza following Shey Peddie, who was a second round pick by Chicago in 2012.

Ironically, both picks were made by new Indiana coach Pokey Chatman, who was let go by the Sky after last season. She replaced Stephanie White who return to the colleges last winter taking the opening at Vanderbilt.

Fitzgerald was not one of the ten invitees here by the WNBA in terms of likely first-rounders so neither she nor coach Tonya Cardoza were on the scene at Samsung 837, the glitzy high-tech showcase in Manhattan's meat packing district by the High Line Park, when the picks were made.

The selection may look as a surprise to persons here using the handout draft guide since an oversight managed to have Fitzgerald omitted among the list of prospects.

However, there were indications in recent days that the Big 5 player of the year who gained several postseason accolades and all-American mention was a draft target of the Fever.

Dupree played for Dawn Staley, coach of the new NCAA champion South Carolina squad that had three players taken here in the first round.

Kamesha Hairston was the other Temple draft pick, taken by then-Connecticut coach Mike Thibault as the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 draft who also played for Staley, who also was recently named USA Women's Olympic coach for 2020.

Peddie never made an opening day roster. Several other Temple players who were not drafted have played with WNBA teams.

Chatman took one of the most honored collegians from the area in 2013, picking former Delaware superstar Elena Delle Donne second overall, and in 2015 made Rutgers’ Betnijah Laney of the state of Delaware a second round pick.

Fitzgerald averaged 17.3 points per game and 7.3 assists this past season in leading the Owls to a second-place finish behind Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference and a first NCAA appearance since 2011.

She is the first Big 5 player drafted since Saint Joseph’s Natasha Cloud went in the second round of the 2015 draft to Washington and since has become a Mystics mainstay and will enjoy Delle Donne as a teammate after the Wilmington native was dealt in a major offseason trade to Washington.

Indiana didn’t have a first round pick but added Stanford star Erica McCall as the 17th overall selection ahead of Fitzgerald since the Fever had three picks in the second round.

Fitzgerald set season (232) and career (635) records for assists.

“It was another opportunity to see a good point guard,” longtime Fever general manager Kelly Krauskopf said of the move to Fitzgerald. “You can never have enough of those and we were excited to get her. She’s a scoring point guard, but she averaged seven assists a game.

“She creates for herself and she creates for others. There was clearly an admiration for her skillset so far as scoring and handling the ball. She has a high IQ and we’re excited about bringing her to camp.”

“We’re ecstatic,” Chatman said of her overall haul. “When you’re sitting in the second round so many things can go so many different ways.

“Fitzgerald, she’s putting them up and she’s averaging seven assists a game. Plays for a fine coach who coached at Connecticut so you know the pedigree is there and just to stay in line with the type of players who have made Indiana successful.”

One is former Arizona State star Briann January, who has also dealt with injuries.

McCall was a surprise to not have gone in the first ten.

“They fit the image of an Indiana Fever basketball player in terms of their motor and energy,” Chatman  said of the four choices who also include former Florida player Ronni Williams and former Miami star Adrienne Motley. “It also shores up some of the core players and also competing to make us better.”

Added Krauskopf, “We were looking for some of the spots to fill. We were looking for some backup help in our training camp in our post area. And some backup help in guard area. All these players are talented players. All of them bring something to the table.

 “Camp is going to be competitive but it’s the WNBA. There’s only going to be 12 roster spots. There’s only 12 teams. There’s a lot of talent out there but we’re really happy with the mix of players that we got.”

 Training camps open a week from Sunday on April 23 and the 21st WNBA season begins May 13.

The Fever will host Washington in a preseason game on May 2, visit the Dallas Wings in another preseason game on May 6 and open the regular season on May 14 at the Seattle Storm.

Should Fitzgerald make the roster, the Fever visit Washington on June 11 at 3 p.m., and don’t visit the seaboard again until July 30 at Connecticut. They don’t visit New York until August 8, and then back at Washington on August 12.


WNBA Draft 2017: SEC Via SC Dominates the First Round

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference, the greatest college  basketball  conference for women, did just fine in the WNBA draft.

The players all know this is not where money will be made – that’s reserved for real seasons in Europe, Asia and Russia – but this is where reputations are enhanced.

After the obligatory pick of the consensus player of the year for the top pick, the SEC had the next three players chosen.

As the only All-American in the conference remains in college, none of them were All-American.

The guards were not first team all-conference by rival coaches. But all can surely play at the next level.

Alaina Coates of South Carolina was No. 2.

She missed the endgame of her team’s championship season, the conference tournament onward, with a severely sprained ankle.

Coates went to a rebuilt Chicago team which traded away Elena Della Donne for former UConn All-American center Stefani Dolson. They have a new coach, Amber Stocks, who had been an assistant with the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks. This was her first draft pick.

Evelyn Akhator of Kentucky was No. 3, the first UK pick since 2015.

She had a splendid two-year career after junior college and was All-SEC. New teammates, and former foes,  Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis  are also headed to Dallas.

Gray was a one-year wonder at national champions South Carolina, after sitting a year out as a transfer from North Carolina.

Her declaration to go pro as soon as she became eligible was undeclared as late as her announcement to join Coates at the draft site 10 days ago, not even known to her school’s sports information department.

At No. 10, the Wings reconnected Gray with SC’s other hired gun, Kaela Davis, also a one-year impact player after transferring in from Georgia Tech and also undeclared to the end.

Both of these guards were eligible for another year of college, but also eligible for the draft as four seasons had passed since high school. Neither earned a degree. But SC can claim three first-round picks nonetheless, another accolade for the national champions and a first in conference.
It reshuffles next season’s SEC season, of course, vaulting Mississippi State to the top of that heap.

The next two rounds are almost all about publicity as opposed to an actual WNBA career. Most of these players will get to a camp or two but most WNBA teams are drafting one-year rights to a player as emergency backups.

Foreign nationals who have not played in US college also begin to be selected as hunches.

In the second round, Tennessee’s Jordan Reynolds, a 5-11 guard, went to Atlanta. Hot shooting Ronni Willams of Florida went to Indiana. At  6-foot, she is a projected guard having played forward this season at depleted Florida.

In the final round, seldom-used 6-3 center Schaquilla Nunn of Tennessee went to San Antonio.

Makayla Epps, an All-SEC 5-10 guard from Kentucky, went to Chicago.

The Players

Coates is a burly center, one of the most feared “bigs” in the college game. When she and A’ja Wilson were together, the inside game was dominated by the Gamecocks.

Despite missing the tournament, Coates said she is blessed to have had four seasons at SC.

“Perfect your craft,” she said, “and show that you can be a really good teammate on and off the floor. How you play is a key factor, but at end of the day, they don’t want to deal with a top-of-the-line player that has a terrible attitude.

“So definitely make sure your style of play is consistent, and that you know how to act on and off the floor, especially for seniors.”

She drank in the entire draft experience.

“It’s really exciting, because I haven’t been to New York before,” she said.

“When the draft is over, my family and I are going to make a trip out of it. I really want to see the Statue of Liberty. For me, when I think of New York, it’s the Statue of Liberty.

“I can’t even lie – coach Staley spoiled us. So I’m probably going to miss that. But also the student section, and all of Gamecock nation, because they’ve just been super supportive.

“You kind of bring some of the old fan base with you wherever you go, but you do get attached to some people and get used to seeing the same people at every game. I think I’m going to miss that the most.”

Akhator, from Nigeria, is a 6-3 post player more suited to forward. She is an outstanding rebounder, dueling with Coates for best in the SEC.

After her apprenticeship at Chipola Community College, Marianna, Fla., she had her pick of the  major colleges after they won the national JC title.

At Kentucky, she stayed with her commitment even as six teammates fled after her junior year and was voted All SEC by the coaches.

She averaged a double-double (15.9 points, 10.8 rebounds), the  best in the SEC in rebounds and 11th nationally. She was fifth in national field goal percentage.

She was first encouraged to play at age 14. Her mom died in 2013, but her youth pastor and high school coach convinced her to play in honor of her mom and the path of life winds on.

 Gray was a home state girl who ended college back in South Carolina (though she attended high school in Georgia, where injuries eliminated her senior season).

At 6-foot even, she is a true guard and will not have the chance to slash and burn as much as she did in college. She thrived in the four-guard offense once Coates went out.

She hit 59 percent from the field in the NCAA eliminations, 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in the six games. Was all-regional and all-Final Four.

She has admired WNBA players for years.

“My favorite player is Diana Taurasi,” she said. “I’ve been watching her since her Connecticut days, and I’ve always just admired her work ethic and the way she can shoot the 3. I’m just honored to make it to this level. I view people like her as legends of the game.”

Her advice to players in college: “Listen to everything your coaches say. You may not see it now, but once you make that decision to leap to the next level, you’ll look back and see that you should definitely listen to your coaches. They know the game, and they teach you a lot.”

Davis, the No.10 pick, is a 6-2 guard who can slash and dash with the bigs.

She is from basketball-mad Indiana. At Georgia Tech, she was all-ACC as a sophomore and had already scored a program record with more than 1,000 points in 52 games.

Her dad, Antonio, played 13 NBA seasons and is an ESPN analyst. She dominated several games down the stretch for the Gamecocks. She and Gray are the first two transfers to win the NCAA title in their first years of eligibility at new schools and leave after one season.

Each were drafted well ahead of the self-proclaimed best guard in the NCAAs, a player from Notre Dame.

 “This year’s team was really special,” Davis said. “We got hit with a lot of different things, a lot of adversity and we found a way to pull it out and win the national championship. So just being part of that amazing group is something I’ll forever cherish.

“It’s a great time to be in women’s college basketball, and I think it’s definitely something I’ll miss.”

Of the WNBA players she admires, she said, “Candace Parker is my god sister, so to have her around is obviously all the influence you need. To grow up and just watch her, just seeing how she came from high school to being as successful as she is in the league, it’s definitely inspirational. She’s a great role model to have.”

She also said the draft visit to New York City was familiar to her.

“My dad played here for a year, so we’ve been here back and forth. I also have some family that lives here, so I’ve been here a few times. I still want to see the Empire State Building.”

Overall, she has an appreciation  of top-level athletes.

“Somebody I’ve always enjoyed following is Michael Phelps,” she said. “His kid is adorable. He lives this amazing life.

“It feels like he’s somewhere different every day, but he’s also someone that enjoys giving back.

“I also follow Elena Delle Donne, and I have a Great Dane as well, so it’s awesome to see how our dogs compare and stuff like that. Her dog is way calmer than mine, which I envy.”

Friday, April 07, 2017

Dawn Staley Award Presented to Kelsey Plum to Conclude Festive Homecoming for Coach of the NCAA Champs

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA – In some ways the annual Dawn Staley Award presentation at the Union League Thursday night that goes to the top guard in the nation was suddenly a breakout of multiple reunions and delegation because of the individual who bears the name of the award.

First was the recipient, Washington senior Kelsey Plum, the consensus national player of the year who has been on a whirlwind since her collegiate career closed picking up consensus national player of the year honors in Dallas at the Women’s Final Four from the Associated Press, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (Wade Trophy), and the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), as well as the Nancy Lieberman point guard award that is administered by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

From here she is headed to Los Angeles, where she will likely receive the Wooden Award and then will undoubtedly also earn the Naismith Award given out in Atlanta.

Next Thursday comes the WNBA Draft in New York, where only team needs and deals might cause her to not be the overall number one pick but if not she should still be taken rather quickly.

Plum finished as the all-time Division I scorer with 3,393 points as well as the leading scorer this past season with a 31.7 points per game average.

Kelsey’s mom Katie and Eastern Michigan coach Fred Castro, who had been an assistant at Washington prior to this past season, were among her people. Mike Neighbors, who left the Washington job last week to take over at his homecoming at Arkansas, was supposed to be on hand but his flight was cancelled due to the weather that struck the area earlier in the day.

Then there was Staley, herself, who had a heady day that began in the morning with a homecoming at Dobbins Tech in North Philadelphia attended by many local basketball notables as well as Mayor Kenny in the wake of her guiding South Carolina to its and her first NCAA title Sunday night over Southeastern Conference rival Mississippi State and Staley also recently being named the USA Women’s Olympic coach for 2020.

There was a Temple/South Carolina meld with Staley’s former Virginia teammate, now Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, and Owls associate head coach Way Veney and star senior Feyonda Fitzgerald while Ari Moore and South Carolina director of basketball operations Cynthia Jordan, who played for Staley at Temple, were also in the house.

La Salle women’s coach Jeff Williams was on hand with assistants Dalila Eshe and Christal Caldwell. Donald Hunt of the Philadelphia Tribune who covered Staley in her high school days was also among the media contingent.

Longtime University City coach Lurline Jones was another notable.

Michael G. Horsey, CPA, and founder of the Phoenix Club, which is behind the Staley Award, which launched in 2013, opened the ceremony, followed by principal sponsors Clarence LeJeune of LeJeune & Associates, and Derek Recross of Redcross & Associates.

Big Ten network broadcaster Vera Jones, who received the Excellence in Broadcasting Award, emceed the event.

Staley introduced Plum, saying, “We talked a long time about who was going to get this award. We were pretty biased this year, not because you took it. That’s what you do, you leave no questions as to who’s the best guard in the country.

“You made it easy for us by your play and it was incredible to watch. My team is not one that watches a whole lot of women’s basketball but most of our conversations with my team were around you and what you were doing.

“For me it was special, because they don’t talk a whole lot about basketball. They talked about you and the special season you were having. You scored a lot of points and you made it look really easy.

“I will tell you that basketball is a gift that keeps on giving as long as you give to it. As long as you sacrifice, as long as you work hard, as long as you’re persistent and persevere, it’s going to keep giving. You just have to embrace it. Be a steward of the game. Be a servant of the game. Be a historian of the game.

 “Because a lot of times we play the game, we don’t know the history of it. We don’t know what it is built. You don’t seem like that type. I’m so looking forward to seeing your career played out in the WNBA. I think your future is bright. If it is anything like you did over your four year career at the University of Washington, women’s basketball and its future is in a great place.

“It is truly my honor to have you as the fifth recipient. I wish you nothing but success. Please take women’s basketball to a place it’s never been. The WNBA is an incredible place to live out your dream, keep holding it in high regard so the next people coming down the pipeline have a place to live out there dreams. Thank you for what you did this year. I hope there’s another Kelsey Plum coming along, I hope she is on my team. Thank you so much.”

Plum then came to the podium to accept.

She began by noting she was in the City of Brotherly Love “and I sure feel a lot of love tonight, so thank you.

“Coach, I call you coach because I hope one day you will be my coach,” Plum quipped, “thank you. You’ve been a pioneer in this game. I know its history. And to have my name on your award is a dream come true.”
She thanked her mother for instilling values and being there and Castro, who was her “guard coach” at Washington. “He was so sick of me because U would call and text him every day. ‘Coach. What time are we watching film. What time are we working out.’

“I feel the love and support (in the room) and hopefully I can come back as an alumni because this has been really special to me.”

The inaugural winner was Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins in 2013, followed by Baylor’s Odyssey Sims in 2014, South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell in 2015, and Connecticut’s Moriah Jefferson last season.


Monday, April 03, 2017

2017 Women's Final Four Photo Retrospective

Hi all. Best way to do this here's a link to all the great pictures from our Willbill from this werk and other seasons. http://williamewartphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/2017-NCAA-Womens-Division-I-Final-Four-National-Championship-Mississippi-State-vs-South-Carolina/G0000bR_IWZZ2.iE/C0000OUeGMIE0Dh8

Sunday, April 02, 2017

NCAAW Final Four: Mississippi State Still Needs to Beat SEC Foe to Become Cinderella

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 A season that started for Connecticut dodging a bullet at Florida State concluded by taking one to the heart against Mississippi State.

 This is why sports are powerful and a reminder of why the games are played.

 The most unexpected team ended the game’s most improbable winning streak in a breathtakingly stunning way.

 When the women’s basketball season started, the list of teams that many expected to beat UConn in March was short: South Carolina, Notre Dame, Baylor, and Maryland. If somebody gave you a fifth guess, chances are Mississippi State would not have been mentioned.

 Yet, there were the Bulldogs literally dog-piling and celebrating the most memorable victory in their program history.

Mississippi State diminutive junior guard Morgan William delivered a buzzer-beating shot for the ages while authoring a perfect ending to a wonderful night of women’s basketball.

 William’s shot will be replayed for eternity.

 Her game-winning pull-up basket as time expired over the outstretched arm of Gabby Williams simultaneously lifted the Bulldogs to an exhilarating, 66-64, overtime victory in one of the greatest upsets in women’s basketball history and terminated UConn’s NCAA-record 111-game winning streak.

 Moments like that make March magical.

 UConn rolled into Dallas as an overwhelming favorite to win its fifth consecutive national title.

Despite its 33 victories, confidence and talented players, many believed Mississippi State would be just another speed bump along UConn’s smooth road to victory.

 The Bulldogs had other ideas in stunning the women’s basketball universe.

 Mississippi State proved that anything is possible with hard-work, hustle, tenacity, belief and focus.

 The Bulldogs advanced to Sunday’s national championship game against Southeastern Conference (SEC) foe South Carolina, a 62-53 winner over Stanford in the first semifinal.

 The Bulldogs have an opportunity to become the first women’s program to beat three No. 1 seeds in the same tournament. South Carolina handed Mississippi State two of its four losses this season.

Whoever wins Sunday will become the 15th women’s basketball program in history to win a NCAA championship. Furthermore, South Carolina or Mississippi State will become the second SEC team to win a NCAA title.

 In what was on paper a David-vs-Goliath matchup was anything but as Mississippi State didn’t crack under the weight of UConn’s aura and accomplishments. A sling shot wasn’t needed to extinguish the UConn giant.

 After all, David never possessed the ankle-breaking skills or clutch shot-making ability like William anyway.

 To be fair, Mississippi State didn’t win a trip to the Final Four in a raffle.

 The Bulldogs had 33 victories and were coming off of an overtime win against Baylor as well as an impressive win over Kelsey Plum and Washington.

 Mississippi State didn’t save women’s basketball with its victory.

 The game had been at a high level for a number of years, but that view had been clouded because of UConn’s brilliance and dominance, which included a 98-38 beatdown of the Bulldogs in last season’s Sweet 16 in Bridgeport.

 Following that mismatch, UConn was placed on the defensive for the ferocity of its victory.

 The Huskies were forced to defend its reputation, program culture of excellence and competing at the highest level. There were some idiots saying there was no competition, the Huskies were too good for the sport, and it was boring to watch.

 The Huskies excellence was good for the sport as it forced everybody to raise their game to another level.

 Again, sports provides the greatest reminder that anything is possible on any given day.

 If this was a best-of-seven, then the Huskies probably win the series, but in the one-game at a time world of the NCAA Tournament, all it takes is one bad night. And this is not like the baseball or softball regionals where it’s a double-elimination format.

 Like many, I am stunned UConn lost to Mississippi State. Funny thing is Mississippi State didn’t need any divine intervention or miracle plays to beat UConn. The Bulldogs played the way they have always played during their enchanted season.

 The only comparison to a night like this was the epic UNLV-Duke men’s basketball battles.

 In the 1990 national title game, UNLV beat Duke, 103-73, at the time the largest margin of victory in title game history.

One year later the same two squads met in the Final Four with UNLV looking to finish a perfect season.

The Runnin’ Rebels were denied as Duke won 79-77, a win that catapulted the Blue Devils to consecutive national titles.

Watching the game play out Friday night, it’s not surprising the Bulldogs won.
 This was not a fluke.

 Mississippi State deserved to win as it outplayed UConn for most of the evening.

The Bulldogs were better on offense, excellent on defense and stronger on boards. Mississippi State magnificently controlled the tempo and never allowed the Huskies to get out in transition.

The Bulldogs attacked from the start, confronted UConn’s challenge during the second half and eventually slayed the Huskies while never backing down.

 Mississippi State refused to lose. When the Huskies seemingly took command late and forged a three-point lead with under two minutes remaining, the Bulldogs responded like champions.

Aside from strategy and shot making, Mississippi State won this game before it arrived to the arena.
The Bulldogs were mentally prepared and believed that they were going to win.

 Last season, Mississippi State was defeated in the pre-game layup line. It was 32-4 after the first quarter and 61-13 at halftime.

 Mississippi State led the entire first half and even constructed a 16-point second quarter lead on the Huskies.

UConn never found a groove because of Mississippi State’s suffocating defense.
 Even when UConn was losing to Notre Dame a few years ago, it was never this uncomfortable on offense.

 Mississippi State junior guard Victoria Vivians delivered the first message.

 Her pull-up 3-pointer in the opening minutes was a statement to the rest of the women’s basketball world. More importantly, once Vivians shot swished through the net, it signaled to UConn that this was a different Mississippi State team than the one that endured a humiliating 60-point loss to the Huskies last year in the regional semifinals.

 Vivians was special again before fouling out a minute into overtime. Her smooth game is fun to watch as she combines textbook fundamentals with mesmerizing flair.

 She halted a 12-0 UConn second quarter charge with five quick points. Late in the game, Vivians sank a 3-pointer in front of her bench to give the Bulldogs a 60-59 lead. That came after Mississippi State fell behind, 59-56.

UConn didn’t go down easily, not that anybody expected it. The proud Huskies found a way to put themselves in position to win the game. Mississippi State had a lot to do with UConn not playing its best game. The Bulldogs made life miserable for the Huskies.

 What UConn achieved was hard.

The Huskies made winning look ridiculously easy and the strong competition seem inferior.

Reaching 10 consecutive Final Fours and winning four straight national titles requires some luck along the way as well as amazingly great health. We may never see a 111-game winning streak again in history so that needs to be celebrated.

 UConn’s last two losses were two-point overtime setbacks. Think about that for a second.

 The Huskies handled the loss with class, poise, grace, and tremendous sportsmanship.

The players were available to the media afterwards, spoke candidly, and gave props to Mississippi State. The players took its cue from head coach Geno Auriemma, who smiled when William’s shot went through the net. Auriemma was tremendous in postgame interviews.

 One question was answered as we learned who can beat UConn in March.

 The next big question is will Mississippi State have anything remaining to complete its improbable journey to the summit.

 No matter what happens Sunday, Mississippi State showed that anything is possible no matter the opponent. The Bulldogs provided the signature moment of the tournament.

So while you salute and admire the Bulldogs, make sure you do the same for the Huskies.

The power of sports.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Guru's Women's Final Four Notebook: Staley and VanDerveer Back to Game Foes

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

DALLAS – Dawn Staley, the Philadelphia basketball icon and now coach of South Carolina, and Tara VanDerveer, the longtime Stanford coach, has had their careers weave together through the years in varying degrees.

Staley played for VanDerveer on the famed 1996 USA squad that barnstormed the country for a year concluding with the Olympic gold medal from the Atlanta Games.

In one of Friday night’s semifinals, they get to be on opposite sides again, as they were in 1992, Staley’ senior year at Virginia, when VanDerveer’s Cardinal dispatched the Cavaliers and Staley in a national semifinal that left Staley forever without a collegiate national championship after three straight times at this level of the tournament.

“I still remember that,” Staley said during Thursday's press conference sessions. “I think that as many wins as I have been part of, it’s the losses that really sting. ’90, ’91, and ’92 all were opportunities for us to win a national championship.

“But the last one was probably the hardest one.

“I often look back on it and wished I had approached it a little differently because I do think I could have made Angela Taylor foul me. Especially, they put her in the game to guard me in that last play. I just popped out – I should have popped out and stopped. I could have made her foul me in that instant.”

Staley, recently named the USA Olympic coach after a long career in USA basketball, has connections to the other coaches in the Women’s Final Four.

Stanford’s VanDerveer she played against besides being coached on the ’96 USA squad. Staley was an assistant on the USA squad to Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma last summer and coached against him during the season in a non-conference loss, and also against Mississippi State’s Vic Schaefer in the Southeastern Conference wars.

South Carolina got this far two years ago and now is back to try again.

“What we learned two years ago is probably what we learned throughout our entire coaching career and not just in basketball,” said Staley, whose Gamecocks lost close to Notre Dame.

“The margin of error is so small, so small. I mean, if Aleighsa Welch makes a shot on one entity, we’re up three and the ball game is over.”

Meanwhile, VanDerveer talked about her relationship over the years with Staley.

“I think I’ve always had a good relationship with Dawn. But you know, sometimes as a player, you’re going to tell ‘em things they don’t want to hear,” VanDerveer said. “So, I mean, Dawn could probably tell you a couple of stories of things that maybe she didn’t want to hear from me.

“I have always respected Dawn’s competitiveness, her work ethic, her absolute passion for the game of basketball. If she tells you she beat me in chess, she’s a liar,” VanDerveer smiled. “We just compete. I love Dawn. I’m so proud of her.

“I think she’s just a great role model for the young women coming up. I mean, she carried our country’s flag. She’s everything you could look for in a coach and a friend. It’s just a great story.”

VanDerveer said there is one thing she noted in texting congratulations after South Carolina advanced over Florida State to here.

“I can’t cheer for you on Friday night.”

Getting the Hall of Fame Call

On Saturday morning, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame will announce its next class for 2017, to be inducted in Springfield, Mass. There are no plans to do any announcing here which might have been the case if Baylor (with finalist Kim Mulkey) or Notre Dame (Muffet McGraw) had not lost last weekend thereby putting the two coaches into Friday night’s games.

Former UConn and Olympic star, Rebecca Lobo is here doing her ESPN work and the announcement is in Phoenix at the men’s Final Four.

Mulkey is in Baton Rouge or wherever her son in playing for Baton Rouge, so likely was not notified. McGraw is supposed to be here at the coach’s convention.

Stay tuned. The other women’s nominee is the Wayland Baptist team that won 131 straight games in the 1950s.


NCAA Women's Final Four: It's UConn's to Lose

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 While nobody expected Connecticut to be perfect, everybody anticipated that it would be participating in its 10th consecutive Final Four.

 UConn’s appearance on television during the last weekend of the women’s basketball season has become an annual rite of spring like the cherry blossoms blooming in Washington, D.C.

 Connecticut has been to the Final Four so often that it should be forced to pay some type of rent, taxes and fees. 

 With a difficult non-conference slate, many, including myself, expected UConn to have a few losses.

 We all figured that the Huskies would grow stronger as the season progressed and develop into the type of team that was more than capable of winning a national championship. 

 The March version of UConn isn’t really that big of a surprise to anybody. 

 The Huskies bring a 111-game winning streak into this weekend’s women’s basketball party in Dallas in which they are the overwhelming favorites to add to their championship collection of NCAA trophies. 

UConn’s awesome accomplishments, dominance and excellence kind of overshadows the three other terrific programs that are also in Dallas: Mississippi State, Stanford and South Carolina.

 Yet, here the Huskies are, larger than life, two wins removed from their fifth consecutive national championship and 12th overall.

 It has just been mind-boggling watching UConn dispatch its opponents by 33.2 points per game with the precision of a seasoned surgeon.

 The million dollar question is which one of the three other teams in the Final Four can beat UConn. 
Actually all three have a shot to end the Huskies reign this weekend. 

This is the 10th time and first since 2008, that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has had two teams in the Final Four. Stanford has made its own history against UConn in recent years.

 This is a great quartet of schools in Dallas with tremendously coached squads and some game-changers. 

While UConn has been to 10 straight Final Fours, Stanford is back for the seventh time in that same span. 
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer knows a thing or two about playing during the last weekend of 
the women’s basketball season.

 After all, she’s a legend, her status cemented when she became the third Division I basketball coach to win 1,000 games when Stanford beat USC 58-42 on Feb. 3. 

 VanDerveer owns a 1,012-230 career record and has more wins than 341 of the country's 349 Division I programs, which is crazy.

 The Cardinal are in its 13th Final Four in program history.

 A final between Stanford and UConn would be the ultimate from the standpoint of the Karlie (Stanford) and Katie Lou (UConn) Samuelson sisters competing against each other and the 
VanDerveer factor.

Stanford, as many of you know, was the last team to beat UConn in 2014. The Cardinal also terminated the Huskies’ 90-game winning streak in 2010. Of course, that streak seems like nothing considering that this current UConn streak has extended that run of excellence by 21 games. 

 So VanDerveer, who coached the 1996 USA Olympic Team, has some type of magical formula against the Huskies.

 Of course, both of those Stanford victories were in Palo Alto. Speaking of wizardry, the Cardinal has made a nice habit of rallying from second-half deficits in this tournament. 

 Stanford erased a nine-point deficit to beat Texas in the Sweet 16 and erased a 16-point deficit to edge Notre Dame in an Elite 8 Classic.

 The Cardinal  has been down by at least seven points and come back to win six times this season, including in five of its last six games. Stanford faced a fourth quarter deficit to 15th-seeded New Mexico State before pulling away late.

 While VanDerveer has been a semi-thorn in UConn’s side, her Stanford teams gave current South Carolina coach Dawn Staley nightmares.

 VanDerveer’s Stanford squads beat the Staley-as-a-player Virginia teams en route to winning the 1990 and 1992 national titles. 

Staley, who is 0-5 against VanDerveer-coached squads, has done an awesome job turning South Carolina into a giant and one of the elite programs since she’s taken over.
The Gamecocks are in the Final Four for the second time in three seasons after not reaching that level in the first 37 seasons of the NCAA Tournament.

 What Staley has done this tournament has been remarkable considering the Gamecocks have been without their senior leader Alana Coates, the heart-and-soul of the team.

 South Carolina had a second round scare against Arizona State before coasting past Cinderella Quinnipiac and hanging on to beat Florida State.

 The difference for the Gamecocks lately has been the improved and elite quality performances of Kaela Davis, Allisha Gray, Tyasha Harris, and Bianca Cuevas-Moore. 

They have contributed consistent shooting, defense and toughness to help A’ja Wilson dominate the paint. Even when Wilson was in foul trouble against Florida State, the Gamecocks didn’t miss a beat. 

 This brings us to Mississippi State and head coach Vic Schaefer, who has been here as an assistant coach on Texas A&M's 2011 national championship team.

 If there were any doubts about the Bulldogs place among the elite, they resoundingly answered them by earning their trip to Dallas.

 Some thought the Bulldogs were a one-year wonder after getting to the Sweet 16 and getting steamrolled by 60 points to UConn last season, but all they have done is won consistently this season.

 The Bulldogs, winners of a school-record 33 games, are arguably the feel-good story among the Final Four participants especially after watching Morgan William’s exquisite 41-point masterpiece against Baylor.

 Though she’s listed generously at 5 feet, 5 inches, William was a tower of power, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was a fearless performance by the diminutive William.

 Her tenacity and perseverance was greater than she'd ever let on against Baylor seemingly delivering clutch shots whenever they were needed. 
She has served as an example, and an inspiration, to her teammates as they pursue their dreams. 

Victoria Vivians’ relentless game is smooth and special.

 For a comparison of the UConn-Mississippi State matchup. Think UNLV-Duke men’s basketball. In 1990, UNLV beat Duke 103-73 in the national title game. One year later, an undefeated UNLV juggernaut wasn’t as fortunate as the Blue Devils claimed a 79-77 win in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. 
Of course this all comes back to UConn, right? 
“We know we have a tremendous challenge in front of us going against a team that's the best program in the history of the game, coached by the best coach in the history of the game, men or women,” Schaefer said during Thursday’s press conference. 

“We know what's in front of us. We've had to deal with it before. Obviously we dealt with it last year, and it wasn't a real good experience. But I think we've grown from that day and we've learned from it. 

"We're going to do our very best to play a really good ballgame tomorrow night. Again, these kids have earned the right to be here, make no mistake about it. I'm just proud to be their coach.”

 The Huskies went through the Pac-12 to win the Bridgeport regional. Now, an SEC foe stands in its way. The Huskies have the pieces to meet every challenge it will encounter this weekend. Mississippi State will be a formidable hurdle for the Huskies to conquer. 

 This won’t be a 60-point beatdown. 

The Bulldogs won’t be in awe of the Huskies this time around. Although this is new territory for Mississippi State, it will hang around for a while.  

Ultimately, the Huskies guards are slightly bigger, quicker and better than Baylor’s crew. That will make a difference as UConn pulls away during the second half to comfortably cruise into the title game. 

 Winners of nine consecutive games, South Carolina has turned into a different team in March out of necessity. 

The Gamecocks have multiple scoring threats from all over the court and play a more free-flowing style that takes advantage of their quickness and athleticism. 

Stanford has been a tough out and watching it rally against a Notre Dame squad that appeared to be clicking on all cylinders was enough to wonder if something is at work for the Cardinal.

 In the end look for the Huskies to find a way to survive one final VanDerveer-led assault from her squad to win their fifth consecutive national title. 

It won’t be easy and fun to watch, but UConn will find a way. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Guru's NCAA: UConn Roasts Ducks and Heads to 10th Straight Women's Final Four

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The rear view behind the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team continues to be quite a majestic scene and establishment of what glory days continue to lie ahead.

It was over quickly here at Webster Bank Arena Monday night with an early 17-0 run and a turn-over defense that gave the immediate four-time defending NCAA champion and still unbeaten Huskies a lopsided 90-52 victory over 10th-seeded Oregon for the Bridgeport Regional Title and now a decade’s worth of 10 consecutive trips to the Women’s Final Four.

“For us to have gone 10 months of March in a row and not having lost a game through a whole different cast of characters, over all that time, that’s pretty darned good,” said Hall of Fame UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “That’s probably more than anything what really hits home for me.”

With an 18th regional title in possession dating to the initial one obtained in Philadelphia in 1991, the last two steps to update the number of national titles from 11 to 12 await this weekend in the Lone Star State where on Friday night UConn (36-0) will face Oklahoma City Regional champion Mississippi State (33-4) in the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

If the Bulldogs cannot reverse the thrashing handed them by the Huskies in this regional a year ago then Connecticut will move on to Sunday’s championship for the fifth straight year and face either Stockton Regional champion South Carolina (31-4), coached by Dawn Staley, or Lexington Regional champion Stanford (32-5).

Left in the wake of UConn’s latest carnage is the previous record of NCAA tournament overall wins held by the late legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. The new one is in the hands of Auriemma at 113.

And the ongoing NCAA consecutive win streak record now stands at 111, just 20 away from the fabled 131 total beyond the NCAA compiled by the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens in the 1950s.

“There were a lot of people who came before us to to start the streak,” junior Kia Nurse said following the win over the Ducks (23-14). “And we are kind of carrying on that legacy that they left, and that’s something that we focus on every day. We’re focused on the fact that UConn is built into what UConn is today because of everybody who came before and what we’re doing right now.

“So to understand that, to want to go out and play great Connecticut basketball is a testament to these people who have done it before us.”

But it was not even suppose to be on the bill of particulars for discussion this season because after the graduation of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck, who went 1-2-3 in last year’s WNBA draft, while it was not totally out of the question that Nurse and her teammates could be headed for Dallas, certainly they would be going with a less gaudy appearance pock-marked with losses on a difficult non-conference schedule not a more gaudy one than many of the star-studded UConn contingents of previous vintages.

Auriemma, who usually has a quip targeted at a player or two of his, seems in total awe himself of what this young roster with just two seniors – one a walk-on – has accomplished after being understudies on the recent UConn champions.

“The players we have today, for the first time in their careers they’ve owned the whole month of March,” he said. “They weren’t just along for the ride. It’s theirs. And that’s a huge step.

“And that’s what I told them in the locker room. That’s a big step to go from riding in the back seat on a trip you’re going to, to all of a sudden you’re in charge of driving the bus and you’re responsible for getting us there,” Auriemma noted.

“A lot of times people have to lose to learn how to win, and for them to just step right in where the other team left off and take immediate ownership of it, that says a lot about who they are.

“You know I can’t say enough about each and every one of them, but especially that starting five. I mean there’s just something unique about them right now that’s going on, and they deserve all of it. And they don’t have to share it with anybody; it’s not anyone else’s but theirs, and they’re enjoying it.”

That group starts with sophomore Napheesa Collier, voted the most outstanding player in the regional after scoring 28 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, dealing two assists, blocking four shots, and grabbing two steals.

“Having watched Pheesa play all year long, I can’t describe what she does,” Auriemma said. “She’s effortless in what she does. Seriously, it’s like a self-driving car. It’s effortless. She just goes.

“I mean, she’s effortless on defense, too. Don’t get me wrong. But the offense for her just comes effortless. I can’t even explain it.”

Junior Gabby Williams, who, along with Nurse, had to take over the leadership of this team, had 25 points and four steals.

“Both of us were forced into leadership roles because we were becoming the older guys on the team., and I think this is a challenge we accepted,” Nurse said, while Williams added, “Those guys did everything for us last year, last two years, but the thing about them, too, they showed us and they taught us how to do it ourselves.

“They knew that once we got into this position that we would be ready for it because they showed us how to do it.”

Nurse had 11 points and seven assists, while Saniya Chong, who has blossomed her senior season, had 11 points, four assists, and three steals. Katie Lou Samuelson didn’t have one of her explosive nights on offense like the 10-for-10 three pointers she made in the American Athletic Conference title game, but she scored eight points, dealt four assists and had five steals.

On Saturday, Oregon had continued to get attention for its string of upsets and especially for taking down a three-seed Maryland squad considered one of the two main threats in the entire tournament to UConn. The other was Baylor and both are gone with the Bears having fallen to Mississippi State on Sunday night.

But if the Ducks might be a replacement problem instead of Maryland, the Huskies weren’t buying it forcing Oregon into 22 turnovers that produced a dominant 32-12 stat on points off turnovers. UConn was also 21-2 on second chance points.

Oregon, considering the whole night as a learning experience, seemed to take the whipping in stride, kind of like what Villanova veteran coach Harry Perretta used to say in the glory days of the old Big East, “Those other guys think they’re going to win the game (against UConn) and when they don’t it takes them several weeks to get their acts back together.

“We just take our medicine and move on which is why we can do well so soon after playing UConn.”

That seemed to be the theme of Oregon’s Kelly Graves in his postgame remarks as well as several of the players.

“They’re really, really good,” Graves said of UConn. “I think we had our team ready. Our team was confident going in. I just don’t think we were able to handle that that early, I think just kind of the shock how good they are, and got us on our heels quickly.

“The turnovers doomed us from the get-go, and that defensive pressure really set the tone.”

Freshman sensation Sabrina Ionescu, who had 15 points, the only Oregon player in double figures other than freshman Ruthy Hebard with 12, talked about the attitude of the Ducks in the game.

“I said, `Guys, we should just live in the moment. It doesn’t come around often, and just enjoy it. Enjoy playing against the No. 1 team in the country, and we’re going to try to do what they do because I think we can become the next UConn here at Oregon.’

“I think it was really fun. The atmosphere was great., and playing against them is something we’d like to do more often and definitely learn from what they do there.”

In some ways this team recalls the 2003 UConn national champions that in the wake of the studded unbeaten 2002 bunch seemed to be poised for retooling other than Diana Taurasi was still on the squad.

Auriemma said that alone makes the two teams incomparable, especially when this one had no preseason all-Americans on the roster and now have three in Samuelson, Williams, and Collier, with Nurse drawing some attention from other places.

“Maybe the first two weeks of practice, I remember looking at one of our assistants, and I thought, `We’re going to win a national championship because Diana had the ability to take two freshmen and two other kids that had never started a game and make them look like veterans,’” he said.

“She elevated their game by who she was, the way she played, how she talked to them, how she led them,” Auriemma explained.

“Going into this season, we didn’t have anybody like that, so I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know who was going to be responsible for any of this stuff, and maybe that’s the way it needed to be this year, so they all had to depend on each other instead of depending on one person.

“And they were never allowed to take a break because they all had to be there every night or we weren’t going to be able to do what we’ve done.”

As for no one getting the preseason acclaim individually that UConn players have usually had and now for the three to draw all-American status, Auriemma said, “They earned it this year. They played the best schedule, they played the best teams, and they did it under the glare of the lights they play under all the time. The fact those three were three of the top 10 players in the country, they earned it, and they deserve it.”


Siroky's SEC Report: Conference Owns Half of Final Four

By Mike Siroky

Stockton Regional Final
South Carolina  71, Florida State 64

The Southeastern Conference champions sprinted out to a 24-17 start.

All-American A’ja Wilson scored nine, with four rebounds and two blocks. Three of the four guards scored the rest.

Florida State reserve Imani White scored five. She had two Elite Eight seasons at Baylor. This is her first year in the ACC.

Wilson got into double figures but picked up a second foul after a foul and sat down with five minutes left in the half. The lead was down to three. but the Gamecocks persevered. They were never overtaken and pushed the lead back to seven inside of two minutes. The half ended, 40-29.

Kaela Davis continued her hot streak and had 12, 5-of-7 from the floor, 2-of-2at the line. As a team, they were 8-of-8 from the line, hitting 60 percent from the floor.

They had caused six turnovers and had four steals. The Seminoles were hitting 38 percent from the floor.

“I just have to play smarter,” Wilson said. “They (her teammates) are playing very well out there and it’s coming together.

“Our defense is great. We’re getting a lot of stops and a lot of transition buckets. Of course I want to be out there, but I just love watching them play right now.”

The plan didn’t work and she got more chances to watch by picking up her third 28 seconds into the second half.


 We had said when Alaina Coates went away that this exposed the frontline depth because, in this instance, both  bigs were out.

Speed would have to win this one.

Florida State could only cut it to 10 with a minute left. But they missed a 3.

“Well they slowed us down a little hit because they went zone and got stagnant. We have got to get A’ja Wilson back in there because she gives us a big target down there.

“Kaela Davis is finding the gaps to drive.”

Davis was up to 20 points.

Wilson started the fourth with only 11 minutes played.

Freshman guard Tyasha Harris hit a 3. Wilson followed with a lay-in, assist to Allisha Gray.

Florida State made back-to-back steals and converted both. The gap was seven.

It was possible the Seminoles knew the ball was coming inside and so anticipated better in the lane.

Wilson got her fourth and had to stay in.

The Florida State emotional leader is 6-1 senior Ivey Slaughter. She is the leading rebounder and free-throw scorer.

It was time for that. Forida State got two offensive rebounds on one possession. Slaughter converted hers.

She got a defensive rebound which led to a basket by senior guard Leticia Romero. Slaughter was up to nine rebounds, six defensive, right at her average.

Brittany Brown got a steal off of a timeout drove for  layup.  It was anyone’s game, three points. SC turned it over, inside of three minutes.

Davis drove for a layup. She knocked it loose at the other end but stepped on the endline.
With 72 second left and a five-point lead, SC did not wilt. They had never been topped and they had possession.

The clock slowly drained. A miss and here came the Seminoles. Wilson challenged, got a block.
Florida State knew it. The bench was in tears.

Chatrice White got a Florida State rebound and scored a layin. Twelve seconds, four points.
One second and Harris the rookie was fouled.

She rimmed on. Made the second. Florida State had no timeouts left.

But it did not matter. Harris stole the attempted inbounds and hit two more. Both South Carolina basketball teams were headed to the Final Fours, now the women qualified.

The SEC owns half of the Final Four.  The SEC teams eliminated the Big 12 and ACC. So much for braggin’ rights. Again.

South Carolina gets Stanford.

“I gotta say our biggest thing was coming out and being aggressive,” said Davis. “The good part about it is we are playing defense.” She led all scorers with 23.

South Carolina held them 15 under their offensive average and scored 13 more than they had allowed all season, which was a program record.

The Gamecocks impressed their defensive will while overcoming the other team’s best. Florida State was 36 percent from the field.

Wilson and Harris tied with 16 each. Gray scored 11.

 “God has been good to our program,” Staley said.

“He’s been good to me personally. And this wouldn’t be possible without Him.

“Although we see the victory side of it, the defeat side of it is, some seniors won’t get to experience going to a Final Four and I do feel for them. But at the same time, I’m happy for our players. I’m happy that they put themselves in the position to go on and realize their dreams, as well.”

Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray, of course, had to sit and watch last season while they served their transfer penalty. But boy did they play this season. And now join a fantastic SEC senior class next season.

“I think the biggest thing tonight was our defense,” Davis said. “We found ways to get stops.

“You know, I think we started the game off really well.

“But you know, obviously it’s just being aggressive. I think my main point was just to come in and be aggressive and then our goal was obviously to get to the Final Four, and we managed to accomplish that.

“Obviously with A’Ja, she draws a lot of attention. So you know, with her being out, we had to start scoring and get buckets. We were getting stops, but they kind of went on runs here and there. We had to find a way to counter that and balance out a little bit.”

Even though Florida State got the deficit to three, they never caught up.

The Seminoles missed seven of their last eight shots.
“Yeah, I think in that situation, I feel like it’s a time-and-score situation. It was one of those things where we didn’t necessarily need to get a shot unless we had a good one, and we just had to find ways to get stopped. They really started pushing the ball at us late in the second half.

“We had to find a way to slow them down. But at the same time, like I said, we were trying to find a way just to work the clock and take good shots.

“We’ve had our fair share of adversity but this team has found ways to time and time again, just fight through it and find a way to be better because of it.

“I think just attacking them. We weren’t settling for jumpshots, which I think is the best thing we could have done. I think towards the fourth quarter, we were just kind of passing it and waiting for a good shot to come.

“But I think it was one of those things, we kind of had to create a good shot for ourselves.

“They were doing a good job of keeping us outside the paint, and really making us, like I said, pass the ball around the 3-point line. I think it was one of those things where I kind of saw everybody was a little raised up and found a gap somehow.

“It makes it 10 times better to be able to say you want to do something and accomplish it.

“You know, it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, but I think we’re finding a way to end on a high note and to, you know, just put everything together.”

Harris, the rookie, hit the final free throws and had the final steal to seal the deal.

“We kind of just stuck with the game plan,” Harris said. “We just focused on defense and trying to stop our man. And the last steal, I just saw it coming and just grabbed it, and, I don’t know, that’s what happened.”

Davis danced as the horn sounded, but she looked to her leader even then.

“Yeah, I think A’Ja started it. I don’t know, it’s just one of those in-the-moment things, having fun. We love our band. They are funny -- funny, funny people. They are just really good people to be around. So I think it was just a way to kind of show that we appreciate them.”

“Well, we won despite turning the ball over,” Staely said.

“We won despite their runs. I thought them going to a zone and slowing us down and taking away some driving lanes really stalled our offense a little bit. But it also took possessions away.

“We didn’t want to take quick shots, so it almost played into our hands, minus the turnovers. So we ran the clock a little bit, and if that game is maybe five minutes longer, we could have a different result.

“But I just thought we were timely with getting stops. We were timely with getting key rebounds. I thought Doniyah Cliney came in and gave us some great minutes, and got some rebounds when I didn’t think we were in the play. We just made plays and we were very efficient on the offensive end.

“ Since we’ve gone to a smaller lineup, it’s created more scoring opportunities for Kaela, more driving lanes for her to get to the basket and more opportunity for her to pull up, as well.

“She’s seeing it and she’s hitting those holes like a running back. You know, for her to perform the way she does, she did this past weekend, it just goes to show the type of player she is.

“You know, obviously we wanted this all year long. But it takes some adjusting to not having the ball in your hands. But not having Alaina Coates, puts the ball in her hands a lot more; had we had Alaina.

“Alaina, you don’t want anyone’s career to end, but it’s been a blessing in disguise for us. We got a little bit more balanced, and you know, Kaela has benefitted from it.

“Well, we exploited -- we exploited putting the ball on the floor and challenging them to stop us one-on-one. That was the game plan, to attack their feet, put them back on their heels. When it’s like that, you’re not going to -- if you get all the way to the basket, you get all the way to the basket; and if you couldn’t, then you kick it out.

“So there weren’t very many opportunities to assist the basket, because we found a way to get to the basket. And when it’s working, you continue it.

“I mean, they are a team that they never find themselves out of the game because they play so fast, they take quick shots, they get the ball up-and-down the floor and they turn you over, as well.

“We wanted to make sure we got shots at the basket and unfortunately for us, we had 18 turnovers and that allowed them to get back in the game.

“(That) had a lot to do with getting back in the game by turning us over. Obviously we have to clean that up before we take on a Stanford team.”

Two of the other coaches in the Final Four are former Olympic coaches. Staley is about to join that group.

“I think it’s great. As a coach, you want to coach against the best.
“That’s why I left Temple to come to South Carolina to coach in the SEC with what I think is some of the greatest coaches in the game.

“And then you get to this stage at the Final Four, and then it’s another tier of coaches who have won national championships, have won Gold Medals, have won a thousand games.

“I think it’s just great. I think I’m going to be amongst greatness and hopefully with that, you know, it will be a great experience with South Carolina.”

She appreciates the growth or her game, from advancing to averaging the best attendance nationwide – 10,000 – to the upgrade in even celebrations.

Two years ago, “Probably 7,000 less Gamecock fans. It felt different because it there was no confetti, there was no screaming. There wasn’t any passion behind it.

“And obviously we’re 3,000 miles away from home, but when you’re a little bit closer, your fans are right on top of you. It just seemed like everybody was kind of far away, and it almost, it took you back, because you’re like, did this really happen?

“Are we going to the Final Four?

“But it sank in. It sank in when we were standing out there and enjoying each other’s company.”

Then there’s Basketball U, the only school in the country with teams in the men’s and women’s Final Fours.

“It’s incredible. I mean, it’s something that Frank and I have both worked hard for. When we came to South Carolina, I’m quite sure he felt the same way, and I don’t want to speak for him -- but Frank is a great coach. He’s a great coach. He does some great things.

“As a coach, you feel like there are things that you can control; that you can get people to execute; you can get people to believe in your vision, even the talent, this group of players that you assemble.

“But you can’t do it without talent, you can’t do it without belief. You can’t do it without a togetherness. You can’t do it without the support of your administrators, your president on down, without it working; and we felt this for -- you know, I’ve been at South Carolina for nine years. This is Frank’s fifth year.

“For us to be able to experience three Final Fours in the short time that we’ve been here, there’s a lot of love on our campus from everyone, and our fans.
“Our fans are so deserving of this because, you know, they have been there. You know, when we won two SEC games, they have been there. When we have been left out of the NCAA Tournament, they have been there.

“And now they get to share in the joys of us playing, being one of the last four teams to participate in this long basketball season. They deserve it.”

They drew 3,134 for the Regional title game.

Wilson was selected as the Southeastern Conference’s only first team Associated Press All-American, as we called two weeks ago. Teammate Alaina Coates is AP honorable mention.

At Final Four
Mississippi State (33-4) vs. UConn (36-0)

Mississippi State placed three on the Oklahoma City Regional all-Region team: Victoria Vivians, Teaira McCowan and Morgan William, the Most Outstanding Player. All are juniors.

Vivians also was selected a third team Associated Press All-American. Morgan William is an honorable mention AP All-America

Next up for Mississippi State is the challenge of UConn on Friday night in the national semifinal.

UConn ended the season for Oregon on Monday night. Someday, maybe in our lifetime, UConn will lose a game. Mississippi State gets the next whack at them.

That means the represented conferences in the finals are the SEC, Pac 12 and American Athletic.

If UConn wins, it breaks the conference championship tie with the Big 12, with four, though it is also responsible for eight of the nine Big East titles which leads the pack.

Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell and Kentucky’s Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator are honorable mention Associated Press All-American.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Siroky's SEC Report: Mississippi State Final Four Dream Realized

By Mike Siroky

Oklahoma City Final
Mississippi State 94, Baylor 85 (OT)

It is always nice when a No. 1 seed meets a No. 2 for the right to advance to the Final Four, because the Selection Committee gets one right.

Mississippi State (33-5) has yet to lose to a non-conference opponent. The Big 12 and Big 10 are done. The SEC is not.

Naturally, Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer switched his starters up and reinserted leading scorer and All-SEC shooter Victoria Vivians.

But what he did with point guard Morgan William is legendary.

The starters in the three previous NCAA games were available as topline subs.

Vivians responded with the first five points (including a 3) and State hung tough. Then in came senior center Chimwe Okorie, another all-SEC starter for 33 games, at the first time out,
Baylor’s leadings scorer, Kalani Brown, had five of her usual 15 and the Bears led, 9-5. Two William free throws and it was 9-7.

Nobody in the gym could have guessed it was the start of a career night.

They started settling in, trading point for point. Vivians’ second 3 untied it, but they kicked it out of bounds with a chance to extend. No one was in control.

The quarter ended with Mississippi State ahead, 21-19. Vivians had eight and William seven.

They had forced five turnovers. Teaira McCowan, the 6-7 center, was 0-for-everything.

No breakaway was in sight, truly a 1 vs. 2.

It was 43-40 at the half and everyone anticipated which team could make the tweak that made a difference.

Vivians had 15 with two assists and two steals. If this were the only game in the past five you saw, you would understand why sometimes she is mentioned among the elite.

William had 19 with two 3s and two assists. McCowan got eight in the second quarter but only one rebound. That was the area of interest.

Both teams deserved to win. It was just one of those games.

Baylor won the third quarter, 21-17, but with seven minutes left in someone’s season it as 63-all. Baylor averaged 86 all year, 10 more than Mississippi State. But State allowed 56 and Baylor 60, so neither defense was working to average.

Two minutes later and Mississippi State had a two-point edge. Vivians had 19 but McCowan was stuck on eight, having not scored since halftime.

Both sides were nervous as player careers clicked toward a forever finish. Each were fighting to represent their conference.

Morgan William hit a 3 then a conventional basket. Baylor answered with a 3 by senior Alexis Jones. William countered with a 3. Baylor senior Nina Davis hit a layup then it was time out.
McCowan hit two free throws, finally in double figures.

Three minutes to go and Mississippi State had a three-point lead. William made a defensive error and fouled Jones from way out as the shot clock expired. Jones hit all three, 12 points for the half.

Mississippi State turned it over with two minutes left.

Kalani Brown bulled over William, but she evidently was too short for the refs to see and the basket counted.

Seventy-seven seconds left, then potential disaster.

McCowan tripped over a prone teammate who had fallen on her own and there was a possible deciding turnover.

What a way to lose the edge, nothing of Baylor’s doing.

Perhaps a makeup call. Baylor turned it over and William flitted in among the trees to tie it with 22.6 seconds left.

Heavy discussions by both benches.

This was already a classic.

Baylor went full court on the inbounds, muffed the drive and McCowan tied up the rebound, 3.4 left. Baylor’s possession under its own basket.

It is only fitting to go to OT. McCowan swatted the ball past midcourt on the inbounds attempt and that was regulation at 75-all.

Mississippi State had five more 3s and three less made free throws. Baylor had nine more rebounds.

Was there a missed point opportunity in there somewhere?

Oh my.

William took control. Mississippi State outscored Baylor, 19-10, had blown up their defensive average allowed by 34.

But first, Mississippi State won the tip.

Baylor twice fouled. Blair Schaefer hit two free throws.

Baylor missed a 3, Vivians hit one.

By the time 2:15 was left, Mississippi State had an 82-81 lead.

Then came the run that everyone in StarkVegas will forever swear they knew was coming.

William, of course, hit a 3. Vivians claimed a rebound, was fouled and hit both free throws.

William made four straight free throws, with a McCowan rebound in the middle of it.

McCowan got a steal and who else would you throw it to but William and she hit both free throws when fouled.

They repeated the process. William claimed the final rebound.

Baylor lost its third  Elite 8, the second in a row. Schaefer had won the coaching battle.

William had 14 3s all season. She was 6-of-8 this game. She was 9-of-10 from the line. She scored a career-best 41 points, with seven assists and no turnovers and even a block.

 It is the most NCAA points scored by any player in this program. She had 11 points total in the previous three games.

Try scouting Schaefer.

He told her to drive from the start. The plan worked.

She took her whole team along as passengers to the Final Four. Vivians scored 24, with six rebounds and six assists. The opposing coach sadly credited her with setting more screens than usual. Again, try scouting Schaefer. They caused 17 turnovers while committing four.

Mississippi State gets the winner of the Bridgeport Regional, to be contested Monday night.

“Oh my God is good!,”  said Schaefer. Another record win to go with a program-first Final Four.

“What an unbelievable effort by our kids,

“You talk about tough as nails.

“You talk about leadership.”

He paused to hug a crying point guard.

“How about this little one right here?

“She is my other daughter. They all are, but she more so because of what she has been through.”

William said through the tears: “This was for dad (on the three-year anniversary of his death).
“I just know coach Schaefer told us don’t go out there nervous, just play your game and that is what we did.”

William was the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional, of course. The vote could have been taken by acclamation.

“I’m honored and humbled to be here. So proud of my girls and our team. What a tremendous effort today. It took a gut-check, gut-wrenching performance by our kids today, and we delivered.

“I thought our kids were unflappable. I thought they were resilient. They showed tremendous toughness, a lot of character, and their heart. You have no idea what’s inside their breastplate, but you saw it today displayed firsthand.

“They just played with a tremendous amount of poise. Our point guard was as good as they get today. She put us on her back. She led us. She was obviously feeling it.

“Ran a couple different things for her. Just had to keep going back because they were having a hard time dealing with it. She wanted the ball.

“Thought Tori (Vivians) was back to herself today. I welcomed her to the party about midway through the third quarter. Told her that.

“It sure helps to have that out there on the perimeter, that big two guard that can get you a bucket, can rise up and jump over people.

“For our seniors, they believed in a vision when it wasn’t real easy to believe. I’m really happy for them. I know how hard they’ve worked. I know the blood, sweat and tears, the commitment they’ve put into this.

“I couldn’t be happier for them. I couldn’t be happier for our university, administration.

Tremendous basketball at Mississippi State. We’re seventh in the country in attendance and our administration supports these young ladies and gives them every opportunity to be successful.

They’re reaping the dividends, because these kids are doing everything that they’re supposed to do right now.

“I’m awfully proud of them. Giving God the glory for No. 33 (wins) today.”

William reiterated the coach led her success and that the inspiration of her dad looking down at her was more than enough.

“Just confidence,” she said. “I mean, I came out here early to shoot because I had issues the last couple games. I was feeling it. Coach let me make them. It opened shots for my teammates, too.

“When I was open, I knew I could knock down the shot. That really helped us from inside-out. It was just tough to guard us.”

As for her dad, “I mean, I was just using it as motivation. He’s the reason I am where I am today in basketball. He just did so much for me working out when I was younger. Everyone doubted me because of my height. Did so much work in the gym. For me to come out and do that, it’s amazing. I just wish he was here to see it.”

Vivians’ triumphant return as a prime time player led her to be self-deprecating.

“If you were on the court, you wouldn’t say I maintained my composure.

“I just tried to keep it together for my teammates because if the call didn’t go my way, another call would go our way on the other end. I just kept playing and knew we had to keep playing in order to win the game.

“It felt good. But mainly today I was really focused on my defense, because I knew our defense was going to win the game. Like Coach says, keep shooting, the shots will fall eventually. I was just mainly worried about my defense.”

William said the 24 lead changes kept everyone focused.

“I mean, that’s why it’s a game of runs. We live for moments like this, back-to-back lead changes.

“We just know we got to make a run when they make a run.

“Got to get stops in. Once we make our run, we got to get stops and keep running from there. I feel like we did that. We got a stop, and we kept executing. After that, we got a lead.”

Dominque Dillingham, a senior and sometime starter, came in at a critical span in the second half.

“I just knew I had to stay ready. I knew my time was going to come to play defense. So I just had to keep myself ready. I was just happy for my teammates. They played really well tonight.

“Coach needed a little more offense tonight. I’m completely fine with that. I was ready when my time was called. I was ready to play defense.”

They joined the nation in appreciating their point guard.

Dillingham: “I’m just so happy for her. I’m just so proud of her. I know she does it for her dad. I just feel so proud for her because I know how hard she worked for this moment.
“I know people doubt our team, but people doubt her as a point guard just because how small she is.

“They’re not that valid in that. I love the way she plays. She was just awesome tonight.

Breanna Richardson: “That was really good; basically same thing Dom said. We live and die by Morgan at times. So her and her point guard play, she just gets us going. We know when Morgan’s going, we’re all going.

“Just to see her come out, 6-of-8 from the 3, it was amazing. When you just see her going, we’re like, ‘Give her the ball. We can’t stop her, so just keep giving her the ball.’

“To see her have a game like this, it’s amazing. Like you say, everybody doubts us and they always doubt her. I just got to say congrats.”

Vivians: Well, I know tonight she got my assists up. I had six.”

Schaeffer interjected: “Career high,” and he laughed.”

She replied: “I’ll take that,” and she laughed.

“But I’m just proud of her. She can do this on any given night. You never know with her. If she’s in attack mode, she’s going and doing it. I am super proud of her. She’s my point guard. We’re together a whole ’nother year. I’m happy to have her.”

Schaeffer obviously will stick with his guards, evem of the others were taller.

“I thought even though (8-7) Kalani (Brown) went 11-of-13, and 5-11 senior Nina (Davis) was 7-of-11, I thought the game turned into a guard game toward the end of the half. I love my guards. I am not trading ‘em for anybody.

“I thought after watching them against Louisville in person, I thought we could do some things.

“You know, again, at some point I think you’ve got to learn to stop -- stop worrying about trying to guard somebody and try to figure out, OK, let’s just try to score more than they do.

“Boy, I thought we were really good offensively. It starts with Morgan. But it also starts with Tori making a couple shots early, because you can just see our team relax.

“When she’s taking good shots, -- she took a couple bad ones in the first half -- but just getting her back to the party. I mean, I did, I told her in the -- I think it was the second or third quarter, I said, ‘Welcome back to the party, baby. You’re playing good.’ It just relaxes the whole team when she plays like that.

“Morgan obviously was feeling it. I was running about three different things for her, just trying to mix it up so they couldn’t get comfortable with her.

“They had two different people on her.

“Every time we switched, she switched somebody on her. We went right back to the first play.

“Just tried to really be engaged offensively, hoped that we could get enough stops down the stretch.”

He touched again on William dealing her dad’s death before she was a freshman, before the program erupted

“ Well, obviously it was a tragic thing. It was sudden. I still remember where I was standing when I got the phone call. Her dad was so proud that she was coming to Mississippi State. I had just been with him at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. Like she said, he ate, drank and slept training her.

“You know, the three-year anniversary of his passing. I remember going to the funeral and all that, again, before she ever stepped foot on campus.

“It’s tough for her. That’s the kind of kid, though, she is. She appreciates everything that he done for her to get her to this point. You know, Morgan rooms with Blair (his daughter). She’s at my house probably more than anybody on the team. She’s very, very special to Holly and I.

“You know, she’s obviously very special to Blair. So it’s tough sometimes for kids. But I thought she bottled it up nicely today and really played to an audience of one.”

He again explained the benching of Vivians and her comeback.

“I think, again, nobody knows us better than the people in our league, Mo. 1. She gets everybody’s best defender, everybody’s best defensive game plan.

“But the other piece was, you know, we watched some film together one morning. We talked about good shot, bad shot, you’re running out of your shot here, stay in your shot.

“Sometimes it’s just as simple as, you know what, you’re making three out of 10, how about following your shot and go getting some of those misses? What that creates is a little more focus.

“If you tell somebody, ‘Go follow your shot every time you shoot it,’ now they tend to stay in their shot and they don’t tend to drift, they tend to follow it. “Now they stay with a good foundation. We talked about that a little bit.

“She’s been shooting it great in practice. Last four, five days, those kids were chomping at the bit to get back in the starting lineup. I knew yesterday I was going to do it, get them back in, so . . . .
“What a great day to get back in and play like they did.

“Again, all I’ve done is just tried to tell her, ‘Hey, you’re shooting it good. You shot it well today in practice. You’re making good decisions.’

“I think you’ve got to fill her head, anybody, you got to keep being positive with kids. I think that was the biggest thing with her, is just trying to stay positive with her.

“But at the same time, you know, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again if it is not working. Just trying to coach her, teach her, let her know the importance of getting her back.

“I told her before we left town, ‘Hey, we won’t win this weekend without you. We won’t win without you being an impact player.’

“But I’ve told y’all every press conference, I don’t worry about Tori. I’ve just seen her do it way too many times. She made that shot off the glass, I’ve seen her make a hundred of them. It’s not that she’s calling it, but I’ve still seen her make ’em.

“So, it doesn’t surprise me.”

He said the other switchout, at center was made with much acceptance by those players.

“Those two bigs, I try to rotate them in and out. I don't want them to get back-to-backs. Chinwe was starting earlier. Teaira came off the bench, she was SEC Six Player of the Year. Teaira has been playing better, so I've been starting her. I don't need Teaira in foul trouble. Those two good a little bit of yo-yo, so to speak. The rest of the kids, I don't think I pulled them as much as those two.

“Just trying to keep them in the game, impacting the game, is really big for us. Teaira obviously had a huge game for us on Friday.

“I knew Baylor was probably going to come after her a little bit today. They went right to her early and often, got a quick one on her. So that’s kind of the game I have to play with those two down there. That's two aircraft carriers that do a great job for us and have really impacted our team and our program.

“Those two have great chemistry. When one’s in, the other's out, they’re both cheering for each other. There's a lot of love between those two.”

Going forward, he knows a Final Four appearance is a marker every team wants. He was the well-credited defensive coach for Gary Blair when A&M won the national title in 2011.

“I do have a little experience of being with a national championship team. I know what it looks like. I knew what this looked like with this team. I’ve told them since Day 1, I thought they were a Final Four team. I thought they were good enough to win it.

“What it takes to get it to this level this quick is a tremendous commitment from your administration. We knew what 13-17 looked like that first season. We didn’t panic. We signed those four freshmen, though, before we ever played a game, because we might not have got them if they’d have seen us play that first year.

“At the same time, those kids, we went and got kids that could impact our program at that time, then we backed it up with a top-20 recruiting class. Since then we’ve had another top-20 recruiting class.

“But I tell you, the biggest key for me was Johnnie Harris coming with me. I couldn’t have done it without her. I wasn’t coming to Mississippi State without her. This would never have happened if she said, ‘Vic, I’m not going.’ That was the first thing.

“I’m smart enough to know I cannot do it by myself. I have to have a great staff. I have an unbelievable staff. Great role models, great coaches, great teachers of the game.

“What goes into it is a commitment and a love for kids that it’s got to be your every thought every day all day long. I mean, we’re in the kid business. “Sometimes you have to make decisions that have nothing to do with basketball, but if you really care about the kid, and that’s first and foremost with us, I think those are the things you have to do.

“My staff deserves so much credit, so much credit, for where we are today, what we’re doing with these young ladies.

“Again, I think, just like Geno would tell you, it’s the quality of the young ladies that we have, their character, what they’re made of, what’s inside their breastplate.

“That’s the piece that is hard to get to know when you’re recruiting. That’s the piece that I want my staff to get to know before we ever make a commitment to a young lady.

“We got to make sure they’re committed like we are because nobody works harder in the country than my staff, I promise you.

“Praise the Lord and Go ’Dogs!”

Attendance, 3,128, easily outdrew Notre Dame’s 2,537 at Lexington, The NCAA selectors decided to not send an SEC team to an SEC site and this is what happens.

 Once they placed Kentucky as a No. 4 courtesy seed in Lexington, no other league team can be seeded higher.

In a final note: The win ensures two No. 1 seeds were made incorrectly. It also assures at least one team coached by a man who was not a No. 1 seed advances for the second straight season.

Someday, it is hoped, the Selection Committee will look at facts rather than convenience.

Stockton Regional
No. 1 South Carolina (30-4), vs. No. 3 Florida State (28-6)

The Gamecocks will take on the Seminoles in a Regional final for the second time in three seasons.

Florida State ended its season with two losses, a blowout at Notre Dame and an edging by Miami in the opener of the ACC tournament.

In their semifinal, they shut down Oregon State senior star Sydney Wiese. She was 0-for-10 from 3land after setting conference records in 3s.

In that semifinal win, Florida State came from a 21-4 deficit to win by 13. The semifinals drew 4,500, second to UConn’s 8,830.

Shakayla Thomas leads at 15.2 points per game. Senior guard Leticia Romero is at 12.3. Imani Wright is at 10.8

But their emotional leader is 6-1 senior Ivey Slaughter. She is the leading rebounder and free-throw scorer.

In the semifinal, she ignited the second-half surge, almost completing the improbable triple in points (11), rebounds (8) and steals (9).

They lead opponents in rebounds by 10 per game. They score 79 and allow 58, a mirror of South Carolina’s 77 and 56.

Defense once again will rule.