Womhoops Guru

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

Monday, March 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.

Guru's NCAA: UConn? Yes and Oregon Meet in a Battle of Dueling Cinderellas

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – For different reasons the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Bridgeport Regional championship Monday night at Webster Bank Arena is a tale of dueling Cinderellas fighting to land a spot in this weekend’s Women’s Final Four in Dallas.

One has a mean competitive veneer and managed to use the Cinderella brand because for the first time in a long time way back in the fall instead of being everybody’s smart money favorite to win it all, Connecticut, with the departure of who became the 1-2-3 overall picks in the WNBA draft, headed by the super talented Breanna Stewart, was perceived to be headed for some re-tooling.

But almost from the outset, the players who were in the shadows such as sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, juniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, and senior Saniya Chong have been a committee with each having their special moments to accelerate the Huskies’ acclaim, not diminish it.

Consider that this unit heads into Monday night’s showdown unbeaten on the season at 35-0 and extending a run of perfection to 110-0 to shatter UConn’s previous NCAA streak of 90.

Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, widely praised for doing his best job this season considering the roster, has now tied the late Tennessee coaching legend Pat Summitt with 112 overall NCAA tourney wins, which transforms to his record alone with one more triumph Monday night.

Tossing aside UConn’s ongoing perfect domination of the American Athletic Conference since its formation four years ago out of the rubble of the old Big East, the Huskies have also knocked down such national stalwarts as Florida State, Baylor, Ohio State, South Carolina, DePaul, Maryland, Texas and Notre Dame this season.

Auriemma has called this round in the past the most difficult in the tournament, even more than any of the two final steps under the Women’s Final Four, yet despite some thrillers over the years UConn brings a 12-game win streak in Elite Eight games and a 17-5 record overall playing at this round on the way to a men’s or women’s NCAA record 11 championships, including the last four in a row.

Asked at Sunday’s press conference who might be the deal maker this game on Monday, Auriemma was stumped in naming the likely star of stars to get UConn to the American Airlines Arena for Friday night’s semifinal games.

“If you had asked me last year, it would be easy for the most part,” Auriemma said. “I’ve got three guys to pick, for the most part, and one you know, for the most part.

“But I don’t know, this year it’s been kind of different. I mean, it’s like Napheesa has been pretty constant. Lou has been pretty constant, Kia has been amazing this tournament.
“And then Gabby is just – some games she’s the complete difference maker, in spite of all the other players. And then (Saturday against UCLA) it was Saniya,” he observed.

“I really don’t know. I wish I could tell you tell you, yeah, these two guys are. But I’m watching Notre Dame play Stanford and the kid from Notre Dame has 21 in the first half.

“You want somebody tomorrow to go, yeah, I got this. Whether it’s on our team or their team, it’s probably going to happen. But as to who it’s going to be, I don’t know. I don’t know. Hopefully, it’s not just one. It’s a couple of them.”

That brings us to the other Cinderella, or one might say, the true Cinderella.

That would be 10th-seeded Oregon (23-13), rebuilt in three seasons by former Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves to making the Ducks advance to their first Sweet 16 and now Elite Eight.

Oddly, a year ago, another Pac-12 squad Washington made it to its first Final Four on a run shaking off a challenge from Ivy League champion Penn to get going on a four-hop sweep  to Indianapolis.

This time, Oregon took the first round stopping another Philly Big Five team in seventh-seeded Temple, 71-70, at the last second, at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, then beat the second-seeded Blue Devils in a true road game to get here and on Saturday stunned third-seeded Maryland to get to Monday night hours before the Oregon men’s team advanced to its first Final Four.

In a change of pace enhancing the Cinderella from the Northwest, the Ducks are doing it with three freshmen in the starting lineup highlighted by the sensational Sabrina Ionescu.

Playing UConn, the gold standard in women’s basketball, has been the dream of many a hoopster besides the ones who look to the future to actually one day wear the uniform of the Blue and White.

Oregon on this path has become an unknown for the Huskies and the Ducks embrace the concept of going after what would be one of the all-time upsets and coming in a tournament that already has several major ones.

“Yeah, what an exciting opportunity,” said junior Lexi Bando. “You know, for any athlete or competitor, this is what you live for. You want to play at the biggest stage against the best team. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.”

Added Ionescu, “Yeah, we’re excited for this opportunity, especially as a young group. I think it’s going to test us in many ways, and I think we’re just excited to see where we stand and get a shot at playing against the No. 1 team in the country.”

She has no problem describing the components that keep UConn at the top, especially this season.

“Well, their culture. They recruit great kids and kids that want to compete and kids that want to win. They don’t really have any knuckleheads on their team,” Ionescu noted.

“So I mean they have great culture, great kids, and Geno is one of a kind, so I think that definitely helps them in achieving what they have achieved thus far and what they’re going to achieve in the future.”

Even before taking the floor Monday night, the two teams considered the biggest threats to UConn going in when the bracket was announced two weeks ago have been taken down.

Just one day after Oregon eliminated Maryland on Sunday night second-seeded Mississippi State made it four straight times that Baylor has been unable to get past the Elite Eight.

Notre Dame blew a 16-point lead earlier Sunday and fell by a point to Stanford. The winner of Monday’s game will get Mississippi State in Dallas Friday night in the semifinals while Stanford sees the winner of Monday night’s Stockton Regional final between South Carolina and Florida State.

It’s possible that the championship will come down to a coaching duel of Philadelphians between Auriemma and his former Olympic assistant and now successor Dawn Staley and her South Carolina squad.

But Auriemma’s only concern at the moment is playing an Oregon squad Monday night that is more of an unknown than Maryland would have been.

“It’s good that we’re playing a team that we’ve not played and don’t know much about,” Auriemma said. “So there’s a little bit of a difference preparing for them than it would be, say if it was Maryland or somebody else we had already played during the year.

“So that should be fun the next couple of days. We’re looking forward to it.”

Auriemma and Graves have their own mutual admiration society with Auriemma saying Graves was the right hire to get Oregon on the way to becoming in the national mix.

As for Graves, “It’s going to take our absolute best,”: he said of playing the Huskies. “There’s no doubt about it, and we’ve got to play for 40 minutes. You know watching them play and what Coach Auriemma has done is incredible. It truly is.

“I think they’ve set a standard that is good for our sport. You know, I hear people say all the time, oh, their dominance isn’t good for the sport. Really? I think it’s great for the sport. It makes us all accountable. We need to get better. We’ve got to improve our game.

“Listen, I’m going to go out and say, he’s the best coach in basketball, male, female, men’s basketball, women’s basketball. He’s just absolutely phenomenal, what he does, and how he motivates and coaches, and it’s going to be an honor to play tomorrow, and that being said, I hope I kick his butt.”

After UCLA went down to UConn on Saturday, Bruins coach Cori Close was asked what her Pac-12 rival Oregon folks need to do to have a shot Monday night playing the Huskies.

“The good news is March, you have to have great guard play,” Close said. “They have great guard play. Oregon has great guard play.

“They’re going to have to read the screen and roll really well, handle all those switches. There’s not a mismatch. A lot of times when people switch as well as they do, there’s a mismatch you can exploit. I think that’s going to be harder.

“They’re going to have to shoot the three well. They have to get enough stops that they can play up-tempo and shoot the three. I think they’re going to have to trade some threes and twos.

“Their kids, they don’t know they’re young. I’ve been watching them grow all year long. They just love playing together. It’s going to be a tall challenge, but I’m excited to watch them compete.”

Guru's NCAA: Geno Calls the Elite Eight the Most Difficult -- Not All the Time as This Recap Proves

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Throughout his Halls of Fame career and the growth to women’s basketball dominance of the Connecticut program, coach Geno Auriemma has called the Elite Eight Regional Final Game that leads to the Women’s Final Four the most difficult round of the NCAA tourney.

It’s even more so than win or lose the action at the two ensuing stops afterwards that successfully handled results in a national championship.

“We’re in a game that we want to be in, obviously,” he said Sunday afternoon at Webster Bank Arena looking to Monday Night’s Bridgeport Regional Final against upstart Oregon that leads to this weekend’s national championship action in Dallas.

“It’s a game everybody wants to be in. It’s the last step, really, where every kid wants to be. Every kid wants to be in the Final Four. It’s what they talk about when they go to college, playing  in the Final Four.

“So the day before the game an d all day tomorrow is probably the most stressful time. The actual game itself is fun to play in.”

Overall, Auriemma has guided the Huskies to 17-5 in this round, and 11 of those 17 wins that allowed advancement resulted in an NCAA men’s or women’s record 11 championships, though this time based on preseason projections could be the most surprising of all measured to the outlook months ago but not recently with another unbeaten run to glory looming ahead.

Here’s a look back at the UConn Elite Eight hsitory.

1991 – UConn 60, Clemson 57 at The Palestra in Philadelphia. It was a surprise homecoming for Auriemma’s first appearance at the level after favored Penn State had gone down in an earlier round at home to James Madison and the Huskies advanced to his hometown when a shot at the buzzer was waved off for Toledo at the previous round at home in Storrs.

The Huskies went down to Virginia, where Auriemma at been an assistant coach, in the semifinals but he became a new national personality in women’s circles attracting the media with his endless supply of dry wit and other quaotable comments.

The game in Philly against Clemson was in the balance most of the day until it broke in UConn’s direction.

1994 – North Carolina 81, UConn 69 at the Louis Brown Arena (Rutgers) in Piscataway, N.J. This Sweet 16 could have changed the Huskies storyline somewhat had not Vanderbilt lost to the Tar Heels in the previous round on a blown layup because though playing against Auriemma’s good friend Jim Foster, who hired him as an assistant when Foster took the Saint Joseph’s job in Philadelphia, would have been tough emotionally, UConn had enough to top the Commodores. But against the Tar Heels, Tonya Sampson whipped Jen Rizzotti around like a rag doll all afternoon and UNC went on to win it all on Charlotte Smith’s three-point shot against Louisiana Tech at the buzzer.

1995 – UConn 67, Virginia 63 at Harry Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. – It was the magical year well before the Huskies went on to replace Tennessee as the Darth Vander of women’s basketball. The bid to host had been made well before UConn developed into a force to be one of the teams in the region title game. But at the half his former boss Debbie Ryan had the Cavaliers poised to spoil the expected fun in Minneapolis, leading at the half and in the game until the Huskies broke through in the closing minutes and go on to win their first title with their first unbeaten records.

1996 – UConn 67, Vanderbilt 57 at Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Ill. At the arena in the shadows of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, this time Auriemma finally met up with Foster’s Commodores and pretty much controlled the night but Tennessee finally got its revenge for the previous season when the Lady Vols topped UConn in a tremendous national semifinal game 88-83 in overtime in Charlotte, N.C.

1997 – Tennessee 91, UConn 81 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa – The belief was the committee set a draw to put both teams on a collision course earlier in the tourney to change the complexion of the Final Four. The Huskies came into the game in trouble with future Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Kara Wolters sidelined with an injury and the Vols took advantage to move on to an eventual title, made possible by an Old Dominion upset of favored Stanford in the semifinals.

1998 – N.C. State 60, UConn 52 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Huskies were again shorthanded through injuries though the fact that Wolfpack coach Kay Yow was advancing with the win made everyone in the sport happy to see her get that far. But that year Tennessee had the super team that went unbeaten so the Huskies would have been a strong underdog in Kansas City.

2000 – UConn 86, LSU 71 at ALLTEL Pavilion in Richmond, Va. – It was little difficulty beating a team coached by another legend in Sue Gunter and it was on to the homecoming party for Geno in Philadelphia and a win over Tennessee in the finals at then-called First Union Center.

2001—UConn 67, LaTech 48 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. – Again, not much stress here and the Huskies were poised to win another title until in a rare moment in her career after UConn held a sizable halftime lead against Big East rival Notre Dame freshman Diana Taurasi imploded in the second half in the national semifinal in Savvis Center in Saint Louis, Mo., and the Irish ralled and then went on to beat Purdue for their only title.

2002 – UConn 85, Old Dominion 64 in U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, Wis. --  Little problem beating the former dominant Lady Monarchs and it was on to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas., where the Huskies romped over Tennessee in the semifinals and then in a competitive game took control late to beat an up and coming Oklahoma program 82-70 for the first of three straight titles.

2003 – UConn 73, Purdue 64 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. – The score is not necessarily refective of the outcome and then it was on to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta where a stirring comeback late in the semifinals dispatched Texas, 711-69, and then a closely fought 73-68 win over Tennessee in another national showdown with the Lady Vols.

2004 – UConn 66, Penn State 49 at Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Conn. – The Lady Lions weren’t happy to be in this bracket against the Huskies, rather than wanting to be on a different path to get to the finals before facing the Huskies. Auriemma’s group got to New Orleans and kept dancing through Minnesota and again Tennessee to send Taurasi’s farewell to college ball out in a joyous occasion with a third straight title.

2006 – Duke 63, UConn 61, overtime at the Arena at Harbor Yard (now known as Webster Bank)  at Bridgeport, Conn. The Huskies had their chances and one of the Elite Eight games given.at least a 50-50 chance to win that a missed shot at the finish allowed the Blue Devils to move on to nearby Boston where they got victimized in overtime by the ten-ACC rival Maryland bunch in the championship.

2007 – LSU 73, UConn 50  at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. – Not much to say here as the Huskies were a heavy underdog and underwhelming they stayed. The Tigers went on to lose to Rutgers in the semifinals who lost to the Candace Parker-led Tennessee gtroup in the championship.

2008 – UConn 66, Rutgers 56 at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. – The Big East rival Scarlet Knights, unhappy to be in the same regional, took a big lead in the first half and then the Huskies rallied and took control only to suffer the consequences of missing two stars injured earlier and thus exploited in the national semifinal in Tampa, Fla., by Stanford, who then lost to Tennessee.

2009 – UConn 83, Arizona State 64 at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J. – Not too far from home the Huskies had an easy time of it on the way to beating Stanford and Big East rival Louisville in Saint Louis to complete the first of two unbeaten back-to-back seasons.

2010 – UConn 90, Florida State 50 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio – Another easy time before moving on to whipping Baylor in the national semifinal in San Antonio before struggling in the first half against Stanford until Maya Moore took over in the second half on the way to a second straight unbeaten season.

2011 – UConn 75, Duke 40 at Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Pa. – Another Philly homecoming and easy time on Temple’s campus before being bedeviled by Big East rival Notre Dame in the national semifinal.

2012 – UConn 80, Kentucky 65 at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. – An easy win to advance to the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., where once again Notre Dame short-circuited the Huskies in the semifinals.

2013 – UConn 83, Kentucky 53 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. -- The Wildcats were taken down again easy and it was on to New Orleans where the overall favorite Baylor was missing, having been taken down by Louisville, who then lost to the Huskies in the championship to start the four-for-four march of freshman Breanna Stewart and friends.

2014 – UConn 69, Texas A&M 54 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb.  – Another easy time in the Elite Eight and on to Nashville, Tenn., where the current long range win streak was being cobbled as now Notre Dame of the ACC was taken down in the championship in the first-ever battle of the unbeaten teams in the championship.

2015 – UConn 91, Dayton 70  at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. – Don’t let this outcome totally fool you because the Flyers held a halftime lead before the Huskies took over and then moved on to consecutive title No. 3 beating Notre Dame again for the championship but this time in Tampa.

2016 – UConn 86, Texas 65 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. – Another easy time and on to Indianapolis where a surprise opponent in former Big East rival Syracuse, now in the ACC, showed up in the title game to fall as Stewie completed the Four-for-Four deal.

2017 – UConn vs Oregon ??? At Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. – The two biggest threats to a not-anticipated unbeaten season have been removed in Maryland and Baylor by others doing the dirty work for the Huskies. So how does this round turn out. Will it be 13 straight. Stay tuned.

Guru's WNIT Report: Villanova Tops Indiana to Reach Semifinals

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

A year ago it was Jay Wright and the Villanova men’s team achieving postseason greatness with the NCAA title.

Now it’s Harry Perretta and the Wildcats’ women’s team doing some amazing things.

On Sunday afternoon Perretta’s group playing its fourth straight road game in the WNIT made it to the national semifinals at the Final Four level beating host Indiana 69-57 in Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

The Wildcats (20-14), getting to a 20 win season for the fifth straight time, did what they do best when they are on the mark to do it and that is to shoot the 3-ball to overcome other deficiencies.

On Sunday ‘Nova rode its way to Wednesday’s semifinal game at Michigan in Ann Arbor while the other semifinal after Sunday’s games will have Georgia Tech, a 76-66 winner over visiting Alabama, meeting Washington State, a 74-66 winner over host Iowa.

Oddly, there was a thought Perretta’s bunch could be this good this season but it is a young group and unlike some other freshmen tandems who have succeeded in the NCAA tournament, this one has taken time to grow out in Philadelphia’s Main Line in the western suburbs.

With some doubt that Villanova might not have been taken as an at-large team at 16-14 this time, such is the nature that builds the WNIT 64-team field, that once third place but Big East tournament champion Marquette, top-seed off regular season champion DePaul and second seed and co-regular season champion Creighton went to the NCAA, the Wildcats in a fourth-place tie with Saint John’s but the fourth-place team with a season sweep of the Red Storm became the official official conference automatic qualifier to the WNIT field.

Once in the bracket, Villanova opened with a win at Ivy runnerup Princeton, then across town at at-large entry Drexel, coached by Wildcats alumna Denise Dillon, whose team won the 2013 WNIT, and then at difficult Colonial Athletic Association automatic qualifier James Madison in overtime and into Indiana for Sunday’s fourth-straight road win.

At Michigan on Wednesday there will be a bit of a reunion in that Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico used to go against Perretta and the Wildcats when she coached at Saint John’s in the old Big East.

Two rounds ago, Arico and the Wolverines eliminated Saint John’s coached by her successor and former assistant Joe Tartamella.

Villanova started with a sizzling attack from beyond the arc as sophomore more guard Jannah Tucker was 4-for-5, sophomore guard Adrianna Hahn was 3-for-7, junior guard Alex Louin was 2-for-3, and junior center Megan Quinn was 1-for-2 making the team 10-for-17 and overall 15-for-28 from the field for a 41-30 at the break.

A defensive stand in the third quarter enabled the Hoosiers (23-11) to move within seven points by the end of the third quarter at 47-40.

Twice in the final period the Hoosiers moved within four points, the second at 51-47 with 6 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation.

Then Quinn scored inside for the Wildcats and a six-point lead before both teams were unable to score the next two minutes.

A trey from Louin made it a nine-point lead with 4:47 left in regulation.

The Hoosiers then got it back to within four again Amber Deane hit a trey and Tyra Buss scored to make it 56-52 the Wildcats still in front with 2:56 left in regulation.

Louin off an out of bounds play scored to make it 58-52 with 2:10 left and then she hit 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession and Villanova led 59-52.

The Wildcats held the Hoosiers scoreless the next possession and then got the ball with 1:02 left.

Villanova then ballooned the lead in the final minute going a perfect 10-for-10 from the line in the last minute with Louin getting six of the points.

Tucker, who shot 6-for-13 from the field, scored 19 points, while Louin had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists; and Hahn scored 13 points. Senior Samantha Wilkes helped keep her career alive with six rebounds and four blocks to shore up the Villanova defense.

Buss had a game-high 21 points for the Hoosiers, Deane scored 12, and Cahill 10.

Villanova, now 15-9 in the WNIT, moves to its first semifinal game, and will take a perfect 2-0 record this season over Big 10 schools against the Wolverines, a third member of the conference.

Tucker has scored a combined 41 points her last two games heading to Michigan.

Meanwhile, in the Georgia Tech victory, the Yellowjackets (21-14), now with the most wins since collecting 26 in 2012, moved to their first semifinal since 1992 as five players scored in double figures in the home win inside McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.

The winners led by as many as 24 points over the Crimson Tide () and will host Washington State on Wednesday.

Elo Edeferioka scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Alabama, while Antonia Peresson and Kaylan Pugh scored 12 points each and Francesca Pan scored 10.

In losing to visiting Washington State (16-19), a talented team which got decimated by injuries but because of the high number of Pac-12 squads in the NCAA earned the WNIT conference AQ, host Iowa (20-14) got 19 points and 15 rebounds from Megan Gustafson, 16 points from Ally Disterhoft, and 11 from Kathleen Doyle at home in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Alexys Swedlund got a game high 20 points for Washington State, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou had a double double of 13 points and 11 rebounds while Caila Hailey also had a double double for the Cougars with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Ivana Kmetovska scored 14 points.

In the season-ending loss for Alabama (22-14), in which the Tide had their best win total since 1997-98, Shaquera Wade scored 15 points, Ashley Williams scored 13 and grabbed 13 rebounds, Jordan Lewis scored 13, and Hannah Cook scored 11.

“We have a lot to build on, a lot to be proud of and a lot to move forward with in the future,” said Kristy Curry, whose previous coaching stops were at Texas Tech and Purdue.

Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph, a former Purdue star, said, “I thought everyone stepped up and played their role. I’m just really pleased with the development and growth of this team.”

Rice Tops UNC-Greensboro 74-62 to Win Women’s Basketball Invitational

Former Maryland assistant Tina Langley has led Rice (22-13) to its first ever postseason title in winning the WBI in events not involving conference tournaments.

“I’m so tremendously happy for our seniors to be able to go out with a championship,” she said of the Conference USA school.

Maya Hawkins scored 17 points in becoming the MVP of the eight-team tourney played on home courts with Rice winning at its Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston and during the title game she became the 17th player in the program to reach 1,000 points for a career.

Jasmine Goodwine scored 13 and finished her career with 1,211 as Rice tied the 2000 and 2004 squads for second most wins in a season.

The Spartans finished at 20-15, collecting their most wins since the 2006-07 season.

UNCG senior Shanese Harris scored 20 for the team coached by Trina Patterson.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Guru's NCAA: Oregon Stuns Maryland While UConn Stops UCLA

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn.  – Cancel the expected drama many were looking forward to happening here Monday at the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Bridgeport Regional at Webster Bank Arena.

A major threat to the University of Connecticut’s run to a fifth straight NCAA title and ongoing record win streak has been replaced by an unknown threat.

The overall top-seeded Huskies, as expected, got to the Elite Eight round and gateway to next weekend’s Women’s Final Four at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas by beating fourth-seeded UCLA 86-71 in the second game of Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader.

But third-seeded Maryland, a position handed by the NCAA committee at the outset in the 64-team draw that was considered low by many observers, became the latest to be stunned by the happy-go-lucky 10th-seeded Oregon squad, 77-63, as the youthful Ducks (23-13) advance from their first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance to making their debut as a regional finalist.

“I continue to be amazed by this team,” said third-year coach Kelly Graves, who previously built Gonzaga into a national force and also led the Zags as a double digit seed into an Elite Eight stage of the tournament.

“You know, just the fact that over the last five days we went cross-country twice, had final exams, played a great team – three great teams in this tournament,” Graves continued.

“And you know, they continue to show poise down the stretch, and I’ll tell you it’s just impressive to watch. We continue to get better and better as a basketball team. We’re excited to move on.”

Oregon got started with escaping seventh-seeded Temple 71-70, stopping the Owls on the last play, a week ago at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., and then in what was essentially a true road game took down the second-seeded Blue Devils 74-65.

“I’ll tell you this, Oregon is for real,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, after her Terrapins (32-3) got short circuited from getting a second shot at the UConn squad they barely lost to at home 87-81 in late December. “I thought they were sensational. I thought they punched first. I thought they were fearless, aggressive, confident, really pushed us in terms of any mistakes, any breakdowns that we would have.”

In a matchup of two of the nation’s top freshmen, both guards, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu easily came out ahead of Maryland’s Destiny Slocum, scoring a game-high 21 points, shooting 7-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-5 on three-point attempts, a perfect 4-for-4 on the line, while grabbing six rebounds and dealing seven assists.

Slocum scored nine points, shot 3-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-1 on the long-range blanks attack that had the entire Maryland squad going 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“We’re blessed to be in this position,” said Ionescu, one of three freshmen starters for the Ducks along with Ruthy Hebard and 6-foot-5 Mallory McGwire. “And I think we’re excited about everything. No one’s been here. None of our kids have ever experienced anything like that.

“So I think we’re just excited to be able to play another day and see where that takes us.”

One person not surprised at Oregon’s run is the coach of the Ducks’ Monday night opponent, Hall of Fame Connecticut mentor Geno Auriemma.

“I’m not even the least bit surprised at what they’re doing,” he said following the Huskies’ win over the Bruins. “Not even a little bit.

“I remember when Kelly got the job. I told everybody in the coaching profession, I said, `They’re going to be in the Final Four sooner than anybody thinks.

“As I said earlier today, it better not be this soon. But they’re going to be there because he’s a hell of a coach. You can recruit pretty good players to Oregon. He’s done that.

“They are a really, really good team. If you got really good guards, you can have a really good team. They’ve got some pretty good guards.”

Behind Ionescu’s performance, Hebard scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds with three steals. Maite Cazorla had 15 points, shooting 5-for-9 from the field; Lexi Bando had 10 points and Oti Gildon, off the bench when McGwire had her fourth foul, had 11 points.

“It felt great,” said Gidon, who also had nine rebounds and four steals. “Coming off the bench, I had to make sure I did whatever I needed to do for the team, which was defense and rebounding, so I just had to make sure I kept doing that.”

Maryland’s two all-Americans, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker Kimbrough, each scored 16 points, but Walker-Kimbrough’s came late for the most part, while Brianna Fraser, a sophomore, had 10 off the bench.

The game was close early when most of the 14 lead chances occurred, as well as one tie.

Hebard’s layup with 7:34 left in the first half, grabbed the lead back from the Big 10 champions, and Oregon held it for the rest of the game with Ionescu’s trey with 30 seconds left in the half making it a 36-27 nine-point advantage.

A Slocum layup with 5:26 left in the third got the Terrapins within three at 40-37 but Oregon answered with a 7-0 run for a 10-point lead that grew to 14 just before the end of the period before Maryland got two back.

Oregon rebuilt the 14-point advantage with 5:06 left in the game at 69-55 but Maryland fought back to within six with 3:19 left in the game at 69-63 but it would be the last points the Terrapins scored on the season.

“I thought we pressed early,” Frese said of Maryland’s offensive struggle. “They took the air out of the ball, which was really a smart move by them. We’ve seen that in the past but we didn’t handle it well at all.

“Then it felt like every time we would get it to within six points, we would have some sort of breakdown, whether it was off an O board, whether it was a defensive stop, then they would break it back open.”

 Ionescu quickly countered with a jumper, sending Oregon on the way to closing with an 8-0 flurry.

“You know, like I just told the team in the locker room, I’m not going to let one game define the season we had this year, and I’m pretty proud of this team and everything we’ve been through,” Frese said.

“Most proud of our seniors. You know, 125 career wins, they leave with six conference titles, two Final Fours, and everything they mean to Maryland for us.”

The Terrapins total was their lowest of the season.

“I just think it was one of those days,” Slocum said. “We were clicking on offense, things were just – we kind of lost our game, and I think even though it was a low scoring game, we were trying our best, doing anything we could. I don’t think there’s really an answer for it.”

But Walker-Kimbrough noted, “Their defense was pretty good, making my shot difficult. I credit the defense, their defense.”

Oregon is in the tournament for the first time since 2005, a 12-year gap.

“I thought Oregon likened to our 2006 championship team,” Frese said. “They’re confident and really disciplined and make you pay for your mistakes.”

Oregon has the tallest lineup in the country and one that held Maryland to 27 points under the Terrapins’ scoring average, highest in the country.

Bruins Felled as UConn Returns to the Elite Eight

With 4:28 left in the first quarter of the nightcap the score was tied 11-9 as UCLA was threatening to make it a Pac-12 sweep to add to the semi-monopolization the conference held with five teams in the Sweet 16 heading into the weekend.

Then UConn did what UConn does going on a lengthy 13-2 run the rest of the period for a 22-13 advantage.

The Huskies then kept it going into the next period for combined 28-7 explosion after Katie Lou Samuelson’s layup and the differential would reach 20 in the final minute before Paulina Hersler’s triplet reduced it slightly to 17 as the break arrived with UConn in front 48-31.

The Bruins (25-9) then stabilized it which was good but didn’t do much to reduce the deficit with UConn up by 20 at 60-40 with 4:29 left in the third period.

That was enough in the Huskies scoring account to withstand a UCLA ensuing rally that cut the lead to 12 points before it settled at 13 at 65-52 with 10 minutes left in the game.

The Huskies got it back up to 20 at 76-56 with 6:15 left in the game before one more Bruins rally cut it to 12 with 2:01 left.

But that would be the high water mark of a UCLA late-game insurgency as UConn (35-0) closed it out 6-3 the rest of the way for a final tally of 86-71 and it was on to the Elite Eight for the 12th straight time.

That led to the current immediate postgame notes update activity as the UConn records continued to roll.

Among them, the overall extending unbeaten streak dating back to 2014 now stands at 110 straight while the triumph in NCAA competition became 112, tying Auriemma with the late Tennessee Hall of Famer Pat Summitt.

It’s the second straight year that UCLA’s season ended here but the first that UConn was the final opponent with Texas having won the previous closeout.

“Well, you know, credit to UConn,” said Bruins coach Cori Close afterwards. “They are so consistent in their standard of excellence.

“I thought we were prepared. I thought we believed in what we were doing. We just had that segment in the first half for about eight minutes where we sort of lost our focus and our discipline,” she continued.

“When you lose that, they capitalize. So credit to them. They’ve set the bar of excellence and they’ve kept it there for a really long time. It’s just a really big commitment to all the little details, a lot of the little inches.”

Four Huskies scored in double figures with Napheesa Collier having the super night with 27 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. Gabby Williams added 17 points and nine rebounds while off the bench senior Saniya Chong, many times the unheralded Husky, had 16 points, while Katie Lou Samuelson scored 15. Kia Nurse had nine points while shooting 3-of-4 on three-pointers, a category of which Chong shot 4-of-6.

Junior Jordin Canada had 20 points and 11 assists for UCLA, while Monique Billings scored 17, and senior Kari Korver, a cousin of NBA player and former 76er Kyle Korver, scored 15 in her final game of her collegiate career.

Korver was Close’s first key recruiting signee after the former Florida State assistant’s hire in 2011 that eventually with UCLA’s first ranking under Close made her one of what is now 35 women to play and coach on a team ranked in the Associated Press women’s poll.

Close captained the 1992 UC Santa Barbara squad that made the final poll for its first appearance and last until several years later but nonetheless qualifies Close for the special mention.

With Korver’s last game, the marking brought a bit of Auld Lang Syne emotion to Close’s postgame remarks.

“..I don’t want it to end,” Close said. “I just love these young women. These guys, I mean, (nodding toward Korver), this little kid from L.A. said, ‘Hey, I want to stay home. I want to build a program, take a risk, do something special.’ We fell short, but that’s exactly what she’s done.

“Kari Korver, she was one of my first phone calls within my first week when I got the job. She believed in our mission, not just on the court. We do things a little differently at UCLA. She believed in it before it bore fruit on the court.”

Asked what caused things to change from UCLA holding UConn under control in the opening minutes until things suddenly got out of hand, Korver said, “I think we didn’t rebound particularly well. We had a 10-minute stretch where we didn’t get any rebounds. They had a bunch of transition threes where we weren’t getting matched up very well.

“They had second-hand points. They hit threes in transition.”

Canada agreed with her teammate, adding, “We also had some mental lapses in the second quarter. That’s when they went on their run.

“For a second, we kind of looked defeated. That’s when they capitalized on their opportunities to score in transition and get offensive rebounds. I think it was just our lack of focus.”

Chong’s performance became the attention-getter afterwards in postgame questions to both Close and Auriemma.

“That didn’t surprise me,” Close said. “You can’t do a good job on just one or two players with Connecticut. You have to do a phenomenal A-plus job on the team. I’ve watched her a lot on film. She did a great job all year long for them.

"Didn't surprise me at all. It's never about the individual. It’s always about the team. I think she was just ready when her number was called and her opportunity came.”

Auriemma also praised his older player.

“Today, the effort and play of Saniya, I thought it was the difference in the game,” he said. “You know what you’re going to get from those other guys. They did what they always do, for the most part.

“Saniya made some big plays, some big shots. She’s as good now as she can be. It’s at the perfect time in her career. I mean, she’s a senior. Sometimes it never happens. I’m really thrilled for her that it’s happening. She deserves it. She’s hung in there,” he said.

“This year, it’s all kind of fallen into place for her,” Auriemma said after noting how much Ching struggled her first three seasons. “She deserves it. She’s worked very hard. She deserves it.”

AS for how the game went, Auriemma said, “…today it was a struggle for us. Even when we got up 20, I didn’t think it was like being up 20 against someone else, where you know it’s going to go from 20 to 30. I never had that feeling.

“It was a grind for our guys. We felt it a bit in the fourth quarter.”

As for the youthful next opponent on Monday night that is the last hurdle on going back to the Final Four again, Auriemma said, “They were too young to know any better. They didn’t realize they’re suppose to be, like nervous. They don’t realize this is suppose to be really hard, you know.

“You’re not supposed to just walk into the NCAA tournament and just start beating teams with three freshmen in the starting lineup, and a freshman point guard.”

As to how Maryland went down, making the youthfulness attitude from Oregon becoming the unknown factor, as opposed to what was expecting to be a strong challenge from the Terrapins, Auriemma said, “Sometimes the pressure that teams put on you by scoring, and I think that’s what they did to Maryland today, they would come down and get a bucket, and Maryland would miss, then they would come down and run 28 seconds off the shot clock, get another bucket, and Maryland would come down and miss. After a while the pressure to have to score gets to the kids.

“I don’t know if we can defend (Oregon) on Monday. I really don’t. We’ll come up with something. But this time of year, I want to try to get to 90 and take my chances. I don’t wwant to try to win games 65-60. That’s probably not going to work.”

Meanwhile, in the Stockton Regional, with top-seeded South Carolina putting down the Cinderella uprising of Quinnipiac 100-58, and third-seeded Florida State upsetting second-seeded Oregon State 66-53, the complete Elite Eight are set.

On Sunday, two of the Final Four will be determined with top-seeded and injured Notre Dame meeting second-seeded Stanford in the Lexington Regional at Noon before top-seeded Baylor meets second-seeded Mississippi State at 7:36 p.m.in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Monday night, as mentioned, Connecticut will meet Oregon here at 7:06 p.m. Before South Carolina and Florida State meet at 9:06 p.m. In the Stockton Regional in California.


Guru's Notes: Will Hall of Fame Knock on Doors of Mulkey and McGraw?

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

With Baylor and Notre Dame seeking to get to the Women’s Final Four on Sunday comes what could be really big lifetime moments for Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw in the next 48 hours, though not all of it will be immediately for public consumption.

Notre Dame (33-3), the top seed in the Lexington Regional in Kentucky, meets second-seeded Stanford (31-5) at 12:06 p.m. on ESPN2 before top-seeded Baylor (33-3) meets second-seeded Mississippi State (32-4) at 7:36 p.m. on ESPN2 in the Oklahoma City reginal.

That’s the public part.

Meanwhile both McGraw and Mulkey are finalists for the 2017 induction class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., as is ESPN broadcaster Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn. Star in the mid-1990s who is in the contributor category, and the Wayland Baptist squad that won 131 games straight from 1953-58, the next winning mark that UConn is also a threat to break.

Deadline for picking the class, who will be inducted in September, was Tuesday froma a select panel of 24 voters..

Normally all the winning inductees are flown to the men’s Final Four, this year in Phoenix, Ariz., to be introduced the Monday morning before the men’s title game that night, though at the game the inductees are also introduced to the crowd.

Based on some winners’ recollections in the past, the official call telling each candidate either congratulations or regrets should be come Monday or Tuesday.

“It’s always my most joyous moment and also tough moment, telling the candidates whether they are in our out,” said Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva recently.

McGraw and Wayland were also finalists last year out of the women’s subcommittee but did not get voted in, a surprise in the case of McGraw, who was considered a strong favorite with former WNBA, Olympic and Texas Tech star Sheryl Swoopes, who did get voted into the Hall.

But here’s where some historical precedence may occur.

With wins Sunday, McGraw and Mulkey would have to be in Dallas for Friday night’s semifinals while Lobo is one of the key studio analysts for ESPN on the women’s tournament, so she would likewise have to be in Texas, which, coincidentally is where the Wayland campus is in the panhandle town of Plainview.

Usually, at least one of the women’s candidates makes induction. This is the second year by the way the subcommittee was allowed a maximum four nominees expanded from the limitations of two in the past.

Thus, the Hall may have to announce any or all three of the women’s winners, depending who makes it, perhaps as early as Friday next weekend because of the conflict and several sources confirmed in advance of the voting totals that a contingency was being explored if the situation goes into play.

If South Carolina, coached by Dawn Staley, and Connecticut, coached by Geno Auriemma, get to Dallas with their teams, and McGraw and Mulkey get picked, it means all the Women’s Final Four coaches would be Naismith Hall of Famers.

Auriemma is also the recent gold medal-winning USA coach in 2012 and last summer while Staley will be the 2020 Olympic coach in Japan.

Stay tuned.

Villanova Seeking WNIT Final Four

The Villanova men’s team, the 2016 NCAA champions, were knocked out of the NCAA field last weekend by Wisconsin in the second round, leaving the women’s team from the Main Line in Philadelphia’s Western suburbs, one of a handful still alive playing in the WNIT, which began with a field of 64 teams not in the NCAA women’s event.

The Wildcats, who were 16-14 after elimination in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, earned the automatic qualifier for the WNIT out of the conference as the highest team not in the NCAA field after Marquette, third in the final standings, upset regular-season co-champion DePaul in the conference title game, to earn a spot, and DePaul and Creighton, the other co-champion, were taken by the NCAA.

Villanova finished tied for fourth with Saint John’s but had the tiebreak to be the fourth seed, hence, also being in the WNIT AQ berth.

Once in and having to go on the road, the Wildcats came to life winning at Princeton, the AQ out of the Ivy League, at crosstown rival Drexel, an at-large pick, and at James Madison, the AQ out of the CAA.

That put veteran coach Harry Perretta and his team in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday, to visit Indiana (23-10) at 2 p.m. The winner will meet Michigan (26-9), in a WNIT Final Four game after the Wolverines eliminated Virginia Tech 80-62 on Saturday night.

In other WNIT Elite Eight games Sunday, surprising Alabama (22-13) will visit Georgia Tech (20-14) at 2 p.m. while Washington State (15-19), the AQ out of the Pac-12 after a record number of teams landed in the NCAA field visits Iowa (20-13) at 3 p.m.

Those winners will meet in the other WNIT national semifinals.

Villanova is the latest in string of Philadelphia-area teams making strong runs, beginning in 2013 when Drexel took the championship, followed the next year by Rutgers, while Temple made deep bids in 2015 and 2016, the latter when the Owls advanced to the semifinals.

That’s a wrap.

Siroky's SEC Report: South Carolina Eases Into Elite 8

 By Mike Siroky

South Carolina 100, Quinnipiac 58


Quickly dispatched

Quietly flying home.

Quinnipiac somehow got to the Stockton Region semifinals where a very confident No. 1 seed South Carolina awaited.

The Gamecocks mostly wanted to win their 30th. So did Quinnipiac. That’s where the similarity ended.

Quinnipiac was favored by .1 percent of players in the most popular national bracket game.

That was about right.

Alisha Gray played of course, as we reported she would and was more or less the crashing guard of the Gamecocks’ four-guard array.

She and Kaela Davis scored the first seven of the 9-0 start. Quinnipiac called a time out, three minutes in. All it did was delay the inevitable.

We all love an underdog story, but only when the underdog is legitimate.

 The two teams the Bobcats beat in the tournament were not on anyone’s list of threats to SC or any good team.

You have to be good to even be a legitimate underdog. UCLA and Florida, overstaffed with freshmen, these are underdogs at this level.

It reinforces the women’s rule that has always been there is usually an elite team, maybe two or three other good ones and then there’s everyone else.

There has to be a Final Four, but name the others ever in the national semifinals.

They don’t matter and neither did Quinnipiac in this one. South Carolina can still be a Final Four team.

There was no surprise in this one. Never. Ever. Not even a Klown Kar of entertainment.

Coaches can either enjoy and encourage or go all Bob Knight on their team in angry energy. The latter did not work.

 Neither did the circus props at courtside, a bell to be rung and a ladder to be climbed.

Instead, they got the wake up call ringing in their ears and chance to step up to the departure lounge at the airport. Thanks for playing, here is your lovely parting gift.

After the time out, it grew to 16-0. Staley softly introduced a substitute to get her game experience for the next one.

Kaela Davis had eight points. With no points, Quinnipiac was 0-for-10 without a shooting percentage because you have to make one to get one.

Finally a free throw. The ESPN commentator tried to tell us how relaxed they were. Yep, they were coma-like relaxed.

It is no surprise the quarter ended with South Carolina imposing a single-digit defensive quarter, 20-7.

SC had not missed a free throw in nine tries. They had 16 rebounds to five. The freshman point guard, the first-ever in Dawn Staley’s SC career, had two fouls but who cared. It just meant opportunity for another player.

You knew, already, every player would play anyway. Why give the next for a look at the first team?

Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri had to pretend there would be a turnaround in the final three quarters of her season.

“I think we just settle down. We have to try and get it under double-digits before halftime,” she said. “Take a deep breath.”

She had tried four substitutes, to at least get their name in the NCAA and school record books as participants.

South Carolina did the same for a different reason and were up to eight players used. The ESPN commenters were watching some other game as they kept referring to South Carolina with the caution, “If they advance.” Oh have some guts.

Most of Quinnipiac’s drives were one-and-done. SC had two offensive rebounds. SC had 14 defensive and seven on offense. It was 31-14 and Quinnipiac had indeed settled down, the second the operative word. It had become a practice game for the No. 1 seed, a pickup game against anyone on campus.
It was 45-27 at the break. They didn’t escape a double-digit deficit.

Wilson had 16, Davis 15, Gray 12. Any two of them had as much as the Bobcat team. Rebounds were 21-10.  Four Quinnipiacians had two fouls each.

Even Wilson was surprised at the attempted triple-team.

“They’re playing me defensively the way I have never seen before, playing in front of me. So I am just doing what I can to put points on the board.”

They pushed the lead to 27 on a 13-4 run.  Every Gamecock had already played.

Quinnipiac’s coach used her last bullet – a technical foul for shouting something unacceptable – but SC just shrugged. Davis got to 20 points, 10-of-10 at the line.

The quarter ended 76-44. Staley said it was a matter of “Staying engaged. We told them we had some lulls in the first half.”

Especially engaged was Davis, 5-of-6 on 3s, all five she tried in the third good.

Only playing time defined who would be allowed to score what. Davis sat down with 26 minutes and 24 points; Davis had 28 in 23 minutes, Gray 19 with a team-high eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

 They sat most of the fourth, cheerleading when the only question was would SC’s reserves push it to 100, which they did on the last possession. Quinnipiac had scored 85 in its previous outing against a lesser team.

“I was just hitting a lot of shots,” said Davis. “We were moving the ball all along. We had 40 points in the paint and that means a lot to us because it means we are moving the ball.”

South Carolina had won its 30th. It scored the most it had all season. It hit 18-of-19 from the line, 62 percent from the field.

Staley took it easy on the Bobcats in her comments, focusing, as usual, on her team.

“Well, it was great to get out, to get out there and play another game,” Staley said.
“ It seemed like we were off for a long time. I thought our players came out ready to play on both sides of the ball and it was a really exciting game for us.

“We were really up for the challenge of playing. I’m glad we get a chance to move on.”

Davis said the points were nice and all, but defense comes first.

“I think our biggest thing was obviously pressuring outside the 3-point line,” Davis said “I’ve honestly never seen a team that could shoot the ball as well as them. Our biggest thing was just making them put the ball on the floor, you know, and if we had to give up a two, we'd much rather give up a two rather than a 3.”

Gray followed her coach on focus.

“Just staying engaged. Like Kaela said, they are a great 3-point shooting team. We tried our best to run them off the 3 line, also,” Gray said.

“When we come out, we play every team the same. Doesn't matter what name is on the jersey. We come out to play. Obviously they had a good run, but we still got a mission to complete and that's to make it to the Final Four National Championship.”

Davis: “I second that.” On shooting “It doesn't matter, get my feet set, just making sure, kind of staying in rhythm. Like coach said, it feels like we’ve been on for a long time with the gap between games. I think it’s just like I said, just finding rhythm and staying in a rhythm.”

Gray said: “The main thing for us is to come out strong the first five minutes and then take the game from there. We definitely want to stay aggressive and continue playing South Carolina basketball.”

Davis points out this is her first Elite 8, so she entered with no preconceived notions.

“We're going to play basketball. We're going to play the way that we know how to play. No matter who is in front of us, we have to play hard. We have to come ready to play no matter who it is, as it was today.

“It’s really good teams. Really experienced teams. Like I said, we are going to come out and play our game and play hard.”

Gray seconded her assessment.

Staley has kept the plan in motion, not allowing until now to look at the next round.

“I think for teams that have a goal of going to the Final Four and winning the National Championship, it is that step that, you know, can prevent you. Either you can overlook it -- not overlook it, but you can try to get ahead of yourself,” Staley said.

“I think for us, we just need to stay in character.

“We need to approach it much like we approached every game of the season. Although the stakes are a little bit higher. Just keep it as normal as possible, and the teams that are able to stay the course and keep it normal are the ones that can open up a game.

“I was incredibly proud of our team to be able to lock in to the game plan, and execute it. I thought we did have a few lulls in the second quarter where we got careless with the basketball, and we also let some shooters loose. They had a really good second quarter.

“So we have to continue to not have those lapses and put 40-minute games together at this stage of the game, because we'll play another great team on Monday night, and if you, you know, allow teams to play to their strengths, they can really make you pay for it.”

Without Alaina Coates, she has the luxury of stepping on the gas.

“The biggest thing for us in this particular game is our speed. We wanted to speed them up,” said Staley.

“We didn't want them to be comfortable in their sets and allowing them to read what our defense is. And then staying in front of them. Just staying in between them and the basket and not allowing them to get ahead of the possession, because once they are ahead of the possession, it's hard to fight your way back. They will get open 3s when it's like that.

“With Alaina out, I think it just leaves a big void. Like driving lanes were there for us. It gives A'Ja an opportunity to work the paint a little bit more and maybe feel like it's not so clogged up. And I thought tonight, or today, they played, almost double-teamed her.

“But for the guards, like Kaela, she's getting to the basket a little bit more. Allisha can play more downhill. Bianca Cuevas thrives off of the space that's left with the void of not having Alaina Coates in there.

“But we do, we feel from a rebounding and defensive standpoint, we feel her presence missed."

They get No. 3 Florida State Monday night, ACC instead of Pac 12. The Seminoles eliminated a Final 4 team from last season, No. 2 Oregon State. They are formidable on offense. A worthy Regional final opponent and no surprise if they overcome.

Oklahoma City Final
Mississippi State (32-4) vs. Baylor (33-3)

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.

All the No. 1 seeds survive. The Bulldogs want to end that trend. Two No. 2s survive. The game is in prime time.

Baylor, the Big 12 champs, have a mercurial coach who will get anger management sessions when her season ends.

For now, let’s focus on the players. The Bears lead off with a quartet of seniors who have been unafraid to pledge allegiance to making the Final Four.

Between them, seniors Nina Davis, Alexis Jones, Khadijah Cave and Alexis Prince have scored 5,482 points in their Baylor careers and won nine Big 12 regular-season or tournament championship

Kalani Brown averages 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Jones averages 13.1 and Davis 12.8.

They easily disposed of Louisville in their semifinal. They average 89.6 points per game as a team and allow 55.2. Mississippi State will try to close that gap with their defense, which allows 56.4, or 35 less. They score 76.3, or 21 more than Baylor allows.

As with Washington, the defenders will decide it.

Another Mississippi State record is they now have more than 1,000 field goals in a season.

By the way, the opening games averaged 3,499 fans. That is one major difference between the men and women’s games, where tickets even for Regionals, are much more highly sought.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Siroky's SEC Report: State is Elite For the First Time

By Mike Siroky

The first of the two remaining Southeastern Conference women’s basketball teams in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA eliminations, No. 7 Mississippi State eliminated No. 12 Washington of the Pac 12, 75-64, No. 2 over No. 3 in the Oklahoma Regional

South Carolina plays Saturday night against Quinnipiac in the Stockton Regional.

Vic Schaefer stayed with his NCAA lineup, that is keeping only his starting point guard, Morgan William in the first five. But that leaves All-SEC scorer Victoria Vivians and center Chimwe Okorie on the bench as top-quality reserves.

“You’re the most successful class in the history of the school for one reason and one reason only, you’ve earned everything,” Schaefer told his team before leaving the locker room. “You have not been given anything.”

Both defenses packed it in to start. Mississippi State had to be aware of the all-time best scorer in the nation Kelsey Plum.  Washington started with four 3s, two by Plum. She later set the NCAA record for most free throws made in a career.

One of the new State starters, Breanna Richardson, had two fouls and was out when it was 14-7. Blair Schaefer had hit a 3 for Mississippi State.

Okorie came in, a starter for 33 games. Washington was hitting 71 percent from the floor. The deficit remained seven, 20-13 at  the break.

In came Vivians, which meant the usual starters were fighting the fight. They erased the lead and fashioned a tie at 22. Vivians had a quick seven.

Schaefer’s defense also arrived. Plum had the two 3s in the first three and a half minutes and not another basket afterwards.

State put a single-digit defense on them in the 25-9 second quarter. Vivians had nine as eight State players scored.

Washington came back with a 21-10 third, so each side had showed a dominating defensive quarter.

Plum had 20, 7-of-18 from the field to get there. Vivians was worse, 5-of-13.

Would either settle in or were the defenses that good? State was 12 better on rebounds but it didn’t seem to matter.

It was all about the defense.

The fourth was all forged in the SEC battles. The arguments about who needs to start are diluted. Schaefer’s plan to start 6-7 sophomore Teaira McCowan in the middle paid off.

She had 20 points in the fourth. Washington had 14. She finished with 27 and 13 rebounds with five blocks. Mississippi State won rebounds by 17.

Vivians finished with13, the second-best Bulldog scorer with the third-most minutes.

Plum scored 29, but 10-of-25 from the field. She can pack up the 3,527 points and head out. Mississippi State will take the collective effort of 10 scorers and head on.

McCowan said, “I knew coming into the game, I knew I could step up and be that player.
“We had to guard the perimeter. Knowing to be in the right spot at the right time.”

The love for teammates stops any talk of who starts or even who gets playing time.

“It’s all for my seniors,” McCowan said “They built Mississippi State up from what it wasn’t to what it is. It’s all for them.”

At the end, Schaefer and Washington coach Mike Neighbors remain friends of more than decades, having both assisted the best coach in the SEC, Gary Bair, and that won’t change.

Washington made the Final Four last season but Mississippi State is a game away with an entire team.

They have yet to lose a game outside of conference. Thirty-two wins is the continuing program high.

Mississippi State was right on its season offensive average. But they also hit what Washington had usually allowed.

The difference was Washington came in 21 points under their offensive average. That underlines the Schaefer defensive schemes.

“I was so proud they were able to take all of this in three days on defense,” he said. “It wasn’t rocket science but there were some things that we needed to do to be successful.

“Our kids were special today. No doubt about that. Dominique (Dillingham) came in and did what she does best. There is a reason why she has been on the SEC’s all-defensive team the last two years.

“Our press wore them down a little bit. Teaira was really special down the stretch. She had the look in her eye. She really wanted the ball and got to her spots.”

He praised his old coaching buddy.

“Mike, as I told y'all, he's a tremendous coach, one of the best.  He's got an unbelievable mind for the game.  What he's done with Kelsey Plum is really incredible.  I mean, she's the best offensive player in the history of the game.

“I said it before.  It was like playing against JamesHarden of the Rockets.  You got to really be careful about floor spacing.  You got to really be careful about allowing lanes to exist.  Then you can't come off of those kids that can stand out there and play H-O-RS-E and shoot it.

“We made her work for everything.”

The skills his team displayed on defense came up again and again.

“I thought our press wore them down a little bit,” Schaefer said.  “Then, Teaira, I jumped on her back when we got in the locker room, because I felt like she was carrying us most of the night.

“Offensively she was really special down the stretch.  Had that look in her eye, wanted the ball, got to her spots where she needs to get to.

“You know, you hold that team to 64 points, you’re playing your guts out.  It ain’t like we're standing around playing ‘Hope you miss’ defense.

“I couldn't be prouder of our kids for their energy, their effort.  We talk about being connected, having chemistry on that end.  That's the piece that doesn't
come early in a season.

“Your defensive cohesiveness and your chemistry, it's not the first thing, it's the last thing.

“This group is really doing a good job right now.”

Dillingham was the first line of defense against Plum.

“Plum is just an amazing player,” Dillingham said.  “It was a great battle all night long.  My teammates helped me out a lot.  We were able to switch a lot of things, which helped me personally.  My team just did a good job of sealing up the line.  We had umbrella defense.
“Everybody was there to help.  It was just a team effort, I think.”

McCowan said she listened to encouragement from her teammates.

“Well, they told me, they said, ‘T, you got to dominate.’  Just taking that in, listening to my teammates, knowing I had to step up, take my team, like, further, that's when I had the look.
“You have to do what your teammates are asking you to do.”
She ranked the experience.

“I think the blocks would come first, then the points, then the high fives.  No, the high  fives would come first, knowing my teammates are proud of me, then the blocks, then the points.”

Dillingham said, “I think she just put us on her back, honestly.  Once she got going, it's hard to stop her, honestly.  She was running from transition, so she was getting a lot of rebounds since nobody was there to block her out.

“Once she gets rebounding, no one is going to block her shot.  It was an easy bucket for her.  She was getting the out and ones.  She loves that turnaround jump shot.  When she gets those tips, she's money from that spot.  When she's scoring for us, I think that gives us all the confidence in the world because we can go inside-out.  It makes it that much easier for us guards.

“I think we just finally decided we're going to lock down on defense.  I think it was all about playing together.  It's not about one person locking down one person, it's about the team locking down them.

“I think when we decided that we were going to guard together, not let them have any easy looks, I think that's when it really started to click.

“I think their first four looks were 3s, made 3s.

“For the rest of the game, I think they only made four. Just after we got them off the line, stopped them from making 3s, we were fine.”

Her coach agrees.

“I wasn't real pleased with how we started the ballgame,” he said. “I was disappointed in our
energy defensively. We had a major lapse on an out of bounds play.  We let the best player in the history of the game have a wide-open 3.  Like she said, I mean, their first four made baskets are all 3-pointers.

They're uncontested.

“It was really frustrating because that's a focal -- that's being focused.  We kind of were playing catch-up.

“The second and fourth quarters were special offensively.  We obviously got some things going on offense.  You score 25 and 27 points in a quarter, you're doing some good things offensively.
“I thought those quarters obviously were the big turning points in both the first half and the second half.”

H said it is all part of building a program.
“Well, as you know, it's only been five short years that we've been here.  The last three obviously we've been in the NCAA tournament.

“To be in the Sweet 16 in your second go in the NCAAs is pretty special.  This is our third now in five years, and we're in the Elite 8.

“I've got a good team.  I'm a little disappointed in the country right now that we're not getting the respect that these kids deserve.  It's disappointing.

“This is a heck of a team.  We got a bunch of really
good players.  We've beaten a bunch of really good people.

“You know, for me, I have so much pride in these girls 'cause I know how hard they work.  You stick your head in one of our practices, we ain't standing around out there having water every 10 minutes, you know, getting a towel, all that.  I mean, they work their tails off.  They pay the price.

“In the locker room after the game, we were all just really happy for each other.  I feel like every game this year we've had different people step up.  It's really hard to guard a team who you just don't know who to guard, honestly.

“That's what I feel like we have with our team.  You don't know who is going to go off, you don't know what they're going to do.

“I feel like we're really proud of each other.  We're really proud we're working so well together.  We're happy to keep this journey going.”

Dillingham said, “We were really happy in the locker room.  Just happy because we know how hard we worked to get to this point.  It's a special moment for our team.

“But we're not done yet.  Tomorrow, it's time to get to work and focus on the next team we're playing.”

McCowan said, “We're just earning the respect that we should get.”

Schaefer said, “Tonight we kind of emptied the playbook for T.  We ran a lot of different things to get her down there.  But we wanted to get her to her spots, where she's really comfortable.  We flipped the sides of the floor midway through that run, just to give them a different look.

“But, you know, T continues to grow.  She's come so far,  yet she's got so far to go.  Her upside is out of sight.  I mean, the kid can be an All-American before it's all said and done.  She can dominate the game.  As y'all  saw tonight, she dominated the game on both ends of the floor.  She was interested in dominating the game  on both ends of the floor.
“When I can get that out of her, it changes the dynamic of our team.  That's the impact that the kid can have.

“Now, if we were all going to sit out here and air out our laundry, she would tell you timeouts were not a lot of fun tonight, just because I was demanding.

“That's because I know what the kid can do.  We needed her to step up, but we needed her to step up on both the defensive and offensive end.  She'll tell you that.

“Our conferences in the huddle were more about defense than offense.  The last thing I said coming out is what we were going to run, that would click, ‘OK, that's for me.’

“The conversation in our huddle all night with Teaira was mostly about defense.  You saw the impact the kid can have in a ballgame on both ends.  Not many kids can do that.  Not many players can have that kind of an impact like T can.

“She knows.  I'm not backing off.  I'm going to keep coaching her, loving her, and demanding it of her.”

McCowan said, “In practice, we work on boxing out.  Long shots have long rebounds.  Just putting myself in the position to either box her out and not let her get the ball, or neither one of us get it, and somebody else cleans it up.”

With a smile, Schaefer said, “They’ll tell you I’ve told them at times they're one of the worst defensive teams I've coached.

“It’s just a level of expectation that I have.  I know what’s in ’em.  You know, she gets six blocks tonight.  There’s one little person right here going, ‘Yes, she could have been doing that all year.  Why haven't you gotten that out of her all year?’

“ It's just growth for her. I've told them at times, ‘We just don’t have it.  We’re just not that good defensively.

“Yet I know, looking at the stats, what the points-per-game number is, it’s pretty good; what the turnovers caused is, it's pretty good; field goal-percentage defense, it’s pretty good.

“I just know what a good one looks like.  I think they got it.  We ain’t got it yet, but the good thing is the season isn't over.

 “I'm still waiting.  I’m going to coach them tomorrow, trying to get them to be the best defensive team I can get them to be.  I’m not giving up.  We're not status quo.  We know that.

“We’ve worked all week on getting better.  Every minute we want to get one play better.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Guru's WNIT Report: Villanova Wins at JMU to Advance to the Elite Eight

Guru’s Note: Mike Siroky contributed to this report filing on the Alabama result.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

If Villanova had been in the at-large pool two weeks ago when WNIT officials began picking the teams to join the designated 32 automatic qualifiers the Wildcats might already be somewhere other than still on the basketball court.

But with Marquette winning the Big East tournament, and regular season champion and nationally ranked DePaul, along with Creighton,  headed for the NCAA field, Villanova as the fourth seed in the conference became an automatic entry in the WNIT.

Given a second chance to improve on a season that had been a bit of letdown, Villanova has racked up three straight impressive road wins to make it to the Elite Eight, also known as the quarterfinal round.

The latest came Thursday night where coach Harry Perretta’s group squandered a double digit lead of 13 points held at the half but found a way to win at James Madison 69-67 in overtime and head to the next round Sunday 2 p.m. at Indiana.

It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

The Hoosiers (23-10) advanced to the Villanova game at Assembly Hall by beating SMU, 64-44, as Karlee McBride scored 17 points. Amanda Cahill had 10 points and nine rebounds.

 Villanova (19-14) had opened the tourney, beating Princeton, the Ivy runnerup at the Tigers’ Jadwin gym, then won a cross-city game at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center, before moving on to JMU.

Always at tough place to play where the home team at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Va., began the season as defending champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, Villanova withstood a 36-point and nine rebound performance from redshirt senior Precious Hall to become the latest local out of the Philadelphia area in recent seasons to make long runs in the tourney.

Drexel went all the way in 2013, followed by Rutgers winning in 2014, and then Temple made deep runs the last two seasons, including a Final Four appearance a year ago.

Penn State, meanwhile, the other local team that was still alive at nightfall, fell at home in the Bryce Jordan Center in State College to Virginia Tech, 64-55, as the Hokies earned a date with Michigan on Saturday.

Hall, the CAA player of the year, went out in glory, if not continuation, nailing a three-pointer at the buzzer that put the game in overtime for the Dukes (26-9), a collegiate total of 2,347 points, second best at JMU, and a program best 841 points as a senior.

Jannah Tucker, who started the Villanova season in her first eligibility since transferring from Tennessee with great promise, returned to that persona with a career-high 22 points and was 4-for10 on three-point attempts.

Alex Louin added 15 points and scored at the finish in the extra period to rescue the Wildcats. Freshman Kelly Jekot scored nine points, as did Samantha Wilkes, Megan Quinn had eight points.

Behind Hall’s performance, Kamiah Smalls, the freshman out of Philadelphia’s Neumann-Goretti High, scored eight points for JMU, among a group of Dukes who could not reach double digits on the scoreboard.

Villanova’s halftime lead was aided by what the Wildcats do best – shot the trey and a pair of back-to-back shots from beyond the arc created the double digit lead.

When the Dukes gout up in the second half, there were several lead changes before Hall’s shot knotted the differential at the finish of regulation.

Villanova shot 11 treys for the game compared to the Dukes’ six and JMU dominated the boards 50-36.

If the Wildcats win at Indiana, they will play at either Michigan or Virginia Tech in the Final Four.

Virginia Tech, which had a roller-coaster rebuilding year under new coach Kenny Brooks, who had been at James Madison, bolted to a 23-point lead near the end of the first quarter over the Lady Lions (21-11).

Teniya Page had 23 points for PSU, while Amari Carter scored 10 points.

The Hokies (20-13) got double digit scoring from five players, headed by Chanette Hicks’ 13 points, 12 each from Vanessa Panousis and Samantha Hill, and 11 each from Kendyl Brooks and Sidney Cooks.

Wrapping up the season at Happy Valley, Penn State coach Coquese Washington said, “As disappointing as this loss is right now, when you look at the totality of our season, this team accomplished a lot.

“I’m really proud of what this team accomplished this year, especially with this team being so young.”

In another WNIT game, the matchup of Michigan (25-9) and St. John’s (22-12) at Michigan’s Crisler Center in Ann Arbor  brought together the Wolverines’ coach in Kim Barnes Arico who previously coached the Red Storm and Joe Tartamella, her former assistant who was promoted when she moved from the Big East to the Big Ten.

The former coach had an easy time of it winning 60-40 to advance against Virginia Tech.

Aaliyah Lewis became the career leader in games played for the Red Storm at 134.

Saint John’s Jade Walker scored 10 points and Hallie Thome had 19 points for Michigan, whose all-America candidate Katelynn Flaherty scored 17 points.

Host Iowa advanced eliminating Colorado 80-62 at home in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City as Haley Smith had 25 points for the visiting Buffs (17-16) and Alexa Kastanek topped the scorers for the Hawkeyes (20-13) with 19 points.

Ally Disterhoft scored 15, Makenzie Meyer scored 13, and Megan Gustafson scored 12. The Hawkeyes on Sunday will host Washington State (16-19), which eliminated UC Davis 71-62 Thursday night at home.

Rachel Nagel had 20 points for UC Davis (26-8) while Alexys Swedlund had 20 points for the Cougars, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou scored 16, and Caila Hailey scored 13.

Alabama beat Tulane 72-64 at home in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa as Hannah Cook had 17 points off 70 percent shooting from the field.

The Crimson Tide (22-13) made it to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history and first since the WNIT expanded to a field of 64. Alabama on Sunday will visit Georgia Tech (20-14), in the Yellow Jackets’ McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta where they beat Middle Tennessee 70-57 Thursday night.

Freshman Francesca Pan had 18 points for the home team and Ty Petty scored 21 for Middle Tennessee (23-11).

In the Alabama game, the program significantly doubled the previous attendance to, 1,054, a season high.

The Crimson Tide do not have any seniors on this year’s team so coach Kristy Curry is enjoying the ride with the 2017-18 edition.

Cook was 4-for-6 on three-point attempts, 7-of-10 overall. Alabama, as a team, hit 48.9 percent from the field and outrebounded the Green Wave of the American Conference 39-27 while having 16 assists on 23 made baskets.

“I appreciate our community,” said Curry. “What a great crowd on a Thursday night. We really appreciate them; so many coaches within the department, athletes and department personnel. It was great to see so many faces in the crowd, and again we really appreciate everyone’s support.

“I’m really proud of our team for finding a way to win. Each one of them.”

Ashley Williams added 15 points to the Alabama attack, while Quantria Bolton and Jordan Lewis each scored 13 points.

The Tide opened a 23-10 lead after the first quarter and increased it to as wide as 17 early in the fourth.

Tulane midway in the fourth used an 11-2 run to to make it an eight point game just under the five minute mark. The teams traded baskets until Alabama hit 9-of-10 foul shots over the final 4:23.

“We talked after the game about what we could take away and continue to learn from tonight, and I thought they had some great points,” observed Curry. “It was composure and little things as we went throughout each one. I thought that down the stretch, we had great composure against a very well-coached Tulane team.

“We were fortunate to have a few more plays we made.”

In other SEC news, South Carolina junior A’Ja Wilson is one of four finalists for the original Player of the Year Award, the Wade Trophy.

The only nominees for the Region II Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America awards are from the SEC.

There are two each from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and one from Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida.

The nominees: A’Ja Wilson and Alaina Coates (South Carolina); Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell (Tennessee); Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator (Kentucky); Victoria Vivians (Mississippi State); Ronnie Williams (Florida), and Sophie Cunningham (Missouri).

This is basically the coaches’ all-conference team. The nominees from five regions are the finalists for the All-American team, announced at the Woman ‘s Final Four.