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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mike “Siroky’s SEC Report Part 2: Not Totally Sweet

By Mike Siroky
The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball qualified three teams for the Sweet 16. The ACC has four.

It turns out Tennessee started the faltering problem early.

On the final night of qualifying games, two more home teams decided it was best to shut up shop for the season at home. All were seeded better than the winning teams. 

Georgia and Ohio State failed. 

The three home losses is a record for NCAA women.

Mighty Mississippi State carried the home flag and the league's No. 1 seed onward.

 KANSAS CITY: Mississippi State

Morgan William scored 17 in her final home game -- hitting clutch shots and leading lockdown perimeter defense – as they eliminated Oklahoma State 71-56.

Another packed house saluted the seniors and the seniors leave knowing they are the group that established the newest tradition of excellence in women’s basketball.

"I thought Morgan dictated the whole game," coach Vic Schaefer said. "She controlled the pace. She ran when we wanted to run and she kept them from running."

Senior Victoria Vivians led the Bulldogs with 23 points. Teaira McCowan had the biggest game with 21 points and 18 rebounds. 

Those two things were expected -- but William's emergence as an offensive threat helped Mississippi State separate from the Cowgirls during an intense game.

"I was just trying to be another threat on the court," William said. "I was playing hard on the defensive end and I felt like I could reward myself a little by shooting."

The Bulldogs advance to the Sweet 16 for a third straight season.

William was the darling of last year's NCAA Tournament, hitting the game-winning jumper at the buzzer to beat mighty UConn in the Final Four. She also scored 41 points in the Elite Eight against Baylor.

The 5-foot-5 guard's numbers have been a little down throughout most of this season, though that's more because of the emergence of other players than anything she's doing wrong. She's averaging less than eight points per game.

But on this night, William was one of the most important people on the court, playing with boundless energy on both ends.

"She's the energizer," Vivians said. "If she's out there giving us energy then we feed off them and want to give that energy back. We play behind them. I feel her coming out amped like that just gave us the mojo to do something good."

Mississippi State had a 41-31 rebounding advantage. McCowan scored 17 of her 21 in the second half and shot 8-of-12 from the field.

No. 9 seed Oklahoma State  was hurt when starting guard Loryn Goodwin picked up her fourth foul with 4:39 remaining in the third. 

She stayed in the game, but her defensive presence was limited and that was around the time that Mississippi State went on a 10-2 lead to open up a 51-43 advantage.

William made a jumper a few seconds before the third-quarter buzzer to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead in the game at 55-45 and they slowly pulled away.

Mississippi State has one of those ACC teams next, North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City. No. 2 Texas takes on No. 3 UCLA in the only unbusted bracket.

The Bulldogs have swept the first two rounds of the tournament in three consecutive seasons. 

They have matched the school record for victories in a season with a second-straight 34-win mark. The Bulldogs also finish this year with a school-record 18-0 mark at home.

 “In the second half we played really well,” Schaefer said. “Teaira showed her value to this team. We had 12-none second-chance points. I salute to this basketball program. 

“Morgan did a great job of controlling the game. We wanted to run and we didn’t want them to run. Oklahoma State had two fast-break points.”

 For the contest, MSU hit 28-of -67 from the field, 3-of-10 3s and 12 -of-15  from the line .

William said it was like running downhill, that she realized no one could run with her. 

She thanked the “best fans in the world” pointing out they carried the team.

Vivians said she remembers when there just a few fans when she started, “It’s been amazing watching the fans grow as the team grows.” 

Schaefer chipped in, “The fans are here to see these kids. It’s different for women’s basketball. It is what make women’s basketball so special. They spend time after games with the people. They impact the community.

 “Our kids just continued to compete,” Schaefer said. “We started rough again. We were struggling on both ends in the first quarter. Heck of a game. Can’t say enough about our four seniors. To perform that well on that stage in that environment is a great performance. God is good.

 “I want to thank the fans, too. To have back to back better than 20,000 for two games is incredible. To support our kids, our team, our university, Praise the Lord and Go Dawgs!””
ALBANY: Georgia

Explain the two-point second quarter and you know why they lost at home, No. 5 Duke toppling No. 4 by plenty, 66-40, ACC over SEC again.

Duke played like a championship contender, especially on defense, in a lopsided ACC win over an SEC representative.

The Blue Devils’ reward: UConn.

Sure Georgia caused 21 turnovers, but that’s a stats scratch. Georgia hit 1-of-19 shots in that second period, answering the crowd of 2,908 which is the better defense.

Unable to solve Duke's zone defense, the Lady Bulldogs set season lows for fewest points in a period and game and lowest field-goal percentage (24) in a game.

"They live and die by their zone defense, and today they lived by it," said Georgia senior guard Haley Clark.

The Lady Bulldogs missed their first 13 3s.

Caliya Robinson led Georgia with 11 points and 12 rebounds. No other Georgia player had more than five points.

Coach Joni Taylor said, “We obviously didn’t have a great offensive performance tonight. When you’re playing against a team as good as Duke offensively and defensively, you’ve got to be able to make some shots. We weren’t able to do that.

“Duke deserves some credit for that. They’re long; they’re very active on defense, and I think that probably bothered us a little bit. We’re obviously very disappointed, but one game doesn’t define who we are and what we’ve done this year. 

“I’m incredibly proud of this team. (Seniors) Mackenzie Engram and Haley Clark are wonderful and you’re not going to meet anyone like them ever again. 

And so, we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to build on, so I’m really proud of what the girls in that locker room did this season, and we’re going to move forward from here.

 “They have so much pride. Their love for Georgia is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. They came together, and they wanted to leave Georgia in a prominent position, and they’ve done more than that.

“You look at what they do on the basketball court, but they’re even better women off the court. The things they are involved in with the community and the way they represent us on and off the floor is something that I can only hope the rest of our young ladies look up to and aspire to be.”

But that second quarter  . . .

“It’s very frustrating. Especially when those shots do fall. We’re missing layups, free throws, and wide-open jumpers. 

“At that point, when you see that happening, you continue to instill confidence in them and hope it gets turned around. 

“The sad part about it is when you’re playing a team of Duke’s caliber, you can not have a quarter like that. It’s very difficult to come back from. We have to learn from that because there will be teams longer than us. We’ve got to continue to be confident, and just execute.

“I think the message for us is sustaining it. This can happen, but the programs that can sustain this year-in and year-out is what makes them special. That’s what makes them dynasties. That’s what we have to do.

“That’s going to take even more effort and hard work. I think this year we snuck up on some people. Outside of our program, I don’t think anyone thought we would win 26 games, been ranked, and hosted at home.

“We all thought that was possible. So now, teams know what we’re capable of, and we have to work even harder to continue to get better. This is now the standard for our program.”

Clark said the moment of her final court exit was emotional, leaving with the last recruits of the fabulous Andy Landers era.

“When I first came off, when I think it was under a minute left, Coach Joni just looked at me and said ‘I love you.’ And I said ‘I love you too.’ And we just kind of lived in the moment,” Clark said.

 “I’m super proud of this team and how far we’ve come. It was just the ‘I love you’ moment, despite the situation.

“Family will take you a long way. We honestly have put in more work this year; we’ve brought in a lot of talent this year, but without that family mentality, and that family cohesion that you see on the court, I don’t think we’d be here today.

 “Just remember what got you here. They’re going to see a lot of success, and I just hope that they don’t forget what got them here. The hard work, the effort, the family mentality. Just to keep that, and they’re going to go a long way.”

Engram said her final exit was more of a beginning.

 “Obviously it’s a disappointment,” Engram said. “Like Coach Joni said, we’ve done so much this year, and I’m just glad we were able to lead that.

 “And she just told me she was proud of me, and I tried to keep it together, because I didn’t know if the camera was on me or not, so when I got to my brother, I just let it all out. I didn’t’ really care at that point.

 “He just tried to encourage me and just said what Coach Joni said, that what we’ve done for this program is unbelievable, and I’m just so happy to be a part of something, because I can’t wait to see them next year.

“Use this to carry on to next year. To remember this feeling, and to remember how it felt out there, and that you don’t want to experience that next year. And to keep working hard. Like I said, I’m very excited to see where they go next year.”

 “From the season, just that family is everything. This team, we’re so close. I’m not sad that we lost, I’m sad that I’ll never get to play with her (Haley Clark) again. 

“I’m sad that this was my last time putting Georgia on my chest. Playing in the Steg, I’m so proud of what we’ve done and like Coach Joni said, this game doesn’t define us. 

“I’m not sad about the loss, I’m sad that when I walk out of the locker room, that’s my last time.”
Not the only one

Ohio State  wanted to start and end at home, the first round to the Final Four it will host. 

What the Buckettes didn’t want to do was start and end in the first round. 

They scored six in the second quarter and were easily erased.

Kevin McGuff’s All-American senior Kelsey Mitchell leaves making it to the second-best scorer in NCAA history. 

He had four seniors, including former UK star Linnae Harper. They only drew 3,900. 

They get to stay home

McGuff has kept the reputation of attracting talent. His was a deep team. But the coaching success still eludes him. He is perfect in the non-performing Big Ten, which had all three league teams lose.

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report Part 1: Two Move To Sweet 16 And One Misses for the First Time

Guru’s note: Your Guru traveling back from Notre Dame through the WNIT in New York delayed email access so here, so you don’t miss a beat, is the first of likely two SEC specials to get you up to date.

By Mike Siroky
The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball sent three home teams into the Sweet 16 qualifiers on Sunday. Two moved on. Two more get their shots Monday to make the Sweet 16 one-quarter SEC.

The one loss was an NCAA record-setter. But the biggest win made ESPN look even more foolish.

There are two more nationally ranked teams completing the field Monday night.

This was the fun one. ESPN analysts had foolishly proposed freshman Chennedy Carter would be in awe of the NCAAs and not up to it.

No way.

The one player in America who is irreplaceable continued to build her legend in her second NCAA game.

DePaul was supposed to bomb Texas A&M out of its own building.

They had 12 3s.

But Carter had all seven of the Aggies’ 3s and sent the home crowd of 3,162 into joyful hysteria by hitting the last one, with 3.2 seconds left, for the 80-79 ticket to the Sweet 16.

Sure, all they had to do was make up a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter. 

It is the largest comeback ever in the second round of the tournament and the fourth- largest ever. All she had to do was score 32 points after halftime. 

Silly ESPN. 

What have they been watching all season? Last year, A&M cane back from 21 down.

Texas A&M trailed by two when Carter's long 3 from the top of the key gave the Aggies the final lead. 

Fifth-seed DePaul may have  had a chance to win it, but Jasmine Lumpkin stole the inbounds pass from Kelly Campbell. 

DePaul had led for 38-plus minutes of the game.

It left Blue Demon coach Doug Bruno solidly in that group which always makes the playoffs (representing the weak Big East; they stayed when the better teams left)  but will never win anything significant.

Gary Blair, on the A&M side, remains the mad genius who somehow gets his team motivated just enough. 

Every Texas A&M recruiting class since 2004-05 has made at least one trip to the Sweet 16. The 26 wins are the most in a season since 2013. 

Carter scored more than 20 for a fourth straight game. She only missed one game in double figures all season as the national Freshman of the Year. 

Anriel Howard has the program record with 18 points and 19 rebounds for the 19th double this season, and the program career record 31st. 

Bruno saw her overall play as the most significant aspect of the loss. He praised her and the Aggies for being “relentless” while Carter handled the offense.

He said everyone else will talk about “the shot, the shot, the shot” but he maintains it was Howard that won it.

He was not far off from Blair’s assessment, which led to another Aggie first.

“You know, it’s not just A&M and DePaul,” Blair said, “It’s what the elite of women’s basketball can do to entertain people, and I think we entertained a nation. At least we entertained in the second half; DePaul entertained the whole game.

“I am so proud of this team. This wasn’t like the Penn game last year like when we came back from 21 in the fourth quarter. We just had more talent in that ball game.

“This game was about two very evenly matched teams that both ran their offenses pretty doggone well.

“I’m so pleased with the effort. I was pleased with the crowd, how they stayed with us. This is what Aggies do. We don’t give up. We find a way even when we come out on the losing end sometimes. I was so proud of the fight and the spirit.

“I gave a game ball for the first time in my career to one of our players, and I gave it to Anriel Howard  because of how she played the game. I mean, they were sending two people to block her out. She was on her rear more than she was standing. 

“But, God, the fight and the spirit. I know we’ve had great Aggies over the years in football, baseball, and everything like that, but I don’t think you’;ve ever seen a basketball player will this team to what she did today.

“She willed the team to victory.

“And these two guards have ice in their veins. They have ice. You got to understand when certain things are not running  or every time we would make a great play, we would get caught on the back door. They would post up one of my guards. 

“But all of a sudden, these two here are the heart and soul, because they knew if they missed the shot, Anriel was going to get the rebound or  Lumpkin would be in there and get the rebound. Lumpkin got 10. Went and got rebounds and made the steal at the end of the game.

“So instead of pouting because she wasn’t scoring, she made a crucial play.

“This is what this team’s all about.  I’m so proud of Anriel Howard because she refuses to let us lose. There isn’t a player like her in the country, and I’m just proud to say I coached her. But I’m sure glad to have my offensive side because they did a hell of a job.

Carter said, “The thing that brought us together was coach got us really hunkered down. He was helping us and really encouraging us. We kept playing. It was honestly the hard work of the team, getting loose balls, everybody just staying together. That’s what encouraged me to keep shooting for my teammates out there.”

Howard said, “I’m just honored that people are recognizing it, but I don’t really need recognition. I just want to play hard, do the dirty work in order for my team to win.”

Back to Carter: “I knew we needed a rebound, but I knew that Anriel was going to get it. So my first thing that I did was I looked at how much time was on the clock. And out of the corner of my eye, I seen Coach Blair and I knew that it wasn’t the time to look or try to call a play. 

“I didn’t know how much we were down by, honestly. I just knew I needed to hit a big shot, and that’s what I did. I just shot it.”

“Danni Williams  said, “And that you did. Go, Chennedy.”

All agree the fabled “12th Man” fans – borrowed from football -- meant a lot.

Howard said, “I think it was huge for us. Every time we came back or we would get a bucket, we would come back on defense and you could just hear them screaming. I think that really affected DePaul. They’re not used to hearing that. For us, it just gave us the motivation, knowing right there they’re supporting us. Maybe they’re not on the court, but they’re supporting us through the whole thing. That really  helped us."

Carter said, “It’s  March Madness. I knew anything could happen. The most important thing was us playing together. I knew my teammates out there just as well as they need me. So I wasn’t really worried about the first half because it’s a long game, and I knew there was a lot of basketball left to be played.”

Next up is top seed Notre Dame.

If ever there was a chance to knock off a No. 1, it is the next game. The Irish have five healthy players. No one has yet to figure out how to get into a war of attrition. Of course, A&M has to protect Carter.

Blair defeated Notre Dame for his 2011 National title and ND has refused to schedule them since. But the rematch is upon us.

 ALBANY: South Carolina

The sweetest moments in women’s basketball jump into our hearts with a magnificent player getting her due at home.

A’ja Wilson is more than the National Player of the year.

She is the epitome of a star doing things the right way. Accepting coming off the bench for parts of the season. What All-American does that without a without a whimper, because it is what the team needs.

 She is the only one ever to be Player of the Year without starting every game for which she was available.

She steps up when the spotlight is the hottest. No slumps for her. She is paired with a superior coach in Dawn Staley. Their sisterhood is special.

 SC may never see this again Most national programs pray for the once-in-a-lifetime player to come in and be as good as advertised, as selfless as any student in the stands. No drama. It has seldom before happened.

No. 2 seed South Carolina won its seventh Sweet 16 berth in eight seasons, eliminating No. 7 seed Virginia. at home, 66-56.  

Yes, that means Wilson has never not been in the Sweet 16. To get to another Final Four they will have to upend UConn, but another SEC team has already proven that can be done in the tournament. Even the regular-season loss is less relevant.

These are elimination games and the ends of senior careers --- even for the best ones – if the horn goes off when you are behind.

There really was no such worry in the win over Virginia The best crowd in  the nation, 11,085, had plenty of time for Wilson’s sendoff.

Staley watched it all and whispered to an assistant, “How are we going to replace 22?”'

Wilson, scored  25 and naturally doubled with 11 rebounds . It is her 23rd double/double of the season and 53rd of her career. She has 29 double-digit scoring results in 30 games played.

'At the end of the game when I got subbed out that’s when it sank in, this is my last time here,'' Wilson said. ''My last time here in this uniform.''

Up 30-25 at the half, South Carolina opened up a 12-point lead in the third period but the Cavaliers cut it to 46-40 with 10 minutes left. 

Virginia still trailed just 52-47 with 6:39 to play.

But  Doniyah Cliney hit a high-arching 3, just besting the shot clock,  followed by two short jumpers by Wilson and the celebration roared off.

Wilson had the home curtain call with 34.5 seconds left, to a standing ovation. She hugged Staley before standing on the sidelines and gabbing with the training staff as time ticked away.

After a quick TV interview, Wilson danced her way around the Colonial Life Arena, waving to adoring fans. 

Some of them wore pajamas in honor of the late starting time. Wilson saluted her pep band to dance some more before running to embrace her parents. Just another college kid having the time of her life.

''This has been a great four years,'' said Wilson. Her family home is about 30 minutes from campus in Hopkins. ''This is my home and, hopefully, when I return, we'll have the same energy.''

Wilson added three of her team's five blocks and three assists in her final game on her home court. The Gamecocks have gone 62-4 at home with Wilson on the roster.

Staley saw a blue-collar game. “Sometimes it’s just timing,” she said.

“It’s going to take more than a quarter, and sometimes it takes two quarters to put teams away and gain some separation. Virginia is a very good team – they have some great guards and great post players. We were confident, and we got the better of them over that 40-minute period.”

 The Gamecocks get either No. 3 seed Florida State or No. 11 Buffalo in the next round. All four top seeds advance, so UConn still looms.

LEXINGTON: Tennessee

Never before has a Tennessee team lost at home in the second round. 

They are the only program to qualify for every NCAA elimination. No. 3 seed Tennessee was 57-0 at home in NCAA play. Now UConn picks up the chase to erase that record.

No. 6 Oregon State used that very motivation to win. Mercedes Russell finally woke up but fellow-senior Jamie Nared disappeared. The freshmen looked it in their first competitive elimination game.

 Oregon State out-thought and outfought UT.

 Holly Warlick can now ponder what might have been, her coaching called into question one more time. If ever a coach needed this forced break, it is Warlick.

The home folks knew. They drew only 4,338, about half the season average. Not exactly declining attendance when cast nationwide, but a sure metric on loss of support.

With the fantastic freshmen coming back and three national-level recruits arriving, UT will be OK. But not great. Nevermore great.

The No. 3 team in the Pac 12 embarrassed the tradition of the SEC in this one.

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck read just that morning about the 57-game streak. 

His first thought was to tell his team at the shoot around that here was a chance, one chance, to do something no other program in their position had ever done. After all his team has made two straight Sweet 16s and a Final Four.

Senior Marie Gulich was the best upperclassman on the court, 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead the 66-59 win. 

That’s three points below her average, but enough this game. Sophomore guard Mikayla Pivec upped her average by three with 15, six 3s, and seven defensive rebounds. She dominated guard play against the usually steady Lady Vols.

"We had an opportunity to do something today that is really special and that is a first," Rueck said. "So when the clock was ticking down right at the very end and we knew we had it, I just couldn't hardly believe how far this team has come."

Rueck can say the same for his program. 

The one-time Pac-12 Conference doormat has become a perennial contender with expectations to make deep tournament runs and share the stage with tradition-rich Tennessee.

It's the second straight season that Tennessee lost in the second round of the NCAAs and will miss the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program's 37-year tournament history. 

That is a new legacy for the formerly outstanding seniors. When UT praises them for their contributions, this also has to be included.

Tennessee's swarming pressure defense flustered OSU early, forcing turnovers and contested shots. The national leader in 3-point field goal percentage, OSU started 1-of-7 from 3. 

But perhaps that very effort by the Lady Vols burned themselves out.

The run in the first quarter led to a 17-7 quarter. So Rueck switched to a zone defense and Warlick could not conjure up an answer.

"It's amazing to see this program grow. I've been a Beaver fan since I was a little girl, and once Scott got here it just got better and better," said junior guard Katie McWilliams. "I am so happy to be able to play for this team and that we are making this Sweet 16 run again." McWilliams hit four 3s and was 6-of-10 at the line for 15, doubling her average.

The Beavers had their own 13-2 run and led with 2:44 remaining in the half. Rennia Davis hit a 3 to send Tennessee into halftime with a 26-24 advantage. It was unsettling.

"I think it just made us stagnate," Russell said of OSU's zone defense. "We were standing around on the perimeter a lot, not really passing and cutting and moving the defense, which we should have. We didn't really make them work defensively."

Nared backed that up.

“We just kind of made a couple of passes and shot it,” Nared said. “We didn’t really make them work on defense. It’s easy when you don’t have to play defense for a long period of time. For us, not getting stops on the other end of the court. It kind of translates. You put a whole game of that together, and you are going to be successful.”

Came the third and more of the same. The Beavers ended on an 11-2 run for a 44-39 lead. Lost from early in the season for UT was the energy to hit the next gear. 

Instead, the visitors outfought the Lady Vol from the start of the season’s final quarter, a contentious rebound win on the first possession. Pivec capitalized with a 3 off that possession.

The Beavers built the lead to 13. Tennessee never rallied. They had to watch the celebration by the minority of the West Coast crowd.

Russell, slumping most of the end of the season, doubled with 21 points and 14 rebounds, Nared, exhausted after carrying the team this far, scored nine, all 3s, missing the other 11 from the floor. UT lost two of its final three, another check mark against the senior leadership.

Warlick naturally thanked the seniors for their contributions and wished them well in their future endeavors.

“Sometimes the things thrown at these kids are unfair,” she said.

There had been talk UT and Oregon State should have flipped seedings, with the No . 4 team in the Pac 12 exceeding the No. 5 in the SEC and with one less overall win.

The NCAA seeding tradition has always been to seed the team coached by a woman higher than one coached by a man if they are close.

 It happened to Mississippi State last season, with the same coach and the same players. That idea of UT getting the unearned break was also floated nationally. They are so far the only seeded team to lose at home.

“They come wanting to learn and get better and just play the game,” said Warlick “They get criticized quite a bit. These kids are tough and they’re resilient. I’m tough and I’m resilient, but right now I’m hurting.

 “Tomorrow we’ll get up and figure out how this team is going to get better. You can’t take away the love of this program and the commitment these kids have. If you’re not a part of it, then you don’t understand it. 

“This isn’t about a win or lose.

 “It’s about young ladies getting better on and off the court and I don’t think they deserve half the crap thrown at them. People said we shouldn’t be a third seed.

 “Well, that’s a bunch of bull. Our team played a tough schedule. We took care of business and got that seeding. We didn’t win today, so I guess the critics can say they were right.

“So I’m upset but on the other side, I’m angry. But it’s just a basketball game and we’re going to get better and move on. That’s what we should do. If it means something to you, it should hurt. Those young ladies are hurting in the locker room and so is their coaching staff.”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Muffet Gets The One Philly Reunion From ‘Nova She’s Been Able to Dodge

Guru’s note  - Public service for those who run into access problems - The Guru Inky advance of Sunday night’s Notre Dame/Villanova Game. Also way down below and marked at the end a comment from Harry how to defend UConn 

By Mel Greenberg


SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Back in 2013 when Notre Dame announced it was moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw was not going to let the breakup of the old Big East deprive her of one of the perks that came with the league schedule.

“I’m not going to lose my Philadelphia homecomings that’s for sure,” the former Saint Joseph’s star confided. “I’m going to call everyone. I’ll call Penn. I’ll call my alma mater. Maybe Temple.”

One school not on her list, however, was the one she played annually: Villanova.

However, courtesy of the NCAA draw and the the ninth-seeded Wildcats’ thrilling 81-74 overtime victory Friday night under 40-year veteran Harry Perretta against eighth-seeded South Dakota State, the top-seeded Irish (30-3) and ‘Nova (23-8) will reunite Sunday night (7 p.m.) here in the Irish’s Purcell Pavilion for the first time since their former Big East rivalry.

The winner in the second round of the Spokane Regional moves to the Sweet 16 next weekend against Sunday’s winner between No. 5 DePaul (27-7) and No. 4 Texas A&M (25-9).

“It’s so tough to play a big lineup against Villanova, because they’re so oriented,” McGraw said. “They’re going to play five out and to have our bigs chasing people around the 3-point line is not the ideal defense for us.

“Anytime you play Villanova for the first time it’s a huge challenge. We don’t play anybody like them. There are no teams in the ACC like them, nobody on our schedule like them, we have no film to go back and say this is how we did it before,” she continued.

“In the Big East, we knew what to expect, for this team it’s a very, very different approach. The preparation time that you need, there’s just never enough time.

“They’re smart. They’re very good three-point shooters, so everybody on the floor is a dangerous three-point shooter. They continually move without the ball. They use the entire shot clock,” McGraw explained.

“Normally, teams want to play defense for 15-20 seconds, they’re going to make you play for 30 seconds. They can lull you into their pace. It will probably take a long to time to adjust. One year we beat them 38-36.”

South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston expressed similar frustrations after the Wildcats peppered his squad with 16 three-pointers, including two from Jannah Tucker and one from Adrianna Hahn in overtime to allow Villanova its first NCAA win in 14 years.

“Against them, a double digit deficit feels like 30 against other teams because they’re so difficult to overcome,” Johnston said.

Despite Perretta’s team facing one loaded with all-Americans in a program that’s one of the elite in the sport and McGraw’s dislike to deal with Villanova’s methodical attack, the two are longtime friends off their Philly upbringing and connections.

“I can’t think of any pleasant experiences playing Villanova,” McGraw said. “But he’s a great guy. We’ve been friends a long time. He’s somebody I can call to talk about another team. Just get other ideas. How would you guard this. What would you do. He’s really a great X and O mind.”

Likewise, Perretta was full of praise of his coaching colleague at Saturday’s media session.

“Obviously, I’ve known Muffet for a long time. It goes back to Saint Joe’s days, to Lehigh days (when she coached there), and we’re very good friends,” he said. “I’ve called to wish her good luck in certain games. Just have that Philadelphia tie that keeps us together.

“She’s turned this program into one of the best in the country. I used to kid her about her leather skirts. I don’t know if she still wears them.”

Perretta said he didn’t try to recruit McGraw. “She was before me — something was before me.”

As for attempting to add another big upset to the Wildcats’ collection built over the years, Perretta said, “Obviously, we’re going to try to slow the game down, keep it low scoring, it’s obvious we can’t play toe-to-toe with them. Offensively, they’re just too skilled.

“Just try to make it as ugly a game as possible, try to generate 3-point shots if we can, and we’re going to have to try to make them. If we don’t shoot the three well, we can get beat by 30,” he continued.

“The skill of their big kids is just amazing to me. To see it live, to watch it on tape, you don’t realize the skill of their bigger kids. They very seldom miss shots around the baskets,” he said in praising the addition of Jessica Shepard as a transfer from Nebraska. (Marina) Mabrey can shoot the ball from anywhere.

“Each and every one of them have skills and multiple skills. The higher level teams have eight or nine kids that have multiple skills.”

There’s also another standout all-American in Arike Ogunbowale.

However, it may be Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, but luck of the Irish has not been an appropriate phrase to label Notre Dame this season in which McGraw has had to use a seven-player rotation with the loss of four prominent stars to injuries, particularly Brianna Turner and point guard Lili Thompson, a transfer from Stanford.

And one more could be on the list with Kathryn Westbeld being a game-time decision after suffering an ankle injury in Friday’s 99-81 victory over No. 16 CSUN.

Many believe this has been McGraw’s best coaching job in her 31 seasons here.

Villanova has only won at Purcell twice, though once was a 48-45 victory in 2002 that snapped the Irish’s 51-home court victory streak.

The Wildcats began to work their way back to better times building a roster that began with current senior Alex Louin, the gaining Tucker and Hahn, and also the additions of Kelly Jekot, Mary Gedaka, and the sister combination of Bridget and Brianna Herlihy.

Defending Strategy Playing UConn: Speaking of Philly connections, Perretta took time to note the 140 points scored by the Geno Auriemma-coached UConn squad against St. Francis, Pa., Saturday.

“One time I was going to just put the ball down for 30 seconds and then pick it up again against them and put it down,” he quipped. “We’d get shut out but I wanted to see how low scoring we could defend them.”

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Home Teams Advance in NCAA First Round - Day 2

By Mike Siroky

The two teams in the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball in the NCAA eliminations sent on the road both lost in Day 2 .

The less-than pair share bad caching and acceptance of a just being there attitude while riding the league’s reputation into post-season again. 

Any wins by these teams would have been upsets and were not to be. They lost to higher seeds, of course, but saved the NCAA hotel costs by checking out before game time and hurrying home .

But the best team in conference and most improved team in conference survived to the Round of 32, which is what the playoffs would have looked like a few seasons ago. Some teams do fulfill traditions.

KANSAS CITY: Mississippi State

At home in StarkVegas, Nicholls State offered little resistance.

Senior Victoria Vivians scored 20 and matched Teaira MctCowan with 13 rebounds in the 95-50 opening round murder.

The 33 points in the second quarter matches the school-record 33 wins in 34 tries. 

McCowan also doubled, with 18 points. Senior Blair Schaefer also scored 18. State shot 50 percent from the field, including 47 percent from 3-point range, and had a 51-29 rebounding advantage.

Vic Schaefer, a  strong candidate for the national Coach of the Year awards yet to be announced, said, “We had a lot of rust to knock off, and I think everybody sees that. 

“It’s my job to try and help get that rust knocked off, and obviously I’m not doing a good job. We are really rusty in a lot of areas.

“I thought this time last year, we came back and were really sharp. We were not very sharp.

“We’ve got basically 48 hours to figure it out. If you look at our stat numbers you’re going to see a lot of good numbers. 

“I thought Jordan (Danberry) came off the bench and gave us some really good minutes, a lot of energy from her in her 12 minutes of play. I thought Jazzmun (Holmes) played awfully well off the bench. I thought we had some kids do some really good things today.

“We’ve got to get ready for a really good Oklahoma state team. I thought they played really well against Syracuse. The game was out of hand in the second half but we’ve got 48 hours to do it, so I’m sure our kids will come back with a little bit better focus, hopefully, and we’ll play a little bit better.”

Blair Schaefer said, “In the past we’ve been really good about our chemistry, and our chemistry is still there. We need to work on all five, and right now we’ll have like four, but I think that’s going to come with more focus and well have that fixed for next game.”

Vivians said it is all a matter of getting “locked down” and ready in the next 48 hours.
Her team has confidence as the seniors face a last home game on their own court, a court where they have established a foundation for future generations.

Mississippi State gets Oklahoma State on Monday. The Bulldogs beat the Cowgirls 79-76 back in December in the Big 12/SEC challenge.

In that game, also at Starkville, Vivians scored 30. But Oklahoma State shot better from the field and outrebounded Mississippi State. Schaefer said then his team out-toughed the visitors, but they were plenty tough themselves.

Mississippi State is ranked No. 4 in America. Important guard Roshunda Johnson of Mississippi State played her first two seasons at Oklahoma State. She scored 18 in the first meeting.

All NCAA tournament games are sold out in Starkville, 10,211.

ALBANY: Georgia

Joni Taylor got her first NCAA win, 68-63, over Mercer. The ’Dawgs gave a lot of credit to the season-high 3.457 home fans.

Georgia won at the Southern Conference champs, 72-54, in November.

 “I think it was really special to have Georgia and Mercer play each other – two in-state teams who had incredible seasons,” Taylor said. “Special moment for everyone, and we’re fortunate to come out on top. Mercer’s got a really good team; they battled and they fought really hard. And I was proud of our girls for how they answered that challenge.”

Following their seasonal trend, Georgia’s frontcourt, senior Mackenzie Engram and junior Caliya Robinson combined for 44 points, 26 rebounds and eight assists.

 It is the most victories in a single season since 2007. Robinson's 16 rebounds are the third-most in an NCAA Tournament game for a Georgia player.  Her 23 points are the most for a Georgia player in a NCAA Tournament game since 2010. 

“I think it goes to the chemistry. I think that it’s easy for us to work together,” Robinson said. “I think it plays well in the game, which helps us a lot.”

 “It’s definitely special to be in the NCAA Tournament and play on our home floor,” Engram said. “Walking up to the free throw line, I just enjoyed the moment. That’s kind of been our message this week: Enjoy where we are, enjoy what we’ve done.

“I just kind of took a look around and knew this is it. This is my last run, and to be able to put the game with my free throws that I finally started making, it was a really good feeling.”

She hit the final two free throws with four seconds left, after hitting two with 14 seconds left.

Next up for Georgia is the touchy game with fifth-seeded Duke on Monday night. 

They had four in double figures, including Leonna Odom’s 25, in their opening win.

Erin Mathias is a senior, joined by redshirt seniors Rebecca Greenwell, Bego Faz Davalos and Lexi Brown, a transfer from Maryland.

 Brown has the most assists (136) and is the leading scorer(19.9) followed by Greenwell (14.2). Greenwell leads the rebounder (6.20). They lost at South Carolina and Louisville and at home to Notre Dame.


It is a sad requiem for and what might have been for Raigyne Lewis if she hadn’t blown out her knee. Long the one trick pony of the Ben-Gals, she never recovered her prominence or promise for this No.6 seed, in a minor upset loss to No. 11 Central Michigan, 78-69,  at the Ohio State feeder. Lewis scored 13.

Coach Nikki Fargas is never expected to produce much and she doesn't. Why some schools accept this mid-major level of results is exasperating.

They drew 4,253.

Road kill again, in and out in one try again, they flopped in a No. 12 beating a No. 5, losing to Florida Gulf Coast 80-70 at the Stanford feeder.

 All the markers of negativity remain with the program, including the team leader getting another unsportsmanlike call and the coach not commenting on it. Same old same old.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Villanova’s Overtime Thriller Leads to First NCAA WBB Triumph in 14 Seasons

Because the Guru as of 530 am hadn't seen the Inquirer version post yet and because there was a combination length/time consideration, the Guru presents it also here and enhances with extra quotes and details.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru — the Guru’s cut

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — On a campus known for athletic tradition, the ninth-seeded Villanova women’s basketball team woke up the echoes of its own past program greatest Friday night, beating eighth-seeded South Dakota State 81-74 in an overtime thriller for the Wildcats’ first NCAA tournament win in 14 seasons.

The first-round triumph in the Spokane Regional sets up a matchup Sunday (7 p.m.)  of Philadelphia-bred coaches with Villanova’s Harry Perretta going against Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw here in the Irish’s Purcell Pavilion.

In the opener, Notre Dame (30-3) as the top seed had an easy time dispatching 16th-seeded CSUN 99-81 to finish the Matadors’ season at 19-16.

Perretta’s favorite weapon — the three ball — carried the Wildcats (23-8) with an explosive start and a sizzling finish but it almost destroyed them when the Jackrabbits (26-7) hit a long one of their own as time expired to extend the game another five minutes.

“I just thought it was a great game,” Perretta said. “If you were watching, it was entertaining, both teams made tough shots, both teams made runs, it was a fun game to play in, and for an 8-9 seed, it was a perfect game.”

Perretta said in last year’s Women’s NIT, his team ran into a similar situation from James Madison, a game the Wildcats won on the road. He noted their success getting to the Final Four in that tournament carried over to their play this season that enabled them to get here with a third place finish in the Big East.

Villanova, in its first NCAA appearance in five seasons, put up 38 attempts from beyond the arc, connecting with 16, the bulk of them coming from Jannah Tucker and Adrianna Hahn with six each.

Hahn, out of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., had a team-high 24 points while Tucker, a transfer from Tennessee, scored 20 and Alex Louin had a double double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Macy Miller had a game-high 25 points for South Dakota State.

The Wildcats came out blazing from the opening tip with Hahn nailing three bombs as they built a 26-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Then it was a matter of holding off the opposition who spent the rest of the game shaving the advantage until Madison Guebert, who had 21 points, fired one from deep to leave the outcome in doubt for another five minutes.

But where that could be a crusher, Villanova was able to shake it off.

“I think we were very shocked at first,” Tucker said. “But then we said, it’s another five minutes, we have to buckle down, play another five, and give it our best shot.”

Hahn added, “When I saw that shot go in, my heart sunk and I just couldn’t believe we were going to continue playing the game but like ‘Tuck said, we just have to keep playing like we did in the beginning when we got a big run on them, that’s exactly what we have to do in the overtime.”

After both teams exchanged baskets in the overtime, Tucker with a pair of 3-pointers and Hahn with another sent the Wildcats on a 9-0 run to take control and clinch the win.

“Congratulations to Villanova, they played really well today,” said South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnson. “They really had bookends. They started out really well, they finished really well.

“They hit some big threes early in the game, and obviously the threes late in the game were difficult to overcome. They made a lot of shots.

“I thought we did a good job getting back into it. A double digit lead to Villanova is like a 30-point deficit to a lot of teams because they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t hurry up, they just take time, and we did a really good job to give ourselves a chance to go into overtime.”

Villanova never trailed but was tied three times after its big early lead.

While the contingent of followers here were delighted to see the women at the half doing their part for Villanova while the men had gotten off to a winning start as a No. 1 seed, Perretta did not feel comfortable with a 38-27 lead at the half.

“We can’t post, we don’t have post players, so we have to shoot perimeter shots,” Perretta said. “So if I’m going to shoot a 15-footer, I might as well shoot a three. That’s the way I look at it.

“If we can make like we did today — I felt we needed 12 or more to win. And we made 13 in regulation. We have to make 12 to win. We don’t have people who can take you off the dribble very well, Mary Gedaka today did not do a good job of mismatching their post players so we had to make threes to win the game,” he continued.

“That was the big talk at halftime. We had to continue to shoot the three and that was the talk before the game. We made 10 the first half and the thing I was never about was we had made 10 and we weren’t up a lot and the second thing is we only had 38 points.

“If you make 10 threes and only have 38 points that’s not real good. But if the game is under control and you can make some threes, it’s devastating to the other team.”

Recalling their days of the old Big East and the annual matchups between the Irish and Wildcats, McGraw has joked about rather playing UConn than Villanova because back then it was the one game all year that her players had to alter their style and push to avoid an upset.

But for day one there was nothing to make the home crowd of 4431 in Purcell Pavilion squirm during Notre Dame’s opener.

Arike Ogunbowale, an all-American candidate, had a game-high 30 points for the Irish.

Jessica Shepard, the high profile transfer from Nebraska, added 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while dealing seven assists and taking a pair of steals for the Irish. Marina Marbrey scored scored 23 and Jackie Young scored 10.

CSUN, coached by former UCLA men’s player Jason Flowers, got 25 points and 11 rebounds from Channon Fluker while Destiny Brooks scored 24 and Tessa Boagni had 23 points and 13 rebounds.

A key statistic is Notre Dame forced 16 turnovers while only committing eight, which resulted in a 23-12 advantage in transition.

But Villanova, which is up next, does not give up the ball easily, so the Wildcats on this St. Patty’s Day weekend at Notre Dame head into the next game trying to make the luck of the Irish not a positive.

That will be a tough chore considering McGraw already had her share of despair losing four players to injuries while still managing to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title, earn another No. 1 seed, and stay in the top five of the Associated Press women’s rankings most of the season.

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Conference Unbeaten in Day One of NCAA Round One With Day Two Ahead

By Mike Siroky

As the first round of the NCAA eliminations opened, the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball kept their mystique alive with three Friday wins, all from higher-seeded teams. Four more open Saturday.

You would think with all the cuts at ESPN, they’d have better announcers.

Nope. The person doing the Notre Dame game said the Irish would rather be opening with UConn. The very definition of March Madness.

The commentator between games wondered if National Freshman if the Year Chennedy Carter, an all-conference SEC player and scorer from A&M,  would be worried about starting the NCAAs against a much-worse team.

Not a chance.

Anyway, here is the SEC start . . .

ALBANY: South Carolina

No. 2 seed South Carolina opened at home with a 63-52 win over No. 15 seed North Carolina A&T. 

They drew a nationwide best by far, 11,085.

Coach Dawn Staley knows it should not have been that close and chided her team for it. They had a 19-point halftime lead.

Staley said, “Oh absolutely (we lost concentration) and then we started playing one-on-one basketball. 

“We wanted to show we could make SportsCenter. So we showed what not to do in a basketball game. 

“They took our point guard out of the game and we really got rattled When you take as long as a break as we did, the rust is settling in.”

They did hit 19-of-22 from the line.

But: ''I felt like I disappointed coach this game and I don't like that feeling,'' said A’ja  Wilson, the three-time Southeastern Conference player of the year and the program's all-time leading scorer.

 ''When we watch film, I'm going to see how I can change my ways.'' 

The national Player of the Year  doubled, with 19 points and 16 rebounds.

''I think the way we played basketball was unacceptable for us, especially this time of year,'' Wilson said.

 ''And especially after what we did'' in defeating previously unbeaten Mississippi State two weeks back to win a fourth-straight SEC Tournament.

Freshman Bianca Jackson was South Carolina's only other double-figure scorer with 16.

Now they get No. 7 seed Virginia,  a 68-62 winner in a mild upset of No. 7 seed California. 

A 5-9 guard, Dominque Toussant, is the leadinf scorer. 

She scored 17 in a loss at Mississippi State this season. The game wraps up the national Sunday games, is at 9 p.m.


The No. 4 seed A&M opened in College Station against Drake.

Freshman Chennedy Carter scored 26 in the 89-76 victory. Khaalia Hillsman scored 22.

The Aggies broke it open in the second quarter, building a 57-42 halftime edge. A&M outshot the Bulldogs from 3-point range in the opening half, with Carter and Danni Williams each hitting three of four. They drew 2,835.

Carter, playing in her first career NCAA Tournament game, answered the silly ESPN with one of the best statistical performances for a tournament game in school history. 

The points rank fifth, the 11 assists are second. Six steals are also the school record.

Khaalia Hillsman (22) and Danni Williams (18) each scored in double figures for the third straight time in an NCAA Tournament game. 

Williams also has the school-record 69 3s this year. Anriel Howard, also doubled, 14 points and 10 rebounds, her first career NCAA Tournament double/double.

Carter said, “That connection (with Hillsman) does not come on the court. We hang out together and it is just a matter of me being a point guard and getting her the ball in a place where she can score.

“We just knew we had the advantage offensively going against their defense,” said Williams.

 “We just tried to work the game plan and just keep it rolling from the start. We knew their offense was going to be good, so we had to score just as much.”

As for Carter: “No, it’s not surprising. She’s a ball player. She’s been in a lot of games. And she doesn’t really approach any game different. I think for her it’s just another game, and that’s why she’s successful.”

“Well, for me,” Hillsman said, “I’m going to try to be more helpful on defense. I wasn’t very helpful this game.

 “And, honestly, I’m going to try to work on finishing stronger than I did this game. You guys might see the points and say, ‘;She did good.’ But I’m never satisfied. There were a lot of baskets I should have made.”

Next up in  Aggieland is No. 5 seed DePaul, Sunday afternoon at 1, Texas time. 

DePaul has five in double-figures: Sophomore forward Mart’e Grays (14), junior guard Ashton Millender (13),  Amarah Coleman (25) and junior guard Kelly Campbell and junior forward. Chante Stonewall (each 10.6). Campbell is the leading rebounder (8.7). 

The Blue Demons have never done much in the tournament yet this year’s challenge offered is the sky force, 410 team 3s, led by 100 made by Millender at 42 percent. Nine players each hit at least 30 percent.

LEXINGTON: Tennessee

Back to hosting status, No. 3 seed Tennessee went wild after halftime in a 100-60 drubbing of Liberty. UT is 57-0 at home in NCAA play.

Freshman Rennia Davis kept them in it until the rest of the team woke up. She doubled, 18 points and 11 rebounds, ninth this season making her fifth for UT rookies.

 It was only an eight-point lead at the break.

 Tennessee seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell were a combined 2 for 9 from the field in the half. UT scored more in the third quarter (38) than in the first two quarters (36). 

Rookie Cheridene Green came off the bench to score 15 and grab 12 rebounds for the Lady Vols. Both are season highs.

Tennessee was 24-of-30 from the field in the second half (80 percent), scoring 64. 

Liberty had been allowing 53.7 per game until now. The last time they allowed 100 in an NCAA game was in 1998 . . .  against Tennessee.

They drew a disappointing 4,509.

Tennessee forced seven turnovers and used an .813 shooting percentage to a 74-48 lead by the end of the quarter.  

It marks another 25-win season for the program its 35th (fourth Holly Warlick as coach). UT is 57-0 in home tournament games (23-0 in openers). It is the highest NCAA Tournament point total in an NCAA game since 2006.

NCAA Records of Note: The win moves the Lady Vols to 57-0 all-time at home in NCAA Tournament games, including 23-0 in first round contests. 

The Lady Vols had seven players in double figures, and all 10 UT players scored at least two points. 

The last time Tennessee had seven players score 10+ points or more was against Troy earlier this season. 

Nared was 4-of-4 from the free throw line and now has 168 this season and 428 for her career, second-most in a season and sixth at UT career free throws. 

Russell got a 100th career 194th block, fifth-most blocks in Tennessee history.

“I just made sure to come in with the same tempo and impact that I’ve been trying to have,” said Green.

“One  of the main things I tried to focus on was boxing out and going after every ball. I wanted to  stay aggressive on defense.

“We  worked  on  our  press  because  they  don’t  like  pressure.  We  made  sure  we  were  communicating and to pressure them so they turned the ball over.”

Davis said,   “We talked about how we weren’t getting enough transition points. Our game is playing fast and  getting fast break points. I think we tried to focus more on that in the second half.  

“Today we didn’t wait until the third quarter to pick up our defense. I think we started off really  well in the press and we created a lot of turnovers. We were playing with high energy, especially  the players at the  top of the press.”  

Tennessee (25-7) plays No. 6 Oregon State in the second round of the Lexington Regional on Sunday with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. Oregon State beat No. 11 seed Western Kentucky 82-58 in the opening game. It starts at 2 p.m.

These Beavers think they can win. They have three averaging double-figures: senior Marie Gulich (17) and sophomores, Kat Tudor (12) and Mikayla Pivec. (11), Gulick, at 6-5, leads in rebounds (9.2) and Pivec  in assists (5). Gulek is an import from Germany.

LSU made a tough decision to suspend two players – both freshmen – from the opening round at the Ohio State pairings. They violated team rules, according to the university. Faustine Aifuwa started 15 games The other rookie is Dekeriya Patterson.

Penn Holds Off Albany to Take Round 1 in the WNIT

Guru’s note: Postgame Scout was at The Palestra to handle Peenn in the WNIT while your Guru is here in the Midwest with Villanova women in the NCAAs.

By Postgame Scout

PHILADELPHIA - It was raining 3’s in the Palestra as the Penn Quakers welcomed WNIT opponent the University of Albany to Phillie.


Senior Lauren Whitlatch hit the first three shots of the game, all of them from beyond the arc, to give Penn a quick 9-1 lead. 

Michelle Nwokedi, Ashley Russell and Katie Kinum also contributed to Quakers’ long range barrage, putting Penn up 18-3 with 4:54 left in the first quarter.


After a timeout, Albany’s defense intensified its pressure by extending the court and pressuring Penn on the perimeter.  This slowed down the Quakers’  momentum and allowed the Danes to claw their way back into the game.  


With time running out in the first quarter, Albany’s Jessica Fequierre hit a ”Hail Mary,” shot from the corner to cut the Quaker lead to 7.  The momentum had shifted toward the Danes.


Penn went scoreless in second quarter until the 5:19 mark when Nwokedi converted inside on an assist from Anna Ross giving the Quakers a slim 29-28 lead.


Albany successfully screened the middle of Penn’s 2-3 zone, giving Albany good close range looks at the basket.  

 Penn was forced out of their zone and into man to mandefense.


It was a foul ridden third quarter with Nwokedi picking up foul number 2, 3 and 4 before leaving the court with 2:55 left in the period.  She is quickly followed by Kinum getting her fourth foul at the 2:06 mark and Whitlatch getting her fourth foul at the 1:20 mark.


Penn’s Tori Crawford came off the bench and provided the Quakers a much needed  lift.


Albany continued to battle with Chynna Canada scoring inside and Jessica Fequiere scoring from the perimeter.


Despite foul trouble, Penn pulled away from Albany in the 4th quarter.  

Ross sealed Penn’s victory by scoring five consecutive points and unanswered late in the fourth quarter.


Albany was aggressive and relentless.  They clawed their way back into the game. 

 However, Penn would not be denied. 

 Their composure down the stretch and bench productivity sends the Quakers onto the next round of the WNIT in New York Monday night against St. John’s.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: The Dancing Fun Begins

By Mike  Siroky

For the fourth straight season, the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball in the NCAA eliminations has a No. 1 seed. But it wasn’t automatic.

The NCAA has a tough job. While we outsiders see the end result we have suspicions – but don’t know – how the sausage is made.

South Carolina won the alleged automatic bid. Notre Dame and Mississippi State did not. South Carolina and Notre Dame did not win the regular season. 

If you have written about the women as long as we have, we can recall the 32-team bracket and winning conference was all that mattered.

 Of course, back in the AIAW, you could lose in the Regional Finals and still make the Final Four because that group, with the help of dominant coaches, basically picked a Final Four.

Back then, there were a lot of objections if this sort of thing happened. 

Not now. 

Everyone is getting money. ESPN2 will have broadcast rights to every gamer so depending on where you lie, you’ll get what they allow you to get.

But the NCAA seems to be stepping on its own toes by declaring “automatic bid – again for money – designations then ignoring it.

 So the defending national champs are flung into UConn’s meat grinder – having already been trounced at home by them this season.

Truth is, of course, they all knew they’d be at home with a ticket punched for the Sweet 16. 

They all know any No. 1 has to play a No. 2 to get to the Final Four (Mississippi State last season).

Historically, 17 of the recent 20 No 1 seeds before this were automatic qualifiers as conference winners, with only UConn in 2013, SC in 2014, and Baylor last year as at-large top seeds.

 The last time two at-large qualifiers were No. 1s in a weak 2009 when Duke with five losses and Oklahoma with four were top seeds after losing in their conference tournaments.

When you are the SEC, you now expect multiple seeds, which means the sorority shares even Regionals. 

With seven in this season, three Regionals have two each.

The No. 1 is Mississippi State in the Midwest, from whence they advanced last season to the Final Four.

Vic Schaefer recognizes the win at the Final Four elevated the program. They responded.

They are one of two at-large No. 1s.

The most-recent game was the loss in the SEC tournament, again, to South Carolina.

“We were not pleased with how the tournament ended,” he said. “We didn’t play well. You give them credit. Dawn her staff did a great job. We didn’t hit shots. I didn’t need a close a game to get my attention.

“(The loss) is not something we needed, my staff, we were coaching to win.” 

He called Teaira McCowan a double/double machine. He said there is not another player in the country to improve her shooting percentage 13 percentage points in a single season, at this level when she gets the defensive game plan every contest, as Victoria Vivians has done.

 In last season’s tournament, he benched Vivians because the reserves were playing better. She got the message.

 McCowan was among the reserves to start their first game in the NCAAs.

So we go.
KANSAS CITY: Mississippi State

The best pressure basketball defense in America opens at home against Nicholls State.

Texas, the No. 2 seed, Syracuse, two seasons removed from the Final Four and the championship game and Maryland also lurk here.

 That makes this toughest bracket.

Yet another program record is the No. 1 seed. You better believe Schaefer put that on the shelf as soon as the selection was made.

The NCAA Selection Committee violated one of its own traditions by sending two teams State has already beaten this season to them again.

State opens play against the No. 16 seed  Saturday afternoon.

No. 8 seed Syracuse faces No. 9 seed Oklahoma State in the opening game at 3:30 p.m.

“I’m really proud of our kids and appreciate the committee’s consideration,” Schaefer said. “Our schedule, especially non-conference, was very difficult. Two of those same teams, Syracuse and Oklahoma State, we played really good ball games with.

 “If we get past Nicholls State, then we will have to play one of them. You get a conference champion in Nicholls State, and I’m very familiar with them. They have had a great year.

“I’m excited to play on a Saturday instead of a Friday afternoon. We won’t need to write any excuses for people to get out of work. I’m thrilled to have 10,000 fans in here for an NCAA Tournament game.”

Nicholls State is in Thibodaux, La., so not so far from StarkVegas. They won the automatic bid of the Southland  Conference by defeating the No. 5 seed, the No. 1 seed and the No. 2 seed in order. 

It is their first NCAA entrance. 

Tea Charles and Marina Lilly are their senior leaders.

Cassidy Barrios, a 5-10 junior guard, is their best scorer (17.1) and rebounder (9.3).
The Bulldogs hosted Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 in the Big 12/ EC Challenge, winning a 79-76 decision. State met Syracuse Dec. 21 in the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas, claiming a 76-65 victory.

The Colonels claimed the first championship in program history with a 69-65 win over Stephen F. Austin on Sunday afternoon.
ALBANY: Georgia and South Carolina

OK, no one wanted to be in UConn’s brackets. Two SEC teams are now there. 

The play of SC in this Regional means a least one Final Four team of a year ago will not repeat.

Only four teams have ever successfully defended a title (UConn with multiples) SC starts here.

South Carolina won the automatic bid which turned out to be a No. 2 seed, lower than the team it defeated.

They open with No 15 seed North Carolina A&T and also host. No. 7 seed California and No. 10 Virginia. 

Their games start Friday.

AT&T coach Tarrell Robinson said, “My young ladies are excited and humbled to go against the 2017 National Champions. Our culture and daily values are on track for our program to continue to play in games such as these.

“Now my young women get to see if what we focus on every day in practice and talk about daily measures up to a program that has been to the top of the mountain in this sport.

He is an engaging speaker. The conference openings in the SEC could do well to attract such a coach.

N.C. A&T won its fourth Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, earning its fourth NCAA appearance, three in the past nine seasons. The Aggies are also the MEAC co-regular-season champs with a 15-1 mark.

The Aggies have won 11 straight and 19 of the past 20. They took down a Hampton team with six MEAC titles in nine years with a 72-65 win in the conference tournament championship game.

Led by the conference tournament’s most valuable, senior guard Kala Green, the Aggies ranked first in the MEAC in assists (442), offensive rebounds per game (17), rebounds (1.392), rebounds per game (67.0) and in turnovers forced (23.03).

 N.C. A&T’s 14.3 assists per game, 35.1 field goal percentage defense, 684 free throw attempts, 4.0 rebound margin, 5.13 turnover margin and 74.2 win-loss percentage all rank second in the conference. 

Robinson will coach in his second NCAA tournament game. 

They lost to No. 1 seed Notre Dame 95-61 in a first-round game at Purcell Pavilion on March 19, 2016 in South Bend.

“We want to advance in this tournament and there’s no better way of figuring out what it takes than to play the best in this sport,” said Robinson. “For me, competing against the likes of Dawn Staley, Hall of Fame player and Hall of Fame coach, is a dream come true. 

“She is the standard for minorities in this sport, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for her and everything she’s accomplished. This is also a great opportunity for our fans to really show their support for our program with us only having to travel three hours.”

“We stand here as conference tournament champions,” Staley told a packed house at the home area, gathered for the selection announcement.  To be champions in our conference says whole lot. We’re gonna play it. 

“We can’t control where we go but we can control how we play, the effort we put into it.  One of these days, we may earn the right to play in a  Regional which we can drive to.”

This is the third straight eliminations in which an SEC sire, Lexington, hosted a Regional and SC was never allowed there. 

Also unsaid, of course, is the NCAA ban on awarding Regionals to a state which flies the Confederate Battle Flag at official state sites like parks.

Last season, a neighboring business flew a massive Confederate Battle Flag adjacent to the SC campus. 

The play-ins are carefully parsed by the NCAA, are earned home games, not awarded home games. The same applies to Mississippi State.
No. 4 seed Georgia is back in a big way, hosting for the first time since another era, 2003. 

They play No. 13 seed Mercer. 

Others at this site are No. 12 Belmont and No. 5 Duke, two very dangerous teams.

Mercer won the Southern Conference, 14-0 season and the post-season tournament.

Senior guard Kahlia Lawrence – the three-time conference  Player of the Year – also won  the tournament Most Outstanding Player. She averages 19.2 points and five rebounds per game. 

Junior guard  KeKe Calloway (16.9 ppg) was also conference all-tournament. 

They are both Georgia natives. 

Junior Amanda Thompson averages 6.6 rebounds per outing. This is Mercer's first trip to the NCAA Division I Tournament in program history. 

The Bears are currently riding a 27-game winning streak and are ranked  an all-time program best No. 25 in the AP final poll.  Coach Susie Gardner has  been the top coach at Arkansas and a Florida assistant.
SPOKANE: Texas A&M and LSU

A&M is a four seed to Notre Dame’s one. They open in College Station against Drake.

The Aggies are in their 13th straight NCAA Tournament, starting with No. 13 seed Drake on Friday afternoon.

It is the fifth time in seven years that Texas A&M has hosted opening  games,  the 10th time in the past 12 seasons A&M has earned a Top 4 seed, seeded sixth or better in all 13 of their consecutive tournament appearances.

Also in Aggieland is No. 5 seed DePaul, the automatic qualifier out of the Big East and Oklahoma, another at-large selection.
The Aggies are among eight to have qualified for at least 13 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, joining Tennessee, UConn, DePaul, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Stanford.

“I had us in Spokane, which is fine with us. No one wants to go to Albany. I just wanted to make sure we were not the worst No. 4.

“Being here at home is the best thing to reward our fans. We are on spring break, so I am going to have every little kid within a 200-mile radius here, I am going to market myself.

“We have played a tough schedule. That is what the SEC gets your ready for.

“The game is won with the point guard. That’s where you start. This will be my 46th year. I have to be on the same page with the point guard. “

He has the best rookie in America, but is pushing Chennedy Carter to be consistent the entire game and not just the start. She has yet to miss double figures, but, as he said, this is not a democracy; he is still the boss.

He also said he had to explain to a couple of his players where Drake is and they returned the favor by explaining who the rapper Drake is.

Drake is from Des Moines, Iowa.  They have won two MVC titles in a row, its seventh conference tournament overall. 

They have four underclassmen averaging double figures: Sophomore guard Becca Hither (15.6), sophomore forward Sarah Rine (15.5), junior reserve guard Maddy Dean (10.7) and junior guard Sammie Bachrodt (10.2).. Rine (6.0)  is the leading rebounder.
LSU is on the road as a No. 6 in Columbus, Ohio.

Ohio State is also in this bracket, where the Buckeyes are the No. 3 seed. LSU takes on No. 11 Central Michigan in legendary St. John Arena.

No. 14 George Washington meets host Ohio State in the second game.

The Lady Tigers are making their 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and their sixth in the last seven years under coach Nikki Fargas.

 It is also the 18th time in the past 20 seasons LSU qualified for the eliminations.

“It feels great to get our momentum going again in the NCAA Tournament,” said Fargas. “This group has worked extremely hard. To see where we were a few years ago with all of the injuries and to have our name solidified and called today. 

“All of the hard work these young ladies have put in going back to the preseason with the 6 a.m. workouts to now, playing a tough schedule, playing in the toughest conference in the country. Job well done by them.”

The  Chippewas are the regular season and conference tournament champions of the MAC for the first time since 1993. 

Their gathering site for the draw was packed.

"It's the same thing like when we were at the MAC  tournament, all the people that were there, the community, the fans that were there," said  coach Sue Guevara. “Today I couldn't get a parking spot, which is awesome.

"That just tells you how invested the community is in us, and how invested we are in the community. We've said this all along, as a program if we give back to the community, they're going to give back to us.

‘ Central Michigan, Mount Pleasant, we're together. It's awesome, it's a great place to be.”

All five starters hit double figures: Senior Tinara Moore (18.7), juniors Presley Hudson (18.3) and Reyna Frost (14.1), senior Cassie Breen (12) and freshman DePaul transfer Micaela Kelly (11.4), The best rebounders are Frost (11.8) and Moore (9.8).
LEXINGTON: Missouri and Tennessee

Louisville, the top seed, earned the bid.by sweeping the ACC regular season and conference tournament. 

They have never been a No. 1 or No. 2.

They eliminated Tennessee in the second game, at home, last season. Baylor lurks here as the No. 2.

 From here on out, their point guard is a rookie, filling in for an injured senior.

The No. 3 seed Lady Vols are back to hosting, against no. 14 seed Liberty. The Flames are no newbies. They are in their 17th NCAA in 22 seasons and are Big South champs again.

Their coach is a UT grad, Carey Green. He grew up across the Tennessee River from the Knoxville campus in Maryville.

The balanced attack is led by the trio of 6-1 sophomore frontliner  Keyen Green, (13.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-1 junior frontliner  K.K. Barbour  (9.8 and 5.9) and 5-6 freshman point guard Ashlyn Baker (8.0 ppg). 

Green is the Big South Player of the Year, Baker is Big South Freshman of the Year and Barbour is Big South Championship MVP.

"(Getting to host) is huge for us,” said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick. “Getting a chance to play in front of your fans again and an opportunity to stay here and not have to travel. It's awesome. I love it."

The team knew they were in and hosting and the reaction was subdued as they pondered missed opportunities and a step back by the senior leaders.

“We have a business-like approach,” Warlick said.  “As long as we can channel our energy into Liberty and what we have to do.

“I've seen Liberty a little bit. I saw their championship game. I don't know a lot about them. 

"We took a couple of days off. After the SEC we practiced for three days. We practiced early Friday, so we gave them early Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday off. 

“We came back today, and we're not going to take another day off. I'm very mindful of our bodies. We're just banged up, and we need to heal.

“ We need to stay in shape as well, because the running game and the pressing is part of our game. We have to make sure they stay in shape, but we have to give them a chance to heal."

 No. 6 seed Oregon State will meet No. 11 seed Western Kentucky  in the Knoxville opener. 
Missouri, despite having the alleged coach of the year in conference returning, are still road feed as a No. 5. 

They are at Stanford’s qualifying games, taking on No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.  No. 4 seed Stanford and No. 13 Gonzaga are the others there.
 Awards Time
The post-season awards have started. As we have told you all along, South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson is the Player of the year, this time USA Today which sponsors the coaches’ poll agreeing with us.

 Victoria Vivians of Mississippi State is a first-team All-American too.  Chennedy Carter also answered our outcome prediction by being named Freshman of the Year.

Wilson is the first Gamecock to win National Player of the Year. It is very Ruth Riley-like.

Wilson was also Player fo the Year for College Sports Madness and Vivians is a first team All-American with Carter, fourth team All-American, nonetheless Freshman of the Year. Vic Schaefer is, of course, Coach of the Year.

As a side note, Asia Durr of Louisville made first team at USA Today as well. 

That kerfuffle started when Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw referred to her as ‘”the other player” in the league when pumping her own star. The Louisville coach, with the two wins, paused in the handshake line after the conference final to reintroduce his player to McGraw, The player McGraw was positioning is second-team All-America.

Wilson was also ESPN’s Player of the Year, first team with Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State. 

Vivians is second team and Carter is rookie of the year.

For the third straight season we projected which coach was likely to leave an SEC team. The very night Matt Insell accepted a buyout at Old Miss, another (much more successful) coach wired us to ask how we did this.

Well, we pay attention. In Insell’s case, he is a fine coach who inherited a program in ruins in 2013 and the SEC does not allow its weaker teams to get up off the floor.

A long-term build like South Carolina and Mississippi State also requires spectacular upsets along the way and not a little bit of luck in acquiring recruits or transfers upon which to build.

Insell had neither, despite fostering four 1,000-point scorers in his time. He had little institutional support. He came from a then-successful Kentucky program. 

The fraternity of coaches in the league said all the right things about him. He was not scrubbed from the university website.

 Of course, the clown show on the SEC network did not mention his departure at all, even in a nice way.

He had five years in which to defeat, say, Tennessee. He did not. That 21-season loss streak continues.

At Tennessee, the inheritor of a legacy has done just swell and maintained a Top 15 ranking.

 Insell inherited a program whose glory days are long past, even if those times had a very good coach who later defined his legacy in the WNBA.

Of course, Insell’s immediate curse – besides a program under NCAA investigation – is the best team in the league arose in-state. That galled the Mississippi good ol’ boys no end.

He won 70 and lost 87, 18-62 in conference, 2-5 in the league tournament.

 They ascended to the booby prize that is the NIT as recently as last season. His 2015 team accepted two wins there and reached 19 overall, the most since 2009.

 But he won only one game in conference this season.

He may not be the only coach whose university tires of living at the bottom, but he was the main suspect.