Womhoops Guru

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

Friday, 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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Two Carry The League Forward to The Sweet Sixteen

By Mike Siroky

The end is the beginning for the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball season. The top two from the start are the top two at the end.

South Carolina may be a little more reduced with the loss of its senior center. Mississippi State has revised its lineup to start a taller center with years remaining and has benched its leading scorer until and unless she can find a championship rhythm.

South Carolina is actually reduced; Mississippi State is purposely reduced.

They head into the Sweet 16 this weekend, projected to the Elite Eight and perhaps breaking the league drought of national titles since Tennessee’s win in 2008.

South Carolina first made a Final Four in 2015. That conference is so faded into history that even coach Pat Head Summitt’s record number of NCAA tournament victories will next be eclipsed by Geno Auriemma and Connecticut of the mighty American Athletic Conference.

 That league has three titles, or as many as the Big 12.

Right now, it says here, either advancing would be an upset.

Friday: Mississippi State (31-4) vs. Washington (29-5)

This is a No. 2 vs. a No. 3.

W ash i         ngton, of course, was in the Final Four last season and so is a surprise no more. They also have the NCAA’s best scorer in Kelsey Plum.

That collides directly with the Bulldogs’ barking about defense, the career specialty of State coach Vic Schaefer.

Mississippi State allows 52.6 points per game. Washington averages 85.6. Whoever controls this part of the matchu p obviously advances.

On the flip side, Mississippi State averages 76.3 and these Huskies allow 63.7.

Senior guard Kelsey Plum, 5-8, is everybody’s All-American. She averages 31.8. the only other double-figure scorer is 6-2 senior Chantel Osafor.

Dominique Dillingham is the Mississippi State player most often tasked with guarding the best opposing scorer.
“We’re probably going to have to do some things with more than just Dominique and that’s the challenge with trying to come up with a game plan for somebody as great as her,” Schaefer said. “You better have more than one plan going in with her because if one doesn’t work, you go to the next one.

“Once that ball is in her hands, she is really making some great decisions,” Schaefer said.
“What she does is at an all-time level, something that has never been done.”

In the qualifying game, “Everybody was so worried about her, they’re helping off their man and the other players are knocking down shots,” Dillingham said. “I think they had 18 threes last night.

“So she’s just an all-around great player. I think we will have a great game plan for her and it is going to be a team effort. It’s not going to be just me.”

Victoria Vivians still leads Mississippi State at 16.1 points per game. Morgan William is at 10.2. Teaira McCowan is the new starting center with a seven rebounds per game average. State has not lost a game outside of conference.

Once they had a relatively bad offensive run in the conference tournament, Schaefer was not afraid to bench his all-conference center Okorie or shooter, Vivians.

 For that matter, his sparkplug point guard William also saw limited time, still a starter but only 15 minutes played in the qualifying game because she was injured.

None of this is to say they will not start again.

Schaefer merely decided to let those who had watched the majority of a special season from the bench apply what they had learned, messing up the scouting reports in the process.

Of course, he was not yet coach of they year in conference as selected by the sorority of coaches . . . yet he plays on while the one who did get gifted the award lost two of three and her team is watching the tournament from here on.

He is unquestionably one of the best coaches in America if his own conference cohorts refuse to acknowledge,  for the final four vote of the national honor, the only conference coach so elevated.
   
That’s is three of five by any math.

 “We’re playing some different combinations right now (but) it’s not like we just threw them together," Schaefer said. "I’ve been seeing them in practice for a while. I’m not so reliable on one or two kids right now. We’ve got a lot of kids that are doing good things right now.”
His own daughter, Blair, responded with a career-high 21 points in the first NCAA game and then 18 in the second, including eight 3’s those games.

She said the urgency for her is knowing the pressure a dad can be under for playing his own kid and that she always is aware her “window” of opportunity is a small one.

“I won’t be able to outrun the number of people in this world wondering what the heck I’ve been doing with her,” the coach said. “She’s had two really good games back-to-back making shots. I was concerned with her about the matchup defensively and it never bothered her.”

William’s backup at point, Jazzmun Holmes, also erupted with a career-best 14 points, six assists, two steals, two rebounds and just one turnover.

“Coach just always talks about having poise and playing with a chip on your shoulder,” Holmes said. “I just felt like they couldn’t guard me. It felt like high school again and nobody could guard me.”

The opportunity came because William has a hurt  finger – Schaefer also said Vivians had been playing while being “nicked up” – but, really it is an example of a coach who will play the hot hand.

He keeps his bench focused. He said the first steal Holmes got is because of what she had witnessed on the bench.

“You want them to be learning and see what’s happening so they can come in and make a play. That shows me that kid is engaged. That’s what our team needed.”

So, now, the Bulldogs have the equivalent of eight starters and it doesn’t matter who is up first.

No other team is going to have the best shooter, the best defensive center and the best playmaker coming in fresh as needed.

If the opponents fail to gameplan for that, they will get burned.

Sometimes, you take risks and run with it.

The Dogs are barking right now.

Saturday:  South Carolina (29-4) vs. Quinnipiac (29-6)

 This is a No. 1 vs. a No. 12 seed. If you had to play a team from Connecticut in the Sweet 16 and had a choice, you’d obviously choose the Bobcats.

Quinnipiac has three seniors. Addily Martucci, Morgan Manz and Brianah Ramos.

 Manz came off the bench to hit six of eight 3s during a career-high 22 just to get here. The Bobcats hit 15 of 26 3s. By the way, they had never won an NCAA game until this season.

“My teammates and coaches are more confident than I am in my shot,” Manz said. “I just did what my coaches have been asking me to do for the past four years.

“I just let it fly because we had nothing to lose.”

They have two 10-point scorers, Martucci and Jen Fay. Not a lot of oomph.

The team scores 69, on average. South Carolina allows 57. The Gamecocks score 77 per game, 20 above what Quinnipiac has allowed.

South Carolina, among its many guard blessings, has a rookie running point.

 Tyasha Harris of Indiana has established the Gamecocks will have no questions in that area for years to come.

Not even Vic Schaefer of in-conference rival Mississippi State. He credits Harris with having the presence to control the conference championship game.

He said it is “pretty special.”

She plays, of course, for one of the legendary point guards in Dawn Staley.

 A three-time Gold medalist as the United States Olympic point guard and the next U.S. coach for the Games.

Staley has infused her with confidence, telling her to just play her own game, to let it come to her by defining the game, not letting the game define her.

This time last season, she had not yet committed to South Carolina, waiting until after the tournament, having analyzed the other top teams.

Having mastered the blend for this year’s run, Staley brings her team in with the usual preparation.

“At this stage of the game, everybody’s a threat” she said. “The ones that are supposed to be here are here. We’re going to approach it as any other team.

“They play a different style. But it’s not a deal like we had to prep one day. That’d be a little more difficult.

“After four days, we’ll be used to their style.”

Allisha Gray ended her Sweet 16 qualifying early, literally carried off the court with at the time looked like a serious leg injury.

It was not.

“She’s going to be fine,” Staley said. “She’s gonna  go. She’s not going to let this opportunity pass.

“It wasn’t like it was her decision. It wasn’t her decision. It was mine. It was just a bad Charlie horse, her hamstring.”

She said they have adjusted to the reality of losing their “big,” senior center Alaina Coates, to injury, but the team just looks to the next available talent and a different, faster style with a four-guard universe and All-America forward A’ja Wilson.

”You have to go with what you have,” said Staley.

“If it’s seven, if it’s eight or nine, with what feels good and what is working. We shortened our bench (use) a little bit against Arizona State because that was enough.”

The swing across time zones is all part of the preparation.

“You leave one day earlier,” said Staley. “We left Wednesday. We will practice at the time of the game time.

“Once we land, just get acclimated.  Everybody’s acclimating. Even Oregon State (in the other half of the bracket) is coming from playing on the East Coast.

“So you just get acclimated.”

And you play on.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: On to the Sweet 16

By Mike Siroky

The incomparable Southeastern Conference advanced its top two women’s basketball teams to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA eliminations in home games. Two more will attempted to qualify and failed.

No. 7 Miss. State (30-4) 92, No. 19 DePaul 71 in StarkVegas for the Oklahoma City Regional

The alternative truth of the NCAA Bulldog lineup – Victoria Vivians and Chimwe Okorie on the bench – worked again Sunday. DeShields, in fact, was the ninth player used. The only clue Vic Schaefer has dropped is she was “nicked up,” which he revealed after the SEC tournament. The streetcar avoids her neighborhood nowadays.

It was, therefore, a competitive 17-all opening quarter. It stayed tight and was 38-37, Mississippi State, at the half.

An inspired Okorie had six rebounds and eight points. That’s more points than in each of the past dozen and about her season rebound average.

Vivians had four points with an assist. Her scoring average is still 16, but nine in the previous four games.

All were concentrating on defense. Was State playing only to the level of their competition, as so often happened all season? Schaefer needed an inspirational halftime to allow continued play of his best team ever.

It worked. They won the third quarter by 10 and DePaul began looking more like RuPaul.

Vivians scored 12, 6-of-6 at the line. Okorie scored 12 with nine rebounds.  In fact, five reserves all hit at least 10 with 22 combined rebounds.

Among the starters, Blair Schafer hit for 18 with four 3s.  State outrebounded the taller Demons, 48-25. They drew 6,035.

“I am really humbled and so proud of my kids today,” Schaefer said. “They played their hearts out. I was proud of their focus and their energy. DePaul is really good.

"They are so skilled and well-coached. We talked to the kids in pregame about who we are and what we are known for. We talked about toughness, resilience and competitive spirit.

“We talked about not being outworked and not being out-hustled. I thought the kids really responded to that.

“In the second half, we really executed,” Schaefer said.

He had worried about DePaul.

“I got up in the middle of their game Friday and haven’t slept two hours since then. I was trying to think about how we are going to deal with them. We talked to our kids in pre-game today about who we are and what we are known for.

"We talked about toughness and resilience. We talked about a competitive spirit, about not getting out toughed or hustled. I felt like we really embraced it.

“At halftime I felt like we were up 10 and we were only up one. Coming out in the third quarter I was really proud of how we responded immediately outof the gate. I think we executed offensively really good.

“Our inside game was really good. Jazz (senior Jazzmun Holmes) came in off the bench and played 25 minutes and was leading the No. 7 team in the nation. In the biggest spotlight of the world, on the game’s biggest stage, she led the team like a pro.

“The pride that I have for her, how happy I am for her, knowing how hard she worked. She played with a presence. She had presence. She wanted to be in the moment.

“Just a heckuva basketball game. I serve an unbelievable Lord that just instilled in these kids an unbelievable energy. Our fans today, and all across the country can really see what this program is about.”

Included in the mix is coaching his daughter, Blair.

“First of all she has earned her way,” he said. “She is a heck of a player. There is no moment too big for her. I have spent so much time in a gym with her throughout her career. It is one thing to just be on the team because. It is another when you are a vital part of it.

“She prvides us so much that you don’t see in practice. Her toughness, her reliance, her competitiveness, her competitive fire.

“She doesn’t have a bad day. She is a great teammate. She is a heck of a basketball player that has a heart as big as this state. She plays with a lot of emotion and fire. She is tough. I give her all thecredit because she makes it easy for me.

“There are times when I’m a little harder on her. Give her teammates the credit you make it easy for me.”

Holmes said every player is prepared to answer his call.

 “I felt like we had to go inside, there was a mismatch, for Chinwe and our opponent. It was easy for us to go inside where they can finish over the smaller opponent,” Holmes said.

“Coach just always talks about having poise and playing with a chip on your shoulder. I felt like
they couldn’t guard me. I felt like high school again and nobody could guard me. I just had to do
what I had to do.”

She said the team attitude extends to the lineup.

“Well he is not crazy. I think we have 10 starters. Anybody could start. We are really deep. Blair
and Ro deserve to start just as much as me and Tori. I don’t think it has been crazy. We have a
lot of different combinations in practice. We are used to playing with each other, it is no different.”

They had lost the last day of the season, on Senior Day.

Now they are done for good at The Hump for this season.

 “Leaving was a lot better,” she said. “It is a bittersweet feeling, knowing this is the last time I will be playing in the Hump. It was great to leave and know everything we have accomplished over the last four years. I just love the fans so much. I just want to thank them for everything.”

They have the program record 31 wins. They await playing Washington, the winner over -Oklahoma Monday night.

No. 3 South Carolina 71, No. 10 Arizona State 68, in Columbia for the Stockton Regional

SC started hot, 62 percent from the floor in the first quarter and led after one, 19-15. The guards ruled, Allisha Gray with six points, and four rebounds, Kaela Davis with five points and two assists, Bianca Cuevas Moore had three steals.

A’ja Wilson scored six with two rebounds but the Sun Devils took the lead for a possession at 24-23.

Arizona had eight off the bench and eight more from senior Sophie Brunner. They edged ahead by four and certainly SC was unsettled without being able to control the game.

Their last basket of the half came at the 4:45 mark. Cuevas-Moore hit two free throws and it was Arizona State, 37-31. Wilson hit two more to cut it to 37-33, But Brunner drove in for a layup and the 39-33 half.

The home team was rattled.

Yet no one was dominating. Brunner had 14. Wilson had 12 but only five rebounds. They lost the quarter by 10.

This was the game in which the absence of Alaina Coates was most evident. SC was losing the boards, 18-11. As with the other two SEC coaches this day, Dawn Staley needed a booster rocket at halftime.

They floated along, behind by five most of the quarter and closing to two as the fatal fourth loomed for someone. Arizona State had only a free throw in the final 84 seconds.

 With 18 seconds left. Doniyah Cliney, usually a SC mop-up player, had a steal and a layup. Her average is two points and two rebounds as a sophomore guard.

Wilson ended the final threat with a defensive rebound. Wilson had 17 points and Davis 16.
As the fourth began, Davis tied it on two free throws. After another Brunner basket, Wilson tipped it in off a rebound. She hit a free throw. Davis hit a jumper.

A worked-up Arizona State bench got a technical. Davis hit them both. Then another Davis free throw and a Gray layin. The lead was five for the home team.

Another Gray free throw and Wilson with a steal. The back-and-forth continued. SC had a seven-point lead with four to go but a 3 cut into it. A jump shot later by a senior left the lead at two with 2:25 left.

A 3 put the Sun Devils ahead. One minute left in someone’s season.

With 46 seconds left, Wilson missed, got her own rebound and tipped it back in.

Brunner missed a jumper. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan claimed it for SC.

The Gamecocks freshman point guard missed two free throws. Brunner got the rebound.
Davis stole the ball. Staley called consecutive timeouts when they could not inbound.  An Arizona senior took the foul, 15 seconds left.

Wilson hit two free throws. Brunner missed a 3. The No. 1 seed could exhale and start California dreamin’.

SC needed every available player to pull this off. They had fewer 3s, rebounds, assists and steals.

They won three quarters. The technical foul led to five immediate points in a three-point win.

Late in the game, Gray landed hard and came up hobbling. She was carried from the court.
Staley said evaluations had begun and she would follow the doctor’s orders.

But that’s for future consideration.

In the here and now, Wilson was massive, 21 points, 11 rebounds (seven defensive) and two blocks, 7-of-7 at the line. Davis scored 20, 4-of-4 at the line. Among the rest, Cliney had two blocks and two assists. Every role player showed up.

Brunner had to be tired. She scored 20 with nine rebounds and gave Wilson all she wanted.
Arizona State had streamed through two SEC teams in the regular season and earned this marquee matchup of two Top 10 teams.

They had to come East to try and earn a trip back West.

South Carolina had the home court and the most fans of any Round of 32 teams. They had the attitude of being assigned the furthest Regional from home, so the 8,276 crowd ached for the national stage from which to send them off.

Carolina is one win away from 30. Who they get next is the Cinderella Quinnipiac squad that that upset Marquette in the first round and then Miami in the second.

Kelsey Moos, Quinn Dornstauder and Sara Hattis ended their ASU careers.

Staley and her players said their experienced players paid off for a great fan base.
Gray and Davis may be in their first SC seasons, but each has NCAA experience.

Staley said now is the time to rest up and prepare.

“We’ll spend less time on the floor and more time watching a little film,” she said. “We’ll be ready to play Friday.”

Wilson said all the lead up to these games pays off,

“I feel like we’ve been in that (late game) position before,” she said, “Maybe not in games but in practice. We prepare very well for situations. I trust them to get me the ball, so I was not worried.

“You attack the paint and get to the free throw line if shots aren’t falling.”
In the closing seconds, it was all schoolyard strategy.

“I just figured they were going to find me eventually,” Wilson said.

“I listened to the coaches’ yelling ‘Get The ball!’ I said, OK that’s the plan. I guess that was the plan. It’s a great feeling here are home to know we went out with a bang. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Davis agrees there is no cock watching, just drive and determination to get to the best position.
“Throughout  the game you have to be positive, to never put yourself in a position to be down,” she said. “We never look at the score.

 “You have to find when to take shots and when to be aggressive,” Davis said. “That was the game plan.”

No. 11 Ohio State 82 No. 18 Kentucky 68 at Lexington in the Lexington Regional

Here was the perplexing thing: Ohio State had more depth, more wins and were higher ranked than Kentucky, yet the Kats had the home court, with a low turnout of 2,644.

The assignment was probably due to the views of the conference values, the Big Ten behind the SEC in mystique.

It surely motivated Ohio State.

Junior Kelsey Mitchell scored 19 first-half points, 15 in the first quarter (against a 22.8 average) and OSU used their pent-up energy positively.  She only needed 15 all game in her opener.

She is a national caliber guard. A home state player from Cincinnati, she was the national freshman of the year and an All-American the next.

OSU was so dominant in the 50-37 first half that UK senior Evelyn Akhator had 14 rebounds, classmate Makayla Epps had 15 points and neither were barely noticed.

A frustrated Matt Mitchell even went to his non-existent bench and found four points, causing an obviously clueless ESPN cheerleader/announcer to declare UK was “in business.” Yes, if that business is getting outplayed on your own home court.

So enthusiastic were the Buckeyes that they did not play for the last shot twice as the half was winding up.

It started with a competitive 20-16 first. UK had already given up trying to stifle Mitchell.

When Mitchell hit a 3 with six minutes left in the half, it had been a 10-2 run. With five minutes left, it was 34-18. OSU was content to trade punches in the third, the lead never threatened. OSU shut out Epps for the quarter

On came the deciding quarter, the NCAA “upset” in hand. Linnae Harper, an all-star player at Kentucky before transferring to Ohio State, had eight off the bench.

It’s a curious thing when all-star seniors look into the abyss of their final game. They can bring their teammates along in a final frenzy.

UK cut the lead but never quite caught up. They only won one quarter and you can’t gain overall success that way. It was a two-point deficit with 7:25 left.

Epps cut it to one with on a feed from Akhator with six minutes left in their careers.

Ohio State scored 17 of the final 21 points. Harper snared a rebound, Tori McCoy scored six unanswered, Harper assisting the last one in her old home gym. Epps began missing, four straight. Akhator’s last attempt was a missed 3.

Harper snagged the final rebound, for her double/double, 10 with 12 points and a game-high eight assists. She outscored everyone on the other side, with the exception of the big two.

Akhator scored 14 with 23 rebounds.. Epps scored six in the second half.

Mitchell kissed them both off with the expected script. He referred to Harper as someone he has gotten over a long time ago, among “those who didn’t want to be here.”

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff was angling to meet top seed Notre Dame in the Regional semifinal They won their national championship while he was the recruiting coach there. The other top seeds will be there as well.

McGuff was enthusiastic about Harper.

“She obviously was unbelievable today,” he said. “She played extremely hard. She made big plays. She moved the ball and just had an overall amazing performance.

“She’s really a unique player because she’s the best rebounding perimeter player I’ve ever coached. That allows her to do things you saw today.”

“She’s such a great kid and ‘team first’ player. Somebody else might have been trying to make this about coming back to the place they transferred from. She just wanted to contribute to our success today.”

The Buckeyes handled the pressure well. They had a season-low six turnovers.

“Overall, our execution was excellent. It resulted in a bunch of good shots and low turnovers,” McGuff said.

Harper said, “There’s no words to even describe it. Just being back here on the court was a good feeling and getting a win overall was great for our team.

“Just seeing the work we put in pay off was great for our team. It’s March Madness, so every team is going to play their best. We just really focused on preparation and playing as hard as we could.

“He (McGuff) put us in the best position we could possibly be in and our team being very cohesive and staying together.”

Harper said, “There’s no words to even describe it. Just being back here on the court was a good feeling and getting a win overall was great for our team.

“Just seeing the work we put in pay off was great for our team. It’s March Madness, so every team is going to play their best. We just really focused on preparation and playing as hard as we could.

“He (McGuff) put us in the best position we could possibly be in and our team being very cohesive and staying together.”

Kentucky has ended two straight seasons at home, trying to advance in a home Regional. They get one more shot at it next season as UK completes the rare three-year Regional commitment.

Losing their two best seniors makes it look like more of the same.

The Buckeyes host the National Championship next season. They have only one senior, Shayla Cooper.

No. 10 Florida State 77, No. 25 Missouri 55 in the bottom bracket of the Stockton Regional

 The alleged league coach of the year went 1-2 after being gifted with that award. The Tigers do not wish to participate in our reports.

 Louisville 75, Tennessee 64 in the Oklahoma City Regional at Louisville

There seemed to be no home court advantage at the start.

 Jamie Nared, shackled with foul trouble in the opener, broke loose with 11 Lady Vol points in the opening quarter. Louisville won the quarter by a point as leading scorer and All-Atlantic Coast Conference sophomore guard Asia Durr scored nine. At that, it took hitting 57 percent from the floor.

Both defenses clamped down. Louisville again won the quarter, this time by three. Nared was up to 15 but Diamond DeShields and Russell were shut out in the quarter.

The unfortunate trend of a bad game following a good game – inconsistency not solved all season by the coaching staff – was in ugly evidence. Of course, Durr also did not score in the quiet quarter. The Cardinals’ bench came up with the difference, 8-0.

The third quarter was Tennessee’s best, 16-11. Nared hit a 3 and finally the Lady Vols led, 36-35. UT missed the next three shots while Louisville scored seven straight. Again, it was Nared with a layup.

Russell made her first basket since the first to put UT up by one, 45-44.  Neither she nor DeShields had scored since the first and there were four minutes left in the third.

Opportunities kept presenting themselves and UT found a way to muff each one, missing jumpers and layups, not scoring off rebounds.

It was painfully obvious UT’s head game was once again gone. They had a tenuous one-point edge as the final quarter opened.

Louisville won the fourth, 29-17, a mercy killing.

Nared had 28, 7-of-7 at the line and 3-of-5 3s, but she was all alone out there. Russell had an unimpressive double/double, 13 rebounds and 11 points. DeShields mailed in 15, 3-of-12 from the field. The team missed two-thirds of their shots. They had 13 turnovers.

They did hit another 20-win season. But this game was winnable. As in so many UT games this season, they looked uninspired and unprepared. They were 3-of-18 from the field in the fourth.

Another of several dismal records: Tennessee lost its first second-round game in tournament history and they have been in all of them. They did have one opening loss under the previous coach.

Tennessee loses seniors Jordan Reynolds and Shaquilla Nunn. But they welcome in a new team next season, with the best recruiting class in the nation (four McDonald’s All-Americans), two junior college transfers and two recovered from knee rehab, including the former starting point guard.

It will be coach Holly Warlick’s make-or-break season with the new athletic director.

She said she was disappointed, of course, and singled out the seniors.

Russell and Nared represented the players and said it took a while to figure out how to get the ball inside.

“It’s the end of our season and so it is frustrating,” Nared said. She is planning workouts for her senior season now.

“We will take what we are feeling now and use it for motivation next season,” Russell said.

They had missed 18 consecutive field goals. Past UT teams would just increase the defensive pressure and wait for the offense to arrive.

Not this one.

Nared said they weren’t getting the stops and “It just didn’t add up.”

They even seemed flummoxed that Durr is left-handed and they seemed to not have practiced against that.

Both players said Louisville obviously planned correctly for Russell to be the only rebounder they nneed worry about.

“We got good looks,” insisted Warlick.

“You’ve got to make plays down the stretch and we didn’t. Jamie’s right, we only had one player going to the boards.

“We have kids that got it done throughout the years and tonight we didn’t get it done.”

So, at the end, it is merely a prelude to next season’s injection of talent. Warlick talked of the former culture of winning and the need to revive it.


“We’ll give them a chance to play and, believe me, they’re going to play and they’re going to play a lot.

“We’ll have the kids to be competitive.”

UCLA 75, Texas A&M 33 in the Bridgeport Regional at Los Angeles, with UConn on deck

No record comeback in this one.

In fact, a dismal start, the dreaded single-digit first quarter.

On the short end of 22-6, they were further stomped in the second and were doubled at the half, 42-21, still not having scored as much as the Bruins opened with.

They actually tied in rebounds but had seven turnovers and were 9-of-30 from the field,
It looked like they were going to just accept another 22-win season and a 12th straight NCAA appearance.

A 20-10 third only inflicted more pain. UCLA went on to its second straight Sweet 16 – the only two in this century – and A&M went home to Aggieland.

A neat note to end it. A&M’s last points and rebound came from senior Alyssa Michalke. She is the first female commander of the Corp of Cadets at A&M, a walk-on voted team captain.

Blair, as always, has a wonderful perspective.

“Is it about the win or the loss,” he asked. “In reality it is about neither, it is about did you put your best effort out there.

“Sometimes, you need to compliment the team that won. We tried our best.

“Chuck Berry died. He had a great song you old codgers remember: Sweet Little 16.

“For UCLA, that is what it is about right now. They are going to see the best basketball.
Right now, nothing better than 16. Sweet Little 16. Enjoy it.”

UCLA is really a future team which will send its one senior and seven juniors to the UConn firing squad next.

A&M says farewell to national assists leader Curtyce Knox – 304 in 34 games -- and fellow-seniors Taylor Cooper and. Michalke.

The Aggies lose but 13 points off a 69 average and five rebounds off a 38 average. They will be OK again.
 
NIT

Alabama, discounted out of the NCAAs, got its 21st win, most in this century.

No Ducking for Oregon in Upset of Duke and on to 1st NCAA Sweet Sixteen

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

DURHAM, N.C. – After getting by seventh-seeded Temple by the slimmest of margins 71-70 Saturday night, 10th-seeded Oregon came back 48 hours later to upset second-seeded Duke 74-65 in the Blue Devils’s Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday night and move on to its first NCAA Sweet 16 playing Saturday in the semifinals of the Bridgeport Regional in Connecticut.

Oregon (22-13) won it on  merit and quick growth of the Ducks’ talented freshmen group but it also caught a Blue Devils (28-6) squad that suffered a major wound Saturday night when sophomore guard Kyra Gilbert suffered a knee  injury in the first half of a blowout win over 15th-seeded Hampton.

So instead of the tantalizing storylines looming over what would have been a Duke-Maryland matchup such as the Blue Devils’ junior guard Lexi Brown facing her former Terrapins team that is now in the Big 10 or the reunion of the then both ACC teams that played for the 2006 NCAA championship won by Maryland in overtime in Boston, it will be the rebuilt Ducks under former Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves in that slot instead.

Of course, it is also the Regional of Doom considering the other side of the bracket has overall No. 1 Connecticut (34-0) meeting No. 4 UCLA (25-8) , which advanced Monday night 75-43 at home against Texas A&M and is a Pac-12 rival of Oregon, which had a slew of ranked teams in the Associated Press women’s (media) poll this season, of which the Ducks made a brief appearance.

Connecticut is riding in with a record win streak now extended to 109 straight after blasting Syracuse 94-64 Monday night at home in Gampel Pavilion on UConn’s campus in Storrs.

No longer, just a case of Stanford and a bunch of others in the Cardinal’s shadow, the Pac-12 showed its muscle this season as the No. 1 RPI rated conference and has placed five teams in the Sweet 16.

“The Pac-12 play and the season prepared us for this moment,” Graves said. “Duke is a great, team, no question about it. But so is Oregon State, who we had to play twice; Stanford, who we had to play twice, and they were a two seed; Washington we played a couple of times and they were a three seed; UCLA was a four seed.

“Night in and night out, I think that’s what made these guys better. They couldn’t take a night off, they had to perform each and every night. I do credit the Pac-12 play with making us better and preparing for this moment tonight.”

The Maryland-Oregon matchup will showcase two of the nation’s top newcomers in the Terrapins’ Destiny Slocum, who, on Saturday, made an incredible nearly length-of-court shot against West Virginia as the first half expired, and Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, who is one of several frosh on the Ducks’ roster.

Ruthy Hebard, who beat Temple offensively and defensively in the final five seconds Saturday night, had 20 points and 15 rebounds against Duke, Ionescu had 13 and dealt six assists, sophomore Maite Cazorla had 17 and dealt six assists, and junior Lexi Bando shook off a mediocre shooting start to score 14 points and deal five assists.

Duke’s Brown, who finished her first season of eligibility after transferring, had a game-high 25 points, and senior Oderah Chidom scored 11, while Rebecca Greenwell was held to six points.

Oregon took an early five-point lead that held up most of the first quarter, fell behind by a point in the second, and then immediately grabbed the lead back and went on to build the differential to 15 points with eight minutes left in the game.

“Obviously, just a tough and physical game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I thought we fought very hard as a team.

 “(Oregon) had more players step up and play across the board,” she continued. “They had better balance with 20 assists and they played more of a full 40 minutes.  I didn’t particularly appreciate our first half.

"I thought we rushed and didn’t do the things we needed, but I really appreciated our second half and our fight by our team.”

Oregon’s largest lead was by 15 points early in the fourth period and it shrank to five with 15 seconds left but the outcome was not in doubt at that moment.”

In the third period, a Brown jumper had moved Duke within a basket, but then the Ducks went on a 7-0 run to provide a quick answer to the Blue Devils.

“We didn’t want this to be our last game,” Hebard said. “We knew Duke was good. They made it this far and we just wanted to come in and hopefully get another game. That’s what we did.”


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Guru's View: Temple and Penn WBB Suffer Agony of Defeats Just Short of Thrill of NCAA Victories

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

DURHAM, N.C.  – In 1990 when Virginia reached the Women’s Final Four in Knoxville the first time, courtesy of an overtime upset of Tennessee depriving the Lady Vols of personally hosting the event, the Cavaliers got quickly bounced by eventual winner Stanford in the semifinals.

That squad had a giddy and talented sophomore point guard in Dawn Staley and a junior forward in Tonya Cardoza, later in life to become successive coaches at Temple in Philadelphia.

But the 1990 setback was OK.

Coach Debbie Ryan’s squad was young and, basically, having already pulled the upset of the tournament, the Cavaliers were just glad to be there, enjoy the experience knowing they were talented enough to return and do better next time.

Twelve months later, “next time” arrived and though Virginia had to do a detour route in another regional to get to New Orleans because of a loss down the stretch, the Cavaliers arrived salivating for the trophy and knocked off a new and up and coming team named Connecticut in the semifinals.

In the title game, however, while within minutes of claiming the championship, the team started missing foul shots allowing Tennessee to get closer and then a call by an official who years later admitted it was the wrong assessment doomed Virginia to lose to the Lady Vols in overtime.

That was Cardoza’s last shot but most of the team was still intact for 1992 so hours later the contingent could be seen intermingling with the tourist crowd  on Bourbon Street because it definitively existed for Staley and company that the third time was going to be the charm.

Now it’s a year later in 1992 and having to play a game in Los Angeles that started at 9 in the morning due to TV concerns by CBS with the men and women playing the same day, Virginia was chugging along in the semifinals over Stanford until again as the year before, the  foul shots stopped connecting and the game slipped into overtime and the Cavaliers in the final minute went by the boards.

The final opportunity was over and the pain of defeat was now too much to bear and the Virginia group disappeared for the rest of the weekend to console themselves and lick their wounds together knowing the championship quest for that bonded group and by extension players like Cardoza, who had been part of the original rise to the elite level, had died within a few inches of what should have been grasped.

That brings us to 2017 where the biggest disappointment will be if the Connecticut women fall short of a fifth straight title, though the team that achieves the upset or however it gets done will certainly be celebrated for doing the near impossible to date.

Huskies Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma already laid some terms, however, during the ongoing HBO special series on UConn where defeat might be acceptable.

Moving forward in this narrative, appearances in either NCAA tournament men or women are many things to the 64 teams in the intra-competition among the two genders.

Going into last Monday night prior to the Women’s Selection Show on ESPN, the squads of Ivy champion Penn and American regular season runner up Temple, the two signature Division I women’s contingents in the Philadelphia area this season, knew they were NCAA-bound and so they could fantasize among themselves beforehand how far they might go.

Then the bracket was released and each learned they were in the Bridgeport Regional of doom headed by UConn.

But the good news was the task of being dragon slayers couldn’t be assumed until the Sweet 16 at the earliest.

So for each, a modest approach could be taken, enjoy the moment and compete, go after that first round win and get to round two, which may not be daunting in landing in the Sweet 16 alongside of UConn.

For Temple, a seventh seed, the Owls were sent here to second-seeded Duke’s site but against 10th seeded Oregon in a level playing field matchup with each having their own special strengths – the Ducks of the Pac-12 with tall super talented freshmen enjoying a rebuild under third-year coach Kelly Graves while the Owls under Cardoza are known for their flashy lightning quick guard attack.

For Penn, the Quakers drew a 12 seed in Los Angeles hosted by four-seed UCLA but initially matched with a five-seed Texas A&M squad that had been a work in progress in the Southeastern Conference under veteran Gary Blair.

Following a bumpy two months in the front end of the schedule, by the arrival of January, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin had tinkered to make the Quakers ready to defend their league crown and go the extra two steps in the brand new Ivy tournament.

It’s possible many thought Penn was capable of being a surprise story on the front end of this weekend’s set of games that were being played at 16 different sites.

And so on Saturday night rthe Owls and Quakers, respectfully, took the floor in the fabled arenas of Cameron Indoor Stadium here and out west Pauley Pavilion on separate coasts confident and hopeful of  producing a great start to their weekend travels.

Little did either realize in retrospect that if one believes in good and bad karma, then the ouster of the defending NCAA champion Villanova men’s team, the overall No. 1 seed, in the second round by Wisconsin, putting the finish on a 12-month Cinderella story, had set an ominous cloud over Big Five basketball prior to the local women’s games.

The Temple women tipped almost three hours ahead down here before Penn was due to take the floor in Los Angeles. For the Owls seniors, headed by all-timer Feyonda Fitzgerald, this was it, win and get to play another day.

That was the mantra the Guru remembers existing when he was manager of the Temple men, which had a very large group of seniors, as the Owls spent a magical week in New York concluding with the NIT trophy in Madison Square Garden after rallying over the Bob Cousy-coached Boston College squad.

Now to play with a juxtaposition of time for thid narrative, let’s pretend both games were being played at the same moment.

Temple’s battle was tenacious and steady and the Owls, in their first NCAA postseason battle since 2011, hung tough in a contest with nine ties and 13 lead changes.

But early in the fourth period, the Owls bolted to a six-point lead and maybe the fates were about to shine in both places while out west Penn’s senior Sydney Stipanovich, a Quaker all-timer, was leading her team to an unheard of 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

McLaughlin’s team was minutes away from becoming the third Ivy school to win an NCAA opener.

Coupled with the fact that Sunday afternoon Drexel was about to host Villanova in a second-round WNIT contest, ensuring a local advancing to the third round, this weekend was set to be stamped one of the greatest in Philly women’s basketball.

And then for each, it all turned.

 Temple couldn’t stop the bigs, only counter on offense with the Owls’ own strengths, and the Guru started seeing mental videos of those buzzer-beater losses suffered in the early years of the Dawn Staley-coached era that preceded Cardoza.

Out West, Penn’s offense went cold and Texas A&M rallied in such a way that as the Guru watched on his iPad after filing his Temple story for The Inquirer, his mind started seeing a repeat of the dreadful loss to La Salle, giving up seven points at the finish in regulation and then again in overtime for a loss in The Palestra early in the season.

For those old enough to live through the 10-game nightmare Phillies losing streak of 1964 that cost the baseball team the National League pennant, it was that bad.

With Temple, the hope was that maybe the Owls could prevail at the finish. With Penn, just someone, anyone, make a shot.

 The pressure of A&M was becoming a bit much. The large lead was slipping like sand in an hour glass that had a tiny hole on the bottom.

In the Temple game with about five seconds to go, Oregon freshman Mallory McGwire found sister classmate Ruthy Hebard inside for two points and a one-point 71-70 lead.

But there was time for Fitzgerald to race to Temple’s basket, win the game, and then get ready for a Monday date with Duke.

Off she went.

One was already envisioning the layup to put the Owls ahead. Fitzgerald’s hand with the ball went up, the shot left her hand, and – whack – Hebard had quickly got back after she scored and destroyed the Temple senior’s looming moment.

“It was the perfect scenario – open court where we’re really good with Feyonda with the basketball in her hands,” Cardoza afterwards described the final moments. “I saw her paying attention to the clock, so I knew she was alert and that she knew she had more time to get to the other basket. The guy just came over and made a great play on it.”

And out West, a few hours later in real time as we remove the side by side aspect, just enough was left out of Penn’s missed shots, turnovers, and perhaps victims of a couple of controversial officiating calls that did not help, that instead of celebrating the triumph of an Ivy school the storyline went to the Aggies, setting a record with a 25-1 run and 21-point comeback.

"We needed one basket," said McLaughlin of the 63-61 loss. "They sped us up and we lost our organization. We didn't handle it very well. It's my responsibility to keep our kids composed and find a way to get one basket.

"It's just really, really difficult for me right now," he added.

Cardoza, drawing back on those Virginia days of her youth, answered a question about the sting of defeat, especially when it closes the careers of talented collegiate seniors.

“Foe me, it might be a bit easier,” Cardoza said. “I’ve been in the position where I’ve played for a championship and came up short, and always live with that moment.

“So for them, it’s going to be hard, especially the seniors in their last go-round. That’s something they’re going to have to live with for the rest of their life what they could have done differently,” she continued.

“For me, it will take a little bit, but for them it will take a bit longer, especially Feyonda as she was the guy with the ball in her hands. Hopefully, there will be a lot of positive things that happen in her basketball career.

"For the seniors, this is going to be something that they live with as this was their only opportunity and to have it cut short in this type of game. For me, I couldn’t tell you. As a coach, I haven’t been in this situation. Hopefully, there’s many more where we’re in the NCAA tournament,” Cardoza said.

“When you lose like that, there’s not a lot you can say. You can tell them what a great season it was, but they don’t want to hear that, it’s just disappointment. They’re upset.

“If we lose by 10 they’re crying because it’s over, but it was the way we lost that really hurts them. It’s not only that we missed the shot, but also because of the stops that we didn’t get the last three possessions,” Cardoza explained.

“Every single person had something to do with something, and so it wasn’t just about the shot we didn’t make but the stops we didn’t get as well.”

Alliya Butts, Fitzgerald’s backcourt mate, echoed Cardoza’s description of the pain caused by the loss.

“This one hurts because we were in the game,” she said. “It was a close game and we all fought hard and to come out and lose like that it hurts. It was a close one.”


 


         

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Traditionalists Survive to Round of 32

 By Mike Siroky

Down to business.

The traditional round of 32 is now set in the NCAA eliminations.

The mighty Southeastern Conference has six participants, the top four playing Sunday for spots in the Sweet 16.

Three of the matchups have both teams nationally ranked.

Here’s what happened Saturday:

No. 5 seed in Bridgeport Regional Texas A&M vs. Penn at UCLA

We have been harping on this.

Gary Blair was somehow judged not the conference coach of the year.

He had graduated four starters. His team was picked out of the running – eighth – by the majority female coaches in the preseason.

Yet they won 22. They finished sixth. They easily qualified for the NCAAs.

Before the elimination season, he talked of the joy of playing at UCLA in the opening games because it meant he could take his kids to DisneyLand and ride the rides, with himself first in line for the rollercoasters.

Oh yeah, then there was the opening round game against the champs of another league, Penn.

The Quakers had a senior guard, a senior forward and, especially, a 6-3 senior center. They had been in three of the past four NCAAs.

He had his kids.

He teared up the night before the tournament, talking about his kids and the emotions of unending pride.

Then came the game.

It was a fearful as projected.

They were down by 21. He was in shirtsleeves, of course, drawing up plays on the fly, listening and encouraging the group which had never individually played in as many games in a season.

It was still 17 at the end of the third.

It was 58-37 with nine minutes left.

Blair was in full coaching mode. The players were listening and believing. They went on a 26-3 run.

They completed the largest comeback in NCAA tournament history, erasing a 21-point deficit.

Not the league coach of the year? Not much.

Two of the starters played every minute of the 63-61 win. Another one played 39 and another one 38. Curtyce Knox, the senior point guard, has only missed 15 minutes the entire season.

Of all the upsets to come, of whatever happens next, this was a defining moment for the NCAA and for Texas A&M.

Knox had eight assists, 303 for the season.

Anriel Harris had 16 rebounds, 10 defensive.

Khaalia Hillsman had 27 points.

In years to come, the 2,256 who actually witnessed the game in person will swell to many thousands more in urban legend. No matter. They did it.

Next up is the home team, an 83-56 winner over Boise State.

The Bruins accumulated 24 assists in rolling past Boise State, 83-56.

Jordin Canada had 15 points and 16 assists. Monique Billings scored 19. Two others scored 14 apiece.

Blair had a press conference for the ages.

“I thought we had them all the way.
“Folks, let’s give Penn the credit that they deserve. Three quarters of the game, they outplayed us, I got outcoached, they wanted it more, they were
cutting hard to the ball, they were making shots, you name it.

“They probably deserved the game, but when you’re in the NCAA Tournament, you have to win a game like this along the way, to be able to get to that next level, to get that sense of urgency in your team.

“We’ve had this problem all year, getting way behind, trying to run the perfect play instead of knowing how to play -- and particularly on the defensive end.

“They shut us out of our zone, our matchup. We were doing a lousy job on switching, hedging and everything.

“And give credit to them. That’s why they’re Penn. That’s why they’re so well-coached and that is one of the best teams we have played this year, but when the momentum changes, and we were able to play defense without fouling in that fourth quarter and we made all the hustle plays.

“Even when we started coming back, we missed four straight shots that were dead on. And then all of a sudden, Danni Williams, hadn’t hit anything since we got into it, all of a sudden, she hit one from downtown.

“Then, all of a sudden, she’s not afraid to miss -- and that’s what you have to have when you’re a shooter and a scorer, you can’t be afraid to miss.

“You’ve got to think about that next basket. I’m so proud of this team, but I’m also so proud of Penn, because, I know Mike’s (McLaughlin) going to get back and second-guess himself and everything like that -- but he shouldn’t.

“They outplayed us. We won the fourth quarter and the last I heard, it’s 40 minutes.

“We played defense, and Anriel Howard gave us all the energy. She was everywhere and had a bad night shooting. Two-for -11, but 16 rebounds. That girl is not afraid.

“The only thing she did wrong in the whole ballgame -- when I told her to miss the last damn free throw and she shot an airball.

“So, we’ve got to work on that. I’ve got to have something to work on.

I’m so proud of these kids and we did not want Curtyce Knox to finish her career like we played those first three quarters.”

He was absolutely as stunned as everyone else about the record  comeback.

“That’s the biggest comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “If some of you out-of-towners don’t remember our men last year, we came back on Northern Iowa. That I had never seen before, either. Maybe that’s what A&M does. The game’s never over at A&M, until we decide it’s over.”

Of course, like every SEC team, he is proudest of defense.

“We had to go to the press, because obviously we couldn’t guard them in the halfcourt. Khaalia was giving up shot after shot. Shot after shot. Even the ones she missed, she was wide open. She could have hit three more of those in the second half.

“The defense, it’s just a gut check. Sometimes, it isn’t just one word that I said or that Coach (Bob) Starkey said.

“That’s what we do at A&M. We find ways. It wasn’t pretty. We’ve been like this all year, folks.

“We haven’t been a Top-25 team, I don’t have any McDonald’s All-Americans on this team.

“I’ve got a lot of kids that are playing in the pros, but I’m going to tell you one thing -- I’m going to have 11 graduates that are going to go on to that next life and they’ll remember this one. I want them to remember Monday night more than this one tonight.”

The season-long leadership of Curtyce Knox also propels him.

“She’s gone through sitting for four years waiting, redshirting her first year, playing behind
Jordan Jones -- a kid that got into the WNBA Draft and playing in Poland. She never complained and in today’s world, with student-athletes, their parents and summer coaches -- they’re always saying transfer, transfer, transfer.

“That’s what’s wrong. It’s an epidemic in men and women’s basketball right now and it’s all because… kids want success as a freshman.”

 Hillsman said the coach and concentration never allowed them to worry about the deficit.

 “To be honest, in the fourth quarter, I was really just trying to have some pride in what we do,” she said.

“We weren’t representing our school very well for about 30 minutes and then the last 10, we found something in us. We really didn’t want ‘Tyce , for that to be her last game and if it was going to be our last game. We didn’t want it to end like that.

“I think we played as bad of basketball as we could have played. They were getting wide open shots everywhere, on everybody, including myself. None of our shots were falling, my shot was getting blocked and there was just nothing going right for us, but I’m so glad of the fight that we showed as a team and that last 10 minutes was amazing to me.

“I was trying to leave it all on the floor didn’t want ‘Tyce to go home. I wasn’t going to go home either.

“If I was a spectator, I’d probably be sweating bullets. I don’t think I’ve seen one like that at all. But being a part of it was definitely exhilarating. My adrenaline is still pumping from the game so I’m sure it was fun to watch.

 “We talk a lot about ‘Tyce, but I don’t know if anybody really understands how much ‘Tyce means to us, so when we see her, when we see it in her eyes, like she doesn’t want to go home, that ignites all of us.

“We’re like, ‘Tyce doesn’t want to go home, we aren’t going home.’ I mean ‘Tyce just means so much to us, oh and when we see our seniors like that, when they got that fire in their eyes, you see all that they’ve given to this program -- how can we not go out there and give them everything we have?

“Because we don’t want them to go home; we don’t want their careers to end like that.”

 Knox was her usual calm self.

“Well, I just think that it was the fact that, if we lose we’re going home. So, we don’t have time to be tired or get a sub or take a play off, but I just think we came out in the fourth quarter and we played our hearts out,” she said. “And I can honestly say everybody on this team, we left it out on the court. I’m very proud of my teammates for that.”

 Williams said no one key play changed it up.

“Personally, I don’t think there was a play,” she said.

“We kept fighting. Like coach said, we missed four straight shots and it didn’t really affect us.

“We just kept pushing, kept pushing. We were saying like ‘We’re 10 down, that’s five baskets,’ every time and I can’t speak enough about how hard they were playing, my teammates were playing out there, just giving everything, flying around and that’s special.”

She hit an NBA depth 3 with 20 seconds left. Like all the other plays, she downplayed it.

“No, I don’t think so. I just give credit to the teammates. We fought so hard just to get back and I’m honored to be able to shoot that shot at the end, that the coaching staff and my players put that much trust in me. I’m just proud of them.”

She had a defensive play at the end as well.

“Well, she face cut me and I knew I had to get a tip on it. I knew we were down; I think we were down one and as soon as I tipped it, because I fell and I saw the ball and I knew she was going to hit it and it was going to go out of bounds, I already knew.

“So, I kept telling them, I know it’s our ball, so draw up the play so we can score.

“I just got the ball, I knew we needed a shot. To be honest, I really didn’t know it was that far. Coach Blair kind of got on to me about two of them in the first half. But that’s a shooter, you just got to keep shooting and I was ready.”

No. 5 seed Tennessee 66, Dayton 57, in the Oklahoma City Regional in Louisville

After one-and-done in the SEC tournament, the Lady Vols escaped that clause in their opener.
UT started the first quarter on a 20-9 outing. They couldn’t celebrate the single-digit defense long, because Dayton did the exact same to them in the second quarter.

Tennessee ended the third quarter on a 9-1 run and led by nine at that break.

The Flyers seemed unimpressed and ready to slug it out. UT, without a true point guard, was further hampered when Jamie Nared was forced to sit with four fouls. That puts more pressure on Diamond DeShields to control the game and run the plays rather than flying free, which is when she has her best games.

Mercedes Russell was being battled evenly at center by 6-5 senior center Saicha Grant-Allen.
UT pushed the lead to their largest, 14, with five minutes left and settled in on defense to see if Dayton had another run left.

They did not. Nared was back in to rebound and enhance the defense.

Deshields scored 23. Russell scored 14 with 10 rebounds, nine defensive. UT did not even attempt a 3. Senior forward Shaquilla Nunn brought 14 off the bench with 15 rebounds, her season’s best.

 She is a transfer from Winthrop. That was 10 points above her average, a disruptive stat for any scouring report. She is in the NCAA all-time record book now for Tennessee. Practicing again Russel paid off.

First-year coach Shauna Green had  inherited a team with seniors Allen, Christy Macioce, Croatian-born Andrijana Cvitkovic who did her high school work in Indiana at Culver Academy and leading scorer Kelley Austria.

All season, Tennessee had struggled to put wins back-to-back. This is that. But it is also true UT won at South Carolina and Mississippi State, as well as beating another No. 1 seed, Notre Dame and another No. 2, Stanford, all while unranked. They play up tp the ability of their foes. This is also that as next is No. 13 Louisville at Louisville, another SEC/ACC confrontation.

They also hit a 20-win season and are in the Round of 32 as a No. 5 seed.

“Just happy for our effort tonight,” coach Holly Warlick said.

“We need to just attack the moment,” said DeShields. “When you’re on the big stage, you can’t shy away from that. I’ve seen my brother on numerous big stages. I’ve seen my dad on numerous big stages.

“Competitiveness runs in our family. So to just not shy away from it, attack it and be who you are, no matter where you are playing.

She passed 1,000 career points at Tennessee.

“I mean, points are what I do,” she said. “I’d be more excited for like an assists record or rebounding or something like that. I never get too high about points because that’s what my team expects from me each and every night.

“That’s my job. So had it been, like, rebounds, I’d of been, like, what? This is what I came here to do. So I’m happy. Be a contributor, the hard work rewarded.”

Russell said, “Just from the start, us attacking them in transition really helped us out with easy baskets. We were really moving the ball well, getting food cuts and good looks at the basket.”

DeShields agrees.

“Just to piggyback off what Mercedes said. We were also taking care of the basketball. We were utilizing the possessions we had and we were able to hit good open shots. We were hitting those shots.”

Still, there was the usual lack of killer instinct and the 4-of-16 from the field in the second quarter.

“That’s a question we have been trying to answer all season,” DeShields said. “I can look at it like we gave up a lead, but on the other side, they fought back. They’re here for a reason. Credit to them for not giving up.”

“I really think our defensive pressure was huge tonight,” said Russell. “Playing the 3 line, playing defense without fouling and then boxing out. I honestly think we did all three things well.’
“We made them work for good lucks,” said Warlick.

“And they missed fourth-quarter shots. I think it was the pace of the game and our pressure.

That’s what we wanted to do.”

The unexpected gift off the bench delighted every Lady Vol.

“Shaquilla Nunn was outstanding,” said Warlick, “We don’t win if she doesn’t get 15 rebounds and she doesn’t hit 6-for-10.

“That second quarter we were getting good lucks and the shots weren’t falling. Then Jamie Nared got into foul trouble. So I thought Shaquilla was absolutely huge.

“Obviously, Diamond went to her.”

Asia Durr scored 27 to lead Louisville, 82-62 over Chattanooga.

Durr credited her teammates, who set a school record with 28 assists in a tournament game, for her 16th 20-point game of the season.

"They just did a great job of finding me on the court," Durr said. "Coach (Jeff) Walz called a few plays for me as well, and I was able to knock the shot down."

 California 55, LSU 52, in the Oklahoma City Regional at Baylor

The Ben-Gals have earned the reputation of a middling team in a great conference. Sometimes, they seem to accept the lower plateaus.

In the conference tournament, they hit 20 wins and quietly faded out.

They earned a spot in the NCAA games but mostly seemed happy with the appearance and ended the season with a second straight loss.

As an example, LSU’s top two scorers went 0-for-13 in the first half.

Four players had 10 points each. Jasmine Rose, Rina Hill and Alexis Hyder ended their careers one and done.

Sophomore Asha Thomas had 4-of-6 3s for Cal. LSU did not account for her. Her 3 with 79 seconds left were the deciding points. Sophomore Kristine Anigwe was 7-of-7 from the line, including two with seven seconds left.

LSU coach Nikki Farkas summed it up: “Again, late game, down the stretch, we’ve got to make plays, and we can’t -- things that we’re going to get nailed out.

“Every play that we missed, every and-one opportunity, we’ve got to go try to score the ball and I think this group is very well aware that they’ve got to make their own breaks.

“I think those are life lessons for them, that you’re going to have to make them in life, as well, when you leave here. It’s a 40-minute game.”

Sunday
                   
No. 7 Mississippi State (30-4) vs. No. 19 DePaul (27-7) in StarkVegas for the Oklahoma City Regional
No. 19 Kentucky (21-10) vs. No. 11 Ohio State (27-6) at home in the Lexington Regional
No. 24 Missouri (22-10) at No. 10 Florida State (26-6) in the Stockton Regional
No. 3 South Carolina (28-4) vs. Arizona State (20-12) at home for the Stockton Regional.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Guru's WNIT Report: Drexel Wins Big to Advance Hosting 'Nova While Rider's Magical Season Ends

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Will it be 2013 for Drexel once more in the WNIT or will Denise Dillon’s alma mater be a barrier?

Rider’s magical season has ended as has Saint Joseph’s hopes for a glorious finish.

There’s new life for Villanova as the Wildcats finish Princeton’s year of rebuild.

Penn State survives and advances.

That’s the storylines for the Guru’s PhilahoopsW group of six teams who dipped into the WNIT waters Friday night, some to stay afloat and others to sink.

The Guru begins in West Philadelphia where Drexel used a strong second half to top Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 Conference 70-47 at home in the Daskalakis Athletic Center to gain the first WNIT victory since 2013, the year the Dragons surprised by winning the entire tournament.

The result keeps Drexel (22-10) at home Sunday for a 2 p.m. local and bittersweet contest as the Dragons will host coach Denise Dillon’s alma mater Villanova, which took a 59-53 local road win at Ivy runner up Princeton in the Tigers’ Jadwin Gym.

In the Drexel game, the Dragons had total control after the break outscoring Duquesne 44-20 over the Dukes (18-16), who had surprised in the A-10 conference tournament as a seventh-seed, upsetting second-seeded George Washington and third-seeded Saint Joseph’s before falling to Dayton in the conference title game.

Dillon’s squad trailed by one at intermission.

Propelling the second half action were senior Sarah Curran, who scored 17 of her game-high 24 points over the final two periods and Kelsi Lidge, who scored all 11, of which nine were collected in the third period when Drexel pulled away.

In the final period Drexel was holding a 15-point lead with 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the game when Duquesne coach Dan Burt drew a double technical to get ejected and Curran went to the line and converted all four foul shooting attempts from the penalty.

Less than a minute later, Duquesne’s Brianna Thomas drew a third technical.

Meghan Creighton scored 16 points for Drexel, whose freshman Bailey Greenberg scored just two points due to struggling much of the night in foul trouble.

On the Duquesne side, Chassidy Omogrosso led the Dukes (18-16) with 18 points, while Amadea Szamosi recorded a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Drexel finished third in the Colonial Athletic Association standings and fell from the conference tournament in the semifinals to host and second seed James Madison, which also won Friday night but fell to top seed Elon in the CAA title game in its own building.

Villanova 59, Princeton 53 – The Wildcats (17-14) snapped a three-game losing streak, two at the end of the regular season and to St. John’s in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, by winning over Courtney Banghart’s Tigers, whom Villanova has met in recent seasons.

The win send coach Harry Perretta’s group still on the road but again in the area, visiting Drexel, whom the Wildcats have played facing on of Villanova’s distinguished graduates in coach Dillon.

Princeton’s shooting woes, which in part contributed to the Tigers’ demise in the first Ivy League women’s tournament title game against Penn in the Palestra Sunday, continued against Villanova in the first half, with a percentage of 30.3 to trail the Wildcats 32-26.

The shooting slump prevented Princeton (16-14) from taking advantage of Villanova’s mediocre 2-for-17 on three-point attempts across the first two periods.

Early in the fourth Villanova opened a 50-42 lead but the Tigers would not go down easily and rallied to within a bucket at 55-53 with 1:42 left in the game.

Two Princeton fouls enabled the Wildcats to chew up 1:12 of clock time before Kelly Jekot took a pass from Alex Louin and connected on a triplet for a 58-53 lead with 30 seconds left.

Princeton then missed a shot and committed a turnover on the next possession to seal the win for Villanova.

Louin had a game-high 18 points while Jekot and Adrianna Hahn each scored 12 points and Jannah Tucker scored 11 and grabbed four steals.

Princeton’s Leslie Robinson scored had 14 points and 12 rebounds for a double double while Vanessa Smith scored 11 and freshman sensation Bella Alarie had nine points and s game-high 13 rebounds. She also broke the Tigers’ single season record for blocked shots with 51.

Virginia Tech 76, Rider 62 – The Broncs’ landmark run and advance to a first-ever postseason appearance came to its final destination point with a loss to the Hokies on the road in a WNIT opener in Blacksburg, Va.

Rider (24-9) did get one more highlight with senior Julia Duggan becoming the 21st player in program history to reach her 1,000th career point.

“Tonight we started a little slow and they came out strong,” Broncs coach Lynn Milligan said. “We fought like we always do. I don’t think it was nerves. I think the speed and pace of the game caught us off guard a little bit.”

Rider finished second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season by a game to Quinnipiac and advanced to the conference title game before losing to the Bobcats.

Milligan was named conference coach of the year and is a nominee along with a slew of Rider players for the annual Metropolitan area awards out of New York City.

The Broncs had to finish the season down the stretch without their star player Robin Perkins, the MAAC player of the year, but managed to get a bunch of wins in her absence.

In Friday’s WNIT game junior Kamilia Hoskova scored 18 points, helped by 6-for-7 from the line, while Duggan scored 12 points, and freshman Stella Johnson and sophomore Lexi Posset scored 13 points each.

“Julia has been a warrior for four years,” Milligan said. “She works hard, she gives everything she has every day and she’s really developed into a terrific leader. She’s done everything I’ve asked her to do and I’m really proud of her.”

Virginia Tech (18-13), which gained a new coach in Kenny Brooks from James Madison up the road in Harrisonburg, will move on to the second round, facing Navy a surprising upset winner over George Washington.

Regan Magarity had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the host Hokies, while Chanette Hicks had 21 points, and Samantha Hill scored 19.

Virginia 62, Saint Joseph’s 56 – The host Hawks (17-15) fell at home in Hagan Arena to a Cavaliers squad that many felt got snubbed by the NCAA tournament committee, especially more so on Friday when two teams that got picked as at-large entries ahead of them got bounced very quickly.

Friday’s game on Hawk Hill was typical of the way coach Cindy Griffin’s squad played since early January fighting back from a 3-11 record to even become eligible for a WNIT at-large bid.

There were six ties and eight lead changes with Virginia (20-12), Saint Joseph’s had one more rally in it after trailing by 11 in the third period but launching a run to take a lead early in the fourth.

Then it became a fight in the balance until Cavaliers freshman sensation Jocelyn Willoughby snapped a 53-all deadlock with a layup with 1:08 left in regulation and after the Hawks turned it over on the next possession scored again on a three-point play at 58-53 with 22 seconds left.

Sarah Veillux got the Hawks within a bucket on the next possesion when she was fouled on a three-point attempt and made connected with all three free throws to cut it to 58-56 with 17 seconds left.

But Virginia then sealed the win on a pair of foul shots.

Veilleux had a team-high 17 points, Chelsea Woods scored 12 and had nine rebounds, and Adaisha Franklyn had nine points and five rebounds.

The game ended the collegiate careers of Mackenize Rule, Jaryn Garner and Amanda Fioravanti, who transferred previously from Virginia to the Hawks.

Willoughby had a game-high 25 points for Virginia, which next plays James Madison.

Penn State 74, Ohio 65 --- The Lady Lions looked like they had things under control at home in the Bryce Jordan Center, building an 18-point advantage in the third quarter, only to let the Bobcats rally before stopping the run.

Penn State (23-9) got 20 points from Sierra Moore while freshman Siyeh Frazier had a career-high 11 points. Teniya Page had 11 points and tied a career high with nine rebounds. Redshirt freshman Amari Carter also scored in double digits with 12 points.

Ohio (23-9) got some solace in Quiera Lampkins scoring the first double double against the Lady Lions in WNIT tournament play history, collecting 19 points and scoring 12 rebounds.

Taylor Agler, the daughter of Brian Agler, the coach of the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks, scored 18 points with four 3-pointers and she also grabbed three rebounds.

Penn State stays home Sunday to host Fordham in a second round game at 2 p.m.
   

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Go Forth in NCAA Openers and Win

By Mike Siroky

The top three of the Southeastern Conference led the first night of the elimination season at home. All now are one game away from the Sweet 16s. One more league team lost.

Three of the winners were home teams, a decided advantage in qualifying for the Sweet 16.

The fourth was also ranked.

The next play Saturday, all road warriors.

Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer’s fans know he was dissed by the sorority sister vote for league coach of the year, but he has been selected the top conference coach by the Naismith Coach of Year group in their final four candidates.

No. 7 Mississippi State (30-4) 110, Troy 69

Being the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional has its benefits.

The fun home opener leads to the suspected easy second game Sunday against Big East champ DePaul.

Schaefer crossed everyone up by benching two season-long starters, all-SEC guard Victoria Vivians and all-SEC senior center Chimwe Okorie.

Vivians is coming off the worst three consecutive games of her Bulldog career, the SEC tournament.

She failed to hit even double figures after leading her side all season at 16.7

Okorie was benched for the first time in favorite of the Big Dog, Teaira McCowan, who grew to a 6-7 force in the middle her sophomore season.

Moreover, Schaefer’s move rattle the opponents who basically game plan on stopping Vivians and dealing with the athletic Okorie rather than a traditional center.

It didn’t hurt this change happened against Troy, at home, as the No. 2 seed in the first NCAA home game they outright earned, with 5,572 fans for a noon game.

Each played 16 minutes. Vivians scored 13, 3-of-5 3s and had six rebounds. McCowan scored nine, with 13 rebounds and four blocks in her first start.

Blair Schaefer, the coach’s daughter, hit four 3s, 5-of-6 from the line and celebrated her start with 21 points in 26 minutes. Three others hit double figures.

Coach Schaefer and his team will tell you the points made are never as important as the points denied. The usual key statistic – single-figure quarters – was imposed in the 29-6 second quarter.

“Really proud of horses to run with the big dogs. State stretched the lead to 34 inside of six minutes.”

Every player got into the NCAA record book by participating. Only one did not score. They set a team record by exceeding 100 in an NCAA game and with 24 3s. They set another program record with a 30th win,

“I’m proud of my team and my university today," coach Schaefer said. “We had 5,500 on a Friday afternoon and that is pretty doggone special. The electricity in that building makes it special. It starts with the university, the administration, the fans. Our basketball team was really good today.”

As for the new lineup, he was inscrutable.

“It worked fine and we’ll just keep it at that. There’s so much that goes into this position at this point in the season. You want to make sure everybody is as focused as they need to be. You’ve got to find a way to keep an edge. I never had second thoughts. Sometimes, there are changes to be made and you just have to do it.”

McCowan was focused on rebounds.

“We knew we had to box this team out,” she said. “coach told us in practice we had to box out hard and get rebounds.”

Roshunda Johnson has played through pain most of the season. She said it is a supportive unit. It was her seventh start. She is a transfer from Oklahoma State.

 “Our team has chemistry and we all play well together. I feel like I am playing without pain. My team always has confidence in me. I had to hurry to get back because you’ll have an effect on your team no matter who you are.”

Blair Schaefer echoed her junior classmate. This start, her second, was well-charted.

“Roshunda and I have been working all week together,” she said. “We usually play on (scout team uniform) white and this week we wore maroon in practice,

“We just had to get our chemistry together. What we can do together on the floor is really special. My shots were just falling. I’m always told my window (of opportunity) isn’t going to be very big, so I just took my window and it just worked.”

As we previously reported, DePaul is one of those paper teams, with a reputation made mainly by staying in the abandoned Big East and playing in the wasteland of Chicago women’s hoops.

The Demons followed 25 points from sophomore Tanita Allen to an 88-67 elimination of Northern Iowa.

“She's capable of this kind of game,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “She's a really quality shooter and was ready to let it rip.”

“It was just the way the game evolved," said Prochask. “No one on the team is an ‘I' player who looks for their own stats.”

That single-digit defensive quarter thing was back in play wth Depaul’s 22-9 first.

No. 3 South Carolina (28-4) 90, North Carolina-Asheville 40

What mirror images the top two in conference proved to be.

The Gamecocks kept their altered their championship lineup. Senior center Alaina Coates’ college career is over with a bum right ankle. They enforced the single-digit quarter twice, in the middle quarters, then played reserves in the final one. Everyone scored. They drew the day’s best 8,225 for an early afternoon game.

Coach Dawn Staley mirrored Schaefer’s decision-making deliberations.

“We're going to have to play the small lineup,” said Staley.  She said she depends more on feel than analytics to try to find the five who will work best on the court. “For how long? As long as it is working.”

But they still have All-American A’ja Wilson – we’re calling it already – and that works swell in openers. She scored 18 with a block.

This game, though, followed the four-guard theme and Allisha Gray lit the dynamite with more points (23) than minutes (22) and 12 rebounds.

“I was down there, so why not rebound?” Gray said.

She was 11-of-13 from the field in her first NCAA game for SC after transferring in from North Carolina, main campus.

Asheville (19-14) will have to wait another season in which to win 20.

“We locked in on the ball,” Staley said.

She called for more defensive pressure in those crucial middle quarters.

“It’s probably more of a response to the game situation. I just thought we need to change how we were playing ball screens in particular and also just the pace of it.

“We needed to create some offense from our defense and the best way to do that is to speed the game up and press a little bit.

“With a smaller lineup, we were able to get out and play fast. It worked for us today.”

Sunday, they get the second SEC-Pac 12 showdown of the tournament in Arizona State, which erased Michigan State,73-61 and got coach Charli Turner-Thorne her 400th career win..

The Sun Devils (20-12) beat Florida by six and Kentucky by a basket, finishing fifth in their conference.

In their NCAA opener, Quinn Dornstauder scored 16, 6-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line, eliminating Michigan State, 73-61.

The team hit 59 percent from the field in the first half to lead by 22 at the break.

“It was just a good day. We all shot very well. And we had a good offensive start,” Dornstauder said.

No. 19 Kentucky (21-10) 73, Belmont 70

Upset alert: Belmont had a plan on UK’s home court and came up a basket short.

In the end, they never overcame the lead, even though the final quarter was contentious in the 73-70 final.

Maci Morris made four free throws in the final 11 seconds. All-Ohio Valley Conference player Darby Maggard missed a 3 at the buzzer. Their 25-game win streak was ended.

 The Kats are also at home, with a chance as the No. 4 seed to remain town for next weekend’s Regional.

Maggard scored 15, part of a trio led by 23 from Sally McCabe.
UK coach Matthew Mitchell was delighted by the escape.

“What a fantastic team they have and great season they’ve had. They really tested us in every way imaginable,” he said. “They were really, really tough and played a great game so we respected them going into the game and they have our total respect after the game. They pushed us to the limit.

“Where it certainly all didn’t go right for us, we had to have a gut check at halftime and the players came back and gave enough efforts to win. “

His All-SEC seniors. Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator stepped up again. Epps played all 40 minutes and scored 30. Akhator scored 22 with 12 rebounds. Kentucky has no depth; the starters did it all.

“At halftime, Mitchell preached communication.

“This year with this team we really tried to work on improving our communication so we’re very matter-of-fact.

“I was just so displeased with the second quarter. I don’t know what happened there. We did a good job and I had expected that there may be some rest but we handled ourselves pretty well in the first quarter and then we just stopped hustling and I just didn’t understand why that was happening. So I didn’t have a lot that I could tell them. I couldn’t help them a lot schematically or strategically until we got that fixed.

“So I was just matter-of-fact with them and let them know that until we got the hustle turned around, there wasn’t really anything that we could do to help them. Belmont was really the aggressor in that second quarter and I thought that was really dangerous for us because they got into a rhythm and then they started having some great belief that they could beat us.

“It was a difficult game and that second quarter was uncharacteristic of us from the standpoint of hustle. “So we just tried to refocus on that. One big indicator is the boards when it was 20-9, that shouldn’t be the case if we’re hustling.

“ They’re a great rebounding team. They were plus-12 all year but we just weren’t active and we weren’t trying the way we needed to. So I tried to talk about that and to our players credit they got it turned around.”

The game was only tied for 16 seconds. At the end, he knew he had to appear calm.

“I thought they just played fantastic. They never stopped moving. They played with great energy and they played with some freedom. I thought we started looking at the scoreboard a little bit and felt some pressure. I know our team didn’t want to lose today so we did what we had to do to win.

“Well, I was just calm on the exterior. I can assure you that in my mind and inside I was taking off my jacket and loosening my tie, but that's not helpful to our team. They’re a great group of players and young women and for whatever reason but we just were not with it mentally in certain segments of the game and that’s what allowed it to be a close game.

“We had to get that corrected but when I lose my composure and get upset that doesn’t help any so I just try to do the best I could to stay calm. I was asking them to have some character and play with some intensity and I’ll do the opposite -- staying calm and instructing them on what they need to do.”

 He had no qualms about getting Morris the ball at the very end.

“I don’t think she worried too much about what was going on on the court and that’s a good demeanor to have in those types of situations.

“On the last couple of free throws, my heart was racing because you watch these kids, and I’ve been coaching for over 20 years now, and I still get amazed at watching these young people go up there in those situations and knock down those free throws.

“ Maci is just a real cool player and didn’t get worked up about it. She made a bunch of defensive mistakes today but what I love about her is that I can get a little frustrated with her and she just keeps going.  She’s always done that since the first day she got here.

“The 3-pointer that she didn’t think much of was a huge play in the game. That may have been the play of the game. It a great weapon to have – being able to get the ball to your 90 percent shooter and she produces. You need those type of things to win games and I’m really proud of her for making them.”

Morris was concentrating.

“At the free-throw line, I just didn’t want to miss because in the past I’ve missed big free throws that could’ve helped us get a win, so I didn’t want to miss this time. After I missed one free throw, Epps told me that I would make the next two. So I know my teammates have a lot of faith in me.”

Epps said, “In the last minute I just wanted to make sure we got the ball to Maci. She’s the best free-throw shooter, shooting at about 80-90 percent and even though I had missed two, I had it in my mind that if they fouled me I was going to step up and make them.

“It was just a really good feeling today being back in Memorial Colliseum. For Evelyn and I it was Senior Night Part II and so now Sunday we have Senior Night Part III. So, we’re just going to keep celebrating Senior Night until Senior Night is over. We’re proud of the team and the poise that we had down the stretch.

“We didn’t want to go home today so we had to be able to fight.”

They drew 3,557.

Now comes a very real national threat in Ohio State and an old friend.

Ohio State took out Western Kentucky in an efficient 70-63 dispatch.

Kat fans  welcomed home former UK all-star and top recruit Linnae Harper.

She is the first Buckeye off the bench in all games for which she was eligible.

North Carolina State 62, Auburn 48

The Tigers were the other league team in the Lexington Regional, their opener at Austin, Texas.
Many questioned a team with only 17 wins and, now, 15 loses. They didn’t answer any of those questions.

The Tigers hit 24 percent from the field. They scored four in the second quarter and eight in the third to eliminate themselves.

Seniors Katie Frerking and Brandy Montgomery, the top two scorers, close their careers with classmate Khady Dieng.

But four starters will be back.

Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy has completed five seasons there. They beat both Tennessee and LSU this season.

“We knew State was a very good team and that they could score,” she said. “We did a good job at times but we didn't do a good job enough to stop them from scoring and we struggled scoring as well, but we continued to play hard and that's who we are. We were relentless all the way to the end.”

Frerking said, “I think it was an interesting season. It was a little bit of a roller coaster. We had some good wins, a lot of close games and some tough losses, and it's a long season and that happens.

“But I'’ll say I’ve played here four years, and this is my favorite team I’ve ever played on here, because we are relentless.”

“And no matter what came against us, no matter what we faced, we always bounced back, and we had 13, 14, 15 girls who just wanted to be out there, and we loved each other, and we just played hard. It was a good season. I'm proud of everybody.”

No. 24 Missouri, No. 6 seed in Lexington Regional, survived South Florida at Florida State, 66-64, scoring just before regulation time expired.

The Tigers do not participate in our reports.

Saturday

The remaining of the NCAA league teams start play.

No. 5 seed in Bridgeport Regional Texas A&M vs. Penn at UCLA.

No. 5 seed Tennessee in the Oklahoma City Regional vs. Dayton in Louisville.

No. 8 seed LSU in the Oklahoma City Regional vs. California at Baylor.

WNIT, WNIT

It is probably not advisable to schedule opposite the NCAA, but Alabama won its 20th. Ole Miss ended its season by three at home.