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.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Guru Report: Penn Keeps Rolling While Rider’s Johnson Makes History in Broncs’ First Win

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Rather than what might have been a mild let-down in the wake of the Penn women’s lopsided win here at home over Saint Joseph’s in a Big Five meeting in The Palestra Thursday night, the Quakers did not let up less than 48 hours later returning Saturday afternoon to execute an 85-42 romp over NJIT.

The tale of the tape for Penn is 3-1, a record that began with a gritty triumph eight days ago at Siena in suburban Albany, N.Y., followed by a Monday visit to defending national champion Notre Dame where the Quakers went down with honor in South Bend, Ind. That game was played on a night the Irish hung their second-ever title banner to start the evening festivities.

“I thought of we go back to the first quarter they had seven offensive rebounds, they gave themselves extra possessions, give them credit, I thought from that point on, we dominated the glass and that gave us the ball defensively and offensively,” said Penn coach Mike McLaughlin of the Quakers’ most recent win.

“I was excited about our effort. This has been a really long week for us. We went to Albany, played Saturday; we went to Notre Dame, played Monday, we played Thursday, we played Saturday, that’s a long week for any group to start and with a new group, I thought they responded terrifically.”

Penn now gets a week off from games and doesn’t return to action until after Thanksgiving this Saturday, traveling for a weekend set of games visiting host Navy in the afternoon in Annapolis, Md., and then Sunday meeting Maine on what becomes a neutral court at the Naval Academy.

In Saturday’s action here, the Highlanders from just to the north in Newark, N.J. jumped to an early 7-4 lead and then it was all Quakers the rest of the way after launching a 19-5 run to the rest of the period.

The differential grew to an eventual 47-point lead early in the fourth and final period at 75-28.

Though NJIT is now 0-4 under new coach Mike Lane, who had been previously the top assistant at Patriot League power Bucknell, the Highlanders had scored 50 or more points their previous three games, including a visit to West Virginia last Sunday.

McLaughlin got a chance to give his bench much playing time with the outcome secured well before the game ended, something that will be valuable in the immediate weeks ahead.

But as for the veterans, after being the game-saver at the finish a week ago at Siena, senior Ashley Russell came up big in this one, scoring a career-high 25 points, shooting 10-for-13 from the field, including a perfect 4-for-4 attempting three-pointers, while the native of Braintree, Mass., also grabbed eight rebounds, dealt four assists and grabbed three steals.

McLaughlin said Russell’s improvement after being behind the Quakers’ then-upperclass talent of recent seasons did not show itself until recently.

“I did not see it until we started playing the games,” he said.

Princess Aghayere followed up her performance against Saint Joseph’s, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds while shooting 5-for-9 from the field, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.

Michae Jones had 11 points off the bench, shooting 4-for-5 from the field and registering a game-high 38 on the plus-minus chart in 19 minutes, 27 seconds of play. Veteran Phoeba Sterba had eight points off the bench and a plus-minus of 34, while Russell had 31 in the category and Tori Crawford registered 25.

McLaughlin credited Sterba and Crawford with energizing the Quakers when they entered the fray early in the contest.

Reserve freshman guard Mia Lakstigala had eight points while substitute Kennedy Suttle, who played 15:21, had a plus-minus of 26.

Kelly Guarino and Ellyn Stoll each scored 11 points for the visitors while Danielle Tunstall scored 10 points. 

The game offered a homecoming for Tunstall, a graduate of Life Center Academy from Willingboro, N.J., across the river. Other area players on the Highlanders roster are Garnet Valley grad Jordan Ireland and Cheltenham’s Amarri Truehart, a transfer from Albany.

Johnson’s Career Day Powers Rider to Snap Opening Losing Streak

The Broncs have been around a long time as a program but never saw a triple double from one of their own until Saturday afternoon when Stella Johnson achieved the feat to give Rider an 85-67 win, it’s first of the season, in a non-conference game over Mount St. Mary’s at home in Alumni Gymnasium in Lawrenceville, N.J.

Johnson had a career high 35 points, shooting 14-for-19 from the field, while grabbing 12 rebounds and dealing 10 assists to go with six steals. She also sizzled from beyond the arc, shooting 6-of-8 three pointers.

Mount St. Mary’s is also now 1-3.

The Broncs led by as many as 25 points in the second half in which Johnson got 25 of her points.

Junior Amari Johnson also had a career day with 28 points, shooting 10-of-16 from the field while she grabbed seven rebounds. 

“That’s who Stella is,” said Rider coach Lynn Milligan. “That doesn’t surprise me. That’s what she does for her team. She does a great job of putting her teammates in successful situations.

“She knows when she needs to score and she knows when to give it up. She trusts her teammates and it’s a credit to her all around game and what she does for our program,” Milligan added.

“Having a secondary scorer was something that we were missing the first few games,” she noted of the home opener loss to nearby Princeton, and last weekend’s New England setbacks, squandering a late lead at Vermont and falling at Holy Cross.

“It was only a matter of time before Amari had a game like this. She had a great week of practice. She got in the gym, put the extra work in and it paid off for her.”

Of her record performance, Johnson noted, “I didn’t wake up that confident. After shoot around this morning I texted my mom and she told me to be confident in my shot. I listened to her and my coaches and it paid off.”

The Broncs, who shot 60.7 from the field, had lost 11 straight in the month of November.

Johnson’s 35 points were two short of the Rider record achieved by Myneshia McKenzie and Nancy Carroll. Through Saturday afternoon games, she became the fifth Division I player to register a triple double this season and her 10 assists tied a career high.

Rider after the holidays is heading this way, opening noon Saturday against Saint Joseph’s in the annual Hawk Classic in Hagan Arena and then will play either Boston College or Loyola of Maryland, Sunday.

The latter squad is coached by former Saint Joseph’s assistant Joe Logan.

Delaware Gets First Win in Preseason WNIT Consolation Game

The Blue Hens picked up their first victory of the season, taking the last of three rounds in the Preseason WNIT with a triumph over Nicholls, holding on to prevail 71-56 at Texas State’s Strahan Arena in San Marcos.

Delaware (1-2) broke from a 31-31 tie at halftime as the opposing Colonels (0-4) remained winless.

The Blue Hens used a strong defense to force 22 turnovers and owned the backboards with a one-sided 50-26 advantage for their best effort to date in that category in what was the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Delaware opened play in the annual tourney losing a week ago Friday at Northern Iowa and  headed to the Lone Star State where they lost their first consolation round game Friday night to Montana State.

Abby Gonzalez, a junior, had a career high 20 points, shooting 7-for-13 from the field of which four connections came from beyond the arc. 

Freshman Jasmine Dickey, who has quickly become a key addition for second-year coach Natasha Adair, had her second double double with 15 points and 16 rebounds.

Samone DeFreese also scored in double figures with 12 points as did Justina Mascaro with 10.

“I am so proud of this group,” Adair said afterwards. “What an incredible, incredible road gutsy win. You are seeing different lineups and again our chemistry has to click … but what I’m most proud of is our work on the defensive end.”

The Blue Hens complete their pre-Thanksgiving slate Tuesday, traveling to in-state rival Delaware State Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall in Dover.

La Salle Struggles Continue in Loss at Towson

The Explorers seemed to be capable of finally reaching the victory column with improvement in several areas until they imploded 27-12 in the fourth quarter as Towson sealed the non-conference win 92-68 in the game played in suburban Baltimore.

La Salle (0-4) reached a season-high in points but the total was not enough to get Mountain MacGillivray his first triumph as a head coach after spending a long stretch as the associate at MAAC powerhouse Quinnipiac.

Deja King had a career high 15 points for the visitors, while freshman Kayla Spruill and sophomore Michelle Nicholls each scored 11 points. King also had a career high with four steals.

Kionna Jeter had 32 points and eight rebounds for the Tigers (2-1) in their SECU Arena while Nukiya Mayo had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Qierra Murray put up 13 points.

Though La Salle’s next game is back in the area, things don’t get easier Tuesday night as they head to Villanova in the Wildcats’ Finneran Pavilion for a 7 p.m. tip in what will be the first Big Five game of the season for both teams. 

Nationally Speaking: Notre Dame Rallies to Handle DePaul

Longtime area rival DePaul had the Blue Demons’ fans thinking upset in the first half when coach Doug Bruno’s squad took a seven-point lead after the first quarter as the defending national champions and top-ranked Irish struggled with ball control.

But coach Muffet McGraw’s group got things under control in the next period to erase the deficit and go up seven at the half and move on to a 101-77 win in a non-conference game played in DePaul’s Wintrust Arena in Chicago to stay unbeaten at 3-0.

DePaul, the defending Big East champions fell to 1-1 after playing its former rival in the old Big East until the Irish moved on to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

McGraw, a recent inductee into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, reached her 891st victory and will soon likely reach the exclusive club with 900, six of which have moved on to 1,000, including Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer who hit that total last Tuesday.

Jackie Young scored 28 and had 12 points for Notre Dame while Arike Ogunbowale, the star of last season’s Women’s Final Four with buzzer-beating shots in the semifinal and championship to bring the Irish their second ever NCAA crown.

“It was a little hard for us to get in any offensive rhythm,” said McGraw of Saturday’s contest. “It took us a little while to figure out how to get the ball inside.”

Notre Dame atoned for its 28 turnovers by dominating the boards with a 48-23 differential in rebounds.

“That’s something we should be able to do every game,”McGraw said. “We have a really, really good team. We’re bigger. And I felt we had a great effort on the offensive glass, too.”

DePaul, who plays Villanova here and in Chicago later on the Big East schedule, got 27 points from Ashton Millender as she matched a career high. A career mark was also set by the Demons’ Chante Stonewall, who scored 12.

Bruno in his postgame comments noted the easy opponents many schools play this time of year as they finish figuring their attack schemes and in the case of younger rosters get their newbies game experience.

“This is the Christmas season. That’s what people do at this time of year. We don’t.”

Notre Dame heads for this week’s inaugural Vancouver Showcase in which the Irish could meet Rutgers in the second round and if they prevail possibly South Carolina in the final.

DePaul, ranked 15th, heads to second-ranked Connecticut Nov. 28.

The Irish will open this week against Gonzaga while DePaul plays defending Ivy champion Princeton in the Cancun Challenge on Thanksgiving Day. The Tigers will be coming from Sunday’s visit to Penn State.

And that’s the report.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Guru Report: Villanova Lights Up Lehigh as Jekot Scores 24 Points

Guru note: Beyond the ‘Nova game, the rest of the report was drawn on wire, email and website reports.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Villanova’s short trip here to play host Lehigh Friday night in a non-conference women’s basketball game was even shorter due to the weather preventing the Wildcats from coming up Thursday.

Not to worry. Coming off a nine-day break from a season-opening home win over Hartford the Nova contingent was wide awake, especially juniors Kelly Jekot and Mary Gedaka, who are now part of the starting lineup.

Jekot fired away shooting 9-of-16 from the field, including a sizzling 5-of-7 three-pointers for a game-high 24 points with six rebounds while Gedaka was also in double figures with 15 points to lead Villanova to a wire-to-wire 70-48 win over the Mountain Hawks, handing Lehigh (3-1) its first loss.

From the outset, Villanova played both ends of the court well to finish the first quarter 13-5 and continued to widen the differential to an eventual 28 points early in the fourth quarter.

“We played pretty good defense I thought, shot the ball decent, we were able to make some three pointers in the third quarter to break the game open, so we just have to keep working on our offense,” Perretta said afterwards. 

“The kids off the bench have to score some points. I’m giving them as much playing time as I can, but that’s what happens when we substitute, we stop scoring points. We have to work on that.”

The substitutes certainly are going to see more playing time if Villanova (2-0) can take control of the game, early, but with some of last year’s bench performers now promoted, Perretta needs the newer members and a few veterans to fill those previous spots to provide some depth, especially once the Big East conference slate kicks in late next month.

Though Villanova is now 10-1 against Lehigh, games here at Stabler Arena have been adventures at times in the past, a few in particular when the Wildcats became part of the Mountain Hawks annual “Education Day” promotion with the place nearly filled with screaming youngsters.

“We’ve always had trouble winning here, so it was a good win,” Perretta said.

Jannah Tucker add nine points while Adrianna Hahn had a nice all around effort, scoring eight points, including a pair of three-pointers, dealing six assists and grabbing six steals.

Lehigh of the Patriot League got 13 points from Camryn Buhr and 11 points and eight rebounds from substitute Mary Clougherty. In an interesting note, four players on the Mountain Hawks roster stem from Minnesota.

Jekot nailed her first three-ball 28 seconds into the contest and just kept humming the rest of the way, also grabbing six rebounds.

“I felt our whole entire team, everyone who started, everyone off the bench, contributed,” Jekot said. “Lehigh’s very talented, something Harry emphasized since our season started, but tonight was a good one for us and it all started on defense.

“We had a 12-0 run and that set us up the rest of the way. We were told (Lehigh) plays really well at home, but we play really well on the road,” Jekot noted.

Lehigh is off until next Wednesday when it travels to Binghamton while Villanova returns home Tuesday night at 7 in the Finneran Pavilion hosting La Salle in the first Big Five game of the season for both.

The Wildcats shared last season’s title with Penn, made possible when the Quakers beat the Wildcats for only the second time in the series with the game played in Jake Nevin Field House next door while the big arena underwent a renovation.

The Explorers, who travel to Towson outside Baltimore for a non-conference game Saturday night, are still looking for their first win under Mountain MacGillivray, the former Quinnipiac associate head coach, after dropping their first three.

Delaware Drops Preseason WNIT Consolation Round

Only two other Guru local D-1 teams were on the slate for Friday and one was called off when Rutgers in its first game since Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer gained her 1,000th win Tuesday night couldn’t make the trip to Charlotte, the former Atlantic 10 member now part of Conference-USA.

The Scarlet Knights return to their Rutgers Athletic Center Sunday at 4 to host Albany.

Delaware, meanwhile, after losing its season and Preseason WNIT opener at Northern Iowa last Friday, traveled to San Marcos, Texas, to play in a two-game consolation rounds.

The Blue Hens fell to Montana State 69-60 with a rally falling short in Texas State’s Strahan Arena and now will face Nicholls State on Saturday after the home team prevailed in the other contest.

Samone DeFreese had 20 points for Delaware but fouled out with 28 minutes to play.

The Bobcats (2-1) took control quickly in this one with Montana State building a 24-10 lead but the Blue Hens cobbled a 21-0 run across the second and third quarters to move within a basket at 35-33 with just over seven minutes left in the third period.

But that’s where the rally died.

Montana State’s Claire Lundberg had 28 points.

“This was a tough loss,” said Delaware second-year coach Natasha Adair, who took over the program last season after veteran Tina Martin retired. Adair had been the head coach at Georgetown.

“We have to put together a consistent 40-minute game. We will continue to focus on defense, accountability and finishing plays. We have another opportunity tomorrow to get better.”

Looking Ahead: Penn Stays Home to Host NJIT

Fresh off its blowout romp of Saint Joseph’s Thursday night, Penn is back in The Palestra Saturday afternoon to host NJIT in a non-conference game Saturday at 2 p.m.. In the Guru’s group, besides the La Salle and Delaware games already mentioned above, Rider, struggling with an 0-3 start, returns home to host Mount Saint Mary’s at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, Temple will visit Marist of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at 2 p.m. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., after dropping its first game of the season Wednesday at Mississippi. The host Red Foxes beat Boston U. 68-57 at home Friday night.

Princeton, missing starters and on a two-game losing streak, visits Penn State at 2 p.m. in the Lady Lions’ Bryce Jordan Center in State College with the home team coming off Wednesday’s rally over Fordham in the Bronx to go 2-1.

The Rutgers game has already been mentioned.

Nationally Speaking: Green Bay Upsets No. 16 Missouri

Green Bay, one of the more dangerous mid-major schools, took down No. 16 Missouri 56-49 after dropping its first two games while the host Tigers in Columbia suffered their first loss after two wins.

Frankie Wurtz had three triplets for the winning Phoenix and finished with 16 points.

It was the highest ranked team Green Bay, coming out of a loss at No. 15 DePaul last Friday in Chicago, has ever beaten on the road. The Phoenix last season ambushed then-No. 24 Arizona State and then-No. 23 Marquette.

Amber Smith had 23 points and 10 rebounds and was the only Tigers star to score in double figures.

In two other noteworthy wins Friday, James Madison at home topped Georgetown, 69-57, while Washington State at home in double overtime topped Nebraska 87-84.

On the ranked team slate Saturday, second-ranked Connecticut hosts Vanderbilt in the annual Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase at the Mohegan Sun, home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun and American Athletic Conference tournament in Uncasville at 6 p.m.

No. 15 DePaul resumes its annual local rivalry with top-ranked and defending NCAA women’s champion Notre Dame at 2 p.m., while No. 25 Minnesota hosts San Diego as Gophers rookie coach Lindsay Whelan looks for her third straight win.

On Sunday, No. 21 South Florida hosts Oklahoma at 2 p.m. The hosts Bulls, picked second in the AAC, suffered a major loss Thursday when Kitija Laksa, who had 21 points, was lost for the season with a knee injury.

No. 8 Maryland is at No. 10 South Carolina in the first major test for both squads.

And that’s the report.



Friday, November 16, 2018

The Guru Report: Blocks Apart Penn and Drexel Dominate With Key Home Wins in West Philly

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Three blocks apart Thursday night the Guru’s two resident local D-1 teams in West Philadelphia made powerful statements with lopsided victories that suddenly ramps up anticipation toward Dec. 21 when Drexel and Penn will meet for the first time in several seasons.

In the only two games on the Guru’s entire local slate, here in the fabled Palestra Penn walloped a young, struggling Saint Joseph’s squad 65-45 as the Quakers took both their Big Five and Home opener while up 33rd Street Drexel easily handled Bucknell 64-42.

Focusing here first, both the host Quakers and visiting Hawks were supposed to be in a rebuild mode but Penn apparently has found instant growth at the outset of a the new season.

True, there was an unplanned element in the this one caused by the unexpected heavier-than-predicted snowfall that later changed to rain as Saint Joseph’s got caught in a rush hour gridlock trying to get here from their campus a few miles away on City Ave.

The tie-up resulted in a one-hour delay to the opening tip originally set for 7 p.m.

It may have been a late start but it certainly was a quick finish in terms of where the outcome was headed as Penn owned the first two quarters, outscoring the visitors 15-5 and 25-15 for a 20-point halftime lead that grew to eventually 32 points early in the fourth quarter before the differential receded a bit the rest of the way.

Saint Joseph’s (0-3) is still looking for its first win after previous local losses to Temple at home last Friday and at nearby Drexel on Sunday. Though the Hawks were held to just five points in the first 10 minutes, that was actually better than Sunday when the Dragons held them scoreless out of the gate, which was a first defensively and offensively for each team.

“I was really pleased with the way we came out of the locker room,” said Penn coach Mike McLaughlin. “Obviously the game being delayed got them a little out of rhythm, certainly got Saint Joseph’s really out of rhythm getting here, but I was really happy with the way we came out.

“We executed, we rebounded the ball and I felt it was one of the best defensive efforts so far this year.”

Overall, Penn crashed the boards for a 50-32 advantage, including 13-4 on the offensive end that produced a 15-0 shutout in second chance points.

“Princess (Aghayere) and Eleah (Parker) dictated how the game was going to be,” McLaughlin said of his team’s inside attack. “It was a little bit better in terms of getting them the ball today than it was the first two times.”

Penn broke a recent drought in season opening wins, beating Siena in Albany last Saturday and then did not get embarrassed Monday night, losing to top-ranked and defending NCAA champion Notre Dame 75-55 in South Bend, Ind., as the Irish opened the event with the hanging of their title banner to go with the last one gained in 2001.

Aghayere had a game-high 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Parker, the reigning Big Five and Ivy rookie of the year, had another double double with 15 points and 10 rebounds while blocking four shots.

“We were supposed to be bigger, stronger,” Aghayere said of an inside presence that gave the Quakers a lopsided 38-18 on points scored in the paint. “Post play was big.”

Ashley Russell also scored in double figures with 11 points.

Saint Joseph’s had just one person in double figures with Katie Mayock, a freshman, getting 11, though she didn’t get to 10 until late in the game.

Times have changed in this series recently from the days the Quakers were an assumed gimme with Saint Joseph’s winning the first 29 and building on that to be 40-2 two seasons ago.

But now for a first, Penn has won two straight with last year’s 57-50 win a building block that enabled the Quakers to tie Villanova and pick up a piece of the Big Five title, their second, while their other City Series crown was also  a shared situation.

McLaughlin has been at the helm for all four Penn victories.

“I was looking at that before the game and now to get four? Especially with this group, which is a newer group. They’ve spent a lot of time together (on the road last weekend and on an overseas trip last summer). I can see them growing as a unit,” McLaughlin said.

 “I can see them growing as people. They’re seeing the best. They’re playing against the best. We have a long way to grow, but I can see progress. Princess was as good today as we’ve seen here all year. She was a little passive the first two times out.”

Penn comes right back here Saturday to host NJIT at 2 p.m. before heading to Annapolis, Md., next weekend to meet host Navy Saturday and then play Maine on Sunday.

Saint Joseph’s returns home to begin a seven-game stand Tuesday to host Niagara at 7 p.m. in Hagan Arena on Hawk Hill and then hosts the annual Hawk Classic the following weekend opening with Rider on Saturday at noon and then meeting either Loyola of Maryland or Boston College on Sunday.

Drexel Ropes Bucknell

While Penn was taking care of business at this end of the block, Drexel put on an impressive performance up the street in containing the Bisons, who are Patriot League favorites, ranked eighth in the mid-major poll, and were coming off an upset of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference favorite Quinnipiac, who narrowly got past the Dragons on opening night in the Daskalakis Athletic Center last Friday.

Following up on Sunday’s defense of Saint Joseph’s, in Thursday’s 64-42 win the Dragons (2-1) did not let up in this one, forcing 19 turnovers and limited Bucknell to just four field goals across the second and third quarters.

The Bisons have given Drexel fits in some meetings in recent seasons.

But such  certainly was not the case in this one as Bailey Greenberg continued to be the top scorer for the home team, equaling a career-high of 20 points. Career numbers were also turned in from Niki Metzel with 11 points and eight rebounds.

That helped the Dragons take the battle of the boards with a 40-36 advantage while being undersized to the opposition. They grabbed 17 of them on the offensive glass.

Freshman Keishana Washington had nine points and three steals after starting all three games as a newcomer to the attack.

A 19-0 run put the game away as the Dragons built a 30-point lead.

No one scored in double figures for Bucknell (2-1) as the Bisons’ high scorer was Kate Walker with eight points. Next up is a matchup with nationally-ranked Syracuse on Sunday for the Bisons.

Drexel is off until next weekend playing in a tournament at Vermont in Burlington, an appearance likely set up when Philadelphian Chris Day was head coach.

But Day left the Catamounts after the season and is now the associate head coach under Mountain MacGillivray, the former Quinnipiac associate head coach who was hired at La Salle.

The Dragons in New England will open against Siena on Friday and then face either the host Catamounts or Wagner in the TD Classic. They do not return to the DAC until Dec. 16, hosting Gardner-Webb.

Looking Ahead: Just one game Friday night, Villanova, idle since its season-opening win at home over Hartford last Wednesday, will make the quick trip north to Bethlehem to meet Lehigh at 6 p.m. in Stabler Arena as part of a doubleheader also involving the Mountain Hawks’ men’s team.

Lehigh, another Patriot League member, is off to a 3-0 start and the Wildcats are 9-1 against their geographical rival to the near north.

And that’s the report, short as it is, though, nationally, in a game between two ranked teams, No. 24 Miami, at home in Florida, topped No. 19 Marquette 63-55.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Guru Report: Steal Near Finish Eclipses Princeton Rally as Seton Hall Tops Tigers

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PRINCETON, N.J. — Soon after the Princeton women witnessed the hanging of another Ivy championship banner in their renovated Jadwin Gym here Wednesday night, the Tigers got plundered into an 18-point deficit from the Pirates of Seton Hall in their annual New Jersey D-1 battle.

Already reeling from injuries and other factors that have claimed four players, including reigning league player of the year Bella Alarie, the Tigers rallied, took the lead and then squandered the comeback at the close to drop their second straight, this time 70-66 after losing at George Washington Sunday.

Of course, if you’re Seton Hall of the Big East, the viewpoint is coach Tony Bozzella’s bunch arrived here off two wins in their own tourney to stay unbeaten at 3-0 and kept the momentum going to lead early in the third period 50-32 after a layup by Shadeen Samuels.

But veteran coach Courtney Banghart’s group owned the overall period 21-10 to pull close at 54-51.

  However Seton Hall doubled the differential to six at the outset of the final period before Princeton turned the surge back on with a 13-0 run for a 64-57 lead on Gabrielle Rush’s three-pointer with 4 minutes, 55 seconds left in regulation.

An exchange of baskets and it was still plus seven after Carlie Littlefield’s layup with 2:15 left. But that became the last stand by the home team.

Samuels nailed a 3-pointer to start a closing 11-0 run that saw the Pirates take advantage of two Tigers turnovers to tie the score 66-66 with 41 seconds left, take the lead on a layup from Nicole Jimenez with four seconds left and seal it when Kaela Hilaire stole the ball and scored as time expired.

Hearing from the winning side first, Bozzella said of the flow in the second half, “She made some good adjustments, going man, slacking off, we were hesitant and we missed eight straight free throws in the third quarter.

“Instead of being up 12 at the end of the third quarter, you’re only up three and that changes everything,” Bozzella said. “I give the kids a lot of credit. That was a great character win because when you get down seven with three minutes to go on the road after blowing an 18-point lead you’re going to lose.

“But they didn’t give up. And KK (Hilaire) made two great plays at the end and she was tremendous.”

Samuels finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for Seton Hall while Jimenez scored 15, and Inja Butina scored 13 and Hilaire dealt seven assists.

Littlefield scored 22 for Princeton (1-2), which smoked Rider down the road in Lawrenceville on opening night last week, while Rush scored 18, and Sydney Jordan scored 13.

Seton Hall was just 1-for-9 from the line versus the Tigers shooting 12-for-13.

In one way, the early going has Princeton going through learning experiences as they did two seasons ago, though back then it was a roster replenished from key graduation losses while this time it’s the loss of players who would be go-to in a finish as the way this game went.

“We outscored them the whole second half, but obviously we were undermanned,” Banghart said. “These guys showed great fight.

“They could have thrown in the towel when we were down 18. With two minutes to go, the game is in our hands but we showed a lot of youthful mistakes. Like I said, we had a lot of people out of position so I give Carli a lot of credit. “

The Princeton guard played all but two minutes and dealt four assists while grabbing three steals.

“We were a lot better than we were on Sunday,” Banghart said of the last game in Washington.

Princeton next goes to Penn State Sunday while Seton Hall goes to UCLA the same day. The host Bruins upset No. 14 Georgia earlier Wednesday.

Penn State Rallies Over Fordham

Down 12 in the first half against the Rams in the Bronx (N.Y.), the Lady Lions forged at 34-11 second half to top the Atlantic 10 affiliate 72-55 in a non-conference game at Rose Hill Gym.

Preseason all-Big Ten Teniya Page shot 10-for-20 from the field and scored a game-high 25 points while Alisia Smith had a career-high 16 points and Siyeh Frazier had 15 points and four steals for Penn State, which bounced back off a tough loss at home Sunday to nationally-ranked California to improve to 2-1.

The Lady Lions turned 15 Fordham turnovers into 19 points.

Coquese Washington, the former Notre Dame star who had spent her entire head coaching career in Happy Valley, will be going for her 200th win when Penn State hosts Princeton Sunday in the Bryce Jordan Center at 2 p.m. with the game nationally televised on the Big Ten Network.

The Lady Lions are a perfect 6-0 in the series with Fordham (1-2).

“Fordham is really a tough place to play,” Washington said. “They’re a well coached team and they’re really tough to go up against. I thought we had a really good second half defensively.”

Fordham got 14 points from Bre Cavanaugh and 11 each from Kaitlyn Downey and Mary Goulding while Downey also grabbed 11 rebounds for a double double.

The Rams are coached by Stephanie Gaitley, who has Saint Joseph’s as one of her previous stop and also starred at Villanova.

Temple Rally Falls Short

The Owls suffered their first loss of the season after a pair of wins, losing at Mississippi 62-55 in Oxford in a non-conference game with the Southeastern Conference representative.

Trailing by 13, Temple used a 13-0 run to get a 38-38 tie with the Rebels (2-1), who then shot ahead by nine but had to hold off the Owls, who sliced that differential down to three.

Sophomore Mia Davis had a career high 22 for Temple and grabbed six rebounds. Freshman Marissa Mackins had 15 points.

Crystal Allen had 16 points for Ole Miss while La’Karis Salter had 14, and Cecilia Muhate scored 10.

Temple next continues its road trip that began at Saint Joseph’s with a win Friday by visiting Marist, a contender in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Sunday at 1 p.m. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The game will be televised on ESPN+

From there the Owls will head to Miami to play the host and nationally-ranked Hurricanes in one game and will later travel to nationally-ranked DePaul in Chicago.

La Salle Still Winless

Harvard picked up its first win of the season 88-43 at the expense of the Explorers, who are now 0-3 under new coach Mountain MacGillivray.

The non-conference game with the Ivy contender was played in Cambridge, Mass.

La Salle fell into a deep deficit early 28-6 after the first quarter though the Explorers competed better in the second half.

Rayshel Brown with 10 points was the only Explorer to score in double figures in the game at Lavietes Pavilion.

Sydney Skinner scored 24 points getting a game high for Harvard, while Katie Benzen scored 16 points and Jadyn Bush had a double double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The Explorers stay on the road to travel to Towson of the Colonial Athletic Association at 7 p.m. on Saturday night on the outskirts of Baltimore.

Only four of the Guru’s local D-1 group played Wednesday.

Nationally Speaking: UCLA upsets No. 14 Georgia

The Bruins lost their ranking at the outset of the new season after graduating key people but they may be back in the Associated Press women’s poll in the wake of their 80-69 upset of the Dawgs at home in Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Michaela Onyenwere had 11 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter for UCLA (2-1), which itself was upset last week by nearby Loyola Marymount.

Kennedy Burke had 21 points as the Bruins came back from an existing 12-point deficit early in the third quarter. They scored 31 in the final period helped by going 13-of-17 on the line.

Taja Cole had 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists for Georgia (2-1), which dropped its first game of the season. The Bulldogs will be visiting Villanova in a few weeks.

Elsewhere Lindsay Whelan, the recently retired WNBA star, made it 2-0 as a head coach at her alma mater as Minnesota won at Xavier 78-53 in Cincinnati.

In a game played on neutral territory in terms of the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y., the home of the New York Liberty, No. 18 Syracuse topped No. 20 Texas A&M 75-65 as Tiana Mangakahia scored 26 points for the Orange (2-1) against the Aggies (2-1).

Syracuse was coming off a near-upset of Oregon out West in Eugene on the Ducks’ campus.

Texas A&M features Chennedy Carter, who was the national freshman of the year last season.

The Orange got her in foul trouble in the second half but she still scored 18 points in a game played on her birthday.

Looking Ahead: West Philly Showdowns

Only two games are on the Guru’s local slate Thursday night at 7 and they will be played four blocks apart as Drexel hosts Bucknell at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center while there will be another Big Five showdown, this one at The Palestra as Penn hosts Saint Joseph’s, also at 7 p.m.

Drexel is coming off Sunday’s home win over Saint Joseph’s in which they defensed the Hawks to go to 1-1.

Saint Joseph’s, which is still looking for its first win, is 0-2, having also lost to Temple in a narrow deficit, while Penn won at Siena before losing at top-ranked Notre Dame, the defending national champions, in a decent stand Monday night in Purcell Pavilion.

On Friday Villanova travels to Lehigh and Rutgers in the wake of coach C. Vivian Stringer’s 1,000th career-win travels to Charlotte. Delaware will be in Texas in a pair of consolation games in the Preseason WNIT.

On Saturday, Penn hosts NJIT, La Salle travels to Towson, as mentioned, and Rider hosts Mount Sgt. Mary’s.

And that’s the report.  


Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Another Season is Under Way

 Guru’s note: This was filed prior to Wednesday’s games, which saw No. 14 Georgia upset at unranked UCLA and in a game between tqo ranked teams, Texas A&M fell to Syracuse on neutral turf in White Plains, N.Y., where the WNBA New York Liberty were moved to play home games last summer.

By Mike Siroky

We thought we’d wait for the first real Associated Press poll of the season to start our weekly coverage of the best conference in women’s college basketball, the Southeastern.

We call it that because no other conference has its lineage.

It is the only conference which has had an entry in every NCAA tournament. It has had the No. 2 team in the nation in the past two eliminations as well as the National Champion two seasons ago.

It is the “yeah but” conference. In any discussion of women’s hoops, there is always and forever a “yeah but what did the SEC do?”

They have proven, despite a suicidal league season, the best teams generally win out. 

Any team that gets through the conference unbeaten at home generally wins the league. And it has given berth to the latest greatest team, Mississippi State, which has established a national benchmark in the past four seasons.

No other conference has produced  that.

With nine national championships, 12 runner-up finishes, a nation-leading 38 Final Four appearances and 132 first-team All-America honors, the SEC remains the best.

•  Thirteen of the SEC coaches have led teams to the NCAA Tournament, eight with their respective SEC teams. 

• Eight SEC coaches have taken their teams to the Sweet 16, six have advanced to the Elite Eight and four have gone on to the Final Four.

•  Four SEC coaches have been coaches in the Final Four with two winning national championships. 

• The SEC has had at least one student-athlete named as a First-Team All America selection in each of the past eight seasons.

•The SEC leads all other conferences in all-time NCAA Tournament bids: SEC (234), ACC (186), Big Ten (160), Big East (147), Big 12 (132), Pac-12 (128).

•  2018 made it the nation’s best with 11 times that seven SEC teams have been invited to the NCAA Tournament (1986, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2018). 

The SEC was the first league to ever have seven teams invited. No SEC team with 20 wins has ever missed the national playdown. All the success, while daunting in league play, obviously designates a high RPI in almost every conference matchup.

•  SEC teams have earned appearances in 28 of 37 NCAA Final Fours, an accomplishment unmatched by any other league. The next closest is the Big East (22) and the ACC (31).

•  Five SEC teams (Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina) have appeared in the Final Four.

•  SEC teams have made 21 appearances in a nation-high 18 NCAA Championship games, winning nine NCAA Championships (Tennessee: 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2007, 2008); South Carolina 2017).

• The SEC was 12-7 in NCAA Tournament games in 2018. It is the ninth consecutive season the SEC has been .500 or better in the NCAA Tournament. 

The league has been .500 or better in NCAA Tournament games, 36 out of the 37-year history.

•  The SEC has had at least one team advance to the Sweet 16 in every year of NCAA Tournament history. All of the SEC’s 14 members have advanced to the Sweet 16.

•  SEC teams are 19-6 (76.0 percent) in postseason opening games over the past three years.

•  SEC teams have earned appearances in 28 of 37 NCAA Final Fours, an accomplishment unmatched by any other league. The next closest is the Big East with 22 (inclduing now-departed UConn and Notre Dame) and the ACC with 31.

•  Seven different SEC teams (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina) have appeared in the Final Four.

•  SEC teams have made 21 appearances in a nation-high 18 NCAA Championship games, winning nine NCAA Championships (Tennessee: 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2007, 2008); South Carolina (2017).

• The SEC was 12-7 in NCAA Tournament games in 2018. It is the ninth consecutive season the SEC has been .500 or better in the NCAA Tournament. 

•The league has been .500 or better in NCAA tournaments 36 out of 37 seasons.

• There  were 91 women’s basketball students earning 2017-18 SEC Academic Honor Rol, having a grade point average of 3.00 or above for the preceding academic year or a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or above.

• The Women’s Basketball Leadership Council is one component of the SEC student-Athlete Leadership Council. The student-athletes who comprise the SEC  Women’s Basketball Leadership Council: Jordan Lewis (Alabama); Jailyn Mason (Arkansas); Janiah McKay (Auburn); Corey Staples (Florida); Ari Henderson (Georgia); Maci Morris, Kentucky); Jaelyn Richard-Harris (LSU); Shandricka  Sessom, (Ole Miss); Myah Taylor (Mississippi State); Lauren Aldridge (Missouri); Bianca Jackson, (South Carolina); Rennia Davis, (Tennessee); Ciera Johnson, (TexasA&M); Autumn Newby (Vanderbilt.

•  At the start of the season, 12 women’s basketball student-athletes wear the SEC Graduate patch on their uniforms: Funda Nakkasoglu (Florida); Shandricka Sessom, La’Karis Salter, and Crystal Allen (Ole Miss) and Anriel Howard (Mississippi State) Lauren Aldridge, Missouri; Bianca Cuevas-Moore (South Carolina; Alexis Jennings (South Carolina); Cheridene Green and Lou Brown (Tennessee); Aja Ellison and Caylinne Martin (Texas A&M).

 The league starts the season with players on every national honors watch list: 

• Nancy Lieberman Award: Taja Cole, Georgia; Tyasha Harris, South Carolina; Evina Westbrook, Tennessee; Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M.

•  Ann Meyers Drysdale Award: Maci Morris, Kentucky.

•  Cheryl Miller Award: Sophie Cunningham, Missouri; Rennia Davis, Tennessee; 

•  Lisa Leslie Award: Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State; Mariella Fasoula, Vanderbilt.

•  Katrina McClain Award: Caliya Robinson, Georgia; Anriel Howard, Mississippi State; Alexis Jennings, South Carolina.

•  Wooden Award: Caliya Robinson, Georgia; Anriel Howard, Mississippi State; Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State; Sophie Cunningham, Missouri; Rennia Davis, Tennessee; Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M.

• Seven SEC players were picked in the 2018 WNBA Draft, including three  in the first round.

• Over the past nine WNBA Drafts, 51 SEC players have been called. Seventeen of those were selected in the first round and six were the No.  overall pick. with back-to-back Rookies of the Year.

•  Five WNBA Finals MVPs are from the SEC (Sylvia Fowles: 2015, 2017; Candace Parker: 2016; Tamika Catchings: 2012; Seimone Augustus: 2011).

So here were go again. We will start with capsulation of what each team brings to the table

In succeeding weeks, we will update only the ranked teams. Three teams started the season without wins, including 0-2 Vanderbilt, the only team expecting to make a coaching change

Everyone wants to play close to home in the NCAAs. No one wants to play in Albany, N.Y. because that is where UConn will be. Chicago is a worthy Regional goal But Greensboro is the target of Regional play for the SEC champ as a top seed.

The SEC starts the season with six teams in the Top 20. That’s about right for the fullness of the season. This is the time of year when traditional (regional) games exist.

These early games are played, as much for the visiting teams to see what the big programs have as for those programs to build toward the 20-win seasons. These opponents will not likely reach an NCAA berth. But they have been on most of the schedules for quite a long time.

It also gives the SEC teams a regional tour, to attract those players in the stands who may well be on an SEC team soon.

Almost every SEC coach will try and play a game in the hometown if in-state seniors for a farewell tour.

No. 6 Mississippi State (2-0)

By tradition, if the defending league champ is any good, it gets to start the next season as the top coaches’ pick for the conference title.

Yeah, they vote that way every time. 

Not every coaches’ vote is to be taken seriously.

 Last season, newbie Chennedy Carter was not even mentioned. She was the national Rookie of the Year and an All-American at season’s end.

South Carolina is close, but State picked up an impact starter from within the conference That is a good tiebreaker right now.  SC returns two all-conference point guards to active duty, though.

Mainly, this is the season after.

The best coach, Vic Schaefer ended last season taking full blame for mot defending the late lead in the National Championship game.

He let a lesser team hang around and they had the last shot.

So the best Bulldog team ever had to be comforted with starting a tradition, for selling out home games in the big gym, for setting all manner of conference and individual records.

The balance is not winning the big one when they should have. 

It is not unprecedented. 

The Cadillac team in conference all-time is still Tennessee.  The Vols lost plenty of championship games, often to the one team they could not handle in specific seasons before winning their first.

In conference, Auburn had a string of three consecutive title game appearances – including one against UT – that they did not win.

It is not a comfort to know it can happen that way.

One of the preseason breaks was the planned Italy excursions.

Pat Head started these traditions.

It allows the students to see the culture of other countries – Michelangelo was a tour stop in August. So was the Parthenon in Rome, where the team learned and practiced Roman hand-to-hand battle techniques.

Most importantly, it gives coaches time with the team in game conditions and givers newbies time with teammates.

State started with a win in Rome. Chloe Bibby patiently waited her freshman season for her script in the spotlight. She scored 11 of 18 in the second half.  

Overall, it was Teaira McCown, of course, the best All-American returning, with 19 points – 14 in the opening quarters --and 10 rebounds. Jordan Danberry, a recruit who went to Arkansas first but was recaptured in her disillusionment will be in her second State season. She scored 10.

"We've come to expect double/doubles from Teaira, but Chloe is going to be a big one for us," Schaefer said. "She's going to have to shoot it well, and she's been doing that all summer. 

“Chloe, Teaira and Jazzmun (Holmes) have been really consistent for us all summer."

"It was a fun game, and I thought our kids played hard," Schaefer said. "After the first quarter we settled in and just had a different energy level. I was really pleased with how hard we played from the second quarter on. It was fun to see a lot of new faces out there play so well."

Then it was off to Florence.

The biggest add this season will be 5-11 guard Anriel Howard, a starter at Texas A&M who is immediately eligible as a grad student. UConn and South Carolina were also interested.

With McCowan they were the top two rebounders in the SEC last season, with McCowan averaging 13.9 and Howard 12.2.

“We are ecstatic to be adding Anriel and her family to our program and our university community here at Mississippi State," Schaefer said. "Her experience in our conference will be not only valuable to our team, but it will enable us to use her in a leadership role on and off the floor."

A new uniform No. 1 is freshman Myah Taylor, replacing graduate Blair Schaefer, the USBWA coach of the year’s daughter.

On the forward wall will be 6-5 rookie Jessika Carter  and 6-1 Xaria Wiggins.

Promise Taylor, a transfer from Ole Miss is also 6-5 and will be a valuable practice player as she sits out the mandatory season. She was an All-SEC rookie.

Also onboard is former UConn guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter. She was the New York high school Player of the year, averaging  36.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.0 steals. She scored 995 points her senior season alone.

The other senior to McCowan Is former Arkansas player and power guard Jordan Danberry.

But the biggest addition is All-SEC player Anriel Howard, immediately eligible from Texas A&M as she has graduated with a year of eligibility left. As if McCowan will not be dominating herself, Howard brings more than 1,000 rebounds from A&M (a school record) and a rebound average (another A&M record) of 9.8 per game. She was second in SEC scoring (12.2) a double/double average for two straight seasons. 

Elana Lovato recruited that great graduating team and parlayed that into a top coaching job elsewhere. But she came back this season, meaning Schaefer remains the best man on campus with only female assistants.

The first wins were blowouts.

McCowan had her 40th career double/double as they opened at home, 88-53, over Southeast Missouri State. She had a career-high seven blocks. "It's always good to start the year with a win," Schaefer said. There were 6373 witnesses. Howard Taylor and Wiggns scored their first Bulldog points.

It was 72-44 at Virginia, with the first single-digit quarter stop of the season, 19-4 in the second. McCowan had 12 rebounds and 12 points, Howard had nine rebounds and Chloe Bibby had four blocks with 13 points. Espinoza-Hunter scored her first State points, 13 with five 3s.

No. 10 South Carolina (1-0)

As this season dawns, Dawn Staley has a top  team again. She has two guards with SEC experience coming off the practice squad after sitting out a season apiece and she already had a two-year point guard coming back. 

The summer began to the National Player of the year, A’ja Wilson, the latest greatest to graduate into the world.

As the centerpiece of the expansion WNBA team in Las Vegas, she started every game. She was the second straight league Rookie of the Year from South Carolina. 

But she also agreed to forfeit a road game because they were "tired" and it cost them a playoff spot.

She made the all-star team  – scoring 18 --  of the summer league and got to play with former UConn players  Brianna Stewart and Sue Bird as well as Washington’s Elena Delle Donne. She and Stewart are the likely new kids for the 2020 Games, especially with Staley coaching America then.

Alisha Gray finished her college career a year earlier, became the WNBA Rookie of the year in Dallas and then came back to campus to graduate in May of 2018.

SC led the nation in attendance for the fourth straight season, not coincidentally the Wilson career years. Tennessee was fourth nationally, about 4,500 behind SC,  and Mississippi State seventh. They outdrew the WNBA teams.

SC averaged 13,239, almost 1,000 more than the previous season.  The Gamecocks began work for a return to the national stage . SC did not make the Final Four a year after their National Championship, did not win conference.

Bianca Cuevas-Moore was the fastest Gamecock when she blew a knee and sat out last season.

She graduated in May and originally declared she would go elsewhere for a final season of eligibility.

Then she changed her mind again and stayed at SC, giving the Gamecocks seven guards on the 13-player roster.

She has played in 108 of the 109 games for which she was eligible, mostly off the bench.

"Bianca and I have had our ups and downs, but my love for her has never wavered," Staley said. "She is a fan favorite and a favorite of mine; and her return to our program is a reflection of her love for South Carolina, her teammates and her coaches. 

“I am excited that I get to coach her for another season, and I know that Gamecock Nation is equally excited to see her back in action at Colonial Life Arena."

So to say she would be comfortable as a non-starter is acceptable.

The three-year starting point guard is Tyasha Harris, strangley overlooked by league coaches as pre-season all-conference. Also now eligible is former Tennessee point guard Te’a Cooper, also with an injury redshirt season but also forced to miss the spring season by the NCAA. She has three years of eligibility. Which means she can outlast the other two by a season.

How they do now will depend on the redeveloped forward line, led for one more season by former Kentucky player Alexis Jennings and by Wilson’s backup, junior Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan.

“Alexis can be a ball magnet for us.,” Staley said. She thinks Harris can once again be all-conference first team. A challenge she welcomes is to be the dominant team once again, even without Wilson, but with Jennings and the seven-guard sett.

“We have an incredible non-conference schedule. We may get our heads beat in even before we get to the SEC schedule. We will play more up-tempo. We have to exhaust them because the players on the bench all want to play. We have to play much more free, driven by concepts”

Another newbie is Clemson immediately eligible as a graduate student. There’s also redshirt senior  Nelly Perry.

This is the new reality of Dawn Staley’s team building, with two important parts products of other teams.

Perry sat out the past season with a shoulder injury 

Last year, Staley lived in the pre-conference season with a long-range shooter from Penn State whose surgically repaired knee collapsed in the conference season. She was easily all-league before the devastation.

The year before that, Gray and another player showed up as a one-and-done backcourt of transfers who won a National Championship and fled to the pros.

Nobody does it better than Staley.

Florida recruit Destani Harris signed before her senior high school season, as a traditional newcomer  She is 5-8.

Elysa Wesolek, 6-2, originally committed to Western Kentucky,  but stayed in state and signed with SC from Northwood Academy. The third freshman is Victaria Saxton , a 6-1 forward from Georgia, raked in the national Top 10 for frontline  recruits. Any of the three could easily be the fifth starter.

Staley also won an important court battle against the goofy Missouri Athletic Director Jim Sterk.

He had commented on a kerfuffle during a game between his school and SC. He did not attend. He did not see the incident. His own coach downplayed it.

Yet jerk Sterk said Staley was at fault.

"It wasn't a great atmosphere. It was really kind of unhealthy if you will," Sterk said then. "We had players spit on and called the N-word and things like that. It was not a good environment. And unfortunately I think coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it's unfortunate that she felt she had to do that."

Staley is, of course, black. The Missouri troublemaker is white. Many of us waited for some kind of a rematch, but Missouri does what it always does and checked out after one game of the league tournament, so  avoiding a rematch.

Staley could not allow this misrepresentation and started a defamation lawsuit.

Sterk, of course, backed all the way down and even as made to apologize publicly, exonerating Staley   The conference reprimanded $25,000. His school must be so proud as it paid for all the fines. 

The defamation suit cost another 50 grand, covering attorney’s fees and the rest going to a Staley-backed organization that supplies athletic shoes to children in need.

"The money is a non-issue, but glad we got a settlement," Staley said. "This was about my reputation and what I've built over my career and also just being my mother's child. 

“I am a child in which, my mother raised me properly. If anything synonymous with anything that's negative, if it's seen in that light, it's a direct relation to what she's done in raising me and raising her four other kids, so I'm extremely happy."

They opened at home with a 59-point blowout of Alabama State.

 Free at last, Cooper scored 17. Everybody played and everybody scored, including the rookies.

No. 12 Tennessee (1-0)

Holly Warlick followed the best recruiting class in the nation with another one this season.  

Zaay Green from Texas, Jazmine Massengill from Chattanooga, Rae Burrell from Las Vegas and Mimi Collins from  Maryland all join the forward line. The Four rookies are in play. One of those would-be sophomores was dismissed. Green, Massengill and Collins are McDonald’s All-American. 

Waiting a season while rehabbing  is 6-3 graduate transfer Lou Brown from Washington State, an All-Pac 12 player. She is an Australian. She tore an ACL in October.

Two seasons ago, we said Holly’s recruitment problem then was she didn’t have Holly Warlick to recruit for Holly Warlick as Pat head had Holly Warlick to close the deals for her.

She solved hat with master recruiter Sharona Reaves and by adding Lady Vol For Life Bridgette Gordon, a UT All-American and Olympian. Now all Warlick has to do is coach the kids once again without any drama queens in the locker room

She was given a contract extension through 2022.

The Vols will work to play up to capabilities and be ready come tournament time. Their selection in the Top 12 will be validated, but they will fall and work back up.

Nothing is ever easy in Hollywoodland. 

One of her best players flamed out as the previous season ended, so it was a veteran who disappeared down the stretch, coupled with the defection of a jerky All-American before the season started and Harris 

They had the rare first round home loss in NCAA play. Yes, they had become of those teams who are given a Top 16 first-round hosting and then lose the second game in.

They had mercurially earned the first round  by winning at South Carolina and Stanford at home and on the road against Georgia and Texas A&M. Last season, they started 15-0.

Holly’s top scorer, sophomore Rennia Davis is rehabbing a hurt left foot and is not active.

"I have a big smile on my face,” said Warlivck. “ I love this basketball team. They are very gritty, they are very competitive, and for the most part, they work hard. 

“They've done a great job in practice, been very coachable. It's a really, really tight-knit group. They are tight, and we haven't had that in a long time. Again, I really love this basketball team, and I enjoy coaching them.

"We've put a lot of emphasis on our defense. We've pressed a lot more and we're pressing all over the court. 

“We want to turn you over, and we want to get easy shots. The best way to do that is pressing and pressuring the ball. That is the style we want to play. We want to go up and down on offense obviously, but then we want to turn around and do that as well on the defensive end."

This season, sophomore Evina Westbrook scored 20, Burell scored 14, senior London import Cheridene Green had five 3s and Zaay Green had four as each scored 13. Then again, everyone played and everyone scored in the 128-59 wipeout of Presbyterian

There were  8194 always-loyal fans.  

 No. 14 Georgia (1-0)

Joni Taylor  may be the youngest coach in the league, but in three seasons she has established a foundation that means they will be in the upper echeolon of the conference.

Last season, she rebounded to second in conference, top 16 in the nation and the chance to host the first round of the NCAAs. But they  did not escape Athens, ending with a thud at home in the second round.

Part of her strategy is to spread the challenge throughout the team, which means the top scorer may be at 12 points per game, but also that everyone contributes and graduating the top scorer does not leave a gaping hole on offense.

As this is her fourth season, it also means the last one with carryover players. Next season, it is all her.

Four of the ’Dawgs scorers and 70 percent of the scoring returns. Senior Caliya Robinson will be the focus, but last year’s rookie phenom Que Morrison combined with setup player Taja Cole are just as important.

Robinson is the only conference veteran in the top 20 in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals a year ago. She is second only to Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan from Mississippi State as a center.

Robinson was the principle basis of the “Defense Travels” mode Georgia preached last season, finishing first in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense (35.1 percent), second in blocked shots (196), second in turnovers forced (18.6 ) and second in scoring defense (57.6). 

Under Taylor, Georgia is 25-0 when holding opponents to 50 points or less.  The resultant 2017-18 26-7 marked Georgia’s most wins in a season since 2006-07. The Lady Bulldogs stormed out to a 12-1 start in non-conference play and then defeated three ranked SEC opponents to finish with a 12-4 league record. 

The freshman class is Kaila Hubbard (Jonesboro, Ga.), Caitlin Hose (Hazel Green, Ala.) and Donnetta Johnson (Queens, NY).

Another newcomer is Jenna Staiti, the 2016 Miss Georgia Basketball and state Gatorade Player of the Year, returning home after transferring from Maryland and sitting out a year ago. 

Staiti, at 6-6 brings a post presence with major conference experience. The need for a post player developed  when senior Bianca Blanaru, decided to skip her final season to pursue a career in criminal justice. 

Interestingly, Cole also started in the ACC, coming in from Louisville, having started 15 games there.

They opened at home, 67-40, over St. Bonaventure. A healthy 4054 attended. The 15-6 defensive shutdown in the second quarter decided it. Robinson scored 15 with nine rebounds to lead the ”Dawgs. They won rebounds, 53-37.

"Overall pleased," Tasylor  said. "We got to see a lot of different lineups and matchups. I was not thrilled we gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter. That is something we have to continue to work on. ”

“When we sub we need to make sure we have the same effort on both ends of the floor. Overall, I was happy with their effort and the looks we got offensively."

 No. 16 Missouri (1-0)

Missouri has opted not to participate in our reports for the third consecutive season.

 No. 20 Texas A&M (2-0)

The  imaginative coaching skills of coach Gary Blair are unmatched. His microphone skills are a close second. He is already in the women’s basketball Hall of Fame.

So, this season, he starts without any freshmen on the roster.

The latest adjustment – accepting immediately eligible and other transfers as he reloads – means four new roster players with experience.

Anna Dreimane, a 6-5 Latvian National Team member is a Colorado State transfer, She has played 35 games in European competition.

"Anna is an agile and mobile player with an inside-out game that will only get better from daily battles with our already solid front court and SEC competition," said  Blair. "She was looking for a program that has developed post players like we have at Texas A&M, and she has the size, unique skill set and defensive presence you need to compete for championships in the SEC. 

“Anna is a welcome addition to the Aggie family and we are excited to see her contributions to the program."

Junior college guard Shambria Washington (Ocala, Fla./College of Central Florida) is eligible as a junior.

“Shambria is going to give us versatility at the point guard position," said Blair. "She is a pass-first point guard, who can also score. She is very much a leader, she is very quick, and she is going to add to what Chennedy Carter can do. We are very excited to add Shambria."

Cheah Rael-Whitsitt is a 5-11 swingman from Miami Dade Junior College.

"Cheah brings us energy, rebounding, relentlessness and an attacking mindset," said Blair. "She was well-coached in junior college by Susan Summons, who will be honored at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June. She will compete right away, and contribute to the winning tradition we have here at Texas A&M."

Rael-Whitsitt ranked second in the NJCAA with 14.2 rebounds and 16.5 points per game.. She posted 24 double-doubles and collected 441 rebounds, each of which are more than the Texas A&M single-season records. The rebound average is more than any other Division 1 player returns with She the Southern Conference Player of the Year and a WBCA All-America honors.

 Maryland transfer Aja Ellison has a great ;lineage. She is the daughter of “never nervous” Pervis Ellison, the No. 1 pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, and Timi Ellison, who was an All-ACC sprinter at Maryland. 

"Aja is athletic and long, and can play either post position," said Blair. "She will had depth and an understanding of what competition is all about. She has a tremendous athletic family background, and she will be a leader and will compete right away, like her family has done all their lives."

 The Aggies opened the season by downing Rice, 65-44. They set their first single-digit defensive benchmark in the 10-6 second quarter. had 4,043 in attendance.

They then erased Jacksonville, 73-53. They won rebounds 48-34 and actually survived a 10-8 deficit in the second quarter. Attendance fell by a thousand.

“We crashed the boards  a lot which is what we practiced,” said Carter.

“it was a hard-working win,” said Blair. “Let’s just use it as a win. I am so very proud of our post players who just went to work.”

 Kentucky (2-0)

Matthew Mitchell is the ultimate survivor, having lost a starting team worth of transfers in the past few seasons. All of them started on other Division 1 ranked teams.

But the Big Blue Nation has not tired of him yet.

In his 12th season, he is the winningest coach in the program history., with eight 20-win efforts When he hits 14 wins this season, he will mark 300 school victories.

But they also were among those teams just good enough to merit first-and-second round games only to be one and done

He has added in-state guard Blair Green and Tennessee swingman Rhyne Howard.

 Auburn (3-1)

The last of the seven NCAA entrants last season, they got there by besting Alabama in a winner-take-all scenario late.

She made the NCAAs on willpower alone.

She is in her seventh season on the Plains, 15th overall leading a program. She was the late ’90s recruiting coordinator at Georgia, They have qualified for two straight NCAA tournaments, a definite upward trend. They lost at Baylor in the second round. They cracked the Top 25 early last season. They finished 20-13, including wins over Kentucky and Florida.

Rookies are guards Howard, from way up north in Wisconsin, Robyn Benton and Brooke Moore, redshirt forward Kiyae White and forward Natalie Kelly.

Alabama (1-1)

The Tide and in-state rival Auburn are among those teams which would be league competitors anywhere else but here. Playing great teams every season raises the level of awareness even as losing to most of them diminished success.

They hit 20 wins last season, thanks to an extended NIT run.

Kristi Curry is a coach with a great resume, except not so much at Tuscaloosa. 

Still, she can reach 100 school victories with 16 wins. She had three 30-win seasons and was a national runner-up at Louisiana Tech, She had marvelous success at Purdue before inexplicably choosing to leave for Texas Tech where it just didn’t work out.

But she did win a program first at Tennessee and graduate the winningest senior class in 18 seasons.

They have an amazing six rookies in a reloading season. They are guards Grace Pelphrey, De’sha Benjamin, Taniyah Worth, Magen Abrams, Hannah Barbe rand  forward Ally Craig Cruce.

 Shelby Gibson, a mammoth in-state 6-3 center, is sitting our her transfer season from Ole Miss after that program fired its coach.

LSU (2-0)

The  Ben-Gals have definitely plateaued with coach Nikki Fargas, the former Tennessee All-American.  She has 132 coaching wins, always seemed to make the big tournament, but once again exited after one game and just 19 wins.

She has no freshmen this season.

Arkansas (1-0)

Razorbacks coach Mike Neighbors enters his second season of building a program that never was, despite once employing Gary Blair.

The challenge was his predecessor was just an athletic department hanger on with no previous experience and it drove the program underground.

He was only able to attract one recruit. He has five sophomores. All the rest are carryover players. This rebuild has no momentum.

He is an Arkansas grad. He came willingly after leading Washington to a Final Four and having the all-timer NCAA highest scorer. The immediate goal has to be to win five more than he loses as that will get him to .500 at Arkansas.

Florida (0-2)

This is another second-year coach but at least there is hope as the Gators have been ranked in recent past seasons. What they didn’t have was a savvy coach who they kept too long. She ran off an All-American caliber player and that season was gone.as was the coach after 10 seasons, about nine too many.

Cam Newbauer has three rookies and three sophomores which means soon this will be his players on his team.

He had caught lightning in a bottle at tiny Belmont University with back-to-back NCAA appearances. He was an assistant at Louisville when that program started its current deep NCAA runs.  

Seven if his dozen players are transfer. The three rookies are all from West of the Rockies.

Newbauer is energetic and a good teacher. He has started a “Chuck it from the cheap seats” mantra, which means don’t be afraid to launch long distance.

He had previous SEC experience as an assistant for both basketball teams at Georgia.

Besides needing to recreate the buzz fir the Gators, injuries left him with eight players for the final 13 games in an 11-9 season. He has to finish eight games above .500 to break even.

Playing in the competitive SEC allows no breathers.

"Coach Cam expects the same out of everybody, whether you're a veteran, a freshman, a transfer or what," said junior guard Delicia Washington,  two starters the only remaining player  from the previous coach. “He wants effort and wants energy, and now we have both high effort and positive energy that seems to be going up as time goes by." 

 Ole Miss (1-1)

This is sadly a program which gets little university support. They let a charismatic builder go after five seasons and so start once more with a new coach, Yolett McPhee-McCuin. She has four seniors and five rookies.

One of the newcomers is Mimi Reid, recruited by one coach, injured for a season with a torn Achilles and the ready to go with the new coach. 

"I wanted to master everything so fast to get back on the court and I think that was my setback a little bit, because my mind was moving faster than my Achilles," Reid said. "That made it tough for me as a player."

 Despite the long process, Reid finished it and is the starting point guard.  "It's been fun," Reid said. "I enjoy coming to practice every day and I enjoy seeing the coaches because they bring light to a dead situation some times. You can have a bad day, but seeing them can spark your mood. I feel the love, I feel the connection between the coaches and the players."

 Vanderbilt (1-2)

Everyone is waiting for a move. It hasn’t happened in two seasons for Stephanie White. She quit as a WNBA coach for this.

 One of partners coming in was a former Vanderbilt legend who coached Purdue to a championship and another title game with an inherited team, which included White as the playmaking guard.

 Carolyn Peck quit this summer. She us back to a former employer, ESPN, where she had a nine-year run after coaching Florida..

A White teammate from Purdue, is the associate head coach. They have three rookies. They went 14-6 and then 7-24. The previous long-time coach was let go when the program lost its direction. 

Somewhere in Nashville, a countdown clock is ticking.

Dulcius ex aspirus"
It's a nice day to read