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, November 17, 2017

Guru’s Local Report: Drexel Blasts LaSalle while Temple, Rutgers, Princeton and Delaware Claim Victories

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Since two locals in the Guru’s mix had to play each other technically it was an impressive clean sweep Thursday night across the board beginning with the Philly Six collision right here at Drexel where the Dragons’ took their home opener in the Daskalakis Athletic Center by crushing La Salle 79-54 to go even up at 1-1 while the Explorers dropped to 1-2.

While Drexel bounced back from their season-opening loss on Sunday at Penn State, Temple recovered from the Owls’ Monday night loss to Rutgers by handling Wagner 70-36 still at home in McGonigle Hall to improve to 2-1.

Delaware coach Natasha Adair, formerly with Georgetown, followed up her first road win earlier in the week by guiding the Blue Hens to a 72-56 over American U. In front of the home folks in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, and in the first of the triad clashes in New Jersey, Princeton edged Seton Hall 85-83 on the road at Walsh Gym in South Orange.

Both schools have yet to play the nu-look Rutgers squad who are now 3-0 all gained on the road after beating Charlotte 77-54. The Scarlet Knights make their home debut Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center hosting Wake Forest.

Back here the game began looking like it might be a cliff hanger that was originally foreseen until Drexel exploded on a 27-7 outburst in the second quarter and continued with a 28-15 onslaught in the third.

By the time they were done the Dragons had a contingent of five players score in double figures which was the first time in four seasons they offered that kind of balanced attack 

“Great win at home to start the season off here is very promising,” said coach Denise Dillon. “We showed up ready to play, we did what was needed to be done at each end of the floor and played each possession like it was the last.

“I said to them, ‘Let’s keep taking steps forward and show what you’re capable of on a consistent basis,’” Dillon said with an eye to Saturday’s next game here at 2 p.m. when Patriot League favorite Bucknell (1-1) visits. “Do not go backwards on a short turnaround Saturday.

“I was just pleased that we kept the foot on the gas,” Dillon responded when asked if the differential was a surprise to her. “We continued to get the stops we needed. I felt we played smart, aggressive defense, we forced the clock to continue to run, just coming up with crucial rebounds.

“The shots were falling but it wasn’t as much the shots were falling as we were getting good looks around the basket.”

It was the first meeting between the two schools in five seasons and the win reduced La Salle’s advantage in the series to 16-8 after Drexel won its fourth straight against the Explorers.

“This was a stat you don’t see often with us,” Dillon said, “We had 42 points and we were getting layups and when we weren’t getting layups we were dumping it off. So I was pleased with team basketball, ball movement.

Drexel forced 28 turnovers leading to a lopsided 41-7 in points in transition.

“This team is a good defense team,” Dillon said of her squad.

Ana Ferariu had a game-high 14 points for Drexel, coming in off the bench, while Sarah Woods scored 13 points, freshman Hannah Nihill out of Cardinal O’Hara had 12 points, dealt five assists, and grabbed three steals, and Bailey Greenberg and Aubree Brown each scored 11 points, with Brown dishing six assists.

Veteran Kelsi Lidge scored only four points but dealt eight assists, grabbed five steals, and also collected six rebounds to match Ferariu’s team high.

“We really bought into team offense,” Lidge said of the separation in the second quarter. “It was driving, kicking, finding that open person, being able to pass the ball whenever you see a person.”

Dillon praised the debut of her freshman point guard in Nihill.

“She did what she’s capable of doing, we can talk about our defense creating our offense, she’s capable of that.”

Shalina Miller had 12 points for La Salle while Shaquana Edwards scored 11. Top Atlantic 10 scorer Amy Griffin was held to nine points, well below her season average of 20 in her first two games, while she grabbed nine rebounds.

La Salle next hosts Temple in a pre-Thanksgiving matinee next Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the season’s first of 10 Big Five games. The Owls are the defending City Series champs, having gone 4-0 in the 2016-17 round robin.

Temple returned to the high-powered scoring of their season opener last Friday at home against Delaware State.

“I thought we did a good job in the first quarter setting the tone and holding them to seven points,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said of the Owls’ defense against Wagner. “That was really important for us. We tried to play a lot of people and focus on the defensive end.

“I’m happy we did a better job of not giving up easy buckets. It’s important for us to have a defensive mentality. What we’re going to do this year is if you’re not giving maximum effort on the defensive side, there’s going to be somebody, because we’re deep.”

Eight different Temple players scored led by Tanaya Atkinson, who had 24 points while freshman Desiree Oliver scored 18. Atkinson also pulled down 10 rebounds for her third straight double double.

Temple grabbed 14 steals and forced 28 turnovers, which were a three-season high in terms of games not forced into double overtimes.

Next up is the first road trip of the season Sunday with a visit to Iona of the Metro Atlantic Collegiate Conference (MAAC).

In the Rutgers win Tyler Scaife had 18 points against the 49ers and Jazlynd scored 13 with a career-high five assists coming off the bench. Caitlin Jennings had nine points and nine rebounds.

Octavia Wilson scored 21 points, 15 from the free throw line, for Charlotte (1-2), while Amaya Wilson had 15 points.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer is a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame and her number from 1,000 career wins is now 20. The Scarlet Knights, who finally play at home Sunday, hosting Wake Forest at 6:30 p.m., are averaging 34 points in their first three games.

Princeton (2-0), which opened at home last Friday beating George Washington, got double doubles from Bella Alarie and first-ever from Tia Weledji, who had 16 points and collected a personal high 10 rebounds. Alarie had a game-high 22 points and collected 12 rebounds.

Leslie Robinson scored 16 points, Gabrielle Rush scored 16 points including the game-winner with two fouls shots with 16 seconds left, Carlie Littlefield scored 13.

Seton Hall, which dropped its first contest after a pair of wins, got 21 points from Donnaizha Fountain, the graduate transfer from Temple, who was named the Big East first player of the week of the season on Monday.

Princeton next hosts Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. Sunday, returning home to Jadwin Gym.

In the other game on the slate among the Guru locals, Delaware (2-1) rode a 26-13 third quarter domination to its win over American ().

Nicole Enabosi got 25 points for the Blue Hens, Bailey Kargo scored 15, and Samone DeFreese scored 13.

“This is Delaware women’s basketball,” Adair said afterwards. “You saw us really amp it up on the defensive end and that’s how we’re going to score,” she said of the third quarter attack. “We have to be able to get stops and then we’re able to execute.

“This is why I came. This is fun,” she said of making the move from Georgetown in the Big East.

Adair had been an assistant at Wake Forest and was a finalist in the Temple search that landed Cardoza after Dawn Staley had left the Owls to build South Carolina into an eventual NCAA champion last April.

She then was hired at Charleston in the CAA, of which Delaware and Drexel are members, and then returned to Georgetown where she once had been an assistant.

The Blue Hens will remain at the Bob Carpenter Center to host Boston University Sunday at 2 p.m. before heading on the short trip to town here next weekend where they will meet Saint Peters in Saint Joseph’s tournament on Saturday while the Hawks will host Eastern Illinois at Michael Hagan Arena.

The third place and championship will be Sunday.

On Friday just one local is on the slate with Villanova hosting Lehigh at 5 p.m. in Allentown at the PPL Center before the Wildcats men play the second game of a doubleheader.

Coach Harry Perretta’s squad will then scamper back to town here to host nationally-ranked Duke on Sunday.

And that’s the report.




 


 

 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Guru Local Report: Despite Ross Big Night Penn Overcome By Bearcats Rally at Binghamton

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

VESTAL, N.Y. – Back in the early days of the NASA program building toward the eventual goal of manned space flight and ultimately landing on the moon, one would delight in seeing those test rockets launch in a blaze of glory only to be horrified moments later when the projectile had to be aborted and blown to pieces.

Such was the launch of the Penn women’s basketball 2017-18 season here Wednesday night at the Birmingham University Events Center at the front end of a predicted run to finish in a third straight and fourth-out-of-five regular season Ivy championship and two out of two Ivy tournament titles.

Senior guard Anna Ross, playing just over an hour away from her hometown of Syracuse, got the Quakers off to an explosive start scoring their first 10 points and powering Penn to a 17-3 lead over the Bearcats in their second-ever meeting, coming 12 months after losing to the Bearcats at The Palestra.

But despite 6-foot-4 freshman Eleah Parker, touted as the next era after the graduation of Sydney Stipanoivch, grabbing four rebounds in the early action, things began to sputter and by the night’s end Binghamton had a 77-72 victory and for the Bearcats (2-1) something to hang their hat on well ahead of the eventual America East competition.

“We’ve got holes,” coach Mike McLaughlin said in a glum state. “No question there’s skill but we got holes and unless we find a two-guard quickly we’re going to muddle along.”

McLaughlin, in what is now his ninth season, has been an almost mad scientist on the Penn campus since arriving from building Holy Family, his alma mater, into nationally prominent Division II program out of Northeast Philadelphia.

After suffering with just two wins in his inaugural season down at The Palestra, McLaughlin got rid of the doormat label worn by Penn, setting all kind of program milestones and producing freshman and Ivy player of the year honorees, such as senior Michelle Nowkedi, who is on the watchlist of the new Katrina McLain power forward award and likely to be drawing WNBA coaches as the next several months move along.

No question count on McLaughlin to retool in plenty of time before the Ivy wars begin but the schedule may not allow the chemistry to kick in quickly considering after Saturday’s home opener at 5 p.m. against Lafayette at The Palestra, next comes the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving against Georgia Tech and potentially No. 2 Baylor among the three opponents.

There’s Big Five games against Saint Joseph’s and La Salle on their campuses and a return visit from national power Notre Dame on Dec. 9.

With a differential of just seven points on the losing end, McLaughlin asked rhetorically, “And how many layups did we miss?”

Quite a few on a shooting night of 27-for-66 for 40.9 percent from the field while Binghamton also made 27 field goals but on seven more attempts.

And the Bearcats also hit the Quakers with the Villanova treatment, completing 10 three-point attempts to seven from the visitors, whose 13 turnovers — the home team had eight — allowed Binghamton, which had a 48-43 rebounding advantage, to outscore Penn 13-5 in transition.

Defensively, the 22-14 Bearcats’ advantage on the offensive boards wasn’t costly in terms of a slim 12-11 comparison on second chance points, but allowing less might have enabled the outcome to go Penn’s way.

Ross finished with 21 points, shooting 7-for-10 from the field, including 3-of-5 triplets, while Lauren Whitlatch, back from the knee injury that shortened last season, had 14 points, and Nwokedi had 16 points and nine rebounds.

It seemed a quiet night for the native of Houston but in fairness, in having a post presence of her and Stipanovich playing in tandem with their eyes closed the last several season, there is an adjustment in the chemistry to be made with Parker, who had six points and five rebounds.

Ashley Russell had six points and eight rebounds. But the depth concern showed itself via Binghamton’s 26-9 production aided by Bearcats reserves Rebecca Carmody scoring 11 points and Carly Boland scoring 13, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Alyssa James grabbed 12 rebounds.

A year ago Binghamton dominated the entire night at Penn while this one featured the rally that was keyed by a wake-up go-to-the-bench moment for Imani Watkins, who then bounced back with a star-of-the-night  27 points.

Note, however, while the Penn faithful could be wondering how is it possible to lose twice to Binghamton, coach Linda Cimino, now in her fourth season, has been building something at the upstate New York university.

Picked ninth in 2015-16 in the conference, Cimino, who played at Adelphi, earned coach of the year laurels with a tie-for-third finish in the America East after being picked ninth. 

Like McLaughlin, she cut her teeth in the D2 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, turning Caldwell from a combined 39-71 combined record in four seasons prior to her arrival to 128-100 in eight seasons, including 90-52 her last four and a CACC title in 2013.

“Penn is the best team on our schedule and the best coached team we’re going to play all year,” she said after Binghamton’s comeback. “This is huge for our program, hopefully we can use this to spark something for the rest of our season. It’s an incredible feeling because so many people stepped up in so many ways today.”

Saint Joseph’s and Penn State Roll to Road Wins

The front end of Saint Joseph’s season is giving signs that the misery of a year ago prior to a strong run in the Atlantic 10 is becoming a distant memory.

Following the Hawks’ lopsided season opener at Niagara Sunday, Saint Joseph’s duplicated the effort at Patriot League favorite Bucknell, using a 43-23 second-half explosion to power from a slim four-point advantage to a 77-53 victory to end a 29-game home win streak at Sojka Pavilion.

Chelsea Woods, one of the many Hawks stars of the Philly women’s summer league in the offseason, had a game-high 21 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while Amanda Fiorvanti had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks; Adashia Franklyn, the daughter of Temple all-timer Marilyn Stephens, had 12 points and seven rebounds, Alyssa Monaghan had 10 points and six assists, and Sarah Veilleux had 10 points and three assists.

Kate Walker had 16 points for the Bisons (2-1), who were held to 19-of-62 from the field for 30.6 percent.

Saint Joseph’s stays on the road for another test, visiting Colonial Athletic Association favorite James Madison Sunday afternoon.

Then Thanksgiving weekend the Hawks will debut at home Saturday and Sunday with a tournament that used to. Be held Christmas week, meeting Eastern Illinois while Delaware will play Saint Peter’s in the first round.

In the only other action Wednesday involving the Guru local teams, Penn State stayed unbeaten at 3-0, winning at Marshall, 80-65, in a non-conference game in Huntingdon, W. Va. to drop the home team to 1-1 after the game at the Cam Henderson Center.

Five Lady Lions scored in double figures in their road opener led by a career-high 20 points from freshman Kamaria McDaniel, who was 7-for-10 from the field and 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.

Jaida Travascio-Green had 15 points and five rebounds while De’Janae Boykin had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Amari Carter scored 12, and Siyeh Frazier had 11.

Shayna Gore had 22 points for Marshall and Ashley Saintigene grabbed 10 rebounds.

Penn State next visits Providence on Saturday afternoon in a game that perhaps was scheduled when former Lady Lion all-timer Susan Robinson-Fruchtl, now athletic director at Saint Francis of Loretto, was coaching the Friars.

Looking Ahead

Thursday night’s action features the first local clash of the unofficial Philly Six variety as La Salle (1-1) visits Drexel (0-1) at 7 at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Temple (1-1) will look to bounce back from Monday’s thrashing by Rutgers, staying at home to host Wagner at 7 in McGonigle Hall while Rutgers (2-0) will be on the road playing Charlotte.

Delaware (1-1) makes its home debut at the Bob Carpenter Center for new coach Natasha Adair, who last coached Georgetown, as the Blue Hens host American, which beat La Salle earlier this week.

Princeton (1-0) visits Seton Hall in the first of the New Jersey triad games that also involves Rutgers.

On Friday, Villanova will host Lehigh at 5 p.m. at the PPL Center in Allentown before the Wildcats men play.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Rider (0-2) still looking for its first win, will host Holy Cross, the third straight opponent from the Patriot League at 2 p.m. while Bucknell follows its loss to Saint Joseph’s visiting Drexel at 2 p.m., allowing a West Philadelphia area doubleheader since there’s enough time to head to Penn afterwards.

Besides games mentioned, Sunday features the big attraction with nationally-ranked Duke visiting Villanova at Jake Nevin Fieldhouse at 1 p.m. Princeton will host Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. giving the visiting Yellow Jackets two straight Ivy opponents next meeting Penn in the Bahamas.

Delaware hosts Boston U. at 2 p.m. while Rutgers makes its home debut hosting Wake Forest at 6:30 p.m. 

National weekend action has a California visiting Connecticut Friday night and the Huskies then hosting Maryland Sunday.

UCLA hosts Baylor Saturday while Notre Dame visits Oregon State.

And that’s the report.
 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wooden Award Watch List Release

Here is the wooden award watch list  release which i hope processes clean at the bottom. 

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (November 14, 2017) – The John R. Wooden Award® presented by Wendy’s® announced the Women’s Preseason Top 30 on ESPN’s SportsCenter and ESPNW. The list is comprised of 30 student-athletes who are the early front-runners for college basketball’s most prestigious honor. The list is chosen by a preseason poll of national women’s college basketball media members.

2017 Wooden Award™ All Americans Napheesa Collier of Connecticut, Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, Katie Lou Samuelson of Connecticut, and A’ja Wilson of South Carolina headline this year’s preseason Top 30 list. The list also highlights stars from the 2017 NCAA Tournament: Wilson of NCAA National Champion South Carolina; NCAA Runner Up Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians and Morgan William; Baylor’s Kalani Brown; California’s Kristine Anigwe; Connecticut’s Collier, Kia Nurse, Samuelson, and Gabby Williams; Duke’s Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell; Louisville’s Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen; Marquette’s Allazia Blockton; Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham; Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale; Ohio State’s Mitchell; Stanford’s Brittany McPhee, Tennessee’s Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell; Texas’ Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty; UCLA’s Monique Billings and Jordin Canada; and West Virginia’s Tynice Martin.

Several universities boast multiple players on the list: Connecticut (Collier, Nurse, Samuelson, Azurá Stevens, and Williams) leads the honors with five selections, followed by Duke (Brown and Greenwell), Louisville (Durr and Hines-Allen), Mississippi State (Vivians and William), Oregon (Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu), Tennessee (Nared and Russell), Texas (Atkins and McCarty), and UCLA (Billings and Canada) with two selections each.

Seven conferences are represented on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 list. The ACC, Pac-12, and SEC each have six selections, followed by The American (5), Big 12 (4), Big Ten (2), and Big East (1). Of the student-athletes selected for the Preseason Top 30 list, 28 of the 30 are upperclassmen, including 19 seniors. Similar to the 2016 Preseason Top 30, no freshman made the list.

The players on the list are considered strong candidates for the 2018 John R. Wooden Award Women’s Player of the Year presented by Wendy’s. Players not chosen to the preseason list are eligible for the Wooden Award midseason list, late season list and the National Ballot. The National Ballot consists of 15 top players who have proven to their universities that they are also making progress toward graduation and maintaining at least a cumulative 2.0 GPA. Voting will open prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament and will allow voters to take into consideration performance during early round games. The Wooden Award All-American Team will be announced the week of the “Elite Eight” round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner of the 2018 John R. Wooden Award will be presented during the ESPN College Basketball Awards presented by Wendy’s on Friday, April 6, 2018.

About the John R. Wooden Award

Created in 1976, the John R. Wooden Award is the most prestigious individual honor in college basketball. It is bestowed upon the nation’s best basketball player at an NCAA Division I university who has proven to his or her university that he or she is making progress towards graduation and maintaining a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA. Previous winners include Larry Bird (’79), Michael Jordan (’84), Tim Duncan (’97), and last year’s recipients, Kelsey Plum of Washington and Frank Mason III of Kansas.

Since its inception, the John R. Wooden Award has contributed nearly one million dollars to the universities’ general scholarship fund in the names of the Wooden Award All American recipients and has sent more than 1,000 underprivileged children to week-long college basketball camps. Additionally, the John R. Wooden Award partners with the Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC) each year to host the Wooden Award Special Olympics Southern California Basketball Tournament. The day-long tournament brings together Special Olympics athletes and Wooden Award All Americans and coaches in attendance. It is hosted at the Los Angeles Athletic Clubduring the John R. Wooden Award Weekend.

The Legends of Coaching Award will be presented during the 4thAnnual ESPN College Basketball Awards presented by Wendy’s, which will take place on Friday, April 6, 2018. For up-to-date information on the Wooden Award, please go to www.woodenaward.com and follow the Wooden Award on Facebook at www.facebook.com/woodenawardand @WoodenAward on Twitter and Instagram.

John R. Wooden Award Presented by Wendy’s

2017-18 Preseason Top 30

 

Name

School

Conference

Height

Class

Position

Kristine Anigwe

California

Pac-12

6-4

Jr.

C/F

Ariel Atkins

Texas

Big 12

5-11

Sr.

G

Monique Billings

UCLA

Pac-12

6-4

Sr.

F

Allazia Blockton

Marquette

Big East

6-0

Jr.

G

Kalani Brown

Baylor

Big 12

6-7

Jr.

C

Lexie Brown

Duke

ACC

5-9

Sr.

G

Jordin Canada

UCLA

Pac-12

5-6

Sr.

G

Napheesa Collier

Connecticut

The American

6-1

Jr.

F

Sophie Cunningham

Missouri

SEC

6-1

Jr.

G

Asia Durr

Louisville

ACC

5-10

Jr.

G

Katelynn Flaherty

Michigan

Big Ten

5-7

Sr.

G

Rebecca Greenwell

Duke

ACC

6-1

Sr.

G

Ruthy Hebard

Oregon

Pac-12

6-4

Soph.

F

Myisha Hines-Allen

Louisville

ACC

6-2

Sr.

F

Sabrina Ionescu

Oregon

Pac-12

5-10

Soph.

G

Tynice Martin

West Virginia

Big 12

5-11

Jr.

G

Brooke McCarty

Texas

Big 12

5-4

Sr.

G

Brittany McPhee

Stanford

Pac-12

6-0

Sr.

G

Kelsey Mitchell

Ohio State

Big Ten

5-8

Sr.

G

Jaime Nared

Tennessee

SEC

6-2

Sr.

G/F

Kia Nurse

Connecticut

The American

6-0

Sr.

G

Arike Ogunbowale

Notre Dame

ACC

5-8

Jr.

G

Mercedes Russell

Tennessee

SEC

6-6

Sr.

C

Katie Lou Samuelson

Connecticut

The American

6-3

Jr.

G/F

Azurá Stevens

Connecticut

The American

6-6

Sr.

G/F

Shakayla Thomas

Florida State

ACC

5-11

Sr.

F

Victoria Vivians

Mississippi State

SEC

6-1

Sr.

G

Morgan William

Mississippi State

SEC

5-5

Sr.

G

Gabby Williams

Connecticut

The American

5-11

Sr.

F

A'ja Wilson

South Carolina

SEC

6-5

Sr.

F


Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Openers Don’t Contain Any Surprises

 By Mike Siroky
 
 The best Southeastern Conference women’s basketball teams – those ranked by the Associated Press –had a soft start to the season unbeaten, as expected.

These early games are often traditional games – linking back to before the top teams were the top teams – and of regional nature. Players seldom play more than one half in the exhibitions
.
They strangle the early statistics. Players also arrive on the “watch lists” for various national awards. The lists help identify and contribute to the All-America designations.

Whatever was not completed from the previous season – banners and ring ceremonies – are also finished, mostly to celebrate the fans and impress recruits.

So here we go . . . 
 
No. 4 South Carolina

The returning national champions served notice in the only exhibition game when this year’s one and done superstar – former Penn State point guard and graduate Lindsey Spann -- scored 20 in the first half and finished with 8 3s in introducing herself.

Bianca Cuevas-Moore is one of 20 national nominees for a guard award, named after Nancy Lieberman. There is one other conference nominee, showing that a guard is a part of a foundation of any successful team. Moore is one of three considered as point at SC. She is recovering from a sprained knee so her senior season has yet to start.

A’Ja Wilson is the SEC representative on the Associated Press All-American preseason team. She was an All-American in the championships season.

 She is also on the national forwards watch list for the Leslie Awards administered by the Basketball Hall of Fame. She is one of four SEC players on the list, not coincidentally all from ranked teams.

The home opener was Alabama State, tripled in points 99-31. They had the banner hanging and rings award in a joyous pre-game. The best draw in the world had 13,723 in attendance. Three single-digit defensive quarters, a sure sign of victory came in the first, second and last segments.

Wilson scored 16 in 14 minutes. Spann also scored 16, 3-of-5 on 3s. Alexis Jennings, the Kentucky transfer, is also a starting forward. Junior guard Te’a Cooper from Tennessee did not play, even in a blowout.

The weird aspect: Reserve Bianca Jackson’s mom, Freda, coaches Alabama State.

SC had 23 offensive rebounds. 

“We have projections we go after and get,” said Wilson. “We were not happy about boxing out on the other end, but we have work to do. We are going to get everyone’s A game every time. It’s go time, we’re back at Stage 1.”

“I get a little nervous then I get excited,” said Spann. “It balances. It’s motivating (to be at SC). I think we do a great job playing off one another.”

This marks coach Dawn Staley’s first decade at SC. She is the longest-serving coach in the country’s best conference.

“It was great,” she said, “great to experience it with our fans. The ovation the excitement. We moved the needle on the defensive standpoint. We got over zealous by the way we were fouling more jump shooters than I would like. But the intensity was there, the focus was there. We have a long way to go.”

The national game of the week was Monday’s first SEC team vs. another ranked team at No. 15 Maryland of the Big Ten, which tipped after the weekly deadline for this report.
 
No. 7 Mississippi State

Center Teaira McCowan is on the Leslie list. Morgan William is the other conference nominee for the Lieberman award. Victoria Vivians is one of two SEC players on the watch list for the first Anne Meyers national award. Meyers is a celebrated player from UCLA and the Olympics. It is administered by the Womens Basketball Coaches Association.

The returning national runnerup and conference co-favorite celebrated its highest starting ranking ever by winning its exhibition largely, with McCowan scoring 20 in 20 minutes. They hit 15 3s overall.

They welcomed former national contender Virginia of the ACC to StarkVegas to start it for real in a balanced 68-53 win. They do not dodge early challenges.

Vivians led three in triple digits with 22. With her first make of the game, a 3, Vivians moved into third place in MSU scoring history and now has 1,776 career points. 

She is back in the four-guard starting lineup after drifting out at the end of last season. National Australian player and State rookie Chloe Bibby scored 13. “I had no idea she scored 13,” Schaefer said. “It was a quiet 13. Her skill set is really good. Her skill set is a little bit different and we’ll use that. She didn’t miss a shot in practice I told you I was going to play whose hot. I told you I will play who practices best. Of the thousands things in my head I always have one more after practice.”

“I did not know I would play 29 minutes in my first college game,” Bibby said. “But I had my teammates.”

“There is no point in taking bad shots,” said Vivians, “We practiced on it.
“I was more concentrating on defense.”

“Tori (Vivians) made some big shots for us, really critical good shots,” said Schaefer.

Morgan William had seven assists with no turnovers. McCowan was going against a 6-9 defender and so transitioned to doing other things, distributing to the guards.”

They drew 6,811, a few hundred more than last season’s home average.

It may be early, but Schaefer is always in full coach speak mode.

“That felt like an NCAA Tournament game," he said. "Virginia is going to have a great year. This was a heck of a game to play for the opener. I have been sick preparing for what all they like to do.

“We had to play a lot of young players a lot of minutes. We leaned on some veteran players. The only reason we won the game is because we defended."
They hit 5-of-8 3s in the third quarter. Schaefer jumped on the distance train.

“We have a long way to go in so many areas,” he said. “When we made our run, it was on defense. If it wasn’t for transition, it would have been a long night. They were 6-out-10 in the fourth quarter. The kids played hard tonight. The crowd was great. This was a special night for this university."

This week, Georgia State and Southern Miss visit.              

 No. 14 Tennessee

The exhibition victim was literal neighbor Carson-Newman, just across the river from the Tennessee campus and a traditional game. They could have their pre-game meal on their home campus and be back in the dorm before the nightly news. 

UT is unchallenged until next month, so playing time with eight healthy player is crucial. Half of those are rookies in the No. 1 national recruiting class.

“They’re a talented group, and we recruited them with the understanding that they're going to contribute,” said coach Holly Warlick. “Because they are going to contribute and I love what they do. They ask questions when they don’t know, they listen, and they’ve been very respectful. 

“It's hard—time management is tough for these kids. They’re going to school, they’re playing basketball, they're learning a different system, so there's a lot piled on them, and I think if you're willing to ask questions and learn—the four of them have really done that.”

From the get-go, Tennessee’s aim Is to find a home in the middle of the conference, don’t get upset at all and build for the SEC and NCAA tournaments, saving Warlick’s job. With another Top 5  recruiting class signed, the Vols  may just have a basis for hope a season away.

This was another tradition game, with many cross references, against visiting East Tennessee State.

The latest four-guard starting lineup includes rookies Evina Westbrook and Rennia Davis with returnees Meme Jackson and the senior star power of Mercedes Russell and Jamie Nared.Davis got two quick fouls and sat down for awhile.

ETSU burned all it had on a 6-5 start and did not score again in the quarter, setting the marker of a single-quarter defense for UT. The home team had 19
The second was another defensive quarter for the Vols, 18-10, allowing 16 percent from the field for the half. Rookie Anastasia Hayes hit all four free throws and led the very balanced scoring with eight, matching Russell. Nared had eight defensive rebounds.

In the end Tennessee took it, 87-49, with 25 points off  turnovers. They fed the monster in the middle as Russell earned her first double/double, 20 points and 10 rebounds. Maybe when the taller players now rehabbing rejoin the team she will be better established. Nared also doubled up, 13 points and rebounds.

Hayes hit 12-of-13 free throws among 17 points.

"That's just what we're capable of, how we're capable of playing," Nared said. "I don't think we should take any teams lightly."

"They're our leaders," Warlick said of her senior leaders. "They're expected to have big performances. Both of them were solid, vocal, active, rebounded when they needed to, scored when they needed to. They're seasoned vets, and we're going to rely on them a lot."

Warlick has never lost a season-opener. The four freshmen combined for 33 points but 16 of the 24 Vol turnovers.

"Honestly, I don't even notice they are freshmen out there.” Warlick said. “I thought they played well together. The defense was solid, we moved the ball. We're going to rely on those kids. I loved it. I love that they are all producing."

She did see room for improvement, of course.

We had too many turnovers and we gave up too many boards (39),” she said.

Russell also balanced praise with needing to improve.

"I think it was our defense, just getting out and pushing the ball in transition and getting to  the free throw line, Russell said. “We shot about 30 free throws on the night, which is good. We need to make a couple more. I think we really got out and ran on them, which is good. 

I would say (we need to get better) taking care of the ball on offense. We had too many turnovers, but I think we could clean that up easily. Then just getting down on defense, getting down in the stance and boxing out." 

Nared knows where the focus is.

"I think for the most part we played pretty sound defense,” she said. 

“I think we gave up a few lineups and layups which should never happen,” she said.

“I think we just took things away from this game. Obviously, we are getting better from the exhibition games to this game. We gave them 23 offensive rebounds, so that's another aspect that we need clean up on the defensive end. I think we are getting better and I think that it's something that we are looking forward to. Each game just getting better and everything coming together.

"It's encouraging. I think it's just how we need to play all the time. We started off the game on a 17-0 run but it's just how we are capable of playing. I don't think we should take any team lightly. I know we've done that before, but I don't think. this year to take any team lightly. It's to take compete every game and compete our hardest." 

Two ETSU players are from Knoxville, including 6-3 sophomore center  Anajae Stepheny from Warlick’s Bearden High School. The coach is Brittany Ezell, a former two-sport Alabama athlete. Susan Yow of the three coaching sisters got her start there. A former Tennessee player, Tammy Larkey, ended her career there.

Next up this week is unheralded James Madison coming to Rocky Top. The world’s second-best draw had 8,869 for the opener.

  No. 20 Texas A&M

Chennedy Carter, the prohibitive favorite for league rookie-of-the-year, said hello in the exhibition win with 15 points and seven assists. She had no turnovers. 

Danni Williams is the other SEC player on the watch list for the Meyers national award. Khaalia Hillsman is on the Leslie list.

The Aggies also opened at home in the pre-season NIT, 83-65 over Houston of the Big 12. They have won six straight home openers. Hillsman scored 19 with 11 rebounds for the first SEC double/double, her 16th career. She will hit 1,000 career points with 26 more. Williams scored 21, with a career best five 3s. She played 39 minutes. Anriel Howard played 38 and scored 11 with 14 rebounds, 11 defensive.

Carter is the first rookie start at A&M since 2004. She scored 15.

Coach Gary Blair is 12th all-time in coaching wins, 740. They drew 3,085.

“In the first and fourth quarters, we did what we were supposed to,” said Blair.

“ When Chennedy went out of the ball game in the first half due to frustration, the second foul she got, our offense quit running the offense. That’s where I’ve got to have Lulu (McKinney) or Danni be able to run our offense without turning the ball over. I think the turnovers at the end of the second quarter were huge and the other thing was, we had trouble the whole night stopping dribble penetration.

“We opened up in our match-up zone just trying to corral them a little which we were doing early and then, they just put the ball under their wing and went to the basket, spin, reverse. They even missed a bunch of shots that were wide open. 

“Give them credit because they attacked us and that’s what you’ve got to do. We’ve got some things to work on, but I was pleased we had the four get in double figures.

“Danni’s been shooting the ball well. When you spend time in the gym and you get the extra shots, that’s what will happen.”
 Hillsman said: “The beginning of the game emphasis was to start inside out, so to punish them on the inside with me and Anriel and then work our way outside. In the second and third quarter, Houston did a great job of taking me away, but Danni was already on fire, and she just kept shooting, which then allowed our offense to open back up and keep me open.”

 But Houston cut it to four.

“We had to worry about our defense first,” Hillsman said. “Coach (Bob) Starkey was telling us to take away their drives because they were getting every drive they wanted. They were so fast. They warned us about them, but I think we might have underestimated them just a little bit. They were definitely really fast. I think next time, we just have to be more aware of our opponent’s quickness because they were definitely flying everywhere on us. After we fixed our defense, we were running our plays and doing everything we were supposed to do.”

Williams hit back-to-back 3s in the crucial fourth quarter.

“Coach Blair had just called one of the plays and I was open, so I shot it and it went in. Then I think Coach Blair was like ‘Let’s see if she can get another one.’ 

“I give a lot of credit to Houston. When they closed that gap at four points, I think our experience with Khaalia, Anriel, Jasmine (Lumpkin) and I really showed out there tonight because we played a lot of minutes last year. Chennedy can play with us. She is going to learn, so I think overall it was a pretty good game for us.”

In the semifinals, it was again at home, welcoming in Louisiana Lafayette.

The Ragin’ Cajuns won the opening quarter but A&M settled and won the rest in an 83-62 final. 

The Aggies led 33-30 at halftime, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Williams and Lulu McKinney help close the third on a 21-6. The rookie Carter led them with 18 points.  Howard  scored 17 with 14 rebounds, seven defensive, Williams 16 and Hillsman 11 with 11 rebounds, eight defensive.

“One of our goals on the board was to get 30 free throw attempts after we got 36 the last time. We hit it on the nose.” Blair said.

“I think we are doing a great job of driving the basketball and not just being a jump-shooting team, which is what we have been in the past. Hillsman is a load inside, but they were doing a great job on her early. 

“We didn’t have any turnovers in the second half. Khaalia opens it up for everybody else because that is who they are going in to stop first. I thought Howard had a solid game. 

“Lulu McKinney was the story of the game. She changed the atmosphere. Lulu is not that quick, but she goes hard, and she can follow a game plan. We were running our stuff pretty good in the second quarter, so I left her in the third quarter. 

“With our small lineup, it was pretty effective because we were scoring. Our rebounding was good the whole game, and our press was in-and-out good. 

We were trying to make them play faster than they wanted to play. We are going to take it as a win. Danni  has given me two very, very good ballgames. I have been pleased with her in her first two ballgames.”

 He singled Howard out for her work ethic.

“She put more time in the gym than even Williams did this summer and that is hard to do. She really said, ‘I want to be more than one-dimensional.’

“She really worked on the drive and her outside game. It gives us a threat (on the outside) because they are sagging in. If she has her feet, she has the green light to shoot that 3. She has to learn how to drive and pass when they take that away. She has to realize there are other options in the offense.”
 His adjustment at halftime was simple.

“We kept them in front of us on the drive a little bit better,” Blair said. “Coach Starkey gave his sermon. We just decided they are going to have to stop us inside first. Then, let’s get into transition. We have to be a running team to keep people from sagging and taking a lot of our set plays.”
Howard faulted herself for the slow start

“We came out not fully ready to play, she said. “We kind of underestimated them and they gave us their all and did really well, so once it clicked for us we turned the game around.

“I think I still have to improve on finishing. I have also been working all summer on my 3s, midrange, and finishing with contact, so I just have to keep improving on that, but definitely finishing is something I am aiming for.”

 Carter is working to get up to speed

 “I feel like I played with a little more sense of urgency” she said. “I feel like my teammates kept me involved and kept me pushing. They pretty much told me to just keep shooting and don’t worry about last game. I feel like I focused on this game and just went out there to compete and it made a difference.”

The Aggies earned a game with No. 11 Oregon at home in the NIT semifinals this week. “I hope  people realize more than likely we are bringing in a top 10 team to play,” Blair said. “I hope everybody comes out because you’re going to see a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight type of game. Let’s get the students out and the town people out. They are going to see a great game.”

They drew 2,867 for this one.

 
For the second straight season, Missouri has declined to participate in our coverage.