Womhoops Guru

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Guru's NCAA (And WNIT) Musings: All Eyes On Baylor-Tennessee

(Guru note: Being a multi-threat Sunday here the Guru has a feature-angle story for the Inquirer print section at philly.com, a regional overall from here for fullcourt.com and what is ever left to say on anything, including the Women's NIT, down below.)

By Mel Greenberg

KINGSTON, R.I. – There is no question that the focal point out of the two regional title games Monday will be in Des Moines, Iowa, where Baylor, which is the top seed and has gone unbeaten to date and went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press women’s poll, will be meeting second-seeded Tennessee for the right to advance to Denver and the Women’s Final Four.

In the other regional Monday night in Fresno, Calif., top-seeded Stanford will meet No. 2 Duke as the higher-seeded Cardinal try to make it five straight trips to the Women’s Final Four.

But in Des Moines, two storylines are colliding head one.

Baylor is a basketball story: A year ago the Bears were upset in the same round by Big 12 rival Texas A&M, which went on to upset Stanford and Notre Dame to win a first-ever NCAA title.

Now the Bears are back to take that next step as Brittney Griner, one of the two best players in the nation, brings her shot-blocking and dunking skills to the court.

Tennessee is a story of life: In late August, legendary Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt revealed she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer type, but would continue to coach, though her staff was given increased responsibilities.

As the season wore on, however, and as Tennessee took some setbacks of all-time varieties, doubt has seeped into the coverage fabric whether Summitt might step aside following the season’s end of the Lady Vols.

But for the moment the season is still alive and an upset Monday night, which would also reverse a setback handed Tennessee by Baylor early in the season in Knoxville, moves the Lady Vols into the Women’s Final Four with a shot at a ninth championship for Summitt.

So for the moment if that occurs, then the speculation will take a few days hiatus before it intensifies in the enhanced coverage the finals receive, though in recent years with the decline of the newspaper business there has been a different aspect of that enhancement.

It could be that if Tennessee loses Monday, it will be several weeks for all to ponder and consider the ramifications of the next move before announcing what it will be.

Or maybe it will come quickly instead of letting things fester, especially when one has to consider the recruiting aspect of the prestigious program in Knoxville.

So until events play out, the Guru will hold back on any reflective comments to be made from him other than to say undoubtedly Monday night’s game is probably the most important ever played in the history of the Tennessee women’s program unless there will be a next one and/or one after that both in Denver.

However, at some point here Sunday night in the Ryan Center on the University of Rhode Island campus while the Guru was off interviewing Penn State and UConn players, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma was asked about Summitt.

Incidentally, Connecticut became the second team Sunday night, joining Tennessee, to appear in at least 100 NCAA Women’s Tournament games.

Upon hearing that the approach to Auriemma about Summitt had occurred, the Guru thought the question was a bit jumping the gun and not respective of letting events determine the state of things at Tennessee through Monday night’s result.

But since Auriemma gave a poignant answer and since it was transcribed into the postgame quotes handouts and since a few places have already ran the response, in case you have not been linked to any of those sites, the Guru offers the comment here to the question that asked what Summitt means to the game:

“You like to have those conversations when someone’s career is over, and the fact that it’s not over, you don’t want to talk like it’s past tense or anything like that,’’ Auriemma said.

“I know their struggles professionally with their team and how they have tried to handle it all and certainly her personally and her family. I don’t know that there’s anything that I could say that would make it more meaningful what she means to the game.

“Because from the beginning of the modern era of women’s basketball, 1981 or 1982 whenever the NCAA took over the women’s tournament, those last 30 years or so, for a majority of that time and probably up until today, she has come to be recognized as the face of women’s basketball, the name that is women’s basketball.

“Year after year after year, the consistency, the always being there, and her teams always being in the conversation about winning national championships, that’s really, really, really, really hard to do.

“I think since 1985 when I got the job at Connecticut, I would say that playing Tennessee and watching her work I really started to realize that if more women’s basketball coaches took that approach I think there would be more good programs.

“A lot of programs in America would be better if they took the approach that she takes with her team and her program. I think she’s one of the few coaches in America – I can count them on my hand how many coaches in America that are coaching women’s basketball – that coached those players like they’re basketball players and they’re not girls.

“And that’s why she gets what she gets out of those kids year in and year out and decade after decade. The game could use a lot more people like that for sure. And I hope she’s around a lot longer to keep doing what she’s doing.’’

The WNIT Finals Determined

Though Philadelphia teams are no longer in the mix, the Women’s NIT has reached its semifinals and there have been some interesting results.

On Saturday, Syracuse, which ousted Temple here while Villanova was being edged at Colorado, visited defending WNIT champion Toledo and edged the Rockets 74-73 in overtime after Rachel Coffey hit a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left in regulation.

On Sunday, James Madison, the regular season runnerup in the Colonial Athletic Associaton, eliminated visiting Virginia 68-59 as Kirby Burkholder had 20 points and 10 rebounds to send the Dukes into the semifinals against Syracuse on Wednesday night at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Va.

Washington, which had a great run in Kevin McGuff’s first season as coach, fell to visiting San Diego, 58-47, to reach the semifinals on the Western side of the WNIT bracket.

Oklahoma State, which suffered the tragic loss of former coach Kurkt Budke and assistant Miranda Serena in a plane crash at the outset of the season, ousted Big 12 rival Colorado 78-70 and will host San Diego in the semifinals.

Both games will be on the CBS Sports Network.

Since the Guru needs some shuteye, that is it for now. Tweeting will continue at @womhoopsguru and extra news commentary or revelations needed here will be issued on a need to type-and-post basis.

-- Mel

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