Womhoops Guru

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dishin and Swishin - Philly Style Returns -- With Dawn Staley

Here's the link to Monday's interview with Dawn Staley. The Guru is putting it here and twitter since the iPad is not the device to do it from during a Rutgers game. :)

At some point David will have some text at the link but we covered a bunch of topics in a fun conversation.


-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Conference Selling The Brand

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball brand is one of NCAA success. When the SEC gets multiple entrants in the field of 64, other conferences wish they could do they same for what has been the entire NCAA history.

From top to the middle, the SEC has teams that can compete with league champions of other conferences. Upsets showed this week the top teams are not immune to unranked conference foes.

The NCAA Seeding Committee knows this. There are five teams with 20 or more wins. There could be a sixth and even a seventh. Maybe a 20-win season and a winning mark in conference gets you to the next level.

Think how strange it is that the league leader was the third-ranked team in the league until now. No other conference has that possibility.

The top SEC teams are national contenders even if none of them are No. 1 seeds. The1-3 seeds are pointed to the Sweet 16. When LSU hosts a sub-Regional this year, that gives the unranked, middle-of-the-pack Bengals a real shot at getting in, especially now with a marquee win over Kentucky, even if a higher seed is in Baton Rouge, simply because they come out of the SEC.

And they would be the sixth SEC team with 20 wins (at 17 now after an OT victory over league newcomer Missouri and then the upset of Kentucky).

They have won four straight.

Vanderbilt has 18 and Arkansas 17 wins (but a losing record in conference for Arkansas) so the league tournament run could mean a 20th win for another team and some national consideration.

The strength of the league also automatically designates strength of schedule for those unranked teams. The five ranked teams are assumed to be in. The post-season SEC conference tournament, with no byes for the first time, is the chance of a lightning in a bottle upset and a ticket to the national stage show.


•No. 8 Kentucky continued its problematic play. UK has three league losses after falling behind at LSU and never really finding a rhythm. For them to defend their regular-season title for the first time ever, they need Tennessee to lose twice. That could happen as UT has the toughest close.

UT has one loss with two to go but the last one is at UK and the possibility of a tie would be broken by the only head-to-head this season. Last season, UK gave itself a challenge by losing three in February. They have lost two in February this season. A third loss would doom them.

The Wildcats took a week off after the road win at A&M and it did not help at Baton Rouge. They were down by 11 at intermission after a 21-6 home run to close it. Somebody solved the vaunted UK defense.

A 14-8 run in the first seven minutes after intermission cut into the halftime deficit for the visitors. Last season, LSU broke their ankles with a 10-point win at Baton Rouge.

A'dia Mathies scored 20 and Jennifer O'Neill 15 for Kentucky.

The star was LSU guard Jeanne Kenney. She overcame personal loss by hitting all five 3-pointers she attempted on her way to a career-high 22 points.

"We needed this win. I was going to play," Kenney said, allowing for a slight, appreciative smile. "I needed my team and my team needed me."

Kenney had missed her grandfather's funeral because of a snow storm that kept LSU adrift in Missouri a day longer than expected and was unsure if she would play against the Wildcats because of a sore left foot. She did not start.

Theresa Plaisance hit her fifth double-double this season with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Bianca Lutley added 15 points for LSU. But LSU center Shanece McKinney was helped off with a knee injury.

The ’Cats are at Ole Miss before ending the season with the wham! game against Tennessee.

•No. 10 Texas A&M, after the devastating home loss to Kentucky, welcomed a chance to break out of any slump by welcoming in woeful Ole Miss. Kelsey Bone had 24 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to help the Aggies to a 29-point blowout.

Bone remains among the conference’s best scorers (a trio averaging 17 and change) and is the best rebounder by average (10) without being in the top 10 of minutes played due to the blowouts. Her teammates can reward her leadership with a closeout of wins and perhaps make her the Player of the Year and Gary Blair the Coach of the Year, each of which would be deserved.

Next up was Vanderbilt, part of the Tennessee road two-step. And there came the 10-point loss to an unranked team. So, all three top contenders now have lost on the road in conference to unranked teams. A&M can say farewell to the Top 15 until tournament time.

Tiffany Clarke scored 30 for the Commodores, 25 after halftime. She took 25 shots, the most taken in a dozen years by any Vandy player. She hit 12 of them. All this with reigning SEC scoring champ Christina Foggie out with injury for a fourth consecutive game.

The Commodores are 2-5 against ranked teams.

A&M now goes to Knoxville in the second-to-last game of the season A&M would be the first team to win conference in its first year of competition since the NCAA sanctioned the league. The UT game is its last tough matchup.

•No. 11 Tennessee completed is streak of three winnable games and was the only one of the top three to not lose.

Auburn at home and at Arkansas were not challenges. Tennessee went 6-of-7 from 3-point range in the first seven minutes of the Auburn game and eventually coasted after a 33-7 lead.

Arkansas was competitive, but is 5-9 in the league and showed why. The Lady Vols fell behind by double-digits in the second until steady scorer Meighan Simmons came up with 18. UT’s five-game winning streak is the best in the league.

As UT looks back at this season the mystery of losing big at Missouri will be the forever unanswered question. Had they won there (after demolishing them in the first meeting of the season) the conference would have been won by now. No way should that be a loss, but it is and has kept the race close.

The other weird UT stat is it leads the league in scoring (79.3) in a tradition that always takes defense first. But that does lead to the second-best scoring margin (16.5).

Now A&M comes to Knoxville and Tennessee comes to Lexington to close the regular season. The Lady Vols will have to earn a title. They were the fifth (and final) league team with more than 20 wins. Then again, they came second last season and then won the automatic league bid to the NCAAs in the conference tournament before losing in the Sweet 16.

•No. 13 Georgia is in cruise control and showed it against Ole Miss in their string of winnable games.

To start the second half of the Ole Miss game it was 18-6. It ended as a 19-point blowout. Jasmine Hassell, a strong all-SEC player, was 10-of-15 from the field and scored 23.

Andy Landers won his 900th game as a women’s college basketball coach, 818 as the only coach Georgia has ever had. Among active coaches, he is ahead of C. Vivian Stringer, Tara Vanderveer, Geno Auriemma, Jim Foster and Muffet McGraw. And of course, he has now coached more SEC games than any other coach.

Georgia has three league losses but can win out at Mississippi State and against Vanderbilt at home on Senior Night. With A&M and UK losing, the Lady ’Dawgs are elevated by their misfortune and are in that bunch in second place.

•No. 15 South Carolina had three home winnable games to close out. They dumped Mississippi and have only the continually flaming Missouri on the road and Florida at home before the league tournament as the certified No. 4 seed and an NCAA entrant in back-to-back seasons for the first time in a decade.

The Ole Miss game started 0ut 20-8 and never was much challenging.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Championship Race Still Undecided

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball championship is still unsettled with two weeks to go. The league is trying once again to place six in the NCAA draw. The top four – the nationally ranked teams -- are locked in. Maybe the post-season conference tournament, starting on March 6, will ID the other ones, which have surely been beaten up by most of the conference leaders.

LSU, which hosts a sub-Regional, has the inside shot.

Kentucky and Texas A&M staged one of the league’s declarative games on Monday, at Aggieland, in a matchup of two national Top 10 teams. Kentucky had handed A&M its only conference loss. They made it a sweep at A&M, by four points. Maybe that is the difference between being ranked No. 8 (UK) and No. 10 (A&M).

So matched are these two that even with Kentucky scoring seven points below its season league average and allowing 11 more than their defense had been allowing, they won by four in hostile territory, 18 below their usual margin of difference, with better than 6,200 fans howling. A&M missed its season average by five and allowed 15 more than they had been averaging. Defense won and lost this one.

Gone is the league’s best active win streak, eight. UK has its only road win against a ranked team of the season. Both now have two league losses, chasing Tennessee with its one.

A&M goes to Knoxville in the second-to-last game of the season and Tennessee comes to Lexington to close the regular season. The Lady Vols will have to earn a title. UK is in a position to defend its regular-season title, which would be a first.

Georgia has three league losses but can win out.

Texas A&M seeks to be the first team to win conference in its first year of competition since the NCAA sanctioned the league. The UT game is its last tough matchup.

Kelsey Bone, pushing for Player-of-the-year honors, is third (by .7) in scoring (17.1), first in shooting percentage (.592) and second in rebounding (9.7). Tiffany Clarke of Vanderbilt is the only other player also in the top five of those conference categories.

Bone was the conference player of the week entering this one. She was throttled by UK’s defense, with just nine points with 10 rebounds.

"We just tried to swarm her and get as many help defenders as we could," Kentucky's A'dia Mathies said. Mathies, Kentucky’s best, was scoreless in the first half and responded with 13 after that.

A&M freshman guard Courtney Walker scored 20, twice her average, with all the attention on Bone, but it was not enough. The UK bench outscored the A&M reserves, 15-6, with former starter Brian Goss scoring seven. A&M won the second half by two, overcoming a 12-point deficit. A flurry of 3-point attempts in the final minute, none of which connected, ended the game in a slump.

Both coaches raved about the 10 blocks by UK’s DeNesha Stallworth, six above her average. UK’s lead soared to 14 but A&M could not come all the way back.

You have to complete the marathon that is the regular season to in anything in this league. With four games left, there are three teams still in contention.


•No. 11 Tennessee started a stream of three winnable games before the final two against A&M and UK.

The Lady Vols finally hit 20 wins by completing the sweep against in-state rival Vanderbilt, this time at home. They are the fifth and final league team with that traditional NCAA marker. Vanderbilt is actually next in line, with 16. The Commodores still have Georgia and A&M left in the regular season, though.

Tennessee used its lone game of the week to tune up, winning the first half by 10 and the second by nine. They are still tied with A&M with one loss, with two more to go before A&M and UK to close the season.

•Kentucky tuned up for A&M at home against South Carolina, which had been leading the league in defense by allowing only 48 per game. UK scored 30 more and needed them all.

The Wildcats turned up the second-half heat after trailing at home by 14 at intermission, the biggest deficit of the season. It is also the only time in 19 games SC has lost when leading at halftime. Jennifer O’Neill scored 19 for UK, including two free throws in the closing minutes as UK won by four.

With four losses, SC cannot win the regular season title, causing coach Dawn Staley to all but shut down in the post-game press conference, saying it was frustrating to lose a game they were capable of winning.

Six of the past eight Kentucky matchups with South Carolina have now been decided by eight points or less, including five in a row. The ’Cats are 3-3 in those games. The next two UK games are winnable, setting up the season finale at home against Tennessee.

•Georgia, out of the Top 10 once again after stumbling at aforementioned LSU the previous week, started a string of season-ending winnable games at No. 13.

They pounced at fading Florida in their only game of the week and won by just five. Jasmine Hassell had a double-double, points and rebounds 16 each. They actually spotted Florida a lead of a dozen points but recovered by halftime.

The Gators need a mammoth showing in the league tournament to regain consideration as the sixth SEC team in the big show. Georgia is likely to win out and maintain the No. 3 spot in the league as the season ends.

•Texas A&M had to use Florida, now sub-.500 in the league – as its tuneup for Kentucky.

A&M won the first half by seven and only had to play the fading Gators even in the second half for the win, their eighth straight. It assured a 20-win season as well. Coach Gary Blair has 22 20-win seasons as a coach and should be the league’s coach of the year this season. Bone had 31 points and 10 rebounds. It evened A&M with Tennessee at 10-1 in the league

•No. 15 South Carolina followed its game at Kentucky with one at Ole Miss and got back on track. The defense was back against a non-competitive opponent, hitting the average by holding the Rebels to 47. Ashley Bruner scored 15 with 13 rebounds and Tiffany Mitchell, banished to the bench for the first time, scored 13 in the opening half. SC can win out, but four league losses means they are just angling for NCAA seeding now.

Alphabetically, A&M, Georgia and Kentucky have the top three seeds in the league tournament. Then comes SC and maybe LSU. Finding a sixth NCAA team may depend on what happens in the conference tournament.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Wide Open SEC Race Thunders Into The Home Stretch

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball championship is up for grabs.

With precious few games left before the post-season conference tournament starts on March 6, no one has seized control.

If Kentucky wins, it will have established itself as a new favorite, repeating last season’s regular-season success. They had won an SEC title only once before.

Georgia, with the longest-serving conference coach, longs to reclaim its role as a team that matters. Tennessee, despite a new coach, wants to show tradition in transition. South Carolina can grab a measure of respect, building on last year’s tradition-breaking surge. Texas A&M seeks to be the first team to win conference in its first year of competition since the NCAA sanctioned the league

If there are to be six teams from the SEC once again in the NCAAs, the most likely suspect is Missouri, the other newcomer.

This past week’s games showed the level of play has matured well.

And UK visits A&M on the coming Sunday, with a season-ending game of the ’Cats vs. Tennessee still on the to-do-list.


•No. 12 Tennessee at LSU could have been a trap game, coming after the Lady Vols lost at Missouri, setting the Tigers up to win six of their final seven. LSU was an NCAA qualifier last season. This season, not so much. Ole Miss, always a not so much team, then visited Knoxville.

Tennessee was coming off the skid at Missouri and didn’t do much to alleviate fans’ fears. The Lady Vols stayed in first in conference by playing lowly Auburn even in the second half and making a two-point intermission advantage stand up. Two players, Meighan Simmons (18 points) and Bashaara Graves (16) scored more than half the points. LSU was underperforming at only 4-6 in conference.

At home again, the Lady Vols wasted Mississippi for the 28th straight time as Simmons led all five starters in double figures. Graves – the player coach Holly Warlick says is the most consistent -- had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Warlick has always preached that defense wins games, even though they lead the conference in scoring (78.3). So what they need to do now is tighten up on that defense. UT, tied with Texas A&M in conference losses with one each, has a chance to win the next three before A&M visits and the season ends at Kentucky.

•No. 10 Kentucky opened its week at unranked Arkansas and continued at unranked Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks, 3-7 in conference and 1-5 against ranked teams, have been mentioned by some not really paying attention – bracketologists? -- as an NCAA team.

UK needed OT to win against Arkansas as their February doldrums continued in a lackluster effort. Bria Goss had to score 16 of her 17 after intermission, including seven in OT, as UK won its 20th.

They dominated Vanderbilt, also on the road. Kentucky welcomes in South Carolina on Valentine’s Day and plays at Texas A&M four days later in a great week of competition.

•Another trap was set for No. 9 Georgia, the highest-rated league team, hosting Auburn and then going to LSU.

Against Auburn, Georgia once again lost the second half but hung on to win by three. Jasmine Hassell scored 15.

The War Eagles, 2-8 in conference, might have made the difference had they hit better than 20 percent form the line. They missed them all in the final minutes. And 22 turnovers gave the ’Dawgs 21 points. It was Auburn’s seventh straight loss.

Then, proving they are Georgia – that is, inconsistency is their only consistency – they bottomed out in a loss at lowly LSU, a team under .500 in conference. The ’Dawgs have three SEC losses and are in third place, tied with South Carolina.

This time, they lost both halves. Georgia coach Andy Landers said they were not “locked in,” or mentally ready, from the start.

Georgia has absolutely no reason to lose any of the rest of the season, making it doubly difficult heading into the post-season. They ought top make their 20th Sweet 16. What they do after that is the eternal question. They have not won a Regional in this century.

They join Kentucky and South Carolina as the first three with 20-win seasons, the 20th in Landers’ 28 seasons as coach.

•No. 14 Texas A&M, as high in the rankings as it has been all season, continues its push with national All-America and conference Player-of-the-Year candidate Kelsey Bone.

The Aggies only had one game and that against South Carolina. They sleep-walked through a 50-48 game. At home, the Gamecocks won the second half by four, which tells you they lost the opening segment by six. Kelsey Bone kept her campaign alive for league Player of the Year honors with 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Aggies.

This sets up UK-A&M as the game of the week, perhaps the conference game of the year, at home on Sunday. Kentucky had two leagues losses, A&M the one at Lexington. A&M can warm up with lowly Florida. UK has South Carolina midweek. A&M makes Tennessee’s season close especially tough by visiting in the next-to-last game of the season.

•No. 15 South Carolina opened its week as it edged past lowly Alabama (2-8 in conference) but also hit a 20-win season, the first back-to-back in decades. They had a six-game win streak, then best in conference, ended.

Their defense remains tight, leading the league at allowing 47 per game, which was almost enough to down A&M. The Gamecocks are at UK on Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Fordham Revival Claims La Salle

(Guru's note: Due to this story could work here as a national feature, for those of you not reading philahoopsw, here you go. Also correcting from original post Anne Flannery to Anne Greegory. Guru had a senior moment posting in the middle of the night knowing both.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA -- Rome may not have been built in a day but Fordham coach Stephanie V. Gaitley, the former Villanova star, is doing quite a job rapidly bringing the Bronx contingent in New York City back to respectability.

On Wednesday night Gaitley’s Rams battered La Salle here 69-49 at the Explorers’ Tom Gola Arena in an Atlantic Ten game that gave the program the most conference victories since becoming a member.

On Sunday Fordham plowed through A-10 newcomer Virginia

Commonwealth, a battle of Rams featuring the former Colonial Athletic Association contender, enabling the Metro Rams to clinch the team’s first winning record since 1994-95, which if you want to understand how long ago that was, you will find that was the same season Connecticut won the first of seven NCAA titles.

Some other milestones that have occurred this year in conference competition was a win last month over Charlotte for the first time, a win over Richmond for only the second time, and a win against Xavier for the first time in 18 tries on the road in Cincinnati.

The Rams’ 10-5 nonconference record marks the first time in that category Fordham has had double digit wins since 1983-84.

Fordham was picked 11th in the A-10 preseason poll by the conference coaches.

“The kids I got last year, I thought we maximized everything out of them, this year a couple of players obviously make a difference and La Salle losing (Brittany) Wilson was obviously a big hit to them but our bench is a little thin just as well so everybody’s just trying to get through,” Gaitley said.

“I’m really fortunate to have a group of kids who work hard every single day.”
Gaitley’s two winning seasons in nonconference competition are the first in Fordham’s history. The Rams first became a conference team joining the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference as a rival of La Salle (1981-82) and went on to later play in the Patriot League (1990-95) before joining the Atlantic 10 for the 1995-96 season.

Her first head coaching stint was at Richmond, which won a CAA title before Old Dominion arrived to monopolize the conference until Drexel broke up the domination in 2009. Gaitley, who was born in Ocean City, N.J., then succeeded Jim Foster at Saint Joseph’s and coached the Hawks in the 1990s and later had stints at Long Island and Monmouth before taking the Rams job last season.

Gaitley is now eight wins from reaching 500 in her career that spans 27 seasons.

While it’s true La Salle (7-15, 3-4 Atlantic 10) could currently give the local NFL Eagles’ offensive line here a run for the money in terms of being decimated – senior Brittany Wilson, the leading scorer and rebounder is sidelined with an undetermined knee injury – but Fordham (16-6, 6-1) did not come to town in total health either, as Gaitley alluded.

Just a few years ago, prior to Gaitley’s arrival last season, Fordham set an NCAA women’s record losing its entire slate of games before beginning a turnaround of sorts that saw the Rams edge the Explorers for the last spot in the A-10 tournament on a coin flip.

But one can go back to Digger Phelps coaching the men’s hoops squad or a guy named Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL Green Bay Packers coach, playing football with six other blocks of granite on the campus grounds that house Rose Hill Gym to see a Fordham squad doing this well.

Oops, before the Guru hears about it from several places, there was that women’s team in the late 1970s coached by Kathy Mosolino, which played in the AIAW tournament and had a player named Anne Gregory. She was recently named one of the first class of Atlantic 10 legends who will be honored at the conference championship in Brooklyn at the new Barclays Center on the morning of the tripleheader that includes the A-10 men’s semifinals.

As the world turns, by the way, Gregory later became Mrs. Jim O’Connell, wife of the famed Associated Press writer Jim O’Connell, and their son Andrew is now the women’s media contact for Gaitley’s program.

In Wednesday’s game, Fordham had answers every time La Salle attempted to get back into the game.

Four players scored in double figures led by Abigail Corning, who had 17 points, followed by Erin Rooney with 15 and eight assists, Arielle Collins with 14, and Marah Strickland with 12 while Samantha Clark grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

Strickland is a transfer from South Carolina, originally recruited by Dawn Staley, a longtime friend of Gaitley’s, while Rooney from Christchurch, New Zealand, is a transfer who followed Gaitley from Monmouth, located near the northern New Jersey coastline.

“We have an opportunity Sunday to see where we are as a program,” Gaitley said of the visit from Dayton, one of two remaining unbeaten A-10 teams along with Saint Joseph’s, which rallied at VCU on Wednesday night to extend the Hawks’ win streak to eight straight and 11 of 12 overall.

“I thought we played one our poorer games against Duquesne, we didn’t respond well, but Dayton gives us a chance to see how we are against the best of the conference.”

Shanel Harrison scored 13 for La Salle, which had gone over 60 minutes of play with perfection on the foul line before she missed all three of her free throw attempts.

Ebonee Jones scored 11.

Fordham was no slouch either at the stripe and connected on 19-of-21 free throw attempts while the Explorers were 7-for-10.

“Brittany hurt her knee and we’re waiting on her MRI to know how long she’ll be out but we should know something by (Thursday),” said La Salle coach Jeff Williams, who is in his third season with the Explorers.

“I don’t see her playing for a couple of games and that hurts us a lot. Michea Bryant was hurt – she didn’t play three straight games and she just started practicing with the knee and she can’t really move – that definitely hurt us against (George Washington).

“We have Jordan Mosley trying to play the point guard position, so we need somebody to step up and take the load,” Williams explained.

As for Fordham, Williams observed, “She’s done a great job and they got the two transfers. Marah Strickland was a Top 50 kid coming out of high school and Rooney is a tremendous leader on the floor, a skilled kid, and those two kids make a difference with the kids coming back.

“They have a good team, they play together, they share the basketball, so Stephanie does a great job.”

La Salle next travels Sunday to Xavier, the former A-10 power that has been having its share of woes since Kevin McGuff left two seasons ago to turn Washington’s fortunes around in the Northwest and Pac-12 conference.

-- Mel

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Villanova Upset Bid of No. 2 Notre Dame Falls Just Short At Finish

(Guru's Note: Because of the national nature of the Big East matchup, the Notre Dame-Villanova game appears here in addition to at http://philahoopsw.com where photos also exist as well as game coverage of Drexel.)

By Mel Greenberg

A week ago after Villanova was routed by No. 3 Connecticut in Hartford, veteran Wildcats coach Harry Perretta said there was quite a distance between his own squad and the top three teams in the country.

That differential, however, grew much shorter Tuesday night when ‘Nova trailed No. 2 Notre Dame by just a basket 48-46 with 4 minutes, 45 left in a Big East game at The Pavilion following a rally with a 7-1 run.

Could the Wildcats ruin another homecoming visit by Women’s Basketball and Big Five Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw, the coach of the Irish who grew up in West Chester and starred at Saint Joseph’s in the mid-1970s?

Not according to Kayla McBride, whose Notre Dame team had had easier times the last three seasons beating Connecticut and Tennessee then dealing with Villanova.

She scored to extend the advantage to four and after Rachel Roberts’ attempted trey failed to drop and bring ‘Nova within a point, freshman Jewel
Lloyd scored for the visitors, who made it an eight point game.

Laura Sweeney got the ‘Cats back to within six but that was where the rally died and Notre Dame went on to a 59-52 triumph making McGraw’s return visit this time sweeter with her 700th career win, including a brief stint at Lehigh before making the Irish into a national power.

“I feel so blessed,” McGraw said. “I am so incredibly lucky to be coaching at Notre Dame. To be surrounded by such class people. All of the players who have come through the last 25 years – the assistant coaches, the administration from the president on down.

“Everybody at Notre Dame has treated me so well. Our fans I think are the best in the country and I have to pinch myself. It’s just an amazing place to be and I am so blessed to be there.

“It was great to win it (700th) in Philly and we’ll celebrate with cheesteaks and Tastykakes on the way home.”

McGraw also coached at Archbishop Carroll in the Catholic League before moving up to the collegiate ranks.

“I was just thrilled to come in here and get a win,” McGraw said of the challenge the Wildcats present because of their style of play. “This is a difficult game for us. It’s always hard to play against Villanova. They just have such a patient offense.

“And we want to go. We want to score 80 points,” she continued.

Though Notre Dame (21-1, 9-0 Big East), whose only loss has been to defending NCAA champion Baylor early in the season, has been synonymous with star senior all-American Skylar Diggins, the native of South Bend near the Irish campus, this particular night was highlighted by
Natalie Achonwa who scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the conference game that was televised nationally.

McBride scored 16 points, Diggins finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, though she was just 4-for-17 from the field and neither she nor ‘Nova’s Sweeney scored until late in the first half, and Lloyd had 10 points.

“I was really pleased,” McGraw said. “I felt Natalie had a fantastic game – another double double. She leads the Big East in double doubles. She played extremely well.

“I felt all our guys played well. It was a game where we had to shorten the bench a little bit and I thought that everybody that came in did a great job.”

Diggins is happy not to be playing ‘Nova any more, barring a rematch in the Big East tournament that Roberts would like to see occur.

She is projected among the top three picks in the WNBA draft in April with the others being Baylor great Brittney Griner, anticipated to be the first pick by the Phoenix Mercury,and Delaware sensationa Elena Delle Donne, likely to go second to the Chicago Sky. The Tulsa Shock have the third pick.

This could all change if trades are made between now and April and there has also been a bit of a buzz that perhaps Texas A&M star Kelsey Bone may come out since this would normally be her senior season. She originally began her collegiate career at South Carolina, recruited by Dawn Staley, before transferring back near home in her native Texas.

“We wanted to push the pace because we knew they wanted to slow it down,” Diggins said of facing the Wildcats. “They’re a tough team to play against because their offense is constant movement so they make you play defense and they want to play offense for the whole shot clock.

“So you have to be disciplined to play against a team like that. You have to be honest because they shoot the three-point shot but they can also take it to the basket. It’s a pain to play against them so I’m glad it’s my senior year.

“But I’m glad to get the win for ‘coach on the road and at (her) home. So No. 700 is special for her.”

The Villanova loss ruined one of the better performances by Emily Leer, the Abington High graduate who had 15 points for the Wildcats (16-6, 5-4), who have dropped three straight in a shooting-the-rapids stretch in the conference schedule that began at Connecticut, continued last Saturday in a tough overtime defeat at Rutgers, which rallied near the end of regulation, and went into Tuesday’s game with the Irish.

But the schedule will ease a bit Sunday when Marquette, demolished Tuesday night at Connecticut, visits. The trip will bring the first appearance of assistant coach Tyler Summitt, the son of Hall of Famer and legend Pat Summitt, now the coach emeritus at Tennessee after stepping down after last season due to her ongoing battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer type.

Meanwhile, Rachel Roberts had another outstanding night with 14 points for Villanova, including connecting on 3-of-6 three-pointers, while Sweeney had 11 before fouling out near the end of the game.

For Notre Dame and McGraw, the game brought a happy end of an era here in the series and maybe forever since the Irish are bound for the Atlantic Coast Conference whenever the school can make the move, while Villanova is one of seven of the so-called “Catholic” contingent that has also announced plans to depart.

West Virginia left for the Big 12 after last season while Pittsburgh and Syracuse are headed for the ACC after this season.

McGraw, however, has made sure that her homecoming visits remain by scheduling Penn, beginning next season and also hoping to get her alma mater Saint Joseph’s on her nonconference schedule.

“I want to take the team to The Palestra. I feel it’s going to be a great, great game for them,” McGraw said of the Penn series. “And then visit Hawk Hill.

That’s a great possibility. But I won’t be back here. I can guarantee you that.”

The game drew 2,939 in a lively Pack-the-House promotion that had a large group of fans cheering for the Irish wearing green shirts happily handed out by McGraw to family and friends, which included many of her former Hawks teammates and former Hawks coach and Immaculata star Theresa Grentz.

“I thought we played very well today – we played very well in spurts,” Perretta said. “And then we made a few mistakes in spurts and the difference is against a high quality team – it doesn’t make a difference who you play against. If you make mistakes people are going to capitalize on them.

“But (Notre Dame) are one of the best teams in the country and they took advantage of every mistake we made. We didn’t switch a screen right, they scored.

“If we didn’t step up, they hit a shot. But that’s what good teams do. I thought we played decent enough of offense. We generated enough three point shots (7-for-18 vs. 2-for-7) to make the game competitive and we were using Emily because she can shoot the three. Overall, it was a good game and we just try to get better and show up for the next game.”

-- Mel

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: For Encores Staley's Gamecocks Join the Establishment

By Mike Siroky

Last season, South Carolina was the surprise of the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball. This season, in a week of stumbles, the Gamecocks won two close games – but still won them – and put themselves back in the league race as the two league leaders lost. Maybe the tight games keep SC alert.

Not only did the Gamecocks create some school markers last season, like winning at Tennessee for the first time since their coach was a player at Virginia, but that coach, Dawn Staley, guided them into the first NCAA appearance in nine seasons.

They then topped even that by making the Sweet 16, ousting Big Ten automatic qualifier Purdue on the Boilermakers’ own court in the sub-Regional to do so.

Staley celebrated with an induction (as a player) into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

All was swell in Gamecockville.

The coach and the completion of eligibility for her first recruiting class at South Carolina had a great run, led by La’Keshia Sutton, the guard who became just the 11th in program history to have 1,000 points and at least 300 assists.

Everyone knows, the second act – also translated as continuity and stability – is harder to accomplish.

Well, they have done it.

South Carolina is firmly in the game plan for the NCAA Selection Committee again. Even a win at league leader Kentucky at home does not quite overcome the two conference losses, but one-loss Tennessee leads the league. Two-loss UK and Texas A&M are tied with SC. Georgia, with three league losses, is right behind and the ’Dawgs have beaten SC in their only matchup this season.

It keeps the Gamecocks in the national rankings in the top half of the toughest conference in the land. They still have to play Texas A&M and are at Kentucky that same week.

In her first four seasons at SC, Staley led the team to 11th, 7th, 5th and 4th in the standings.

Some of the South Carolinians say that win at UK is the biggest for the program since 1998. That is arguable against last season’s breakthroughs, but it is large.

They have used the same starting five for all the games so far. It is a tribute to teamwork that the third-leading scorer, not even in double figures, Ieasia Walker, earned conference player of the week honors after the win against the ’Cats.

"The crowd was a huge lift for us when we weren't scoring as much as we'd like, but we were still getting good looks," said Staley.

“Sometimes it’s exhausting to play as hard as we play defensively, and it takes the wind out of you. I really think the crowd put the life back in us, and we made some big plays down the stretch. We just fed off the energy that was in the building."

Walker is one of three seniors in a well-balanced roster. She is yet another example of Staley’s recruitment drive, bringing a kid from New York state to the sweet South, where new customs and experiences are guaranteed on campus.

The other two seniors are from the industrial northwest of Indiana and from Oklahoma’s wide-open spaces, so Staley has this “:some assembly required” packaging figured out.

“A lot of people think that X’s and O’s are the biggest part of coaching, but it’s actually very little,” Staley said.

“It’s about relationships and discipline. I truly believe that the disciplined person can do anything, so I try to set up a platform on which student-athletes can be disciplined. With that, I want to build a family atmosphere that includes both the staff and the student-athletes. Once those things are in place, the basketball part becomes very easy because everyone wants to win for each other. We want to work for one another; we want to prepare people to be successful.”

They have 19 wins, so another 20-win season is assured. They have the league’s best win streak, at five. Maybe they can make a run in the conference tournament less than a month away. Either way, they will be somewhere again in the NCAA tournament.


•No. 10 Kentucky had a whole week to prepare for Georgia at home. It didn’t help. Georgia showed some mettle with pressure defense of its own. A defensive stop with five seconds left solidified the 75-71 upset.

Khaalidah Miller scored a career-high 25 and Anne Marie Armstrong and Jasmine James each scored 12 for Georgia. Miller was rewarded by being named conference player-of-the-week.

Shacobia Barbee stripped the ball from Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill at the top of the key in the closing seconds. Miller hit one of two free throws with a second left off that possession.

A'dia Mathies and O'Neill each scored 18 for the Wildcats, whose winning streak at Memorial Coliseum ended at 33. In a more-disturbing trend, UK last season lost three straight in February, throwing the conference race into contention.

“You will drive yourself crazy if you worry about everybody else and wishing things would happen,” said UK coach Matt Mitchell.

“The thing that is frustrating to me is I didn’t do a very good job with this week of holding them to a high standard. I thought maybe they needed some rest.

“I don’t think it is rest that they need. I think they need a good dose of going back to fundamentals and what has gotten us to this point and having the opportunity to be a great team. I am just really frustrated with how I coached them this week and I don’t think I had them ready to go today and more than anything else that is what I am disappointed in more than anything.”

•No. 12 Tennessee still slides along in first in the conference – despite being ranked lower than two league foes -- the only team with one loss. They had an unchallenging win at home against Mississippi State and then flopped at Missouri.

The Tigers announced their intentions to compete in the league – despite five conference losses – by holding UT to 26 second-half points in a 17-point blowout. This is the season marker for Missouri.

Coach Robin Pingeton's squad hit 52.7 percent from the field, 11-for-24 from 3-point range. The names you have not heard this season are Morgan Eye (26 points) and Bri Kulas (20). Just last month, they lost, 84-39, at UT.

“Growing pains are so painful, but you have go to go through the fires to do it,” Pingeton said. “It has allowed us to be where were are today.

“How many chances do you get in your lifetime to do something like this?”

Mizzou just might be positioning themselves to be the mysterious sixth SEC team in the NCAAs.

These games were a chance for Tennessee to check out new faces as injured center Isabelle Harrison sat out. Warlick used an extra guard. Kamiko Williams in her first career start, contributed 10 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and six steals against State. She scored 14 against Mizzou but that led the team. She also turned her ankle and did not finish the game.

“They had a great game plan and they fought for 40 minutes,” said UT coach Hollky Warlick. “When you do that, you have great results. We were not very inspired today and I apologize for that. You cannot come to win with low energy and expect to win in the SEC and here at Missouri.”

There once again will be no undefeated team in conference play. Thanks to UK’s loss, UT maintains the one-game edge in the standings

UT’s next five games are likely wins. But then Missouri was also supposed to be one.

•Texas A&M has confidently worked its way to No. 14 after being No. 15 in the pre-season.

They won at home against Vanderbilt then took out LSU on the road. So the Aggies remain tied in second place with just the one league loss. They actually trailed against Vandy at intermission but twice went on 10-2 sprees to make it a decisive win. Courtney Walker scored 20, 10-of-13 from the field.

At LSU, A&M had the luxury of the Monday night conference spotlight game and so knew what everyone else had done a day before. Call it extra motivation or just another example of coach Gary Blair’s amazing techniques and ability to get a team stoked at the right time.

They waffled LSU with the league-best sixth straight win, Bone scoring 21 in the blowout. Walker scored 16. The Aggies have 18 wins and will be yet another 20-game winner from the SEC. They pushed a five-point lead to 15 with 81 second left.

Bone is hitting 59 percent from the field; against the toothless Tigers, she hit 9-of-15 (60 percent) and Walker 8-of-10.

LSU may be left for dead as far as the NCAA is concerned, unless they cann pull some magic in the conference tournament.

The Aggies have but one game this week, Sunday in South Carolina to break that tie in second place. Another week removed is the showdown at home against Kentucky.

Freshman guard Payton Little may be the rookie of the year. She has already been freshman of the week and is the gas that makes Bone the player that she is. Bone will be all-SEC and would be the league player of the year if not for Mathies of Kentucky. This year’s Aggie play can be a foreshadowing of domination next season and not a bad ride in this one, with 17 wins already and a 20-win season assured, plus a lock on another NCAA bid.

•No. 9 Georgia barely took care of Alabama at home, then turned it around at UK. The Dawgs had risen as high as No. 6 before the league season.

Suddenly, they are the highest-ranked team in the SEC.

They were outscored by ’Bama in the second half.

Then came the exclamation point of their season so far.

“I just think that we were both fortunate and tough,” said coach Andy Landers.

“I don’t know how good we were but we were tough enough to have beaten a very good Kentucky team on their court. Kentucky is very, very good. We ran into some difficulties with fouls and some situations at times with our younger, less-experienced players’ decisions that really put us in a tough position for most of the game but we were tough.

“We stayed the course, really proud of our basketball team for staying the course and coming back and doing what they had to do and creating an opportunity to win because, as you know, Kentucky led the entire game.”

He also said the trap that ended the game was a planned “tweak” which he saw was possible in the first half. Using a scrambled lineup, he decided to wait until halftime to explain it and when to implement it.

Most teams would easily win the next four, but Georgia never makes anything easy. Landers has 896 SEC wins and has coached more SEC seasons than anyone.

•No. 15 South Carolina only had to handle lowly Auburn and did so by eight.

Freshman Khadijah Sessions led with a career-high 19 points, 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. Sessions closed the game out for the Gamecocks converting four fouls into seven points in the final minutes.

They are at Alabama in a final preparation for Texas A&M in the league game of the week.

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