Womhoops Guru

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

Friday, March 07, 2014

Mik Siroky's Big Ten Report: Tourney Opens With No Surprises

By Mike Siroky

The Big Ten (a.k.a.B1G) played out its first round of the women’s conference tournament in Indianapolis.

Friday’s quarterfinals push the rest of the ranked teams into the meat grinder, with the top four in national consideration starting play. All are likely already somewhere in the NCAA draw.

No. 17 Purdue, at home for a sub-Regional that feeds into Notre Dame, may well be the second-best team by seeds at home. That happened last time, too, when South Carolina won the sub-Regional.

Purdue Sharon Versyp is one game away from career win 300.

No. 16 Nebraska (22-6) is 9-1 down the stretch but that last one was a real shellacking at Purdue, by 16, giving the Boilermakers a sweep.

No. 19 Michigan State opened with a win.

The best in the up-and-down league is once again No. 11 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are also home for a sub-Regional but only project as a No. 3 seed, even if they win the league tournament. They feed the Stanford Regional.

The other ranked team is No. 23 Iowa, which also has a sub-Regional and is likely another one awaiting a higher seed there. They feed the Louisville Regional and it will not be a surprise if the Cardinals land amongst the Hawkeyes in the opening round.

Conference semifinals are Saturday and the championship is Selection Sunday
Here’s the tournament so far, with seedings and overall records:

FIRST ROUND

No. 8 Ohio State (16-17) 86, No. 9 Northwestern (15-15) 77

The hope for Ohio State, slim though it may have been, was to get even in the season and attract a post-season bid to another tournament. They need two more wins.

When you are starting to fix a shattered program, as Kevin McGuff is doing at Buckeyeland, any extra coaching under game conditions can only help.

A 51-38 second half more than erased a four-point halftime deficit.

Sophomore Ameryst Alston, Ohio State first team all-conference, scored 30, one point shy of a career best. Alston broke a 73-73 tie with a layup with 1:53 to play as part of her 20 second-half points. Martina Ellerbe followed with a steal that turned into her 3 at the 1:24 mark. After a Northwestern miss, Alston made two free throws for an 80-72 lead with 51 seconds remaining.

Oho State hit 11 3s -- four each from Alson and Ellerbe -- and was 19-of-20 from the foul line. Ellerbe played the entire 40 minutes, finished with 16 and a career-high 13 rebounds and was 4-of-6 from the line.

McGuff said his team, “. . . just made a few more big plays to get the win.

“For the most part, we played aggressively and we had a great balance of driving the ball at the rim. It was just our aggressive nature today that made the difference.

“One of the things I was really happy to see was Martina and Darryce (Moore) had their best games in quite some time. If you’re going to win any games this time of year, it has to be with your seniors.”

Moore, the senior center, was 7-of-10 from the field for 19 points.

Alston, reflecting her coach’s urgency said, “We never relaxed at any time. It doesn’t matter if we’re up 30 points. It doesn’t matter. You pay a hard game all the way until the clock reads zero.

Ellerbe said, “I just think we knew we had to play hard and we were just trying to stay focused, stay with the game plan and grind it out to the end.

Ohio State has 11 league losses, but did split with Michigan (each side winning on the road) and did beat Purdue. It won at Northwestern a few weeks ago.

Northwestern also had 11 league losses in the regular season and lost seven straight before closing the season with a win at Wisconsin, the Badgers’ 18th league loss.

Senior Nia Coffey, Northwestern’s conference first-teamer, finished her career with 17.

No. 5 Iowa (24-7) 81, No. 12 Illinois 62 (9-21)

No. 23 Iowa earned this walkover and Illinois wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

The Illini fell behind by a dozen at the break. Amber Moore had 22 early in the second half and was keeping them in the game.

Junior Bethany Doolittle, best known for averaging 3.4 blocks per game, scored a career-best 26, as the only frontline player with four guards. She hit 10-of-14 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line. Iowa hit 62 percent from the field in the second half

“We tried to look inside,” Doolittle said. “That was a good advantage for us.

Our passes were great on the outside and finding people when they were open. When people worked hard and got position down low, they found us and we made baskets.”

The Hawkeyes had just closed the season with a 15-point win in this series.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is the first to 24 wins. “Right now, it is more mental preparation than physical,” she said. With no time to practice between games, she said, “We have to fall back on fundamentals.”

Iowa junior Samantha Logic, a first team all-conference player, led the Big Ten in the assists at eight per game and had six in this one.

Ally Disterhoft, among top conference rookies, had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Iowa split with Penn State, lost to Nebraska and Michigan State at home,

Purdue by one and Indiana by two, both on the road in the Hoosier state.

No. 7 Michigan (18-12) 82, No. 6 Indiana (18-12) 57

The Wolverines earned a rematch with state rival Michigan by winning each half by at least 10. All five starters hit double figures. Michigan Lost by seven at home to Michigan State in January.

This was the toughest opening round matchup, two teams still trying to get to 20 wins. Indiana is finally building a program and Michigan has the best young coach in America in Kim Barnes Arico.

Michigan had eight league losses but had won by plenty at Indiana just last month.

Second team all-conference junior Cyesha Goree scored 18, with 11 rebounds and five assists. A 30-8 run in the first half decided it.

“Our teammates made an effort to look inside, go inside out,” Goree said. “I think they did a really good job of executing that. That's one thing we really wanted to work on, preparing for them to look inside out. And we did a great job of finishing strong.”

Then there was the stifling defense which Indiana could not solve.

“It was all about getting stops,” she said. “Sometimes, we relaxed but we ended up catching ourselves and regrouping back together in the huddle and making sure we closed out next time or fixing it and not getting beat the same way twice.”

Barnes Arico did not enjoy the game as much as she might have. Her infant daughter gave her the flu bug but she toughed out the game.

“Our kids have been playing so well,” she said. “Our shootaround was terrific. We had a lot of time to prepare. They were focused.

”We always talked during the year about Cal Ripken, who they're too young to know who he is and so I had to go through that, and just how people play with broken fingers and people play with the flu, and people play when family members pass away.

“It's just something that you've got to do. I tried to be out there for them. They really carried it. I was so proud that they told me before the game, I said, ‘Guys, I might need to lean on you a little bit today.’ They said, ‘No worries, coach, we got you.’

“And then after the game they were just giving me hugs, which I hope I didn't give them any germs. I was proud of the way they responded, and from a coaching perspective, that's all you can ask of your team. They just were unbelievable today.

“We’re usually very successful when we have great balance. When we're at our best, we have great balance, and that's what we had.”

No. 6 Minnesota (20-11) 74. No. 7 Wisconsin (10-19) 68, OT

Wisconsin decided to make a game of it. But, as has happened so many times this season, the Gophers’ first-team all-conference player junior Rachael Banham led a comeback with 22 points. Superlative freshman Amanda Zahui B. also had had a splendid game, 19 rebounds, six blocked shots and 12 points. She has averaged 18 rebounds per game.

The 20th win on the season will also get notice from NCAA selectors.

Minnesota trailed by 14 at the break. Then sophomore guard Kayla Hirt led a 12-2 run which cut the lead to six with more than 12 minutes left. It was all part of a 33-17 run to send the game into overtime with a 40-26 second-half by Minnesota.

Zahui B. kicked off overtime with four rebounds and two points which gave Minnesota its first lead of the game, 63-61, at 4:12. Banham sealed the deal for the Gophers with four free throws in the final eight seconds in the 13-7 overtime. Minnesota was 12-of-15 from the line, Wisconsin 4-of-8.

“I was really, really proud of our team for really fighting back through a lot of adversity through the game,” said Minnesota coach Pam Borton, in her 11th season at UMinn.

“I thought we got ourselves down on the first half. I thought they did a great job making a lot of shots in the first half they normally don't make and we just really kept our heads down,” Borton said.

“But we just really believe in each other. Our kids really stepped up in the second half, and in overtime defensively, did a great job defensively and on the boards and just made enough plays on offense to pull out a win.

”They found a way. We've won the last seven out of our nine games. And these kids know how to win and they did whatever it took .”

Banham took the traditional message to heart that a shooter must shoot.
“You know, we weren't really running our offense,” she said of the cold start.

“I knew we needed to get a shot off pretty quick and I was kind of looking around and I decided I wanted to shoot it.

”I think a lot of it is owed to my teammates and my coaches. They give me the confidence and let me take whatever shot I need, regardless if I'm missing or not.

“They help me with my confidence and I'll just keep going, keep shooting. If I'm not making them, keep getting boards and keep getting put backs. So usually it works out in the positive way and I owe that to my teammates, to help me with my confidence, keep shooting.”

Minnesota lost to its quarterfinal opponent, Nebraska, in overtime in January.
Wisconsin first-teamer Micala Johnston, a junior, scored 19 with 10 rebounds.

FRIDAY QUARTERFINALS

No. 4 Purdue (21-7) vs. No. 5 Iowa (24-7)
No. 3 Nebraska (22-6) vs. No. 6 Minnesota (20-11)
No. 2 Michigan State (21-8) vs. No. 7 Michigan (18-12)
No. 1 Penn State (22-6) vs. No. 8 Ohio State (16-17)


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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