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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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mike Siroky's Big Ten Report: The Sole Survivor

By Mike Siroky

The Big Ten is still having growing pains. Some upsets and some expectations all came true in the Round of 32, with the bottom line there is but one, a No. 3 seed, into the Sweet 16.

That is regular-season champ Penn State, which won at home when others did not and thus earns final bragging rights to the conference a season.

They have two immediate speed bumps in their way before a Final Four fantasy can come true so, for now, it is just California Dreamin’ at the Stanford Regional where they will meet those high-flying No. 2 Cardinals.

Here’s how the almost total devastation played out for the not so B1G:

•No. 3 Penn State 83, No. 11 Florida 61: State is the last Big Ten survivor and was at home, which only underlines the difference of competitive conference strengths. Still, it did eliminate an SEC team which carries some bragging rights.

Kayla Lewis led the 11th-seeeded Gators with 20 points and nine rebounds. Jaterra Bonds scored 14 in her final game, a career in which she was won 80 games in 116 starts.

"They pressured us up," Lewis said. "We turned the ball over a little bit too much."

The Gators, who surprised No. 6 Dayton in the first round, could never dig out of a cold start, pressured into missing 10 of 13 shots to open the game. Much like how they put away Wichita State in the opener with a 17-0 run, the Lady Lions used an early 11-0 spurt to build a lead they would never surrender.

Carlie Needles hit a pair of 3s to straighten out the offense, and Florida chipped the deficit to six.

"I'm sure the folks that are here that aren't familiar with our team figured we'd fold our hands and go away," Gator coach Amanda Butler said.

But the run didn't last long enough. Butler let her emotions get the best of her in a big game, waving her arms in protest over a call and was whistled for a technical.

Lucas, a 95 percent free throw shooter, hit both free throws to help send the Lady Lions into halftime with a 43-32 lead.

The Nittany Lions (24-7) led by as many as 28 with 11:37 to go and won each half by at least 10. Dara Taylor and Maggie Lucas each scored 22. Taylor also had eight rebounds. Kayla Lewis was best for Florida, with 20 points and nine rebounds.

Two-time conference Player-of-the-Year Maggie Lucas had a fine farewell for a last home game in front of 3,500 fans. She even kissed the school image at midcourt before she left, the final player to depart for the trip to California and the Stanford Regional, where they will take on the No. 2 home team (30-2).

"That we're able to share it with the fans, it's just a whole better feeling," Lucas said. "It's a great way to go out."

She passed the 2,500 career-point milestone. She has her team in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons. 13th overall.

Ariel Edwards added 16 points for Penn State. The Lady Lions are in the Sweet 16 for the 13th time

“It’s just sweet,” coach Coquese Washington said. “It’s like dark chocolate with caramel sweet.”

Lucas picked up her fourth foul with 7:50 left in the game, but no danger, the Lions were ahead by 16. She took a seat for about three minutes. She could have sat out the rest until California.

Lucas got her due in her final home game, leaving for the final time to a standing ovation. She clapped her hands, waved her arms and pointed to the fans before hugging her teammates.

“It isn’t about history, it isn’t about the future,” Washington said. “It was, ‘What do we have to do tonight to play against a really good Florida team.’ ”

Penn State started with pressure defense that rattled the Gators early and eventually forced them into 20. They rarely hit a slow patch on offense, shooting 52 percent in the second halfs.

Now, it's off to California.

"Let's go for a ride and see how it turns out," Washington said, as a coast-to-coast chase begins.

•No. 4 North Carolina 62, No. 5 Michigan State 53: Not an upset so much as a tragedy, with the co-champions of the Big Ten regular season falling to a tough team at their place. It was an ACC elimination of another conference’s team, though.

Two days after tallying a double-double and setting a program rebounding record in the tournament, redshirt freshman Aerial Powers played like a freshman, in foul trouble and without a basket. Her initial season ended with a torn left Achilles' tendon, this season simply ended.

"I think they were really ready for her and up in her," Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said. "They did a nice job of collapsing on her or getting up in her. We're a better team than we what we showed ."

Powers came in as a first-team all-Big Ten pick and leading the Spartan scoring at 13.8.

Another freshman, North Carolina’s Diamond DeShields had 24 points and a season-high 12 rebounds.

The Tar Heels led by nine at halftime then controlled the opening minutes of the second half, a 14-0 run while MSU was missing 14 straight shots.

UNC pressured the Spartans (23-10) and turned the game into the up-and-down pace they wanted. They finished with a 17-4 edge in fast-break points and 15 points off turnovers in a huge improvement from their first-round struggles against UT Martin.

The Tar Heels had reached the regional semifinals just once in the past five seasons, losing in the second round last year and missing the tournament in 2012. Now they're heading west to face top seed South Carolina.

State’s Jasmine Hines matched her season high with 16 points while Tori Jankoska had 14 for the Spartans, who just couldn't keep up with DeShields and the Tar Heels.

Perhaps, Merchant implied, State needs to toughen up its non-conference schedule to get ready for physical play

“It was the most physical game I've been involved in in a long time,” Merchant said.

“I mean, I can say that. And we play some really, really tough teams and just felt like off the ball and on the ball there was a lot of physicality and physical plays and very aggressive physicality and I just . . . there were times I thought we responded to it and we just can't overcome it when you get in those situations, and so that was what I will comment on and that's not how we've been practicing and preparing.

“Certain things you expect and sometimes it doesn't go your way. I felt like North Carolina was a better team today regardless but the physical play was something that I was disappointed in, but it's part of the deal I guess.”

Jankoska said the players knew they fell to expectations.

“Well, we knew we played a terrible first half and we knew that. We came into the second half thinking that we would come in and we needed to hit the open shots and make sure we we're moving the ball around and not turning the ball over as much.

"I guess it didn't happen; we kind of played the same as we did in the first half and for the first 14 minutes of the second half.”

•No. 3 Louisville 83, No. 6 Iowa 56: Again, not an upset except the angle of playing at home is supposed to turn out better. But the Cardinals definitely feel snubbed, successfully flying back home as Regional hosts with yet another speed bump in the unexpected No. 7 LSU Bengals knocking off No. 2 West Virginia.

So, instead of playing a former Big East sorority sister, Louisville gets LSU and its mystery progression. Though LSU is also finally away from home to their moxie is a little suspect. They also lost their senior starting point guard to a concussion and no one knows yet if she’ll play. As an comparison, Tennessee lost its point guard to a concussion in January and she had not played again, although she practices every day.

Towards Louisville’s advantage is the thought they were nationally ranked in the top four but considered a No. 3 seed for various debatable factors.

For Iowa, a seventh straight NCAA ended all too soon, the first loss at home to a nonconference opponent this season.

No matter what the Hawkeyes tried, it didn’t work. A flurry of 3 attempts, 16, connected only once. Louisville built the lead to 38 and then put it in coast.

Then again, as Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, “They only scored four points more than their average.”

In other words, Louisville’s defense worked and Iowa’s did not.

Iowa hit 33.3 percent from the field; Louisville 53.1 percent. The Cardinals’s bench outscored Iow’as reserves, 24-2.

Freshman Ally Disterhoft led Iowa with 15 points and eight rebounds, with 10 points coming in the first half. She scored eight straight Hawkeye points from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second. Junior Samantha Logic added 12 points, five steals and five rebounds; lone senior Theairra Taylor scored 10.

Taylor had persevered through three knee surgeries to complete an 111-game career. She finishes with 916 points, 461 rebounds, and 238 assists.

"The team loves her," Bluder said. "We wanted this for her really badly."

For Taylor, her career will not be remembered by the final game.

"I played with a great group, great coaching staff," Taylor said. "We didn't go out the way we wanted to. But coach said we can't remember the season off of just this game. This is one of my favorite seasons being here as a Hawkeye. It's something I want to remember as a wonderful journey."

The Hawkeyes' 27 victories this season equals the second-highest total in program history.

Iowa's 14 home wins equals the second-highest single-season total in school history.

Seven of Iowa's nine losses this season came against ranked opponents.

•No. 12 BYU 80, No. 4 Nebraska 76: The lowest seed to qualify was yet not a surprise. Memo to ’Huskers coach Connie Yori: Schedule BYU in the regular season. This marks two successive eliminations of Nebraska by a worse-seeded BYU team.

It may be in the end pressure got to senior conference Player-of- the-Year Jordan Hooper had a subpar playoffs as they desperately tried to get home for a final chance to host a Regional.

Yori even joked she could provide maps and lists of things to see and do. But that is a bittersweet payoff for the promise of a major home playoff, even if
UConn is the top seed.

No. 13-ranked Nebraska (26-7) could not quite rally from a 17-point deficit.

Brigham Young got a series of 3s from unexpected shooters. Perhaps just a coincidence, but the BYO bench outscored their Nebraska counterparts by 17.

In her final game Hooper scored 20 with four rebounds; she finishes with more 2,300 points and 1,100 rebounds.

Junior forwards Emily Cady and Hailie Sample, who both started the 100th games of their careers, each finished the season with double-doubles. Cady had 13 points and 10 rebounds for her 14th double-double of the season and second of the NCAA Tournament. Sample had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Tear'a Laudermill led the Huskers with 22 points, including 12 in closing 2:17. Laudermill was 3-of-9 on 3s and 7-of-7 from the line. Rachel Theriot had 11 points, nine assists and five steals, but was 4-of-15 from the floor.

BYU twice a 17-point leads in the final four minutes of the opening half. But Nebraska rallied with a 10-4 close -- six from Sample -- to cut the margin to 41-30 at the half.

“I thought we were still in the game, obviously,” said Yori. “We are a team that has comeback. We have made a lot of comebacks in the last few years. We never feel like we are out of it.

"You just got to keep playing and take care of your possessions and we hope to get a little bit more flow on offense and we did. We got more aggressive and got some things in transition which led to some different things for us.”

Light-scoring point guards Kylie Maeda and Stephanie Rovetti did the most damage for the Cougars. The duo combined for four 3s, 2-of-2 by Maeda and 2-of-4 by Rovetti, who matched her season output on made 3s.

Nebraska got the deficit to one point midway through the second half. At the moment, it looked good for Nebraska as Hamson, BYU's leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker Jennifer Hamson had to sit down with her fourth foul.

But BYU would not fold, hitting six of its next eight shots, including a trio of 3s by Xojian Henry, matching her conference season makes. The Cougars pushed the lead back to 12 points at 69-57 with 6:24 left. BYU maintained an 11-point lead with 3:30 left and nine points with 2:17 remaining.

Nebraska had one surge left. Laudermill led Nebraska back with 12 points and several defensive stops to cut the Cougar margin to 78-76 with 4.4 seconds left. But Hamson hit a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds left to seal it.

BYU finished with 50.9 percent from the field, hit 43.5 percent on 3s and hit 14-of-20 free throws.

Nebraska hit 38 percent from the field, 28 percent on 3s and 20-of-23 free throws.

On the team’s effort, “This group has been phenomenal to work with,” said Yori. “We’re asking these guys to play 40 minutes game in and game out against really good competition. We substitute very little, we wish we
had a little bit better depth.

"Our grit and our toughness has been our strength all year. I can’t ask to work with a better group of women. Jordan’s a leader. She’s been this kind of person for us all four years," Yori said.

Not one time in four years have I had to question her on her character or work
ethic. I’m so proud I had a chance to coach them every day.” For her part, Hooper said she’d be at the Regional on her home floor.

On BYU playing in their arena next week

“I’ll be rooting for BYU. But it will definitely hurt not being out there one last time.”

•No. 5 Oklahoma State 73, No. 4 Purdue 66: Same old same old for the Boilermakers; host a sub-Regional, win the opener and then just stay home.

There is something to be said about losing at home and being able to deal with it among family and friends and then again no one wants to lose.

Purdue knows it lost a lot of momentum when senior team leader K.K. Houser blew out a knee a few weeks back and was rendered inactive. But they made no excuses for just coming close.

The Boilermakers shot just 37.9 percent from the field and finished with 18 turnovers. They have now lost four straight in the second round, three of those against No. 5 seeds with two of those coming at Mackey Arena.

Top reserve Whitney Bays finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Moses had 11 points and broke the school's record for 3-pointers. She ends her career with 240, two more than Katie Gearlds.

Bays said State was difficult to stop.

“It seemed like everybody was crashing,” Bays said. “We would box one person out and someone would get loose. They were getting long rebounds too, so it was difficult at first.”

“I’m never satisfied,” Bays said. “I missed a couple of crucial free throws and could have boxed out better.”

But that is little consolation for a team that hasn't reached the Regional since 2009.

"They controlled the tempo,” coach Sharon Versyp said. “We couldn't get where we needed to be. We needed to rebound better and box out better."

By the time Purdue figured all that out, it was too late.
“We talked in the locker room about all the adversity we went through,” Moses said. “To hear from people’s mouths who went through that adversity thank us as a team — that means more to me than winning.”

Oklahoma State refused to let anything top their own plan. It even includes breaking a crazy string of win one/lose one which stretched back to the start of the year.

Not another second-half collapse, not its penchant for alternating wins and losses and certainly not Tiffany Bias' injury. Instead, the Cowgirls found a way to persevere one more time.

Brittney Martin finished with 20 points and 20 rebounds, LaShawn Jones added 16 points and 12 rebounds. Oklahoma State is in its first Sweet 16 in six seasons.

Martin finished three rebounds short of matching the first- and second-round record in a single tourney game, a mark that has stood since 1985.

“We wanted to win. That sounds silly, but I was going as hard as I could. I was going to get it done," Martin said. “She had the game of her life,” observed Versyp.
It was an ultimate comeback for a program rocked 2 1/2 years ago by a fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of seven-year coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna. They had been on a recruiting trip. The pilot and his wife also died.

Coach Jim Littell has resurrected the program with the best three seasons in program history.

The Cowgirls (25-8) won the 2012 WNIT -- for the school's first post-season title of any kind. Last season, they were on the verge of the Sweet 16 until a second-half collapse of more than 16 at Duke. But the 69 wins in these three most-recent seasons are a school record.

The prize: Notre Dame at Notre Dame.

Like so many programs at this point in the elimination season, Oklahoma State lost a key player. Attrition may come as seasons lengthen and players wear out. LSU, for instance, lost its entire backcourt to injuries and it staggered into the Sweet 16 with a major upset

Bias stepped awkwardly on another player's foot with 14:04 left in the game as Purdue's Courtney Moses drove to the basket.

The star point guard stayed down for several minutes, then was carried directly into the locker room.

She didn't return until the 2:45 mark but the unanimous all-conference selection wasn't going to miss this one for anything, even though she was gingerly lifted by a teammate in the postgame celebration while most of the other players jumped up and down and climbed into the stands.

And she doesn't expect to miss the next game, either.

"I think it will be fine," Bias said, lying on the floor with the ice-covered ankle raised on her locker bench. "Our trainer is great and we'll do a whole bunch of rehab between now and then. But we've got great players, too."

Oklahoma State took control quickly with an early 17-10 lead before giving it right back. The Cowgirls answered with a 9-2 spurt to rebuild a 28-22 lead and never trailed again.

They led 38-31 at the half, opened the second half on a 9-1 spurt and then allowed Purdue to get as close as 52-46 when Bias left.

But the Cowgirls came right back with a 15-6 run that made it 61-47 and Purdue never got closer than nine until the final basket.

"Our unity and chemistry was unbelievable. We couldn't have won had we had just one or two play well," Littell said. "(Roshunda) Johnson hit big shots, she shouldered the load when Bias went down. Martin had a career night with huge numbers. A rebounding machine, she put us on her back."


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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