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, March 25, 2014

Mike Siroky's Big Ten Report: A Workmanlike Effort in NCAA First Round

By Mike Siroky

First-round NCAA women’s basketball games for the Big Ten Conference showed why the conference is fundamentally, if unspectacularly strong.

Two the traditionally better teams each defended No. 4 seeds. Then again, all five ranked teams won.

Michigan State had the blowout conference win so far. Perhaps making the selection committee rethink a No. 5 seed for a conference co-champ.

Then again, every Top 4 seed won nationally. It is usually thus in the NCAA women’s draw.

Here’s how the opening round shook down:

•No. 3 Penn State 62, No. 14 Wichita State 56: In the first half, it appeared the Nittany Lions were destined to continue their fall from grace. After early elimination in the conference tournament, they fell behind at home at the half, 30-25 with but one basket in the final 2½ minutes.

Ariel Edward scored the first four points of the second half and the game was on.
Penn State built the lead to eight but Wichita State would not go away.

With 1:19 left, Talia East scored to make it 58-54. Edwards fouled Alex Harden and she hit both free throws for a two-point game. Maggie Lucas missed an inopportune 3, hoping for a dagger but giving life to Wichita State.

With 41 seconds left, Penn State had the ball back and East was fouled. She missed the free throw, but Kaliyah Mitchell captured the rebound.

Of such plays does survival rest.

Lucas was fouled and hit both free throws. East grabbed the ball on her ninth defensive rebound and the game was won.

Penn State is 23-7 and ready for Florida.

Lucas, a guard, hit three 3s, had nine rebounds and scored 22. Edwards scored 17 and East 13. Penn State won the rebounds, 46-29.

The comeback began when Penn State found themselves down by 11, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Lucas took control, with 22 points in the escape.

"We work on situations like that, being down and staying calm," Lucas said. "We were going to handle that pretty well.

"We figured things would start to go our way."

A 17-0 run to open the second half was the way.

"You just know you have to play through some things," Lucas said. "I just had to keep shooting, play through it. I was able to do that."

Lucas has led the Lady Lions to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, three regular-season Big Ten titles, and she holds the team and conference record for 3-pointers made.

"As long as she's on the floor, she's a threat," coach Coquese Washington said.

"What one of the things that I liked about her was that she did other things. She impacted the game in ways beyond scoring."

Lucas changed the game with a pair of 3s in the first half, then built a double-digit lead with another in the second.

She buried a 3 for a 12-point lead, then flashed three fingers to the crowd of 3,295, which was going wild with every basket. Then she cupped her ears to hear those raucous cheers and chest-bumped her teammates.

"I felt we were in a great position all good game long," Wichita State coach Jody Adams said, including gaining a five-point halftime lead. "We made them take tough shots, they had to take tough looks at the rim, but the one thing that they bette than we did was board the ball."

"We were right there," guard Alex Harden said.

Ariel Edwards scored 17 points for the Lady Lions, and East scored 13 with a game-high 13 rebounds. Penn State outrebounded the Shockers 46-29.

Penn state is 18-5 in tournament home games and will chase No. 19 in the Sweet 16 qualifier against No. 11 Florida.

•No. 4 Nebraska 74, No. 13 Fresno State 55: The B1G’s best kept their conference momentum in Los Angeles feeding into their home Regional.

It started slowly, 8-8 in the first seven minutes and Cornhusker all-American Jordan Hooper not in rhythm. Nebraska had as many turnovers as baskets, three each.

But, by the half, it was a 10-point differential and Hooper had as many points plus seven rebounds. All was back in balance as Nebraska moved to the second round and a 26-6 mark. Dead was Fresno State’s eight-game winning streak and the chance at a first NCAA tournament win. There were 1,941 witnesses.

Hooper finished with 23 points, as four of the five starters hit double figures. Four of the five played 39 minutes. The final nine ’Husker points came at the line. Emily Cady matched her with 11 rebounds.

Nebraska only hit 38 percent from the field, but 17-of-19 from the line.

“We did not play our best basketball,” said Big Ten Coach of the Year Connie Yori. “We were a little rusty.”

Hooper, the coach on the floor said, “We went to our ‘squeeze’ basketball, just put a little squeeze on the dribbler and stuff like that. It really helped. We helped each other out.”

Next at fabled Pauley Pavilion is No. 12 seed Brigham Young (27-6), an easy upset winner of No. 5 North Carolina State.

•No. 4 Purdue 84, No. 13 Akron 55: At home feeding into the Notre Dame Regional the Boilermakers took a 46-34 halftime advantage, propelled by reserve junior forward Whitney Bays’ seven points in seven minutes and seven rebounds as the home team won the backboards at intermission, 29-14. A 20-2 start decided it.

Bays finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Her two 3s tied the career school record, 238.

A 15-8 start of the second half was just more of the same. Bays was in after four minutes. Purdue led by as many as 32. The defense held Akron to 31 percent from the field.

The win is No. 300 in the coaching career of Purdue’s Sharon Versyp, a former Boilermaker All-American and Indiana native. The game attracted 3,342 on a Saturday afternoon.

“We always give our kids a challenge," Versyp said. "They are the ninth-best scoring team in the country, and we wanted to keep them under 60 today and we did that.

"The kids have been hungry and they are tired of practice,” Versyp said. “They wanted to go get somebody else. It’s just really trying to set that tone early."

“We really paid attention (on defense),” said Bays.

“Rebounding is always an emphasis for us. I just tried to crash all the time and I think it helped us in transition.

The Boilermakers (22-8) have senior team captain and spiritual leader K.K. Houser cheering from the bench. She has blown out her knee and cannot really compete anymore.

Two seasons ago, when Purdue was last at home for the playoffs, it was at this point they were eliminated. Oklahoma State (24-8) is the next opponent, on Monday night.

They have not won two straight since January, winning one and then losing the next every time. Purdue is 20-1 in first-round home NCAA games.

These games fed into the Stanford Regional.

•No. 5 Michigan State 91, No. 12 Hampton 61: Like most coaches in this first round, Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant was concerned about the two weeks without a game.

But a freshman and a senior made that worry go away. Rookie Aerial Powers scored 26 – with 18 rebounds -- and senior Annalise Pickrel hit 7-of-7 from the floor for 21 points.

Michigan State (23-9) erased the bad memories of the previous game, elimination in the conference tournament by 28. An early 15-1 run previewed the rest of the game.

"It felt like an eternity since we played," Merchant said. "But we did a great job of keeping our composure and moving the ball."

After holding Hampton to 18 percent from the field in the first half (while hitting 58 percent), State led 54-22 and never led by less than 30 points after that. "We had been preparing for them for a while and knew their offensive sets backward and forward," Pickrel said.

Merchant showed youth can be served.

Powers came in as the only freshman in the nation to total at least 400 points, 200 rebounds and 75 assists this season. In her NCAAA debut, she hit 10-of-18 from the field and led the defense, stifling Hampton's Malia Tate-DeFreitas to 1-o- 15 from the field.

Two other freshmen showed well: Branndais Agee had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Tori Jankoska had 11 points.

"We need some excitement in our game and it's a positive," Merchant said of the freshmen continuing a trend of each class being better than the ones before in women's basketball. "It's a positive and might bring some fans back -- and even attract some new ones."

The star senior led the way.

Pickrel's 21 is a career high. She hit all three 3-pointers and was 4 of 4 from the foul line to cap a perfect shooting day.

Hampton, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions, came had an 18-game winning streak after sweeping eh conference, but still has yet to win an NCAA tournament game. "We weren't ready to go, and I take responsibility for that,"Hampton coach David Six said

•No. 6 Iowa 87, No. 11 Marist 65: At home, the Hawkeyes hit 12 3s and shot 57 percent overall as 5,810 cheered.

Theairra Taylor scored 22 points, Bethany Doolittle 21 and Samantha Logic had 11 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. They stormed away from a 39-30 lead. Iowa's starters outscored their Red Foxes counterparts, 76-47.

This is the Louisville feed-in. The Cardinals, seeded No. 3, are next up in the challenge for the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes (27-8) have as many wins as anyone in the Big Ten –- the most since 1996 -- and are on eight-game winning streak.

“I thought they relaxed and had fun out there. Enjoyed playing on their home court. Enjoyed executing. We shot the ball well," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We just had so many weapons."

Iowa took control late in the first half and then hammered it home with a 49-35 second half.

The opposing coach was impressed. "They shot the hell out of the ball, especially in the second half," Marist coach Brian Giorgis said. "If we played on Mars, Iowa would have beaten us the way they shot the ball."

Taylor and Ally Disterhoft buried back-to-back 3s to put the Hawkeyes ahead 53-44, and Doolittle's jumper gave Iowa a 13-point lead with just over 10 minutes left.

Disterhoft then hit a 3 from the corner without a Marist defender in sight with 6:55 left, making it 67-51 and perfectly encapsulating Iowa's perimeter dominance.

"Coach just tells us to keep shooting. (Doolittle) was demanding so much attention, we were wide open," Taylor said.

What made the Marist-Iowa matchup such an intriguing one was that each team boasted eerily similar offensive profiles.

Each starter for the Red Foxes averaged between 10.9 and 13.6 points per game, while the Hawkeyes had five starters with at least 12 points a game.

That led Giorgis to view the Hawkeyes as a "better version" of the Red Foxes because he thought Iowa was a little bigger, a little more physical and from a stronger league.

The Hawkeyes certainly looked the part in their gleaming home whites -- while the red in more than a few of Marist's road jerseys bled into the once-white, screen printed numbers during a recent wash.

But the biggest problem the Red Foxes had in the first half wasn't laundry. It was Logic, Taylor and Doolittle, each of whom had 11 points in 20 minutes.

"Our kids just got frustrated. Our real big kids just couldn't guard Doolittle inside," Giorgis said. "We got beat in transition way too much."

"We have to keep our defensive intensity like that. Louisville is a great team, one of the top teams in the country," Logic said. "We have to play great defense, just really focus on that so we can get our offense going."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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