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.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Semifinalists Bring National Rankings to the Table

By Mike Siroky

The semifinalists of the SEC women’s basketball tournament are all teams traditionally in the national rankings and are the ranked conference teams in the nation this year as well.

That’s another way of saying the quarterfinals in an Atlanta suburb went off with no upsets, seeds 1-2-3-4 advancing. In all likelihood, these are also the teams projected to be in the Sweet 16 of the Big Show as they continue to play for national high seeds now.

Three of the four include both regular-season champs of the past two seasons the defending conference tournament champ and this year’s dominant team.

The strange statistic for the conference came about on Friday. Arkansas dismissed coach Tom Collen. His team was 13-0 to start the season and only won six after that.

The quarterfinals played out this way (seedings and overall records):

• (1) South Carolina (27-3) 67, (9) Georgia (20-11) 48

Georgia already had its 20-win season and coach Andy Landers had already anointed the Gamecocks the best in the conference, using the regular season as a qualifier.

SC, No. 5 nationally, had won at Georgia by 11 Feb. 27 in the last of a 10-game win streak. A seven-point halftime advantage was all the cushion the Gamecocks needed.

No drama at all.

Junior center Elem Ibiam – one of three centers on this team -- said conference coach of the year Dawn Staley and her staff have kept them focused after the school’s first regular-season title.

"Our coaches always tell us not to get too high or too low," Ibiam said. "That keeps us balanced and focused on the next team, at the task at hand."

Coates is also a league sixth man of the year and second-team all-conference.

SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell finished with 11 points for South Carolina, which led the entire game.

South Carolina filled Georgia's passing lanes, ran through screens to pressure the perimeter and essentially never gave the Bulldogs much of a chance.

"I thought they played with renewed energy coming off the (season-ending) Tennessee loss and it was great to get back to playing efficient basketball," Staley said. "I thought the perimeter players played a little bit fast today -- had a lot of energy.

"But it was good to pound that ball inside and allow our post players to go to work and let everyone exhale a little bit to get their nerves right."

"It has nothing to do with size advantage or any of the other things that impress you about South Carolina," Georgia’s Landers said. "It was about transitioning, get back on defense, get under the ball, get it stopped, know where their shooters are. We didn't know where Mitchell was the first 10 minutes of the game and she got 25 on us last time."

Georgia missed 33 of its first 42 shots and was nearly 40 percentage points worse.

Aleighsa Welch, the third center, had nine rebounds. She is another on the all-conference first team.

"I think that was very important for us to just establish ourselves early in the paint," Ibiam said. "Whenever we're not on our guards, they're there for us. For us to be there for our guards, be a cushion, bring some confidence out to the perimeter. It was a good feeling. I think that's what happened today."

Added Coates, "It's a confidence-booster when your bigs have your back."

Georgia awaits placement in the NCAA draw as a mid-level seed. The competition will be important for a team dominated by eight freshmen and sophomores. Senior guard Khalida Miller is the only one who will not be back in the SEC.

South Carolina defeated Kentucky its next opponent, by 13 at Lexington last month.

(2) Tennessee (25-5) 77, (10) LSU (19-11) 65

This matchup meant one of the guaranteed NCAA entrants would not win before hosting a sub-Regional

LSU ran off to a six-point halftime advantage as senior all-conference first-teamer Theresa Plaisance asserted herself with 12 points. UT center Izzy Harrison answered the call with 10 and six rebounds.

LSU hit seven 3-pointers which was the difference, 2-of-4 by Plaisance and 2-of-3 by DeShawn Harden, with the others by Jeanne Kennedy. UT had none.
Tennessee, No. 6 nationally, fell behind by as many as 15 before fashioning the comeback.

First, on defense, the Lady Vols held Plaisance to just nine more points. Harrison finished with 21 and 12 rebounds. UT coach Holly Warlick has often used the mantra that her team is all right when Harrison is all right.

Five Lady Vols hit double figures, Harrison’s double-double joined by teammate Cierra Burdick’s 10 points and 11 rebounds. The 46-27 rebounds advantage included 17 second-chance points.

The Lady Vols trailed 55-51 with 8:32 left, but blasted in front with a 19-0 run. Harrison’s hook shot over Plaisance with 5:54 to go gave UT a 57-55 lead and it never relinquished it.

“Being a post, things happen,” said Harrison. “As a post, you have to be that tough player. You have to be the person to take the hit, not let it frustrate you.”

Senior Meighan Simmons, last year’s player of the year in conference is a first-team all-conference selection this time. She scored 14. Andraya Carter of Tennessee is an all-conference freshman. She scored 10. She starts in place of the long-injured Ariel Massengale, still not cleared weeks after a concussion.

“I think Andraya, she gets better and better each game,” said UT coach Holly Warlick.

“Here is the deal. Andraya is a competitor. She leads by example. She loves the defensive end of the floor. She's extremely athletic. But she competes. I thought today she stepped up. She got in a little foul trouble. She's been great for Jordan. Jordan sees how Andraya practices and Jordan steps up as well. I can't say enough about those two. I don't care if Andraya and Jordan are freshmen. All I care about is they get it done, and they're getting it done for us.

“We talk a lot about our defensive play. This is an attest to them understanding why it was so important because that's why we got back into the game. We had steals, we stole the ball from the point guard, shot a lot of layups. When you get steals, you get great looks.”

Tennessee has won five in a row and 11 of the past 12. They also have twice in succession defeated a team coached by one of their former All-American players. Of course, the current coach is also a former UT All-American.
Warlick said, “It’s a 40-minute game. We kept telling our young ladies that. It was a battle. It was a grind. LSU was a lot to handle. They played yesterday, played today. They put it all out there. But I am proud of these young ladies. We finally settled in and got stops when we needed to. It was a very good win for us.

LSU coach Nikki McCray has to solve this thing in a hurry after losing eight of the past 10 games, six at home.

The loss also means LSU has to wait until then to win No. 20 this season, if they ever do as a better seed – maybe even a No 1 -- is now likely to land in Baton Rouge for the opening round. They have the luxury of more than a week to recover before Selection Sunday.

Tennessee likely assured itself of at least a No. 2 NCAA seed by winning here.

Its home sub-Regional likely feeds into the Notre Dame Regional.

• (3) Texas A&M (24-7) 86, (5) Auburn 17-14) 54

This was the light relief of the tournament.

No. 16 A&M was ahead by 17 at the half and had more than doubled Auburn at one point in the second.

Sophomore Courtney Walker sank her first seven shots and scored 25 senior Karla 15 points and sophomore Courtney Williams 12 for the Aggies, the defending SEC tournament champion. Jordan Jones had 11 assists. Walker is first-team all-conference and Williams is second team. This win completes the season sweep of the Tigers.

A&M coach Gary Blair said the 27 turnovers in the January game was a point of emphasis preparing for this one.

“That’s about as good as we can play transition basketball,” he said. “We worked on it because they embarrassed us last time.

“Jordan was just feeling it. She got the ball into the right hands. I am happy with my team, happy with my bench. Obviously, I was the shooting coach for Courtney walker. I take all the credit.”

Jones said, “It wasn’t so much what I was doing; it was what my teammates were doing. I will probably be with the coaches tonight breaking down film because that’s just how excited I am about this tournament in general.”

After losing to Tennessee at home, Blair had said the Lady Vols have the most talent in the league and win whenever they bring their “A” game.

“I think three or four of us are still chasing Tennessee,” he said. “I am proud to be in this four. I am proud of this conference. The best four are still playing.”

There were 5,232 witness for this.

A&M also has a sub-Regional at home, likely feeding into the Lincoln, Neb. Regional. The Aggies are defending SEC tournament champs but lost at home to Tennessee this season.

• (4) Kentucky (23-7) 75 (5) Florida (19-12) 70

Quietly, if that is possible in the best conference in the nation, No. 12 Kentucky has looked better in the past several games. Florida had twice beaten the Wildcats, at Lexington by six, but then lost four out of five and now are eliminated and may be on the NCAA bubble, if there is justice in the Selection Committee.

A 46-34 second-half run more than erased a five-point halftime deficit for the Wildcats. Some 4,271 witnessed the afternoon show.

The key close was the 5-0 run in 1:29, a 3 by Janee Thompson and a rebound and putback by senior Samarie Walker.

Jennifer O’Neill is Kentucky’s leading scorer, and a conference sixth man of the year. She led the reserves with 11 points. UK is 18-3 when she hits double figures.

Senior DeNesha Stallworth of Kentucky is all-conference second team. She scored 13, 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line, all after intermission.

Each side hit 41 percent from the field, but UK won the rebounds, 42-29, Walker with 11. UK is 18-1 when it wins rebounds this season.

UK coach MatthewMitchell said, “We learned a lot in the second game when Florida really took it to us in Gainesville. It's almost a month ago. We went to work on our transition defense, which I thought was much better today.

“We held them to 16 fewer points, so I thought our overall defense was better than it was in Gainesville. It was after that game that we really tried to sit down and figure out which way we were going to go. They've done a lot of hard work since that Sunday in Gainesville. I'm real proud of them. It's great to see a tangible result.

“It wouldn't have mattered today whether you won or lost the game. The players worked really hard to make changes and improve. But it sure is satisfying to get a tangible result of beating a team that's beaten you twice. We certainly learned a lot from those games this year. Their result today was because they've been working so hard and they're extremely talented.”

Kentucky took its fifth straight game and fifth in seven against the Gators in the conference tournament.

Kentucky is one of two league teams to win at A&M this season. Both have home sub-Regionals, Kentucky is likely feeding nearby Louisville and A&M likely feeding the most-competitive Lincoln, Neb. Site.


SEMIFINALS

Everyone holding serve, here’s what is up for Saturday: (1) South Carolina (27-3) vs. (4) Kentucky (23-7) and (2) Tennessee (25-5) vs. (3) Texas A&M (24-7)


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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