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 22, 2014

Mike Siroky's WNIT Big Ten/SEC Report: Minnesota Jump Starts the Women's NIT

By Mike Siroky

So here’s what it came down to in the opening game of the Women’s NIT:

In the final 48 seconds, Minnesota’s Rachel Banham hit two 3s.

The best rookie in America, redshirt Amanda Zahui B, had a block and a defensive rebound and Minnesota hung on for a 62-60 win over Green Bay.

With an opener like that, the WNIT showed not all the best teams were in the 64 draw of the NCAA show.

Minnesota was said to have not been close, according to the NCAA Selection Committee. This may cause some rethinking of the conference’s quality in years to come.

Zahui B. finished with five blocks, 14 rebounds and 17 points, 3-of-3 from the line.

Banham scored 31, 5-of-9 on 3s.

Minnesota (20-12) won the second half by 12 – including an 11-0 run to start the scoring after intermission -- and the rebounds, 42-31.

Banham has scored 714 on the season, blasting a school record which stood for 29 years. Less than 1,000 witnessed it.

“Obviously, we could tell in the first half that our offense we pretty stagnant,” coach Pam Borton said.

“ A lot of people were not involved in the offense other than Rachel and Amanda.

“I told the team the first game of a postseason tournament is usually the hardest. You have to get yourself back into the flow. We are playing teams that have 20 wins. We got past our first-round game here.

“I was really proud of our players. They really stepped up and made plays on both ends of the floor. We found a way to win. It was a miracle in a bottle, but we found a way to win.

“Rachel is a big-time player. She has the killer instinct. We found a way to advance. Survive and advance.”

Banham said the winning shot was natural.

“Yeah, it felt really good,” she said. “I was in a good rhythm because I had hit the 3 a few minutes before. I just let it fly. Once I put it up there I knew it was going in.”

As for the WNIT vs. the NCAA: “I think we are definitely motivated. I think we showed that we were not going to give up and we were going to keep fighting. We did not want to be done playing together.

Zahui. B also said she had thought about missing the NCAAs.

“I think we have been sad since we found out, but we have turned that to anger,” she said. “Coach Borton said we have to play angry because we deserve to be in that tournament.“

The rest of the SEC and Big Ten field, with the one road team losing in Round 1:

BIG TEN

•Indiana 48, Belmont 47:
In the Hoosiers’ three-guard offense, all-conference player Larryn Hill and Taylor Agler, the daughter of WNBA Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler, each scored nine by halftime in a 24-21 game.

They needed every one of those points is the close win. Agler did not score again and Brooks only scored two more. Agler played all 40 minutes and Brooks 38.

Instead, forward Lyndsay Leikem hit 5-of-8 from the field and finished with 11 to lead IU.

After two straight layups by Simone DeLoach, IU had its last points and .a nine-point lead with a little under three minutes left. Belmont hit two 3s and another jumper but did not score in the final frantic minute.

At 19-12 I.U. is breathing the rarified air after breaking into the top 25 for a few weeks this season. And the women are playing for the first time in a post-season in which the men are watching, still with a chance at the magic 20-win highlight. It is the first post-season win wince 2009.

That brought fans to Assembly Hall as spring break began on campus.

"Well we’re excited certainly about the win," Hoosiers coach Curt Miller said. "I know it is clichéd to say we ‘survived and advanced’ but if there ever a time to talk about surviving, this was it.

"It wasn’t the prettiest game, but for what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to build, it was very exciting, not unlike what we thought we would have with their defense really making you work.

“At halftime we really tried to pump our team up. We still had the lead. I just wanted to continue to coach this team, to stay with this senior class for as long as we can. I wanted to convince the freshmen that this can be the a regular part of their careers, playing in the post-season.

“And we have earned another home game.”

Northwestern 69, Ball State 65: The Wildcat men have never made the NCAA post-season. The women have been there before.

In this tournament, NU is one of those schools which is valued because of its conference membership. They were just qualified with a non-losing record. They moved to 16-15 on the strength of good defense in the final 4:13.

They trailed at that point, 61-60. Obviously a 9-4 finish finished the Cardinals.

Freshman Christian Inman fed Maggie Lyon for the go-ahead 3. Ball State missed three layups and a 3. Lyon got a rebound and was fouled; she hit one free throw.

Freshman point guard Ashley Deary made a layup in between two more missed by State. Deary made a free throw and state made four.

With 20 seconds left, Inman hit the kill shot, a jumper for the final score. NU won the half by eight, all summarized in the closing run.

Reserve sophomore forward Lauren Douglas matched freshman Nia Coffey with 17.

Deary scored 15, 12 in the second half, with six assists and seven rebounds and Lyon scored 12. Inman’s basket were the important two points of the six she scored. NU hit 63 percent from the field for the second half. There were 405 witnesses.

This is the third time in his six seasons at Evanston, coach Joe McKeown has NU in the second round of the WNIT.

“They had won seven of their last eight and were one of the hottest teams in the country,” he said of the vanquished foe. “This time of the year, you get to play again and that’s the thing. We didn’t play great, but we won. That’s the best part about it.

“I thought our second half our defense was a little more aware of their shooters.

“At the end were trying to spread us out and fortunately Inman had the awareness to make a play.”

NU earned another home game, against IUPUI, a team they have already defeated this season, also at Evanston, 72-61.

•Michigan 86, Stony Brook 48: The Wolverines are one win shy of the magic 20 marker as they rounded off the conference participation in the opening round as the final home conference team.

It was already a 12-point halftime win and Michigan just kept getting better and better, the reserves even hitting two 3s near the end.

A 21-5 run in the first half set the table.

Another three-guard offense produced: sophomore Sierra Thompson with 17 points, junior Nicole Elmblad with 15 and junior Shannon Smith with 13, matched by a school-record 13 assists.

Michigan was an astounding 11-of-20 on 3s, Thompson 4-of-4 and Smith 3-of-3 and reserve sophomore guard Madison Ristovski 5-of-7. With forwards Val Driscoll and Cyesha Goree controlling the boards with nine rebounds each, Michigan’s edge there was dominant, 46-25, 33 defensive.

A good crowd, 1,175, showed their appreciation.

Seawolves’ coach Beth O’Boyle was impressed with the victors.

“Give a lot of credit to Michigan,” she said. “They showed what it means to be a Big Ten program and they have been successful in the conference.

"Obviously, the scoreboard was not what we wanted it to be, but our players competed hard the whole game. Our seniors have done a great job for us. I am proud of where we have taken the team.”

The 24 wins ties a program record.

Michigan earned another home game, against Duquesne (20-12), in Round 2.

SEC

•Mississippi State 77, Tulane 68:
We have been saying all along State’s program is on the rise and earned a 20-win season.

They did so with ease by bashing the Green Wave to become 20-13, the fifth 20-game winners in program history with the first post-season win since
2010.
Surprising for the NIT, this was an opening-round matchup of 20-game winners.

All-SEC junior center Martha Alwal, as ever, led the Bulldogs, this time with 15 points, matched by Savannah Carter, the best of the three-guards in the starting lineup. Off the bench came Kendra Grant with 10. There were 1,059 in attendance.

“I am awfully proud of this team,” coach Vic Schaefer said. “We talked about throwing the first punch. We knew they would make a run. I was disappointed how we came out to start the second half, however, after they made the run, I am really proud at how we responded to put them away.”

The Green Wave had trimmed a halftime deficit to two before State took off on a 10-push.

“Coach talked to us about throwing the first punch and the second punch too,” Alwal said. “I thought we really did a good job of doing that. He challenged us to be the more aggressive team and to take the attack to them.”

Like the other winners, State earned a second home game, against mighty Southern Miss (27-6).

•Auburn 78, Furman 64: Katy Dieng came off the bench with 16 to propel the Tigers to 18-14. Starters Tra’Cee and Tyrese Tanner each scored 17, Tra’Cee 7-of-8 from the field.

Amid several surges and replies, Auburn maintained a lead and finally wore the Paladins down and out, leading by as many as 20 before putting it in cruise control and letting the starters sit.

“We tired them out with our press,” Tyrese said. “We tired them out on offense. When you make a turnover, you hang your head a little bit. That’s what they did. We were able to convert off their turnover and make baskets.”

She moved into the Auburn top 10 of all-time scorers but dismissed the importance of that for now, saying getting to play on in this, her final season and with a sophomore sister alongside her, is so much more important.

“I don’t think about (scoring) much,” she said. “I try to win. I just want to keep playing in postseason. For my career, I’m grateful the coach believes in me.”

Auburn next gets onetime legendary team Old Dominion (17-15), at home.

•Creighton 77, Missouri 51: The other league Tigers were not so good as the only road warriors in our select group, ending the season a dismal 17-14, losing four of the final five. A 46-19 second-half is shudderingly awful and a low point in the season.

Sophomore guard Lianna Doty’s 14 is the only highlight. Good thing there were only 685 witnesses.

Creighton, which became part of the reconfigured Big East this season, had more of everything: Baskets, free throws, rebounds (an amazing 37 defensive) and blocks.

Missouri’s final field goal came with seven minutes to go.

The Tigers end with consecutive post-season losses; the first round of the SEC women’s tournament and now this.

For coach Robin Pingeton, it was more destiny unfulfilled.

“I’m really disappointed in our second half of basketball," Pingeton said. “Obviously, (we) had a hard time shooting the ball tonight. Just really disappointed."

Pingeton said she simply expected much more from her team, especially on defense.

"We got blown by tonight in ways that didn’t happen to us in the SEC," Pingeton said.
"It's been a year of some really good things and some tough, tough losses. This one’s not gonna sit well for awhile."


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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