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 29, 2014

Mike Siroky's WNIT Report on the SEC & Big Ten: Only Two Get Through

By Mike Siroky

Oh yeah, that other (though older) post-season basketball tournament is also in its Round of 16

The mighty Southeastern Conference and The Big Ten started with four possibilities and ended with the half that had conference teams playing each other.

Here’s what happened:


• Indiana 66, Northwesten 65:
It is only fair to lead off with two conference foes fighting, because one had to eliminate the other. The game was the third straight at home for Indiana. Northwestern (17-16) recovered its reputation a bit in that two wins guaranteed a non-losing season.

Indiana (21-12) the same with a 20-win season guaranteed. It also guaranteed a B1G team into the Elite 8.

The Wildcats had won the regular-season opportunity against the Hoosiers, so naturally this one was at Bloomington.

Freshman Larryn Brooks decided she was not yet done with her rookie season.

To close, she hit a 3 to pull her team to just one point shy with 2:32 to go.

After Northwestern hit a layup at the two-minute mark, Brooks helped the defense tighten it up.

Then she hit two free throws to make the deficit but one again. Finally, she screened for Simone DeLoach, who took a pass from fellow-senior Tabitha Gerardot and went for the deciding layup.

“Larryn gave it to her and she gave it to me and I went up,” said DeLoach. “I don’t know if it was drawn up that way or that is just the way it went, but we’ll take it. It’s still a little blurry to me.”

“For all of us. This huge because none of us have ever felt winning a game this big,” said Gereradot.

“All coach wanted us to do was buy into his program,” said DeLoach, who was already on campus when the current coach arrived.

Their coach would mention how fitting it was that seniors combined on the one time they were ahead the whole game, even if it was the rookies who got them to that break point.

“We’re all going to make mistakes as freshmen,” said Brooks. “It is all about moving forward and that is what we are going to do.”

The 11-2 closing run marked a 14-point comeback. Indiana held a 16-6 advantage in second chance points and outrebounded Northwestern 37-34
I.U. has the most wins in program history.

Brooks led all scorers with 27 points, moving her into seventh in program history for single-season scoring with 538 points.

The I.U. rookies scored 56 of the total. Freshman Alexis Gassion scored 10, as did Lyndsay Leikem (with eight rebounds). Brooks’ four assists sets the rookie record at the school, 150; her 65 3s is also a rookie record and fifth for a season on the all-time list.

The Hoosiers committed 11 turnovers in the first half and shot 39.4 percent from the field, but also hit 11 3s. The 251 3s is a program season record.

At home, IU was 14-4, the most home wins since the 1997-98 season. They drew 3.065 for the finale, while the students were away at spring break.

Coach Curt Miller ties the all-time postseason wins record for head coaches in program history.

“It’s a big win for our program and our fans were absolutely the reason we won,” he said. “So a big thank-you to the administration for believing how important home games are in this tournament.

“I was about positive as I could be in the huddles tonight, saying “Hang in there, hang in there.’ I thought we had more one more run if we could just keep the crowd in the game with us.

“If you are ever going to lead, we picked the time to lead in the game.”

Indiana is in the NIT quarterfinals at South Dakota State (25-9) in Sioux Falks, the team that eliminated Minnesota in its Sweet 16 game.

• Bowling Green 63, Michigan 53: As for Michigan, see the note about attaining a 20-win season above.

And Bowling Green had 29 wins, most of any team not in the NCAA. The MAC just don’t get no respect.

Now they have 30 and Michigan (20-14) is done as the only conference university with both basketball teams in a Sweet 16.

Ironically, the first game of the season was a loss to Bowling Green.

So the four and a half months inbetween proved what?

According to best young coach in the game, Kim Barnes Arico, “I think our team really grew (during the season), really improved and really found its identity,” she said. “Bowling Green is a tough matchup, and they’re extremely tough at home. They had a great atmosphere here tonight. I think they had the edge playing here.”

In Ohio, junior guard Nicole Elmblad scored 15 for UofM, with seven rebounds and two assists. Goree joined her in double figures with 12 points and eight rebounds, setting a program rebounding season record at 317. Michigan hit 40 percent from the field, while the home team hit 55.8 percent.

“I think this time that we played them we definitely started off a lot stronger,” Elmblad said. “This time we were more focused and ready to lock up on defense, but unfortunately we didn’t hold that the entire first half and they were able to make a good run.”

The teams traded surges early. An Elmblad three-point play on a backdoor cut with 7:04 made it 19-all. Then Bowling Green went on an 8-2 run and closed the half with a 4-0 move that left it 31-22 Bowling Green.

In the second half, the Falcons took their largest lead of the game, 41-30, with 14:34 left, later hitting nine straight to put the game away.

The 2,351 points scored this season is a program record. The nine road wins is also a school record. The 512 team assists is another school record. The 38.3 season percent on 3s is the final school record.

Still, the Falcons hit nine 3s in the game, a real difference as Michigan hit three.

And Michigan had won its first two NIT games by an average of 38 points.

“We got some good looks, but we couldn’t get shots to fall and there were some calls we didn’t get to go our way,” Barnes Arico said. “I think that took the wind out of our sails and they countered and scored. … But overall this season, we’ve shown tremendous growth.”

She will now have a new summer challenge, as an assistant to South Carolian’s Dawn Staley with USA Basketball’s junior national team.

• South Dakota State 70, Minnesota 62: Sioux Falls has never been a spring break destination for any college kid from Minnesota. Never will be. And perhaps is now a place to avoid.

This was a double loss for the Gophers (22-13). Not only did it end the season with a respectable record but it cost their coach her job. Minnesota obviously thinks it can over-reach and get someone better. That’s not likely, but athletic directors will do what they do.

First, the game.

University of Minnesota redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B.broke the Big Ten and Minnesota single-season rebounding records, matched her career-high with 26 points and posted her 18th double-double of the season with 11 rebounds.

That was fine, but not enough.

Zahui B. scored 514 points on .543 shooting and set program records with 394 rebounds and 105 blocks. Illinois’ Jenna Smith set the Big Ten record of 397 rebounds in a season since 2010.

All-conference junior Rachel Banham, the best scorer in the B1G, scored 23 – with a career-high six 3s -- of her 25, in the second half. The Minnesota single-season record holder for points scored 750 this season, 1,993 for her career.

So Zahui B. and Banham, are solid building blocks for whomever coaches them next season.

Minnesota out-shot South Dakota State, .411-.354, but lost the battle on the boards, 35-45, with the Jackrabbits grabbing 19 offensive rebounds.

The firing: One of the in-the-bunker sportswriters who cover Minnesota actually confronted the NCAA Selection Committee for not picking the Gophers and maybe that is where the administration lost its mind.

Pam Borton is gone with the required “We wish her well” in future endeavors sendoff.

Ten years ago, Borton guided the Gophers to their only Final Four. She led the school to NCAA tournament appearances in six of her first seven seasons.

But a program she helped revive has not made the NCAAs since 2009.

Borton is the winningest coach in program history with a 236-152 record in 12 seasons at the school. The 22 wins this time are their most victories since the Final Four team.

“I am grateful for my 12 seasons at the University of Minnesota,” was the university-issued statement. “This is a great state and university, and I have enjoyed becoming a part of this community.”

It was an up-and-down tenure in Minneapolis for Borton, who helped make women's basketball relevant again in Minnesota, but also dealt with a mass exodus of players from the program midway through.

She was the ultimate fix for the mess former Tennessee player Cheryl Littlejohn left behind in 2001, with major NCAA rules violations.

Brenda Oldfield, now Brenda Frese, engineered a remarkable turnaround with a 22-8 record, a significant spike in attendance and advancement to the second round of the NCAA tournament. She left for Maryland after one year (ironically next year back in the Big Ten for her).

Then athletic director Joel Maturi picked Borton, a Boston College assistant, as her replacement. Borton had four seasons on her resume as the head coach at Vermont prior to that.

With the foundation set, and outstanding point guard Lindsay Whalen pumping attendance, the Gophers reached the NCAA Regional semifinals in Borton's first year. Then came the Final Four in Season 2, followed by a return to the Sweet 16 the year after that.

But the Gophers never recaptured the magic without Whalen and Janel McCarville, each of whom helped lead the Minnesota Lynx to a WNBA championship last year, reminding state fans of what has been not replaced.

In 2006, following a first-round ouster from the NCAA tournament, starters Jamie Broback, Natasha Williams and Liz Podominick, reserves Brittney Davis and Lauren Lacey, and assistant coach Dave Stromme left the program within three weeks after the end of the season.

A five-week investigation into the departures by the athletic department declared poor communication the cause of "misunderstandings" and "feelings of mistrust" among coaches and players, but support for Borton never wavered.

In fact, two weeks before Maturi retired in June 2012, he gave Borton a two-year contract extension that the university never publicly announced.

In the four seasons between 2009 and 2013, attendance continued to decrease and the Gophers went a combined 62-66, with just one WNIT appearance.

With Banham, the Gophers were a little better this season, finishing 8-8 in conference play, but 0-8 against the top five teams in the Big Ten and winless against Top 50 teams.

They had better find someone good quickly in a growing league. It says here they are forever anchored in the second group of the B1G conference.


•Mississippi State 59, Auburn 54:
OK, now the organizers are just messin’ with us. Two SEC teams?

Even though Mississippi State (22-13) is our favorite league team poised for a breakthrough next season, the Bulldogs had already made their post-season adventure count by getting past 20 wins And the matchup guaranteed an SEC team into the Elite 8. Since the War Eagles had swept the season’s games, this one had to be there.

The War Eagles fall one game shy of the magic 20-win marker.

The Bulldogs rallied from a 14-point deficit early in the second half and earn game back home in the Sweet 16, against South Florida (22-12).

To celebrate, State is letting the first 600 students in free, with free pizza to the first 200.

The Bulldogs’ victories are the most since 2009. With the win, this Bulldog squad also becomes the first in program history to win three postseason games.

“Once again, this team doesn’t quit,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “Resilient is the word. We did not have a good stretch in the first half. To come out in the second half and have that kind of effort … this team is different.

“It’s a credit to our kids. Their confidence never wavers. My hat is off to them. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be the coach of these kids. We are giving God the glory, because I sometimes think a higher power is in charge.”

Auburn started strong with a 10-3 lead.

A Kendra Grant basket brought MSU to 17-13. Auburn stretched the lead to eight twice in the next five minutes.

Auburn shot 54.5 percent from the field in the opening half and led 28-19 at the intermission.

In the early stages of the second half, a basket by Katia May brought Mississippi State to 32-25. Auburn answered with seven straight to build the game’s largest lead at 14 points.

Back came the Bulldogs as Auburn got sloppy.

The Tigers were called for 27 fouls and had three players foul out, All-SEC senior Tyrese Tanner and post players Tra'Cee Tanner and Peyton Davis.

MSU forced 26 turnovers for a second consecutive game.

State got its biggest spark in the second half from Grant, who scored 15 of the game-high 20 then.

“The coaches have been talking to me all year about carrying what I do in practice to the game,” Grant said. “In the first half, I missed some shots. In the second half, I was going to do anything I could because we did not want to lose this game.”

A 12-2 run by MSU brought them to 41-37 with 9:02 left, after a 3 by Jerica James. Seconds later, a Grant 3 had the deficit to one at 41-40. Back-to-back baskets by Grant finally pushed the MSU to an advantage, 46-43 with 6:38 left in the contest.

The lead switched hands a couple of more times before the Bulldogs took the lead for good.

Two free throws by Breanna Richardson gave the Bulldogs the lead with 1:25 left. A free throw by Savannah Carter and two by James helped close out the
win. Auburn did not score over the final 1:44.

“Once we knocked down a couple of shots, it got everything going,” James said.

The Bulldogs hit 37.3 percent from the field and 19 of 33 from the line. Auburn hit 43.5 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from the line.

The teams were even at 35 rebounds apiece. MSU had 12 assists and 23 turnovers, while Auburn had eight assists and 26 turnovers.

“Our kids forced 26 turnovers again,” Schaefer said. “That doesn’t happen standing around in a 2-3 zone. That is how we played defensively. That is how we attack.”

Martha Alwal posted her 12th double-double of the season and 31st of her career with 11 points and 11 rebounds for MSU. She also blocked five shots, tying the single-season school record with 97.

A crowd of 1,809 attended.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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