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, December 02, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Notebook: The Good, The Bad, and Tennessee

By Mike Siroky

Two of the ranked teams Southeastern Conference of women's basketball fell out of the Top 10 – two very noticeably so – but the other ranked teams all won in the holiday week.

And the league added another ranked team in the pre-SEC season, so the league now has seven in the Associated Press Top 25.

The SEC is 72-17 against the world so far.

•No. 14, Tennessee's Holly Warlick has been smoked by veteran coach Jim Foster.

The Hall of Fame coach, who did some damage – but never excessively so – when in the Southeastern Conference of women's basketball at Vanderbilt decades ago, has been reborn after bombing out at Ohio State.

He is at UT-Chattanooga and is upgrading the program.

A disassembling loss at Notre Dame did not dissuade him That setback was to the woman he started as a coach, another Hall-of-Famer, Muffet McGraw.

Now he has taken care of the main campus school by besting Tennessee, for the second time in three seasons, though he did not get until Chattanooga until 2013-14.

It says here this series with Tennessee will be dropped after the current contract expires, as will the Lady Vols series with Notre Dame

The secret was contained in his pregame speech to his Moccasins.

Against Tennessee, Chattanooga took a 16-point halftime lead. Not many teams can come back from that, but UT certainly tried.

They did mange to tie it a couple of time but had expended some much energy doing so there was nothing left to close the deal.

“It’s all important," said Foster. "Getting the lead, having them come back and tie the game. Wilting, pulling up your shorts and getting a little bit tougher, getting the loose balls – it’s a process. Everybody says they want it, but to earn it you have to work. You just have to get after it on a daily basis. You have to make it who you are.

"You can’t wake up one day and say ‘I’m really going to be good today.’ You have to try and be good every day. When they learn that, you’re unlimited in your potential.

“I just think we were aggressive enough,” Jim Foster said. “We weren’t aggressive in South Bend, but I think we learned a bit about ourselves.”

One thing they learned was that an in-state rookie could make not being recruited by the Lady Vols a nice mission of redemption.

Freshman Keiana Gilbert (Columbia), led all scorers with 27 points. Despite being outscored inside, 42-32 by the Lady Vols, Chattanooga had enough oomph to keep coming back.

By the way, Stanford will also visit Chattanooga.

It was Gilbert who referenced the coach's pre-game observation that the Lady Vols are "just like any other team."

"You just have to go out there and and play like we usually do," she said.

Warlick put it all on her coaching and her team.

"Layup-after-layup-after-layup, we decided not to defend anybody," she said. "When your offense isn’t working, you have to lay your hat on something. We couldn’t lay our hat on our defense or our rebounding. We cut the deficit but it was a little too late.”

Texas, up next, included winning at Stanford just after the Cardinal had scraped UConn in its undefeated run.

The Longhorns stayed tough and gored Tennessee, 72-59. The inside game is supposed to be the Lady Vol strength, but the Longhorns used the fast break to negate that.

Leading Texas was Kelsey Lang (18) and Nneka Enemkpalli (17 points) as UT outscored Tennessee, 38-26, in the paint and 12-2 on fast breaks.

Not so coincidental, both losses are UT's only two road games so far.

"We got outworked. We got outplayed. We gave up too many transition points. They had too many second chance points, and we shot poorly from the free throw line," said Warlick.

"In the first half, we were quick shooting the basketball. Our plan was to make them have to defend and we didn't do that the first half. We settled in and did that a little in the second half, but you dig yourself in a hole and then you have to get stops.

"The game is about defense and rebounding. We can't seem to grasp the importance of defense. It's probably going to take us keep getting our butts beat to realize the importance of getting it down and playing in a stance. You can't defend someone when you're standing straight up.

"We seem to think that we can do that. We're just going to have to go back and work and figure out how we can defend people because if we shoot as poorly as we do, we have to do something to keep us in the game."

•No. 13 Kentucky, another SEC pretender (at this point), fell out of the Top 10 to an unranked Big Ten team, lowly Illinois. It is an example of our preseason suspicion that the Kats lack killer instinct.

They fell back early, then used a 15-1 run and an 11-2 run but still trailed by a point at the break.

Maybe, like Tennessee, they ran out of fuel. Makayla Epps scored 15 points in the second half, off the bench. Senior Jennifer O’Neill scored 17. It was not enough.

Starter Linnae Harper had two points in 27 minutes, Janee Thomspson five in 34.

It is also UK's first game without at least one 3 in more than a decade.

"I think everyone underestimates us," said Chatrice White of Illinois. "I think we made a statement tonight. It was crazy, we were so hyped in the locker room. It was a great feeling."

She scored 23. Teammate Kyley Simmons' 3-pointer with 9:45 left extended the advantage to 57-45 and Simmons hit 9 of 10 free throws in the close to seal the victory.

"I just had to take them one at a time," Simmons said. "My teammates and coaches give me all the confidence and I was able to hit them."

The next game, against an Oklahoma team superior to Illinois, also started out badly but the Kats recovered to win in overtime, 92-88

UK was behind 9-0 and trailed by as many as nine points before a 13-2 run.

Still, they trailed 38-35 at the half but did improve to 2-1 when starting the second segment in deficit.

Sophomore Linnae Harper led UK with 12 points and three rebounds at the break.

Sophomore Makayla Epps led with five rebounds and three assists and earned a second-half start. But once again the usually sound Kats fell behind, an 18-2 Sooner run putting them ahead by eight as UKL was hitting just 1-of-11 from the field during that stretch.

A technical foul shot helped UK claw back into it and force overtime, where they finally hit a stride and won the extra period, but not without Oklahoma blowing two free throws with 1.1 seconds left.

So Kentucky is left very much looking for an early-season identity. "We were very fortunate that their kid missed two free throws there at the end," said Mitchell.

"You hate to see that as a coach, but that was a tough game for either team to lose. "We were lucky."

UK finished an unenjoyable trip to the Virgin Islands' tournament by barely beating south Florida, 61-57. Once again, the Kats started in a deficit, 6-0, before starting to play on offense in an eventual 61-57 win. Only one player hit double figures.

•No. 19 Georgia is where the inevitable happened as coach Andy Landers ascended to 850 wins at the school. It happened in his home state of Tennessee.

Shacobia Barbee scored 14 points to lead four Lady Bulldogs in double figures in the 74-51 win at his alma mater, Tennessee Tech.

He is the third women's coach to hit 850 at the same school behind Tennessee coach emeritus Pat Summitt and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma.

"Let's make sure we get the record straight," Landers said. "These aren't my wins. They belong to a lot of people. I've been at Georgia for 36 years so, yeah, that piece is mine. But the wins, the first one in 1979 all the way through tonight, those belong to a lot of people other than me."

With 18 more wins, he'll hit 950 for the career. They also beat Georgia Southern, 93-52, and Colgate, 66-35, at home last week.

•No. 1 South Carolina enabled the league to still have the country's No. 1 team, of course, as the Gamecocks rolled smoothly over three opponents.

The last was in the Junkaroo Jam, in the Bahamas, beating No. 22 Syracuse, 67-63. Coach

Dawn Staley is tuning up freshman A’ja Wilson as the spark on a veteran team.

Wilson scored 11 of 15 points in the second half.

"I thought she played extremely well and really got jolted into playing that way,” Staley said. “Syracuse is a very good basketball team. They fought for 40 minutes. I just thought we came up with big play after big play.

"A’ja Wilson got an offensive rebound and a putback. She got a nice steal at the end of the game, and you need players like that to make big plays. I’m happy that the players on our team made the big plays when we needed them.”

And she earned tournament MVP over all those upperclassmen.

“When I came back in the game late, Coach Staley said don’t let anyone get a rebound except for us,” Wilson said. “So, I just tried my best to get every one and, if it didn’t happen, to rush back on defense.”

They had previously beaten Wisconsin, 67-44, at the tournament and then took out North Carolina Central at home on Monday,

In a nice interleague contest, SC plays at No. 9 Duke on Sunday. It's the last ranked team they'll face before the SEC league play starts next month.

•No. 5 Texas A&M held steady and used the 63-59 upset of Duke to move to No. 5 nationally. The Aggies rallied from 15 down for the first 7-0 start in four seasons. Some 6,123 at Reed Arena came to see it.

"A crowd can sense they're a part of the game," coach Gary Blair said.

During an eight-minute span late in the final half, the Aggies used a 15-2 run to make it a game again.

"We just don't give up," Blair said. "These players take tough love, and they take hard coaching. And that's what I was having to do."

Courtney Williams was one of three Aggies in double figures, with 21. Courtney Walker scored 19 points, hitting double figures for the 20th straight game, dating back to last season.

Williams had missed the first four games because of a team rule violation. She scored 12 in the second half.

"Now that she's back, we have a flow," A&M guard Jordan Jones said. "You can tell the team has chemistry, and we're very comfortable with each other."

Jones had 12 points and seven rebounds. Blair dubbed Jones the most valuable player for her eight assist and no turnovers in 36 minutes of directing teammates on both ends of the court.

Jones said the Aggies never panicked.
"We just stayed positive," she said. "We knew (the Blue Devils') strength was their size, and our strengths are speed and athleticism."

They had started the week with wins over Prairie View A&M (59-41) and McNeese State (93-27).

•No. 23 Mississippi State moved to 6-0 with three more wins, 88-77 vs. Western Kentucky; 80-46 vs. Louisiana Monroe and 85-45 in the first road trip, at New Orleans.

Coach Vic Schaefer had been preaching fast starts and the Bulldogs scored the first 17 against New Orleans. Another standout conference freshman, Victoria Vivians, led five in double figures with 16.

“I was also proud of how we played in the second half, coming out of the locker room,” Schaefer said. “I thought the press was good. We forced 28 turnovers. We only had 11 of those in the first half, but we really came out and set a tempo.”

Partially in celebration of the 6-0 start, State offered single-game tickets at half-price if bought on the Internet on Cyber Monday.

•No. 25 (in a tie) Arkansas is back in the AP poll for the first time in a while.

Maybe it is not all about coaching.

Jimmy Dykes has zero experience and yet the former ESPN broadcaster has his first team ranked and unbeaten. They have taken out a Big Ten team (Iowa) and so what if the others are all blowouts as befits a traditional SEC team. He can only line up against who is on the schedule.

"The people in charge of the hiring, I think you have to trust that those people are going to hire the best person for their job," he says. "Was Jimmy Dykes the best person for the women's job at Texas Tech? No. Was I the best person for the (men's) coaching job at North Carolina? No. Was I the best person for the women's basketball job at Arkansas? Yes. Because of my passion for the game. It's my alma mater. I can rally the fan base. I can recruit the state of Arkansas.

"I went through the same hiring process, the same procedures as everyone else in this job," Dykes says. "Everyone else had an opportunity to apply.

"Everyone else had an opportunity to sell themselves in a two- (or) three-hour interview with people that were on that selection committee. I did it better than anyone else. So, I don't have anything to apologize for. The job was open. I applied for it. And I got it.

"I've never been a head coach, never pulled the trigger on the sidelines making the decisions with live ammo flying around us," Dykes said. "But I've seen it, and I've been a teacher on the air. I've tried to teach the game of basketball. I think that's why I rose up in the profession like I did as an analyst, because I think I was a pretty good communicator and teacher on my nightly broadcast."

The latest win came in a Las Vegas tournament, against the University of Richmond, 44-26.

Despite hitting 28.9 from the field in the first half, the Razorbacks grabbed 12 offensive rebounds to outscore Richmond 14-4 in second chances to go into the half with a 33-24 lead. A 21-6 run to start the second half settled it.

Mike Siroky has been covering women's college basketball since an undergraduate at Indiana in 1975.

He was covering the SEC when the NCAA took over the women's game from the AIAW.

He and Mel Greenberg have been friends since Mel started the Associated Press poll and there were few writers interested enough in the women's game to help. Yes, they are old.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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