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 09, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Christmas Treats And No Empty Stockings

By Mike Siroky

Nothing like cupcakes for the holidays, though not all highly-ranked teams in the Southeastern Conference of women's basketball took a break in the runup to the start of the conference season.

•No. 1 South Carolina didn't.

The Gamecocks took on their last big opponent before SEC play starts by Traveling to then-No. 9 Duke. Then again, A&M had already bested the Dookies who nonetheless appear to be the second-best team in the ACC now that Maryland is gone.

SC took a 51-50 win which was easily the game of the week nationally.

UConn, for instance, stomped Notre Dame at South Bend, eliminating another pretender as an undefeated No. 2.

As always in women's college hoops, there is the elite team — now and for awhile UConn — and then everyone else.

Leading that second tier appears to be South Carolina. They won the second half by five.

Rookie A'ja Wilson scored 10 off the bench and hit the winning layup with three seconds left. Tiffany Mitchell had cut the lead to one with a 3 at 19 seconds to go.

Duke scored only one basket in the final 3:19. Mitchell had twisted in at the end, and Wilson stayed home to corral the miss and put it back up.

"I didn't hesitate ... We wanted the ball in (Mitchell's) hands," coach Dawn Staley said. "She definitely made a play for us. She sucked the defense in to give A'ja and all of our other players (a chance) to get the rebound and the putback."

The only other Gamecock in double figures was forward Asia Dozier. Each bench scored 17. Duke was led by guard Rebecca Greenwell with a dozen.

Duke outrebounded SC, 44-36.

It is the Gamecocks' first over a Top 10 team on the road since a 64-60 win at then-No. 8 Tennessee in 2012. They are 8-0 for the third straight season and each of this two past season extended to 10-0.

The Gamecocks had started the week with practice games (well, sorta), 90-26, over North Carolina Central and Charlotte, 82-61. At least that proved they can beat teams from North Carolina.

As coach Dawn Staley continues to rely on rising superstar freshman forward Wilson, she came up with17 points in the Charlotte runaway. At 6-5, she is already a force, as all the recruiters knew she would be. This is one that got away from UConn, among others.

Elem Ibiam scored 16 on 7-of-7 shooting and Staley earned her 300th career victory.

Alaina Coates had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Gamecocks, who improved to 7-0 for the third straight season. Of course Charlotte is just 1-6.

•No. 8 Kentucky did not dodge either, as it moved back into the Top 10. The games with Louisville have become classics, a measuring stick each season.

At then-No. 7 Louisville (Now No. 10), if you say the higher-ranked home team defeated the in-state visitor, it sounds so simple.

Instead, the lower-ranked 'Cats came back from 16 down for an impressive road win and yet another nail in that ACC balloon brag that theirs is the best conference.

Janee Thompson earned conference player-of-the-week honors for her 19 points (including 8-of-10 from the line) in 37 minutes. Jennifer O'Neill scored 17 in 33 minutes and Bria Goss 11 anong the starters.

Off the bench, Linnae Harper brought 12 points in 17 minutes and Mikayla Epps 10 in 30 minutes. UK hit three 3s — Thompson, Goss and Harper — (Louisville had none) and that may have been a difference in the fourth straight win as well.

Coach Matt Mitchell said: “Louisville has a heck of a basketball team, very, very tough, very disruptive, and it took us a while to figure out what we needed to do.

"But I’m really proud of our players, that was surely a game they could have folded in and could have said it was not our day and lost that one, but they found a way just to keep battling and made some adjustments in their attitude at halftime and came out with what I think will be a significant victory at the end of the year because I know Louisville is going to have a great season and they have some fantastic players, they’re always well coached and this is just always a very difficult game for us. So I’m really proud of our players and we’re certainly happy to get the victory.”

But, at the start, “I was just so disappointed with our approach to the game.

"From the opening tip, we got the ball and threw a very nonchalant pass and (Jude) Schimmel stole it, laid it up, and just that type of approach to the game was kind of what loomed over the entire half.

"We just got outhustled, Louisville was much more energetic, we weren’t getting back in transition, it was just a very unfocused, very poor mental approach to the game, and we have to stop doing that.

"It’s really hurt us this season. We’ve had to come back several times now, and if you can do the things we did in the second half, I’d just like to try to have a better approach.

"So there’s no in-between with our team. We have to play like our hair is on fire all the time because we’re not going to out talent you, but we can try to be a little bit tougher and we can try to be disruptive on defense, and we can play some up-tempo basketball.

" So when we approach the game from a nonchalant point of view, we don’t look very good as you all witnessed in the first half.”

Both of these will host an NCAA first round this season. So this is likely the best Bluegrass game of the year already.

UK had won the past three in this seres, including an OT winner last season in Louisville, on a 3 with eight second left and a blocked shot at the buzzer.

UofL was 8-0 and second in the ACC coming in.

Six of those were at home by an average margin of 34. Under the containing women's basketball predicate that players get better every year — The Latest Greatest — Louisville's best is 6-2 rookie forward Myisha Hines Allen.

Earlier, UK tuned up with an 82-64 blowout of Northern Kentucky. "We are just going to keep working," Mitchell said. "Trying to get better. Trying to tighten up our defense. We need some practices here to try to see if we can sharpen up in all areas. "

•No. 4 Texas A&M took out Northwestern State and then won at TCU. That's nine wins. And if the NCAA qualifier remains 20 wins, then all the ranked SECF teams will get there with ease.

These are historically important games to the Aggies. Like so many conference sorority sisters, these games allow smaller teams a shot at a big-time program with the promise of fame if they upset them.

The State game, 75-42, is one of coach Gary Blair's marketing ideas, inviting 4,400 schoolchildren (7.712 overall) for the Elementary School Game.

This was the largest regular season non-conference crowd for women’s basketball and the seventh largest for any women’s game at Reed Arena. The 8-0 start is just the second in program history.

A 22-5 run started it. Courtney Walker scored 10, her 21st straight game in double figures. Coach Gary Blair said, “I’m still looking for my team. I played 13 kids tonight, andA&M with 15 points and 10 assists, 3-of-4 on 3s with seven rebounds.

"Jordan Jones is on a roll," Blair said of his junior point guard. "If she hadn't turned the ball over (twice late), she would have gone three straight games without a turnover."

The fast-breaking Aggies had a 17-3 advantage in points off turnovers. They also dominated in the paint (28-10), on the boards (43-28) and off the bench (28-9).

"You're not going to a play a better defensive team over 94 feet than what we faced," Lady Demons coach Brooke Stoehr said. "We knew it was going to be a monumental task." State's game plan included 31 3 attempts, but they only hit five.

"That's our strength, we defend the 3 pretty well," Blair said.

"That was a neat deal with all of the elementary students here, and exposing them to the game of women's basketball," said Stoehr, smiling. "A lot of credit goes to goes to coach Blair and his staff for that."

Against TCU, the Aggies were sloppy — 23 turnovers — but used defense to an 82-71 win, The foes only hit 38 percent from the field and was outrebounded 50-42. A run at the start of each half — 10-0 and 7-0 — kept A&M out of reach.

Walker scored 21and Courtney Williams 12, with as many rebounds. at the break. Jordan Jones had 13 points and six assists.

"We knew this was a trap game," Blair said. "I have always had trouble playing anywhere at TCU because they always come to play and do a great job. They never give up, and they hung in there."

"Shooting 18 percent in the first half and being down 10 at the half is a testament of how great this team can be," TCU coach Raegan Pebley said.

"Texas A&M is an excellent team, and I want to keep imploring upon our team that we can and will compete at this level."

Blair, whose wife graduated from TCU, expressed his condolences to the TCU community for its football team being left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

"I'm awfully sorry that y'all didn't make (the playoff)," he said. "I don't agree with it, but I could see it coming listening to Kirk Herbstreit start bashing the Big 12 and talking about his alma mater at Ohio State."

•No. 11 Tennessee lost its only two road games and came home for . . . wait for it . . . winless St. Francis of Pennsylvania.

A 5-2 record is the stale plain doughnut. The good news out of this one is anyone who brought a toy for the toy drive got free admission so deserving children will get some presents on Christmas. The result was 111-44. And even that moved UT up three spots in the national rankings.

"It was a win," said coach Holly Warlock.

" I think the one thing that we wanted to see tonight was, did we have the discipline to stick to our game plan? And for the most part we did. Did we play hard? Don't watch the score, don't worry about your opponent. Did you play hard? I think for the most part we did that as well.

"I thought that we would play well today because yesterday we probably had, well we did, I thought we had the best practice we have had all year long.

" If you had to rank a team No. 1 we would be the No. 1 team in the nation in practice. But we have to learn how to carry that into a game. I thought tonight we stuck to our game plan and we played hard. Like I said, that is all I asked them to do."

OK, so Lipscomb is an away game, but still in-state. Irregardless, UT won a road contest, 85-51.

Cierra Burdick and Izzy Harrison came off the bench to score 16 points apiece.

"We talked a lot about playing with energy," Warlick said. "We've got the talent, we just have to play with that kind of heart as we did today."

Harrison, in her second game back after a knee sprain, was playing in her hometown. Freshman Alexa Middleton, from nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee, added 12 points and also was in the wave of subs that helped spark a 26-0 run after Lipscomb (2-6) led briefly 3-2.

"We needed that for sure," Burdick said. "It was a great environment, especially with three of our players being from (middle) Tennessee. It was good to come here and kind of have a home-court advantage on the road."

Burdick had her second straight double-double with 10 rebounds. She was 4-of-6 from the field 8-of-9 at the line.

"I think when you've got three seniors coming in off the bench, it gives you a little scoring burst," Burdick said. "I feel like we play solid defense and we get the job done on the offensive end as well."

"We played with some poise after we got that (run) out of the way, played tough, but that's what makes UT, UT, because they can make those runs," said Lipscomb coach Greg Brown, a former Lady Vols assistant. "We showed resilience, we came back, we played physical and we played tough."

The Lady Vol bench outscored their opponent's entire team for the second consecutive game, with a 58-19 advantage.

•No. 16 Georgia whomped Mercer and Coppin State, 49-29 (that is not a typo) in two walkovers.

Then came Big Ten challenger Michigan State on Sunday. And another league win against another pretending conference.

Against State, Mackenzie Engram scored 20 (2-for-2 on 3s and 4-for-4 from the line), with seven rebounds. It is the best defense, in terms of points allowed, since 1976.

"Offensively we were definitely broken, but defensively we were pretty good," coach Andy Landers said. "I would've liked to have rebounded a little more, but we turned them over and we forced them to shoot a little bit lower percentage than we shot. And we did it without fouling, that was the important piece."

The MSU game saw Tiaria Griffin score 15 points, including four free throws in the final minute. Despite blowing most of a 23-point field-half lead, Georgia held off No. 16 Michigan State, 69-60.

Georgia iced the win with free throws from Griffin and Marjorie Butler. "On the bright side we came out with a win," said Butler, who had 11 points. "The negative is we let them come back." Krista Donald had 12 points for Georgia (10-0).

Landers said the Lady Bulldogs "started terrifically" but added "it didn't change the fact Michigan State is very good." The Spartans won the second half, 39-33, but couldn't overcome the big deficit.

Landers applauded his team's response to the Spartans' comeback.

"I was really proud we put our foot back on them a little bit," Landers said. "We did exactly what you need to do at the free throw line in close games."

•No. 22 Mississippi State enjoys its ranked run. It pummeled visiting North Dakota State, 109-58, and then Southeast Louisiana. Hey, the Bulldogs have been playing these teams all along. Just because they are ranked does not mean you can cancel out on the holiday treats.

Against the North Dakotans, they hit season highs for field goal percentage (51.9 percent), 3s (11) and rebounding margin (+23) and hit 7-0 for the second straight year.

The 109 points ties for sixth-most in school history.

“Obviously, we played our best game of the year,” coach Vic Schaefer said. “I love how hard we played, especially in the second half. North Dakota State is good. I think we caught them on the end of a long road trip, but a tip of the hat to my kids. We played hard and really shared the basketball.

“We did some things really well.”

Freshman Victoria Vivians led the MSU offensive attack as she matched her high with 26 points. Sophomore Breanna Richardson posted her fifth career double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. LaKaris Salter had a season-high 16 points in nine minutes off the bench.

“I was just looking forward to an opportunity,” Salter said. “If I am on the bench, I am cheering on my teammates. If I am on the floor, I am trying to help my team win. This was exciting because we played well as a team.”

It was more of the same, also at home, 97-36 against Southeast. They are enjoying a crowd resurgence as well, drawing better than 3,000.

Viviens was 6-of-16 from the floor, 3-of-8 on 3s. Martha Alwal had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Morgan William had 12 points. The 8-0 Bulldogs hit 11-of-33 3s and won the backboards, 69-30. Two big runs, 8-0 and 14-0, kept it in cruse control.

•Alphabetically, and in no other way, was No. 25 Arkansas atop the conference standings. The Razorbacks are no longer ranked.

First, they lost at home to South Dakota State, 80-75. It means a lot to State as they hadn't beaten a Top 25 team since 2008 and likely will never face such a weak ranked team again. Macy Miller scored a career-high 20. Gone is

Arkansas' 28-game winning streak in nonconference games and its 42-game streak in nonconference home games. Chynna Stevens hit a 3-pointer with .4 seconds left in regulation that sent the game into overtime. Megan Waytashek hot two free throws for a four-point lead with 29 seconds left. Miller added two more with 6 seconds left for the final score.

Then came the Big Ten's Rutgers and and a real reality check.

Arkansas was 18-of-64 shooting (28.1 percent) at home. It fell out of the rankings with only one homer vote to kept it mentioned at all.

RPIs Here Are RPIs for the SEC Via the Monday NCAA Report and also the RPIratings.com that also shows strength of schedule.

NCAA

1. Kentucky
6. South Carolina
17. Mississippi State
24. Texas A&M
28. Arkansas
33. Vanderbilt
65 Georgia
95. Tennessee
108. Auburn
109. Alabama
173 Missouri
174 Florida
188 Mississippi
202 LSU

RPIRatings. Com SOS

1. Kentucky 6
6. South Carolina 102
17. Mississippi State 84
24. Texas A&M 206
28. Arkansas 23
33. Vanderbilt 51
63. Georgia 302
95. Tennessee 219
110. Auburn 225
111. Alabama 151
170. Missouri 276
171. Florida 253
185. Mississippi 267
207. LSU 71

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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