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 30, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: State Stays on a Roll As Conference Play Looms Ahead

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference of women's college basketball proved itself in the runup to the start of conference play.

The SEC is 138-34 (.802) against America this season, the best effort since the turn of the century.

From here on out, the games mean so much more as the best teams carve each other up in the qualifications for the NCAAs.

The Sweet 16 will all but be set in the regular season as those teams judged in the top 16 in America will be granted the first two NCAA games at home — no one is likely to turn that down — and all but assure themselves of advancement to Regionals.

While No. 17 Mississippi State is still unbeaten through 14 games and the darlings of the pre-conference season, they do get the marquee start: No, 19 Georgia (12-1) visits on Friday, in a Dawg vs. Dogs showdown.

At 14-0 it is easy to say State will win 20 and that's a usual NCAA entry ticket.

Conference coaches picked South Carolina as the team to beat, based mainly on the idea they were the only team last season to not lose at home.

Everyone else had at least one loss at home and that decided the conference.

Then Tennessee won the post-season conference tournament and the official SEC title.

Traditionalist not worried about monetary impact stay with the regular season champs.

Among other ranked teams in the Associated Press poll, No. 1 in America South Carolina (12-0) has Auburn (8-3) at home; No. 5 Texas A&M (11-1) prior to its game against Washington welcomes in Vanderbilt (7-4); Missouri (10-2) is at the fourth Top 10 team in the league, No. 8 Tennessee (also 10-2)., No. 11 Kentucky (11-2) is at Alabama (11-4) whose campus is a little busy with football this week.

All of those at least 10-win teams seem certainly headed to the Sweet 16.

That's half the field.

There have outstanding individuals in the conference.

Eight SEC student-athletes are on the Naismith Trophy Top 50 Watch List: Freshman A’ja Wilson with SC teammates Alaina Coates, Tiffany Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch; Bashaara Graves and Isabelle Harrison, UT; Jennifer O’Neill, UK; and superior guard Courtney Walker, A&M.

Five SEC student-athletes are on the Wooden Award Top 30 watch list and as Wade Watch candidates: Graves, Harrison, Mitchell, Walker and Welch, SC.

Kentucky coach Matt Mitchell has gotten injuries early from some of his talented Wildcats.

The latest is star scorer Jennifer O’ Neill. she banged knees with another player in a practice and is out.

"Not exactly sure who or what she hit," said Mitchell. "I think it’s a strained patella tendon, which at this point has no structural damage, just too painful to play.

"Now, it’s basically a pain tolerance issue. Hopefully it’s not more than a couple of days, could be a couple of weeks, it’s just everybody’s body reacts differently and we’re really grateful it’s not anything structural.

"Any time missed for us right now is a major injury because we’re just a little understaffed in the backcourt. We’ll watch her day-to-day and treat the heck out of it, but it’s not a definite 2-4 week thing it’s just until she gets to feeling she can play on it again. That’s her injury.”

They are already without Bria Goss.

"She’s in a cast for four weeks before they’ll look at it," said Mitchell.

"She feels good. She practices every day, we don’t throw the ball to her but she cuts, plays and runs sprints. We’re two weeks out from just seeing where she is and hopefully it’s healed in two weeks or wherever we are on that.

"But, she’s doing great, feeling good, and has a positive attitude.

"Janee Thompson emerged today as a really great on-ball defender with seven steals, no fouls, and that’s what I was hoping for Bria. I hope a couple people may emerge and really get better right now defensively because they have to.

"Janee played an unbelievable game and I’m so proud of her. Thirty-five minutes of effort. It wasn’t like she just held a space out there for 35 minutes, she was everywhere - five assists, seven rebounds, seven steals, eight points and had a great attitude, so, good day for Janee Thompson. I’m proud of her, and those are the kind of games we need while Bria’s out to help us be stronger when Bria comes back.”

Kentucky's Alexis Jennings earned her second conference rookie of the week honors. She scored 27 as Kentucky won at home against Tennessee State, 87-75.

She hit 8-of-12 free throws and had eight rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. Starters Linnae harper scored 17 and Mikayal Epps 15. The 28-of-43 free throws (State was granted 13-of-16) was the difference .

"It certainly was not the best game that we’ve played all year, but with the real difficult circumstance that we were put in in a real short period of time, I was really proud of our players of getting into some uncomfortable situations and some different roles than they’ve been in all season long and find a way to win,” summed up Mitchell.

Tennessee wrapped up its pre-conference, 74-63 over No. 10 Oregon State, as conference player of the week Izzy Harrison scored 20 with 12 rebounds. Alexa Middleton added 12 points off the bench as four Lady Vols finished in double figures.

The victory was the second in a row over one of the Pac-12's top teams — Tennessee defeated then seventh-ranked Stanford 59-40 the previous weekend — which means UT coach Holly Warlick has defeated top 10 programs in back-to-back games for the first time in her career.

Before this, they hadn't even defeated two top 10 teams in the same season during her tenure.

The last time Tennessee won back-to-back games against top 10 teams was the 2008 Final Four when it topped No. 6 LSU and No. 4 Stanford en route to the national title.

It was Harrison's sixth double-double already this season. Warlick has been consistent fort two seasons saying as Izzy goes, so goes her team.

It was only a one-point halftime edge, which means UT won the second half by 10. Six straight points at the 54-50 mark were all spurred by Middleton. Two baskets were layups, one on a coast-to-coast steal and the other as a outback.

At home as was Kentucky, UT had a dominating edge in free throws, 22-of-34.

The Beavers stayed in it by hitting 6-of-9 3s in the first half.

Tennessee will concentrate on the league now, but has one game left of a screwy January series with Notre Dame. That is exhausted and not likely renewed at South Bend on Jan. 19 in a meaningless game.

The series was set up by former Tennessee coach Pat Head Summitt and the former women's athletic director. No one now at UT is anxious to do this again.

In fact, UConn is back on the Lady Vols' radar.

Georgia lost its first, on the road at unheralded Seton Hall, The Hall won both halves, 33-25 and 37-26.

"It's a very important win for us," second-year coach Tony Bozzella said.

"Never underestimate that for us. ... Next to any playoff game, it's the most important game I've coached in and I'm really proud of them."

The Pirates (12-1) won their 11th straight game after Tabatha Richardson-Smith scored 15 of her 25 points in a key second-half run. It was Seton Hall's first win over a ranked team since 2007.

"They are a great program, they've made it to the NCAA tournament 20 years in a row," Bozzella said of Georgia. "For us to beat a team that was undefeated, it was a big win."

Seton Hall last won this many straight games in 1980-81 when the Pirates had a 12-game run. they have won 14 straight at home. They last beat a ranked team in 2007.

"I think they should have been ranked," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "They got quality wins, no bad losses, beat who they are supposed to beat."

He said his leading scorer, Shacobia Barbee *(13.9) had a had a tough week coming in and he knew this was going to be a rough one. She scored one basket.

"I could tell in practice the last two days," he said. "I'm not surprised she didn't play well."

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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