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, January 06, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Tradition and Consistency Show in League's First Week

By Mike Siroky

To say all the ranked teams in the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball won on the anticipated opening weekend of league play in the strongest conference in America is simplistic.

It is one thing to say you are a good team.

It is entirely another to consistently prove it.

While two games is the smallest possible sample size, it does reaffirm the national voters are getting it correct.

So here is what we know:

•It turns out No. 14 Mississippi State is for real.

They won the only opening night battle between ranked teams, downing visiting Georgia , 64-58.

State becomes the first team to 16 wins. They may hit 25 before the NCAAs.

They met the challenge at Missouri.

Against Georgia, Breanna Richardson, Kendra Grant and Morgan William each scored 11. William scored six straight free throws in the final 2:18.

“Coach talked about the first five minutes of the second half and how important they were,” MSU sophomore said sophomore forward Richardson.

“We had played well but we knew we had to play better. We really want to stop the 3-point shot. Our defense was really good in the perimeter.

“Give the credit to the Good Lord for blessing me with a tremendous group of young ladies playing their hearts out,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer. “I feel real blessed. The kids competed today. Our kids played their hearts out. We didn’t have one player who went and got it done. We had four or five who played well and carried us.”

The crowd – a season-best 4,114 -- was also credited with helping the team stay focused.

Then came another separation moment in a season of the same, a road win at Missouri.

Jerica James scored 17 points, including a pair of 3, to lead State to a 53-47 comeback.

In past seasons this would be a loss as State settled in with the second tier. Not this year.

James was 4-of-8 from the floor, and 7-of-11 from the line, with six of those free throws made in the final minute. Breanna Richardson added seven points and nine rebounds and the Bulldogs are already at 17 wins.

Trailing much of the first, State closed with a 13-3 run ignited by Victoria Vivians' 3 and carried a tiny, 21-19, advantage into the break.

The Bulldogs then fell behind again in the second half before clawing back with a 19-2 run, capped by Breanna Richardson's layup that gave the Bulldogs a 44-36 lead with 3:46 to go.

•No. 20 Georgia came back home and took out Alabama, 64-47, Tiaria Griffin scoring 16 points, Merritt Hempe 15 and the Dawgs snapped a two-game losing streak for their 13th win.

The defense held the Crimson Tide to 30 percent from the field, including 4 of 23 three-point attempts.

Georgia shot 46 percent, hit 14-of-16 free throws and had a 41-32 rebounding advantage with Shacobia Barbee grabbing eight to go with her five assists.

Hempe had seven rebounds

•No. 1 South Carolina defeated a gutty Auburn team for their 13th, 77-58, starting a second season of defending the home court. They hit 13-0 and then went to formerly dangerous LSU.

The news from the Auburn win was Aleighsa Welch scored 12 before leaving with a neck sprain .

They had a 20-point lead before she hit hard against a basket post and remained down for several minutes. She walked off under her own power and went to the hospital for X-rays. But first she stayed to watch the end of the game.

The Gamecocks maintained with a 12-2 run (including a technical call Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy).

Freshman A'ja Wilson opened what will be a legendary SEC career with 12 points for South Carolina while Alaina Coates added 11 points and 14 rebounds, her seventh double-double this season.

The Gamecocks' start matched their best-ever win streak set in 1985-86.

South Carolina said Gamecocks leading scorer Mitchell, the defending SEC player of the year and sixth in league scoring at 14.8 points a game shot just 1 for 9. Wilson also struggled with her shot, finishing 6 for 17 from the floor. She had 10 rebounds for her third double-double this season.

On the road, they dismissed LSU, continuing a free-fall from a contending team to a third-tier team, 75-51. South Carolina opened the second half on a 19-3 run and LSU never got within 24 points after that.

Wilson – the league rookie of the week -- scored 21 with her season-high 13 rebounds and blocked three shots as SC took a program-record 14th straight game.

"A'ja benefits from being on a team full of players who have experience in SEC play," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "She has great teammates who put her in a position to be successful.

"She can just be who she is and take her time to learn how to play at this level night in and night out."

A 6-foot-5 freshman who doesn't start but plays significant minutes off the bench, Wilson has scored in double figures in all but one game this season and has four double-doubles, including both of South Carolina's league games.

"She's got big-game capability and she really hasn't even touched the surface on being a great player," Staley said. "She's just playing within what we're doing. I'd like to see her kind of deviate a little bit and get a little bit more aggressive on both sides of the ball."

Tiffany Mitchell hit 3-of-6 3s and finished with 17 points.

"We did not execute what we'd been practicing, understated LSU coach Nikki Caldwell. She said the rookie Wilson "was overpowering us."

•No. 9 Texas A&M erased Vanderbilt, 75-61, for its 13th win. They hit the road for Arkansas, once ranked and with 10 wins.

Courtney Williams scored 22 and Courtney Walker 17 in the win vs. Vandy.

The Aggies had their second straight win after dropping two straight following an 11-0 start.

The game was tied early in the second half when the Aggies went on a 11-2 run. Jordan Jones, the SEC leader in assists, had a season-high 15, with nine points and Achiri Ade added 10 points with 11 rebounds for A&M.

Coach Gary Blair was feeling better after sitting at the end of the bench in Wednesday's game and leaving the play calling to associate head coach Kelly Bond-White because he was sick.

The victory is A&M's 21st straight win at home over an unranked team and extends its home winning streak against all opponents to 11 games.

The Aggies scored 20 points off 21 turnovers by Vanderbilt and outscored the Commodores 32-20 in the paint.

Against Arkansas, it came down to an A&M buzzer-beating basket and a 52-50 win.

Achiri Ade's putback as time expired helped A&M overcome a difficult performance and give the school three straight wins after back-to-back losses -- including a disappointing defeat in the closing seconds to No. 3 Texas in North Little Rock two weekends ago.

Ade finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds, making sure this homecoming
ended in winning fashion for Blair, who is now 4-0 against his former school.

Blair still has family in northwest Arkansas and took his team to his Fayetteville home for a barbeque before heading home to College Station.

"It's good to be back home," Blair said. "... I had a lot of people cheering for me in the stands, but the majority of the Arkansas people were doing what they were supposed to. They should be cheering for Arkansas."

Courtney Williams led the Aggies with 18 points, but it was Ade who corralled Jordan Jones' miss in the closing seconds and banked in the winning basket as time expired -- helping to overcome a 33.9 percent (19 of 56) shooting effort.

The winning play came after Blair called a timeout with 24 seconds remaining, following a basket by Arkansas' Jessica Jackson that tied the game at 50. Ade's points matched a season high, and her 15 rebounds are one off her career-best of 16.

"Once I saw (Jones) go up, I just tried to get a body on somebody, get the miss and take my time with the last shot," Ade said. "... The worst thing that could happen was overtime, so I just had to take my time with the last shot and just go up."

Whistling past the graveyard, first-year Arkansas coach Jimmy Dykes said, “We're just as good as Texas A&M. We didn't come here to play the game; we came here to win the game, and they just made one more basket than us."

With the shared opponent – Vanderbilt -- as a barometer, the Aggies now head to Tennessee. The Lady Vols gave A&M its only loss at home last season.

Tennessee wants to defend the home court. So it is the game of the week in the league.

•No. 10 Kentucky won at Alabama, 78-66, and reached 12 wins. The Kats came home for Ole Miss and won, 64-58.

In the opener, Alabama had the lead at 10 in the second half, when, Janee Thompson scored seven straight points to and then Kyvin Goodin-Rogers hit two 3s to spark an 18-0 run. Freshman forward/center Alexis Jennings came off the bench for 21 points and five rebounds.

Tide coach Kristy Curry is not making excuses.

“I think that when you go back and look at an effort statistic from our team – that’s obviously the boards – and then you look at the fact that we then go turn the ball over 27 times and give up 39 points off turnovers. I think our kids have to understand that you have to channel your effort in the right ways,” she said.

“We channeled it right on the boards, but we didn’t channel it right taking care of the ball, which was something we worked on for four days."

Actually before their Christmas break and they probably didn’t realize it.

“ It’s going to take some time, it’s a part of the process. We’re going to stay positive and keep teaching. This league isn’t forgiving. They have got to understand that the game doesn’t care how old you are.

" We’ve got to really understand that and get better every day. We will be better for today, continue preparation for Georgia, and go roll up our sleeves and do the best we can.”

UK coach Matthew Mitchell said, “We are so happy to win our SEC opener, and especially on the road. Every road win that you can pick up is extremely valuable. We have a lot of respect for Alabama; they really took it to us in the first half.

“I was impressed with their energy level and their desire to win in the first half. I was very disappointed with our effort in the first half. I thought the rebounding showed you everything you needed to know.

"It was 31-13 in terms of rebounding at the half. I don’t know if I have seen such a poor effort from our team on the boards. I also thought that we were very fortunate enough to only be down eight at halftime”

Against the Rebels, Kentucky used an 8-0 run to take a 56-51 lead, but Ole Miss answered with a 7-2 surge to make it 58-all. Janee Thompson scored to give the Wildcats a two-point lead with 2:22 to play.

Harper forced a turnover on A'Queen Hayes, and then scored to make it 62-58 with 73 seconds left. Jennifer O'Neill made a pair of free throws to seal it for the Wildcats.

Thompson finished with 17 points, O'Neill 13.

After Mississippi, Mitchell said, “I can’t say enough about how hard Ole Miss played and how prepared they were and how aggressive they were. I thought that they really took it to us in the first half and defensively had us back on our heels when we were on offense.

"You can file this one under better to finish strong and not how you start, how you finish, I guess. We are still struggling to get off to good starts. We just weren’t playing as hard as Ole Miss was playing. You are not going to win games in this league, especially with us right now we have to play so hard. I really challenged them."

•No. 7 Tennessee – the fourth league team in the AP Top 10 – may has reclaimed its swagger.

First, the Lady Vols beat Missouri at Knoxville, 63-53, for their 11th win. They had an extra day to prepare for the in-state battle against Vanderbilt on Monday.

There were three players ejected in the Mizzou tussle.

Andraya Carter matched a career high with 16 points.

Tennessee center Izzy Harrison and Missouri guard Juanita Robinson had to be separated as they exchanged words after getting tangled up while fighting for rebounding position with less than three minutes remaining.

Both players were ejected, and Tennessee center Nia Moore also was ejected after officials determined she left the bench during the incident.

The Lady Vols trailed by seven points late in the first half before going on a 14-0 run to pull ahead for good. Ariel Massengale scored 14 and Jordan Reynolds added 10 as Tennessee earned its seventh straight victory.

And they erased the memory of a conference-opening home loss last season (to LSU) which eventually cost them the regular-season title.

They won the official conference title in the post-season tournament. They are 27-6 all-time in SEC oepners.

"We started slow and went in after halftime and made some adjustments, came out and played a lot harder and got hustle plays and our defense stepped up,” said coach Holly Warlick. “When our defense steps up our offense seems to flow a lot better. But great win for us. I thought that Missouri was very good, they gave us all that we wanted."

As far as the ejections: “They just got tangled up and emotions got involved. I think once they calmed down it was fine.

"Izzy has to control that, we can't have her possibly get a, whatever it is, flagrant one, and get thrown out of the game for the next game. She was frustrated, didn't have one of her better games but only played seven minutes so I would be frustrated too."

Tennessee then headed to Vanderbilt. This is a mythical rivalry as Tennessee holds a dominating 64-9 (25-7 in Nashville) record against the Commodores, which is one of those second-tier league teams that always makes the NCAAs and always fails early. Warlick has not lost in four tries as coach. They next meet on senior Day in Knoxville, March 1.

The Lady Vols dominated, even if 57-49 does not look like it. The 49 points scored by the Commodores were the fewest they've scored in a this series since 1976.

UT is on an eight-game winning streak, nine straight against league teams.

Vandy had 17 at the half. UT his 80 percent from the line.

Andraya Carter elevated her career best to 19 points.

"When teams see how strong of a an inside game we have, you kind of have to gamble a little bit and I think most teams want to take away our inside game," Carter said. "So it's up to the guards to make the decisions and we have to get ball movement and player movement to get the ball inside. It definitely makes it tougher when (opponents) are packing it in."

Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb agrees: "They had other people step up. You gave four other kids double figures."

Ariel Massengale scored 12, Jordan Reynolds 11 and Cierra Burdick 10.

"I thought we were aggressive and I thought we attacked the basketball," Tennessee coach Hollly Warlick said. "I thought for the most part we gave one shot. We got them to take quick shots."

Tennessee outrebounded Vanderbilt 39-27, including a 17-12 edge on the offensive glass. The Lady Vols outscored the Commodores 12-4 in second-chance points.

"We got beat on the boards like you can't get beat on the boards to Tennessee or you're going to lose," Balcomb said. "They punished us. If we just fight on the boards somewhat this game could have been different. Physicality."

Tennessee is back at home for the league game of the week, No. 9 Texas A&M on Thursday. They don’t have to worry about Vandy until the last home game, senior Night, in March. There are three road games after Thursday, two winnable conference ones and then the silly interruption at Notre Dame to close that series, Jan. 19.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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