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, February 17, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Notebook: The Real Top 10

By Mike Siroky

We have begun that final 10 schedule countdown the NCAA uses as a seeding metric.

Among the ranked teams in the Southeastern Conference of women's basketball, it is playing out as projected.

Despite what you may have read elsewhere, it looks like five at most this year and that includes gifting newy unranked Georgia, which may yet reach 20 overall wins.

Those five with 20 wins will make it because no. SEC teams with 20 wins have ever been left out of the NCAA draw, well before the field was 64.

No. 2 South Carolina, with its loss at UConn is 5-1 in the final 10.

No. 6 Tennessee, still, to play at SC, is 6-0 and should complete the rest without their best player, Izzy Harrison, lost for the season.

No. 11 Kentucky, which still has to play A&M and plays SC to close the season, is 4-2, with two of the losses to Tennessee.

No. 14 Mississippi State, losing at Kentucky, is 4-2 and still goes to SC.

No. 15 Texas A&M, with the first one a loss at SC, is 4-2, but could sweep the rest of them.

Georgia still needs three wins to hit 20. It has only Tennessee at home left as a contentious game.

So, while starting the final 10 1-5, the Dawgs can easily end on a 3-1 run. They are newly unranked but are at least in the Top 30.

That may affect the bid possibilities and the Dawgs may need a good showing in the league tournament.

They have fallen apart since losing their leading scorer to an injury.

LSU is the mystery meat this year.

It only has 14 wins and cannot get 20 in the regular season, with four losses in the league. At 4-2 in the countdown, they will not be ranked.

By the way, the league title will once again go to whomever wins all its home games.

Both Tennessee and SC can reach that, with the fact SC would have defeated Tennessee which is more likely now with Tennessee losing its best player to injury. being the tiebreaker.

That only gains you the top seed in the league tournament and two easy games to start that playdown, but it should mean more.

We traditionalists like the marathon more than the sprint.

The long season should mean more.

Then again, with success in the regular season of the toughest league in the land, you do get a Top 16 seed and the two home games that come with that, a ticket to the Sweet 16 if you win at home.

The NCAA did announce an early Valentine's present, as the seeding committee mentioned which teams are currently in its Top 20.

There are four from the SEC, led by South Carolina and Tennessee as No. 1s, with A&M and UK in the mix, close to hosting in the first rounds with the rest of the top 16.

UConn is, of course, the No. 1 of all No. 1s.

Tennessee welcomed in Kentucky in the conference game of the week.

UK needs a defining win this season.

Before that, Tennessee gained its second straight road win and the 26th straight against Ole Miss.

Perhaps nothing so defines the toughest conference in the country as the non-ranked teams.

One of them may break through and certainly South Carolina has broken through not only in the league but also into the most competitive teams in the nation.

Mississippi state is delighting the nation with the run of the lifetime of the program.

But Vanderbilt and Florida have fallen back and likely out of the NCAAs while Kentucky and Georgia have reached plateaues.

This is not relegated to the SEC of course.

In the Big Ten, for instance, Penn State and Purdue have each had home Sweet 16 sub-Regionals multiple times and have also won their post-season conference tournaments.

This season neither is likely to even make the NCAAs. Both are saying it is simply a season of rebuilding.

Ole Miss, Auburn, Vandy, Florida and LSU have flirted with national runs, the War Eagles making three straight national championship games under legendary coach Joe Ciampi.

All are now non-entities in the toughest league in the land.

As undefeated league teams, Tennessee at South Carolina on Feb. 23 is the league game of the year.

SC should be favored, as they were last season, with UT the conference runnerup, as they were last season.

With two Tennessee starters unavailable -- Izzy Harrison and Jordan Reynolds – the Lady Vols might not even be competitive.

Tennessee will likely land as a No.2 or No. 3 in the NCAAs but not compete for the title.

Coach Holly Warlick has said for two seasons that Harrison is the most important player on her team. They remain Top 10 without her; a Sweet 16 team at best.

• Kentucky came in to Knoxville with three straight wins. Tennessee was coming off two road wins, 18 straight in the league and 17 straight at home.

The Lady Vols took on their 10th Top 20 team this season and seventh Top 10 team.

They are 8-2 against Top 10 teams this season.

Though she seldom appears at games anymore, there was a pregame video message from former coach Pat Head Summit.

Tennessee put Kentucky away, 72-58, completing the last challenge to a home loss.

After a 31-all halftime, the Lady Vols made a blue collar effort pay off.

UK had a balanced attack, 13 from Makayala Epps and 10 each from Jennifer O’Neill, Linnae Harper and Brian Goss.

UT’s Ariel Massengale, after several lackluster games, picked a good one to resuscitate, with 17 off the bench, including two 3s. It pushed her career scoring past 1,000 points.

Cierra Burdick, always efficient vs. UK, scored 14, Bashaara Graves and Andraya Carter 11 and Jamie Nared 10.

Led by Burdick and Graves, nine rebounds each and Izzy Harrison, also seven, UT was just good enough on the boards to keep UK at bay, with 27 defensive rebounds.

As an exampled of their defense, Epps was coming off a 42-point effort in the previous game and had bee the league’s leading scorer.

Harrison had to be carried off the court a few minutes into the second half. The injury was to be evaluated but it is a conference-impacting injury.

After a mini-run of 6-0, UT had a 12-point lead with three minutes to go.

UK did not have the will to change anything.

In a rare moment of reality, UK coach Matthew Mitchell said UT was the tougher team in this game.

"The lead was going back and forth,” said UT coach Holy Warlick.
“The opportunity at half time was totally my fault. I wanted us to press and we should not have been pressing.

"That was not a very good coaching move. It was going back and forth. They got the lead and we were just determined.

"I don't know if we were tougher.

“We pursued the basketball and we didn't let people take the ball out of our hands. I thought we panicked a little bit.

"They would press us. We had 22 turnovers. I thought for the most part, especially the second half, we really handled their pressure and took it at them.

"You've got to get stops. You've got to get stops and they're a good offensive team.

“They have 3-point shooters and you've got Harper who is super quick driving the basketball and Goss put up 40 or so points last game.

"You've got to get stops and I think that's what we did. We buckled down, hunkered down and got defensive stops.

"I just think that energized us. We have a drill that we do in practice called a persistence drill. We go for 45 seconds and you have to get stops up to 45 seconds and it's probably the hardest drill that we ever do.

"Very seldom do we win in persistence drill. It's just extremely tough and they talked a lot about the persistence drill."

She has been a believer in Massengale’s comeback ability.

“I told her before the game she would have a good game,” said Warlick.
“So she started off and didn't hit, but let me tell you what Ariel did today; she was a tremendous leader for us.

"When your shot isn't falling, you go in the tank, but she did not do that. She was a great leader and very vocal.

"She got the team where they needed to be.

“Honestly, I don't know what it is like to score 1,000 points, so I don't know that kind of pressure. I don't know if she felt any or not, but if I asked her, I guess she would probably be glad she got past that.

"I thought her 3s energized us. Her 3s are like when guys dunk the basketball. It gave us energy on the defensive end.

"When she scored, I thought we made some great stops. What broke the game open was our transition after getting stops. I just thought that helped break the game open for us."

Harrison has confirmed she tore her left ACL. She is done. Warlick said it means the others will step up. Jordan Reynolds missed the game wih an undiagnosed dizzy spell.

Mitchell said, "Our first thought is that we really send out our prayers, best wishes to Isabelle Harrison.

"We know what that feels like, and it doesn't feel good when one of your players goes down like that.

"Obviously, it was bad enough that she didn't return to the game, so we're really thinking about her and will be praying for her and praying for the best."

So it is that UT is expected to beat the also-rans every time, home and road.

In the road win, Tennessee looked like it should, staking themselves to a 32-15 lead at Mississippi in the first half.

As has been the system this year, Izzy Harrison had 14 points and 10 rebounds, four defensive, already a double-double at halftime.

She was 6-of-10 from the field and Jordan Reynolds was 3-of-3 for six points.

The Lady Vols defense held the Rebels to 29 percent from the field.

UT prevailed, 69-49, to move to 21-3, 12-0 in conference.

Harrison finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Bashaara Graves had 17 points.

The Lady Vols won the backboard war, 46-29.

They held the league's second-highest scorer, Tia Faleru, scoreless. She had scored for 99 straight games.

"We did not give very good effort," Mississippi coach Matt Insell said. "To beat a good team like Tennessee, your effort and energy have to be right.

"Their effort and energy was right.

"Obviously Holly (Warlick) challenged them this week in practice because of their consistency.

" I did the same with our bunch because of our consistency.

"We blew a 16-point lead Thursday against Vanderbilt, and then we come back and to not have any effort and energy, and to not get it out of some of your leaders, that's something we'll have to address in practice.

"We got to stop settling for long shots," Insell said. "We're not a long-shot team. We're a team that drives to the rim and gets baskets at the rim.

" I knew Tennessee was bigger, the same way South Carolina was bigger, but we drove it in there on them and had a lot of pop and got to the rim on them.

Tonight, we stood out there and settled for long shots."

"We have to figure out a way to bounce back," Insell said.

Another matchup of ranked teams had Mississippi State at Kentucky, giving the Kats the biggest challenges of the week.

•Mississippi State knows going to Kentucky is never easy. The Kats' only home loss in conference is by one to Tennessee. So Kentucky opened its week with the latest ascendant conference team, Mississippi State.

It started and stayed tight for the first half.

UK had an 8-2 lead in the first four minutes. State cut it to 8-6. It was back to a home advantage, 18-12, with 11 minutes left, then 24-12 a minute later. State cut it to 26-29 in two minutes, outstanding rookie Victoria Vivians already with 14 points and four rebounds.

UK was more balanced, Mikayla Epps with eight leading them.

State tied it at the end.

The best Bulldog, Martha Alwal had four fouls and State gambled by leaving her on the bench.

Even though UK led by five to start the extra period, It worked as they went into a second overtime.

UK once again grabbed the lead by five, then hung on for a 92-90 win. Epps missed a jumper, Jelleah Sidney got the rebound and Epps made a layup at the buzzer.

Vivians scored an outstanding 39, 5-ot-10 on 3s, the most ever by a freshman in the program.

She'd be the league rookie of the year if not for SC's A'ja Wilson getting better publicity on a better team.

Vivians is a starter, Wilson is not. Co-Rookies of the Year is the only justifiable justice. Alwal had 21.

Kentucky was led by Epps' 42 and 16 from Bria Goss.

UK used to live and die on defense. This game underlines their new reputation of a team that has plateaued. The defense is not there against good teams. Had this not been in Lexington, it could have easily been reversed.

State can win three of its last four, needing to go to South Carolina Feb. 26.

"We have lost back-to-back games to them in overtime on the same play," State coach Vic Schaefer said. "I'm disappointed for my kids. We had some warriors out there. I couldn't be prouder of them and prouder of my program. I was proud of how competitive we were. That game could have gone the other way.

"Our kids bowed their necks and competed. We competed in a tough environment against a great team. I think we had a hangover in the first half (from a 63-61 overtime win over Texas A&M).

"We played our hearts out in the second half and we should have won," Vivians said.

The Bulldogs caught Florida stumbling int Starkville and easily handled the Gators,

It became the Bulldogs’ 24th win to still lead the league overall. Florida dropped below .500 with its eighth league loss. They seem cooked for the season.

Breanna Richardson had 10 at halftime including two of State’s six 3s. and State led by that margin. Even though Florida had scored the first eight points, State outscored them by 18 in the final 16 minutes of the half. From a 17-6 deficit, State went to work,

A season-high crowd of 5,183 was in attendance, the fourth largest in program history. The Bulldogs snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Gators, winning for the first time since 2008.

Martha Alwal had 14 points and 13 rebounds, Breanna Richardson scored 16 and the Bulldogs opened the second with a 9-4 run for a 15-point lead that never dropped back into single digits. Their 24th win ties the program's best starts in 1999-00 and 2002-03.

Florida (12-13, 4-8) scored the first eight points to open the game and led 17-9 before Mississippi State ripped off a 21-5 run to take the lead for good.

Alwal recorded her third double-double of the season and 34th of her career.

Victoria Vivians added 10 points as the Bulldogs bounced back from a 92-90 double overtime loss at No. 10 Kentucky on Thursday.

“The kids were a little dead when the game started,” coach Vic Schaefer said. “I am really proud of everything we have accomplished.

"We have set a lot of milestones here that people didn’t think were possible when we got here three years ago. We have some high expectations around here.

“With three league games left and the conference tournament, there is still a lot for this team to accomplish.”

•South Carolina had the right opponent in LSU taking its shadow of a season to the Gamecocks, which were simmering after losing the national embarrassment to UConn.

Vanderbilt was also at SC, which maintained its undefeated home season.

LSU had been hiding in the shadows, one marketable win at Mississippi State, but South Carolina shone a beam of reality at the and took a 48-20 halftime lead.

LSU is not ranked for a reason, the main one being 14 wins overall.

So to lose a fourth in conference simply erased any pretensions the Ben-Gals had.

Guard A'ja Wilson, another superlative freshman, had 14 at the break and
It ended 86-62. Wilson finished with 26, 11-of-15 from the line. SC outshot LSU, 52-35 percent.

By Monday Wilson was rewarded with her SEC frosh award, which was also given to Mississippi State's Vivian. The honor tied Wilson with five other former SEC freshmen to gain six weekly awards during the season.

"I learned what I've always known -- we're a good basketball team," coach Dawn Staley said. "Nothing and no situation will ever take that away. You saw a team that wanted to win. They performed that way.

"I'd like to see us put the game away in the second half," Staley said. "We didn't do that.

"I want A'ja Wilson to play," Staley said. "I want her to use the tools in her toolbox, night-in and night-out, whether it's physical or not. Really proud of the effort she put out there on the floor."

It was more of the same against Vanderbilt, another romp, 89-59, led by guards Tiffany Mitchell (20) and Wilson (20). At one point, Wilson was 5-of-7 from the floor and 10-of-11 from the line. SC won the backboards, 43-23.

Coach Dawn Staley did not even remember it was the 30th straight win at home.

“Sometimes I lose track of what the numbers are, but our fans, they do a really good job of tweeting what the numbers are,” she said. “When the fans are into it like they are and they create an environment like this, they make you embrace them.

"I know they're embracing our team when our fans are the ones that created this. From last year on, they put us in a position to not lose with how they support us and I hope we can never lose in the building again.

“I think we’re mentally prepared to play Arkansas on Thursday. We’re not going to go any further than Arkansas, because when you get ahead of yourself, any team in this conference can beat you.”

•Texas A&M awaited Arkansas and used its defense to underline a 59-55 win. The Aggies hit 19 wins. When they get to 20, it will be the 21st for coach Gary Blair, guaranteeing a 24th NCAA entry ticket.

He has placed 10 teams in the Sweet 16.

The four losses in the league have already eliminated the regular-season title.

Chelsea Jennings got two key of her four steals in the final eight seconds.

Courtney Williams scored 15 Courtney Walker 14. It is a season sweep of the rival Razorbacks, extending the home win streak to 15.

“What a ball game,” Blair said. “We couldn’t put it away when we made our run right before the end of the first half. I thought we were in pretty good shape.

"They’ve (Arkansas) had problems finishing because of their lack of depth.

"Arkansas’s kids fought so hard. We could only force 12 turnovers and we were pressing trying to wear them down, but our problem was that we wore down because I didn’t have the subs.

“Chelsea Jennings was doing a tremendous job on Jessica Jackson. She gave up about four inches and was doing as good as she could. The last turnover was hers. Chelsea found a way to get the ball and then she goes to the free throw line and nails two. Give the kid a lot of credit.

“We had some inside plays called and we decided to shoot the jumpers. We were running some box stuff trying to post up. We just didn’t have the right spacing or the right passing game tonight.”

•Georgia is playing itself into the last SEC team into the NCAAs, based more on half, 32-21.

Guard January Miller, of the bench, scored 10, as did Carlie Needles and Cassie Peeples had 11.

Florida is just even, 12-12. Each side has seven league losses. Georgia needs three more wins to hit 20, and only one of its final four sees to be winnable.

The Dawgs blew a 14-point lead in the second half, especially after Krista Donald left the game in the second half with a left ankle sprain and did not return.

Already wit5hout its leading scorer for the remainder of the season due to injury and with Merritt Hempe out due to illness, Georgia was short-handed and it showed.

"I thought that we played hard and that we played through the circumstances of losing Krista," said Georgia coach Andy Landers.

" It really put us in a tough spot because Mackenzie (Engram) was in foul trouble and we had to move a guard (Pachis Roberts) into the 4 spot who does not know the 4 spot.

"And we survived that little stint, but we played hard and played reasonably well defensively. We rebounded terrifically, we out shot them from the floor, we out shot them from the 3 and we tied with them in free throws.

"But, we made 28 turnovers. I can't ever remember winning a game in the Southeastern Conference making 28 turnovers and some of them are really hard to understand."

So now it is up to his newest players.

"Our younger players are going to step up and deliver. They can't not deliver. They have to step up and help this basketball team get well.

"They need to develop a different attitude. This is a competitive situation. This is do or die, you don't have a choice. You either deliver or you don't. And if you don't, it's real bad.

This goes for everybody on the basketball team. We are down to numbers as such where everybody has to go out and do their very best every night for us to have a chance to win."

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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