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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Guru's NCAA Report: Connecticut Routs Texas While Dayton Stuns Louisville

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Playing in the shadow of the nearby capital of the Empire State, pseudo hometown star Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson helped top-ranked Connecticut tower over fifth-seeded Texas 105-54 Saturday afternoon in an NCAA women’s tournament regional semifinal game at the Times Union Center.

The rout enabled Hall of Fame Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma to pick up his 100th victory in NCAA tournament action.

Then came one of the tournament’s big surprises in the nightcap when Dayton gave all those mid-major fans disappointed with the committee seeding treatment of Ivy champion Princeton something else they can wrap themselves around.

The seventh-seeded Flyers, one of the powers of the Atlantic 10, took down third-seeded Louisville 82-66 dancing their own 40-minute dance version of the hustle after arriving here wearing a Cinderella crown for last weekend’s 99-94 upset of second-seeded Kentucky on the Wildcats’ home court.

And so instead of a reunion Monday night of two rivals of the old Big East who battled in the NCAA championship game won by the Huskies in 2009 and 2013, Auriemma will go against a squad headed by Jim Jabir, who had a six-year period through 2002 of winless outings against the Huskies coaching Providence in that same old Big East.

Six is also now the number of failures by Texas against UConn without any success in their series spread across several decades.

The winner of Monday’s game between the two-time defending national champions and Dayton earns a trip out of the Albany Regional to the Women’s Final Four this weekend in Tampa at the Amalie Arena.

But first things first.

 As the day rolled out, it is suffice to say that Connecticut (35-1) took less time to bring down the Longhorns (24-11) then it is taking to write  this roundup or bring down an old stadium or hotel.

The two-prong wrecking balls for Connecticut were Stewart, who grew up near here in Syracuse and is already two-for-two in Final Four most outstanding player honors, and Jefferson, who, Texas coach Karen Aston said may be the key for the latest phase of the Huskies domination, whose 51-point advantage was their largest at the Sweet 16 level.

Stewart had another signature tournament performance getting a UConn season high 31 points, while grabbed 12 rebounds, dealing seven assists, blocking three shots and grabbing two steals. The points are a personal best in the tournament for the only collegian to be part of last year’s FIBA World Champion USA squad coached by Auriemma.

“You know people are under this impression that just because Stewy doesn’t get 30 every night that she can’t,” Auriemma said. “If Stewy wanted to do what she did (Saturday), she’d do it every night.

“If we didn’t have the balanced team that we have, if we didn’t have the five starters today that we had, she would be doing that every night. Sometimes people forget just how good she really is. And today was another indication of how good she really is.”

Stewart noted, “Today was a lot of fun. Just right from the start, shots were going in and we were being aggressive, and taking open shots. We knew Texas had a big presence inside, big post players, and we knew that once we could get them moving a little bit we could get any shot we wanted.”

Jefferson had 25 points, connected on three-of-four of the overall 13 three-pointers produced by the winners. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 10 points and her two treys brought her within four of the NCAA women’s career mark of 396.

Morgan Tuck scored 14, while Kiah Stokes off the bench rejected four of UConn’s 10 blocked shots.

“I think the biggest thing that is overlooked, because they are so good offensively, is the fact that they are very hard to score on,” Texas’ Aston said. “And unless a team is going to be capable of putting up points consecutively, they are going to have a hard time beating them, because they’re going to score.” 

When it comes to ball handling, the Huskies committed a Villanova-like single-digit six turnovers while forcing 18 that resulted in a 22-5 scoring advantage in the category.

“Decision making is so critical, and 18 turnovers is not good at all,” Aston said. “But we’ve won a lot of games with that many turnovers.”

Ariel Atkins was the only Texas player to score in double figures, getting 11 points.

As for his 100th win in the tournament, Auriemma said, “In the NCAA tournament it is easy to remember (all the games), but because the losses sting so bad, those are really burned in your memory, those are really hard to forget, those losses, because they’re all losses that end your season. They’re tough to take.”

Auriemma had always said the next game is the hardest of all in the tournament, whether it would be facing a known power such as Louisville or a surprise opponent in Dayton.

“Whoever wins actually gets a chance to compete for the national championship, that’s why it’s so hard,” he said. “I’ve always found it’s the most difficult game to prepare for. That to me is way harder than what happens the following weekend.

Dayton Shocks Louisville

Things have worked out much better for Dayton at the back end of the season then they did at the front when the Flyers, preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10, dropped three of their first four and then fell out of the rankings.

They also lost three times to renaissance George Washington, including the conference championship, but all that is old news measured against Dayton’s performance in the tournament.

Louisville (27-7), now with the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time this season, had a seven-point lead just before the 10-minute mark of the first half when Dayton (28-6) made a defensive stand and methodically worked back into a 30-29 lead at the break.

The Flyers stayed ahead the rest of the way, eventually building a double digit lead deep into the final minutes to make Dayton the first conference team to get to the Elite Eight since former member Xavier got there in 2010.

George Washington in the late 1990s was the last existing A-10 member to make it this far.

Andrea Hoover, one of the top A-10 players, scored 26 points for the winners while Amber Dean scored 15 points, Jodie Cornelie had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Kelly Austria scored 10.

Dean’s total was helped with a perfect 10-for-10 from the line.

Myisha Hines-Allen had 14 points for the Cardinals, Bria Smith scored 12, Jude Schimmel, the sister of former Louisville star Joni, who was one of the top WNBA rookies last summer, had 11 points, and Shawnta’ Dyer had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s the first time, really, all year, that I have seen us be as stagnant on the offensive end as we were,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “So we struggled trying to get the ball in the basket. We got some good shots, in the first half and second but we just couldn’t get the drop.”

Smith agreed with Walz’ assessment.

“I think it was a lack of execution with the plays, we were pretty stagnant in our offense and that is what made it easier to guard us,” she said. “We were supposed to get more movement and we just lacked concentration.”

Jabir spoke of Dayton’s strong finish to date.

“Our guys have continuously stepped up and matured and handled themselves better and better with every challenge and the challenges keep getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

“If you’re a basketball coach and you really care about your craft and what you do, then this is the ultimate goal,” Jabir continued. “Getting to this point is what every coach should want to achieve and we’ve been fortunate because we’ve been able to recruit certain kids who can be molded and who can work together and who believe in each other and unselfish and this is what happens when you bring good people together and they all believe in the common goal.

“Until the buzzer went off I thought there was a chance they could come back, but we held it together.”


Mike Siroky will be back with the West regional later off the Tennessee-Gonzaga game that followed Maryland,now with the Big Ten, topping former rival Duke of the ACC.

In the WNIT on Sunday, Temple will try to keep its magical run alive, playing at Middle Tennessee in a quarterfinal game, while Villanova will be at former Big East rival West Virginia in another quarterfinal game.

If both locals win, Temple and Villanova would meet for the second time this season, later in the week in a semifinal game.

The success to date of the two locals follows Drexel winning the WNIT in 2013 followed by Rutgers last season.

 -- Mel 



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