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.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Aces Wild as No. 1s Meet For Conference Title

By Mike Siroky

The top two teams in the Southeastern Conference of women's college basketball will meet for the automatic NCAA bid Sunday.

No. 3 Tennessee has been there many times; this is but the latest such adventure.

It is another program first for No. 2 South Carolina.

Both are already in the NCAA tournament of course, each likely as No.1 seeds and each definitely with home openers.

Last season, this was a semifinal matchup. This season, the Gamecocks edged the Lady Vols a few weeks ago, 71-63, at home.

South Carolina ended LSU's run in the semfinals.

"We started out slow," said SEC coach Dawn Staley.

SC was behind at the half. "More like LSU had a hot start," said Staley. Tiffany Mitchell, the league player of the year for two seasons running, was scoreless at the break and only scored four all game.

"Good players are going to have one of those games," said Staley. "The thing we see is everyone else stepping up. It is a marathon and we have confidence. Our non-starters are tough in practice; they are ready when their number is called."

Tina Roy is one of those, with 12 of 15 points after the break.

Led by 16 from Alaina Coates, the Gamecock won their 29th overall by hitting 78 percent from the field in the second half.

They had trailed by 11 in the opening period.

"It means that we're doing the right things, we're doing it the right way," Staley said. "Sometimes doing it the right way requires you to be a little bit more patient than we would like. ... It means our program is continuing to grow."

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell is naturally disappointed and knows a 17-win season should get them in the NCAAs.

"It was a well-fought game for about 30 minutes," Caldwell said. "My young team, they've got to grow and learn from this and understand that you've got to play with that same intensity for 40 minutes."

A 26-7 Gamecocks run to go up 56-42 doomed them.

Roy hit four straight 3s -- including a banked shot to put South Carolina up 60-43. She was 5-of-10 on 3s.

"I know I missed a few in the first half, but in the second half my teammates just encouraged me to keep shooting the ball," Roy said. "And they eventually started falling."

The Ben-Gals lost by 24 points in each of their two defeats to South Carolina earlier this season, but they led by as many as 11 in the first half before settling for a 31-27 halftime lead.

They did rise from 70th to 58th in the NCAA's RPI standings following their quarterfinal win over Texas A&M, and many projections have them reaching the NCAA tournament despite their lackluster overall record.

They did, however, finish the regular season 10-6 in the SEC -- including a pair of wins over Texas A&M and one over No. 12 Kentucky.

Tennessee senior Cierra Burdick led a heartfelt effort in eliminating Kentucky.

Burdick had 20 points (8-of-14 from the field) and 11 rebounds as the Lady Vols pulled away.

It's the 23rd time in 35 seasons the defending tournament champs now with 27 overall wins, have reached the final.

They won it over Kentucky last season their 17th conference tournament title.

Kentucky is 1-7 against UT in the league tournament.

Perhaps wishing aloud, Staley had said they knew they'd face another tough team "in Kentucky," but did swiftly add "or Tennessee."

Tennessee won for the fifth time in six games since All-SEC center Izzy Harrison's career ended with a torn ACL.

After Kentucky tied the game at 20 late in the first half on a jumper by O'Neil, the Lady Vols answered with an 8-0 run -- capped by Burdick's second 3-pointer.

Jordan Reynolds added 13 points and hit three 3s for the Lady Vols, who were 9 of 19 overall from behind the arc. Reynolds is one of those picking up the slack with leading scorer Harrison gone.

Ariel Massengale and Andraya Carter were a combined 10-of-10 on free throws; UT hit 18-of-20 from the line.

After 31 in the quarterfinal win, Kenutcky's Makayla Epps found a better defense and superior coaching plan makes the diference . She was 4-of-13 with 10 points.

"It was a fun game for us," said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick. "They stuck to our scouting report and what we needed to do. We didn't start off real good, but we stayed focused.

"This group, I keep saying they play so well together, we don't have to rely on one person. They're truly a team. They're fun to be around. When you win like this, we heard a lot about beating a team three times, we talked a lot about that. It's about playing in the moment.

"I think this is what this group does. They play in the moment. We know the two games that we played earlier, we could have gotten better. We just did some really good things as a team.

"We are excited to move on to the championship game. "

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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