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 07, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Final Force Includes One Unranked Team

By Mike Siroky

To start the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament, let's remember here of the the qualifiers are the group which finished 1-1-4-6.

Which is to say LSU is still alive, Mississippi State is not and and Texas A&M is looking like road kill in the NCAAs.

The Aggie lost the third of the past four games and the second in a row to LSU, 71-65.

The discussion in Little Rock, Arkansas suddenly concerns more than the roads that are closed due to ice.

With this win the Ben-Gals will be ranked as of Monday and where will depend on the next two days with the impossibility of reaching 20 wins.

In this game, a balanced scoring attack was led by forward Danielle Ballard's 22, with 10 rebounds.

"I thought both teams competed well," said a properly understated Nikki Caldwell, coach of these Ben-Gals. "It's a guards' game and all we wanted to do was compete with them."

A standout stat: LSU took only two more free throws but hit six more than did A&M.

Of such concentration is a game won.

LSU hit 52 percent from the field in the first half, just slightly offset by 28 percent in the second half won by A&M, 34-27.

LSU (17-12) secured back-to-back wins over ranked opponents for the second time this season. The Lady Tigers knocked off No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 10 Kentucky in January.

“I’m very proud of our team for fighting for 40 minutes,” Caldwell said. “Texas A&M is a very explosive team. They're seasoned. They have great leadership in Coach Blair. They have unbelievable players. I was proud of our group for staying the course and sticking to our game plan. We were able to make the plays down the stretch that we needed to solidify the win.”

For Ballard, it also was her fifth double-double and fourth 20-plus point performance of the season.

She also extended her streak to 13 consecutive games in double figures.

Ballard was 8-of-16 from the floor and sank 6-of-9 at the free throw line over her 35 minutes of action.

Raigyne Moncrief worked her way around foul trouble with 14 points, the 11th time in the past 13 she has doubled down.

The Aggies were fueled by Courtney Williams’ balanced effort. She scored 19 points, with seven rebounds and six assists.

LSU hit eight of its first nine shots whie A&M missed its first eight.

The Ben-Gals maintained their double digit advantage for the remainder of the half, ahead 44-31.

"Our composure is through practice,” Caldwell said. “We've talked about how we've got to be better in late game situations.

"Down the last four minutes of the game, we want the ball in (Danielle) Ballard's and (Raigyne) Moncrief's hands because they are just great playmakers. They finished out the game for us. They've shown they can do that time and time again in our conference.”

They earn another shot at No. 3 South Carolina in the semifinals.

It was all abut the defense for the regular-season co-champs.

South Carolina got a program record 15 blocked shots in a 58-36 win over Arkansas.

It must be noted Arkansas leaves with as many wins -- 17 as has LSU.

But the Gamecocks, with 28 wins, allowed just 19.3 percent shooting by the Razorbacks.

Using a balanced attack, Tiffany Mitchell's 12 points in 27 minutes was enough to lead the champs.

The Gamecocks got out of the gate quickly, opening a 10-point lead. It was 31-17 and the game was over at the half.

"I thought we did a really good job," said SC coach Dawn Staley. "We just made some adjustments from the first time we played them. I thought it disrupted what they were trying to do. But I thought it was a tremendous team effort on both sides of the ball.

"I like our defense. I like the fact we only gave up 36 points. I like we only allowed them to shoot 19 percent from the floor. When your defense is working that way, it really puts you in a position to win basketball games no matter what you do on the offensive end. "

No. 4 Tennessee was no less impressive, dispatching old foe Georgia to the NITs, 75-41, its three-game sweep of the 'Dawgs complete.

Nia Moore (6-0f-6 from the field) scored 14 and Bashaara Graves (5-of-6 from the field) 13 points. A 21-point halftime edge told the onlookers what was going to happen in the second half as well.

Graves also finished with a team-leading 11 rebounds, recording the 20th double-double of her career.

Moore was a perfect 6 of 6 from UT which used trhe exhibition to help two of its seniors reach career marks, Cierra Burdick's six points let her become the fourth Lady Vol this season to reach the 1,000-career-point club, joining Graves, the sidelined Izzy Harrison and Ariel Massengale.

With three assists, Massengale became the third player in program history to reach 1,000 points and 500 assists. She also had 10 points.

Tennessee also had a record day defensively, holding Georgia to 41 points, the fewest points the Lady Vols have ever allowed in an SEC Tournament game.

The previous low was holding Georgia to 44 points in the 1982 semifinals, which the Lady Vols won 55-44.

The Lady Vols went on a 15-0 run to establish the opening. It was 32-11 at the break.

The 11 points are the fewest the Lady Vols have allowed in the first half since limiting Arkansas to that many in 2012.

"I think we were focused," said UT coach Holly Warick. "But this team is extremely focused and we've got great leadership, we really do. I talk a lot about this.

"Our seniors have great leadership. Bashaara has really stepped up and took up the slack for Isabelle. They police themselves. When they do that, hold each other accountable, it's fun to be around. You get to coach. Really that's what I've been doing, that's what we did tonight.

"You know, Ariel makes calls. I totally trust her what she calls. She's a coach on the floor. I've been there. She sees things that I can't. So just have a lot of confidence in them. They're in. They're all into this team and the program, so . . ."

So they now play the dearest rivals, Kentucky.

In a game properly close game when it is No. 11 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Mississippi State, both sides hoping for an NCAA opener at home, Kentucky again took the measure of State, 76-67.

For folks who still watch this type of thing, Matthew Mitchell is the final male coach in this tournament, in the season wherein others got more attention.

Kentucky guards Makayla Epps (16) and suddenly a starter Jennifer O'Neill (12) led UK, behind 31-27 at half.

Steady center Martha Alwal led the spread-out State scoring with 11. The lead was never more than eight.

In the first five minutes of the second half, Victoria Vivians -- our choice for league rookie of the year -- hit a pair of 3s and another jumper and Alwal scored again.

But it was only 56-53, Bulldogs, with nine minutes left. State had led by as many as 13. Vivians was at 21 points in her first playoff game, 4-of-5 on 3s. She is a joy to see when firing like this.

Of course the Kats did not go quietly.

The duel was on. Epps hit a 3 and it was 58-all. She had 27.

There were eight minutes left in the most exciting contest so far in this tournament. In any other conference, this would suffice as an all-time playoff final, never mind quarterfinal.

Each side was working it. No one backed down, least of all the demonstrative coaches or the loyal fans.

UK scored the next five points, making it an 18-point advantage in seven minutes.

It appeared the veteran team would finally dismiss the newbies. UK had won at home in this matchup this season, but it took double overtime.

Six minutes to go. Anther Epps layup and, with 3:09 left, it was a nine-point UK lead.

The Kats were surgically slicing State up. It became one of thos e free-throw games, make the opponent foul with no intention of taking anything but a wide-open drive.

It was over. Vivians scored 19, but none in the final five minutes.

The most important win of 23 this season had been secured for Kentucky, Epps with 31 points. Each side won 11 times against other conference teams.

Last year, it was UK vs. UT for the playoff title.

If either had a choice of a delicious win, it would come in this rivalry.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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