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 21, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Four Kick Open the NCAA Door

By Mike Siroky

The fun of the first round of th NCAA women's basketball tournament for us traditionalists is it automatically makes the winner part of the Round of 32, if only for 48 hours.

Friday's winners are thus advanced to what used to matter and was harder to get into.

The Southeastern Conference had four entrants on the first day of play. All survived; three are nationallty ranked teams,

No 3 South Carolina was 15-1 against the world -- that one being everybody's bully, UConn, by plenty.

As the top seed in the Regional, they showed little pity on  Savannah State, a team the Gamecocks  had beaten easily once this season.

South Carolina established itself early, 29-17 by the time there were seven minutes left in the half.

  Sophomore Alaina Coates, a starter almost anywhere else in America not named UConn, was 4-of-4 from the field and 1-of-1 from the line as a reserve. 

She finished with 14. Alleged super freshman A'ja Wilson showed rookie nerves and scored but one basket.

It was 43-30 at half and never got closer.

Senior Aleighsa Wech started 6-of-6 from the floor. In a one-minute spurt, Khadijah Sessions scored five unanswered points as the Gamecocks hurried to make the most if their allowed playing time in the blowout. 

Once the game was more in hand, Wilson relaxed and went off on her own five-point explosion to extend the lead to 30 and finish with 15, 13 in the second half. In the last three minutes, neither side scored and it drifted into a 81-48 final.

Tiffany Mitchell, the league player of the year and Naismith finalist, and Wilson are first-team all-conference in the SEC as selected by  the AP; Coates and Welch, are on the second team. Which is three starters and the top reserve.

"I was happy with the atmosphere and really happy with the outcome," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said.

South Carolina welcomes 22-9 Syracuse on Sunday

SC is hosting an NCAA game for the first time in 13 seasons, but there's an NCAA reason for that..

A controversy exists which Staley deftly avoided. 

While saying how nice it was for her  team’s fans to be able to have a home game, she did not acknowledge the reason for the gap between NCAA home games in Columbia.

The NCAA has agreed any state (Mississippi is the other one) which uses the Confederate flag as part of its state display will not be allowed to host an NCAA playoff game.

The thin line of compliance, according to the NCAA ‘s interpretation, is these are earned home games and not assigned ones. 

The agreement is with the NAACP, among other civil rights groups, to avoid protests. 

Staley starts an all-black team, so one would think she’d be sensitive to the issue. 

None of the local media asked about it and it has become a non-protest issue, though the local chapter of the NAACP is not happy.

The NCAA merely acknowledged the difference in interpreting the agreement without comment as to support or non-support of the protest. They have enforced the ban for all sports, including proposed football bowl games.

No. 11 Kentucky is also at home, also for the second straight season. 

The Kats were 11-2 against the nation, somehow losing at home to Illinois and then at Duke. But they beat Tennessee State by a dozen to end the pre-conference season and that's who came to visit to open the NCAAs,

Kentucky stopped all the chatter early, running away with a 17-3 lead in the five-minute jump. 

Alexis Jennings' five off the bench was significant.

 It was 21-6 at the midway point of the half, looking like a two seed at home vs. a 15 they had already beaten once this season should look.

Linnae Harper had eight off the bench as coach Matthew Mitchell substituted freely.

 Tennessee State got off their backs and cut it 50-25 as the half closed. The shooting percentage discrepancy was similar, 53-26 percent in favor of the home team.

Kentucky stopped all the chatter early, running away with a 17-3 lead in  five-minute jump. 

Alexis Jennings' five off the bench was significant.

It did not improve for the visitors, the lead reaching 40 with eight minutes left. 

UK was is cruise control, settling for defensive domination and care on offense which led to gaps in scoring by minutes for each side,

At the 92-57 end, the only real challenge was to be the first in this tournament to hit 100. 

But like so many top seeds, prevalent substitutions led to many scorers and UK had six in double figures, led by reserves Harper's 16 and Jennings with 15.

 Three of the starters ha 13 each, including Makayla Epps, a first team all-conference, as selected by the AP. 

The Kats hit nearly 50 percent from the floor (including the same percentage on 3s), compared to 26 percent by Tennessee State. UK had 36 defensive rebounds and won the overall by 22.

Tennessee State coach Larry Joe Inman played Captain Obvious in his post-game acknowledgment.

"I don't think we played at all defensively," he said. "They just did what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it.

"We had to play harder than them to have success today and I thought that was the biggest difference between the two games (against Tennessee State)," Mitchell said.

The UK players said the fast start was a point of emphasis prior to tipoff and was a difference in the outcome.

That was something that was written on the team's locker room message board: "Just out-hustle your opponent" 

Kentucky, with 24 wins, awaits in the Albany Regional headlined by UConn.

As the top seed in this sub-Regional, Kentucky closes its home season on Sunday vs Dayton.

No. 12 Mississippi State, third in the league, was nevertheless disrespected by being sent on the road in their impact season and won.

 They were 15-0, the only undefeated league team in the pre-conference season. They won the women's pre-season NIT and the Las Vegas Holiday Classic. Vic Shaefer was selected the AP SEC Coach of The Year. Victoria Vivians, the best freshman starter, is second-team All-conference for the AP.

To open the national tournament, as a fifth seed they took on 12th seed Tulane at the sub-regional, part of the West Regional,  the first round on the Duke campus.

Trying to avoid the fabled 12 upsets five NCAA tradition, State started with a 10-5 lead eight minutes in when  Richardson made a layup. 

Two Morgan Williams free throws to close the half had it at a maintained 27-22 advantage. Vivians had seven and substitute Sherise Williams had five. The Green Wave was shooting better than was State, 34-26 percent.

State rocked steady down the stretch, doubling the advantage to 10 for their 27th win. A last-gap Tulane 3 made it 57-47.

Victoria Vivians was flummoxed in her NCAA debut, no second-half points on  2-of-7 from the field. 

Sophomore Richardson stepped up with 15 and reserve guard Williams scored 14. It is the sign of a good team when the SEC's leading scorer can afford a no-show game and yet they win away from home.

"We knew Richardson. ... She didn't surprise me today because on that weakside rebound, she is tough to keep off the boards," Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said. "When they were missing those outside shots, she really got those second-chance opportunities.

"They made us take a lot of bad shots, and that put us in a hole, and we had to fight back out of that," Stockton said.

Richardson had 11 points during the 22-2 run that pushed the Bulldogs' lead well into double figures.

Schaefer challenged the Bulldogs during a timeout.

"Hey, we didn't play very good. Give Tulane credit, they had a lot to do with it," Schaefer said. "It's good to know you can win an NCAA Tournament game knowing you didn't play your best."

Next is homestanding Duke, a five seed lucky to survive Albany in the opener, vs. a four seed, with the chance to go onto Spokane, where top seed Maryland should await. Tennessee is the second seed there.

Then there's unranked Arkansas, the last league team into the NCAA eliminations, somehow leap frogging three other conference teams with better records and 11-3 in the pre-conference season.

 They had not attracted 20 wins yet. But they did beat the No. 22 team in the nation, which underlines the idea a tough competitor in the toughest league can do fine against teams from lesser leagues.

Arkansas was at Waco, a 10 seed  taking on seven seed Northwestern of the Big Ten,

After a 23-all half, the teams just stayed even.

The second half started with more of the same, with Northwestern slowly claiming a seven-point lead three minutes in. Arkansas then began a series of sags and surges.

Jessica Jackson, the second team all-conference AP selection, hit a 3 and the deficit was manageable.

Jhasmin Bowen made a basket, a free throw and another basket and the deficit was still four with 14 minutes left,

The Wildcats built another lead, up to 12 with nine minutes to go in someone's season.

Mississippi State scored five unanswered and the lead was 13.

Wolff hit a jumper. Calli Berna hit a 3, her only make of the game. Kelsey Brooks and Bowen each scored from close in, Bowen hit a free throw. Melissa Wolff hit a jumper and the lead was two as Northwestern only answered all of that with a 3.

It was a two-point ballgame.

Four points were countered by a  Brooks layup and  steal and another layup kept it there with three minutes left.

What no one knew was Northwestern was stalled by the Razorback defense at the four-minute mark. 

A Wolff defensive rebound ked to a Bowen layup. A Jackson defensive rebound led to her being fouled and a made free throw. They had a one-point lead inside of 30 seconds.

Each side called time out. The Razorback shooting was suspect, but had been just good enough. 

Jackson was 4-of-16, Wolff 6-of-12, Kelsey Brooks 5-of-12 and Bowen 4-of-11. Only Jackson's 3 spree, 3-of-8, kept them alive. They had nothing off the bench. But Wolff had 15 rebounds, six on defense.

Missed free throws on both sides ended it when Brooks got another defensive rebound and was fouled.

 Her free throw with two seconds left caused jubilation throughout Razorbackville. 

Toughened by adversity throughout the league season, they had pulled it off and started the SEC run with the first NCAA win for the conference, 57-55. They have their 18th win. Second-seeded Baylor is next, at Baylor.

Coach Jimmy Dykes said this game proved to be like any other, with rebounds paramount among the things you can control.

"We continued every timeout to drive home offensive glass. Offensive glass. Keep throwing body blows, and one of these offensive rebounds is gonna win us the game," Dykes said. "I think it ultimately did, the one by Melissa Wolff."

This is the Oklahoma City opener, with Notre Dame leading that Regional bracket.


Ole Miss is home again Sunday evening for Georgia Tech in Round 2


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