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, March 24, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Conference Co-Champs Advance to Sweet 16

By Mike Siroky

For all the traditions of Tennessee women's basketball representing the Southeastern Conference, remember this is Holly Warlick's first as coach of her beloved program.

Sure, they went all four years when she was their point guard back in AIAW days and so many times as an assistant coach, but now she leads them to the Spokane Regional after a 10-point win over a feisty Pittsburgh team.

It is just UT and South Carolina, co-champs of the SEC, in the Sweet 16 for the conference.

This Lady Vol win was at home, of course, where they are 56-0 in NCAA tournament games (they were a program record 18-0 at home this season).

And their Sweet 16 opponent is an 11 seed, Gonzaga, which already owns one of the tournament's few upsets, at four seed Oregon State, to qualify.

This game was all about the player Warlick calls The Beast: Junior Bashaara Graves.

She has shown up big in every major game UT has had this year.

Bigger still since leading scorer and starting center Izzy Harrison ended her career with a torn ACL a few games back.

Graves had another double-double, 21 points and 14 rebounds, just two points off her career high in the opener.

"It just happens," Graves said. "I don't think it's (that I have) a different mindset. Everyone else says they can tell when I'm quiet during warm-ups that I'll have a good game, but I don't think anything like that."

Senior teammate Ariel Massengale agrees.

"Big-time players step up in big-time moments and make big-time plays," Massengale said. "That's what Bashaara is continuing to do for us."

With 29 wins, they even attracted praise from the star of the game.

Pitt's point, senior Brianna Kiesel scored 24 of a career-high 32 in the second half as her team actually won by two after intermission including a 9-0 run coming out of the break.

"Just playing (Tennessee) today and having the honor of playing one of the best teams in the nation, it was just a great, amazing game," Kiesel said. "I couldn't have asked for a better way to go out."

Warlick agreed, greeting her in the tunnel after the game and kiddingly offering her a spot on her team.

"What a gutsy performance by their point guard," Warlick said. "She was incredible. She was a handful. That's what you do when you get to this point. You battle and play hard."

After trailing by 14 with 4½ minutes left, Pittsburgh cut the lead to 69-65 on Kiesel's three-point play with 37.8 seconds remaining.

UT senior Massengale went 6-of-6 on free throws and made a steal in the final 37 seconds; classmate Cierra Burdick also celebrated a final home with 14 points and 10 defensive rebounds.

She had been scoreless in the opener.

"I was just trying to stay positive," Burdick, one of four in double figures for the home team. said. "I knew today I had to bounce back. It was nice to see the ball go through."

Tennessee won the boards by 17 which keyed this win in front of 5,702 fans which is surprisingly low for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols have at least 40 rebounds in four of the past five games, all wins. It also makes them 27-0 in sub-Regional finals.

UT also locked down on Pittsburgh's Stasha Carey, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the opening-round upset of UT-Chattanooga.

She was held scoreless this time.

"It was a great win for us. We had to battle," said Warlick.
"I am really happy that these two seniors could go out the way they did. They have been through a lot and they have had a lot of pressure put on them since their freshman year.

"I am just excited that they get to keep playing basketball, I am really glad that they got to have two great performances here.

"They didn't want to be done, so B had to step up and do some things, but it was a great team effort and Pittsburgh was so solid.We are happy and thrilled that we are moving on."

She also said the plan indeed is to get Graves the ball, which both seniors acknowledged.

"She is really doing a lot of work before she gets it," said Warlick. "I think when Izzy went out she understood she has to step up and do things for this basketball team.

"How she is playing now has been a result great practices, very intense, very focused.

"We got her the basketball, we are going to get her the basketball. We play the game inside, out. We are going to go through Bashaara Graves. I don't think that is a secret, that is how we play."

Gonzaga will not bring any surprises.

"We have scouted them," said Warlick.

"They spread the floor. They shoot the 3 really well. They are a difficult team for us to defend because they don't so much post up, everyone can shoot the 3, everyone can handle the basketball.

"So for us, it is not a traditional basketball team, they all can play all positions. We are going to have to play a lot better one-on-one defense than we did tonight. That style of play, when you have to help and rotate your defense, that is how they get open looks. We have to really understand the importance of one-on-one basketball.

"We will work quite a bit on that this week."

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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