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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: A Final Force (Or Two?)

By Mike Siroky

When does a legend begin? 

Is it when an established success story continues its upward surge to an ultimate challenge?

Whether Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball co-champions South Carolina wins in its Final Four, the journey of a legend is maybe just the getting there.

The Gamecocks, top seed in an NCAA Regional for the second straight season, won one for the first time by coming from behind and dismissing No. 2 seed Florida State, 80-74, in the Greensboro finale on Sunday in North Carolina.

Senior Tiffany Mitchell scored seven of 21 points in the final two minutes. SC needed 61 percent overall from the field to do it. 

FSU had three times led by five in the second half. One way to track it: SC only had the lead for three total minutes of clock time.

There were five ties and seven lead changes in the final 10 minutes. Mitchell's drive made it 69-67 with just under two minutes left. 

The Gamecocks forced a hurried shot and a miss and fed Mitchell again with the 3 from the corner with 75 seconds left, in the lead to stay. No longer threatened, they scored on 6-of-6 free throws and a final layup after that.

Sohomore Alaina Coates scored 14, freshman A’Ja Wilson 10 and junior Asia Dozier made four free throws in the final 20 seconds after the Gamecocks won their 34th against only two defeats. 

 With Mitchell, that is one significant player from each recruiting class, another sign of stability to come.

"I knew we were always in the game," Mitchell said. "We played behind plenty of times. We never doubted for a second that we weren't going to lose this game, and that's the mentality you need against a great team like Florida State."

The best conference in women’s basketball has a quarter of the finalists with a second chance coming up Monday night when No. 2 seed Tennessee takes on top seed Maryland, new to the Big Ten but eminently vetted as a top team of the moment, in Spokane’s West final.

The other team already qualified is No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the Oklahoma City Final, repeating the defeat of No. 2 seed Baylor. 

That’s who SC gets this week, tops in the AC vs, tops in the SEC.

Sense the tradition yet? 

All No. 1s and No. 2s so far. 

All hosted their first and second games.

The UConn conference champ is assumed to repeat a championship sweep, starting in the Albany title game, also Monday night. 

If you don’t think it’s fair to call it the UConn conference, just know 75 percent of women’s basketball fans have no idea what the real conference name might be.

The ultimate historical reference for the women’s game is, of course, there is one really good team – call it elite – and then everyone else.

UConn will beat everyone else, emphatically and eventually. Probably next season, too. Let’s just put it out there.

For now, SC is celebratory. 

If they win out, the conference will drop the middle E on first reference and just call itself SC for at least next season as well. Makes it easier on the uninitiated late arrivals.

As soon as the NCAA can bid itself out to ABC (subsidiary of ESPN) for the women’s Regionals and Final Four, the game will zoom up another notch, with still more games and still less attendance. 

This one, the closest to the SC campus, drew only 6,364, thousands below the home season average.  

Oklahoma City did not admit its attendance, but it drew less than half night for the semifinals.

SC coach Dawn Staley is in the Women’s Basketball  Hall of Fame as a player;  she played in a Final Four and won three Gold medals in the Olympics. She is in the Naismith Hall of Fame for playing and coaching.
Now she is coaching her first Final Four team.

“It’s surreal,” she said, “because this signifies a lotta things. One, basketball is really great to me. Also, I am a true believer in divine intervention. The Man upstairs takes care of me.”

Left unsaid is why He does not take care of others, a particularly hard sell with the Notre Dame, who also believes. And ND does not let teams off the hook late, as the past two foes did.

But back to real basics.

“Our kids, I work them so hard and so much  that they won’t have any breakdowns or lapses,” she said.

As for the endgame, that coaching acumen started with recruiting and signing Mitchell.

“We went inside to our role players to stay in it, but when the game is on the line we went to Mitchell. Time and time again and she delivers,” said Staley.

“Yu stay true to your core values and stay playing what you have been coached to do because this is a game that rewards that. “

So it does. On to the Final Four. Cocks of the walk.

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