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 22, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: One More Joins the Round of 32

By Mike Siroky

Thee second day of Round 1 of the NCAA women's college basketball elimination had one of the  two ranked Southeastern Conference teams join the four previous league qualifiers into the Round of 32.

 The SEC still has the potential for 25 percent of the Sweet 16
•No. 6 Tennessee, a No. 2 seed
in the Spokane Regional headed by new nemesis Maryland of the Big Ten, was at home for the second straight season to open the NCAA tournament.

 They are the only program to have participated in all the NCAAs ever presented.

The Lady Vols lost three times on the road outside of conference all season, to ranked teams UT-Chattanooga, Texas and Notre Dame. All three were also in the NCAA draw as is co-conference champ South Carolina.

The opener started slowly as Boise State burned up oits enthusiasm while Tennessee waited for the chance to finish them.

It was 13-12 halfway through the half, Boise ahead. Only Bashaara Graves was trying for Tennessee, with eight of the home points. coach Holly Warlick was going crazy on the sidelines, as she is wont to do, but no motivation seemed enough.

Graves made two free throws and guard Ariel Massengale suddenly woke up for a 3 and UT was ahead to stay.

From there is grew to 39-32 at the break. Graves had 12 and Massengale 10.

 The former has become the rock of the team and the latter does this sort of thing against lesser opponents, so it was a natural progression.

  Even coach Holly Warlick said they need to keep Massengale involved and confident, "Because in the past, she hasn't been there."

In the second half, UT just maintained and won that segment as well, the overall final 72-61, led by Graves with 24 and keyed by an 8-0 run to close it down.

"We missed a lot of layups and Gaw, was I nervous," said Warlick.

Tennessee's second team all-conference senior point guard Cierra Burdick concentrated on rebounds (11) and assists, which meant others had to fill in the scoring.

"Speaking of stepping up, The Beast, Bashaara Graves, was awesome wasn't she?" said Warlick. "She works before the ball gets there. We needed her to be there." 

Graves was 9-of-11 from the field.

But what they most need, said Warlick, "Is to get back to our work on defense. Sure they hit wide-open 3s (nine of them) and we have to stop that. Defense will win our games."

Next up is 10 seed Pittsburgh, a stunner with the win over UT-Chattanooga, a team which had beaten UT in the regular season and had been on a 25-game win streak.

UT averaged 10,193 at home this season. This one drew 4,000 less.

•No. 21 Texas A&M, of course played itself out of a home game and into a road trip, this time to the campus of  three seed Arizona State. The A&M leader is guard Courtney Walker, an AP first-team all-conference player.
The opener with unranked  Arkansas-Little Rock. an 11 seed, coached by A&M Gary Blair's best friend, Joe Foley.

"You don't have that very many times in coaching where you're going to play against your best friend in an NCAA Tournament," Foley said.

They  met when Blair, then at Arkansas, walked in to watch a practice run by Foley while he was coaching at Arkansas Tech.

Blair calls Foley, who earned his 700th career win, a perfectionist.

"You're talking about a guy that most people around the country could not even tell you where UALR is or who Joe Foley is," Blair said. "But the coaches that know the game realize he's one of the best."

This one started badly, as have so many recently for the sixth-seeded Aggies. 

Little Rock maintained a four-point edge. 

No one had more than four for A&M until, at the five-minute mark, Little Rock stopped scoring. 

Courtney Williams hit a Jumper, then  a free throw on the next possession to tie it. 

Achiri Ade blocked a shot. 

 Khaalia Hillsman hit a layup, then grabbed a defensive rebound.

 Hillsman and Ade each took a defensive rebound and scored on the other end off a Chelsea Jennings feed.

It was 28-27, A&M at the break. 

Williams had 11 and Knox six.

Williams had five rebounds on defense and Hillsman four.

It was A&M's last rally of the season. 

Little Rock quickly tied it in the second half then assembled a lead. 

It was nine and there it stayed for the 69-60 elimination.

Williams scored 24 but was 9-of-20 from the field. 

 Ade was scoreless in her final game. 

The only basket in the final three minutes was a last-seconds 3 by Courtney Walker which at least made it a less than double-figure loss. 

Little Rock had its second NCAA win. Ever.

Blair had coached his team to losses in four of the five final games, all against unranked teams, after point guard Jordan Jones tore her ACL and was through. This has never happened to him before. A first-round loss is also rare.

His pledges to improve after each loss now ring hollow. 

"We were dead tired," Blair said. "We couldn't guard their 3-ball, because basically we were too tired to get it.

"We've got to look ourselves in the mirror and find out what are we doing to become a Top 10 basketball team," Blair said. "`Maybe getting kicked in the butt and slapped around a little is going to be good for us."

He can spend the off-season looking for leadership among the four returning starters. His is the first of the ranked SEC teams to head home.

•Unranked LSU was gifted with an NCAA invite by finishing tied for fourth in the conference without the usual prerequisite 20 wins.

They paid off neither the league swagger nor the overconfidence of the NCAA Seeding Committee in also leaving the  tournament without a win, losers of five of their last eight and ending 17-13, never ranked all season. 

It may be the new definition of all you have to be to earn a No 11 seed. 

Danielle Ballard is a second team all-conference AP selection and she may not be the best Ben-Gal. She was the leading scorer, with 17 and seven rebounds. Two others also hit double-figures.

They drew the home team, No. 25  South Florida, a six seed. 

No. 8 Louisville, seeded third, is the top seed there with their home court unavailable due to the men's openers at home.

It was an uneventful start.

 South Florida had a six-point intermission advantage. 

Then they took charge, growing the lead to 15 with seven minutes left. The clock kept running and the Tigers did not much.

With four minutes lefty, LSU was on track to join A&M with none and done in this playoff.

 There was not enough time left, based on statistical scoring vs. minutes played  in this game. 

And that's how it wound down. The home team would hit free throws, LSU would lose time working for a hoop and then have to foul and the home team would hit free throws. 

Florida State did not need a basket n the final several minutes. 

LSU only cut four points off the seven-minute lead until a jumper with 15 seconds to go made it a 74-63 final.

The Sweet 16 qualifiers start Sunday, with South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas hoping to complete 25 percent of the field.


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