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 29, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Tennessee Proves It Is Among the Elite

By Mike Siroky

Miraculously, traditionally, Tennessee won an overtime Sweet 16 basketball game Saturday night and are into Monday night’s Elite Eight.

Gonzaga, the lowest seed in the tournament left, at No. 11, gave the No. 2 seed Lady Vols all they wanted before faltering, 73-69, in the Zags' home city of Spokane, Wash.

The effusive Holly Warlick, Lady Vol legend and coach, was as usual thinking faster than she could speak afterwards.

“Gonzaga was just absolutely, they were awesome today,” she said. “Great credit to their coach, the coaching staff and the kids. They fought hard. It was a battle. We had to give everything we had.

“The crowd was phenomenal. I know they weren't yelling for us, but to come out and support Gonzaga, it was huge. That's how about basketball, women's basketball, should be.”

The home team attracted 8,686, the best attendance in this tournament.

“So, I understand how special this place is and the fans and the people here and it's been and it was just they had a great run.”

Until the end, it was an obvious disappointment for UT, maybe moreso because all they had to do was play to their averages and had not.

Most befuddled was junior center Bashaara Graves. She had carried the Lady Vols ever since leading scorer and team leader in all other areas Izzy Harrison blew out a knee, ending her career.

The ‘Zags, playing at home, took control in a four-minute 13-4 run leading to the seven-minute mark and a 17-point lead.

Then UT went to work, mostly on defense. UT whittled it to 10 on a layup by senior Cierra Burdick with 4:4 left. Gonzaga did not score for four minutes.

The Lady Vols got two free throws each from Burdick and Jordan Reynolds around a hard-working layin from Graves. UT was suddenly ahead, 62-61.

Gonzaga’s Emma Wolfram made a layup, assisted by Keani Albanez. 63-62, 42 seconds left.

Reynolds hit another free throw. It was deservedly tied. Both sides missed 3s, had turnovers and the buzzer sounded for overtime.

The Zags went first, winning the jump.

Senior Sunny Greinacher, the former exchange student form Germany, hit a jumper.

UT’s Ariel Massengale turned it over, a steal by Greinacher.

Reynolds and Nared each hit a pair of free throws in a combative game, then Greinacher hit another layup and Warlick called a time out. Tie game. Two minutes left.

Burdick made two more free throws, but Tennessee missed four straight shots, two of them off offensive rebounds.

Then Burdick got another one and was fouled by Greinacher. She hit them both. These seniors were working for one more game.

Greinacher won a jump ball. Down by two, Gonzaga called time inside of a half-minute. UT retained control, but Massengale missed a 3.

Elle Tinkle grabbed the rebound with five seconds left, Burdick fouled her and she hit two free throws to get within a bucket, 69-71, UT.

Reynolds hit the final two free throws and the comeback was complete. UT did not need a field goal in the overtime.

Greinacher finished her career with 24, 11 better than her season average, with 11 rebounds, nine defensive.

She effectively negated Graves. Albanez had 20 points, eight above her average, 4-of-6 3s and five assists.

The Lady Vols were led by Burdick’s 22 with 15 rebounds, UT was 21-of-22 from the line.

Freshman Jamie Nared brought a dozen off the bench.

They had survived the one NCAA game that seems to hit everyone in which the best player – Graves – has an off night.

Burdick, proud of the Lady Vol tradition on every level, said the SEC and the coaches trained them for games like this.

“ Well, I think of the SEC,” she said. “We’ve had our fair share of comebacks considering we were down 15 every and ended up winning championships.

“But nothing tops this. We were down what, 17 at one point and we came back and win in overtime. I mean, I think that just goes to show that no matter how many punches you throw at us we're going to continue to get up and we're going to keep fighting and we never thought we were out of this game.

“That's just Tennessee basketball. That's our mindset.”

The no-longer rookie Nared is creating her own set of memories.

“This is my first year and just being a part of this game was just so exciting and I never experienced it and I was just proud of how everyone fought,” she said.

Burdick swung inside to help the battleground.

“I give a lot of credit to Gonzaga because their inside game is unbelievable," she said. “They're tough. They're physical. A lot more physical than what I anticipated. We knew they were more of a finesse team, but they came out and battled and they made everything hard for Bashaara and myself and Jamie when she was down low.

“So I give them the credit. We had to draw the fouls late to win this basketball game and our free throws are what saved us. The coaches had a plan.”

Warlick said the inside battle and the focus on staying alive were the obvious keys.

“Oh, absolutely. We weren't, they had such strong defense on us inside. We were struggling to score and so we chose, we thought we could take advantage of our height with their guards and we started posting our guards up.

“I tell you, it was huge for us to only miss one free throw, obviously. It was a pressure situation in overtime and we didn't miss a free throw.

“So, we had kids up there that were pretty solid, strong, head strong, and I think we got the right people on the free throw line to take the shots.”

When rookie center Alexa Middleton was called to spell Graves, Warlick said her sudden intensity set a standard.

“Totally. Our goal today was to put pressure on the ball. We felt like we could affect them with ball pressure. Before Lex came in we didn't. Andraya Carter did it a little bit but got in foul trouble and then Lex came in and did exactly what we wanted her to do.

“We had two freshmen step up. They have not played in this, they haven't been down by that much, they haven't played really in an environment in the NCAA Tournament. I thought they came in and made big plays for us, did some big things.

“I thought Jamie got big rebounds. Lex was huge on the defensive end. So I think they grew up and understand that we need them. Not too often freshmen have to step up, freshmen have to step up because something is going to happen.

"And freshmen almost don't know that they're supposed to be nervous or scared.

“They don't know what they're missing out on. So I thought our freshmen really stepped up and helped us out today.”

While it is not part of the game plan to rain 3s, Yet UT took 19 3s and hit six. A simple adjustment, said Warlick.

“We couldn't get the ball we had nothing inside. We had no answer for their inside game. We were getting (seven) shots blocked, they were sagging in.”

UT is on to the Elite Eight, same as last season. This time they have the heady 30 wins that defines truly elite programs.

They get top seed Maryland of the Big Ten, same as last year. Maryland, then in the ACC, eliminated them, as the underseed.

The rematch will be interesting.

And if they should prevail and the nation's top team does likewise in Albany, N.Y., also Monday night, what comes next in the national semifinal in Tampa will be even more so.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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