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 23, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: Disaster Sunday Strikes Conference

By Mike Siroky

Top seed South Carolina was the only women's basketball team of the Southeastern Conference to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 on a Sunday of disaster.

Kentucky went splat at home and Mississippi State could not survive a five-minute coma against another home team, while Arkansas did as expected. 

It left the league 1-3 on the day. 

There  is one more league hope, second seed Tennessee at home Monday night.

 If that proves out, only the co-champions of the league spin ahead, which is the best the SEC can do now as the Atlantic Coast Conference ascends to the best this year in the nation.

The big erasure for the SEC is Mississippi State, which saw the season of a lifetime end. 

 The Bulldogs will finish no better than 17 in the final national assessment.

•No. 3 South Carolina followed the script once the contentious home site was allowed. There they eliminated a ACC team, Syracuse, 97-68.

The Orange had won five of six and finished ahead of Duke n the ACC, but like LSU in the SEC, was unranked and destined to be one and done.

The Gamecocks were 28 ahead at intermission and had settled the game by then. 

Syracuse tried, outscoring the home team by six with four minutes left in their season, but did not have enough time to do damage.

Six Gamecocks were in double figures, Alaina Coates off the bench and league player of the year Tiffany Mitchell with 14 each.

Aleighsa Welch hit 6-of-8 for 13 with 10 rebounds. And how do you defend that? Asia Dozer was 4-of-5 on 3s, for instance, 3-of-4 in the opening half as Syracuse scrambled to form an effective defense.

The Orange had one in the four-point loss to SC in the pre-conference Junkaroo Jam in the Bahamas.

 Either they have gotten worse or not many teams can defend SC.

Only UConn among the national teams has figured that out in this 32-win season. 

It was the most points Syracuse has allowed all season and they had bragged about wanting this rematch.

Welch tied a school record with her 134th game played for the program. She will exceed that, of course, in the next round.

Coach Dawn Staley expresses caution for her team.

"It's the same place we've been for a couple of years now," she said. "In order for us get over that hump, it's going to take us playing inspired basketball. It's going to take some focusing in on our opponent. It's going to take executing some game plans because the stakes, they are higher."

Welch, a senior said, "Tonight, we're going to celebrate getting a good win. But we still have a lot of basketball left in us."

"We knew if they made 3s early, we'd have a problem," Syracuse coach Quentin HIllsman said. "We had a problem." 

But, he said, his team had given its all and if they had to play another game the next day, they'd be too exhausted.

A comparison in relative values: SC drew an attendance of 10,485, about the same as the first game, but 2,000 less the home average. 

Syracuse's total home attendance this season: 10,644. 

South Carolina had already started travel selling travel packages to Greensboro on its website by Sunday evening.

"How about that, Gamecock Nation," Staley said. "We'll see you in Greensboro."

SC now gets either Ohio State of the Big Ten or North Carolina of the ACC after that game is played Monday night.

• No. 11 Kentucky, overseeded as a No. 2 and over ranked, stopped a three-year run into the next level, 99-94. 

In the preseason, we assessed how this team has plateaued and they proved the prediction correct.

The literal proof: A 5-5 finish, three of the losses against never-ranked teams, including the Flyers, the second-place Atlantic 10 team.

The kittens are among the few of the 16 home teams  to lose. 

Then again, they were in UConn's bracket and would not survived anyway. Maybe the home fans knew; only 3,300 showed.

One speculative story from Georgia has the 'Dawgs bidding for the man with the next-most years in the conference now that Andy Landers is retired.

 If Matthew Mitchell has worn out his welcome and if he wants a school which better supports the women's game, let the bidding begin.

Kentucky finishes 24-10.

It appears Dayton's seniors wanted it more. 

It started with Mitchell suspending senior Azia Bishop for her final game, in coach speak, "for failing to uphold team standards." 

She had started the past seven games. 

Three others went away quietly, one of them never living up to her rookie season promise and the others non-starters for the majority of their careers.

 In fact, one of the latter didn't even letter one season. Oughtta be an interesting awards banquet.

Irregardless, Mitchell has to replace three long-term players.

Dayton senior Ally Malott did come to play; she scored 13 above her season average, with 28 and 13 defensive rebounds. Senior Amber Deane was also 13 above her senior average, with 23, 4-of-5 on 3s.

That's how upperclassmen step up in a defining game. Sophomore guard Mikayla Epps scored 29 for UK, 27 after intermission.

UK's famed defensive pressure game is but a memory. 

The points are the most given up all year.

 The shooting statistic -- 56.7 -- allowed is also a season high.
The Flyers are on an eight-game winning streak; they are in the first Sweet 16 in program history.

 By the way, like many schools across the nation, the school officially requests the nickname be "Flyers" and specifically not "Lady Flyers" in a show of department unity.

Dayton outscored the home team in the second half and especially closed well.

They came from eight points back in the final 14 minutes.

Deane's 3 from the left corner with 30 second to go settled it. Six straight free throws kept the home team at bay.

"It's funny -- you go to the NCAA Tournament six years in a row and you don't get out of the first weekend (the first five times), and you start doubting yourself a little bit.

 "'What am I doing wrong and what can we do better?'" Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. "Our team is very, very resilient. They really believed that we could win this game. We worked really hard to put them in a place where mentally that they believed they could.

"I really think that was the difference. I really do. They never faltered. In the timeouts, when we were down 10, they knew we were gonna win the game."

The teams combined for 61 fouls and 69 free throws. Dayton converted 28 of 31 from the line while Kentucky was 24 for 38.

"Every time we needed a big bucket, someone contributed and it wasn't the same person every time," Malott said. "We had contributions from everyone -- everyone did their job."

This is a school with both teams still playing unlike, say, Kentucky.

"Our campus is always crazy, regardless of what's going on, so this just really adds to it," Deane said. "Definitely exciting. Everyone's having fun (and) the weather's getting warmer. I think it's really, really cool for our university right now to represent Dayton."

"Malott had a fantastic day and Deane had a fantastic day, and they just played up to their abilities and their best," Mitchell said. "It just didn't seem like we ever had that fire in our belly to advance."

•No. 22 Mississippi State earned the best record  in program history, even with the 64-56 elimination  loss to Duke at Duke,.

They finish 27-7, a program best with four starters coming back.

The Bulldogs had perhaps the biggest challenge for a legitimate contender of the day, playing on a higher-ranked home team’s court. The game turned out to be everything you’d want from a 4 vs. 5 seed.

The first three minutes were even, then State fell asleep offensively for five minutes and Duke edged ahead, 10-3. 

For all the rest of the game, it had been decided, as the deficit then proved the difference at the close, no matter what happened in between.

For the immediate short run, State outscored the home team, 25-14 for the half.

 Victoria Vivians, somehow not considered the rookie of the year in the league despite starting every game, scored the final seven.

Dominque Dillingham had started it with a 3, Jerica James hit a 3 and Kendra Grant three 3s in the 3s spree.

The second half had Duke playing more than catch-up, overtaking State, 42-39, with 10 minutes left in the season. 

The Duke run continued and State had the endline in sight. 

 It was a 13-point deficit with six minutes to go. The deficit grew to 15. Duke was hitting 57 percent from the field, State 30 percent.

With two minutes left, it was still an eight-point difference. It closed to six but time simply slipped away  -- remember that seven-point edge in the opening minutes when they went five minutes without scoring?

Vivians had 15 points and four defensive rebounds; Matha Alwal had  three defensive rebounds in her final game and Dillingham six. 

They were now fighting as hard as they could. But they had to foul and Duke calmly sank three free throws, having not needed a basket in the final 5:25

All State could do was watch.

Said coach Vic Schaefer, finally commenting on his team's not being one of the Top 16 and therefore at home: "I'd like to play them in two days back at the Hump (the Bulldogs' Humphrey Coliseum). Pretty sure that isn't going to happen, though."

If he replicates this season, the ancient rulers of the NCAA will have to acknowledge them next season. This is how they traditionally treat newbies.

So Duke and the ACC eliminates an SEC team, neither of them conference champs and South Carolina eliminates another ACC team.

 Notre Dame advanced from their home court, for the ACC, and that conference still has five teams alive. Tennessee is likely to win its game for the SEC.

If you went all-chalk in your bracket selections, you have a pretty good success rate to this point.

The power conferences are flexing.

•Unranked Arkansas also bit the dust, losing easily at No 2 seed Baylor, the only ranked team from the Big 12.

Their inclusion was another attributed to the strength of the SEC and was revealed as a shadow pick in a weak season. 

They finished 10th in conference and were picked over three higher finishers, never having reached the usual 20-win bar. 

In each of the past five program appearances in the NCAA eliminations, Arkansas has won the opener and lost the next one. 

Baylor is in the Sweet 16 for the seventh year in a row. UConn leads the nation with 21 straight and Stanford has seven. Each are at home Monday night.

It was 73-44, the second seed more than proving its worth in the Oklahoma City Regional led by top seed Notre Dame.

 They were ahead by 20 at half, the largest deficit this season for the Razorbacks.

They could not stop anything. Six Bears hit double figures and they only have one senior.

Big 12 player of the year Davis scored 21 and national assists leader Johnson had 12 more to tie Baylor's career record with 641. She has a conference -- and program record 296 this year alone--  
The team has 21 straight home playoff wins.

"All they care about are championships," said winning coach Kim Mulkey.

"We have multiple weapons that can score," said Davis, an undersized sophomore post player at 5-11. "We're playing great right now and heading to the Sweet 16, I think we just have a lot of confidence going into it."

Baylor took control with a 30-7 run to finish the first half, which ended with first-year Arkansas coach Jimmy Dykes getting a technical foul. "I was fighting for my team,'' he said with no further explanation.

 The free three throws started the second half, technically putting Baylor ahead by 22 at the break.

He had approached each official  and got the T with Baylor already resting in its locker room.

"We had a phenomenal year and a bad day," said Dykes. "We were picked 12th in the SEC. Our first year we got to the NCAA tournament, won our first-round game and had a bad time to play a bad game."

Johnson, whose 296 assists as a junior this season are a Big 12 record, has 641 career assists. That matches the total by two-time All-America player Odyssey Sims the past four seasons.

WNIT Report

At least two more SEC teams have a chance to end the season with a win streak, in the women's NIT.

Missouri answered  the toughest regional challenge and won on the road, 67-48, at Kansas State

Ole Miss took out Georgia Tech at home, 63-48.

Each have 19 wins, more than five other league teams.

•Ole Miss won the second half by 15, including a shutout in the fine few minutes and a sprint from a one-point lead in the final 13 minutes. Senior Tia Faleru led them with 24, 8-of-10 from the line, and 10 rebounds. They earn a third-round game on Thursday at  Middle Tennessee State.

•Mizzou turned a 35-all halftime tie into the rout. The Tigers  actually fell behind by one. Then senior Morgan Eye, the best 3-point shooter un the SEC, started the comeback with ne of those and added three more 3s in the night-minute run to 67-45. So shocked was the home team was that Missouri did not have to score in the final 8:44.

Missouri next gets the winner of Monday night's Michigan/Toledo game.

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