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, April 06, 2015

NCAA Women: Notre Dame Edges South Carolina While UConn Tops Maryland To Set Up Title Rematch

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

TAMPA, Fla. – Ghosts and spirits danced around the NCAA Women’s Final Four Sunday night in the national semifinals and when the music stopped not much had changed from a year ago in terms of who the combatants will be Tuesday night in the championship game at Amalie Arena.

Connecticut will be looking to extend its current title run to three straight and ten overall while Notre Dame is back again for the second straight season and fourth in the last five years.

Unlike a year ago when both the Huskies and Irish were the mark of perfection – each unbeaten for a first in the history of the NCAA event dating to 1982 – Connecticut (37-1) got nicked in the first week of the season at Stanford while Notre Dame (36-2) got waxed by the Huskies at home in December and then fell in Atlantic Coast Conference action on the road at Miami a month later in January.

There are three coaches with Philadelphia connections in the field – or were prior to Sunday’s tip – and two of them went at it in Sunday’s opener as Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame squad used a cable as in Madison Cable at the  finish to complete her only made shot halt Dawn Staley’s South Carolina group 66-65 to ruin a stirring comeback by the Gamecocks (34-3).

That sets Up UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, the third Philly coach, as the barrier to a second title for the Irish  if they can find a way to stop UConn.

That may be difficult to do considering the way the Huskies handled Maryland (34-3) in the other semifinal game with an 81-58 wipeout to go 4-0 over the Terrapins (34-3), who went unbeaten on the conference slate in their first season in the Big 10.

The last time Connecticut got to this point, it was name of Tennessee Hall of Fame Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt lurking in the background as the Huskies pulverized Notre Dame and enabled  Auriemma to break a trophy deadlock and become the all-time women’s winner with nine championship rings.

Now he is 40 minutes away from matching another legend – the late UCLA  men’s coach  John Wooden – with 10 overall NCAA titles.

In Sunday’s game Staley was eerily dragged back across three decades to 1992 when in her third straight finals as the national star point guard for Virginia, the Cavaliers couldn’t hit foul shots and fell 66-65 depriving her of her last chance to capture an NCAA title as a player.

In that game, Virginia couldn’t sustain a lead. On Sunday, the Gamecocks also were miserable when it came to foul shots, going 7-for-16 to recall the futility.

Except this time, South Carolina quickly fell behind in the first five minutes 15-3 and spent the rest of the game trying to catch up.
Eventually finding a way to hold Notre Dame at bay, the Gamecocks finally caught the Irish for the first time and took a 65-64 lead on a layup by Aleighsa Welch with 1:12 left in regulation.

Notre Dame star junior all-American Jewell Loyd committed a turnover 20 seconds later as Welch stole the ball but she missed a jump shot with 30 seconds later and Lloyd grabbed the rebound.

Prized Gamecocks freshman A’ja Wilson blocked Lloyd’s shot with 21 seconds but Cable grabbed the ball for the Irish and scored with 16 seconds left as Notre Dame went back in front.

“Jewell shot it, which it usually goes in almost all the time,” Cable said of her winning play. “I was just crashing anyway to try to get a rebound. And it bounced right where I was, and I had an open shot so I took it. Luckily, it went in.”

All-American Tiffany Mitchell, who earlier in the day was named winner of the Dawn Staley Point Guard Award, then launched a desperation three from the corner and the shot bounced off the top of the backboards and once again Staley was on the losing end by the same 66-65 score.

“We gave God the glory when we made it to the Final Four,” Staley said in her opening remarks. “We’ll give him the glory for the defeat.

“I feel that our team did what they had to do, put themselves in the position to win the game.

“Unfortunately, for us, it came down to them making a play when they needed to make a play and we didn’t.”

Lloyd had 22 points for Notre Dame, freshman sensation Brianna Turner scored 17, and Taya Reimer scored 16 but Turner and Lindsay Allen missed a  karge portion of the game after both fouled out during the second haLf.

Unlike South Carolina’s struggles on the foul line – the Gamecocks were also 2-for-12 on three-point attempts – Notre Dame shot 12-for-14 from the line.

Wilson, off the bench, scored 20 for South Carolina, while Alaina Coates scored 12, Mitchell had 11, and Welch scored 10 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.

The Gamecocks also owned the boards 45-37.

“It’s surreal, right now,” McGraw said of getting back to the championship with a younger squad that graduated Kayla McBride last season. “I can’t believe that we’re here. I’m just glad we played the earlier game so we can get a little rest.”

In the second game, watched by actor Tom Cruise, the two-time defending champs didn’t take long to get to Cruise control and were up by double digits at the half 44-33. There was never a threat the rest of the way, thereby enabling the name of Summitt from last year’s title game with the Irish replaced by Wooden this time around in anticipation of the 10th championship.

Breanna Stewart, who added the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) Ann Meyers Drysdale national player of the year award to her collection earlier in the day, had a game-high 25 points, looking at the chance to become a three-time Most Outstanding Player winner, if the Huskies prevail on Tuesday night.

Morgan Tuck, who was sidelined with an injury in the title game a year ago, had 24 points, while Moriah Jefferson scored 11.

And all this accomplished while the Terrapins had the satisifaction of holding Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to four points.

Brionna Jones scored 14 points for Maryland, while Lexi Brown and Brene Moseley each scored 12 points.

“We felt going into the game we had an advantage with these two,” Auriemma said, “with Morgan and Stewy, and we tried to really take advantage of that. And obviously, they were great. I can’t say enough about them. Tuck, anyway, she played both ends of the floor.”

Said Tuck of playing this year, “It means a lot just to be out there and actually contributing and making an easy impact. That’s why I came here. And to be realing doing it. It’s a great feeling.”




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