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.
By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru @BlueStarMedia 1
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Once again the Huskies were the big story in round two of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament opening weekend Monday night – only it wasn’t those Huskies.
True, those Huskies were also in action up north at home in Storrs in their campus arena of Gampel Pavilion where three-time defending champion Connecticut continued on its quest to make it an unprecedented four straight by dispatching Duquesne 97-51 to move on down the road this Saturday in the Bridgeport Regional.
And Breanna Stewart continued to be a human highlight at one point blocking three shots on the same opposing Dukes possession.
But well before UConn ran its season unbeaten streak to 34-0 because of staggered time starts, twitterverse was all agog over seventh-seeded Washington taking down second-seeded and powerful Maryland (31-4) here at the Terrapins’ Xfinity Center 74-65 in a Lexington (Ky) subregional.
These Huskies (24-10) move on to play Kentucky (25-7) Friday night in its home city but not home arena since the Wildcats use Memorial Coliseum, not the larger Rupp Arena.
If junior Kelsey Plum, the fourth leading scorer in the nation, had been previously a name in the national statistics but not one of a visual shooting attraction beyond Seattle and other 11 locales of the Pac-12 Conference, the guard from suburban San Diego is no longer just a West Coast phenomenon.
She poured 32 points but the key moment was not a long-range three-pointer from her hands, but the trey fired from the far side by Talia Walton off a dish from Plum that expanded a fragile five-point lead to 63-55 with 1 minute, 25 seconds left in regulation.
“All year `T’ has hit key shots to win us games,” Plum said of the big play. “I came downhill, the girl came in (to defend her) and without a doubt, kick it to `T’ and I turned around and ran back in defense because I knew it was in.
“There’s no one more important or special that could have made that shot than Talia. All year she’s made important shots -- in Stanford games, against Oregon State, against UCLA, I had complete faith, she knew it was going in, that was kind of the cap on the day.”
Having turned back 10th-seeded and Ivy champion Penn with a fourth-quarter burst in Saturday’s opening round, Washington, using just six players – three four all 40 minutes and one for 37 – got stronger after holding just a three-point lead at 7 minutes, 16 seconds left in regulation.
While perhaps Maryland’s dead end was just two rounds ahead against top-seeded Notre Dame in this regional, or if the Terrapins pulled an upset over its former but briefly Atlantic Coast Conference rival, then perhaps next time out in what would be a third straight Women’s Final Four, the fan base didn’t necessarily see Washington as potential threat.
After all, considering that UConn and Ohio State were the Terrapins’ only stumbling blocks on the way to a second straight Big Ten title after an offseason that involved changes on the staff under coach Brenda Frese and the departure of all-American guard Lexi Brown, then just take care of business, don’t take the Huskies lightly, and give the senior class highlighted by Chloe Pavlech and Malina Howard, and Brene Moseley a fond farewell from their home arena.
But Washington had other ideas and the way to do it was to lock down junior all-America Brionna Jones, who was held to 2-for-7 from the field for all four of her points, well below her 15.7 average.
“One, two, and three,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said of the primary emphasis on who to stop among the Terps to achieve success.
“If they make 15 threes, they beat us, but if we can contain her, then they will still make threes, but not enough to beat us.”
All-American junior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough enabled Maryland to counter punch, shooting 5-for-9 from beyond the arc, but not enough to carry the day.
Washington’s Walton also had a big night with 20 points, While Chantel Osahor had nine points and 15 rebounds.
Walker-Kimbrough finished the night with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Moseley had 16 off the bench, Kristen Confroy had 11 points, and reserve Tierney Pfirman had 10.
It was the biggest postseason downer here for the Terrapins since Georgetown in an area battle took down Maryland 79-57 in a second round game in 2011, though at that point the Hoyas were the better regarded team.
After that setback, the Terrapins had won nine straight in the Xfinity Center in NCAA tournament early-round action until Monday night.
“Obviously, a tough night for us and this stings a lot,” Frese said in her opening remarks at the Maryland press conference following the loss. “But we have a lot to be thankful to talk about, this team, and especially the seniors: Sweet 16s, two Final Fours, Big Ten titles, all that they meant to our standard...”
“It was a tough shooting night for us (37.3 percent), very uncharacteristic. Washington’s length, their size, gave us problems. We can talk about uncharacteristic plays, we got out-rebounded (40-38), our turnovers (15), we only got to the line five times (Washington was 20-22 while the Terps were perfect on a meager 5-5),” Frese said.
“Credit them. It was a game of runs and they made more runs than us and obviously they move on.”
Washington’s turnaround began when Kevin McGuff and Neighbors, then his assistant, arrived from Xavier’s glory run five years ago and then Neighbors was promoted two years later when McGuff moved to Ohio State, where ironically, this season his Buckeyes beat Maryland twice in conference play.
“He just wished me luck and that he liked the matchup,” Neighbors said of a limited exchange. “He’s in the same conference, he isn’t going to say much but he doesn’t have to, we run the same stuff, I’ve been watching Maryland all year.”
He cited seniors who came to the program when Washington was winning eight games a season and later players like Plum who committed when the Huskies still had not yet returned to being a Pac-12 force.
While Kentucky will put Washington into another virtual visiting team experience, after shrugging off that disadvantage here, the Huskies are ready for more even though they will get back to Seattle Tuesday just in time to head back across the country for Friday’s openers.
The other game in that regional will have Notre Dame (33-1) meeting Stanford (26-7), which escaped at home Monday night with the Cardinal edging South Dakota State 66-65.
It was a sweep night for the Pac-12 with three wins by Stanford, Washington and third-seeded UCLA’s 72-67 triumph over visiting sixth-seeded South Florida to place four teams for the first time in the Sweet Sixteen.
Oregon State (30-4) punched its ticket Sunday to the Dallas Regional by beating St. Bonaventure.
With the Sweet 16 all set on the road to Indianapolis where the Women’s Four will be played April 3 and 5, the matchups in that round on Friday ha as mentioned Washington meeting host Kentucky while Notre Dame will meet Stanford in Lexington.
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday, South Carolina (33-1) will meet Syracuse (27-7), a first-time regional semifinalist, while Ohio State (26-7) will meet Tennessee (21-13).
On Saturday, the Bridgeport Regional has UConn meeting Mississippi State (28-7) while Texas (30-4), a 73-55 winner over Missouri Monday night at home in Austin, will meet UCLA (26-8).
It’s the second straight year Texas and Connecticut are in the same Regional with the Huskies having ousted the Longhorns in last year’s semifinals in Albany, N.Y.
The Dallas Regional semifinals on Saturday has Baylor (35-1) meeting Florida State (25-7), which Monday night took down roster-depleted Texas A&M 74-56 as the Seminoles advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
The other game has DePaul (27-8) meeting Oregon State (30-4). Saturday’s winners will meet Monday night.
The conference count, for those interested in such things, in the next round, has the Pac-12 with the aforementioned four representatives, the Southeastern Conference also has four in South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi State for half the surviving field.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has three in Notre Dame, Florida State and Syracuse, once part of the old Big East, while the Big 12 has two in Baylor and Texas, the Big Ten has Ohio State, the Big East has regular season champion DePaul, and the American Athletic Conference has Connecticut.
The Guru’s next press row appearance is at Temple in Philadelphia, hosting Ohio U., Thursday in McGonigle Hall as the Owls in the third round look to extend to another long run in the WNIT after reaching the Final Four last season.
Then on to Bridgeport to get back to the other Huskies the rest of the way barring something stunning.