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 Mike Siroky
So, in the end, the best conference in women’s college basketball -- the Southeastern Conference – has 25 percent of the regular season Top 16 two Associated Press polls left and 20 percent of the overall Top 25.
No other conference carries this weight.
The five ranked teams are in the NCAAs for sure and probably at least three more, if not four.
And here’s a strange note: While we considered either Missouri’s Robin Pingeton or Georgia’s Joni Taylor as the best coach in conference for doing more with less and qualifying for the NCAAS, the conference sisterhood played safe and picked the coach of the best team.
But the Atlanta Tipoff Club picked Taylor as its women’s college coach for the year.
The conference tournament got under way with the worst teams playing the openers. All four of these have nowhere to go.
Thursday’s quarterfinal qualifying games, with seeds and conference records:
*Second Round: No. 9 Auburn (8-8) vs. No. 8 Missouri (8-8). No. 13 LSU (4-13) vs. No. 5 Kentucky (9-7). No. 10 Arkansas vs. No. 7 Tennessee (8-8). No. 11 Vanderbilt (6-11) vs. No. 6 Georgia (9-7).
Wednesday’s opening round: LSU defeated No. 12 Alabama (4-13), 58-49. Vanderbilt defeated No. 14 Ole Miss (2-15). Each winner threw up one of those mystifying single-digit defensive quarters.
*LSU vs. Alabama.
Alabama won the regular season matchup, 72-45.
There is no explanation for the 36-point swing.
Alexis Hyder scored 20 – 14 in the second half -- and had nine rebounds to lead LSU. It is only her second 20-point effort. She was 9-of-12 from the field with nine rebounds.
The Ben-Gals have lost two thirds of their season, so, “Obviously this was a great win for our program,” said coach Nikki Fargas. “I thought our team really stuck to the game plan, especially on the defensive end.”
LSU had a seven-point advantage in the second half by hitting 57 percent from the field. Rina Hill scored 10.
“We were able to score the basketball inside with the help of Alexis Hyder,” said Captain Obvious. “The guard play of Shanice Norton (a career-high nine rebounds, eight defensively) and Rina Hill was tremendous. Anne Pedersen, seeing her knock down shots, it was a great team win. We’re grateful to be able to play some more basketball.”
Hyder's 3-point play and two free throws by Jasmine Rhodes gave LSU its largest lead, 58-48, with 71 seconds to go.
LSU had 21 assists on 25 field goals.
They held the Crimson Tide (15-15) to 30 percent from the field, They scored eight in the third quarter when the game was lost.
*Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss got one of its two regular season SEC wins against Vandy, 55-52.
Christa Reed scored 21, 8-of-10 from the floor with four 3s in the first half to power the Commodores.
Marqu'es Webb and Minta Spears scored 13 each and Morgan Batey 10 with five assists. Vandy shot 56 percent and hit 7-of-10 3s.
Vanderbilt's 29 points in the first quarter was the most by the Commodores in any quarter this season.
The Rebels scored seven in the second quarter, lost two-thirds of their season and ended the season on an 11-game losing streak.
The second quarter buried them, 42-19, at the break.
Yes they play in the toughest conference in America but they need to be competitive. Unlikely, with NCAA sanctions coming. They trailed by as many as 33 in this one.
Vandy recovered from its own recent eight-game losing streak.
“During the losing skid, the main thing we tried to do was just stay focused,” said Reed. “We knew it would all come together. And today, it did.”
”We look at the postseason as the start of a new season; it’s season No. 3 for us," said Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb. “We're now 1-0 this season.”
Vanderbilt came into the tournament with some momentum after the Commodores ended that losing streak on the road by upsetting then-No. 24 Missouri on Sunday afternoon in their regular-season finale.
”The win over Missouri was definitely a huge confidence booster for us,” said point guard Minta Spears. “And we’re excited about the opportunity to get a second chance to play some of these teams that beat in the regular season.”
And the Envelopes Please:
*We want to thank the SEC coaches for following our lead in the annual conference awards.
When the league season started, we said South Carolina sophomore A’Ja Wilson would be the conference Player of the Year. The coaches reaffirmed our choice at season’s end.
Last week, we said the true starting five all-conference team needed three from South Carolina, the shooter from Mississippi State and the Courtney who played all season from A&M.
The coaches backed that play and even took our advice on political correctness by adding others.
Herewith the official SEC awards (even though we had them first):
South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson was named Player of the Year after being named Freshman of the Year last season. Wilson was also named Defensive Player of the Year.
Texas A&M’s Chelsea Jennings was voted Sixth Woman of the Year, while Georgia’s Marjorie Butler (whom we featured two weeks ago) is the undeniable Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
First-team and second-team All-SEC honorees, All-Freshman team, All-Defensive team, along with Player, Coach and Freshman, Defensive Player, 6th Player and Scholar-Athlete of the Year were chosen by the league’s 14 coaches.
First Team All-SEC: Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State; Alaina Coates, South Carolina; Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina; A’ja Wilson, South Carolina; Courtney Walker, Texas A&M; Jessica Jackson, Arkansas; Shacobia Barbee, Georgia and Makayla Epps, Kentucky
Second Team All-SEC: Ronni Williams, Florida; Tiaria Griffin, Georgia; Evelyn Akhator, Kentucky; Janee Thompson, Kentucky; Sophie Cunningham, Missouri; Jordan Frericks, Missouri; Jordan Jones and Courtney Williams, Texas A&M
All-Freshman: Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter, Missouri; Te’a Cooper, Tennessee; Eleanna Christinaki, Florida; Caliya Robinson, Georgia; Maci Morris, Kentucky; Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State; and Anriel Howard, Texas A&M
All-Defensive: A’ja Wilson, South Carolina; Jordan Jones, Texas A&M; Dominique Dillingham, Mississippi State; Simone Westbrook, Florida; and Shacobia Barbee, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Dawn Staley, South Carolina
Player of the Year: A’ja Wilson, South Carolina
Freshman of the Year: Sophie Cunningham, Missouri
Defensive Player of the Year: A’ja Wilson, South Carolina
Sixth Woman of the Year: Chelsea Jennings, Texas A&M
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Marjorie Butler, Georgia