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.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Siroky's SEC Report: A Shoulder Chip Grows in NCAA Openers

By Mike Siroky

 The NCAA has given South Carolina an unexpected gift by sending them across the nation to Sioux Falls for its Regional rather than to the Southeast in fan-friendly Lexington.

They now have a chip on their shoulders to show up the governing body; to show blatant disrespect will not upset them. As if they needed more impetus.

Selection Committee chair Chris Dawson first tried deception in saying the reason South Carolina is where it is rather than where it should be is a never before applied protocol that 350 miles is the cutoff for expected fan driving distance. 

Well, guess what?

Dawson has a flawed map because Notre Dame is also past the 350-mile driving barrier, at 352. So now what is the exact reasoning?

If SC is truly the second overall seed in conference, they earned the friendlier destination.

The NCAA will never ever tell us the truth.

Onto the court games on Friday as opposed to the mind games. The NCAA officially recognizes an upset – this is a real thing – if the winner is seeded three or more slots lower than the vanquished team.

So Tennessee woulda been an upset loser and Florida was.

Those were the closest among opening day results. The SEC had four teams slide into the nice little old-school Round of 32. Numbers represent NCAA seeds.
*Sioux Falls Regional
*No. 1 South Carolina 77, No. 16 Jacksonville 41

A No. 16 will never beat a No.1 

There are different levels of players, different levels of competitions and different levels fo leagues.

 The Gamecocks wowed their home crowd of 10,120 – the best draw in America – in a rubout in the first of the six wins needed for the national title.

They await No. 9 Kansas State on Sunday.

Ever since the second half of the SEC championship game, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has told her team the offensive success will come from within, using their power forwards to “pound it, pound it, pound it.”

The echoes remained in the NCAA opener. Alaina Coates said Staley repeated the stern message for her cold-shooting Gamecocks early on against Jacksonville.

“She told us to pound the ball in the paint,” Coates said.

The result:  Coates and A'ja Wilson each had double-doubles.

The 6-foot-4 Coates had 22 points and 10 rebounds while 6-5 Wilson had 15 points and 11 rebounds. 

The tallest opponent was 6-1. Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell scored14 points, It made the first-time NCAA participant Dolphins indeed look like rookies.

South Carolina had started 2-of-9 from the field, but were unworried. Staley quickly refocused them and the guards began feeding the beasts. Coates and Wilson combined to shoot 15-of-30 from the field. 

“They just wore us down,” Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “We just physically could not match with their bigs.”

“Obviously, we’ve been in this situation before. We’re familiar with it and nothing’s going to catch us off guard,” Staley said. “So it’s a process for our players to see what issues we had in this game and try and correct those things.

“Our program is built on defense. It’s the thing that we do extremely well, and we’re pretty consistent with it. When our offense catches up with our defense we look like a totally different basketball team.”

They have won five first-round NCAA challenges by an average of 27 points.

Jacksonville couldn’t deal with South Carolina's quickness and pressure defense. The Gamecocks forced 21 turnovers and finished with 14 steals, their third-best effort this season.

Coates and Wilson might be challenged against Kansas State. The Wildcats are led by 6-5 Breanna Lewis and have two other players who are 6-3, Jessica Sheble and Lanie Page.

Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin promised her team will rise past one-and-done NCAA Tournament teams. 

She said it is up to her -- once she gets some work done. “That's what it is; so I have to go recruit (taller players),” she said, as she exited smiling.

The Gamecocks dominated the six-player AP All-SEC team with appointees Coates, Mitchell and Defensive Player-of-the-Year Wilson, as well as Coach-of-the-Year Dawn Staley. Mitchell and Wilson are the two SEC finalists in the Wooden Watch.

*No. 12 Albany 61, No. 5 Florida 59
  The Great Danes finished first in the American East and were the only ones to defeat a Power 5 conference team. Truthfully, Florida was in the final Top 25 position only because of their inclusion in the SEC.

They got what they deserved, which is elimination. They allowed a putback by reserve Tiana-Jo Carter with eight seconds left. Carter had one other basket.

The official scorer at Syracuse had even given Florida an extra point by counting a missed free throw as good.

The referees signed that book and the NCAA ruled three hours later the score stood because no one had corrected it during the game, even though Albany questioned it at halftime.

“Nobody ever listened,” said coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.


Albany was once behind by 17. 

Its leading scorer was in foul trouble the whole game and fouled out. 

It is their only NCAA win in five tries. They outscored the Gators 19-7 in the fourth quarter, another example of a single-digit quarter costing someone the game. Included for the winners was an 11-0 run.

The only freshman on the team had one basket, but it was the one that put them ahead to complete the comeback.

Heather Forster took the pass from Carter and made the layup with 1:47 left. 

“When T-Jo got the ball and got doubled, I knew my girl went to her and I’m wide open,” said Forster. 

“All I could think was, ‘They trust you. Just make the layup. This is the time to make the layup.’ ”

Forster was in only because star scorer Shereesha Richards was out with foul trouble. The team said later they agreed to try and win to give Richards another game after she had carried them all season.

“She played some great defensive minutes," her coach said of Forster.

“She boxed out really hard for us. She’s a really smart player.

“It was the most important layup ever in her life.”

“I don’t think there’s anything bigger than NCAAs,” Forster said.
*No. 7 Tennessee 59, No.10 Green Bay 53

The third SEC team in this Regional won their 20th game, which continues one Lady Vol tradition. 

Now they face the No. 2 seed in the Regional, Arizona State, at their place. 

Sophomore Diamond DeShields has been playing to expectations since starting once again in the past few games. 

She earned a spot on he conference all-tournament team and second team all-conference AP. Senior Bashaara Graves is also AP second team.

The Phoenix have won the Horizon League 14 times but that also means they play no one of significance all season.

The second big message after win No. 20 is the Lady Vols finally overcame a fourth-quarter deficit. 

They were 0-9 in that situation in the regular season. Coach Holly Warlick had put a passion premium on winning this one to get to the next one because she wants to be coaching this team next weekend as well.

Here’s how they earned a Sunday spot . . . 

UT opened with a 14-13 quarter. Green Bay matched it exactly for a shared halftime. Neither team showed any passion, but UT had a better court presence and seemed more determined precisely because they have played other good teams all season and they have accepted the traditions of the program not as a burden but as a foundation.

Yes, their offense had enough to overcome a deficit. UT never did panic  because the defense caused a single-digit quarter – that statistic we have traced all season – and the offense took care of itself in a 15-8 fourth.

Rookie Te’a Cooper scored 15 on 7-of-11 from the field. Her jumper with 5:53 left put UT ahead by one and they never trailed again.

Then no one scored for three and a half minutes. Cooper fed Bashaara Graves for a layin. UT only took three shots in that sequence. Mercedes Russell grabbed her 10th defensive rebound and that led to a Cooper basket. Russell blocked a shot, Cooper got the rebound and time was draining away. UT was up by five with 1:47 to go. GB hadn’t scored since 6:15 was left.

Another Russell block, DeShields with a steal and a free throw parade of two by Andraya Carter, two by DeShields after she grabbed a defensive rebound and one more free throw by Graves ended it.

“We knew this game wasn’t gonna be pretty,” Warlick said. “We struggled to get it inside. We had a great game plan. Russell got banged around but still wanted the ball. When the big kids want the ball, it opens it up for everyone.

“Survive and advance.”
*Bridgeport Regional
*No. 5 Mississippi State 60,  No. 12 UT-Chattanooga 50

As previously reported, State is hosting the East Lansing qualifiers because No. 4 seed Michigan State’s home court is tied up with the state high school tournament. The State battle will be joined Sunday.

The Bulldogs had one last homecourt bow. They now get the lower seed, although it is in Starkville.

 The home team has to be disappointed in the 5,115 attendance. They drew much better for big regular season conference games,

Sophomore shooting star Victoria Vivians is first team AP All-SEC.

The Moccasins won the Southern Conference for the fourth straight season and lost to NCAA qualifiers Tennessee, UConn, Stanford and South Florida. Moreover, they are coached by a legend, Jim Foster who gave both UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw their coaching starts as his assistants. He has 865 career wins.

State coach Vic Schaefer threw up a defense which limited UTC to five points in the second quarter. 

That decided the game as did all the single-digit quarters on NCAA opening day in the SEC. They never trailed. A 44-29 rebounding edge did not hurt either.

Vivians was her usual self, a lot of shots, 23, and the leading number of points. She had 19, 13 after intermission. 

The second-best team in conference has a school record 27 wins, keeping Schaefer’s tenure of improving each season. Playing at home, however that happened, is another marker. Like most SEC coaches, he preaches defense first.

“This is who we are,” Schaefer said. “We’re not going to morph into some 80-or 90-point offensive team. It starts on the defensive end for us. We’ve got to guard.”

Foster’s analysis: “We just had too many opportunities where I thought we had a quality shot and we didn't take it. When you're playing teams with this kind of quickness, you can’t be hesitant.”

The Bulldogs received an unexpected gift in the opening from little-used forward LaKaris Salter. She scored five points, grabbed two rebounds and had an assist in five minutes. She hadn’t even played in five of the previous six games, but she was among the 11 contributing Bulldogs in this game.

“I’m proud of my kids for adjusting,” Schaefer said. “It was a total team effort. We played a number of kids today and I think everybody that came into the game impacted things in a positive way and helped us win.”

Every time the Mocs would make a run, Mississippi State responded. Vivians hit back-to-back 3s late in the third quarter that were crucial in keeping the Bulldogs ahead.

“Once my shot goes in I’m going to try again, like a heat check,” Vivians said. “If I make it, I’m going to keep shooting.”
*Dallas Regional
*No. 9 Auburn 68, No. 8 St. John’s 57

It is supposed to be close when 8 plays 9. 

Turns out we were wrong. Florida is obviously the ninth of nine SEC teams in the NCAAs. Auburn took full advantage of their first NCAA appearance since 2009 and also moved into the 20-win group at the Waco qualifiers. Which means they earned a shot at top seed Baylor.

The Tigers poleaxed the Big East tournament champs with a first quarter defensive stop of single digits, 19-6. They expanded that to 25-6 and hung on for a 51-43 deficit. Freshman Jahnia McKay scored a career-high 24, 2-of-2 3s, with four assists and three steals.

Jazmine Jones scored 13 on 6-of-7 from the field. Brandy Montgomery scored 11.

Auburn forced 25 turnovers and had 3 steals as the SEC staple of defense first proved out again.

“Defense was awesome,” said coach Terri Williams-Flournoy on her first NCAA win.
“We came out so excited. I’m glad it went to the defensive end and not throwing it away on the offensive end.

“I’m just excited for our young ladies. They have worked so hard for this and earned it.
“We had a little talk with Jahnia; she had to be an offensive force. Brandy was telling her to be aggressive, have confidence and probably to pass it to her. We’ll let them really enjoy this for a couple more hours then I have Baylor. I have Baylor at Baylor.”


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