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.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Mike Siroky's SEC Tournament: No Upsets Ahead in Elite Eight

By Mike Siroky

Now the four nationally ranked teams kick in as the top seeds, in the quarterfinals, having earned the double-bye.

The majority of all-conference players elevate this next round. As do the four best coaches, led by conference Coach of the Year Robin Pingeton of Missouri. South Carolina’s A’Ja Wilson and Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians are among the semifinalists for the Wade Trophy, the national Player of the Year trophy since AIAW days.

The only real questions are how will Mississippi State stop its free-fall with two season-ending losses after only one all year before that and will Kentucky's notorious short bench come into play, as happened in its season-ending debacle at South Carolina

In Round 2, two more teams hit 20-win seasons.

All of them are NCAA locks. That’s six for-sure NCAA entrants, with Tennessee also in.

Every SEC team that has ever won 20 had gotten into the national tournament.

Georgia started the idea of a higher seed winning, 56-52, but then No. 8 vs. No. 9 is supposed to be close. Georgia (16-14) had won the first contact, setting the seeds.

Georgia coach Jodi Taylor said, “We had to get adjusted. We had a different lineup in and didn’t turn it over as much. If we can just catch the ball, we can score. We’re happy to be playing again tomorrow.”

She did not win an SEC tournament game in her first season.

Georgia had three turnovers in the second half after 15 in the first.

Senior guard Shenae Armbrister, a 12-game starter, in injured and unable to play. So the adjusted lineup had to come through again.

Senior Pachis Roberts said she had tried to get fouled at the end, when the ’Dawgs had trouble closing, but “They triple-teamed me and wouldn’t foul. If we lost, this would be my last game and I didn’t want it to end.” She led the winners with 15.

In this one, the ’Dawgs took the opening quarter but then hit the usually deadly single-digit output in the second and trailed at the half, 29-22. No competitive SEC team had won this season after a single-digit quarter without returning the favor.

Even a 5-0 run to start the third quarter didn’t seem help because Auburn scored the next five. Second team all-conference Katie Frerking was leading the charge. She also had five steals,
Auburn had 22 points off turnovers. Georgia took off on an 11-5 run.

During a timeout, Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy told her team: “C’mon, y’all are making this harder than what it is.

“All we need are layups. Just drive to layups.”

Auburn starter Jessica Jones injured herself on Stephanie Paul’s third foul, hurting her should hitting the basketball support and exiting to the locker room.

Georgia stayed steady, trying to earn a return to the NCAAs despite the record. Auburn had fallen to 29 percent from the field. Jones returned with four minutes left, Georgia up by three with their trio of top scorers in double figures.

Georgia forced a shot clock violation. With 80 seconds left, they had a two-point lead. They hit one of two free throws.

Freking missed 3 at the one-minute mark, then two more in close. Auburn fouled but Georgia missed free throws again, 2-of-10 at the line in the fourth.

Jessica Jones fouled out with 21 seconds left.

Auburn’s Janiah McKay hit a 3 with 15 seconds left and it was a one-point game.

Mackenzie Engram, a 70 percent free throw shooter, hit one and it was a two-point game with 10 seconds left.

Caliya Robinson was fouled and hit two to end it. Those were the winning points.

Georgia earned the right to take on top seed South Carolina. The NCAA is faced with not taking the eighth-best team in the league, but Georgia was also in the eliminations last year. They are the only ones in the quarterfinals to finish with a below .500 league record.

Auburn senior Brandy Montgomery ended a disappointing season in which she started as a coaches’ projected all-conference player and finished as not. Freking was the other senior. They are a lock in the NIT at 17-13.

Alabama (19-12) defeated Tennessee by eight late in the season in the game in which All-SEC player Diamond DeShields was carried off the court in the first quarter at Tuscaloosa. It was the second straight Tide win in the series. This was, then the third,72-64.

UT (19-10) awaits its NCAA road assignment and a shot at 20. All season, they have done this, follow an invigorating win with a disinterested loss, this time to the 12th seed.

Something is missing in the coaching plan. There is obviously no motivation. The loss also eliminates about half of the cheering section as UT had the second most only to homestate South Carolina, 3,746.

Alabama overcame two possible disasters.

It started when they were down, 11-5. Starter Ashley Williams went flying in a scrum for a loose ball and injured her left shoulder, helped from the court to the locker room.

Mercedes Russell started 2-of-3 for UT. Alexis Middleton hit a 3 and all five starters had scored.

The quarter ended with a 10-3 ’Bama run and a 15-14 lead. They had hinted at their comeback.

Tennessee won the second quarter, 15-7, and here was that single-digit thing about to be overcome again.

Lady Vol scoring was well-shared and that caused the Tide to lose focus. Alabama had 10 points off the bench from reserve freshman Ashley Knight.

Russell had hit double figures by the third with eight rebounds. Jordan Reynolds had 10 with five assists, as much of a point guard as UT has. But Alabama had taken the lead on a Meshonti Knight 3 with two minutes left, then a Shaquera Wade drive off a Tennessee miss and Holly Warlick finally called a time out.

UT muffed another. Alabama was winning the boards by 10. Was UT’s rollercoaster season about to duplicate itself?

Diamond DeShields hit a free throw then ‘Bama dropped it out of bounds with 24 seconds left.  Russell hit free throws to cut the deficit to one, but Hannah Cook hit the last 3 as the SEC TV crew cheerleaded the apparent upset.

 In the huddle, Tide coach told her team they were good enough to win. They had their largest lead.

UT scored first, but Alabama answered. Rusell had her third foul as the Tide was not afraid to drive. DeShields and Russell fouled out. She had 16 points and 12 rebounds and it just didn’t matter. DeShields scored 15, so it was not about offense.

Williams scored 10 upon her return.

The Tide (18-11) has no seniors, so this is all a bonus.

All-SEC Freshman Jordan Lewis scored 10 with eight assists. Meshonti Knight, another rookie, scored 15 with two 3s. They had five in double figures. The bench outscored Tennessee’s bench by 25. They won the second half, 50-35. They won rebounds by 13. They had eight blocked shots.

Curry said the message is, “With us, we have so much respect for their program so it is not about Tennessee, it is about the next game.

“We were able to make a few shots, make the next play, make a few stops. Here and there, we made the plays.

“So now we get ready for the next one.”

They are in their first SEC quarterfinal this century.

Tennessee had won 23 straight SEC openers, so they set yet another negative record. Their seniors have at least another game to play.

They have beaten the top four seeds here as well as Notre Dame and Stanford. But they play down to their opponents every time, losing to SEC seeds 6-8-9-11, which is their mystery DNA.

Tennessee, with 18 SEC championships, has never won one as a No. 5 seed and has not won one since 2014.

The least-interesting matchup of this round other than the Ben-Gals trying winning a 20th, also matched Ole Miss’ rising coach against tradition.

The Rebels took the opening quarter, 16-13. They held the advantage with a minute to go before half.

“Just take what they are giving you,” said coach Matt Insell.

Then Raigyne Moncrief grabbed a defensive rebound and fed Tatum Buebert for a jumper and it was a one-point halftime edge.

LSU coach Nikki Fargas said it would come down to whoever could execute offensively in the second half.

Moncrief only had two points but her three steals disrupted Ole Miss. Sophomore Chloe Jackson had 11. Ole Miss had no one in double figures and their best guard, Shandricka Sessom, had three fouls.

LSU had won the first meeting by seven.

In this one, they expanded the lead with a 23-8 third. This time, the single-digit effort was deadly.

Jackson had 22 as the game wound down. She also had a double/double with 13 rebounds. As a first-year transfer from North Carolina State, she has proven her worth and came to a team that needed her.

She sat out last season as did Moncrief (knee rehabilitation). Their addition shuffled the whole program.

For Ole Miss, Taylor Manuel was 7-of-11 for 19 points. But she was not enough.

It was over. It ended 65-49, the third win this season by LSU in the series by double-digits.

“We just came out and played hard,” said Jackson.

“Ray (Moncrief) is a great player and we had to play hard when she got her fourth foul.”

They actually grew the lead twice when Moncrief picked up fouls and had to sit out. For the seventh straight season, they are in the quarterfinals.

“It was a gamble,” said Farkas of playing two of her stars with two fouls at the end of the first half. They went on a 10-0 sprint which salvaged the game.

“But we managed to do well without them picking up their third fouls,” Farkas said “Chloe was on fire and was in beast mode.

“We just needed to feed the beast.”

She said her post-season technique is to tell the newbies to watch the others and ride along.
“You just can’t put your best player on Moncrief and not respect Chloe.”

As for Mississippi State, she said they played so badly against them in a 26-point loss this season that they are unscoutable using that game. She sees improvement in all areas.

Ole Miss (17-13) seniors Erica Zisk, Bretta Hart, Shequilla Joseph and grad student Manuel will get a shot at the NIT. But they will be missed in the SEC.

LSU Gets to challenge Mississippi State now. The Bulldogs are on a two-game losing streak after losing just once all season before that.

The Aggies earned their 12th straight season with at least 20 wins. The 67-48 win over Florida ended a four-game losing streak

It was a magnificent coaching job by Gary Blair who lost four starters from last season and now is back in the quarterfinals as well as the NCAA

Senior Curtyce Knox has only missed 15 total minutes all season, undoubtedly the SEC’s best point guard in her only one as a starter.

She had averaged nine minutes a game last season. She joins Khaalia Hillsman and Danni Williams on the conference second team. She set the SEC record with 273 assists, 145 in conference.

By the way, she also had a baby in the off-season.

 It started so slowly, 9-7 A&M with 90 seconds left in the first. So the single-quarter output seemed to not apply.

A&M ended on a 9-0 run, seven by Danni Williams against an average of 16. The Aggies were ahead, 11-7.

Florida had no offensive rebounds at all. Each team that had won previously this day outrebounded the vanquished foe.

Florida was fighting for its life and produced a 14-7 second quarter and were ahead 21-18, this with A&M averaging 71 over the season. No one hit double figures.

For a league which prides itself on defense, this game had come down to one second half.

A&M edged ahead as the third wound down, leading by 10 but settling for eight. Hillsman had 20 (on her way to 24) against a 16 average with 10 rebounds for the only double/double. Danni Williams had scored 10.

They slowly pushed it to 15 with five minutes left. Hillsman had not missed a shot in the second half as A&M maintained at the two-minute mark. Knox was up to nine assists, her 8.4 league average a record.

A&M moved from 23 percent shooting at the half to 60 percent. They used but six players.
Sophomore Anriel Howard grabbed her 10th rebound which is her average. The result was clearly headed toward a rematch with Missouri which needed overtime in the regular season despite 36 from Sophie Cunningham.

Florida was all-too-often one and done. They were 0-for-9 on 3s after 63 straight with at least one.

A&M even drained the shot clock to kill the game clock on the final possession

Blair said of Hillsman: “She caught it inside and she finished. We ran a lot of different sets in the second half. Some of them, I drew up in the sand and some of them worked. Curtyce, she can find her.”

Hillsman said it was the mental game which worked.

“I got more confidence (in the second half),” she said. “My teammates talked me down. If they double me, someone else is open. We just need to play to our level and advance.”

And she did hit all seven second-half attempts.

The Florida (15-16) seniors were Ronni Williams, Simone Westbrook and Tyshara Fleming. Their coach made sure their careers ended here.

So it ended up on Day 2 all the teams that had won in the regular season also won here. Two more hit 20 wins.


No. 1 seed South Carolina (24-4) vs. No. 8 Georgia (16-14).
No. 2 seed Mississippi State (27-3) vs. No. 7 LSU (20-10)
No. 3 seed Missouri (21-9) vs. No. 6 Texas A&M (20-10)
No. 4 seed Kentucky (20-9) vs No. 12 Alabama (19-12)

As far as past performances predicting current success: The top four seeds all won during the season.


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