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.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Siroky's SEC Report: South Carolina Eases Into Elite 8

 By Mike Siroky

South Carolina 100, Quinnipiac 58


Quickly dispatched

Quietly flying home.

Quinnipiac somehow got to the Stockton Region semifinals where a very confident No. 1 seed South Carolina awaited.

The Gamecocks mostly wanted to win their 30th. So did Quinnipiac. That’s where the similarity ended.

Quinnipiac was favored by .1 percent of players in the most popular national bracket game.

That was about right.

Alisha Gray played of course, as we reported she would and was more or less the crashing guard of the Gamecocks’ four-guard array.

She and Kaela Davis scored the first seven of the 9-0 start. Quinnipiac called a time out, three minutes in. All it did was delay the inevitable.

We all love an underdog story, but only when the underdog is legitimate.

 The two teams the Bobcats beat in the tournament were not on anyone’s list of threats to SC or any good team.

You have to be good to even be a legitimate underdog. UCLA and Florida, overstaffed with freshmen, these are underdogs at this level.

It reinforces the women’s rule that has always been there is usually an elite team, maybe two or three other good ones and then there’s everyone else.

There has to be a Final Four, but name the others ever in the national semifinals.

They don’t matter and neither did Quinnipiac in this one. South Carolina can still be a Final Four team.

There was no surprise in this one. Never. Ever. Not even a Klown Kar of entertainment.

Coaches can either enjoy and encourage or go all Bob Knight on their team in angry energy. The latter did not work.

 Neither did the circus props at courtside, a bell to be rung and a ladder to be climbed.

Instead, they got the wake up call ringing in their ears and chance to step up to the departure lounge at the airport. Thanks for playing, here is your lovely parting gift.

After the time out, it grew to 16-0. Staley softly introduced a substitute to get her game experience for the next one.

Kaela Davis had eight points. With no points, Quinnipiac was 0-for-10 without a shooting percentage because you have to make one to get one.

Finally a free throw. The ESPN commentator tried to tell us how relaxed they were. Yep, they were coma-like relaxed.

It is no surprise the quarter ended with South Carolina imposing a single-digit defensive quarter, 20-7.

SC had not missed a free throw in nine tries. They had 16 rebounds to five. The freshman point guard, the first-ever in Dawn Staley’s SC career, had two fouls but who cared. It just meant opportunity for another player.

You knew, already, every player would play anyway. Why give the next for a look at the first team?

Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri had to pretend there would be a turnaround in the final three quarters of her season.

“I think we just settle down. We have to try and get it under double-digits before halftime,” she said. “Take a deep breath.”

She had tried four substitutes, to at least get their name in the NCAA and school record books as participants.

South Carolina did the same for a different reason and were up to eight players used. The ESPN commenters were watching some other game as they kept referring to South Carolina with the caution, “If they advance.” Oh have some guts.

Most of Quinnipiac’s drives were one-and-done. SC had two offensive rebounds. SC had 14 defensive and seven on offense. It was 31-14 and Quinnipiac had indeed settled down, the second the operative word. It had become a practice game for the No. 1 seed, a pickup game against anyone on campus.
It was 45-27 at the break. They didn’t escape a double-digit deficit.

Wilson had 16, Davis 15, Gray 12. Any two of them had as much as the Bobcat team. Rebounds were 21-10.  Four Quinnipiacians had two fouls each.

Even Wilson was surprised at the attempted triple-team.

“They’re playing me defensively the way I have never seen before, playing in front of me. So I am just doing what I can to put points on the board.”

They pushed the lead to 27 on a 13-4 run.  Every Gamecock had already played.

Quinnipiac’s coach used her last bullet – a technical foul for shouting something unacceptable – but SC just shrugged. Davis got to 20 points, 10-of-10 at the line.

The quarter ended 76-44. Staley said it was a matter of “Staying engaged. We told them we had some lulls in the first half.”

Especially engaged was Davis, 5-of-6 on 3s, all five she tried in the third good.

Only playing time defined who would be allowed to score what. Davis sat down with 26 minutes and 24 points; Davis had 28 in 23 minutes, Gray 19 with a team-high eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

 They sat most of the fourth, cheerleading when the only question was would SC’s reserves push it to 100, which they did on the last possession. Quinnipiac had scored 85 in its previous outing against a lesser team.

“I was just hitting a lot of shots,” said Davis. “We were moving the ball all along. We had 40 points in the paint and that means a lot to us because it means we are moving the ball.”

South Carolina had won its 30th. It scored the most it had all season. It hit 18-of-19 from the line, 62 percent from the field.

Staley took it easy on the Bobcats in her comments, focusing, as usual, on her team.

“Well, it was great to get out, to get out there and play another game,” Staley said.
“ It seemed like we were off for a long time. I thought our players came out ready to play on both sides of the ball and it was a really exciting game for us.

“We were really up for the challenge of playing. I’m glad we get a chance to move on.”

Davis said the points were nice and all, but defense comes first.

“I think our biggest thing was obviously pressuring outside the 3-point line,” Davis said “I’ve honestly never seen a team that could shoot the ball as well as them. Our biggest thing was just making them put the ball on the floor, you know, and if we had to give up a two, we'd much rather give up a two rather than a 3.”

Gray followed her coach on focus.

“Just staying engaged. Like Kaela said, they are a great 3-point shooting team. We tried our best to run them off the 3 line, also,” Gray said.

“When we come out, we play every team the same. Doesn't matter what name is on the jersey. We come out to play. Obviously they had a good run, but we still got a mission to complete and that's to make it to the Final Four National Championship.”

Davis: “I second that.” On shooting “It doesn't matter, get my feet set, just making sure, kind of staying in rhythm. Like coach said, it feels like we’ve been on for a long time with the gap between games. I think it’s just like I said, just finding rhythm and staying in a rhythm.”

Gray said: “The main thing for us is to come out strong the first five minutes and then take the game from there. We definitely want to stay aggressive and continue playing South Carolina basketball.”

Davis points out this is her first Elite 8, so she entered with no preconceived notions.

“We're going to play basketball. We're going to play the way that we know how to play. No matter who is in front of us, we have to play hard. We have to come ready to play no matter who it is, as it was today.

“It’s really good teams. Really experienced teams. Like I said, we are going to come out and play our game and play hard.”

Gray seconded her assessment.

Staley has kept the plan in motion, not allowing until now to look at the next round.

“I think for teams that have a goal of going to the Final Four and winning the National Championship, it is that step that, you know, can prevent you. Either you can overlook it -- not overlook it, but you can try to get ahead of yourself,” Staley said.

“I think for us, we just need to stay in character.

“We need to approach it much like we approached every game of the season. Although the stakes are a little bit higher. Just keep it as normal as possible, and the teams that are able to stay the course and keep it normal are the ones that can open up a game.

“I was incredibly proud of our team to be able to lock in to the game plan, and execute it. I thought we did have a few lulls in the second quarter where we got careless with the basketball, and we also let some shooters loose. They had a really good second quarter.

“So we have to continue to not have those lapses and put 40-minute games together at this stage of the game, because we'll play another great team on Monday night, and if you, you know, allow teams to play to their strengths, they can really make you pay for it.”

Without Alaina Coates, she has the luxury of stepping on the gas.

“The biggest thing for us in this particular game is our speed. We wanted to speed them up,” said Staley.

“We didn't want them to be comfortable in their sets and allowing them to read what our defense is. And then staying in front of them. Just staying in between them and the basket and not allowing them to get ahead of the possession, because once they are ahead of the possession, it's hard to fight your way back. They will get open 3s when it's like that.

“With Alaina out, I think it just leaves a big void. Like driving lanes were there for us. It gives A'Ja an opportunity to work the paint a little bit more and maybe feel like it's not so clogged up. And I thought tonight, or today, they played, almost double-teamed her.

“But for the guards, like Kaela, she's getting to the basket a little bit more. Allisha can play more downhill. Bianca Cuevas thrives off of the space that's left with the void of not having Alaina Coates in there.

“But we do, we feel from a rebounding and defensive standpoint, we feel her presence missed."

They get No. 3 Florida State Monday night, ACC instead of Pac 12. The Seminoles eliminated a Final 4 team from last season, No. 2 Oregon State. They are formidable on offense. A worthy Regional final opponent and no surprise if they overcome.

Oklahoma City Final
Mississippi State (32-4) vs. Baylor (33-3)

It is always nice when a No. 1 seed meets a No. 2 for the right to advance to the Final Four, because the selection Committee gets one right.

All the No. 1 seeds survive. The Bulldogs want to end that trend. Two No. 2s survive. The game is in prime time.

Baylor, the Big 12 champs, have a mercurial coach who will get anger management sessions when her season ends.

For now, let’s focus on the players. The Bears lead off with a quartet of seniors who have been unafraid to pledge allegiance to making the Final Four.

Between them, seniors Nina Davis, Alexis Jones, Khadijah Cave and Alexis Prince have scored 5,482 points in their Baylor careers and won nine Big 12 regular-season or tournament championship

Kalani Brown averages 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Jones averages 13.1 and Davis 12.8.

They easily disposed of Louisville in their semifinal. They average 89.6 points per game as a team and allow 55.2. Mississippi State will try to close that gap with their defense, which allows 56.4, or 35 less. They score 76.3, or 21 more than Baylor allows.

As with Washington, the defenders will decide it.

Another Mississippi State record is they now have more than 1,000 field goals in a season.

By the way, the opening games averaged 3,499 fans. That is one major difference between the men and women’s games, where tickets even for Regionals, are much more highly sought.