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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.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: A Select Six For Now

By Mike Siroky

The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball  – those ranked by the Associated Press – grew to six after one week of the season, with Kentucky sliding in at No. 25.

For the week, five remained unbeaten with one losing to a higher-ranked team.
No. 4 South Carolina

Leading national player-of-the-year candidate A’ja Wilson is on the Wooden watch list. She is one of six SEC players on the glutted 30-player initial look. 

The Wooden is the most prestigious women’s award, though the Wade Trophy carries the weight of history, coming from the time before the NCAA accepted the women’s game.

The only lockdown bet this season is she is the SEC player of the year. In fact, they oughta designate her as such right now and then have a senior scramble for runnerup. She is, of course, the first weekly winner in the league competition.

SC declined an invitation to the White House, delayed for inexplicable reasons and coming after the season is under way. Coach Dawn Staley will not let anything detract from the season at hand.

The national game of the week arrived quickly, at co-Big Ten favorite No. 14 Maryland, a 94-86 SC win.

Each side won two quarters with Maryland’s 32-21 fourth the best anyone not named UConn, Tennessee or Mississippi State has done against the Gamecocks in several seasons. They drew 8,677.

They had 16 points off turnovers mirrored by 16 fast break points.

With senior Bianca Cuevas still recovering from a sprained knee and a sophomore transfer not yet playing, Wilson still has plenty to surround herself with. Wilson scored a career-best 32 with 12 rebounds.

Tyasha Harris scored her career-best 20 with three 3s. A 26-point lead had been cut to three when her final 3 at 23 seconds to go sealed the deal. 

Two of the one-and-done transfers played big. Senior Alexis Jennings had her first big Gamecock game, a dozen points and nine defensive rebounds among her 13. Senior point guard Lindsey Spann scored 15, also with three 3s. 

 Tennessee transfer Te’a Cooper has not yet played, so maybe her reconditioned knee is not so well.

“I’m just so glad we got the win,” said Wilson “At the start of the season Coach Dawn Staley is not surprised by Wilson’s big plays.

“She was A’ja Wilson,” Staley said. “She is the country’s best player. I am more surprised 32 is her career high. They actually lulled us to sleep, I think we got a little fatigued and took some ill-advised shots.”

“It’s coming together very well,” Wilson said of her newly formulated team. “This was the first college road game (with this lineup). It was letting them get a feel for it and know there will be games like this.”

The road warriors continued their week with in-state rival Clemson, then Wofford came in for the rare three-game week.

There were single-digit opening quarters and 18 percent shooting by Clemson at halftime so the ACC representative was as inept as any team yet, down 37-11

The SC starters played as many or as few minutes as they wished.

Wilson had 10 points and seven defensive rebounds at the break. Spann hit 4-of-5 3s and had 14. 

By the end, it was 66-36. In theory, they had enough points to win without scoring in the second half.

In reality, Spann hit 6-of-7 3s and finished with 20 points in 24 minutes. Wilson had 19 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“I’m open so I’m shooting,” said Spann. “They’re doing a great job finding me. Now, I have treat players around me.”

“It was not our best effort,” Said Wilson. ‘I don’t think we had a great performance But we came out with a win so we’ll take it. We were not patient. It is all about communication when you come down to it and I think coach is about to fix that.

“We had a good understanding on what we were doing. We just have to communicate.

“When I was on the bench, I thought, ‘This is my last time playing Clemson.’ It is always good to get a win over Clemson.”

They got win  No. 4 at home vs. Wofford, another not surprising in-state devastation. They were easily ahead at the end of three quarters, 74-46.  Wilson, Jennings and Harris each had 13, Wilson with her double/double, 13 rebounds, nine defensive. 

Spann scored a dozen with three 3s. She is hitting 65 percent from behind the arc, the national leader. So the fourth was a coast, Wilson still averaging a double/double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. The best women’s draw in the world had 12,471 in attendance.

Staley chose to comment on Kentucky transfer Alexis Jennings’ return after the a season of working on the opposition practice squad.

“Alexis is knocking off the rust ,” said Staley. “But (she) has been very, very solid for us. We know she has sure hands. We know she’s going to get up a good shot, and we know she’s going to pin her player in the paint. She’s very efficient out there, so we’re looking for some of our young ones to adhere to what she’s doing.”

This weekend is the Gulf Coast Showdown in Florida. SC opens with maybe no longer fast-fading Rutgers, another Big Ten team. 

Washington, Notre Dame,  ETSU, Western Michigan, South Florida and St. John’s are also in the mix. SC oughta get to seven wins before December.
No. 7 Mississippi State

Victoria Vivians and Morgan William are also on the early Wooden list.

Vivians leads the league in minutes played.

State had two home wins as they got off to a 4-0 start. With a majority of road games to start last season, many of these are the return gifts.

First in was Georgia State, like SC. a walkover/low minute game for the starters who made the most of their court time in the 106-50 win. They drew 4,584 They also won every quarter.

Teaira McCowan scored 19 in 15 minutes, 9-of-10 from the field. Vivians was one of three others in double figures, with 19 in 24 minutes, 5-of-6 from the line, 7-of-10 from the field. The team held the foe to 31 percent from the field, more than doubling that their ownselves.

The 65.6 from the floor is a program best.

“I was really proud of the way we came out in the first half and shared the ball,” coach Vic Schaefer said. “I thought our execution was really good. I thought our transition was good. These are my notes at halftime. We had 30 points in the paint. We really set the tempo pushing the ball. Tori was good out in the open floor. She's a different matchup when she's at the four. I played her at the four tonight quite a bit.”
They cleared 100 with the reserves at 3:23 to go.
“We made the extra pass,” Schaefer said. “When you make that extra pass, and you take up two before you make that extra pass, somebody is wide open. 

“Now you have to make shots. I was really pleased with the extra passing. I was pleased with our shooters having their feet ready. I thought that was something that we've been doing. We do it in practice a lot. We didn't make shots the last game as well as we did tonight.”
Southern Mississippi visited in a matinee to close the work week. Blair Schaefer hit for nine first-quarter points, all 3s. State was already in cruise control, 31-8 at the first stop.  Another one of those single-digit quarter defensive markers had been posted. No team has lost yet after earning one of those.

It was much the same in the second, a 48-26 difference.

By  the third, McCowan had her double/double,  17 points and 10 rebounds and was done for the day. State has begun dedicating home games to each senior, so Roshunda Johnson had 20 points with four 3s on her afternoon. Maybe they will all feed the senior on her game. Johnson spent part of the post-game signing the 760 posters issued in her honor. They drew 5,321.

Vivians had risen to 15 with two 3s. and was also done for the day. Nothing spectacular was needed in the fourth. They entered it with a 26-point lead and 11 3s. Johnson finished with a career-best 29 points and five 3s. 

“Our point guard play is really special right now,” Schaefer said. “We had 10 turnovers and forced 26 turnovers. When you have point guards not turning the ball over, you will always have a chance to win.

“Proud of our team and the crowd today. Our fans were great today. They were into it. It is great to watch this team share the basketball. When we make shots like we made shots today, it’s not only fun to watch, but it’s fun to coach.

“Our chemistry is just spreading to our team. This team can share the ball make shots.”

With Baylor losing ahead of them in the rankings, State has a chance to move to a higher slot this week.
              The ‘Dawgs head off to a Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Cancun where they open with Arizona State of the Pac 12. SC eliminated the Sun Devils on their way to last season’s title. They are an NCAA tournament regular.
No. 13 Tennessee

Seniors Jamie Nared and Mercedes Russell are on the early Wooden list.

Nared is the league leader in defensive rebounds.

And they led the Vols in their work week win, 89-60 over James Madison. They won every quarter and eased into this one. Nared had 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

There is already a consistency missed in the previous season. The rookies show more poise, each outing led by Anastasia Hayes’ eight assists.

“It was good to see us grow in this game -- and (to see) us keep growing,” Nared said. “I'm excited to where we can go.”

The Lady Vols showed strong ball movement by assisting on 21 of their 33 baskets. An 11-2 run to close the half put them in front by 20. They maintain the second-best league attendance of the week, 7,553

Freshman Rennia Davis had 17 points and eight rebounds. Russell had 14 points and eight rebounds. Cheridene Green, a redshirt junior from England, added 10 points.

“This team is a very unselfish basketball team,”  coach Holly Warlick said. “They're happy for each other's successes. And it makes me happy. It makes me smile.”

Nared said, “I think it's getting better, which is what you want to see especially at this time of the year. The first game I thought we showed little points where we played well defensively, but as a game, we didn't play how we wanted to play defensively. We are gradually getting better. I think the first half we played pretty good defense. We have little spurts that we go on, which when we start playing top teams, we can't have those spurts. 

“We have to play defense and stay locked-in the entire game. We are getting better at it, but we're not where we need to be. We are going to get better.
“You have one game where you don't shoot well, but you don't hang your head. We still won the game, you just find other aspects that you can improve on in your game and move on to the next one.

What I liked about us was a lot of our defense transferred over to offense. We had a lot of fast break points. We had a lot of deflections, a lot steals. That helps us because when we are playing hard defensively and really working together, that just translates over to offense. Especially when you are playing tough games, you need fast break points. 

“You need a lot of offense to come from your defense. It was nice to see. I think when we were in the half court we were running things well. Sometimes we got a little stagnant, but it was just good to see us growing this game and us keep growing. I'm excited to where we can go.”
Davis is working on the speed of the game, knowing her team is dependent on her remining in play and avoiding early fouls. She is working on one foul in each first half. 

But . . .  “I still picked it up (a second first-half foul) though. It was just later in the first half. I was just getting cold on the bench the last game and sleepy. I don't like sitting over there, so I was trying to be alert on defense and more attentive.

“I learned that I still have a lot to work on, which I already knew. I feel like these first two games showed me a lot, especially the first game because I was sitting out for so long (after the second foul). It taught to cheer on my teammates and be more of a team player. Tonight, I was just able to stay locked in on defense a little bit longer.”
 Hayes is working on the speed without errors.
“Well, I knew that we had a lot of turnovers the first game. My thing was to just try not to make crazy passes and try to find my teammates when they were open.”

 “We started the game with great intensity. I'm really proud of our group,” said Warlick. “We took excellent shots. We shared the basketball. We had 21 assists on 32 makes. Our defensive presence was solid. The one beef I have is making free throws. We almost shot better from the floor than we did from the free throw line. That's a little scary. (We had) 40 points in the paint, 24 points off of turnovers, and 30 fast break points. I thought we played hard, smart and with great intensity.”

 She praised her senior leadership.

“She was awesome. Jaime took great shots. She just was a workhorse for us. She played great defense, she rebounded and brought the ball up the floor. She just took great shots. She took makeable shots and that is a result of her getting in the gym and getting extra shots up. It doesn't happen by chance for Jaime. She has worked at it, and tonight was the result of her putting in the extra work.”

Hayes, she said, seems to have no issues with conversion to the college game

 I love her attacking. You want to pull them back; you don't want to push them downhill. Annie just has a knack for attacking the basket. She will understand as the game goes on when she can and can't. I'm not going to hold her back. She is great at attacking the basket. She attracts a lot of people. She is a great passer. I just love her energy.”

Hayes and Westbrook understand the idea is to feed the monster.

“I don't know her (Russell) shooting percentage right now, but she was seven-of-eight tonight. She is shooting the ball well. I think they understand that we have to play. We love to play inside out. Get the ball inside, if they collapse, we're going to kick it out. I think they understand the high percentage shot and getting Mercedes the ball, and they're both great passers. They're willing to give the ball up. Those two kids are not selfish. They can score, but they also love to pass.”

 Green also represents a new beginning.

“There is not (a ceiling)  for her,” Warlick said.
“ She is coming off a knee injury and hasn't played in a year. She is finding her rhythm. Tonight before the game I visited with her. I just want her to play the game and play hard. I want her to focus on defense and rebounding. One play she came out of nowhere and got a great rebound and put it up. Each game builds her confidence. We are going to need her down the stretch. We are going to need her effort, her ability to get the ball and chase down rebounds. She rebounds out of her area, not too many people do that. I'm really proud of Cheridene tonight. 

“We cut in gaps. We didn't force things. We got shooters the ball. We didn't have to force a pass to a shooter. We just played within ourselves. We had great fast break points. We really took care of the ball well. We got it to people who needed the ball.”

“Coming in here, I knew it would take an A-plus effort for us, and we just didn't bring that exactly. Tennessee has earned the right to be in the top 10,” JMU coach Sean O'Regan said. “They've got everything. They've got leadership. They've got balance. They've got talent. I love Hayes. I think she's going to be a great point guard for them.”

Warlick is displaying less focus on the now-gone team drama queen and more on being a coach and enjoying her game, more than she has in previous seasons.

“When you have a team like this, who are playing well together and have the ability to score and defend—probably the best thing is that this team is an unselfish basketball team,” Warlick said. 

“We're kicking their butts in practice. Some days they respond, some days they don't. At the end of the day, they come together and say, ‘We needed it, we have to stick together.’

“I love this basketball team. Times are going to get tough, yeah. I have confidence in them. I have tremendous amount of confidence in them because I see what they do and how hard they practice. We're not there yet, but we're getting there.”

This week, Wichita State visits.
 No. 20 Texas A&M

The Aggies had three games in the NIT. They lost their semifinal to a high-ranked team, No. 11 Oregon. That earned them five days off.
Rookie Chennedy Carter stayed in double figures for the third game of her career, 

The first ranked SEC team to lose did so at home, allowing Oregon a 55-34 advantage in the second half. The 29-15 third quarter was especially effective. The quarter closed with a 11-4 run for the visitors.

The Aggies did close it down to five within the final four minutes, but that only spurred a 12-2 run that ended any mystery.

Carter is the first rookie to lead an Aggie team in scoring in her first three games. Sher had 23, each opportunity in double digits.  Danni Williams scored 17, Khaali Hillsman 10 and Anriel Howard had her third straight double/double , 10 points and 13 rebounds.

“The better team was Oregon,” said coach Gary Blair, “and they showed their experience with five starters back. We made the game chaotic in the first half.

“We overcame some foul problems and we had all of the momentum and the ball to start the second half but you cannot win a ballgame at this level unless you have an inside game. Tonight we had no inside game. When we had a chance to build that lead in the first half, we didn’t stretch it out like we could have.

“I’ve got all the trust in the world of Danni, but we cannot just be a two-guard team with Chennedy  driving and scoring and Danni shooting the outside shots. We’ve got to be a complete team, and tonight we weren’t.”

 Williams saw a double-team most of the way and said it threw her off.

“But a lot of my shots were just short because I think I was rushing,” she said. “I was just trying to get that one to get in a rhythm but it happens.

“I think first half we did a really great (defensive) job. I think they are just used to playing in a transition game the whole time, they said they weren’t tired so I do think that some it got into us. They played really well, we just got to focus more and be more concentrated on the defensive end.”

 Carter battled against fouls all night.

I got two fouls quick in the first quarter,” she said, “and coach sat me on the bench for a little bit and he trusted me and told me just to go in and play solid and not to get a third foul before half time so that is what I did. Just was trying to compete and be a little less aggressive.”

They drew 3,315, among the lowest for nationally ranked teams.

 No. 25 Kentucky

The Kats slide into national prominence again after two easy home wins.

They started their work week far from home, at Montana.

Three guards are building the offense which lost its two best players to graduation.

Coach Matthew Mitchell’s rookies combined for 57 points in the opening games, led by Tatyana Wyatt and Dorie Harrison, a starter at center.

So off the went on a program first trip to Montana. They won, 71-54. They drew 2,808 as the first ranked team to visit in 13 seasons. Montana coach Shannon Schweyen. "It was awesome they came here and played us in an environment like this," she said. "The crowd was great."

The Kats opened on a 9-2 run, but   Montana counterpunched, opening the second quarter  11-0 over 5:10 to seize a 22-20 lead. It was tied at 27 at the break. UK made adjustments and skied away for good with a13-2 run coming off intermission.

The M&M junior guard connection led the charge. Taylor Murray scored 18 with 12 rebounds. Maci Morris finished with 16, 11 after intermission.

Schweyen  was impressed, especially with Mitchell’s focus on defense.

"I didn't know if we'd be able to run much (offense) against these guys with their pressure, but I thought we executed well and got good shots. I think I can count on one hand the number of bad shots we took tonight.

"They were frustrated the first half. They weren't making shots, and it wasn't the tempo they necessarily wanted, and that played into our hands," said Schweyen.

 "I didn't know what to think going into this game. I didn't know what we were going to get," she said. "The first half was great. I just want that third quarter over.

"We executed and got some looks, but it's hard to stick with a team like that when you're not matching them point for point," said Schweyen.

 "Lots of kids had a chance to be a hero tonight, because we got a lot of really good looks. I'm proud of the team and the way we hung in there. It's just unfortunate we didn't knock some of them down.

 "We did a great job of sticking to the game plan. They have a couple of good shooters. We were trying to locate them and make the rest of them take outside shots," said Schweyen. "That was going to be what had to beat us tonight. We weren't going to let fast-breaks be what they won on.

 "We did such a good job in the first half. Then we hit a big dry spell.

 "It's frustrating when you don't score. I felt like we were getting good shots, but they just weren't going," said Schweyen.
 "You watch them on video and they're stealing it and laying it up left and right on people. I thought we did a good job taking care of it for the most part. We met our passes. That was a big emphasis today," said Schweyeyn.

 It was off to Washington State of the Pac 12. The Kats started in an early deficit but settled in for a 73-68 win and so held onto the last spot in the Top 25. 

A 20-3 sprint linking the end of the half and the start of the second sealed the deal. They had trailed by 11 and cut it to one at intermission. They had 14 fast break points and allowed only four. When the home team threatened late, UK had a 12-1 run and then a 7-0 to close it, cooly hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the final 66 seconds.
A different M&M Connection led. Morris scored 20. Senior guard Mackenzie Cann hit a first career double/double, 15 with  10 rebounds. Amanda Paschal rallied the bench. The junior college incomer had eight points in support of the starters.

“They played like the No. 25 team in the country,” said WSU coach June Daugherty. “We had a lot of improvement. They were plus 16 in the second half rebounding alone and that is not gonna get it done.”

UK won seven of eight to start hot last season as well. They have two home games this week, starting Wednesday with Morehead State.
nTrend: A real coach at Arkansas influenced home attendance to jump to an average 3,229, ahead of A&M , for instance.

For the second straight season, Missouri has declined to participate in our coverage.


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