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.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Individuals Making an Impact

By Mike Siroky

The best player in the best conference – those Southeastern Conference teams ranked in the Top 20  by the Associated Press – got named to the talent pool for international play (as in Olympic) teams by USA  Basketball. Texas A&M had the national Game of the Week as a rookie went off for 45. Not only did another senior keep or projected streak alive by winning the weekly conference honor, but she also captured the weekly national award.


No. 4 South Carolina 

A’ja Wilson is the best player in the best league. Now she is among the world’s best, being elevated to the 2017-20 USA Basketball Women’s National Team pool, from which the 2018 USA World Cup Team will be selected. Of course, the frontrunners are the 13 Olympic and/or FIBA World Cup Gold medalists. But Wilson is among five current college players selected by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee.

And the team, as will be the Olympic, is coached by Wilson’s college coach, Dawn Staley. Just, as Brianna Stewart had a bit of an inside track for the most-recent Olympiad when the coach was Geno Auriemma, so does Wilson have a familiar set of eyes on her.

The other collegians are Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, Napheesa Collier and Katy Lou Samuelson of UConn, and Asia Durr of Louisville. The selectees are to gather on the South Carolina campus, mornings Feb. 9-11

It will be interesting to see if the college players adjust their regular season play. UConn and Louisville are off, Ohio State has a game Feb. 11. South Carolina has an afternoon game Feb.11, but it’s at home so Staley and Wilson will already be there.

Bianca Cuevas-Moore, the fastest player in the league, will accept a redshirt year as her “banged up” knee has not responded so far. It may well be it is more than banged up.

Te’a Cooper, the sophomore import from Tennessee after sitting out last season with a knee rebuild, is expected to be cleared for the SEC season. Senior transfer Lindsey Spann from Penn State, with 22 3s, has missed four games while resting a sore knee. She is projected to be fine for the SEC season too.

The only thing on the to-do list was Savannah State and the completion of the Carolina sweep Nine players were plenty enough.

 The best crowd for women’s basketball worldwide, 13,343, appreciated the effort. With fewer players, the stars play longer. Wilson had 26 points in 26 minutes, 12-of-16 from the  field and she even tried two 3s, hitting one. Alexis Jennings, the transfer from Kentucky, had the double/double, 10 points, 13 rebounds (11 on defense) in 27 minutes. Reserve Harrigan Herbert scored 21 in 21 minutes, hit all seven free throws, 7-of-10 from the field. Usual point guard Tyasha Harris did not start as Staley experimented, but still had 12 assists.

Staley has 231 program wins, best in history.

“I came here 10 years ago to turn the program around and win the national championship,” she said “That got done with some incredible people: Coaches, players and the community. I think it's a tribute to what everybody has contributed to our program,” she said.

This week, they play at Temple, where Staley will be back in her native Philadelphia coaching against her Virginia teammate and longtime friend Tonya Cardoza, before having the Christmas holidays off until the start of the SEC season.

No. 5 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs had Oregon and Maine at home. They started holiday festivities against the Ducks with the annual Christmas at the Hump.

 Christmas Tree Cakes were given to the first 500 fans, and Santa was in the 5,445 house for pictures prior to his upcoming flight. He  read “The Night Before Christmas” to children on the court at halftime. He had such a good time that he came back for Maine.

Also at the Maine game, admission was free if fans brought a stuffed Teddy Bear.  They then had a  Teddy Bear toss at halftime, flooding the court with the bears going to area children

They took care of Oregon from the start, a 22-14 second quarter completing a 45-33 half . By the end of the third, it was 70-55 and Teaira McCown had 30 points, 14-of-16 from the field and 14 rebounds. Victoria Vivians had 15 points on 5-of-9 from the floor (2-of-4 3s) and 3-of-4 from the line, two assists and four rebounds. Morgan William had scored 13, 5-of-7 from the floor, 3-of-3 from the line, three assists. It ended  90-79. 

Vivians scored 15 in the final quarter for 30, 5-of-8 on 3s. McCowan finished with five blocks, 35 points in 35 minutes and  19 rebounds. They joined Tennessee at 10-0.

It is the first time two Bulldogs scored 30 in the same game since 1992.

"Very proud of the resiliency of this team," coach Vic Schaefer said. "The resiliency and the effort were tremendous. Oregon has a great basketball team. They have so many weapons. Scoring 90 points against their defense is impressive. On offense, our execution was great.

"A big key to the game were the minutes provided by Jazzmun (Holmes)," Schaefer said. "She really came in there late in the first half and gave us a lot of energy. That is when we got our separation in the game. Teaira really came out and gave us a great first half. Victoria took things over in the second half."

The Maine ingredient was the bench, with 35 points as 11 scored in the 83-43 blowout. State is 11-0, the first in the league chronologically there this season. 

McCowan’s seventh double/double, 18 points, 11 rebounds, was accomplished in 26 minutes.

The crowd of 4,953 cheered the 100th career wins for superlative seniors Vivians, William and Blair Schaefer. Vivians scored 12. In the coming weeks, all starters will up their playing times because league contests do not allow the luxuries of runaways.

 “Maine played extremely hard,” Schaefer said. “They had some travel difficulties getting here. For us, we were bland today, boring at times. It is typical coming off a big win. We had a hard time getting going. It’s a W. We will celebrate that. We give God the glory for 11-0.

“There are two big games ahead in Las Vegas. We are trying to go undefeated in non-conference. It hasn’t been done many times.”

The Bulldogs defined this one in the second quarter, allowing nine shots and six points, the dreaded single-digit lockdown. The Black Bears were held without a point over the final 6:11 of the half, State scoring a dozen unanswered and continuing a 20-0 run to start the third.

Mississippi State scored the final 12  of the half to build a 45-18 lead at halftime. 

They participate in the two-game Duel in the Desert tournament in Las Vegas this week. It is not a round robin. They play Las Vegas and Syracuse. The Orange still has players left from their national championship runnerup team of two seasons ago, though the majority now are rookies and sophomores for mercurial coach Quentin Hillsman. They ran into UConn in the second elimination game last season and lost there by 30.

No. 7 Tennessee

Jamie Nared kept the streak of senior winners going by winning the league player of the week honors. She also won the weekly national accolade by the United State Basketball Writers Association. 

The Lady Vols kept the program holiday traditions alive by visiting with guests from a children’s hospital.

Junior center Cheridene Green, from London, England, really like the interaction.

"I like having conversations with them, too, especially the ones that are like really mature for their age," said Green. "They don't ask me, 'Why do you talk like that?' or they don't say, 'Why do you sound funny?'

"They just say, 'You sound different.' Like yeah, different, thanks. Not funny, different."

They were California dreamin’ at  Long Beach State in what was a simple 90-61 runaway. They join Mississippi State at 11-0.

MeMe Jackson and non-starter Anastasia Hayes each scored 15, Russell and Westbrook 14, Nared 11. Double/doubles arrived for Nared (11) and Russell (10). Jackson only took 22 minutes, Nared 25, Russell 28, 

Coach Holly Warlick stretched out her thin bench by playing everyone.

“Any road win is a great win,” Warlick said. “We were concerned about it. They made us work. I loved our togetherness, the ability to defend and rebound. We just played hard. We’ve been preaching that, playing hard and playing together.

“You have to not just have leaders, you have to have followers. These young ones follow. Jamie and Mercedes have done a great a job. When I recruited them (the freshmen), I said they are awesome basketball players, but they’d get a chance to play. And I don’t say that every time.  They are competitive ladies, they al want to play. But they don’t care who starts They push each other and pull for each other.”

They hit four 3s in the opening minutes. Warlick said it just about quality shots.

“Our emphasis is, ‘Get the best shot you can get.’ Any shot that goes in is a great shot. We had great looks.”

“We just had a couple days of really good practice,” Russell said. “We come into practice every  day with the idea we can improve. It’s definitely been a lot of fun You can see it on the court, just a great group of girls.”

“It was a shooter’s gym,” said Jackson. “We were getting open and having good looks. We get energy every day. Everybody’s doing their thing and doing their job and that’s what love. Pushing pace, getting stops and scoring in transition. They (the freshmen) listen to everything we say and we listen to them, too. Any night it could be anyone.”

They drew 1,532

The first road trip of the season ends Thursday at Stanford before a 10-day Christmas break

No.19 Texas A&M

The Aggies went to undefeated and unranked Sothern Cal, winners of their first eight, two at home. The Aggies stared ahead, 21-18 at the first break. Rookie Chennedy Carter had 15, 6-of-7 from the field. USC was hanging in by hitting 54 percent from the field. Neither trend could last.

But the Trojans tried, launching a 9-3 start of the second quarter.

Suddenly, A&M had the deadly single-digit target for the second quarter and coach Gary Blair’s continual worry about a lack of consistent offense was too real. Sure, 30-29 at break was not beyond a recovery, but the EMTs were nowhere in sight.

USC was down to 43 percent from the field. But A&M was at a miserable 26 percent, even with Carter hitting half her shots. Blair likes to brag on leadership. He went four deep on the bench and found none. A rookie dong it all is seldom the fix.

Directly after intermission, Blair had made some adjustments and on came a 12-9 run. Back came the home team11-1. A&M was not effective on either end and was down by seven, no cure available as the quarter ended in a five-point hole.

Undismayed, they cobbled a 17-7 run and retook the lead. It was never easy. Carter splurged to a young career record 46, 4-of-8 on 3s, but an all-time program record and the best in the league this season. Her average had been 18.3 and it rose to 21, second only to Wilson of South Carolina.  Let’s make her league rookie of the year right now.

Danni Williams hit 4-of-6, missed all seven 3s, but obviously her nine second-half points were necessary. Khaalia Hillsman had one free throw in the first half, five points in the second, finishing eight below her average. 

Down the stretch, the exchange of points had A&M down by one with three minutes to go. In the next minute, Anriel Howard hit a jumper, one of three baskets. USC hit a free throw and Carter hit two. Each side missed. USC hit a layup, but Carter drove for one of her own and a free throw.  

The Trojans came out of a time out with a set play for a 3. But there was just half a minute left and A&M had a two-point lead, as if that mattered in this game.

Another 3 by the home team. One-point lead with 20 seconds left. Carter’s jumper at nine seconds left gave A&M a 75-74 lead. USC finally missed a late 3. Ballgame. Texas A&M is 9-2, three road wins. USC was a wild 6-of-24 on 3s.

“Whoever the offensive coordinator is, he deserves a raise,” said Blair. “Oh, that’s me!

“What a night! I will remember this night. This night was so special because we did not have a lot of firepower from our posts. It was one of the best exhibitions of setting up her own shot, driving to setting up her teammates. She did it all.”

Carter said, “I just feel like you have to play hard on both ends. That’s the key. You have to play hard. Half the time, I did not know what the score was. I was just looking for my players.

“My teammates were a big part of getting me open. I just set my man up and they set the screens and I just tried to finish.”

 Each side hit 45 percent from the field. A third loss carried a probability of leaving the national stage again. But a road win against an 8-0 Pac 13 team instead added to the Blair legend.

Texas A&M joins South Carolina in the Duel in the Desert, against Hawaii and No. 9 Oregon this week, then finishes Texas bragging rights when SMU closes the year December 28. Oregon has lost to Mississippi State by 15 and defeated Ole Miss.


Trend: Georgia, unranked at 9-1, gathered with its fans to build more than 60 bikes for deserving children in a tradition that goes back a dozen seasons. 

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


 Trend: Tennessee is the top-scoring team in the conference without any individual in the top six scorers.







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