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, January 29, 2018

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: South Carolina Gets Revenge

By Mike Siroky

 The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball continued to be competitive, with Tennessee staying in free fall  and South Carolina having fun in a revenge win.

Another league team was welcomed to the Associated Press top 25, making it six ranked teams.

 No. 2 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs celebrated the program’s all-time highest ranking at home
in StarkVegas against rebuilding Florida, 90-53.

Sometimes the best team in the best conference makes it look easy.

One reason this season is junior transfer Roshunda Johnson, quietly rounding out the starting five in her second season after transferring from two years at another ranked program, Oklahoma State.

Mississippi State was not even in her final choices list. Kentucky and Tennessee were.

 She is another Arkansas native – with Jordan Danberry -- to find a welcoming home in StarkVegas, drawing weekly praise from coach Vic Schaefer.

By the 12-point halftime advantage, Blair Schaefer delivered 4-of-6 3s and the other usual suspect, Victoria Vivians, had 13. 

Johnson had seven rebounds, six defensive. She finished with seven points and nine rebounds.

At the end, it was Teaira McCowan’s 23 points that had the most impact.

 State is 21-0 for the first time in program history.

"It's just so much fun when you have nights like this when your team finds you," Schaefer said. "It's basically up to the defense on who to guard, so every night, it can be someone different."

McCowan hit 9 of 13 from the field and added eight rebounds and two blocks. Vivians scored 17. The Bulldogs had 48 points in the paint, 67 percent from the field in the second half. Schaefer finished with 15.

“You just tell her to stand over their on the wing and she opens up the floor for everyone else because they have to go guard her,” Schaefer said of his daughter. “She’s shooting the ball at a really high level.

“I just want to compliment my team,” Vic Schaefer said. “It's extremely hard to do what they’re doing. 

“In the second half, defensively, we were really good. Fourteen forced turnovers in the second half. Thirty-six points in the paint in the second half. Our defense really turned into offense.”

They drew 6,727.

The crosstate trip to complete the sweep of Ole Miss was uneventful, a ninth win in a row in the series. The seniors matched the program record for four-year players at 111.

Ole Miss hit 1-of-18 to start in a 19-4 quarter and it was decidedly over already, a program-record 22nd straight win, 69-49.

Vivians scored 25 on 10-of-18 from the field, even though she and McCowan spent most of the afternoon in foul trouble. McCowan grabbed 10 rebounds in 17 minutes.

“Proud at how we played in the first half,” coach Schaefer said. “We had to overcome some foul trouble and we did just that. Zion Campbell played her heart out today. She gave us 23 minutes, important minutes. In the first quarter, we allowed four points, and when you do that, you are locked in on the defensive end.

“Disappointed at how we played in the second half. Our mindset, mentality was not where it needed to be to win an SEC championship.”

They remain up on everyone else in the league. Their only game this week is at Missouri.

No. 9 

South Carolina

Carolina had lowly Arkansas and then No. 11 Missouri in a revenge game. But UConn looms this week, followed a few days later by Mississippi State.

Still. A’ja Wilson is back as a starter after turning her ankle. She responded with her 13th double/double, 27 points, 13 rebounds with seven blocks and Arkansas suffered her show,  90-42, especially a 25-6 opening quarter and a 19-6 second. SC kept pace with Mississippi State.

Wilson paused to be honored in pre-game for reaching 2,000 career points. Her rebounds in this one, meant 1,000 rebounds. She is the second in program history with that many.

Alexis Jennings had her fifth double-double this year with 22 points on 9-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds.

Wilson is from Hopkins close to campus. She accepts these longevity records, especially at home. “That'’ always a great thing,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s bittersweet because I know I’m on my way outta  here.

“Y’all got a good team here,” first-year Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. “Is that the understatement of the night?”

“We know what our strength are,” said SC coach Dawn Staley. “We played to that underneath. We know what to do when we get the ball in the guards’ hands. (Wilson) knows what to do. She has bulked up in the weight room. She is very strong.”

“I’m taking it all in,” Wilson said. “But my main focus is my teammates. They’re helping me, they’re uplifting me each and every day.”

So onto the fun game with No. 11 Mizzou. The Tigers had a very unbalanced advantage in free throws at their place, Wilson was fouled out and Staley ejected. The call came loudly for better refereeing, sort of like apologizing after being caught in a crime.

A’ja Wilson was fettered with unfair fouls then. Not at home. They hit 17-of-24; Missouri 3-of-6. Payback of the most unkind.

Missouri players were not allowed to talk to reporters afterwards.

SC hit 67 percent of its first-quarter shots.

And Wilson, not handicapped with fouls, scored 15 in the 64-54 win. Two Tigers were ejected.

The Gamecocks closed on a 15-5 run. Missouri missed eight of its final nine shots, SC ended a 49-49 tie with 4:32 to play with 3-of-4 shooting over the ensuing two minutes.

In the second quarter, when Missouri's Kayla Michael locked up with Jennings two Missouri scrubs, Jordan Roundtree and Nadia Green were ejected for coming off the bench to join the the fun.

The crowd of more than 13,000 rarely let the Tigers forget their anger about the earlier defeat. 

They booed Tigers star Sophie Cunningham nearly every time she touched the ball. The Missouri junior found her way into the tussle, first getting shoved by South Carolina's Doniyah Cliney, then bumping Jennings hard with her shoulder as she walked off the court.

The lack of class cost her an unsportsmanlike foul, after officials reviewed the tape.

Cunningham led Missouri with 18 points and eight rebounds.

Wilson said the Gamecocks treated this game like every other one. Staley said her players studied film of their last two matchups -- Missouri wins -- and knew they'd take some shots. 

''They just don't want to go into a game unprotected,'' Staley said. ''Our first thing is making sure everyone's OK.''

Cunningham even bumped Wilson as the teams left the court. Maybe if Mizzou wins more than one SEC tournament game, all the bravado will mean something.

''It's all love and game,'' Wilson said, smiling.

Tyasha Harris scored 19 for South Carolina, which won its fourth straight, while Wilson had a game-best 15 rebounds for her 13th game with double figure points and rebounds this season. 

The two-time defending SEC player of the year also had four blocks.

 “I mean that is what great players do,” Staley said of Harris. “When there is a player down they step up, and she  is no different.  I had no worries that she would not step up today and score points for us.  

“It's just that she needed some help, but I think that she understands that she has to keep her game honest.  Twenty one shots isn't her comfort zone – but she took her open shots, and that is only going to help her get even better.”  

Jennings scored all seven of her points during a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, shooting 2-of-3 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line. She also added two steals in the final period.

In an interesting NCAA ruling, the NCAA turned down South Carolina’s request that Tennessee transfer Te'a Cooper should play this season instead of sitting out per the governing body's transfer rules because Cooper missed last season with the Lady Vols due to a knee rebuild.

 Cooper will have two seasons to play for the Gamecocks, starting next fall. Staley is waiting for an NCAA explanation.

No. 10 Tennessee

The Lady Vols hung in the top of the rankings despite losing three of four games against ranked teams. They have yet to get back to work solidifying a good NCAA draw.

They allowed an energetic Ole Miss to hang around for three quarters then showed what they have most of the season: This team knows how to close, an 18-15 fourth in a 75-6 win.

 Last season, they allowed this foe to win, giving them a publicity highlight.

Anastasia Hayes opened the final quarter with a 3, Jamie Nared scored three the old-fashioned way. Rennia Davis took a defensive rebound and flashed it to Evina Westbrook, who fed it right back for a layup. Nared had a steal then was fouled and made one.

 Hayes hit another layup, then a 3 on a feed from Nared, then a layup from Davis’ assist. Westbrook made the edge 16 with a free throw and they coasted home.

Nared had 15 with 10 rebounds and four assists.  Davis had 18, 6-of-8 from the field and the line with eight rebounds. Mercedes Russell did her 13 points’ damage in the first three quarters. Hayes brought the expected and necessary 16 off the bench.

Tennessee is 10-1 at home, 17-3 overall, entertaining 9,016 fans.

“At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to default to a zone,” said Nared. “We should be able to play good one-on-one defense. We just have to work on it."

“We got a little hesitant and a little timid when we got in foul trouble," coach Holly Warlick said. “We can’t get ourselves in that situation.

“I'm going to play whatever helps us win,” Warlick said. “I always want to play man-to-man, but I can be a great 40-minute zone coach if it’s going to help us win. My biggest thing is just communicating and effort.”

LSU is one of those teams which seems to rise above its mediocrity against UT. Maybe it is because it is coached, for now, by one of Warlick’s former players and assisted, for now, by former Pat Head associate Mickie DeMoss, a program closer.

Nared started the Bayou Bash 3-for-3 with three rebounds. It is usually good for UT when she starts hot. All the starters scored. It was 18-13 after one.

Russell took the offense in the second quarter. Westbrook had five assists. Each side scored 13 in a mundane second quarter. Warlick cycled in four reserves.

Then disaster. UT came up with but eight third-quarter points and LSU was on its way to a 70-59 win. The Lady Vols have fallen in four of the past six contests, all too reminiscent of last season’s late game collapses. Russell finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but everyone eels was below average.

LSU outrebounded Tennessee, the No. 4 rebounding team in the nation, by 44-32 and held Tennessee almost 23 points below its scoring average. Surely now out of the Top 10, UT is sixth in conference eliminated from contention.

“We didn’t respond,” said Nared. “They were the tougher team.”

“We were just stagnant ion offense,” said Russell.

“They were gritty, they were tougher . . . they just outworked us,” said Warlick.

How often can she and others say they will learn from these type of games before the listeners quit believing it is more than hot air?

“It took everyone committing to rebounds, to not give up when we missed,” said LSU coach Nikki Fargas. “We told the guards to get the ball off the glass. We did not focus on one player.”

Yes there is a month to go. Maybe the rookies are tired, but coaching is failing, especially to a LSU.

This week starts with a revenge game vs. A&M. The Aggies hit 21-of-26 free throws in an overtime win at their place. Tennessee was only awarded 11 free throws (and hit nine) . There is unlikely to be such a  blatant imbalance in Knoxville.

No. 15 Texas A&M

The slow and steady Aggies are home for LSU and at Vanderbilt.

LSU actually was a come-from-behind win, but Anriel Howard’s 21 points and 14 rebounds were enough to lead A&M, 69-59.

The Aggies trailed by four to start the second half. LSU is once again in danger of missing a 20-win season, despite inclusion in the projection by the four-letter network.

Howard’s effort is her program-record 24th career double/double. She was 7-of-9 from the field and had three assists without a turnover.

 Four Aggies hit in double figures, including rookie Chennedy Carter, for the 21st consecutive game.

A&M moved to 16-5 before 3,506 fans.

 “Things do not come easy to this team,” said coach Gary Blair.

“We started the game following the game plan and threw it completely out the window with the turnovers by my guards in the first half. We showed them exactly the zone they were going to run, but we tried to force it. Everybody became a ‘Jumpshot Judy’ early instead of continuing working the ball inside to (Khaalia) Hillsman. 

“We could’ve fouled out their whole team. We have a problem of making four to five passes against a zone defense. We want to score on two to three passes. We shouldn’t worry about who gets the assist as long as it’s a teammate and we move the ball around like we did in the third quarter. 

“Going in at half, we had to have a little bit of a revival. Finally, with seven and a half minutes left on the clock I said that’s all I got for y’all. It’s on y’all. I thought our kids responded, a lot by the leadership of Howard during that ball game. She’s my captain. She’s my leader out there on the court. She has a voice, and the kids listen. 

“Until we become a little bit more team-oriented when we are facing defenses like we are facing, the same thing could rear its head again. We are going to see a lot of zone. I was proud of how the kids took coaching and adjustments into halftime. Danni (Williams) found her stroke. 

“Chennedy started moving the ball, and we only turned the ball over three times in the whole second half, and I thought that was the difference in the game. 

“Last year, we beat them by two here and lost over there. It’s a rivalry. I enjoy playing them. We could have made it a lot easier on ourselves. Give their guards credit. They hit the shots they had to have. We are 5-2. That’s exactly where we were this time last year. Now what direction do we go? 

“I am playing five to six players, and all of them are shooting, even Kayla Wells and Lulu (McKinney). I don’t think they’ve missed a free throw all year. They have to shoot 100 free throws each week, and we have everything up on the board. It’s sort of a race to see what percentages we can get. 

“Our good free-throw shooters are shooting 90 something percent. I concentrate on it. Here’s the thing, we shot 11 free throws last year against them in two games, so you could see where I wanted to go. We were able to draw some fouls.”

 He praised Jasmine Lumpkin.

“Lumpkin was everywhere. Give the kid credit. She is one of my captains. She is good in the locker room. She is a good kid and going to graduate on time. She’s very special. She is what you call a team player, a role player. She does her job, and she’s getting more and more confidence as people are laying off of her.

 “Sometimes you’re open for a reason, and she starts hitting the shots. I want her to drive and keep getting to the free throw line like she’s doing. She doesn’t shoot the three, but she does everything else for us.

“We were able to win the game and not play our best. That’s because of the home crowd and because I’ve got a lot of talent. Once my team recognizes their talent, gets five people involved in the offense and spreads it around, we’re going to be a very good basketball team. We still ended up with four people in double figures and the other one had nine, so that’s pretty good. We are going to take it and move on.”

Howard said, “Our coaches chewed us out at halftime. They were short and sweet, but they were intense. We knew we weren’t giving our best efforts in the first half, so we came back ready to play. Probably the shortest halftime (talk) since I’ve been here.

“Tonight we had to be more of an inside-out team. Obviously our shots weren’t going in the first half. They weren’t the best shots. Once we got on the inside, our game started to flow a little bit more. Our inside presence is pretty powerful.”

Senior Center Hillsman said, “We were sometimes being a little selfish with the ball. When the defense was taking something away, we were shooting it anyway instead of looking for the open person. Anriel was a warrior on the board as usual and that helps.”

Carter continued to dominate as no A&M rookie ever has, 11-of-20 at Vandrbilt in the 91-67 win that keeps the Aggies in that group of only two conference losses. They have won six of seven.

Carter had her average 21, Wiliams 18, Hillsman 16 and Howard a dozen Lumpkin led the 43-re bound effort with 13. Doesn’t everyone welcome a trip to Nashville just about now? 
Carter said a lifetime of preparation leads to this.

“My dad made ne work out,” she said. I did dribbling drills on the grass. I did hours on the same thing I had to be able to dribble the ball. I just take what they give me.

“We have a lotta depth and this wasn’t even the best we ever played.”

No. 21 Georgia

We projected the ‘Dawgs return to the national poll by matching 17-2, 5-1 records with incoming No. 11 Missouri. Just outside the Top 20 is a good start for a sixth league  team.

Phase One of rebuilding after not even making the eliminations last season is done. Georgia had already matched the previous season’s win total and it was still January.

Now the struggle to stay relevant this month.

Earlier, they had won at A&M, the seventh win against ranked teams since Joni Taylor took over.

Senior forward Mackenzie Engram had scored 20 points or more in three straight, a personal best against a 13.5 average. Caliya Robinson reached double figures in all but one SEC game and leads Georgia at 7.7 rebounds per game. 

When Georgia defense holds the opponent to less than 40 percent from the field (15 of 19) they are 15-0. 

Missouri, of course, had other ideas The ’Dawgs started well, a 19-13 first, Then losing the second quarter by one. The Tigers posted a defensive stand in the third, 12-8.

Obviously both defenses were tuned in. Freshman guard Que Morrison stepped up with 14 points  and senior guard Haley Clark had 10, with no 3s between them. Robinson and Engram were trying to find their range.

Which team could finish better?

Georgia answered with a 22-11 fourth and its 18th win, 62-50, at once overcoming that single-digit demon and rewarding its 2,668 fans. Morrison scored a career-best 17, Clark 14 and Robinson stayed on her double-digit conference effort with 13. 

Georgia forced 18 turnovers, matching Missouri’s most in conference play, and second-highest on the season. Sure enough, Mizzou hit but 27 percent from the field as the defense showed well again.

 “That was one of our keys for the game,” Taylor said. “They are very talented offensively but we thought that we could bother them with our defensive pressure. (sophomore guard) Taja Cole and (freshman guard) Gabby Connally set the tone and made it really difficult for them.

“Every night it is a different player and that is the beauty of this team,” Taylor said. “That is what I appreciate, everyone is ready to go. All of their buckets are huge and everyone answers the call every time.”

This is the most wins to start a season since the  2009-10 season when that team began the year 20-2. 

At Florida, success continued. Engram and Robinson combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lady Bulldogs, 66-57. 

That made up for a five-point second quarter.

The  8-0 road record is the team’s best start away from home since the 1994-95 NCAA Final Four Team began that year 11-0 on the road.  

The six straight SEC games was the best since 2010-11. Florida hit 38 percent from the floor.

Georgia leads the league in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 34.1 percent shooting from the field. The Lady Bulldogs also pace the conference in both blocks (136 total, 6.8 per game) and assists (342 total, 17.1 per game). 

The Lady Bulldogs trailed by as many as 10 points in the third, before Engram and Robinson exploded and the team scored 31 in the fourth. Robinson finished with a game-high 22 and seven rebounds, the seventh time in eight SEC games she has reached double figures. 

Engram finished with 13. She will hit 1,000 career with four more. 

“We go from scoring five points in the second quarter to 31 in the fourth, and I think that tells you a little about the flow of this game,” Taylor said. “This was a good lesson for us. We were not locked in like we have been during our shootaround, and it showed. Cam does a great job with his team and they made it tough on us today. If not for Simone Costa and Maya Caldwell down the stretch, I am not sure we are able to win this game.” 

The Bulldogs head to LSU.

Trend: Just as has happened last season. Alabama avoided a chance at a 20-win season by losing at Auburn. It still can be the seventh league team (with the Top 25 teams) gifted again for the NCAA tournament. There are not six wins left on the Tide’s schedule.

For the second straight season, No 11 Missouri has declined to participate in our coverage.


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3:44 PM  

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