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 08, 2018

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: The Top Team Tumbles As Conference Struts Competitive Games

By Mike Siroky

 

The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball spun into its second week with competitive games showing why this is the toughest conference of all surprises.


Missouri, at home, took out defending conference and national champs South Carolina in the ranked matchup of the week.  It was marred by sketchy officiating.


Ole Miss and LSU joined the company of losers at home, which traditionally makes them all are unlikely winners of the league, following the formula of teams which win all their home games win the conference. 


Only the ranked teams already remain the only defenders of the home courts.



Each year, the NCAA awards the CLASS awards in multiple sports: Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. The awards focus on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.


All are in excellent academic standing with 14 having grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher. Eight of this year’s candidates were 2016-17 CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-Americans and seven returned to the court this season after receiving All-America honors for their performances a year ago. 


Each of the candidates also volunteers his or her time with charitable organizations and causes while upholding a reputation for positive character on campus and in the community.


The 30 nominees will be narrowed to fields of 10 finalists in February. 



The SEC nominees: Raigyne Lewis (LSU); Victoria Vivians and Morgan Wiliam (Mississippi State)

 

No. 4 South Carolina 


The Gamecocks know Ole Miss has a coach if not always a team. 


But SC has the game plannings of coach Dawn Staley. Plus that No. 1 player, A’ja Wilson. Yeah that one.


 By 7:24 of the third, her team was comfortably ahead and she had another double/double, 16 points and 10 rebounds (six defensive ) then. They had eased away from a 35-28 half. Ole Miss junior guard Madinah Muhammad was doing her best, 18 points with two 3s.  


Mississippi kept things close for three quarters, but Wilson finished  25 points and 15 rebounds. Alexis Jennings had 14 points and nine rebounds and Victoria Patrick scored 11 as the Gamecocks won 88-62.


South Carolina withstood multiple rallies from the Rebels but overpowered them in the fourth. The Gamecocks used a 29-12 run to close it out.


"I felt we defended and rebounded," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said of the late run. "We were contesting shots and we stopped fouling. We fouled them a lot at the end of that third quarter. We were able to put just a little more pressure on them to where we could affect the shot."


South Carolina outscored the home team 40-22 in the paint. The Gamecocks won the rebound battle 45-30 and scored 17 points off 11 Ole Miss turnovers.


"I thought for three quarters we did a good job," Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said. "Got within nine there and then (South Carolina) made three straight 3s and that just deflated us."


The Rebels shot 39 percent from the floor and went cold in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-for-13.


South Carolina extended the win streak to seven after losing to Notre Dame.


Senior transfer-in Lindsey Spann still wasn’t right with a wobbly knee. She started 0-for-3 and missed both 3s, her special shot. She hit two of them in 14 minutes off the bench with eight points. SC defended its homecourt.


Then they went to No. 16 Missouri. The Tigers were waiting for a defining game and earned it, winning the first three quarters by enough for the 83-74 surprise before 4,625 witnesses.


Wilson fouled out for the first time in a long while with eight points. 


Staley argued so vociferously, she was ejected with a second technical at 2:53.



Afterwards, Staley said the calls against Wilson were not right and blasted the officiating, pointing out that two of the three referees also called the game between the two programs last season that ended in a narrow 62-60 loss for the Gamecocks. 



According to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Staley said she texted the SEC coordinator of officials Sally Bell about that fact before the game and was told it was a coincidence. 


Doesn’t look that way now. 


The league is better than that. It must erase all signs of shenanigans by who the home team hires. It would never happen in the men’s game.


Staley did not believe her ejection was justified, saying that on the second call she “didn’t say anything. I just sat there,” she said, according to a local TV report.


“She’s the best player in the country and plays half the game,” Staley added of Wilson’s foul troubles, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, calling that “ridiculous.”


All told, the Gamecocks drew 26 fouls, a season high.

 

Tyasha Harris got a double/double, 14 points and 10 rebounds. Alexis Jennings and Lindsey Spann – back in the starting lineup – each scored 11.


But they were outrebounded, 34-26, the home team losing to 12 by Smith, 11 defensive, with 10 points. All-conference guard Sophie Cunningham seized the spotlight, coming off the rehab of a stretched knee, seven assists and 27 points.


They busted the SC defense, outshooting the visitors by 10 percent from the field. They may have fought their back into the upper Top 25.


Poor Auburn now gets angry Gamecocks at their roost this week and then SC wants to reclaim its mojo even more with Tennessee on Sunday


No. 5 Mississippi State



StarkVegas welcomed an improved Arkansas, no one perhaps happier to play them than Jordan Danberry, after her transfer from there to here following a promising rookie season. 



Center Teaira McCowan continued her center special play by earning Player of the Week, by averaging 33.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 79.5 percent from the field, She is the only non-senior to win the award this season.



First-year coach Mike Neighbors is a mammoth upgrade from the previous administration and had his alma mater at 10 wins. State had won seven straight in the series and made it eight.



It did not come easy. It started 22-20, then the visitors ran off a 5-0 mini-streak to start the second quarter. 



But State was on its way to a program-record 111 points, allowing 69 for another 16-0 start. The Bulldogs scored 64 in the second half, hitting 70.6 percent from the floor then.



“Arkansas played extremely well,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “They played hard and had a great plan. This team is not what we have been like defensively in the past, but offensively, we are super-ultra talented.



“In the first half, I was coaching hard and that is discouraging. This group is a challenge. It’s a struggle to get this team to play hard defensively. Victoria took over the game in the third quarter. When she puts her mind to it, she can be hard to handle.”



All state starters hit double figures. Vivians had 29 points, followed by McCowan and Morgan William with 18 each, Blair Schaefer at 14 and Roshunda Johnson at 13, with 10 assists for a  double/double as she had 10 assists. They scored 32 in the fourth and erased all doubt with a 15-0 run midway through it.



State hit 44 of 76 shots from the field (57.9 percent), 10 of 20 shots from 3-point range (50.0 percent) and 13 of 14 shots from the foul line (92.9 percent). State won rebounds, 40-29, and had 25 assists and four turnovers. They drew 5,398.



The road led to LSU and one of those viperish teams the big three need to beat every time. The Ben-Gals are trending downward in recent seasons to the point rumblings of a coaching change is needed to get them off the middle plateau. They had won five games in a row, though.



So, when Vivians has a bad game, McCowan is ready to make it unnoticed. In the 83-70 win in the bayou, McCowan scored 31 with 20 rebounds, 14 defensive. LSU’s best, Raigyne Lewis, scored 20. Vivians was in foul trouble all game, scoring four against a 29 average.



They drew 2,325.



“That was one heck of a basketball game,” Schaefer said. “LSU played really well. We were down 17-10 and I like how we responded coming out of a timeout. We got two 3-pointers and led at the end of the quarter. Our execution at the end of the half was outstanding.


 “LSU would not go away in the second half. I was proud at how hard we fought and kept competing. We closed it out well.”



State will be the highest-rated team in the league, just three games away from 20 wins..



The Bulldogs have state rival Ole Miss and then go to Alabama this week likely adding to the win total.


No. 7 Tennessee


Here came Auburn and a remembering of a silly loss a year ago.


The Tigers surely remembered. Playing in front of a hostile crowd of 8,663, they and Tennessee waged a battle that was decided in the first half only by UT’s five-point first-quarter advantage. 


Auburn returned the defensive smashing in a 17-12 second and it was tied at the half. The big show was a dozen points from reserve sophomore guard Daisa Alexander (despite 5-of-15 from the field). She scored eight straight at one point in the second quarter.



For the home side, senior Jamie Nared had nine with two blocks and six defensive rebounds. She scored  10 in the second half and had 11 rebounds for another double/double. Evina Westbrook, a show-stealer lately, had six assists but as many turnovers. All in all, Auburn had to feel best.


Just last season, Tennessee would have gone splat.


Not now.



The Lady Vols proved they can close, unlike last season and won, 70-59 Auburn was ahead, 55-51 with five minutes to go before UT closed with a rush. 



It started with a Westbrook 3.  



Russell blocked the next attacker. Hayes converted a three-point play off that with 75 seconds left. Auburn was gassed. The 11-point margin of victory was exactly by how much they won the fourth quarter. Tennessee was steady the rest of the way.


"I told them great teams find a way to win," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We found a way to win tonight."

She said a save by Hayes, saving a contested pass going out-of-bounds to start the winning sequence the biggest play of the game.


“I guess I just used my athleticism,” Hayes said. “It was a big moment. Even if (the pass) was going out of bounds, I was going to try and hustle to make it and not let it get out of bounds. I just drove to the rim and I saw Evina open and just dished it to her.”


"Obviously the game was ugly," Nared said. "We knew that playing it. But we got stops when it mattered."


State rival Vanderbilt proved it is still not yet ready to compete, especially with UT’s closing quests.


The Commmoners kept it close for three quarters, trailing by three.


But Tennessee took off on an 16-6 run. Russell scored on a pass from MeMe Jackson and the lead was only five. Cheridene Jackson made back-to-back layups. Hayes fed Nared for a 3 Hayes made a layup assisted by Jackson. 


Hayes twice fed Green for layups. 


Distribution was working Vandy could not focus on any one player. Nared fed Russell. Jackson finished a seven-point fourth (7-of-8 and 17 points overall) with a 3 and an 86-73 win. Vandy was as close as five with five minutes left

Russell had an all-time best 33 and Nared 15, each 5-of-6 from the line. Green came off the bench with her. They won rebounds, 42-28. The 8,835 crowd was appreciative of the ninth straight home win, 33rd at Knoxville vs. Vandy.


“Their record is not any indication of how they are,” Warlick said. “They hit great shots. They hit big shots. We went into the game knowing that's what they needed to do to stay in the game, and we didn’t defend them. We've got to understand game preparation, what we need to do, stick to the game plan and we won’t dig ourselves in a hole.”


Vandy hit 10-of-20 3s


But Tennessee won the battle underneath the baskets, 56-26. With no starter taller than 6-2, they had no answer for the 6-6 Russell. And 6-3 Green came off the bench with 17, also a career best.


“It was a huge key for us coming into today’s game,” Russell said. “The past few days in practice, we really just emphasized we could get a lot of paint points and post touches.”


“This is a team that can compete for a national championship,” Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White said of Tennessee. "There's no doubt about it.”


The Vols start the toughest road trip of anyone this season with ranked road trips against Texas A&M and South Carolina this week, then the annual debacle at No. 2 Notre Dame before Texas A&M visits.


No. 19 Texas A&M



The Aggies were the only team to change rankings. They rose into the Top 20 after pushing South Carolina to the limit in the opener.  The had spiraling Kentucky for the home opener. The Aggies are 8-2 at home.



Here’s a shock (not!): Chennedy Carter, the undisputed freshman of the year in the league, was named Rookie of the Year for the week. She leads A&M in scoring and is second-best in the league at 28, second-best freshman scorer in the nation. But she was on the bench with a tweaked knee.



Two evening evening events happened. A&M pulled even in the all-time series at four wins apiece and UK fell to 8-8 with a sixth straight loss. This is an example of how a wounded program, due to multiple transfer outs, finally becomes just another team in a tough league. Want another message: The road team in the series had won each of the past five, which means A&M now has two straight. They drew 3,662



They took a six-point first-quarter edge and stretched it like shrink wrap to a four-point win



Didn’t look great at first. Kentucky hung in, much like the Auburn/Tennessee game, and the home team had a two-point halftime edge. 


Senior Kat Maci Morris awoke from a slump with two 3s among her 5-of-8 and 14 points.



Senior Khaalia Hillsman had 10 in each half. Junior Danni Williams scored 19. Carter came up with five 3s and 14 points in 29 minutes, keeping her double-scoring streak. 


Hillsman scored six and Williams five during a 15-7 stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarters for a 66-57 lead with 7:32 to play.



“I thought we did a lot better job in the second half of taking away some of their 3s,” said A&M coach Gary Blair. Those are two (Morris and Williams) of  the finest 2 guards in our league and they both have improved so much. When Morris first got here she couldn’t put the ball on the floor like she did today. They ran a lot of one-on-one stuff and that gave Danni and chance to see what she could do. 



“We got Danni that big six against their press and that gave us a cushion. Then, we started finding Khaalia under the basket. Every time I thought we were going to break it open we couldn’t and that was mainly due to Kentucky’s good offense.



“We are going to take it as a ‘W.’ It wasn’t our best performance but Kentucky has been in every one of those games on their six-game streak. They didn’t fold at the end and kept coming at us. That’s what the SEC is all about. Kentucky could have easily won that ballgame.”



He saw a positive in playing without Carter as a starter. 



Even though she is a rookie, the veterans have come to look to her rather than the reverse.



“I wanted to get my other four players into the flow,” he said. “I wanted my team to know they could do it without Chennedy always having to create a shot. It didn’t work and that’s something that I wanted to go to Hillsman early. She scored on our first possession. 



“Danni scored a couple baskets, Jazz (Lumpkin) got in on it. I wanted those four kids to feel good about themselves again. Then when I put Chennedy in she was sluggish and wasn’t playing very well. She got into her groove in the second half but it took too long. I think I got everybody confident that she can come off the bench.”



Hillsman said her gamer me naturally. “ I was just not thinking about it,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like since I’m a senior I stress myself out way more than I need to. These past couple of days in practice I’ve taken a new approach to practice and just playing overall. I really think that helped me today, being calmer and just letting the game come to me.”



She felt better about winning an SEC game after opening at South Carolina.



 “It feels good,” she said. “We played South Carolina really tough and honestly, we probably should’ve won that game but we didn’t. So, we just had to put that behind us and focus on Kentucky, which I think we did.”



 Williams is concentrating ion her own game as well.



“I’ve been putting a lot more time in the gym,” Williams said. “I know I’ve been struggling so I have been shooting before practice and then coming back at night just really trying to find my shot and find my rhythm. I think early on I was able to get an open look and knock it down so that helped me a little.”



The first league win is always important.



“It’s huge,” she said. “I think playing South Carolina gave us a lot of confidence knowing we can come out every single night and we can beat anybody we step on the floor with. Also, the SEC is tough and we hadn’t beat Kentucky at home so this win is huge for us moving to the road.”



Even Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell praised the Aggies.



“Texas A&M fought hard and played well enough to win the game,” he said. “Our players really worked hard. 


“We could not stop fouling and we couldn’t draw any fouls and that was a big difference in the game. Their ability to get to the foul line and our inability to get there really hurt us. 


“I thought we worked hard on our offensive board we just could not keep (Anriel) Howard off their offensive board. Texas A&M is a very talented team and we fought hard. I’m real disappointed we lost.”



The Aggies rolled into Auburn fresh off its punishment at Knoxville. A&M remained among the seven one-loss teams in league play. Even this far out, the bottom four have been defined as non-NCAA qualifiers.



Hillsman remained locked in, 10-of-11 from the floor, 11-of-14 from the line, 31 points and 10 rebounds.



Carter was back as a starter.  She hit eight 3s among her 22 points.  Auburn hung around by hitting all 16 free throws. A&M missed 10. Auburn had won eight straight at home.

 


The Tennessee two-step – Vandy first – is this week for A&M.



Trend: Tennessee is tied for the lead in conference team offense, yet their best scorer ranks seventh among individuals, showcasing coach Holly Warlick’s theories of team before individual.



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

 

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