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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Onto The First Tournament

By Mike Siroky
The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball has 25 percent of the finalists for the Naismith national Coach of the Year award. 

Mississippi State’s Vic Schaefer leads the group with Georgia’s Joni Taylor for reinvigorating Georgia and the Missouri coach.

Schaefer was a finalist last season, even though he wasn’t good enough to be the conference coach of the year. He has won the regular season and the top seed in this week’s league tournament as the undefeated No 2 team in America.

We said in the preseason Mississippi State was as likely to win the conference because they had more seniors than did South Carolina.

 Sure enough, the game the Gamecocks lost at home was when A’ja Wilson was injured. The games they lost on the road was when she was fouled out on some very iffy calls and when she was again absent.

Here’s the thing: All SEC teams with winning records are likely to be in the NCAA eliminations. No other league has seven ranked teams. No other league will have all of its members with winning records advance.

One the  bottom side, the league has four teams finishing their seasons with nothing to look forward to.

New coaches at Arkansas and Florida began the slow rebuilding process but are destined to be below .500 and so not even NIT eligible. Vanderbilt has a second-year coach in the same mud. The Ole Miss futility just won’t get better.

Ole Miss is the biggest disappointment. If there is a conference coaching change, sadly it is there.

Half of these four will get one more win when the conference elimination tournament starts Wednesday.

Kentucky two games under even, is on life support as three SEC tournament wins are unlikely. As we guessed earlier, all those defections are finally having an impact on the career of coach Matthew Mitchell.

Auburn will also finish beneath .500.  Alabama still needs to win two more against ranked teams to get to 20 wins. They are the likely eighth pick of the NCAAs if they do that.

So this is the season, as we previously reported, that conference ranked teams all are in the NCAA  eliminations. 

The top four finishers in the conference tournament are likely Sweet 16 teams as first-round tournament hosts. Maybe one more. But Tennessee played itself onto the edge of the best 16 with a dwindling effort the past two weeks.

So here’s how the season closed, ending with Monday’s Associated  Press rankings.
No. 2 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs triumphantly completed a 30-0 season. It is naturally a program record. 

It is the only other undefeated team in America after UConn. It should have earned them the school’s first No. 1 NCAA seed.

Senior Night in StarkVegas was magnificent.

Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, Victoria Vivians and Morgan William were honored as the most-successful quartet in program history.

 Attendance passed the 200,000 mark, another program record, and so coach Vic Schaefer contributed 10 grand to the Starkville Boys & Girls Club, as he pledged he would do.

For all the celebration meant, we can only wonder at the pride he feels for his daughter completing this part of her life journey. He is the first coach ever to get a daughter to a Final Four and a top seed in the NCAA eliminations.

“You know, I’ve said this a lot. I’m living the dream,” he said.

“Coaching Mississippi State, coaching the players that I’ve been fortunate to coach. To have my own kid on the team, who is a starter on the No. 2 team in the country, I mean, that is living the dream.

“You know, she’s earned her way. I said this before, Blair was one of five in Mississippi. They only had five First Team All-State in the whole state. And she was one of those five. She comes here and she played in 29, I think, out of 34 games her first year; and second year, she played in all the games.

 “She averaged 8 or 10 minutes a game. You know, for a young kid that feels like they want more, deserve more, most kids across the country go, ‘Hey, this ain’t working,’ and go somewhere else.

“She and I had that conversation when we got back from Connecticut. My message to her as the coach was, ‘You know what, I think you can do more but you know what, you need to get in the gym and work more.’

“And she did. Give that kid credit. She got in the gym and worked at it. She’s made herself into a Southeastern Conference basketball player. She averages more minutes on our team than anybody. I can’t take her off the floor. She’s the glue. She’s our toughness kid. She takes more charges. She’s our best help defender. 

“You have to guard her over there, and if you don’t, she’ll knock down a shot. By standing over there and being a space-heater opens up the floor for the other four who are really good at what they do. You know, that day seems a long time ago, and yet it seems like yesterday.”

Blair Schaefer knew it would a unique experience.

“I don’t think I could have imagined this going any better. The fans, my family and everyone just embracing all of us is an amazing feeling. The support that we have received is great, and I’m very appreciative of it. I love the family atmosphere that Starkville brings.”

So the magic blend of this quartet has become solid.

“It’s a pretty special group of seniors,” he said.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been four years. I’m really excited for them to be able to play here at home again. We’ve got another sellout for them. They deserve it. Each of them has done so much for the program over years.

“It’s not our last game. It’s their last home for the season for conference. That’s it. I’m just so proud of each of them and appreciative for each of them. What they’ve done and brought to the table. 

“What they’ve meant to this university and to our community. They’re tremendous family kids. Their parents have done a wonderful job with them. It’s been easy to coach each of them. 

“They’re fiercely competitive. They’re just great kids. They’ve been wonderful. I’m excited for them for not only this season and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but I think there’s something special in store for them as well.

“Like they said, I think they understand each other. They respect each other. They’re certainly similar in their competitive fire. In wanting to win, I think they’re different in some other areas and other ways.

 “They respect that. They don’t judge. 

“I think they know that each of them, if they have gotten the spot, they can call on any of other three, they’d be there for them. No matter when. I think that’s a real special bond. It’s a special relationship that you have with somebody.

“And so, when you mention these two (Roshunda Johnson and Blair Schaefer) weren’t starters last year. But their chemistry was developed going against last year’s starter team. Remember, I told y’all, they’re team was beating the starters with a month left to go in the season.

“That’s why when we made the change; I had no problem doing it because I knew they had been beating the other kids for a month, you know, when we’d had certain drills. 

“So, I just think that they’re selfless. You know, they’re very unselfish. They don’t care who gets the glory, they just want to win. And at the end of the day, they’re very, very driven.

 “Each of them, academically, they’ve been driven. I think it’s carried over into their basketball. Or maybe it’s a basketball drive that’s carried into their academics. I just think they’re driven young ladies. They’ve had a lot of success here and they’ll be successful in life.

“I think their legacy is yet to be determined. I told them going into this year that for those four seniors, you won’t be remembered for last year. Your legacy will be what you do this year. And I told them that before we even played the first game.

“That’s where they are right now. That’s why we’re as successful as we are because they want their legacy to be something unique and special just like last year’s team and last year’s group of seniors. 

“Part of our success has been we’ve been able to stack classes in recruiting, and that’s what you have to do. You can’t have a good recruiting class and then go two, three years before you have another good one. 

“We signed (Dominique Dillingham), (Breanna Richardson), Chinwe (Okorie) and Ketara (Chapel). That class was ranked like 35th. Only one kid was a top-100 kid.

“Then you go sign this class with (Morgan William), Blair and Victoria (Vivians). Victoria should have been a McDonald’s All-American. She scored 5,700 points in high school.

“Again, the people on that committee have no idea and have no respect for what that kid had to do in her high school career.

“Night-in and night-out going against three people. I mean, I watched two people guard her four teammates while three people hung on her like birds in a tree. You know, she was a top-25 kid in the country, an impact kid from a scoring standpoint. 

“Then we back that up with (Jazzmun Holmes) and (Teaira McCowan). T is the No. 2 post-player in the country, top-18 player. Jazz has obviously been a huge impact for us from a standpoint of what she’s brought to the table.

“So, that’s always the secret to your success is recruiting. You have to retain them, and then you have to develop them. I think we’ve done that with these kids.

 “Then you throw (Roshunda Johnson) in. We tried to recruit Ro our first year here. We got on her too late. We weren’t any good and she was going to another program that was Top-20. Once we got a little bit better and she decided she wanted to leave, this was a great fit for her because she wanted to play our style.

 “She felt like that style would help her get to the next level, which I don’t think there’s any question that’s going to happen. It was important. That recruiting class was very important, and their impact on our program allowed that first group to have some help. That’s what this group provided.”
Blair Schaefer said the four-year ride has solidified.

“We equally understand what our team needs in order for us to win, so we find the things that we are good at and complement each other really well. Our awareness of what it takes to win a game is because of last year, and we now understand that we had to add certain aspects to our game individually in order for it to flourish for us to be where we are today.”

Johnson had a simple assessment of her classmates

“I know that Victoria enjoys eating doughnuts a lot. Blair loves Snapchat, and Morgan loves to crack jokes to us nonstop,” she said.

 William echoed them all.

“It’s been a great experience – being from Alabama. I didn’t know what I was stepping into,” said said. “I’d never even been to Mississippi. I felt like I just knew what home was. I trusted and believed the vision of the coaches, and it turned out great.”

Vivians has observations on the fun mix.

“I know Morgan likes to scare Blair when she’s at home,” Vivians said. “Ro will wear eyelashes, and Blair likes to be dramatic when she speaks.”

Coming to play for Schaefer was an any decision.

 “Just believing,” Vivians said. “You can’t go somewhere where everything is perfect, so you need to believe in the process. We’ve had some great recruiting classes, so I just believed in it.”

The chances are rare, but they did it. There were not many dry eyes in the house when he embraced her after the 82-61 wipeout of Auburn.

Junior all-conference center Teaira McCowan honored her senior classmates with 16 points and 18 rebounds, in front of a crowd of 9,474.

“I don't know if anyone had a better day than me today,” Schaefer said. “I’m so proud of my seniors. Senior nights are always bitter sweet, but this night was purely a celebration. We had 9,400 there and they deserved everyone that was here.”

Vivians and Roshunda Johnson each scored 16 – Johnson hit her first three 3s – and William scored 11. Vivians is the league's third-best scorer at 19.7 per game

“I think we were all pretty excited and let the game come to us,” Johnson said. “Once we got the momentum going, everything else fell into place.”

The season closer at Kentucky meant more than the undefeated season. It is also the first win ever for Schaefer in Lexington. The win competes another first on his bucket list.

They won every quarter and had a comfortable nine-point lead halfway through the second. SEC Player of the Week Teaira McCowan already had a double/double, 15 points and 10 rebounds with a block. She led the league for the season with 13 rebounds per game ands was the fourth-best scorer, 18.7 per.

It was 46-31 at the break. Chloe Bibby had eight off the bench. Blair Schaefer exploded for four 3s in the third as the rout continued.

It was happy time for State as the loss here at this point last season cost them the SEC title. Vivians had 16 with four assists as the quarter closed with State up 19. They ended it 85-63.

Bibby has 10, Schaefer a dozen, Vivians doubled with 18 and 10, Johnson hit all three 3s and scored 15 and McCowan went 20 and 20.

Significantly, it pushed UK two games below .500 which means they must win three in the SEC tournament (two to get even, one to stay there) to reach .500. The Kats will not be in the post-season so let the delayed analysis of the impact of all the defectors begin.

In the SEC tournament, State gets to wait until the Friday quarterfinals, but will celebrate their all-conference selections first.

Usually, an undefeated team gets at least one All-American as well by the national voters looking to validate their season. 

Vivians has earned that in four seasons of mostly superlatives. Only being sent to the bench in last season’s run to the title game was a speed bump.

Her whole career has been slightly depressed by the existence of A’ja Wilson’s undeniable magnificence as she started as a rookie while Wilson came off the bench.

Schaefer has always valued team play over a superstar -based lineup. Both ideas work, which is how the SEC had both national finalists a year ago.

They get a double-bye until Friday’s quarterfinals. Lucky Kentucky is likely to be that first foe.

No. 8 South Carolina

The Gamecocks, with the only conference All-American so far, won at home against LSU with her and lost at Tennessee without her.

We said in January A’Ja Wilson would be the Player of the Year and that remains without mystery. She should have a teammate on the all-conference team.

The delicious idea they will meet Missouri in a WWE-style game makes that the best-anticipated matchup until the title game which they could well win and take the undisputed official league crown, earning the only NCAA guaranteed spot and making the other six ranked teams at-large.

Dawn Staley did what she has expected in recent seasons, building a team around Wilson.

For the start of the season, it was senior transfer-in from Penn State Lindsey Spann, as the one-and-done  long-distance gun, melding in UK transfer Alexis Jennings as the other frontliner with Wilson.

 Former Tennessee point guard Te’a Cooper lost an NCAA appeal and will be that player next season.

In her lone season as a Gamecock, Lindsey Spann spent the first month leading the SEC in 3s before injuries interrupted her hot-shooting start. Her six 3s at Clemson are the most by any Gamecock this season.

The rehabilitated knee could not hold up. It is significant how quickly Staley was able to shift other players once she was lost without disrupting momentum.

Wilson had already led three of the Gamecocks' four SEC regular-season championship teams, all three SEC Tournament champions and both NCAA Final Fours.

South Carolina has won 118 of her career 131 games played, and she has scored in double figures in 115 of those. 

Now three times the SEC Player of the Year and a national player of the year finalist in a second All-American consensus first team, Wilson holds school records for career blocked shots, free throws made and free throw attempts.

 Her 19 double-doubles this season are her most in a single season and give her 49 in her career.

 The only player ranked among the nation's top 30 in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots average, she is among NCAA Div. I's top one percent in those three categories as well as defensive rebounds per game (8.0).

She moved into second place in the program's all-time points list (29 to tie the record 2,266).

Averaging 22.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks, she ranks eighth, 12th and fifth in the nation in those categories. She naturally led the league in scoring.

The lucky No. 24 Ben-Gals had this as their first game as a ranked team. They hadn’t both been ranked in the series since 2014. SC won, of course, 57-48.

Wilson had starting and ending ovations, the first lasting a minute.

She a special gift for her home fans: A career record 24 rebounds to go with 27 points, the first 20/20 Gamecock to do that since 1981, before the Staley era.

She has more than 1,000 points in conference games. No one before has ever done that.

“My first thought coming out was I hope my mascara wasn’t running. So it was not the boards at all,” Wilson said, laughing, on Senior Night. “I’m probably going to cry next year when we don't have her,” Staley said.

The of-course 12,835 sellout crowd included South Carolina’s athletics director and president decked out in fake pearls to honor Wilson's favorite thing to wear off the court. 

Wilson's grandmother gave her a set of pearls when she was about 10, telling her, “A pretty girl always wears her pearls.”

Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin had some as he gave her the key to the city. Most of her teammates were wearing pearls as the starting lineups were announced.

“I felt my grandmother’s spirit in the arena,” Wilson said. “It was great.”

This made consecutive seasons in which South Carolina has recorded double-digit SEC wins and at least 20 total wins

Onto Knoxville and a plateaued program. Holly Warlick is one of the few coaches with a non-losing record against Staley, now 5-3.

The biggest bam was the absence of Wilson. She had missed the only home defeat, against Tennessee and now she was not in Knoxville. She had that kind of flu which causes vertigo and so remained in bed in Columbia.

That unfettered Russell, who had been more of a spectator lately, doubled with 16 points and Rennia Davis had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists off the bench. True, she started all the other games this season, but Warlick followed the Lady Vol tradition of starting seniors and that meant Kortney Dunbar with Russell and Jaime Nared.

They put it away in a 14-0 start that led to a 29-9 third quarter, going where Wilson wasn’t, 25 of those points in the paint.

Staley is pretending like Wilson's status for this week's SEC tournament remains uncertain.

“I’ll be on bended knee, hoping that she’ll be back Friday,” Staley said. “I don’t know. I think first and foremost is her health and making sure that she’s healthy. We’re just going to take it day by day obviously because vertigo isn’t anything you play around with.

Staley said Wilson started showing some symptoms Friday.

But as late as Friday Staley had been pumping Wilson.

“When you have players like A’ja, it increases your chances of winning the game,” Staley said.

 “(Wilson) gives you a shot, no matter who’s around her,” Staley said. “She gives you a shot at winning the basketball game, and we’re glad that she’s healthy, we’re glad that she’s playing some of her best basketball, and hopefully that continues on Sunday.

 “There are NCAA implications on the line. So the more we win, I want (the NCAA selection committee) to look at the last 10 of our games and see that we’ve won 90 percent of them, and that usually leads to something good,” Staley said.

Wilson was that rare SEC player with a winning record against UT, 3-1.

“Just honestly go out there and control what we can control,” Wilson had said. “We can’t talk about the standings or the seeds or any of that. We just have to go out there and play within our system.”

Continuing the pretensions, Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said Tennessee didn’t dramatically alter its game plan when it became apparent Wilson wouldn’t play. 

Warlick said South Carolina has plenty of firepower even without the national player of the year candidate.

“South Carolina’s very capable of winning a basketball game, I think, without A’ja Wilson,” Warlick said.

Even so, the box score reflected the impact of Wilson's absence. South Carolina had its highest turnover total (21) and lowest point total of the season as its five-game winning streak disintegrated.

“We really came out in the third quarter and just jumped on them defensively," said Russell. “Our press was really good, really forced a lot of turnovers and kind of sped them up in the offense. I think that’s what really helped us get on a run.”

Mikiah Herbert Harrigan started in Wilson's place and scored a team-high 17 points. 

The only other South Carolina player in double figures was Doniyah Cliney with 14.

The Gamecocks needed their No. 2 and No. 3 scorers -- Alexis Jennings and Tyasha Harris -- to step up in Wilson's absence. They did not, a combined 2-of-11 from the floor. Jennings scored three points and Harris scored two.

The Gamecocks still get a double-bye into the quarterfinals. Georgia could emerge as the semifinal foe. But Tennessee won a possible quarterfinal rematch, maybe this time will all players available. At the least, the Vols probably won two home games and entry to the Sweet 16 in the next tournament.
No. 12 Tennessee

The national fall from grace continued in becoming non-competitive late in the conference the program once ruled.

 Any non-conference team would love to be where they are. In the SEC, they are just another also-ran.

Luckily Florida is not yet competitive. It allowed coach Holly Warlick to already reach 150 wins as the real coach, which does not count the season she ran the team while her predecessor was present by fighting a fatal disease.

The contrast between past glory and the unfulfilled promise of the present was underlined as rookies helped secure the final regular-season win. 

Freshman Rennia Davis returned to her home state and notched her seventh double-double, 11 points, 10 rebounds, leading a balanced attack in the  70-42 win.

Evina Westbrook and senior leader Jaime Nared had 13 points apiece for the Lady Vols.  At one point Florida missed 11 straight while UT scored 10 unanswered. They had 17 steals, the most in a decade.

UT slid to seventh place in the league.

The sad career close of Mercedes Russell was earned. Classmate Jaime Nared deserved better. We may yet find out why Russell became mostly a spectator lately. 

Injury perhaps? 

She could well be gifted on the All-SEC team as a lifetime achievement award because coaches do silly things like that every season. Nared earned her spot. Kortney Dunbar is the other senior.

“Coach believes in us; we believe in each other,” said Dunbar

“Like Jaime said, of the freshmen: They can get us there. They are experienced enough now. They have experience in big games. Hopefully ending on a high note will set us up for national championship run.”

Like the others, the 13,058  for the season finale had family members.

“I know me personally, there’s a minibus coming from Illinois. I’m sure it’s probably the same for both of them, but I probably have about 20-25 people.”

Tennessee has three wins over top 7 teams (Texas was the other one) and no else in the SEC had that.

No. 15 Texas A&M

The Aggies have national Freshman-of-the-Year Chennedy Carter. She never went a game without double figures. She will double as a member of the all-league team after being totally ignored in the pre-season by conference coaches. She finished second in the league in scoring to Wilson.

Gary Blair told y’all.

The Aggies in the SEC tournament are the No. 5 team, a possible breakthrough to the Sweet 16, as they have shown enough to get at least that.

 If they are thrown into UConn’s bracket, again, Carter can at least make them competitive in the Sweet 16 qualifier. 

She was freshman of the week again, as silly a decision as naming anyone else player of the week compared to Wilson. 

Carter is always freshman of the week. Even when the league pretends otherwise. 

She is second in conference scoring for the season.

Tennessee may have the best group of seniors and may well prove the better team because of their numbers, but she is the best individual.

They were at Arkansas then contended with No. 14 Missouri.

Given the chance at Arkansas – a former coaching stop for Gary Blair --  the Aggies scored a conference program record in the 104-60 win.

Carter scored 21. Thee of the other four starters hit double figures. Anriel Howard’s double/double had 15 of each kind.

A&M won the third 36-14 o take a 91-47 lead, so 100 was inevitable. The Aggies hit 14-of -18 in the third quarter, 5-of-6 3s.

All of the cadets attended the home closer for Mizzou, in a crowd of 6,627.

Blair easily outcoached the Missouri cypher, 82-63. They led by as many as 26, ending Missouri’s six-game win streak.

Howard turned in her sixth straight double/double and became Texas A&M's career and single-season rebounding record-holder. She had 16 points and 10 rebounds for 923 rebounds in her career, 360 this season.

A 14-0 run gave the Aggies a 20-point lead late in the first half and was extended to 25 midway through the third quarter after a 10-0 surge. The lead remained comfortably in double figures.

“I don't know why we played so well on defense today,” Blair said.

“I think Missouri was a little sloppy on some of their passes, and we were in the passing lanes and staying in front. When it was 11-11 early, they were running their offense well, made a 3 and had four other easy shots.

“I was really worried, but then we adjusted something and we never had to go to straight man. We were able to stay in the matchup, keep people in front of us, and then they missed shots in the second quarter they normally hit.

“It wasn’t until the last quarter they started hitting some shots. Defense needs to be a constant. Offense comes and goes, but defense, you should be able to play. It takes communication skills.

“A couple of times we made mistakes because kids were not talking. Anriel ran into a couple of kids and got lost on three or so, and that’s just something we've got to do better.”

Carter scored 23 and Danni Williams 20 for the Aggies. Mizzou is in sixth place.

Each misses the double-bye, which means play-in games to the quarterfinals. 

Missouri would have to beat Georgia to get the delicious drama matchup with South Carolina. If the seeds are correct, A&M gets LSU in the quarters.

No. 19 Georgia

They finished, as we projected, with three straight wins in one week, the  second-best active streak in the league They had lost two straight to higher-ranked teams before this. The did not budge in the national rankings.

They began the ascension to redemption at Ole Miss, handing the Rebels a 15th loss in 17 games, 66-52.

Georgia has ridden defense all season, leading the league in shooting percentage allowed, 35.2 and holding Ole Miss to 32.1

The exclamation points were single-digit quarters allowed, six and eight, to close each half.

Caliya Robinson scored 16 of her 28 in the opening half and a 35-18 lead. She finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Que Morrison also had a double/double, 10 and 10.The Rebels

Robinson’s output is a career-best.

She said it is just a matter of “Stay focused and execute. I wasn’t trying to do too much. Defense is really just helping my team out,” she said. “We just play basketball and have fun. If we play defense, I think we got it.”

They continued against the bottom feeders, at Florida and home for Vandy, fifth place in the league. This earns them No. 3 in conference. They get the final double-bye. If they survive to the semifinals, they face, SC.

In the Alabama game, a Robinson putback with three seconds left defined the difference between an upper-echelon SEC team and a program that never seems to find traction. 

How do you not tell your team, “Anyone but Robinson!” in a game situation? It is too early to predict this, but The Tide will someday get serious and hire a real coach and then they can be competitive.

Robinson tied it and Georgia won it, 49-43. Senior forward Mackenzie Engram led all scorers with 16, Robinson had a double/double with 12 of each flavor. 

“I thought we were relentless defensively when things did not go our way on the offensive end,” Joni Taylor said. “For us, we finally stopped turning it over in the overtime and that was the difference.” 

 Georgia survived 18 first-half turnovers.

Closing at home, they rushed past Florida and claimed third in the conference.

They led by a dozen at halftime, with well-distributed scoring. Freshman guard Maya Caldwell, a reserve, had scored eight to lead them.

Neither team hit double figures  for most of the third. Georgia ended that with a 15-point lead.

They won, 63-43, imposing third and fourth-quarter single digits on the ’Gators. 

Everyone on the team scored. Engram led the spread sheet with a dozen, matched by reserve rookie Gabby Connally.

They are a solid third in conference. Their likely semifinal opponent would be South Carolina.

No. 24 LSU

The surprising Ben-Gals scratched their way to a double-bye and fourth place in conference, eclipsing the season-long efforts of Texas A&M, Missouri and Tennessee by beating all of them, gaining a ranking by finishing 8-2. But they stayed the same in the national image.

It took overtime, but they ended 79-78 with Alabama, which says as much about the Tide trying to get attention as anything else.

They will both be on the road from now on.

A career-high 27 points from Ayana Mitchell and a season-high 31 from Chloe Jackson did it.

Alabama outscored LSU 23-10 in the fourth, taking the lead with four seconds remaining. LSU called a timeout and with under two seconds remaining, freshman  Khayla Pointer a second time to the outstretched arms of Mitchell, who laid the ball up and in at the buzzer, forcing LSU’s only overtime this season.

Jackson took in overtime, scoring six of LSU’s nine.

Alabama won the rebound battle, 50-40, but LSU was able to consistently force turnovers and score 21 points off of Alabama’s miscues.

“It takes a lot of discipline,” said LSU coach Nikki Fargas. “I don’t think they know how good they really are.”

Negative trend 1: Once the league unapologetically tried to sell us a bag of bolts and picked a cipher as last season’s Coach of The Year, it is hard to guess what it will do with the downgraded title. An undefeated coach? A national Hall of Fame coach? 

Both accomplishments happened this season. Or the coach who drove a former great program out of the ditch she drove it into and out of the playoffs last season. 

She has plenty of wins and is another No. 5 or No. 6 team in the national eliminations. 

The conference loves to award female coaches over male coaches, so there’s the slight favorite.

Maybe just a subsequent punch in its own eye with someone else. The award is worthless right now.

Negative Trend 2: No one likes to see off-court eruptions. Dawn Staley has sued Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk (rhymes with . . . ) – and he was also fined by the conference,

The defamation suit comes after Sterk made accusations about her after a game last month.

He was not at the game, as we have reported. His own coach said at gametime there was nothing to it.

 Game officials also observed they did not call any extra penalty when one of the Tiger players intentionally bumped into SC star A’ja Wilson while exiting the court.

Missouri, of course, gave Sterk a vote of confidence because, to them it’s just girls’ basketball.

They will pay the $25,000 fine for his remarks and accept the reprimand,
Sterk accused Staley of promoting a hostile and negative atmosphere and said Missouri players were spit on and heard racial epithets. SC starts an all-black team; Missouri does not.

        In her lawsuit, Staley cites Sterk's "false, defamatory and reckless" statements. Staley is seeking damages not to exceed $75,000.

“We're not going to let him destroy in one day the sterling reputation she spent a lifetime building,” said Staley’s lawyer, Butch Bowers. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said, “There is no place in this league for discord inside or outside of the arena.

"I have had multiple conversations over the past few weeks with representatives of both schools about the problems emanating from their Jan. 28 game, and it has been my desire for those issues to be mutually resolved between the athletic programs and individuals involved,” he said. “Unfortunately, a mutual resolution does not appear imminent. Our hope is that we can direct our focus back where it belongs -- on our student-athletes and on-court competition.”

Sterk made his comments two days after the game on Columbia, Missouri, radio station KTGR.

“We had players spit on and called the N-word and things like that . . . It was not a good environment, and unfortunately, I think Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere. And it’s unfortunate that she felt she had to do that,” he said.

South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said his university had conducted an investigation – with those actually at the game -- after Sterk’s comments and had found “no confirmation of the alleged behavior directed at the visiting team by fans at the game.”

Then Staley said, “The accusations are serious and false, and they will be handled in a manner reflective of those facts.”

The suit notes that Sterk repeated the allegations in a St. Louis radio interview, after South Carolina's investigation had found no evidence to support it.

The lawsuit says Sterk had been given multiple opportunities to retract the statement but had refused to do so. He has made no public comments on the matter since Feb. 1.
For the second straight season, No. 14 Missouri declined to participate in our coverage.