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.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: It will be Miss. State and South Carolina Again For SEC Glory

By Mike Siroky
For the fourth straight season, the automatic bid for Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball in the NCAA eliminations comes down to South Carolina vs. Mississippi State, also a rematch of the National Championship game.

State improved somewhat and is No. 2 nationally. They haven’t lost since the title game. South Carolina still has the elite player in the conference and likely the country, A’ja Wilson.

The national cablecast starts at 4:30.

South Carolina has won the past four tournament titles. Win this one and they may edge into a No. 1 seed. 

State is already there but has never won an SEC tournament. The Bulldogs won the regular-season game – and conference title – by 14 at home.

 In the past three SEC finals against State, Carolina won by 14, 14 and 10. In 2016, the Gamecocks eliminated Tennessee by 16.

No SEC player, all the All-Americans, has been MVP four times. Wilson can accomplish that. And, technically, she has been a reserve this tournament.

Semifinal 1: Mississippi State 70, Texas A&M 55

They lost the first quarter but no others. All their trends came into play.

The seniors have won 121 games, continuing  a program best. The 32-0 record continues a program best. 

The best center in the league, Teaira McCowan had an eighth straight double/double, 12 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard Victoria Vivians led the scoring for the 17th time this season, 76th overall with 22. Only one this season did she fail to hit double figures. 

Senior guard Morgan William woke up with 15 points. Senior guard Roshunda Johnson scored 13, 3-of5 on 3s.

For A&M, only Chennedy Carter hit double figures with 27, completing her first regular season with 10 or more in every game.

Mississippi State outscored the Aggies, 16-4, over the last seven minutes of the second quarter to build a 36-28 lead at halftime. It was never again threatened, leading by as many as 19 in the fourth.

“I told them in the huddle, I was not going to yell and scream,” said coach Vic Schaefer. “I told them we were getting out-toughed. Toughness is rebounding, defense, keeping your head in the game, taking the edge off the screen.

“That’s a heckuva basketball team (he said of his own). They come out of a huddle and they got it. You don’t have to explain. That’s senior leadership.

“They know the timing, they know they cut and they just get it. We get it didn’t matter what they did. They tried to disguise what they did but we didn’t let them. I don’t think any moment’s too big.

On defense, “You can’t let them get what they want. You limit what they want to do and now you got something. It will really be survival (for the title). Two big physical teams.”

He said the coaches would address that if the league did not because the writers were now in a press conference and the second semifinal had begun.

About the game, A&M’s Gary Blair praised the victors and singled out William for being humble.

“I thought we controlled three quarters of the first half. We got outplayed pretty poorly the last five minutes when we got into foul trouble and then they're Mississippi State, but I loved our fight.

“The first 15 minutes we were doing some good things, we were sharing the ball, we were having a lot of people score.

“In the second half they started looking like the No. 2 team in the nation, particularly in the third quarter they started running, getting the 3. 

“Vivians hit a couple, we had our hands down instead of our hands up on defense and I think they had six of them in the third quarter and I think that was the difference in the ball game.

“Give Johnson a lot of credit, she did a good job defensively on Danni and even though Danni (Williams) got 11 shots off, a lot of them were rushed, just because of good defense.

“McCowan just intimidates you inside. We missed a few bunnies in there that we should have had, but that's just due to her presence. It’s not what she scores, it’s her presence in that lane. 

“That’s a big aircraft carrier in there that does a good job for them, to allow them to play their four-guard offense; they run the dribble weave offense as good as anybody in the country. They're very balanced, they got a couple pretty good kids coming off the bench and they weathered the storm.

“Just like they did yesterday against Kentucky, they weathered the storm and then saw what was going to work and then the game took over.

 But I think we played a whole lot better than what we did when we were in Starkville, but give them credit, they’re a better basketball team. I’d like one more shot at them. 

“That means if I get one more shot at them I’m going to be in the Sweet 16, Elite 8 or Final Four, because they're sure the heck going to be there.”

Semifinal 2: South Carolina 71, Georgia 49

Georgia was pretty good at whistling past the graveyard pregame. In game, the defending tournament champs buried them, 71-49.

Wilson, again off the bench, scored 21 with 11 rebounds. She will be the first reserve to be tournament MVP.

 Moreover, she waited until Georgia had an 8-4 lead, which makes this a come-from-behind win. Two others had 14. Junior guard Doniyah Cliney was 3-of-4 on 3s.

“We just came out ready to, whatever defense Georgia threw at us,” said coach Dawn Staley.

“We were ready. I like the energy the three posts give us. With us having no guard rotation, we had to use it. I am just glad the basketball guards were good to us tonight. We cannot be playing too fast, to use what they’re giving us.

“It’s gonna be a dogfight, none like any team I’ve played in my time. This is the SEC. It’s all good.”

The semifinals drew 8,819.

Georgia coach Joni Taylor was understandably understated.

We didn't score the ball very well. When that happens your defense has got to stand up,” she said.

“And we had too many lapses down on the defensive end of the floor. Credit South Carolina; they have got a great team.

“Every time we chose to double, that person stepped up and made big shots and that's what we have got to do and hopefully that's what we learned from this game. We've got to be able to knock down big shots in games like this.

“South Carolina shot it well today, but there were, mentally, assignments we missed and the bottom line is we got to score the basketball.

“We had opportunities and didn't make it, we had shots we didn't take, shots we didn't shoot. That's what hurt us today is we have got to shoot the basketball better, we got to be able to score the ball.

“But when you look at it, this is new for this team, we have a very young team and there's different pieces that we're putting out there on the floor and there's times that we're not all on the same page.

“And you would like to think that in March that wouldn't happen but with the amount of freshmen that we play, it happens at times.

“So we got to be better about making sure we're in the right spots, we're executing, and then that leads to being better offensively. But of course you can always get in the gym and shoot more, we have got to just make sure that their confidence continues to stay up because there's people on the team that are capable of doing that.

“It's a balance. Obviously you can't let them off the hook, there were things that we didn't do well today and they have got to feel that and they have got to understand that, so they don't get into thinking that it's okay. 

“But you also have to remind them, hey, guys, like we finished second and tied for second in the conference after being picked 8th. So I think in the room we knew that could happen, that was our goal, and so it's still a lot to be proud of and a lot of basketball left to play.

“Young players take things so literally, you have to make sure that they understand where the improvements need to come and the mental aspect of playing in games like this against teams like this, but also make sure that they don't get too down on themselves.”

Senior Mackenzie Engram is a study in courage. Once knocked out of the game with a heart condition, she has recovered to be the leader of this young pack. Her legacy is solid.

“We need to just to keep moving forward,” she said. “Take the loss and leave that behind, but carry the lesson on. And with these two weeks we have to stay on top of our game, stay in shape, stay in the gym, and just get ready for NCAA.”


Post a Comment

<< Home