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.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Mississippi State is Elite

By Mike Siroky

 The Sweet 16 is special enough. Moving into the Elite 8 is tougher.

 Mississippi State brought a lot of momentum for the Southeastern Conference into their matchup with ACC member North Carolina State.

The Wolfpack had been picked to finished 10th in their own conference. They had lost four of five of their top scorers, yet here they were.

Not satisfied with just being there, they had arrived as Mississippi State had done the year before.

They still had gas in the tank

The returning NCAA No. 2 team started strong and needed to do so.

The Bulldogs hit five of their first six shots. The ESPN analysts kept on the Captain Obvious track. The color commentary consisted mostly of how good Teaira McCown is and how much the Wolfpack needed to get her in foul trouble. Over and over again. Hate it when analysts try to coach instead of analyzing. If they were good coaches, they’d be coaching.

She was near a double/double with five minutes left in the half, 10 points and eight rebounds. She did not miss a shot and had three blocks.

A 17-9 lead had shrunk once to a basket with the Wolfpack in possession but now was just five. The Bulldogs had a 6-2 edge in points off transition. That was telling. 

Defense was still solid even if the offense seemed mushy.

 Coach Vic Schaefer put in his star of the future, Australian Chloe Bibby for a little bulk to attract the Wolfpack from McCowan. Blair Schaefer had not yet arrived and Victoria Vivians was simmering. Slowly the Bulldogs built the lead until a Morgan William 3 made it 10. 

It was back to five at the break. This is the big time.

McCowan said at the break they needed to keep pounding inside and then kick it out for the expected arrival of the shooters if North Carolina State insisted on a physical inside game.

She had 16 points on 7-of-7. The Wolfpack was relentless.

Mississippi State showed its grinding power and elevated the lead. North Carolina State’s senior center, 6-5 Akela Maize, battling with McCowan but not quite as fluid, had two first half fouls and then to more in the third. It caused her coach to get a demonstrative technical.

It got better and better for Mississippi State. William, the shortest player on the floor, blocked a shot from 3-point range. McCowan finished 11-of-11 for 24 points with 15 rebounds.

 William had eight assists. The Wolfpack turned over 18 which led to 14 points.

 It ended a comfortable 71-57 which ESPN said was a survival. Hardly. It did not even matter that North Carolina State won rebounds, because four Bulldogs were in double figures.

The win is yet another school record for overall season success.

 “We give God the glory for No. 35,” coach Vic Schaefer said. “It is another record for this team and I am proud of them. North Carolina State has a great team, and they have been playing so well. They had our full attention. Today, our kids were just special. 

“Mo controlled the entire game. She made sure I knew she had two blocks today and Ro (Roshunda Johnson) coming in and playing solid for us and it was dominating, as she has been all year, 11 out of 11 from the field, 15 rebounds, and 1 steal. 

Proud of our kids. 

“We will have our work can you tell on the for us on the winner of this next one. To be where they are and do it the way they’ve done it, again, I thought our pressure bothered them, I thought it wore ‘em down.

“ You look at the second half, 28 in the third and 38 in the 4th and that’s typically what happens when we play people. We wear ‘em down, our press bothers them.

 “We may not get a steal off the press but we’re making that point guard work extremely hard and, you know, for them, Ealey was 2 for 8 and 4 turnovers. We tried to wear her out.

“Victoria (Vivians) was great on the offensive and defensive end. Teaira was dominating, as she has been all year for us. Proud of our kids. We will have our work cut out for us on Sunday. Our pressure really bothered them today and wore them down in the second half.” 

Her 481 season rebounds is another program record.

"This time of year, you lose, you go home," said McCowan. “You basically start over. So my team, my seniors -- the four I got -- I’m just trying to make it the best it can be, go as far as possible.

 “Keeping them from getting the back doors and helping and making sure that my teammates didn’t get beat on the backdoor was a main key for the second half. Then whatever she shot I boxed out and looked at my girl and made sure she wasn’t going in and pursued the rebound. 

“I think we attacked on the defensive end just like we said on the offensive end and we let our defense roll over.

“I knew I couldn’t let them double me so whenever I felt the double team coming I had to hurry up and do my turn before they got there and got set in order to double team me and when they would double team I would find my shooters, and if they missed I would go in and get the rebound and when they front me I would ask for it with my high hand and my teammates delivered me the ball in the right hand and I was just going up.

A lot of teams say I wear on them so at the beginning of the game teams are giddy and going and the end of the game is when I always get ‘em, either way it’s a lose/lose.”

William said, “The game is full of runs, we’re going to make a run, they’re going to make a run but they make a run we need to get stops, too. We made stops so that’s good. It’s basketball. It’s going to be a game of runs.

“I feel like it’s March, do or die. I don’t want to talk off court and thinking I didn’t play hard enough and do this for my teammates and I didn’t execute and take care of the ball. Going out there, giving it my all and see where it takes me. Doing good for my teammates, I’m proud of that.

“ It felt really good,” Johnson said. “I knew I had to come back here and be here for my team. I felt like I left it all on the floor either way and I feel like we completed the mission.

Johnson was dealing with the death of her grandfather and missed the funeral for this game after grieving with her family on Thursday.

 “Sure, it’s real life,” Schaefer said. “Really gotta credit her mom. Her mom and I visited. I wanted to make sure that her family knew I was all for whatever they wanted her to do. That’s bigger than basketball. So we wanted to support her if she wanted to be if he funeral, that’s where she needed to be. But her mom was really good. I told her this is real world, real life. Your team needs you. If you want to be at the funeral then we’re going to get you on airplane and get you to Kansas City. 

“She came in late last night, film was over but she had a chance to hug her and let her know how much we care about her. That’s tough, grandparents, that was the first person I really lost in my life and it about yanked my heart out at 15 years of age. This was someone that was very dear to her and we wanted to support her in whatever she wanted to do.”

He next focused on McCowan.

“I said this the other day, multiple times you saw the value of Teaira McCowan when we lost her in the (SEC) tournament championship game. She cleans up a lot of your mess, she cleans up your missed shots, your dribble penetration that you give up, blocked shots, altered shots, turn around and get out of there, you know, so her value to our basketball team is -- you can’t put a price tag on it. Tonight I loved the look in her eye tonight. There was some times where she wasn’t going to be denied.

“She does wear on people. I’ve heard that many times before. I’ve heard ’em say, ‘You know, Coach, we just couldn’t move her.’ We’ve worked hard with our guards to give her the ball in places where she needs it. We’ve missed her a ton this year. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve worked on that. And Mo and our guard play have done a much better job of that.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody go 11-for-11. Teaira went 11-for-12 against Florida her sophomore year but to do it in the NCAA Tournament game, 24 and 15 but, look, it’s old hat. I said it the other day, whoever is on the committee, whoever is voting, if she’s not a First Team All-American, then they need to get rid of the daggum award. She has done it against the best competition in the country, all year long!

“I think that was her 26th double-double. It’s off the chart! She does it with two and three people hanging on her. Let’s just forget, okay, she is getting the rebounds and the points, she alters the points and a lot of times she goes into the lane and the guards back up. 

“Just the impact that kid has in a ball game is incredible. Again, her and Tori, if there’s two better at their position. Let’s go two on two, because I promise you they’re not losing to anybody.”

As always, he thanked the faithful.

“Love our crowd, our people, our Bulldog fans are the best. I’m just telling you. They love this team, they travel, they plan to travel. It’s fashionable, you know, whether it’s vacation or just what they want to do on the weekend, but they’re just the best. I just can’t say enough about ‘em, how much we appreciate them. I guess they wouldn’t let us visit with them after the game because I noticed my team wasn’t around to do what they normally do. 

“Again, maybe we will talk to the NCAA about that. They’re always wanting us to build our fan base, well, this is what we’ve done. We shouldn’t have different rules different times of the year. If we’re going to build our fan base and this is how we did it at Stark Vegas at Mississippi State, why should we have to change now at the NCAA tournament, especially when you’ve got all those people.

“ They are not five dollar tickets or ten dollar tickets. They’re spending money to come here, buying hotels, bought food locally and bought a pretty expensive ticket to come to the game. So me and you, we’ll get that together.”

During the undefeated regular season, he had to address his team’s maturity and mental toughness coming off a 20 point win over Ole Miss going into a road game at Missouri. He said the a personal agenda can’t be more important than winning. 

“Obviously we had some things going on. We’ve addressed it. I think our kids have played much better since that day and we have had much better chemistry. In this tournament, like Mo said, you can’t afford to have a bad day, you can’t miss a hedge on a ball screen, go under on a shooter. You can’t miss a block out.

“These are all things that as you move along are important to victory. I think our kids are dialed in. They have been all year. As much as I want to worry about ‘em and worry about whether we’re ready or not, they have not let me down one time. We got outplayed one night and got beat. That’s what’s going to happen in our league. I think they’ve grown from that day and gotten better from it. I’m certainly pleased at our improvement from that day.

He said the strong senior leadership and the possibility of a team dissolving forever with a loss is a motivation.

“ Well, it’s good to have four seniors and it’s bad to have four seniors because you’re going to hate to -- whenever the last one is you’re going to miss those kids and these four are unbelievably special. Won their 124th game today in their career. They’ve been off the chart. Those types of recruiting classes you hope come around all the time, but, unfortunately, you know, they don’t.

“So for them, I like where they’re at. I like their leadership. I like their focus. I don’t have to get them dialed in in practice or in film, they get it. They know their days are coming down to a close at Mississippi State, but I don’t think any of ‘em are ready for it to end just yet and I don’t have to remind ‘em. They understand it.

“Praise the Lord and go Dogs!”

Sunday, they play UCLA for the Final Four spot. Thye have three players in doubler figures, led by senior guard Jordin Canada,  16.7.  The best rebounder is 6-4 senior forward  Monique Billings, 10.


The post-season awards keep on confirming what we have bee reporting for weeks. Schaefer is now officially the WBCA Coach of the Year from the national Women’s Basketball Coaching Association.

That organization also named its all-geographic women’s regional team as a step to its All-American team.

Among the NCAA participants on that team from the SEC: Chennedy Carter (Texas A&M); Tyasha Harris and A'ja Wilson (South Carolina); Teaira McCowan, Victoria Vivians  and Morgan William (Mississippi State); Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell (Tennessee); and Caliya Robinson (Georgia).

The WBCA also proved behind every great woman is . . . a great woman. McCowan would not be the player she is today with State assistant coach  Johnnie Harris.
She has been by Vic Schaefer’s side all six seasons, Here hard work and dedication in helping the Bulldogs to one of the best seasons in school history was recognized as the WBCA selected her Division I Assistant Coach of the Year.

“It is such a tremendous honor to be named the Assistant Coach of the Year,” Harris said. “I appreciate the WBCA and the committee for selecting me, and I am so thankful for the opportunity that Coach Schaefer has given me to do what I do. We have such a great group of players and staff here at Mississippi State, and I share this with all of them.”

The Bulldogs’ associate head coach has assisted Schaefer in building a program that has won 124 games the past four years and made the NCAA Tournament each of those seasons. 

MSU has set the school-record for wins each of the past three seasons. 

“First of all, I think it is long overdue,” Schaefer said. “There is no question in my mind that Johnnie is the best in the business. I was not taking the Mississippi State job if she was not coming with me. She has been so valuable to our success here at Mississippi State and I couldn’t be happier for her. I think it is an honor that is well-deserved. We are very proud of her.”

One of the key reasons for the Bulldogs’ success has been the play of one of Harris’ pupils in the post, Teaira McCowan. Under Harris’ guidance, McCowan has been one of the most-improved players in the country, earning First Team ESPNW All-America honors after scoring 9.1 more points per game and pulling down 6.2 more rebounds per game than a year ago when she was named SEC Sixth Woman of the Year.

She was also tabbed First Team All-SEC and SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year while earning a place on the league’s All-Defensive Team.&^
McCowan averaged 17.8 ppg this season and topped the SEC and ranked third nationally with 13.3 rebounds per game. 
During the career-best season, McCowan has recorded 29 double-figure scoring games, including 12 with 20-plus points, five with 30 and a 41-point effort. She also collected double-digit rebounds in 31 of State’s 35 games, hauling in 20 boards in four of those contests.
With Harris’ coaching, McCowan also pulled down an MSU-best 26 double/doubles, fourth-most in the nation. The Bulldogs’ 6-7 center set State’s single-season rebounding record .McCowan is the first SEC player since at least 2000 to record 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game, and her two 30-20 games is tied for the second-most by a Power 5 conference player in the last 15 seasons.She reached 1,000-career points this season. 


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