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, March 20, 2018

Mike “Siroky’s SEC Report Part 2: Not Totally Sweet

By Mike Siroky
 
The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball qualified three teams for the Sweet 16. The ACC has four.

It turns out Tennessee started the faltering problem early.

On the final night of qualifying games, two more home teams decided it was best to shut up shop for the season at home. All were seeded better than the winning teams. 

Georgia and Ohio State failed. 

The three home losses is a record for NCAA women.

Mighty Mississippi State carried the home flag and the league's No. 1 seed onward.

 KANSAS CITY: Mississippi State

Morgan William scored 17 in her final home game -- hitting clutch shots and leading lockdown perimeter defense – as they eliminated Oklahoma State 71-56.

Another packed house saluted the seniors and the seniors leave knowing they are the group that established the newest tradition of excellence in women’s basketball.

"I thought Morgan dictated the whole game," coach Vic Schaefer said. "She controlled the pace. She ran when we wanted to run and she kept them from running."

Senior Victoria Vivians led the Bulldogs with 23 points. Teaira McCowan had the biggest game with 21 points and 18 rebounds. 

Those two things were expected -- but William's emergence as an offensive threat helped Mississippi State separate from the Cowgirls during an intense game.

"I was just trying to be another threat on the court," William said. "I was playing hard on the defensive end and I felt like I could reward myself a little by shooting."

The Bulldogs advance to the Sweet 16 for a third straight season.

William was the darling of last year's NCAA Tournament, hitting the game-winning jumper at the buzzer to beat mighty UConn in the Final Four. She also scored 41 points in the Elite Eight against Baylor.

The 5-foot-5 guard's numbers have been a little down throughout most of this season, though that's more because of the emergence of other players than anything she's doing wrong. She's averaging less than eight points per game.

But on this night, William was one of the most important people on the court, playing with boundless energy on both ends.

"She's the energizer," Vivians said. "If she's out there giving us energy then we feed off them and want to give that energy back. We play behind them. I feel her coming out amped like that just gave us the mojo to do something good."

Mississippi State had a 41-31 rebounding advantage. McCowan scored 17 of her 21 in the second half and shot 8-of-12 from the field.

No. 9 seed Oklahoma State  was hurt when starting guard Loryn Goodwin picked up her fourth foul with 4:39 remaining in the third. 

She stayed in the game, but her defensive presence was limited and that was around the time that Mississippi State went on a 10-2 lead to open up a 51-43 advantage.

William made a jumper a few seconds before the third-quarter buzzer to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead in the game at 55-45 and they slowly pulled away.

Mississippi State has one of those ACC teams next, North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City. No. 2 Texas takes on No. 3 UCLA in the only unbusted bracket.

The Bulldogs have swept the first two rounds of the tournament in three consecutive seasons. 

They have matched the school record for victories in a season with a second-straight 34-win mark. The Bulldogs also finish this year with a school-record 18-0 mark at home.

 “In the second half we played really well,” Schaefer said. “Teaira showed her value to this team. We had 12-none second-chance points. I salute to this basketball program. 

“Morgan did a great job of controlling the game. We wanted to run and we didn’t want them to run. Oklahoma State had two fast-break points.”

 For the contest, MSU hit 28-of -67 from the field, 3-of-10 3s and 12 -of-15  from the line .

William said it was like running downhill, that she realized no one could run with her. 

She thanked the “best fans in the world” pointing out they carried the team.

Vivians said she remembers when there just a few fans when she started, “It’s been amazing watching the fans grow as the team grows.” 

Schaefer chipped in, “The fans are here to see these kids. It’s different for women’s basketball. It is what make women’s basketball so special. They spend time after games with the people. They impact the community.

 “Our kids just continued to compete,” Schaefer said. “We started rough again. We were struggling on both ends in the first quarter. Heck of a game. Can’t say enough about our four seniors. To perform that well on that stage in that environment is a great performance. God is good.

 “I want to thank the fans, too. To have back to back better than 20,000 for two games is incredible. To support our kids, our team, our university, Praise the Lord and Go Dawgs!””
 
ALBANY: Georgia

Explain the two-point second quarter and you know why they lost at home, No. 5 Duke toppling No. 4 by plenty, 66-40, ACC over SEC again.

Duke played like a championship contender, especially on defense, in a lopsided ACC win over an SEC representative.

The Blue Devils’ reward: UConn.

Sure Georgia caused 21 turnovers, but that’s a stats scratch. Georgia hit 1-of-19 shots in that second period, answering the crowd of 2,908 which is the better defense.

Unable to solve Duke's zone defense, the Lady Bulldogs set season lows for fewest points in a period and game and lowest field-goal percentage (24) in a game.

"They live and die by their zone defense, and today they lived by it," said Georgia senior guard Haley Clark.

The Lady Bulldogs missed their first 13 3s.

Caliya Robinson led Georgia with 11 points and 12 rebounds. No other Georgia player had more than five points.

Coach Joni Taylor said, “We obviously didn’t have a great offensive performance tonight. When you’re playing against a team as good as Duke offensively and defensively, you’ve got to be able to make some shots. We weren’t able to do that.

“Duke deserves some credit for that. They’re long; they’re very active on defense, and I think that probably bothered us a little bit. We’re obviously very disappointed, but one game doesn’t define who we are and what we’ve done this year. 

“I’m incredibly proud of this team. (Seniors) Mackenzie Engram and Haley Clark are wonderful and you’re not going to meet anyone like them ever again. 

And so, we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to build on, so I’m really proud of what the girls in that locker room did this season, and we’re going to move forward from here.

 “They have so much pride. Their love for Georgia is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. They came together, and they wanted to leave Georgia in a prominent position, and they’ve done more than that.

“You look at what they do on the basketball court, but they’re even better women off the court. The things they are involved in with the community and the way they represent us on and off the floor is something that I can only hope the rest of our young ladies look up to and aspire to be.”

But that second quarter  . . .

“It’s very frustrating. Especially when those shots do fall. We’re missing layups, free throws, and wide-open jumpers. 

“At that point, when you see that happening, you continue to instill confidence in them and hope it gets turned around. 

“The sad part about it is when you’re playing a team of Duke’s caliber, you can not have a quarter like that. It’s very difficult to come back from. We have to learn from that because there will be teams longer than us. We’ve got to continue to be confident, and just execute.

“I think the message for us is sustaining it. This can happen, but the programs that can sustain this year-in and year-out is what makes them special. That’s what makes them dynasties. That’s what we have to do.

“That’s going to take even more effort and hard work. I think this year we snuck up on some people. Outside of our program, I don’t think anyone thought we would win 26 games, been ranked, and hosted at home.

“We all thought that was possible. So now, teams know what we’re capable of, and we have to work even harder to continue to get better. This is now the standard for our program.”

Clark said the moment of her final court exit was emotional, leaving with the last recruits of the fabulous Andy Landers era.

“When I first came off, when I think it was under a minute left, Coach Joni just looked at me and said ‘I love you.’ And I said ‘I love you too.’ And we just kind of lived in the moment,” Clark said.

 “I’m super proud of this team and how far we’ve come. It was just the ‘I love you’ moment, despite the situation.

“Family will take you a long way. We honestly have put in more work this year; we’ve brought in a lot of talent this year, but without that family mentality, and that family cohesion that you see on the court, I don’t think we’d be here today.

 “Just remember what got you here. They’re going to see a lot of success, and I just hope that they don’t forget what got them here. The hard work, the effort, the family mentality. Just to keep that, and they’re going to go a long way.”

Engram said her final exit was more of a beginning.

 “Obviously it’s a disappointment,” Engram said. “Like Coach Joni said, we’ve done so much this year, and I’m just glad we were able to lead that.

 “And she just told me she was proud of me, and I tried to keep it together, because I didn’t know if the camera was on me or not, so when I got to my brother, I just let it all out. I didn’t’ really care at that point.

 “He just tried to encourage me and just said what Coach Joni said, that what we’ve done for this program is unbelievable, and I’m just so happy to be a part of something, because I can’t wait to see them next year.

“Use this to carry on to next year. To remember this feeling, and to remember how it felt out there, and that you don’t want to experience that next year. And to keep working hard. Like I said, I’m very excited to see where they go next year.”

 “From the season, just that family is everything. This team, we’re so close. I’m not sad that we lost, I’m sad that I’ll never get to play with her (Haley Clark) again. 

“I’m sad that this was my last time putting Georgia on my chest. Playing in the Steg, I’m so proud of what we’ve done and like Coach Joni said, this game doesn’t define us. 

“I’m not sad about the loss, I’m sad that when I walk out of the locker room, that’s my last time.”
 
Not the only one

Ohio State  wanted to start and end at home, the first round to the Final Four it will host. 

What the Buckettes didn’t want to do was start and end in the first round. 

They scored six in the second quarter and were easily erased.

Kevin McGuff’s All-American senior Kelsey Mitchell leaves making it to the second-best scorer in NCAA history. 

He had four seniors, including former UK star Linnae Harper. They only drew 3,900. 

They get to stay home

McGuff has kept the reputation of attracting talent. His was a deep team. But the coaching success still eludes him. He is perfect in the non-performing Big Ten, which had all three league teams lose.