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 25, 2018

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report, Part 2: Two Left for the Elite Eight As Texas A&M Gets Bounced by Notre Dame

By Mike Siroky
The Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball sent two teams to the Elite Eight of the NCAA eliminations after Texas A&M took it on the chin from top seed Notre Dame in the Spokane Regional, 90-84. 

A&M started 18-2 and collapsed.

The Aggies have become a perennial Sweet 16 team. They occasionally win one more. But they also are now a “I can see it from here” team who never gets there.

Most any other non-SEC program would be doing backflips to be here.

 But the Sweet 16 is always pretty much designable. There are not that many topflight teams. 

There is always a UConn to dominate. Sadly, when a team reaches always-in-Sweet-16 status, the plateau gets boring. 

Lately, Mississippi State and South Carolina from its own conference diminishes the success of all others.

So when A&M loses to a beatable Notre Dame, it is not a surprise. 

A&M rode along all season on the unfathomable Chennedy Carter, who exceeded her own legend by upping a phenomenal scoring average with two 30-point NCAA games.

And that brings us to statistics. They can drive you crazy, but they do set a norm.

 If A&M’s starters had all hit their scoring averages this day, they would have won the game. Nothing superlative like Carter, just be average. 

The obvious mustard on the tie is junior Danni Williams, eight points below her average.

Texas A&M lost it in the third quarter, pancaked after halftime by shooting 23 percent from the field and giving up momentum.

Notre Dame stayed in its own game plan and A&M could not push them out.

A&M  had bright spots:16-7 off turnovers, 16-15 second chance, 12-2 on fastbreak.

But none of it was enough. 

Notre Dame hit 10-of-13 3s, A&M 7-of-20. The Aggies missed nine free throws. 


Carter scored 31, above her average. Anriel Howard scored 26 – more than twice her average --with the final double/double, 13 rebounds. Kaahlia Hillsman scored 11, about average.

 A weak Notre Dame bench scored six. The Aggies got nothing from the reserves.

Coach Gary Blair said: “I was just telling my team in 13 years, we’ve been to 13 (NCAAs). Of course, in one of them we went all the way and won it. In those other 12 losses, I could sit back and I could second-guess myself on what we didn’t do well, play the poor man’s game, what if, bad call, other team just played great.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. We played exceptionally well. Even though we were up 12 or 13 or whatever it was, we knew Notre Dame would come back. They were hitting shots. They were doing what they needed to. That’s why they’re a No. 1 seed and played the hardest schedule in the country.

“I’m not going to change a thing. We played extremely well. The game was probably lost in the third quarter when we came out, I thought, flat. We were trying for the perfect play, whatever. They showed the aggression we didn’t show, that we were showing in the first and second quarter.

“We made so many good things happen.

“What we’ve got to do, remember, we shot 23 percent in the third quarter; fourth quarter we went back to doing our thing. Chennedy and Khaalia and Anriel, they were having their way. I think it really hurt us in the second quarter when I had to protect Anriel because she had two fouls. 

“One of the fouls never should have happened because we made a mistake with somebody else. It put her in a vulnerable position. Howard’s game in the last two to three weeks has elevated us. She’s doing it all. Who cares if you’re only 5’11”. If you’re a basketball player, has the heart.

“Hillsman went against their All-American, Shepard; it was an even ballgame, 13 points apiece. Carter may be the next face of this basketball team. But Howard was our most valuable player in this tournament for what she did with the energy. Hillsman was our most important player because she had to stop their All-American, and she did it as well as she could.

“Chennedy is special. More and more kids are going to want to play with this young lady to come in because we’ve got a Final Four run in us just like Notre Dame has made it for the last time. 

“We’ve got the consistency of going to tournaments, Sweet 16s, Elite 8s. Notre Dame has the consistency of playing for national championships every year. So give them credit for what they’re doing.”

Carter tried to analyze the third quarter.

“They just came out pretty quick. They got the momentum in the third quarter. We kind of laid down just a little bit, energy went down, effort went down. We just got to come out from halftime ready to play. That’s a big thing with us, we kind of laid down a little bit, hit a couple shots, they got the crowd going. The game was their way. We just got to work on that, get better.

“I’m very proud, the way that we played this whole tournament, this whole year, really just showed how strong we really are. We stayed together. We faced a lot of adversity. 

“We’re in the Southeastern Conference. It’s one of the hardest conferences to me, if not the hardest conference. I’m just proud of the way we came out and played. We’re going to be without Khaalia next year, but we’re going to try to have a better season and make her proud.”

Howard said the answer is obvious.

“My teammates and I, like, we were sharing the ball, we were finding the open player, we were knocking down some pretty good shots. They were looking for me, when I was open, and I knocked down some.”

As Hillsman departs, she knows she has at least preserved the A&M traditions.

“I’m going to cry now. It’s been special, you know. I’ve been so blessed to be able to play and meet and form so many relationships with these people. 

“I played with Chennedy for one year, and she’s already one of my favorite players I ever played with. Anriel, near and dear to my heart. Wouldn’t trade her for the world. 

“Jas has been around her for about 12 years, it’s just been incredible being able to play with somebody you had a relationship with since high school, even before that.

“Just like all the relationships that I formed from my older teammates that are on to bigger and better things now, the coaches, they’ve meant a lot to me, they’ve helped me out in rough times. 

“They really, like, Coach Starkey and Coach Bond, they really have done some incredible things for me, Coach Blair giving me the opportunity, staying on me, believing in me, and Coach Wright, she’s the silent assassin, she does a lot, but it’s behind the scenes, so no one will ever know.

“It’s just been incredible. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m getting a first-class education. I formed relationships I’m going to have for the rest of my life. It’s just been really special. I’m just really glad I had this opportunity.”

Blair is still mystified by defensive lapses.

“They  scored 21 points on inbound plays. That’s the most in history A&M has ever given up in their life. That was the 3. We were defending the 3 and half-court offense the best we could against a great team. But 21 points on inbound plays, that was the difference in the ballgame.

“We needed to run more. But I give you a hint: we were taking the ball out of the net too many times in the second half. Then when we did run, we converted. But that’s a lot of mileage on those young people’s legs. Sometimes you just don’t have it, 
particularly on the offensive rebounds. 

“We missed a few put-backs that we should have had. That’s what saved them in the second half, was their put-backs by their guards, particularly 24 (Arike Ogunbowale).

“ We tried to mix it up, playing our matchup, our bump, 2-3 zone with some man. We finally had to switch to man on inbound plays. I was going bananas over there because we were making mistakes. Mabrey was walking right back in.

“They run some very, very good man-to-man stuff off the 1-4 high series. Nobody we have faced this year has a duck-in move as well as Shepard. I mean, she gets down low. 

“Hillsman did as good as she could. But I think it’s good. I think that girl is going to make a lot of money when she finally graduates because I think she’s a great player.

“She’s grown so much. She came from a great high school. You know the story. 

“That’s where Michelle Obama is from. Michael Jordan sent his kids there. Okafor played there. Great high school. She had the balance coming in. She was our most gifted ACT score, business school. It’s a lot better than you and I when we graduated.

“All of a sudden she’s grown. She’s going to be a pro. She’s going to be a pro because she’s got a heart. She’s not going to have to go play 37 minutes a ballgame for a pro team. I think that will make her a better player.

“She cares about her teammates so much. I think that’s what separates her out. She doesn’t have that ‘I’ on her forehead. She cares about those teammates. She embraces A&M, what A&M has to offer, to just the regular student-athletes.

“We might not get some of the -- all the McDonald’s All-Americans that some of these other teams get, but I think we develop kids. That’s our strength. We have kids that play hard. We have kids that play smart the majority of the time. I’ve got a great coaching staff. If it isn’t broken, we’re going to keep rolling with it.”


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