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.

Friday, April 13, 2018

WNBA Draft Analysis - Breaking It Down Team by Team

Guru’s note: Check the Guru’s tweeter @womhoopsguru during the day for some of Lamar’s photos joining the ones posted Thursday night from Andy Lipton.


By Lamar Carter


NEW YORK, N.Y. --- Season 22 of the WNBA kicked off Thursday evening at the 2018 WNBA Draft at Nike Headquarters in Manhattan.

 

The beautiful, wide-open space -  home to the league’s new official apparel provider – hosted an amazing event that seemed to carry the energy and momentum of a thrilling Women’s Final Four and last year’s five-game WNBA Finals with it.

 

Here are each team’s selections (listed in order of their first selection of the day) and thoughts on their impact:

 

LAS VEGAS ACES

1. A’Ja Wilson (F, South Carolina)

13. Jaime Nared (G/F, Tennessee)

25. Raigyne Moncrief Louis (G, LSU)

32. Jill Barta (F, Gonzaga) - traded to MIN for Ji-Su Park, Kahlia Lawrence


ANALYSIS
San Antonio relocated to Las Vegas but began this season like it did the last, picking the consensus top player with the number one overall pick. 


Wilson - this year’s runaway National Player of the Year, a past national champion, and a four-time All-American - is an immediate game changer for the Aces on the court (pro-ready skill set from the inside out) and off (a megawatt personality that should pair well with MGM’s enthusiastic backing of the team and light up overall league coverage). 


A young core of Wilson, last year's No. 1 Kelsey Plum, Kayla McBride, Moriah Jefferson and Isabelle Harrison give new Head Coach & President of Basketball Operations Bill Laimbeer a foundation of talented pieces to develop. Nared and Louis give Vegas two long wing players that can do some things if they can stick.

 

INDIANA FEVER

2. Kelsey Mitchell (G, Ohio State)

8. Victoria Vivians (G, Mississippi State)

14. Stephanie Mavunga (F, Ohio State)


ANALYSIS
Indy will look to bounce back in 2018 by bringing in a pair of outstanding playmakers and a strong inside presence within the draft’s first 14 picks.


 Mitchell can flat out score (second in NCAA history with 3,402 points, behind only Plum) and should find ways to contribute immediately. 


The same can be said about Vivians, a key member of two straight Final Fours at Mississippi State that evolved her offensive game in the latter half of her career and can bring defensive toughness on day one.


 Mavunga will need to develop more over time but the Fever can use her 6-3 frame to help on the boards. The effect Mitchell and Vivians will have from the guard positions will be crucial to Indy’s success this year as coach Pokey Chatman looks to replace the production of Briann January (traded to Phoenix). 


CHICAGO SKY
3. Diamond DeShields (G, Turkey)
4. Gabby Williams (F, UConn)
28. Amarah Coleman (G, DePaul)


ANALYSIS
Last year, Dallas had the third and fourth pick and got 2017 Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray out of the mix (4th). 


Chicago took care of this year’s back-to-back picks by staking its claim with Indiana for the best haul of the draft.


 DeShields - no matter how traveled she may be after going from North Carolina to Tennessee to Turkey - is still a coveted big guard with dynamic abilities who now has a year of professional experience under her belt. 


Williams can successfully be argued as the best athlete in the draft and her championship-pedigree and jack-of-all-trades ability on both ends will allow her to chip in instantly at the pro level. 


SEATTLE STORM
5. Jordin Canada (G, UCLA)

29. Teana Muldrow (F, West Virginia)


ANALYSIS
Women’s basketball diehards may joke that the ageless Sue Bird may never retire, but the unfortunate reality is the league’s prototypical point guard will, at some point, hang up her high tops. 


Canada is a worthy option to try and earn heir apparent status in Seattle after a standout career in Westwood. 


She can score (over 1,800 points), set up teammates (Pac-12 assists leader) and defend (two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year). 


If she can pick up even a sliver of Bird’s greatness and develop alongside young mainstays Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart, Canada has a chance to be special.


DALLAS WINGS

6. Azura’ Stevens (F, UConn)
18. Loryn Goodwin (G, Oklahoma State)

30. Natalie Butler (C, George Mason)


ANALYSIS
An early entrant to the Draft, discarding another year of  UConn eligibility, Stevens, whose collegiate career began at Duke, dropped a few spots after being projected to jump into the top three once she made herself available. 


Her final destination still gives her a great chance to be successful as Stevens lands on a Dallas team trending upward after making the playoffs last year with Skylar Diggins-Smith, Glory Johnson, and Gray leading the charge. 


Stevens is a tough, skilled 6-6 post that can overwhelm opponents in the paint and venture out to the perimeter in spurts. The speed of her pro development will be interesting to monitor, with 6-8 Liz Cambage set to return to the W this season. 


Goodwin could add guard depth if she remains with the team. Butler, who continued her career at UConn from Georgetown and then headed for George Mason, can do the same with the posts after a dominant season at the mid-major Patriots (33 double-doubles, four 20-pt, 20-reb games) and an earlier quality year with the Hoyas.

 

WASHINGTON MYSTICS

7. Ariel Atkins (G, Texas)
19. Myisha Hines-Allen (F, Louisville)

31. Rebecca Greenwell (G, Duke)

ANALYSIS

The Mystics leave the Draft with three perimeter players 5-11 and taller, proving you can never have enough length on the wing on a team that sports Elena Delle Donne. 


Atkins is an efficient scorer (1,400 points on 47 percent career shooting) that could benefit from being a bit more aggressive, Hines-Allen’s winning ways (most wins in Louisville history) and production (2,000 pts, 1,000 rebs) will make her a favorite in head coach Mike Thibault’s system, and Greenwell’s toughness and shooting will get her a honest look.


CONNECTICUT SUN

9. Lexie Brown (G, Duke)

33. Mikayla Cowling (G/F, California)

ANALYSIS
Earning All-American honors at one Power 5 school is tough...Lexie Brown was able to do it at two (Duke and Maryland). 


A consummate lead guard and exceptional defender (broke Duke legend Alana Beard’s single-season steals record this year), she should be able to learn from veteran Jasmine Thomas and 2017 Coach of the Year Curt Miller as the Sun look to build on last year’s two-seed while incorporating Chiney Ogwumike back into the mix.


 Cowling has great size for a guard at 6-2 and can play anywhere on the court. If she gets a chance to show her talents (scored over 1,200 points, grabbed over 500 rebounds, logged over 400 assists), she could carve out a role in the league.


NEW YORK LIBERTY
10. Kia Nurse (G, UConn)

22. Mercedes Russell (C, Tennessee)

34. Leslie Robinson (F, Princeton)

ANALYSIS
New head coach Katie Smith gets a battle-tested champion and internationally experienced player in Nurse (Canadian national team) that can shoot and defend at an elite level.


 Her leadership qualities and basketball IQ will serve her well in NYC as the team embarks on a new era under the pending Hall of Famer whose team moves to the suburbs playing all but two home games in Westchester.


Russell adds to the post rotation that the Liberty need to help cornerstone Tina Charles stay fresh throughout the year.

 

LOS ANGELES SPARKS

11. Maria Vadeeva (C, Russia)

23. Shakayla Thomas (F, Florida State)

35. Julia Reisingerova (C, Czech Republic)

 

ANALYSIS

With the bulk of the core that made the last two WNBA Finals and earned the title in 2016 in place, the Sparks looked to be in “draft-and-stash” mode with two of their three picks. 


Vadeeva was projected all over the first round (mostly higher than 11th) but ends up with one of the best squads in the league. 


If she comes over, the 19-year-old offensive threat gets to learn from some of the best bigs in the league (Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Jantel Lavender); if she stays, she can continue to develop against other pros. 


Reisingerova sits in the same position with less stateside hype attached to her. Thomas offsets her size with her athleticism and has room to grow.

 

PHOENIX MERCURY
12. Marie Gulich (C, Oregon State)

20. Tyler Scaife (G, Rutgers)

21. Raisa Musina (F, Russia)

26. Imani Wright (G, Florida State)

 

ANALYSIS

At 6-5, Gulich is a versatile big that has built herself up through a growing Oregon State program, going from just over three points per game as a freshman to nearly averaging a double-double (17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg) as a senior. 


Scaife will mimic the early career of fellow Rutgers alum Cappie Pondexter by taking her record-breaking scoring touch (second all-time at RU) to Arizona. 


Musina and Wright have work to do - on physicality and midrange game, respectively - but do have offensive promise.

 

ATLANTA DREAM

15. Monique Billings (F, UCLA)

16. Kristy Wallace (G, Baylor)

27. Mackenzie Engram (F, Georgia)


ANALYSIS
One of the best players not picked in the first round, Billings gives the Dream another athletic big that possesses great defensive instincts (school-record holder in blocks, Pac-12 leader with 9.5 RPG) and a limitless motor. 


Wallace is a smart, heady point guard that Atlanta will look to for the future as she battles back from an ACL injury.

 

MINNESOTA

17. Ji-Su Park (C, South Korea) - traded to LV for Jill Barta

24. Kahlia Lawrence (G, Mercer) - traded to LV for Jill Barta

36. Carlie Wagner (G, Minnesota)


ANALYSIS
Like Los Angeles, the defending champions drafted knowing there weren’t major needs that had to fill. Barta - acquired for the Lynx first two picks - and Wagner can both shoot the ball (48 and 39 percent from the field, respectively).


There were other quality collegians who didn’t make the picks but nonetheless will begin receiving training camp invites so more evolvement to rosters will occur prior to opening day and who knows what surprises are ahead. 


Never forget that an all-time great in Becky Hammon arrived to the ‘W’ as a walk-on.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A’ja Pays Tribute to USBWA Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award Presentation

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

In her first diary  post for the Associated Press leading to Thursday’s  WNBA draft in New York, South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, the unanimous national player of the year, spends a moment paying tribute to the USBWA presentation of the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award to Saint Joseph’s Avery Marz at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Columbus.

A’ja received the Ann Meyers Drysdale national player of the year award at the event.

 Here are her diary comments and thanks to the NCAA archives via Saint Joseph’s here’s a link to the event which is a half-hour with the Summitt award presentation around the 15 minute mark after the individual coach, player, and freshman awards.

USBWA is shorthand for the United States Basketball Writers Association of which your Guru is the    Women’s Hoops Coordinator, who also was the emcee.

A’ja remarks:

One thing that I will always remember is sitting in the USBWA award ceremony at the Final Four.

 I was really touched hearing Lauren Hill's parents share her story when they awarded the Pat Summitt Most Courageous award to Saint Joseph's guard Avery Marz.

 To hear how special it was for Lauren and Avery to play basketball meant a lot to me. 

I didn't know Lauren personally, but we both wore No. 22 and I will always feel connected to her because of that.

I've gotten to know Avery a bit, and I follow her on Instagram. She's a phenomenal woman and her returning from a stroke put a lot of things in perspective. Both stories really touched my heart.


https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GggVLNj-5_DIRypRmWB5z1bs8UBDm43G/view

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Rob Knox on WF4: Weekend in Columbus Was One For the Ages

By ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

Thanks to a shot for the ages from Arike Ogunbowale, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish completed a memorable and emotionally exhilarating ride to the top of the women’s basketball summit. 

 

Ogunbowale, who provided a pair of signature moments that will last a lifetime, swished a three-pointer with 0.1 second remaining to lift Notre Dame to its first national championship in 17 seasons with an improbable 61-58 victory over Mississippi State in a thriller at Nationwide Arena Sunday night.

 

Moments like that are what makes sports special. 

 

“I’m just so speechless at this point,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said in her opening remarks during Sunday’s postgame press conference. “To see this team come back from yet another huge deficit, to see Arike make an incredible shot, to see the resilience of a team that never gave up. We lost our composure a little bit, but we got it back and we just kept fighting.”

 

Ogunbowale will be forever etched into women’s basketball lore. The junior guard made two game-winning shots in less than 48 hours in the Final Four. That’s special.

 

That basket was the perfect match to her game-winning baseline jumper against UConn in Friday’s national semifinals that punctuated a memorable evening of basketball that featured two overtime games. 

 

Charlotte Smith’s game-winning 3-pointer in the 1994 title to beat Louisiana Tech will always remain the gold standard of epic buzzer beaters in the women’s tournament because if she misses the Tar Heels lose.

 

The Irish had appeared in four title games in the last seven years and had lost all of them. 


It didn’t matter that in three of the four games they lost to undefeated teams Baylor (2012) and UConn (2014 and 2015). Notre Dame always returned more determined, hungrier and stronger. 

 

However, after losing four players to torn anterior cruciate ligament tears within the last year, this was the one season when winning a national title seemed improbable. This was the year few people outside of South Bend expected Notre Dame – its No. 1 seeding notwithstanding --  to win a national championship.

 

Chances are that mistake won’t ever be made again. 

 

McGraw and her staff did a yeoman’s job of keeping the Fighting Irish focused and believing they would be the last team standing even if undefeated Connecticut and once-beaten Mississippi State were the final hurdles in the way. They absorbed a 14-0 UConn punch and survived a three-point second quarter against Mississippi State.

 

Those excruciating experiences will forever be humorous memories for Notre Dame.

 

The Fighting Irish earned this title the old fashioned way. 

 

Notre Dame showcased toughness, togetherness, tenacity, character and confidence in the face of endless adversity. 

 

Against Mississippi State and Connecticut, Notre Dame was outsized but not outplayed, out-muscled but not outhustled, down double digits in the second half but never really out. 

 

Notre Dame trailed at halftime in four consecutive NCAA tournament games. Didn’t matter. The Fighting Irish overcame gruesome second quarters against UConn and Mississippi State in which they were outscored 40-13, shot a combined 6-for-25 and had 14 turnovers. Didn’t matter.

 

Ogunbowale struggled shooting in the first half, connecting on 1 of 10 shot attempts. Didn’t matter. Mississippi State’s Roshaunda Johnson nailed a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired that extended the Bulldogs lead to 58-53 with less than two minutes remaining. That shot would’ve finished most teams.

 

Instead, the Fighting Irish rallied and put themselves in position to enjoy a fantastic finish. 

 

Meanwhile, Mississippi State has nothing to be ashamed of. The Bulldogs will not be defined by the final seconds of this classic contest. The Bulldogs were valiant, showcased so much heart and grit throughout their special season. 

 

It’s tough to lose in a championship game two consecutive years, but just think how far Mississippi State has traveled in four years under its special senior class of Johnson, Victoria Vivians, Morgan William, and Blair Schaefer.


 It may take some time, but when the hurt subsides, they can fully appreciate the amazing journey they enjoyed.

 

“These four seniors are so special,” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said. “They have done so much for me personally and professionally. This is a high-character classy group of seniors. The integrity of this group is something I haven't seen. 

 

“For the seniors, they will always be a special group for the grit, determination and how they embrace the grind of life, as well as the grind of basketball. It hurts. They played their hearts out. Notre Dame made one more play.”

 

In winning 126 games (the most by a class in program history), an SEC regular season title, a single-season school record 37 victories, competing in four straight NCAA tournaments and consecutive championship games, the Bulldog senior class raised the bar of excellence and developed into an elite program while representing like champions and displaying plenty of class.

 

Mississippi State and Notre Dame provided the perfect ending to an unforgettable weekend of women’s basketball. 


Longtime observers consider this the greatest Final Four in the history of the women’s basketball tournament. 


Thanks to social media, it’s definitely the most discussed one in history.

 

There were legendary performances, shining moments, and comebacks. The 15 point combined margin of victory in the 2018 Women’s Final Four (three games) is the fewest in tournament history. These were three heavyweight fights between proud programs that excited fans, disrupted cardiovascular systems and left them breathless.

 

Leave it to Schaefer to provide the final words as he exited the dais following his postgame press conference.

 

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate you being here, covering these ladies, covering our four universities. What you do means a lot to our game, and I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate it as a coach that’s been doing this a long time, I just want to say thank you.”

 

No coach, we should be thanking everybody for an amazing weekend of basketball by a group of phenomenal women that will never be duplicated. 

 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Rob Knox on WF4: Semifinals Brought a Night of Competition Unlike Any in NCAAW History

By ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

In lifting women’s basketball to a new level of amazing, Mississippi State, Louisville, Connecticut and Notre Dame delivered unforgettable performances on the sport’s biggest stage Friday night that had the sellout crowd of 19,564 inside Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, along with a worldwide television viewers captivated.  

 

Fans, including Kobe Bryant, should have been forced to pay upon exiting out after witnessing a pair of overtime epics for the ages. This was the first Final Four in which both games were extended beyond regulation to determine the outcome.

 

When Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale’s baseline shot swished through the net with one second remaining shortly before midnight, it provided the perfect exclamation point to nearly five hours of beautifully breathtaking basketball dripping with drama.

 

As Ogunbowale’s shot hung in the air, time – and heartbeats – froze.

 

Both games had everything. 

 

Clutch shots were made, records were set and late deficits were erased. 


Man to man defense was out. Passionate soul-to-soul defense was in. 


Each squad displayed every championship quality that made them special this season: grit, character, heart and resilience. 

 

Going into the weekend, everybody knew there was a possibility of witnessing a pair of a quality games that could be decided late because the Final Four featured all four No. 1 seeds, and each team among the top five ranked entirely or almost all the way till Selection Night. 

 

But this? 

 

Nobody in their wildest dreams could have predicted that this would be arguably one of the greatest evenings in the women’s basketball history.

 

“This Final Four had a special group of women who are very competitive and different personalities going against each other,” Notre Dame junior guard Marina Mabrey said during Saturday’s media availability. “I’m just happy I can be a part of so many great players out there. Anybody who played in the Final Four last night got better as a player and their character grew.”

 

Each game was swollen with suspense. 


Fans were treated with the option of their preferred style that elevated each game. 


If you wanted a defensive struggle, then Louisville-Mississippi State fit the bill. In combining to score a Final Four single game record 180 points, UConn and Notre Dame were for the fans who love lots of offense. 

 

Louisville led by seven early in the fourth quarter, trailed with less than three minutes remaining and led again by three late in the game until Mississippi State’s Roshaunda Johnson made the biggest shot of the evening – a game tying 3-pointer that ultimately forced overtime. The Cardinals had two clean chances to capture the game in regulation, but layups rimmed out.

 

“It was a blessing,” Johnson said of her game-tying shot. “I hit the shot on the biggest stage I could be on right now and I feel like that was the biggest shot that I have taken. I did what I had to do to get my team into overtime because I knew we didn’t want our season to be over in that moment.”

 

In leading Mississippi State, the physically elegant Victoria Vivans, who combines textbook fundamentals with mesmerizing flair, scored a game high 25 points before fouling out. 


Teaira McCowan had a double-double of 21 points and a Final Four record 25 rebounds for Mississippi State. 


Asia Durr was special as usual in scoring 18 points to lead the Cardinals.

 

That game alone – featuring 15 lead changes -- was worthy of classic status. 

 

Instead, it was reduced to the undercard, an appetizer for what followed. 

 

The game’s greatest rivalry churned out another classic in which the Fighting Irish edged the Huskies, 91-89, in overtime. This was the second consecutive year that an undefeated UConn squad has lost in overtime on a final shot in the Final Four.

 

The Huskies have lost seven consecutive overtime games. 


However, that’s not the wow statistic. 


UConn’s last regulation loss was in 2013 to Notre Dame at the buzzer in Hartford in the Big East tournament championship game.

 

Notre Dame holds a 4-3 edge over UConn in Final Four matchups with the last two matchups being decided in overtime. 

 

“It opened people’s eyes,” Mabrey said of Friday’s semifinals. 


“It showed the whole world that we can play. We can be entertaining. UConn isn’t bad for women’s basketball. They set the bar really high. They’re motivating. People dream of beating UConn. I don’t really think that’s our mentality, but they have the whole world rooting against them. That has to be pretty tough to play like that. Women’s basketball grew last night.”

 

Jackie Young enjoyed a coming out party on the sport’s biggest stage with 32 points, the seventh highest point total in women’s Final Four history. 


Young and Ogunbowale combined for 64.8 percent of the Fighting Irish’s point total. Whenever UConn threatened to pull away, they responded especially after absorbing a 14-0 burst late in the first half.

 

The Huskies displayed mental toughness several times especially late in regulation and overtime when they rallied from five-point deficits to tie the game. 


Napheesa Collier had 24 points to lead the Huskies, who got a double-double from Gabby Williams (12 points, 10 rebounds) in her final game along with 19 points from Azura Stevens.

 

“There were huge people tweeting about the game and getting other people involved,” Mabrey said. “Just to know that Notre Dame versus UConn was number one trending on Twitter in the world, it just feels good to get recognition for all the hard work we’ve put in. 


“Notre Dame is not afraid of UConn. It’s become a rivalry. I think it makes the game fun for women’s basketball. I love that about us and UConn. We can get really competitive and bring the game to a higher level.”

 

The individual efforts of the superstars and role players along with the high intensity levels that these games were played at is what stamps this Final Four as the best ever in women’s basketball. 

 

This was better than a Broadway show. 

 

These were hardwood masterpieces that won’t ever be replicated.

 

We were blessed to be able to share the excitement. There were no losers. Louisville and UConn just ran out of time. 

 

Meanwhile, Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, the WBCA Coach of the Year, had a front row seat to watch the brilliance between Notre Dame and UConn and put the evening into perspective.

 

“You're talking about two great coaches in our industry who have had so much success, and great players out there making plays left and right,” Schaefer said. “And it just makes you proud to be a part of this industry. I think last night was great for our game. 

 

“You had two outstanding games played by four outstanding teams. (UConn-Notre Dame) was a heck of a game, great for our game. And one team made one more play than the other. That's what it came down to. One play.”