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, March 31, 2017

Guru's Women's Final Four Notebook: Staley and VanDerveer Back to Game Foes

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

DALLAS – Dawn Staley, the Philadelphia basketball icon and now coach of South Carolina, and Tara VanDerveer, the longtime Stanford coach, has had their careers weave together through the years in varying degrees.

Staley played for VanDerveer on the famed 1996 USA squad that barnstormed the country for a year concluding with the Olympic gold medal from the Atlanta Games.

In one of Friday night’s semifinals, they get to be on opposite sides again, as they were in 1992, Staley’ senior year at Virginia, when VanDerveer’s Cardinal dispatched the Cavaliers and Staley in a national semifinal that left Staley forever without a collegiate national championship after three straight times at this level of the tournament.

“I still remember that,” Staley said during Thursday's press conference sessions. “I think that as many wins as I have been part of, it’s the losses that really sting. ’90, ’91, and ’92 all were opportunities for us to win a national championship.

“But the last one was probably the hardest one.

“I often look back on it and wished I had approached it a little differently because I do think I could have made Angela Taylor foul me. Especially, they put her in the game to guard me in that last play. I just popped out – I should have popped out and stopped. I could have made her foul me in that instant.”

Staley, recently named the USA Olympic coach after a long career in USA basketball, has connections to the other coaches in the Women’s Final Four.

Stanford’s VanDerveer she played against besides being coached on the ’96 USA squad. Staley was an assistant on the USA squad to Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma last summer and coached against him during the season in a non-conference loss, and also against Mississippi State’s Vic Schaefer in the Southeastern Conference wars.

South Carolina got this far two years ago and now is back to try again.

“What we learned two years ago is probably what we learned throughout our entire coaching career and not just in basketball,” said Staley, whose Gamecocks lost close to Notre Dame.

“The margin of error is so small, so small. I mean, if Aleighsa Welch makes a shot on one entity, we’re up three and the ball game is over.”

Meanwhile, VanDerveer talked about her relationship over the years with Staley.

“I think I’ve always had a good relationship with Dawn. But you know, sometimes as a player, you’re going to tell ‘em things they don’t want to hear,” VanDerveer said. “So, I mean, Dawn could probably tell you a couple of stories of things that maybe she didn’t want to hear from me.

“I have always respected Dawn’s competitiveness, her work ethic, her absolute passion for the game of basketball. If she tells you she beat me in chess, she’s a liar,” VanDerveer smiled. “We just compete. I love Dawn. I’m so proud of her.

“I think she’s just a great role model for the young women coming up. I mean, she carried our country’s flag. She’s everything you could look for in a coach and a friend. It’s just a great story.”

VanDerveer said there is one thing she noted in texting congratulations after South Carolina advanced over Florida State to here.

“I can’t cheer for you on Friday night.”

Getting the Hall of Fame Call

On Saturday morning, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame will announce its next class for 2017, to be inducted in Springfield, Mass. There are no plans to do any announcing here which might have been the case if Baylor (with finalist Kim Mulkey) or Notre Dame (Muffet McGraw) had not lost last weekend thereby putting the two coaches into Friday night’s games.

Former UConn and Olympic star, Rebecca Lobo is here doing her ESPN work and the announcement is in Phoenix at the men’s Final Four.

Mulkey is in Baton Rouge or wherever her son in playing for Baton Rouge, so likely was not notified. McGraw is supposed to be here at the coach’s convention.

Stay tuned. The other women’s nominee is the Wayland Baptist team that won 131 straight games in the 1950s.


NCAA Women's Final Four: It's UConn's to Lose

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 While nobody expected Connecticut to be perfect, everybody anticipated that it would be participating in its 10th consecutive Final Four.

 UConn’s appearance on television during the last weekend of the women’s basketball season has become an annual rite of spring like the cherry blossoms blooming in Washington, D.C.

 Connecticut has been to the Final Four so often that it should be forced to pay some type of rent, taxes and fees. 

 With a difficult non-conference slate, many, including myself, expected UConn to have a few losses.

 We all figured that the Huskies would grow stronger as the season progressed and develop into the type of team that was more than capable of winning a national championship. 

 The March version of UConn isn’t really that big of a surprise to anybody. 

 The Huskies bring a 111-game winning streak into this weekend’s women’s basketball party in Dallas in which they are the overwhelming favorites to add to their championship collection of NCAA trophies. 

UConn’s awesome accomplishments, dominance and excellence kind of overshadows the three other terrific programs that are also in Dallas: Mississippi State, Stanford and South Carolina.

 Yet, here the Huskies are, larger than life, two wins removed from their fifth consecutive national championship and 12th overall.

 It has just been mind-boggling watching UConn dispatch its opponents by 33.2 points per game with the precision of a seasoned surgeon.

 The million dollar question is which one of the three other teams in the Final Four can beat UConn. 
Actually all three have a shot to end the Huskies reign this weekend. 

This is the 10th time and first since 2008, that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has had two teams in the Final Four. Stanford has made its own history against UConn in recent years.

 This is a great quartet of schools in Dallas with tremendously coached squads and some game-changers. 

While UConn has been to 10 straight Final Fours, Stanford is back for the seventh time in that same span. 
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer knows a thing or two about playing during the last weekend of 
the women’s basketball season.

 After all, she’s a legend, her status cemented when she became the third Division I basketball coach to win 1,000 games when Stanford beat USC 58-42 on Feb. 3. 

 VanDerveer owns a 1,012-230 career record and has more wins than 341 of the country's 349 Division I programs, which is crazy.

 The Cardinal are in its 13th Final Four in program history.

 A final between Stanford and UConn would be the ultimate from the standpoint of the Karlie (Stanford) and Katie Lou (UConn) Samuelson sisters competing against each other and the 
VanDerveer factor.

Stanford, as many of you know, was the last team to beat UConn in 2014. The Cardinal also terminated the Huskies’ 90-game winning streak in 2010. Of course, that streak seems like nothing considering that this current UConn streak has extended that run of excellence by 21 games. 

 So VanDerveer, who coached the 1996 USA Olympic Team, has some type of magical formula against the Huskies.

 Of course, both of those Stanford victories were in Palo Alto. Speaking of wizardry, the Cardinal has made a nice habit of rallying from second-half deficits in this tournament. 

 Stanford erased a nine-point deficit to beat Texas in the Sweet 16 and erased a 16-point deficit to edge Notre Dame in an Elite 8 Classic.

 The Cardinal  has been down by at least seven points and come back to win six times this season, including in five of its last six games. Stanford faced a fourth quarter deficit to 15th-seeded New Mexico State before pulling away late.

 While VanDerveer has been a semi-thorn in UConn’s side, her Stanford teams gave current South Carolina coach Dawn Staley nightmares.

 VanDerveer’s Stanford squads beat the Staley-as-a-player Virginia teams en route to winning the 1990 and 1992 national titles. 

Staley, who is 0-5 against VanDerveer-coached squads, has done an awesome job turning South Carolina into a giant and one of the elite programs since she’s taken over.
The Gamecocks are in the Final Four for the second time in three seasons after not reaching that level in the first 37 seasons of the NCAA Tournament.

 What Staley has done this tournament has been remarkable considering the Gamecocks have been without their senior leader Alana Coates, the heart-and-soul of the team.

 South Carolina had a second round scare against Arizona State before coasting past Cinderella Quinnipiac and hanging on to beat Florida State.

 The difference for the Gamecocks lately has been the improved and elite quality performances of Kaela Davis, Allisha Gray, Tyasha Harris, and Bianca Cuevas-Moore. 

They have contributed consistent shooting, defense and toughness to help A’ja Wilson dominate the paint. Even when Wilson was in foul trouble against Florida State, the Gamecocks didn’t miss a beat. 

 This brings us to Mississippi State and head coach Vic Schaefer, who has been here as an assistant coach on Texas A&M's 2011 national championship team.

 If there were any doubts about the Bulldogs place among the elite, they resoundingly answered them by earning their trip to Dallas.

 Some thought the Bulldogs were a one-year wonder after getting to the Sweet 16 and getting steamrolled by 60 points to UConn last season, but all they have done is won consistently this season.

 The Bulldogs, winners of a school-record 33 games, are arguably the feel-good story among the Final Four participants especially after watching Morgan William’s exquisite 41-point masterpiece against Baylor.

 Though she’s listed generously at 5 feet, 5 inches, William was a tower of power, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was a fearless performance by the diminutive William.

 Her tenacity and perseverance was greater than she'd ever let on against Baylor seemingly delivering clutch shots whenever they were needed. 
She has served as an example, and an inspiration, to her teammates as they pursue their dreams. 

Victoria Vivians’ relentless game is smooth and special.

 For a comparison of the UConn-Mississippi State matchup. Think UNLV-Duke men’s basketball. In 1990, UNLV beat Duke 103-73 in the national title game. One year later, an undefeated UNLV juggernaut wasn’t as fortunate as the Blue Devils claimed a 79-77 win in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. 
Of course this all comes back to UConn, right? 
“We know we have a tremendous challenge in front of us going against a team that's the best program in the history of the game, coached by the best coach in the history of the game, men or women,” Schaefer said during Thursday’s press conference. 

“We know what's in front of us. We've had to deal with it before. Obviously we dealt with it last year, and it wasn't a real good experience. But I think we've grown from that day and we've learned from it. 

"We're going to do our very best to play a really good ballgame tomorrow night. Again, these kids have earned the right to be here, make no mistake about it. I'm just proud to be their coach.”

 The Huskies went through the Pac-12 to win the Bridgeport regional. Now, an SEC foe stands in its way. The Huskies have the pieces to meet every challenge it will encounter this weekend. Mississippi State will be a formidable hurdle for the Huskies to conquer. 

 This won’t be a 60-point beatdown. 

The Bulldogs won’t be in awe of the Huskies this time around. Although this is new territory for Mississippi State, it will hang around for a while.  

Ultimately, the Huskies guards are slightly bigger, quicker and better than Baylor’s crew. That will make a difference as UConn pulls away during the second half to comfortably cruise into the title game. 

 Winners of nine consecutive games, South Carolina has turned into a different team in March out of necessity. 

The Gamecocks have multiple scoring threats from all over the court and play a more free-flowing style that takes advantage of their quickness and athleticism. 

Stanford has been a tough out and watching it rally against a Notre Dame squad that appeared to be clicking on all cylinders was enough to wonder if something is at work for the Cardinal.

 In the end look for the Huskies to find a way to survive one final VanDerveer-led assault from her squad to win their fifth consecutive national title. 

It won’t be easy and fun to watch, but UConn will find a way. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Guru's NCAA: UConn Roasts Ducks and Heads to 10th Straight Women's Final Four

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The rear view behind the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team continues to be quite a majestic scene and establishment of what glory days continue to lie ahead.

It was over quickly here at Webster Bank Arena Monday night with an early 17-0 run and a turn-over defense that gave the immediate four-time defending NCAA champion and still unbeaten Huskies a lopsided 90-52 victory over 10th-seeded Oregon for the Bridgeport Regional Title and now a decade’s worth of 10 consecutive trips to the Women’s Final Four.

“For us to have gone 10 months of March in a row and not having lost a game through a whole different cast of characters, over all that time, that’s pretty darned good,” said Hall of Fame UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “That’s probably more than anything what really hits home for me.”

With an 18th regional title in possession dating to the initial one obtained in Philadelphia in 1991, the last two steps to update the number of national titles from 11 to 12 await this weekend in the Lone Star State where on Friday night UConn (36-0) will face Oklahoma City Regional champion Mississippi State (33-4) in the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

If the Bulldogs cannot reverse the thrashing handed them by the Huskies in this regional a year ago then Connecticut will move on to Sunday’s championship for the fifth straight year and face either Stockton Regional champion South Carolina (31-4), coached by Dawn Staley, or Lexington Regional champion Stanford (32-5).

Left in the wake of UConn’s latest carnage is the previous record of NCAA tournament overall wins held by the late legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. The new one is in the hands of Auriemma at 113.

And the ongoing NCAA consecutive win streak record now stands at 111, just 20 away from the fabled 131 total beyond the NCAA compiled by the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens in the 1950s.

“There were a lot of people who came before us to to start the streak,” junior Kia Nurse said following the win over the Ducks (23-14). “And we are kind of carrying on that legacy that they left, and that’s something that we focus on every day. We’re focused on the fact that UConn is built into what UConn is today because of everybody who came before and what we’re doing right now.

“So to understand that, to want to go out and play great Connecticut basketball is a testament to these people who have done it before us.”

But it was not even suppose to be on the bill of particulars for discussion this season because after the graduation of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck, who went 1-2-3 in last year’s WNBA draft, while it was not totally out of the question that Nurse and her teammates could be headed for Dallas, certainly they would be going with a less gaudy appearance pock-marked with losses on a difficult non-conference schedule not a more gaudy one than many of the star-studded UConn contingents of previous vintages.

Auriemma, who usually has a quip targeted at a player or two of his, seems in total awe himself of what this young roster with just two seniors – one a walk-on – has accomplished after being understudies on the recent UConn champions.

“The players we have today, for the first time in their careers they’ve owned the whole month of March,” he said. “They weren’t just along for the ride. It’s theirs. And that’s a huge step.

“And that’s what I told them in the locker room. That’s a big step to go from riding in the back seat on a trip you’re going to, to all of a sudden you’re in charge of driving the bus and you’re responsible for getting us there,” Auriemma noted.

“A lot of times people have to lose to learn how to win, and for them to just step right in where the other team left off and take immediate ownership of it, that says a lot about who they are.

“You know I can’t say enough about each and every one of them, but especially that starting five. I mean there’s just something unique about them right now that’s going on, and they deserve all of it. And they don’t have to share it with anybody; it’s not anyone else’s but theirs, and they’re enjoying it.”

That group starts with sophomore Napheesa Collier, voted the most outstanding player in the regional after scoring 28 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, dealing two assists, blocking four shots, and grabbing two steals.

“Having watched Pheesa play all year long, I can’t describe what she does,” Auriemma said. “She’s effortless in what she does. Seriously, it’s like a self-driving car. It’s effortless. She just goes.

“I mean, she’s effortless on defense, too. Don’t get me wrong. But the offense for her just comes effortless. I can’t even explain it.”

Junior Gabby Williams, who, along with Nurse, had to take over the leadership of this team, had 25 points and four steals.

“Both of us were forced into leadership roles because we were becoming the older guys on the team., and I think this is a challenge we accepted,” Nurse said, while Williams added, “Those guys did everything for us last year, last two years, but the thing about them, too, they showed us and they taught us how to do it ourselves.

“They knew that once we got into this position that we would be ready for it because they showed us how to do it.”

Nurse had 11 points and seven assists, while Saniya Chong, who has blossomed her senior season, had 11 points, four assists, and three steals. Katie Lou Samuelson didn’t have one of her explosive nights on offense like the 10-for-10 three pointers she made in the American Athletic Conference title game, but she scored eight points, dealt four assists and had five steals.

On Saturday, Oregon had continued to get attention for its string of upsets and especially for taking down a three-seed Maryland squad considered one of the two main threats in the entire tournament to UConn. The other was Baylor and both are gone with the Bears having fallen to Mississippi State on Sunday night.

But if the Ducks might be a replacement problem instead of Maryland, the Huskies weren’t buying it forcing Oregon into 22 turnovers that produced a dominant 32-12 stat on points off turnovers. UConn was also 21-2 on second chance points.

Oregon, considering the whole night as a learning experience, seemed to take the whipping in stride, kind of like what Villanova veteran coach Harry Perretta used to say in the glory days of the old Big East, “Those other guys think they’re going to win the game (against UConn) and when they don’t it takes them several weeks to get their acts back together.

“We just take our medicine and move on which is why we can do well so soon after playing UConn.”

That seemed to be the theme of Oregon’s Kelly Graves in his postgame remarks as well as several of the players.

“They’re really, really good,” Graves said of UConn. “I think we had our team ready. Our team was confident going in. I just don’t think we were able to handle that that early, I think just kind of the shock how good they are, and got us on our heels quickly.

“The turnovers doomed us from the get-go, and that defensive pressure really set the tone.”

Freshman sensation Sabrina Ionescu, who had 15 points, the only Oregon player in double figures other than freshman Ruthy Hebard with 12, talked about the attitude of the Ducks in the game.

“I said, `Guys, we should just live in the moment. It doesn’t come around often, and just enjoy it. Enjoy playing against the No. 1 team in the country, and we’re going to try to do what they do because I think we can become the next UConn here at Oregon.’

“I think it was really fun. The atmosphere was great., and playing against them is something we’d like to do more often and definitely learn from what they do there.”

In some ways this team recalls the 2003 UConn national champions that in the wake of the studded unbeaten 2002 bunch seemed to be poised for retooling other than Diana Taurasi was still on the squad.

Auriemma said that alone makes the two teams incomparable, especially when this one had no preseason all-Americans on the roster and now have three in Samuelson, Williams, and Collier, with Nurse drawing some attention from other places.

“Maybe the first two weeks of practice, I remember looking at one of our assistants, and I thought, `We’re going to win a national championship because Diana had the ability to take two freshmen and two other kids that had never started a game and make them look like veterans,’” he said.

“She elevated their game by who she was, the way she played, how she talked to them, how she led them,” Auriemma explained.

“Going into this season, we didn’t have anybody like that, so I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know who was going to be responsible for any of this stuff, and maybe that’s the way it needed to be this year, so they all had to depend on each other instead of depending on one person.

“And they were never allowed to take a break because they all had to be there every night or we weren’t going to be able to do what we’ve done.”

As for no one getting the preseason acclaim individually that UConn players have usually had and now for the three to draw all-American status, Auriemma said, “They earned it this year. They played the best schedule, they played the best teams, and they did it under the glare of the lights they play under all the time. The fact those three were three of the top 10 players in the country, they earned it, and they deserve it.”


Siroky's SEC Report: Conference Owns Half of Final Four

By Mike Siroky

Stockton Regional Final
South Carolina  71, Florida State 64

The Southeastern Conference champions sprinted out to a 24-17 start.

All-American A’ja Wilson scored nine, with four rebounds and two blocks. Three of the four guards scored the rest.

Florida State reserve Imani White scored five. She had two Elite Eight seasons at Baylor. This is her first year in the ACC.

Wilson got into double figures but picked up a second foul after a foul and sat down with five minutes left in the half. The lead was down to three. but the Gamecocks persevered. They were never overtaken and pushed the lead back to seven inside of two minutes. The half ended, 40-29.

Kaela Davis continued her hot streak and had 12, 5-of-7 from the floor, 2-of-2at the line. As a team, they were 8-of-8 from the line, hitting 60 percent from the floor.

They had caused six turnovers and had four steals. The Seminoles were hitting 38 percent from the floor.

“I just have to play smarter,” Wilson said. “They (her teammates) are playing very well out there and it’s coming together.

“Our defense is great. We’re getting a lot of stops and a lot of transition buckets. Of course I want to be out there, but I just love watching them play right now.”

The plan didn’t work and she got more chances to watch by picking up her third 28 seconds into the second half.


 We had said when Alaina Coates went away that this exposed the frontline depth because, in this instance, both  bigs were out.

Speed would have to win this one.

Florida State could only cut it to 10 with a minute left. But they missed a 3.

“Well they slowed us down a little hit because they went zone and got stagnant. We have got to get A’ja Wilson back in there because she gives us a big target down there.

“Kaela Davis is finding the gaps to drive.”

Davis was up to 20 points.

Wilson started the fourth with only 11 minutes played.

Freshman guard Tyasha Harris hit a 3. Wilson followed with a lay-in, assist to Allisha Gray.

Florida State made back-to-back steals and converted both. The gap was seven.

It was possible the Seminoles knew the ball was coming inside and so anticipated better in the lane.

Wilson got her fourth and had to stay in.

The Florida State emotional leader is 6-1 senior Ivey Slaughter. She is the leading rebounder and free-throw scorer.

It was time for that. Forida State got two offensive rebounds on one possession. Slaughter converted hers.

She got a defensive rebound which led to a basket by senior guard Leticia Romero. Slaughter was up to nine rebounds, six defensive, right at her average.

Brittany Brown got a steal off of a timeout drove for  layup.  It was anyone’s game, three points. SC turned it over, inside of three minutes.

Davis drove for a layup. She knocked it loose at the other end but stepped on the endline.
With 72 second left and a five-point lead, SC did not wilt. They had never been topped and they had possession.

The clock slowly drained. A miss and here came the Seminoles. Wilson challenged, got a block.
Florida State knew it. The bench was in tears.

Chatrice White got a Florida State rebound and scored a layin. Twelve seconds, four points.
One second and Harris the rookie was fouled.

She rimmed on. Made the second. Florida State had no timeouts left.

But it did not matter. Harris stole the attempted inbounds and hit two more. Both South Carolina basketball teams were headed to the Final Fours, now the women qualified.

The SEC owns half of the Final Four.  The SEC teams eliminated the Big 12 and ACC. So much for braggin’ rights. Again.

South Carolina gets Stanford.

“I gotta say our biggest thing was coming out and being aggressive,” said Davis. “The good part about it is we are playing defense.” She led all scorers with 23.

South Carolina held them 15 under their offensive average and scored 13 more than they had allowed all season, which was a program record.

The Gamecocks impressed their defensive will while overcoming the other team’s best. Florida State was 36 percent from the field.

Wilson and Harris tied with 16 each. Gray scored 11.

 “God has been good to our program,” Staley said.

“He’s been good to me personally. And this wouldn’t be possible without Him.

“Although we see the victory side of it, the defeat side of it is, some seniors won’t get to experience going to a Final Four and I do feel for them. But at the same time, I’m happy for our players. I’m happy that they put themselves in the position to go on and realize their dreams, as well.”

Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray, of course, had to sit and watch last season while they served their transfer penalty. But boy did they play this season. And now join a fantastic SEC senior class next season.

“I think the biggest thing tonight was our defense,” Davis said. “We found ways to get stops.

“You know, I think we started the game off really well.

“But you know, obviously it’s just being aggressive. I think my main point was just to come in and be aggressive and then our goal was obviously to get to the Final Four, and we managed to accomplish that.

“Obviously with A’Ja, she draws a lot of attention. So you know, with her being out, we had to start scoring and get buckets. We were getting stops, but they kind of went on runs here and there. We had to find a way to counter that and balance out a little bit.”

Even though Florida State got the deficit to three, they never caught up.

The Seminoles missed seven of their last eight shots.
“Yeah, I think in that situation, I feel like it’s a time-and-score situation. It was one of those things where we didn’t necessarily need to get a shot unless we had a good one, and we just had to find ways to get stopped. They really started pushing the ball at us late in the second half.

“We had to find a way to slow them down. But at the same time, like I said, we were trying to find a way just to work the clock and take good shots.

“We’ve had our fair share of adversity but this team has found ways to time and time again, just fight through it and find a way to be better because of it.

“I think just attacking them. We weren’t settling for jumpshots, which I think is the best thing we could have done. I think towards the fourth quarter, we were just kind of passing it and waiting for a good shot to come.

“But I think it was one of those things, we kind of had to create a good shot for ourselves.

“They were doing a good job of keeping us outside the paint, and really making us, like I said, pass the ball around the 3-point line. I think it was one of those things where I kind of saw everybody was a little raised up and found a gap somehow.

“It makes it 10 times better to be able to say you want to do something and accomplish it.

“You know, it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, but I think we’re finding a way to end on a high note and to, you know, just put everything together.”

Harris, the rookie, hit the final free throws and had the final steal to seal the deal.

“We kind of just stuck with the game plan,” Harris said. “We just focused on defense and trying to stop our man. And the last steal, I just saw it coming and just grabbed it, and, I don’t know, that’s what happened.”

Davis danced as the horn sounded, but she looked to her leader even then.

“Yeah, I think A’Ja started it. I don’t know, it’s just one of those in-the-moment things, having fun. We love our band. They are funny -- funny, funny people. They are just really good people to be around. So I think it was just a way to kind of show that we appreciate them.”

“Well, we won despite turning the ball over,” Staely said.

“We won despite their runs. I thought them going to a zone and slowing us down and taking away some driving lanes really stalled our offense a little bit. But it also took possessions away.

“We didn’t want to take quick shots, so it almost played into our hands, minus the turnovers. So we ran the clock a little bit, and if that game is maybe five minutes longer, we could have a different result.

“But I just thought we were timely with getting stops. We were timely with getting key rebounds. I thought Doniyah Cliney came in and gave us some great minutes, and got some rebounds when I didn’t think we were in the play. We just made plays and we were very efficient on the offensive end.

“ Since we’ve gone to a smaller lineup, it’s created more scoring opportunities for Kaela, more driving lanes for her to get to the basket and more opportunity for her to pull up, as well.

“She’s seeing it and she’s hitting those holes like a running back. You know, for her to perform the way she does, she did this past weekend, it just goes to show the type of player she is.

“You know, obviously we wanted this all year long. But it takes some adjusting to not having the ball in your hands. But not having Alaina Coates, puts the ball in her hands a lot more; had we had Alaina.

“Alaina, you don’t want anyone’s career to end, but it’s been a blessing in disguise for us. We got a little bit more balanced, and you know, Kaela has benefitted from it.

“Well, we exploited -- we exploited putting the ball on the floor and challenging them to stop us one-on-one. That was the game plan, to attack their feet, put them back on their heels. When it’s like that, you’re not going to -- if you get all the way to the basket, you get all the way to the basket; and if you couldn’t, then you kick it out.

“So there weren’t very many opportunities to assist the basket, because we found a way to get to the basket. And when it’s working, you continue it.

“I mean, they are a team that they never find themselves out of the game because they play so fast, they take quick shots, they get the ball up-and-down the floor and they turn you over, as well.

“We wanted to make sure we got shots at the basket and unfortunately for us, we had 18 turnovers and that allowed them to get back in the game.

“(That) had a lot to do with getting back in the game by turning us over. Obviously we have to clean that up before we take on a Stanford team.”

Two of the other coaches in the Final Four are former Olympic coaches. Staley is about to join that group.

“I think it’s great. As a coach, you want to coach against the best.
“That’s why I left Temple to come to South Carolina to coach in the SEC with what I think is some of the greatest coaches in the game.

“And then you get to this stage at the Final Four, and then it’s another tier of coaches who have won national championships, have won Gold Medals, have won a thousand games.

“I think it’s just great. I think I’m going to be amongst greatness and hopefully with that, you know, it will be a great experience with South Carolina.”

She appreciates the growth or her game, from advancing to averaging the best attendance nationwide – 10,000 – to the upgrade in even celebrations.

Two years ago, “Probably 7,000 less Gamecock fans. It felt different because it there was no confetti, there was no screaming. There wasn’t any passion behind it.

“And obviously we’re 3,000 miles away from home, but when you’re a little bit closer, your fans are right on top of you. It just seemed like everybody was kind of far away, and it almost, it took you back, because you’re like, did this really happen?

“Are we going to the Final Four?

“But it sank in. It sank in when we were standing out there and enjoying each other’s company.”

Then there’s Basketball U, the only school in the country with teams in the men’s and women’s Final Fours.

“It’s incredible. I mean, it’s something that Frank and I have both worked hard for. When we came to South Carolina, I’m quite sure he felt the same way, and I don’t want to speak for him -- but Frank is a great coach. He’s a great coach. He does some great things.

“As a coach, you feel like there are things that you can control; that you can get people to execute; you can get people to believe in your vision, even the talent, this group of players that you assemble.

“But you can’t do it without talent, you can’t do it without belief. You can’t do it without a togetherness. You can’t do it without the support of your administrators, your president on down, without it working; and we felt this for -- you know, I’ve been at South Carolina for nine years. This is Frank’s fifth year.

“For us to be able to experience three Final Fours in the short time that we’ve been here, there’s a lot of love on our campus from everyone, and our fans.
“Our fans are so deserving of this because, you know, they have been there. You know, when we won two SEC games, they have been there. When we have been left out of the NCAA Tournament, they have been there.

“And now they get to share in the joys of us playing, being one of the last four teams to participate in this long basketball season. They deserve it.”

They drew 3,134 for the Regional title game.

Wilson was selected as the Southeastern Conference’s only first team Associated Press All-American, as we called two weeks ago. Teammate Alaina Coates is AP honorable mention.

At Final Four
Mississippi State (33-4) vs. UConn (36-0)

Mississippi State placed three on the Oklahoma City Regional all-Region team: Victoria Vivians, Teaira McCowan and Morgan William, the Most Outstanding Player. All are juniors.

Vivians also was selected a third team Associated Press All-American. Morgan William is an honorable mention AP All-America

Next up for Mississippi State is the challenge of UConn on Friday night in the national semifinal.

UConn ended the season for Oregon on Monday night. Someday, maybe in our lifetime, UConn will lose a game. Mississippi State gets the next whack at them.

That means the represented conferences in the finals are the SEC, Pac 12 and American Athletic.

If UConn wins, it breaks the conference championship tie with the Big 12, with four, though it is also responsible for eight of the nine Big East titles which leads the pack.

Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell and Kentucky’s Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator are honorable mention Associated Press All-American.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Siroky's SEC Report: Mississippi State Final Four Dream Realized

By Mike Siroky

Oklahoma City Final
Mississippi State 94, Baylor 85 (OT)

It is always nice when a No. 1 seed meets a No. 2 for the right to advance to the Final Four, because the Selection Committee gets one right.

Mississippi State (33-5) has yet to lose to a non-conference opponent. The Big 12 and Big 10 are done. The SEC is not.

Naturally, Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer switched his starters up and reinserted leading scorer and All-SEC shooter Victoria Vivians.

But what he did with point guard Morgan William is legendary.

The starters in the three previous NCAA games were available as topline subs.

Vivians responded with the first five points (including a 3) and State hung tough. Then in came senior center Chimwe Okorie, another all-SEC starter for 33 games, at the first time out,
Baylor’s leadings scorer, Kalani Brown, had five of her usual 15 and the Bears led, 9-5. Two William free throws and it was 9-7.

Nobody in the gym could have guessed it was the start of a career night.

They started settling in, trading point for point. Vivians’ second 3 untied it, but they kicked it out of bounds with a chance to extend. No one was in control.

The quarter ended with Mississippi State ahead, 21-19. Vivians had eight and William seven.

They had forced five turnovers. Teaira McCowan, the 6-7 center, was 0-for-everything.

No breakaway was in sight, truly a 1 vs. 2.

It was 43-40 at the half and everyone anticipated which team could make the tweak that made a difference.

Vivians had 15 with two assists and two steals. If this were the only game in the past five you saw, you would understand why sometimes she is mentioned among the elite.

William had 19 with two 3s and two assists. McCowan got eight in the second quarter but only one rebound. That was the area of interest.

Both teams deserved to win. It was just one of those games.

Baylor won the third quarter, 21-17, but with seven minutes left in someone’s season it as 63-all. Baylor averaged 86 all year, 10 more than Mississippi State. But State allowed 56 and Baylor 60, so neither defense was working to average.

Two minutes later and Mississippi State had a two-point edge. Vivians had 19 but McCowan was stuck on eight, having not scored since halftime.

Both sides were nervous as player careers clicked toward a forever finish. Each were fighting to represent their conference.

Morgan William hit a 3 then a conventional basket. Baylor answered with a 3 by senior Alexis Jones. William countered with a 3. Baylor senior Nina Davis hit a layup then it was time out.
McCowan hit two free throws, finally in double figures.

Three minutes to go and Mississippi State had a three-point lead. William made a defensive error and fouled Jones from way out as the shot clock expired. Jones hit all three, 12 points for the half.

Mississippi State turned it over with two minutes left.

Kalani Brown bulled over William, but she evidently was too short for the refs to see and the basket counted.

Seventy-seven seconds left, then potential disaster.

McCowan tripped over a prone teammate who had fallen on her own and there was a possible deciding turnover.

What a way to lose the edge, nothing of Baylor’s doing.

Perhaps a makeup call. Baylor turned it over and William flitted in among the trees to tie it with 22.6 seconds left.

Heavy discussions by both benches.

This was already a classic.

Baylor went full court on the inbounds, muffed the drive and McCowan tied up the rebound, 3.4 left. Baylor’s possession under its own basket.

It is only fitting to go to OT. McCowan swatted the ball past midcourt on the inbounds attempt and that was regulation at 75-all.

Mississippi State had five more 3s and three less made free throws. Baylor had nine more rebounds.

Was there a missed point opportunity in there somewhere?

Oh my.

William took control. Mississippi State outscored Baylor, 19-10, had blown up their defensive average allowed by 34.

But first, Mississippi State won the tip.

Baylor twice fouled. Blair Schaefer hit two free throws.

Baylor missed a 3, Vivians hit one.

By the time 2:15 was left, Mississippi State had an 82-81 lead.

Then came the run that everyone in StarkVegas will forever swear they knew was coming.

William, of course, hit a 3. Vivians claimed a rebound, was fouled and hit both free throws.

William made four straight free throws, with a McCowan rebound in the middle of it.

McCowan got a steal and who else would you throw it to but William and she hit both free throws when fouled.

They repeated the process. William claimed the final rebound.

Baylor lost its third  Elite 8, the second in a row. Schaefer had won the coaching battle.

William had 14 3s all season. She was 6-of-8 this game. She was 9-of-10 from the line. She scored a career-best 41 points, with seven assists and no turnovers and even a block.

 It is the most NCAA points scored by any player in this program. She had 11 points total in the previous three games.

Try scouting Schaefer.

He told her to drive from the start. The plan worked.

She took her whole team along as passengers to the Final Four. Vivians scored 24, with six rebounds and six assists. The opposing coach sadly credited her with setting more screens than usual. Again, try scouting Schaefer. They caused 17 turnovers while committing four.

Mississippi State gets the winner of the Bridgeport Regional, to be contested Monday night.

“Oh my God is good!,”  said Schaefer. Another record win to go with a program-first Final Four.

“What an unbelievable effort by our kids,

“You talk about tough as nails.

“You talk about leadership.”

He paused to hug a crying point guard.

“How about this little one right here?

“She is my other daughter. They all are, but she more so because of what she has been through.”

William said through the tears: “This was for dad (on the three-year anniversary of his death).
“I just know coach Schaefer told us don’t go out there nervous, just play your game and that is what we did.”

William was the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional, of course. The vote could have been taken by acclamation.

“I’m honored and humbled to be here. So proud of my girls and our team. What a tremendous effort today. It took a gut-check, gut-wrenching performance by our kids today, and we delivered.

“I thought our kids were unflappable. I thought they were resilient. They showed tremendous toughness, a lot of character, and their heart. You have no idea what’s inside their breastplate, but you saw it today displayed firsthand.

“They just played with a tremendous amount of poise. Our point guard was as good as they get today. She put us on her back. She led us. She was obviously feeling it.

“Ran a couple different things for her. Just had to keep going back because they were having a hard time dealing with it. She wanted the ball.

“Thought Tori (Vivians) was back to herself today. I welcomed her to the party about midway through the third quarter. Told her that.

“It sure helps to have that out there on the perimeter, that big two guard that can get you a bucket, can rise up and jump over people.

“For our seniors, they believed in a vision when it wasn’t real easy to believe. I’m really happy for them. I know how hard they’ve worked. I know the blood, sweat and tears, the commitment they’ve put into this.

“I couldn’t be happier for them. I couldn’t be happier for our university, administration.

Tremendous basketball at Mississippi State. We’re seventh in the country in attendance and our administration supports these young ladies and gives them every opportunity to be successful.

They’re reaping the dividends, because these kids are doing everything that they’re supposed to do right now.

“I’m awfully proud of them. Giving God the glory for No. 33 (wins) today.”

William reiterated the coach led her success and that the inspiration of her dad looking down at her was more than enough.

“Just confidence,” she said. “I mean, I came out here early to shoot because I had issues the last couple games. I was feeling it. Coach let me make them. It opened shots for my teammates, too.

“When I was open, I knew I could knock down the shot. That really helped us from inside-out. It was just tough to guard us.”

As for her dad, “I mean, I was just using it as motivation. He’s the reason I am where I am today in basketball. He just did so much for me working out when I was younger. Everyone doubted me because of my height. Did so much work in the gym. For me to come out and do that, it’s amazing. I just wish he was here to see it.”

Vivians’ triumphant return as a prime time player led her to be self-deprecating.

“If you were on the court, you wouldn’t say I maintained my composure.

“I just tried to keep it together for my teammates because if the call didn’t go my way, another call would go our way on the other end. I just kept playing and knew we had to keep playing in order to win the game.

“It felt good. But mainly today I was really focused on my defense, because I knew our defense was going to win the game. Like Coach says, keep shooting, the shots will fall eventually. I was just mainly worried about my defense.”

William said the 24 lead changes kept everyone focused.

“I mean, that’s why it’s a game of runs. We live for moments like this, back-to-back lead changes.

“We just know we got to make a run when they make a run.

“Got to get stops in. Once we make our run, we got to get stops and keep running from there. I feel like we did that. We got a stop, and we kept executing. After that, we got a lead.”

Dominque Dillingham, a senior and sometime starter, came in at a critical span in the second half.

“I just knew I had to stay ready. I knew my time was going to come to play defense. So I just had to keep myself ready. I was just happy for my teammates. They played really well tonight.

“Coach needed a little more offense tonight. I’m completely fine with that. I was ready when my time was called. I was ready to play defense.”

They joined the nation in appreciating their point guard.

Dillingham: “I’m just so happy for her. I’m just so proud of her. I know she does it for her dad. I just feel so proud for her because I know how hard she worked for this moment.
“I know people doubt our team, but people doubt her as a point guard just because how small she is.

“They’re not that valid in that. I love the way she plays. She was just awesome tonight.

Breanna Richardson: “That was really good; basically same thing Dom said. We live and die by Morgan at times. So her and her point guard play, she just gets us going. We know when Morgan’s going, we’re all going.

“Just to see her come out, 6-of-8 from the 3, it was amazing. When you just see her going, we’re like, ‘Give her the ball. We can’t stop her, so just keep giving her the ball.’

“To see her have a game like this, it’s amazing. Like you say, everybody doubts us and they always doubt her. I just got to say congrats.”

Vivians: Well, I know tonight she got my assists up. I had six.”

Schaeffer interjected: “Career high,” and he laughed.”

She replied: “I’ll take that,” and she laughed.

“But I’m just proud of her. She can do this on any given night. You never know with her. If she’s in attack mode, she’s going and doing it. I am super proud of her. She’s my point guard. We’re together a whole ’nother year. I’m happy to have her.”

Schaeffer obviously will stick with his guards, evem of the others were taller.

“I thought even though (8-7) Kalani (Brown) went 11-of-13, and 5-11 senior Nina (Davis) was 7-of-11, I thought the game turned into a guard game toward the end of the half. I love my guards. I am not trading ‘em for anybody.

“I thought after watching them against Louisville in person, I thought we could do some things.

“You know, again, at some point I think you’ve got to learn to stop -- stop worrying about trying to guard somebody and try to figure out, OK, let’s just try to score more than they do.

“Boy, I thought we were really good offensively. It starts with Morgan. But it also starts with Tori making a couple shots early, because you can just see our team relax.

“When she’s taking good shots, -- she took a couple bad ones in the first half -- but just getting her back to the party. I mean, I did, I told her in the -- I think it was the second or third quarter, I said, ‘Welcome back to the party, baby. You’re playing good.’ It just relaxes the whole team when she plays like that.

“Morgan obviously was feeling it. I was running about three different things for her, just trying to mix it up so they couldn’t get comfortable with her.

“They had two different people on her.

“Every time we switched, she switched somebody on her. We went right back to the first play.

“Just tried to really be engaged offensively, hoped that we could get enough stops down the stretch.”

He touched again on William dealing her dad’s death before she was a freshman, before the program erupted

“ Well, obviously it was a tragic thing. It was sudden. I still remember where I was standing when I got the phone call. Her dad was so proud that she was coming to Mississippi State. I had just been with him at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. Like she said, he ate, drank and slept training her.

“You know, the three-year anniversary of his passing. I remember going to the funeral and all that, again, before she ever stepped foot on campus.

“It’s tough for her. That’s the kind of kid, though, she is. She appreciates everything that he done for her to get her to this point. You know, Morgan rooms with Blair (his daughter). She’s at my house probably more than anybody on the team. She’s very, very special to Holly and I.

“You know, she’s obviously very special to Blair. So it’s tough sometimes for kids. But I thought she bottled it up nicely today and really played to an audience of one.”

He again explained the benching of Vivians and her comeback.

“I think, again, nobody knows us better than the people in our league, Mo. 1. She gets everybody’s best defender, everybody’s best defensive game plan.

“But the other piece was, you know, we watched some film together one morning. We talked about good shot, bad shot, you’re running out of your shot here, stay in your shot.

“Sometimes it’s just as simple as, you know what, you’re making three out of 10, how about following your shot and go getting some of those misses? What that creates is a little more focus.

“If you tell somebody, ‘Go follow your shot every time you shoot it,’ now they tend to stay in their shot and they don’t tend to drift, they tend to follow it. “Now they stay with a good foundation. We talked about that a little bit.

“She’s been shooting it great in practice. Last four, five days, those kids were chomping at the bit to get back in the starting lineup. I knew yesterday I was going to do it, get them back in, so . . . .
“What a great day to get back in and play like they did.

“Again, all I’ve done is just tried to tell her, ‘Hey, you’re shooting it good. You shot it well today in practice. You’re making good decisions.’

“I think you’ve got to fill her head, anybody, you got to keep being positive with kids. I think that was the biggest thing with her, is just trying to stay positive with her.

“But at the same time, you know, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again if it is not working. Just trying to coach her, teach her, let her know the importance of getting her back.

“I told her before we left town, ‘Hey, we won’t win this weekend without you. We won’t win without you being an impact player.’

“But I’ve told y’all every press conference, I don’t worry about Tori. I’ve just seen her do it way too many times. She made that shot off the glass, I’ve seen her make a hundred of them. It’s not that she’s calling it, but I’ve still seen her make ’em.

“So, it doesn’t surprise me.”

He said the other switchout, at center was made with much acceptance by those players.

“Those two bigs, I try to rotate them in and out. I don't want them to get back-to-backs. Chinwe was starting earlier. Teaira came off the bench, she was SEC Six Player of the Year. Teaira has been playing better, so I've been starting her. I don't need Teaira in foul trouble. Those two good a little bit of yo-yo, so to speak. The rest of the kids, I don't think I pulled them as much as those two.

“Just trying to keep them in the game, impacting the game, is really big for us. Teaira obviously had a huge game for us on Friday.

“I knew Baylor was probably going to come after her a little bit today. They went right to her early and often, got a quick one on her. So that’s kind of the game I have to play with those two down there. That's two aircraft carriers that do a great job for us and have really impacted our team and our program.

“Those two have great chemistry. When one’s in, the other's out, they’re both cheering for each other. There's a lot of love between those two.”

Going forward, he knows a Final Four appearance is a marker every team wants. He was the well-credited defensive coach for Gary Blair when A&M won the national title in 2011.

“I do have a little experience of being with a national championship team. I know what it looks like. I knew what this looked like with this team. I’ve told them since Day 1, I thought they were a Final Four team. I thought they were good enough to win it.

“What it takes to get it to this level this quick is a tremendous commitment from your administration. We knew what 13-17 looked like that first season. We didn’t panic. We signed those four freshmen, though, before we ever played a game, because we might not have got them if they’d have seen us play that first year.

“At the same time, those kids, we went and got kids that could impact our program at that time, then we backed it up with a top-20 recruiting class. Since then we’ve had another top-20 recruiting class.

“But I tell you, the biggest key for me was Johnnie Harris coming with me. I couldn’t have done it without her. I wasn’t coming to Mississippi State without her. This would never have happened if she said, ‘Vic, I’m not going.’ That was the first thing.

“I’m smart enough to know I cannot do it by myself. I have to have a great staff. I have an unbelievable staff. Great role models, great coaches, great teachers of the game.

“What goes into it is a commitment and a love for kids that it’s got to be your every thought every day all day long. I mean, we’re in the kid business. “Sometimes you have to make decisions that have nothing to do with basketball, but if you really care about the kid, and that’s first and foremost with us, I think those are the things you have to do.

“My staff deserves so much credit, so much credit, for where we are today, what we’re doing with these young ladies.

“Again, I think, just like Geno would tell you, it’s the quality of the young ladies that we have, their character, what they’re made of, what’s inside their breastplate.

“That’s the piece that is hard to get to know when you’re recruiting. That’s the piece that I want my staff to get to know before we ever make a commitment to a young lady.

“We got to make sure they’re committed like we are because nobody works harder in the country than my staff, I promise you.

“Praise the Lord and Go ’Dogs!”

Attendance, 3,128, easily outdrew Notre Dame’s 2,537 at Lexington, The NCAA selectors decided to not send an SEC team to an SEC site and this is what happens.

 Once they placed Kentucky as a No. 4 courtesy seed in Lexington, no other league team can be seeded higher.

In a final note: The win ensures two No. 1 seeds were made incorrectly. It also assures at least one team coached by a man who was not a No. 1 seed advances for the second straight season.

Someday, it is hoped, the Selection Committee will look at facts rather than convenience.

Stockton Regional
No. 1 South Carolina (30-4), vs. No. 3 Florida State (28-6)

The Gamecocks will take on the Seminoles in a Regional final for the second time in three seasons.

Florida State ended its season with two losses, a blowout at Notre Dame and an edging by Miami in the opener of the ACC tournament.

In their semifinal, they shut down Oregon State senior star Sydney Wiese. She was 0-for-10 from 3land after setting conference records in 3s.

In that semifinal win, Florida State came from a 21-4 deficit to win by 13. The semifinals drew 4,500, second to UConn’s 8,830.

Shakayla Thomas leads at 15.2 points per game. Senior guard Leticia Romero is at 12.3. Imani Wright is at 10.8

But their emotional leader is 6-1 senior Ivey Slaughter. She is the leading rebounder and free-throw scorer.

In the semifinal, she ignited the second-half surge, almost completing the improbable triple in points (11), rebounds (8) and steals (9).

They lead opponents in rebounds by 10 per game. They score 79 and allow 58, a mirror of South Carolina’s 77 and 56.

Defense once again will rule.

Guru's NCAA: UConn? Yes and Oregon Meet in a Battle of Dueling Cinderellas

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – For different reasons the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Bridgeport Regional championship Monday night at Webster Bank Arena is a tale of dueling Cinderellas fighting to land a spot in this weekend’s Women’s Final Four in Dallas.

One has a mean competitive veneer and managed to use the Cinderella brand because for the first time in a long time way back in the fall instead of being everybody’s smart money favorite to win it all, Connecticut, with the departure of who became the 1-2-3 overall picks in the WNBA draft, headed by the super talented Breanna Stewart, was perceived to be headed for some re-tooling.

But almost from the outset, the players who were in the shadows such as sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, juniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, and senior Saniya Chong have been a committee with each having their special moments to accelerate the Huskies’ acclaim, not diminish it.

Consider that this unit heads into Monday night’s showdown unbeaten on the season at 35-0 and extending a run of perfection to 110-0 to shatter UConn’s previous NCAA streak of 90.

Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, widely praised for doing his best job this season considering the roster, has now tied the late Tennessee coaching legend Pat Summitt with 112 overall NCAA tourney wins, which transforms to his record alone with one more triumph Monday night.

Tossing aside UConn’s ongoing perfect domination of the American Athletic Conference since its formation four years ago out of the rubble of the old Big East, the Huskies have also knocked down such national stalwarts as Florida State, Baylor, Ohio State, South Carolina, DePaul, Maryland, Texas and Notre Dame this season.

Auriemma has called this round in the past the most difficult in the tournament, even more than any of the two final steps under the Women’s Final Four, yet despite some thrillers over the years UConn brings a 12-game win streak in Elite Eight games and a 17-5 record overall playing at this round on the way to a men’s or women’s NCAA record 11 championships, including the last four in a row.

Asked at Sunday’s press conference who might be the deal maker this game on Monday, Auriemma was stumped in naming the likely star of stars to get UConn to the American Airlines Arena for Friday night’s semifinal games.

“If you had asked me last year, it would be easy for the most part,” Auriemma said. “I’ve got three guys to pick, for the most part, and one you know, for the most part.

“But I don’t know, this year it’s been kind of different. I mean, it’s like Napheesa has been pretty constant. Lou has been pretty constant, Kia has been amazing this tournament.
“And then Gabby is just – some games she’s the complete difference maker, in spite of all the other players. And then (Saturday against UCLA) it was Saniya,” he observed.

“I really don’t know. I wish I could tell you tell you, yeah, these two guys are. But I’m watching Notre Dame play Stanford and the kid from Notre Dame has 21 in the first half.

“You want somebody tomorrow to go, yeah, I got this. Whether it’s on our team or their team, it’s probably going to happen. But as to who it’s going to be, I don’t know. I don’t know. Hopefully, it’s not just one. It’s a couple of them.”

That brings us to the other Cinderella, or one might say, the true Cinderella.

That would be 10th-seeded Oregon (23-13), rebuilt in three seasons by former Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves to making the Ducks advance to their first Sweet 16 and now Elite Eight.

Oddly, a year ago, another Pac-12 squad Washington made it to its first Final Four on a run shaking off a challenge from Ivy League champion Penn to get going on a four-hop sweep  to Indianapolis.

This time, Oregon took the first round stopping another Philly Big Five team in seventh-seeded Temple, 71-70, at the last second, at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, then beat the second-seeded Blue Devils in a true road game to get here and on Saturday stunned third-seeded Maryland to get to Monday night hours before the Oregon men’s team advanced to its first Final Four.

In a change of pace enhancing the Cinderella from the Northwest, the Ducks are doing it with three freshmen in the starting lineup highlighted by the sensational Sabrina Ionescu.

Playing UConn, the gold standard in women’s basketball, has been the dream of many a hoopster besides the ones who look to the future to actually one day wear the uniform of the Blue and White.

Oregon on this path has become an unknown for the Huskies and the Ducks embrace the concept of going after what would be one of the all-time upsets and coming in a tournament that already has several major ones.

“Yeah, what an exciting opportunity,” said junior Lexi Bando. “You know, for any athlete or competitor, this is what you live for. You want to play at the biggest stage against the best team. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.”

Added Ionescu, “Yeah, we’re excited for this opportunity, especially as a young group. I think it’s going to test us in many ways, and I think we’re just excited to see where we stand and get a shot at playing against the No. 1 team in the country.”

She has no problem describing the components that keep UConn at the top, especially this season.

“Well, their culture. They recruit great kids and kids that want to compete and kids that want to win. They don’t really have any knuckleheads on their team,” Ionescu noted.

“So I mean they have great culture, great kids, and Geno is one of a kind, so I think that definitely helps them in achieving what they have achieved thus far and what they’re going to achieve in the future.”

Even before taking the floor Monday night, the two teams considered the biggest threats to UConn going in when the bracket was announced two weeks ago have been taken down.

Just one day after Oregon eliminated Maryland on Sunday night second-seeded Mississippi State made it four straight times that Baylor has been unable to get past the Elite Eight.

Notre Dame blew a 16-point lead earlier Sunday and fell by a point to Stanford. The winner of Monday’s game will get Mississippi State in Dallas Friday night in the semifinals while Stanford sees the winner of Monday night’s Stockton Regional final between South Carolina and Florida State.

It’s possible that the championship will come down to a coaching duel of Philadelphians between Auriemma and his former Olympic assistant and now successor Dawn Staley and her South Carolina squad.

But Auriemma’s only concern at the moment is playing an Oregon squad Monday night that is more of an unknown than Maryland would have been.

“It’s good that we’re playing a team that we’ve not played and don’t know much about,” Auriemma said. “So there’s a little bit of a difference preparing for them than it would be, say if it was Maryland or somebody else we had already played during the year.

“So that should be fun the next couple of days. We’re looking forward to it.”

Auriemma and Graves have their own mutual admiration society with Auriemma saying Graves was the right hire to get Oregon on the way to becoming in the national mix.

As for Graves, “It’s going to take our absolute best,”: he said of playing the Huskies. “There’s no doubt about it, and we’ve got to play for 40 minutes. You know watching them play and what Coach Auriemma has done is incredible. It truly is.

“I think they’ve set a standard that is good for our sport. You know, I hear people say all the time, oh, their dominance isn’t good for the sport. Really? I think it’s great for the sport. It makes us all accountable. We need to get better. We’ve got to improve our game.

“Listen, I’m going to go out and say, he’s the best coach in basketball, male, female, men’s basketball, women’s basketball. He’s just absolutely phenomenal, what he does, and how he motivates and coaches, and it’s going to be an honor to play tomorrow, and that being said, I hope I kick his butt.”

After UCLA went down to UConn on Saturday, Bruins coach Cori Close was asked what her Pac-12 rival Oregon folks need to do to have a shot Monday night playing the Huskies.

“The good news is March, you have to have great guard play,” Close said. “They have great guard play. Oregon has great guard play.

“They’re going to have to read the screen and roll really well, handle all those switches. There’s not a mismatch. A lot of times when people switch as well as they do, there’s a mismatch you can exploit. I think that’s going to be harder.

“They’re going to have to shoot the three well. They have to get enough stops that they can play up-tempo and shoot the three. I think they’re going to have to trade some threes and twos.

“Their kids, they don’t know they’re young. I’ve been watching them grow all year long. They just love playing together. It’s going to be a tall challenge, but I’m excited to watch them compete.”

Guru's NCAA: Geno Calls the Elite Eight the Most Difficult -- Not All the Time as This Recap Proves

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Throughout his Halls of Fame career and the growth to women’s basketball dominance of the Connecticut program, coach Geno Auriemma has called the Elite Eight Regional Final Game that leads to the Women’s Final Four the most difficult round of the NCAA tourney.

It’s even more so than win or lose the action at the two ensuing stops afterwards that successfully handled results in a national championship.

“We’re in a game that we want to be in, obviously,” he said Sunday afternoon at Webster Bank Arena looking to Monday Night’s Bridgeport Regional Final against upstart Oregon that leads to this weekend’s national championship action in Dallas.

“It’s a game everybody wants to be in. It’s the last step, really, where every kid wants to be. Every kid wants to be in the Final Four. It’s what they talk about when they go to college, playing  in the Final Four.

“So the day before the game an d all day tomorrow is probably the most stressful time. The actual game itself is fun to play in.”

Overall, Auriemma has guided the Huskies to 17-5 in this round, and 11 of those 17 wins that allowed advancement resulted in an NCAA men’s or women’s record 11 championships, though this time based on preseason projections could be the most surprising of all measured to the outlook months ago but not recently with another unbeaten run to glory looming ahead.

Here’s a look back at the UConn Elite Eight hsitory.

1991 – UConn 60, Clemson 57 at The Palestra in Philadelphia. It was a surprise homecoming for Auriemma’s first appearance at the level after favored Penn State had gone down in an earlier round at home to James Madison and the Huskies advanced to his hometown when a shot at the buzzer was waved off for Toledo at the previous round at home in Storrs.

The Huskies went down to Virginia, where Auriemma at been an assistant coach, in the semifinals but he became a new national personality in women’s circles attracting the media with his endless supply of dry wit and other quaotable comments.

The game in Philly against Clemson was in the balance most of the day until it broke in UConn’s direction.

1994 – North Carolina 81, UConn 69 at the Louis Brown Arena (Rutgers) in Piscataway, N.J. This Sweet 16 could have changed the Huskies storyline somewhat had not Vanderbilt lost to the Tar Heels in the previous round on a blown layup because though playing against Auriemma’s good friend Jim Foster, who hired him as an assistant when Foster took the Saint Joseph’s job in Philadelphia, would have been tough emotionally, UConn had enough to top the Commodores. But against the Tar Heels, Tonya Sampson whipped Jen Rizzotti around like a rag doll all afternoon and UNC went on to win it all on Charlotte Smith’s three-point shot against Louisiana Tech at the buzzer.

1995 – UConn 67, Virginia 63 at Harry Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. – It was the magical year well before the Huskies went on to replace Tennessee as the Darth Vander of women’s basketball. The bid to host had been made well before UConn developed into a force to be one of the teams in the region title game. But at the half his former boss Debbie Ryan had the Cavaliers poised to spoil the expected fun in Minneapolis, leading at the half and in the game until the Huskies broke through in the closing minutes and go on to win their first title with their first unbeaten records.

1996 – UConn 67, Vanderbilt 57 at Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Ill. At the arena in the shadows of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, this time Auriemma finally met up with Foster’s Commodores and pretty much controlled the night but Tennessee finally got its revenge for the previous season when the Lady Vols topped UConn in a tremendous national semifinal game 88-83 in overtime in Charlotte, N.C.

1997 – Tennessee 91, UConn 81 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa – The belief was the committee set a draw to put both teams on a collision course earlier in the tourney to change the complexion of the Final Four. The Huskies came into the game in trouble with future Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Kara Wolters sidelined with an injury and the Vols took advantage to move on to an eventual title, made possible by an Old Dominion upset of favored Stanford in the semifinals.

1998 – N.C. State 60, UConn 52 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Huskies were again shorthanded through injuries though the fact that Wolfpack coach Kay Yow was advancing with the win made everyone in the sport happy to see her get that far. But that year Tennessee had the super team that went unbeaten so the Huskies would have been a strong underdog in Kansas City.

2000 – UConn 86, LSU 71 at ALLTEL Pavilion in Richmond, Va. – It was little difficulty beating a team coached by another legend in Sue Gunter and it was on to the homecoming party for Geno in Philadelphia and a win over Tennessee in the finals at then-called First Union Center.

2001—UConn 67, LaTech 48 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. – Again, not much stress here and the Huskies were poised to win another title until in a rare moment in her career after UConn held a sizable halftime lead against Big East rival Notre Dame freshman Diana Taurasi imploded in the second half in the national semifinal in Savvis Center in Saint Louis, Mo., and the Irish ralled and then went on to beat Purdue for their only title.

2002 – UConn 85, Old Dominion 64 in U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, Wis. --  Little problem beating the former dominant Lady Monarchs and it was on to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas., where the Huskies romped over Tennessee in the semifinals and then in a competitive game took control late to beat an up and coming Oklahoma program 82-70 for the first of three straight titles.

2003 – UConn 73, Purdue 64 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. – The score is not necessarily refective of the outcome and then it was on to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta where a stirring comeback late in the semifinals dispatched Texas, 711-69, and then a closely fought 73-68 win over Tennessee in another national showdown with the Lady Vols.

2004 – UConn 66, Penn State 49 at Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Conn. – The Lady Lions weren’t happy to be in this bracket against the Huskies, rather than wanting to be on a different path to get to the finals before facing the Huskies. Auriemma’s group got to New Orleans and kept dancing through Minnesota and again Tennessee to send Taurasi’s farewell to college ball out in a joyous occasion with a third straight title.

2006 – Duke 63, UConn 61, overtime at the Arena at Harbor Yard (now known as Webster Bank)  at Bridgeport, Conn. The Huskies had their chances and one of the Elite Eight games given.at least a 50-50 chance to win that a missed shot at the finish allowed the Blue Devils to move on to nearby Boston where they got victimized in overtime by the ten-ACC rival Maryland bunch in the championship.

2007 – LSU 73, UConn 50  at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. – Not much to say here as the Huskies were a heavy underdog and underwhelming they stayed. The Tigers went on to lose to Rutgers in the semifinals who lost to the Candace Parker-led Tennessee gtroup in the championship.

2008 – UConn 66, Rutgers 56 at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. – The Big East rival Scarlet Knights, unhappy to be in the same regional, took a big lead in the first half and then the Huskies rallied and took control only to suffer the consequences of missing two stars injured earlier and thus exploited in the national semifinal in Tampa, Fla., by Stanford, who then lost to Tennessee.

2009 – UConn 83, Arizona State 64 at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J. – Not too far from home the Huskies had an easy time of it on the way to beating Stanford and Big East rival Louisville in Saint Louis to complete the first of two unbeaten back-to-back seasons.

2010 – UConn 90, Florida State 50 at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio – Another easy time before moving on to whipping Baylor in the national semifinal in San Antonio before struggling in the first half against Stanford until Maya Moore took over in the second half on the way to a second straight unbeaten season.

2011 – UConn 75, Duke 40 at Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Pa. – Another Philly homecoming and easy time on Temple’s campus before being bedeviled by Big East rival Notre Dame in the national semifinal.

2012 – UConn 80, Kentucky 65 at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. – An easy win to advance to the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., where once again Notre Dame short-circuited the Huskies in the semifinals.

2013 – UConn 83, Kentucky 53 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. -- The Wildcats were taken down again easy and it was on to New Orleans where the overall favorite Baylor was missing, having been taken down by Louisville, who then lost to the Huskies in the championship to start the four-for-four march of freshman Breanna Stewart and friends.

2014 – UConn 69, Texas A&M 54 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb.  – Another easy time in the Elite Eight and on to Nashville, Tenn., where the current long range win streak was being cobbled as now Notre Dame of the ACC was taken down in the championship in the first-ever battle of the unbeaten teams in the championship.

2015 – UConn 91, Dayton 70  at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. – Don’t let this outcome totally fool you because the Flyers held a halftime lead before the Huskies took over and then moved on to consecutive title No. 3 beating Notre Dame again for the championship but this time in Tampa.

2016 – UConn 86, Texas 65 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. – Another easy time and on to Indianapolis where a surprise opponent in former Big East rival Syracuse, now in the ACC, showed up in the title game to fall as Stewie completed the Four-for-Four deal.

2017 – UConn vs Oregon ??? At Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. – The two biggest threats to a not-anticipated unbeaten season have been removed in Maryland and Baylor by others doing the dirty work for the Huskies. So how does this round turn out. Will it be 13 straight. Stay tuned.

Guru's WNIT Report: Villanova Tops Indiana to Reach Semifinals

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

A year ago it was Jay Wright and the Villanova men’s team achieving postseason greatness with the NCAA title.

Now it’s Harry Perretta and the Wildcats’ women’s team doing some amazing things.

On Sunday afternoon Perretta’s group playing its fourth straight road game in the WNIT made it to the national semifinals at the Final Four level beating host Indiana 69-57 in Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

The Wildcats (20-14), getting to a 20 win season for the fifth straight time, did what they do best when they are on the mark to do it and that is to shoot the 3-ball to overcome other deficiencies.

On Sunday ‘Nova rode its way to Wednesday’s semifinal game at Michigan in Ann Arbor while the other semifinal after Sunday’s games will have Georgia Tech, a 76-66 winner over visiting Alabama, meeting Washington State, a 74-66 winner over host Iowa.

Oddly, there was a thought Perretta’s bunch could be this good this season but it is a young group and unlike some other freshmen tandems who have succeeded in the NCAA tournament, this one has taken time to grow out in Philadelphia’s Main Line in the western suburbs.

With some doubt that Villanova might not have been taken as an at-large team at 16-14 this time, such is the nature that builds the WNIT 64-team field, that once third place but Big East tournament champion Marquette, top-seed off regular season champion DePaul and second seed and co-regular season champion Creighton went to the NCAA, the Wildcats in a fourth-place tie with Saint John’s but the fourth-place team with a season sweep of the Red Storm became the official official conference automatic qualifier to the WNIT field.

Once in the bracket, Villanova opened with a win at Ivy runnerup Princeton, then across town at at-large entry Drexel, coached by Wildcats alumna Denise Dillon, whose team won the 2013 WNIT, and then at difficult Colonial Athletic Association automatic qualifier James Madison in overtime and into Indiana for Sunday’s fourth-straight road win.

At Michigan on Wednesday there will be a bit of a reunion in that Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico used to go against Perretta and the Wildcats when she coached at Saint John’s in the old Big East.

Two rounds ago, Arico and the Wolverines eliminated Saint John’s coached by her successor and former assistant Joe Tartamella.

Villanova started with a sizzling attack from beyond the arc as sophomore more guard Jannah Tucker was 4-for-5, sophomore guard Adrianna Hahn was 3-for-7, junior guard Alex Louin was 2-for-3, and junior center Megan Quinn was 1-for-2 making the team 10-for-17 and overall 15-for-28 from the field for a 41-30 at the break.

A defensive stand in the third quarter enabled the Hoosiers (23-11) to move within seven points by the end of the third quarter at 47-40.

Twice in the final period the Hoosiers moved within four points, the second at 51-47 with 6 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation.

Then Quinn scored inside for the Wildcats and a six-point lead before both teams were unable to score the next two minutes.

A trey from Louin made it a nine-point lead with 4:47 left in regulation.

The Hoosiers then got it back to within four again Amber Deane hit a trey and Tyra Buss scored to make it 56-52 the Wildcats still in front with 2:56 left in regulation.

Louin off an out of bounds play scored to make it 58-52 with 2:10 left and then she hit 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession and Villanova led 59-52.

The Wildcats held the Hoosiers scoreless the next possession and then got the ball with 1:02 left.

Villanova then ballooned the lead in the final minute going a perfect 10-for-10 from the line in the last minute with Louin getting six of the points.

Tucker, who shot 6-for-13 from the field, scored 19 points, while Louin had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists; and Hahn scored 13 points. Senior Samantha Wilkes helped keep her career alive with six rebounds and four blocks to shore up the Villanova defense.

Buss had a game-high 21 points for the Hoosiers, Deane scored 12, and Cahill 10.

Villanova, now 15-9 in the WNIT, moves to its first semifinal game, and will take a perfect 2-0 record this season over Big 10 schools against the Wolverines, a third member of the conference.

Tucker has scored a combined 41 points her last two games heading to Michigan.

Meanwhile, in the Georgia Tech victory, the Yellowjackets (21-14), now with the most wins since collecting 26 in 2012, moved to their first semifinal since 1992 as five players scored in double figures in the home win inside McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.

The winners led by as many as 24 points over the Crimson Tide () and will host Washington State on Wednesday.

Elo Edeferioka scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Alabama, while Antonia Peresson and Kaylan Pugh scored 12 points each and Francesca Pan scored 10.

In losing to visiting Washington State (16-19), a talented team which got decimated by injuries but because of the high number of Pac-12 squads in the NCAA earned the WNIT conference AQ, host Iowa (20-14) got 19 points and 15 rebounds from Megan Gustafson, 16 points from Ally Disterhoft, and 11 from Kathleen Doyle at home in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Alexys Swedlund got a game high 20 points for Washington State, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou had a double double of 13 points and 11 rebounds while Caila Hailey also had a double double for the Cougars with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Ivana Kmetovska scored 14 points.

In the season-ending loss for Alabama (22-14), in which the Tide had their best win total since 1997-98, Shaquera Wade scored 15 points, Ashley Williams scored 13 and grabbed 13 rebounds, Jordan Lewis scored 13, and Hannah Cook scored 11.

“We have a lot to build on, a lot to be proud of and a lot to move forward with in the future,” said Kristy Curry, whose previous coaching stops were at Texas Tech and Purdue.

Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph, a former Purdue star, said, “I thought everyone stepped up and played their role. I’m just really pleased with the development and growth of this team.”

Rice Tops UNC-Greensboro 74-62 to Win Women’s Basketball Invitational

Former Maryland assistant Tina Langley has led Rice (22-13) to its first ever postseason title in winning the WBI in events not involving conference tournaments.

“I’m so tremendously happy for our seniors to be able to go out with a championship,” she said of the Conference USA school.

Maya Hawkins scored 17 points in becoming the MVP of the eight-team tourney played on home courts with Rice winning at its Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston and during the title game she became the 17th player in the program to reach 1,000 points for a career.

Jasmine Goodwine scored 13 and finished her career with 1,211 as Rice tied the 2000 and 2004 squads for second most wins in a season.

The Spartans finished at 20-15, collecting their most wins since the 2006-07 season.

UNCG senior Shanese Harris scored 20 for the team coached by Trina Patterson.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Guru's NCAA: Oregon Stuns Maryland While UConn Stops UCLA

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

BRIDGEPORT, Conn.  – Cancel the expected drama many were looking forward to happening here Monday at the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Bridgeport Regional at Webster Bank Arena.

A major threat to the University of Connecticut’s run to a fifth straight NCAA title and ongoing record win streak has been replaced by an unknown threat.

The overall top-seeded Huskies, as expected, got to the Elite Eight round and gateway to next weekend’s Women’s Final Four at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas by beating fourth-seeded UCLA 86-71 in the second game of Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader.

But third-seeded Maryland, a position handed by the NCAA committee at the outset in the 64-team draw that was considered low by many observers, became the latest to be stunned by the happy-go-lucky 10th-seeded Oregon squad, 77-63, as the youthful Ducks (23-13) advance from their first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance to making their debut as a regional finalist.

“I continue to be amazed by this team,” said third-year coach Kelly Graves, who previously built Gonzaga into a national force and also led the Zags as a double digit seed into an Elite Eight stage of the tournament.

“You know, just the fact that over the last five days we went cross-country twice, had final exams, played a great team – three great teams in this tournament,” Graves continued.

“And you know, they continue to show poise down the stretch, and I’ll tell you it’s just impressive to watch. We continue to get better and better as a basketball team. We’re excited to move on.”

Oregon got started with escaping seventh-seeded Temple 71-70, stopping the Owls on the last play, a week ago at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., and then in what was essentially a true road game took down the second-seeded Blue Devils 74-65.

“I’ll tell you this, Oregon is for real,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, after her Terrapins (32-3) got short circuited from getting a second shot at the UConn squad they barely lost to at home 87-81 in late December. “I thought they were sensational. I thought they punched first. I thought they were fearless, aggressive, confident, really pushed us in terms of any mistakes, any breakdowns that we would have.”

In a matchup of two of the nation’s top freshmen, both guards, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu easily came out ahead of Maryland’s Destiny Slocum, scoring a game-high 21 points, shooting 7-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-5 on three-point attempts, a perfect 4-for-4 on the line, while grabbing six rebounds and dealing seven assists.

Slocum scored nine points, shot 3-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-1 on the long-range blanks attack that had the entire Maryland squad going 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“We’re blessed to be in this position,” said Ionescu, one of three freshmen starters for the Ducks along with Ruthy Hebard and 6-foot-5 Mallory McGwire. “And I think we’re excited about everything. No one’s been here. None of our kids have ever experienced anything like that.

“So I think we’re just excited to be able to play another day and see where that takes us.”

One person not surprised at Oregon’s run is the coach of the Ducks’ Monday night opponent, Hall of Fame Connecticut mentor Geno Auriemma.

“I’m not even the least bit surprised at what they’re doing,” he said following the Huskies’ win over the Bruins. “Not even a little bit.

“I remember when Kelly got the job. I told everybody in the coaching profession, I said, `They’re going to be in the Final Four sooner than anybody thinks.

“As I said earlier today, it better not be this soon. But they’re going to be there because he’s a hell of a coach. You can recruit pretty good players to Oregon. He’s done that.

“They are a really, really good team. If you got really good guards, you can have a really good team. They’ve got some pretty good guards.”

Behind Ionescu’s performance, Hebard scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds with three steals. Maite Cazorla had 15 points, shooting 5-for-9 from the field; Lexi Bando had 10 points and Oti Gildon, off the bench when McGwire had her fourth foul, had 11 points.

“It felt great,” said Gidon, who also had nine rebounds and four steals. “Coming off the bench, I had to make sure I did whatever I needed to do for the team, which was defense and rebounding, so I just had to make sure I kept doing that.”

Maryland’s two all-Americans, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker Kimbrough, each scored 16 points, but Walker-Kimbrough’s came late for the most part, while Brianna Fraser, a sophomore, had 10 off the bench.

The game was close early when most of the 14 lead chances occurred, as well as one tie.

Hebard’s layup with 7:34 left in the first half, grabbed the lead back from the Big 10 champions, and Oregon held it for the rest of the game with Ionescu’s trey with 30 seconds left in the half making it a 36-27 nine-point advantage.

A Slocum layup with 5:26 left in the third got the Terrapins within three at 40-37 but Oregon answered with a 7-0 run for a 10-point lead that grew to 14 just before the end of the period before Maryland got two back.

Oregon rebuilt the 14-point advantage with 5:06 left in the game at 69-55 but Maryland fought back to within six with 3:19 left in the game at 69-63 but it would be the last points the Terrapins scored on the season.

“I thought we pressed early,” Frese said of Maryland’s offensive struggle. “They took the air out of the ball, which was really a smart move by them. We’ve seen that in the past but we didn’t handle it well at all.

“Then it felt like every time we would get it to within six points, we would have some sort of breakdown, whether it was off an O board, whether it was a defensive stop, then they would break it back open.”

 Ionescu quickly countered with a jumper, sending Oregon on the way to closing with an 8-0 flurry.

“You know, like I just told the team in the locker room, I’m not going to let one game define the season we had this year, and I’m pretty proud of this team and everything we’ve been through,” Frese said.

“Most proud of our seniors. You know, 125 career wins, they leave with six conference titles, two Final Fours, and everything they mean to Maryland for us.”

The Terrapins total was their lowest of the season.

“I just think it was one of those days,” Slocum said. “We were clicking on offense, things were just – we kind of lost our game, and I think even though it was a low scoring game, we were trying our best, doing anything we could. I don’t think there’s really an answer for it.”

But Walker-Kimbrough noted, “Their defense was pretty good, making my shot difficult. I credit the defense, their defense.”

Oregon is in the tournament for the first time since 2005, a 12-year gap.

“I thought Oregon likened to our 2006 championship team,” Frese said. “They’re confident and really disciplined and make you pay for your mistakes.”

Oregon has the tallest lineup in the country and one that held Maryland to 27 points under the Terrapins’ scoring average, highest in the country.

Bruins Felled as UConn Returns to the Elite Eight

With 4:28 left in the first quarter of the nightcap the score was tied 11-9 as UCLA was threatening to make it a Pac-12 sweep to add to the semi-monopolization the conference held with five teams in the Sweet 16 heading into the weekend.

Then UConn did what UConn does going on a lengthy 13-2 run the rest of the period for a 22-13 advantage.

The Huskies then kept it going into the next period for combined 28-7 explosion after Katie Lou Samuelson’s layup and the differential would reach 20 in the final minute before Paulina Hersler’s triplet reduced it slightly to 17 as the break arrived with UConn in front 48-31.

The Bruins (25-9) then stabilized it which was good but didn’t do much to reduce the deficit with UConn up by 20 at 60-40 with 4:29 left in the third period.

That was enough in the Huskies scoring account to withstand a UCLA ensuing rally that cut the lead to 12 points before it settled at 13 at 65-52 with 10 minutes left in the game.

The Huskies got it back up to 20 at 76-56 with 6:15 left in the game before one more Bruins rally cut it to 12 with 2:01 left.

But that would be the high water mark of a UCLA late-game insurgency as UConn (35-0) closed it out 6-3 the rest of the way for a final tally of 86-71 and it was on to the Elite Eight for the 12th straight time.

That led to the current immediate postgame notes update activity as the UConn records continued to roll.

Among them, the overall extending unbeaten streak dating back to 2014 now stands at 110 straight while the triumph in NCAA competition became 112, tying Auriemma with the late Tennessee Hall of Famer Pat Summitt.

It’s the second straight year that UCLA’s season ended here but the first that UConn was the final opponent with Texas having won the previous closeout.

“Well, you know, credit to UConn,” said Bruins coach Cori Close afterwards. “They are so consistent in their standard of excellence.

“I thought we were prepared. I thought we believed in what we were doing. We just had that segment in the first half for about eight minutes where we sort of lost our focus and our discipline,” she continued.

“When you lose that, they capitalize. So credit to them. They’ve set the bar of excellence and they’ve kept it there for a really long time. It’s just a really big commitment to all the little details, a lot of the little inches.”

Four Huskies scored in double figures with Napheesa Collier having the super night with 27 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. Gabby Williams added 17 points and nine rebounds while off the bench senior Saniya Chong, many times the unheralded Husky, had 16 points, while Katie Lou Samuelson scored 15. Kia Nurse had nine points while shooting 3-of-4 on three-pointers, a category of which Chong shot 4-of-6.

Junior Jordin Canada had 20 points and 11 assists for UCLA, while Monique Billings scored 17, and senior Kari Korver, a cousin of NBA player and former 76er Kyle Korver, scored 15 in her final game of her collegiate career.

Korver was Close’s first key recruiting signee after the former Florida State assistant’s hire in 2011 that eventually with UCLA’s first ranking under Close made her one of what is now 35 women to play and coach on a team ranked in the Associated Press women’s poll.

Close captained the 1992 UC Santa Barbara squad that made the final poll for its first appearance and last until several years later but nonetheless qualifies Close for the special mention.

With Korver’s last game, the marking brought a bit of Auld Lang Syne emotion to Close’s postgame remarks.

“..I don’t want it to end,” Close said. “I just love these young women. These guys, I mean, (nodding toward Korver), this little kid from L.A. said, ‘Hey, I want to stay home. I want to build a program, take a risk, do something special.’ We fell short, but that’s exactly what she’s done.

“Kari Korver, she was one of my first phone calls within my first week when I got the job. She believed in our mission, not just on the court. We do things a little differently at UCLA. She believed in it before it bore fruit on the court.”

Asked what caused things to change from UCLA holding UConn under control in the opening minutes until things suddenly got out of hand, Korver said, “I think we didn’t rebound particularly well. We had a 10-minute stretch where we didn’t get any rebounds. They had a bunch of transition threes where we weren’t getting matched up very well.

“They had second-hand points. They hit threes in transition.”

Canada agreed with her teammate, adding, “We also had some mental lapses in the second quarter. That’s when they went on their run.

“For a second, we kind of looked defeated. That’s when they capitalized on their opportunities to score in transition and get offensive rebounds. I think it was just our lack of focus.”

Chong’s performance became the attention-getter afterwards in postgame questions to both Close and Auriemma.

“That didn’t surprise me,” Close said. “You can’t do a good job on just one or two players with Connecticut. You have to do a phenomenal A-plus job on the team. I’ve watched her a lot on film. She did a great job all year long for them.

"Didn't surprise me at all. It's never about the individual. It’s always about the team. I think she was just ready when her number was called and her opportunity came.”

Auriemma also praised his older player.

“Today, the effort and play of Saniya, I thought it was the difference in the game,” he said. “You know what you’re going to get from those other guys. They did what they always do, for the most part.

“Saniya made some big plays, some big shots. She’s as good now as she can be. It’s at the perfect time in her career. I mean, she’s a senior. Sometimes it never happens. I’m really thrilled for her that it’s happening. She deserves it. She’s hung in there,” he said.

“This year, it’s all kind of fallen into place for her,” Auriemma said after noting how much Ching struggled her first three seasons. “She deserves it. She’s worked very hard. She deserves it.”

AS for how the game went, Auriemma said, “…today it was a struggle for us. Even when we got up 20, I didn’t think it was like being up 20 against someone else, where you know it’s going to go from 20 to 30. I never had that feeling.

“It was a grind for our guys. We felt it a bit in the fourth quarter.”

As for the youthful next opponent on Monday night that is the last hurdle on going back to the Final Four again, Auriemma said, “They were too young to know any better. They didn’t realize they’re suppose to be, like nervous. They don’t realize this is suppose to be really hard, you know.

“You’re not supposed to just walk into the NCAA tournament and just start beating teams with three freshmen in the starting lineup, and a freshman point guard.”

As to how Maryland went down, making the youthfulness attitude from Oregon becoming the unknown factor, as opposed to what was expecting to be a strong challenge from the Terrapins, Auriemma said, “Sometimes the pressure that teams put on you by scoring, and I think that’s what they did to Maryland today, they would come down and get a bucket, and Maryland would miss, then they would come down and run 28 seconds off the shot clock, get another bucket, and Maryland would come down and miss. After a while the pressure to have to score gets to the kids.

“I don’t know if we can defend (Oregon) on Monday. I really don’t. We’ll come up with something. But this time of year, I want to try to get to 90 and take my chances. I don’t wwant to try to win games 65-60. That’s probably not going to work.”

Meanwhile, in the Stockton Regional, with top-seeded South Carolina putting down the Cinderella uprising of Quinnipiac 100-58, and third-seeded Florida State upsetting second-seeded Oregon State 66-53, the complete Elite Eight are set.

On Sunday, two of the Final Four will be determined with top-seeded and injured Notre Dame meeting second-seeded Stanford in the Lexington Regional at Noon before top-seeded Baylor meets second-seeded Mississippi State at 7:36 p.m.in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Monday night, as mentioned, Connecticut will meet Oregon here at 7:06 p.m. Before South Carolina and Florida State meet at 9:06 p.m. In the Stockton Regional in California.