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.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: No. 1 UConn Wins at Creighton to Clinch Big East Regular Season Crown

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

The title town of women’s collegiate basketball added another trophy to its huge collection Thursday night after No. 1 Connecticut ran over Creighton 81-49 in Omaha, Neb., to earn the Big East regular season crown in the Huskies’ return to the conference and first since 2011.

Overall, the total is 27 at this level, which includes the recent seven-year perfect run in the American Athletic Conference — the Huskies won all the AAC tourneys as well —.

About to next visit Butler in Hinkle Pavilion in Indianapolis on Saturday and then welcome Marquette at home Monday night to finish out the schedule, UConn is expected to win both and claim another unbeaten moniker attached to this title as well.

This now becomes the 28th straight year that the Huskies (19-1, 16-0 Big East) have claimed either conference regular season or tournament titles plus the record 11 NCAA national crowns. And, of course, many years it has been multiples but with acclaimed grandiose achievements, Hall of Fame UConn coach Geno Auriemma again noted afterwards, Thursday’s accomplishment still has meaning, especially for the freshmen.

That’s always goal No. 1,” he said. “That’s always the thing I think the players will respond to because it proves that you’re the best team in the league that you play in and you’re the best team against the peers that you compete against every day. We’re consistently in the hunt for that, we consistently put ourselves in that situation, and we’ve been fortunate enough to win it as many times we have.”

Shaking off slow starts in many of the early ongoing battles, the Huskies, whose only loss was a narrow one at nationally-ranked Arkansas, still beat all Big East foes by no less than 21 points.

Temi Carda had a game-high 24 points for Creigton.

Even with UConn past stars who went on to dominate in the WNBA such as Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Sue Bird, and more recently, Breanna Stewart, there are nights when others got to grab the spotlight.

On Thursday, against the Bluejays (7-10, 6-7), that person was newcomer Nika Muhl, who got 15 of her 19 points in the first quarter, shooting 6-for-8 from the field, also had five steals, three assists and three rebounds.

She also quickly nailed three from deep in five tries from the outset.

“She’s not afraid to shoot. She’s not afraid to take chances defensively. She pushes the tempo. She’s kind of an energy source. She’s been working on shooting the ball.”

Muhl’s celebrated backcourt co-newcomer Paige Bueckers scored 13, while Christyn Williams scored 16, and Olivia Nelson-Adoda had her fifth double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

“I was building my confidence a lot in practice the best few days, and they were leaving me quite wide open at the beginning of the game,” Muhl said. “So I just took the shots, had the confidence and my teammates had the confidence in me.”

This was another game in the recent weeks since getting extra rest that the decision could declare UConn elected after scoring 27 points in the first quarter and reaching the halftime break with a 42-21 lead.

Auriemma was ok with the defense scoring 24 points off 17-forced Creighton turnovers and a lopsided transition attack 20-8 in fast-break points.

Though Bueckers was just 5-for-12, way below her own expectations, she tossed nine assists and with six rebounds and four steals.

“For us to win further down the line, we’re going to have to step up and help her,” said Williams, who at the fourth stop of the five-game road trip, has now had four straight 15-plus games since her scoreless effort before the marathon slate of games away from Gampel Pavilion on campus began. “We can’t leave her by herself and I take that personally because as a junior, I’m supposed to be helping.”

Auriemma picked up his 1,110th victory, second in the nation to Division I women’s record-holder Tara VanDerveer at Stanford at 1,115. The Cardinal finish their regular season Sunday playing Bay-area rival California and having already locked up the regular season PAC-12 title.

The late Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt had the previous record at 1,098 when she retired in 2012 battling Alzheimer's Disease thar claimed her life several years later.

VanDerveer set the new mark in early December with Auriemma moving into second place in late January.

No. 3 Texas A&M-No. 5 South Carolina SEC Showdown Set: The showdown for the regular-season Southeastern Conference title on Sunday was set with what will be the host Aggies winning 73-67 at Alabama, while the Gamecocks downed Ole Miss 68-43 at home in Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.

Had not South Carolina been upset by Tennessee a week ago, Dawn Staley’s squad would already hold an upper hand long-range with a perfect conference record but with A&M getting a win would produce a tie and thus still Sunday’s winner gets the top seed for the SEC tourney the following weekend.

In Thursday’s game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Texas A&M (21-1, 19-1 SEC) ran its series record on the Tide (15-7, 8-7) to 10-1 and 5-0 in Alabama’s arena.

A triumph Sunday would be the first regular season title in the SEC and overall since claiming the Big 12 trophy in 2006-07.

A&M’s N’dea Jones got her 13th double double with 12 points and 13 rebounds for her 39th overall career mark. She now has 996 career rebounds, just seven short of Anriel Howard’s career achievement.

Jordan Nixon added 16 points, as did Kayla Wells, to the Aggies’ attack, and Aaliyah Wilson scored 10.

Veteran head coach Gary Blair is now 834-331 overall and 426-168 with A&M since arriving in College Station from Arkansas in 1003-04.

Jasmine Walker, who had been averaging 20.8 points was held to just 11 by the A&M defcnse.

“Great defense on Walker,” Blair said, citing Wilson’s play. “The difference was when we made our runs in the second and third quarter, our bench was very important in both of those runs. The thing that hurt in the end was when we had a 21-point lead, ‘Bama still had a run in them. When they have those three players as good as they are, you they’re going to eventually make a run.

“Jordan Nixon, when she’s on a roll, she makes the big time plays.”

Sunday’s showdown at Reed Arena will be at 2 p.m. EST.

Doing its part to get back to top gear after the recent upset losses at Connecticut and to the Lady Vols, South Carolina claimed its 13th straight victory over Mississippi (9-10, 3-10) , which was held to four made goals combined in the second and third quarters.

Staley was responsible for the midweek start time, looking ahead to preparations for the showdown with A&M, her operations people told her off her inquiry that early afternoon would work.

Zia Cooke had a hot start for the Gamecocks (19-3, 14-1 SEC) scoring 10 if their first 12 points, and finished with 17 points. LeLe Grissett scored 12, Victaria Saxton had 10, and Aliyah Boston grabbed 11 rebounds.

Shakira Austin had 22 for the visitors.

This game was set to be an SEC New Year’s Eve opener until the Rebs came up with COVID-19 protocol issues and Florida was moved up from this month to fill the space, become a Gamecocks victim, nonetheless.

“We had stuff we wanted to work on, but Ole Miss, they force you to play a different way,” Staley said. “They apply a lot of pressure in the full court and the half court.”

As for the home stand for the season, now over, Staley reflected, saying, “We built this program where we created a home court advantage and we didn’t have that this year, and it was weird. Honestly, it was just weird, not being able to generate we’ve had in this building. And though we won every game besides one — N.C. State won the game fair and square — but if you had 15,000 people in this building, they may have given .... so many times in this building to win. 

“And it’s hard, the close games, we talked about this last week, and Destiny Henderson said, ‘It’s hard the energy. The energy is not there.’ We have to figure a way to create the energy that our fans give us. But I’m happy we got through a season. We still sell 3,500 tickets and they’re gone in a couple of minutes. We’re still proud of that moment somebody was here when we took the floor,” Staley explained.

“When you look at what could have been, we’re proud to say that we got through with people in the building and we didn’t hear anybody being impacted in a negative way by coming to the games.” 

Upset: Kentucky Over Georgia: Meanwhile, elsewhere in the conference in an upset of sorts by ranking number, No. 19 Kentucky went on the road and won at No. 17 Georgia 62-58, its fifth win over a ranked opponent, in the Bulldogs’ Stegemen Coliseum in Athens after the Lady Dawgs were coming off a home upset of Tennessee, Sunday, to complete a season sweep of the Lady Vols for the first time in 36 seasons.

Rhyne Howard had 27 points for the Wildcats (16-6, 9-5 SEC), who also got 15 from Chasity Patterson and 11 from Talyana Watt had 11 points and six rebounds.

Long-range shooting was the key with Kentucky connecting on six from deep to just three from Georgia (17-5, 9-5). Howard was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.

Georgia’s Jenna Staiti scored 16 points, Gabby Connally and Que Morrison each scored 13, and Jordan Isaacs scored 10.

“This game was vital,” said first-year coach Kyra Elzy, in terms of SEC tournament seeding. “We knew we had to come here and take care of business. They are a tough team, playing well, well coached, they play extremely hard, but as far as seeding, we still have another game to play (Sunday at home against Ole Miss), we take it one game at a time and let the chips fall where they may.”

Elzy, a former Tennessee star, was promoted at the beginning of the year when Matthew Mitchell had to resign for health reasons.

Close Calls for No. 20 Tennessee and No. 16 Arkansas: The Lady Vols, who dropped to No. 20 after the loss at Georgia, struggled all night before emerging with a 78-73 win at Missouri in Mizzou Arena in Columbia.

Like she did a week ago in the upset of South Carolina, Rennia Davis, the reigning SEC player of the week, did most of her work after the break, in this case all of her work, scoring 26 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter.

Rae Burrell helped Tennessee (14-6, 8-4 SEC) with 23 points and eight rebounds, while Jordan Walker grabbed 10 rebounds.

Missouri (8-10, 4-9) got 16 points, each, from Haley Troup and Aijha Blackwell, while Shannon Dufficy and Shug Dickson each scored 10 points.

“Staff knew, team knew, this was going to be a tough game,” said Tennessee coach Kellie Harper. “This was really going to be a challenge. I felt like it took us a while to figure things out. If you watched Missouri’s last couple of games, they’ve been in every single one. They are smart kids and tough kids and they are so much better than their record. Fortunately, our team knew that. There we’re couple of times when they could have gotten down, just proud of our team for being able to come out of here.”

Tennessee hosts Auburn Sunday at noon on the SEC Network in Knoxville.

Judging what happened against No. 16 Arkansas Thursday, the Tigers are not going to be easy pickings either for the Lady Vols.

Arkansas rallied late and also avoided an upset, edging host Auburn 74-69 in the SEC contest in Alabama at Auburn Arena.

The Razorbacks (18-7, 8-6 SEC) trailed by 10 in the third period and still were trying to play catch-up in the fourth when the visitors regained their shooting prowess.

Chelsea Dungee and Destiny Slocum each scored 16 points for Arkansas, while Amber Ramirez scored 15, and Makayla Daniels scored 11.

It was a tough loss for senior Unique Thompson on her night when she scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Tigers (5-17, 0-14), who have just eight scholarship players being dressed and are still winless in the conference heading to Sunday’s game in Knoxville. Honesty Scott-Grayson added 18 points, reserve Sania Wells scored 12, and Aicha Coulibaly scored 10.

“We continued to fight, we continued to push. We were short in numbers, but they just stayed out there and kept fighting,” said Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, a former Penn State star who previously coached at Georgetown.

“We need more people to score. Anytime we can get help from any and everybody, it helps a lot.” 

Mississippi State Downs LSU: In another SEC game of note, Mississippi State, which had gone on a long losing streak and fell from the rankings for the first time in seven seasons, continued a reversal with the Bulldogs’ second straight win, beating host LSU 68-59 in Baton Rouge, La.

Aliyah Matharu scored all 19 of her points in the second half for the visitors (10-7, 5-6 SEC) after they trailed by eight at the half.  Mississippi State ramped up the defense on the host Tigers (8-12, 6-8), who shot 54 percent in the second quarter but were held to eight points and 23 percent in the third quarter.

“I told my team they are all capable defenders. They proved it,” said first-year Bulldogs coach Nikki McCray-Penson, another former Tennessee star, who previously was at Old Dominion.

“We said we wanted to come out and hold this team to under eight to 10 points and we did that.”

A key on the offensive side was making foul shots to seal the win and the Bulldogs finished with an overall 13-14 from the line, including 9-of-10 in the fourth quarter.

Myah Taylor had 15 points for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State returns home to Humphrey Coliseum Sunday to host Missouri and finish the regular season.

Iowa Upsets No. 12 Michigan: Coming out of the scoring fireworks in the recent loss at No. 8 Maryland, the Hawkeyes with the second best offense behind the Terrapins in the nation bagged a Big Ten rival, beating the Wolverines 89-67 as they blitzed their way to a season-high 48 points in the first half.

Iowa (13-7, 9-7 Big Ten) was deadly from outside with 16 three-pointers.

The game had a five-hour delay due to extra testing under coronavirus protocols.

A Hawkeyes player had tested positive Wednesday and coach Lisa Bluder said “Michigan asked that we all test before the game. So we all raced to get our PCR tests taken, and all od them were negative,”

Michigan had good reason for the caution, having recently ended a long pause due to the protocols.

Meanwhile, Iowa freshman sensation Caitlin Clark’s string of four 30-point games in a row ended but not by much, scoring 27 for the home team in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, while Monika Czinano had 15 points, Kate Martin scored 15, and Sharon Goodman had 10.

Naz Hillmon continued to lead the way for the Wolverines (13-3, 8-3), scoring 24, while Leigha Brown scored 16.

The Hawkeyes were in the afternoon shootaround when Bluder informed of the situation.

“”Obviously, it was a weird situation,” Clark said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. They got us in ands got us tested.

“More than anything, when we got back, we were dialed in. This was a game we needed to win, wanted to win.”

Michigan on Sunday heads to Minnesota at 2:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network while Iowa will be at Wisconsin at 3 p.m.

In the other Big Ten game of the day, No. 8 Maryland moved closer to another regular season title, winning at Purdue, 88-59, in West Lafayette, Ind.

The win by the Terrapins (18-2, 14-1 Big Ten) was the largest home conquest ever laid on the Boilermakers (6-14, 30-13) by a Big Ten opponent.

Purdue coach Sharon Versyp saw enough up close and personal to declare Maryland was undersold by the NCAA committee in its recent Reveal of the top 16 teams in advance of the real bracket containing the 64-team field that will be announced March 15 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

The next one was set to air Monday night but earlier Thursday the NCAA announced a move up to Sunday at 5 p.m. on ESPN in a special half-hour program.

“They should be a No. 1 seed,” Versyp said.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese shrugged the praise off.

“That (seeding) will take care of itself,” she said.

Angel Reese, recently returned from a broken foot, spoke of the bigger fish after scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds to lead Maryland to its seventh straight win.

“Our main goal is to win a national championship,” she said. “This team has been rolling without me. Whatever I have to do to help this team win, I’m willing to do.”

The visitors crushed the boards 50-26, including 26-8 in the second half, and dominated in the paint 52-28.

The Boilermakers’ Brooke Moore, who scored 13, was impressed.

“This team is really good,” she said.

Turning to her team’s play, Frese said, “Road wins are precious. I thought we played hard. The effort was there.”

Maryland also got 13 points each from Mimi Collins and Ashley Owusu while Faith Masonius had 10 points and eight rebounds.

The Terrapins are now 106-13 (.891) in the conference over the last seven seasons since bolting the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Maryland on Sunday heads to Northwestern Sunday at 4 p.m. in Walsh-Ryan Arena on ESPN2 in Evanston, Ill. 

N.C. State and Gonzaga Gain Easy Wins: No. 2 N.C. State rolled to an 83-53 win at home over Pittsburgh in an Atlantic Coast Conference game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh while No. 21 Gonzaga did likewise on the other coast, beating Pepperdine 95-49 in a West Coast Conference game at home in Spokane, Wash., involving the other two ranked teams that played Thursday.

The Wolfpack (16-2, 11-2 ACC) in a matinee finished their home slate unbeaten in Reynolds at 11-0 against the Panthers (5-12, 3-11), who were missing two starters.

The home team came up just one short to its all-time 12-0 mark of the 1977-78 powerhouse edition.

The Wolfpack went through the air in this one, shooting 16 three-balls out of 26 attempts, tying a program-best against Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 13, 2014.

Raina Perez and Jakia Brown-Turner each scored 14 points, while the remaining three starters also reached double figures as Kai Crutchfield scored 11, Kayla Jones scored 10, and Elissa Cunane had 13 points and eight rebounds.

“Nice team win, obviously Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones on Senior Day,” said Wolfpack coach Wes Moore. “Sixteen threes, that’s pretty amazing. It seems when you’re shooting the ball pretty well you’re doing ok on the other end of the floor. We were able to play a lot of people and the younger ones did a nice job. Pitt was a little short-handed with two of their best players out with injuries and we were clicking today, so good win.”

The Wolfpack finish Sunday on the road playing Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in upstate New York at noon on the ACC Network.

Out in the Northwest, fans were let into the stands for the first time this season, along with a full complement of cheerleaders and the host Zags (20-3, 15-1) in the lopsided win over last-place Pepperdine (5-16, 2-15) clinched a tie for the regular WCC crown. Gonzaga can clinch it outright Saturday afternoon when it hosts Loyola Marymount at 4 p.m. in the McCarthy Athletic Center.

Jill Townsend had 23 points, LeAnne Wirth scored 16, Jenn Wirth scored seven, one her 1,000th career point.

“That was a lot of fun,” said Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier. “You have those four seniors (Cierra Walker the other) who start the game and started it off right, and they also started the second half correctly so that we had an opportunity to sub freely and get everybody involved.”

The decision desk was able to call this one quickly as the Zags ran a straight course with a 14-0 lead and the home team fell just five points short of putting triple digits on the scoreboard for the first time in four seasons dating to a 102-38 win over UC Irvine.

Looking Ahead: A quiet day on the local and national front where Saint Joseph’s and La Salle will begin their weekend-ending home slate in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Joseph’s hosts St. Bonaventure in Hagan Arena at 6 p.m. and La Salle hosts Duquesne in Tom Gola Arena, both at 6 p.m., while on Sunday the visitors switch with the Hawks hosting the Dukes and the Explorers hosting the Bonnies at 2 p.m. for both games.

All four games will air on ESPN+.

Nationally, on Friday, No. 10 UCLA hosts Southern Cal at 8 p.m. in one of six rivalry finshes in the PAC-12, whose regular season crown was clinched Monday night by Stanford.

On Sunday, No. 9 Arizona is at Arizona State while Colorado is at Utah at 2 p.m. each on the PAC-12 network, which at 4 p.m. will air California at No. 4 Stanford and Washington at Washington State each at 4 p.m. and finish with No. 14 Oregon hosting Oregon State at 6 p.m.

Since there’s only three games of concern on Friday at this end, the Saturday AM report will look at the rest of the weekend.

And that’s the report.




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