Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Auriemma Sounds the Alarm But It’s Not What He’s Dealing, It’s What’s Being Dealt

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

It was a year ago preparing to attend the weekend swan song of one final wipeout of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at the Mohegan Sun by Connecticut that unless one had an ear to the ground of the science community, it was unimaginable to envision what lay ahead a few days and ongoing now beyond the championship game’s conclusion.

For the routine business Monday night, the top-ranked Huskies in a closer outcome than late last month in Milwaukee beat Marquette 63-53 to wrap up an eighth-straight regular season conference table run, though now back under the original brand of the Big East, if not a large chunk of the original crowd.

And so as these things normally go on the zoom postgame press conferences, a question leading to philosophical digression from Auriemma, usually amounts much more.

The question asked Monday referenced the 21-1 overall phase, 18-0 within the Big East, of the season blotter of UConn just concluded with extra-circular items the past five or six months consisting of starts, stops, daily COVID-19 testing, empty arenas, marquee games called, in some cases the opponent the villain in others not so much.

But a few days rest before the weekend quarterfinal round on Saturday is to be welcomed, not only among the Big East, but three power five tourneys being held this week by the PAC-12, Atlantic Coast, and Southeastern Conferences, eh?

“I think most teams right now this particular year, whatever the case may be, are tired,” said Auriemma, who reached career victory total 1,0112, four behind the record-holding sum of 1,116 held by Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, whose squad next plays in the PAC-12 quarterfinals on Thursday in Las Vegas. “I think most teams, by now, are tired. Everybody can use this week off.”

But that’s the calm before the storm. As Auriemma went from there, he basically declared hell is coming. 

No, not the usual distribution of fire and brimstone from his super talented squad with an array of newcomers like Paige Brueckers, who has already set program assists and scoring records, or Aaliyah Edwards, who teamed on the inside to score 16 points and grab eight rebounds while upper class rep Olivia Nelson-Ododa had 19 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks against what will be the second-seeded Golden Eagles (17-5, 14-4).

Edwards, by the way, is the final Big East freshman of the week, while Seton Hall’s Desiree Elmore holds player honors for powering the Pirates into the third seed with a closing run after No. 25 DePaul earlier in the day was upset by Butler to drop to a fourth seed and becomes 5th-seeded Villanova in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

But the hell coming, Auriemma essentially said, is to be endured by his own squad with the rest of the competition engaged operating for the next month under rules never imagined along the way at both the March Madness conference level of competition as well as the NCAA, which for the first time due to avoiding the coronavirus will have the entire event in one area — in this case the San Antonio area of Texas.

“Every team is going to be dealing with this,”Auriemma said. “Some teams are going to be dealing longer than others. Some teams are going to go to Mohegan, spend two or three days, they’re going to be quarantined more than they’re playing, and then they’re going to go home.

“And then other teams are going to be there for four or five days. So this week you hope you can prepare to be there for five days and play three games.

“But once you go there, you have to cut your brain out of your head and put it in a jar in moosh and sit in a room and stare at the walls and then whichever group of kids can put their brains back in their heads out of the jar and then go out and play for two hours when they’re released into the yard, you know, making sure that they get their sunlight and those that get back in that can handling it the best?

“And if you can do that this week, you’re reward is get to go to Texas and you get to do it again,” Auriemma said.

“Normally, you would say, ‘I can’t wait to go to the NCAA tournament, we got all these plans. Can’t wait to go to the Big East tournament. Got all these plans. 

“Now, you’re just going there hoping to survive, day to day. Day to day.

“We talked about this. The teams, the kids that are best able to handle that kind handle that kind of lifestyle are going to be able to play their best basketball, hopefully during those three weeks. But to be honest with you, some teams are not going to handle it well, Some kids are not going to handle it well. Some coaches are not going to handle it well,” Auriemma addressed the mental component of all this.

“And it’s unfortunate, but that’s where it is. And this isn’t going to be an NCAA tournament where you can make any kind of predictions or any kind of assumptions of how it’s going to be. You just cross your fingers. Hope everything goes right. Go through warmups. And after warmups, let’s hope the game starts. And after it starts, try to do the best you can, and win and try to do it again. 

“But by no stretch of the imagination, is this going to be easy. On anybody. The alternative is get knocked out early or don’t get invited to the NCAA tournament. And then you don’t have to worry about it. Then you can find your own room to get locked up in and do your own thing.”

As for the mirror view of what has just been transversed.

“Well, for everything we talked about, we just found a way to win a championship. I asked our freshmen, how many games have you won in college?

Obviously, the answer is no. So this is number one for them. Hopefully one of many. But they missed out on a lot of things, but they didn’t miss out on a chance to win a championship. And that still means something. The record itself, 22-1, could have been 17-1. Doesn’t matter. What matters is we played in the Big East and we won a Big East championship and that’s something to be proud of, even more so, because of the circumstances.”

Big East Pairings Set: Though a scant amount of games were played Monday in terms of things at stake, the Butler 86-81 upset of No. 25 DePaul in the Blue Demons’ Wintrust Arena in Chicago erased assumptions in these parts for the weekend from Saturday night when Villanova lost at home to Seton Hall, which seemed like the two were then destined to meet a third time at Mohegan from opposite sides of a 4-5 pairing after their series split.

But in a world determined ahead of time with no other choice to not be fair, the ensuing uneven number of games means winning percentage determined the seed ranking.

So not only are the Wildcats on a direct semifinals path to likely face UConn, the upshot is it will be much harder to get there at all, considering the Blue Demons as an opponent.

The recent DePaul (14-7, 11-5) slide has also caused a bit of history, considering the past seven years, coach Doug Bruno’s squad for the most part moved into the space left vacant by UConn when it came to ruling the Big East.

This will now be the first time since joining the conference in 2006, the Blue Demons will be a four seed in the wake of the other side of Monday’s action with Seton Hall winning at Saint John’s and climbing to a three.

DePaul is also the three-time defending champions with five titles overall in those past seven years. 

The two teams met once during the season in Chicago with DePaul beating the Wildcats 94-82 but twice the return game on the Main Line was postponed and never was able to be made up. Villanova never got to return the visit to Connecticut, either.

So this is now how the schedule is set.

Numbers listed now are by seed.

On Friday, all first-round games will air on the Big East Digital Flohoops channel.

Action begins at 11 a.m. with 8th seed St. John’s meeting 9th seed Xavier. At 2 p.m., 7 seed Providence meets 10 seed Butler. At 5 p.m., 6 seed Creighton meets 11 seed Georgetown.

On Saturday at noon in the quarterfinals, Game 1 on FS1 is being streamed, Connecticut meets the St. John’s-Xavier winner. The remaining three games are on FS2, beginning with the DePaul-Villanova game at 3 p.m., followed by No. 2 Marquette meeting the Providence-Butler game at 6 p.m., followed by No. 3 Seton Hall meeting the Creighton-Georgetown winner at 9.

On Sunday’s semifinals, both on FS1, the UConn quarterfinal game winner meets the DePaul-Villanova winner at 3 p.m., followed by the Seton Hall-side facing the Marquette-side at 6 p.m.

The championship game Monday will air on FS1 at 8 p.m.

Baylor Takes Big 12 Title With Texas Win: The Big 12 regular season has one week left but the issue is decided in another runaway with No. 6 Baylor completing a sweep and wining at Texas 64-57 in the Frank Erwin Center in Austin to make it 11 straight conference crowns to the Lady Bears (20-2, 15-1 Big 12).

It was obvious to all that when Texas (16-8, 10-7) chased after Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer in the offseason to return to his home state to rebuild the Longhorns’ fortunes, who was the main target from up the road in that regard.

“Give him time,” said Hall of Fame Baylor coach Kim Mulkey after the recent game in Waco, Texas. “He was hired to win championships.”

It is likely to come but that moment is still in the future.

In Monday’s game, Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith scored 23 points, while Queen Egbo had a double double of 13 points and 14 rebounds. Dijonal Carrington. Off the bench scored 10.

Texas’ Charli Collier was again held below her statistical marks, scoring 12 and grabbing nine rebounds. Joanne Allen-Taylor had 15, and Audrey Warren scored 12.

A 12-0 run in the third period took care of business for the visitors.

“We’re the Big 12 champion for the 11th straight year, “ Mulkey said. “How could I not be happy.”

Baylor has won 12 straight games.

“It was a good, ugly game,” Mulkey said after making it 10 straight over the Longhorns. “They had a lot of turnovers. We had a lot of turnovers. A lot of free throws shot (38), 43 fouls called.

“We’ve got to get better at finishing the game when we’re affected like we were on the perimeter.”

Mulkey noted her backcourt duo of Carrington and Moon Ursin seemed out of sorts, but didn’t want to put it all on their shoulders immediately.

“I want to be careful, because maybe Texas made therm play that way. I need to go back and look at the film.”

As for playing closer than the 25-point blowout earlier in Waco, Schaefer said, “I’m not in it for any moral victories but I’m real proud of my kids.

“I thought they competed their rears off tonight. We obviously lost the game in the first five minutes of the third quarter, but, man, you talk about being competitive. Once we got down, we fought back. I feel like our team got better tonight. But if you’re going to play the No. 6 team in the country, you can’t have some of the breakdowns we had.

“They made some big shots.”

Looking Ahead: Rutgers-Penn State Redux: Just 48 hours after taking a gritty victory at Penn State for Rutgers’ seventh straight triumph after coming off the long pause, the two teams, in getting a makeup inserted into the schedule meet again Tuesday in the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J., as the host and No. 24 Scarlet Knights look to lock up a top four slot and double bye for next week’s Big Ten Tourney in Indianapolis.

The game will air at 5:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

Lisa Byington and Megan McKeown, the daughter of Northwestern coach Joe McKeown, out of Father Judge High and Northeast Philadelphia will be the TV talent.

Meanwhile, Temple will look to build momentum for next week’s American Athletic Conference tourney at the Dickey Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, having left the Mohegan Sun in the wake of the departure of Connecticut for the Big East, which moves its women’s tourney from Chicago into the arena this weekend.

The Owls, who got thrashed at UCF on the weekend, will host Memphis in McGonigle Hall at 5:30 p.m. and then getting a makeup from a game cancelled in Tennessee due to weather, will re-insert it Thursday up here in McGonigle at noon. Both games will be on ESPN+

Elsewhere in the AAC, following USF’s upset loss to Houston causing a virtual first-place tie with UCF, the two meet first at USF at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Tampa on ESPN+ and then on Thursday the teams will go to Orlando in UCF’s arena  at 5 p.m. on ESPNU.

A key individual game Wednesday has No. 10 Indiana hosting Iowa at 4:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

And that’s the report.


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