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.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Villanova Flattened by #1 UConn in Big East Semifinal While South Carolina, N.C. State and Stanford Claim NCAA Bids

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Any idea Fourth-seeded Villanova might have had of replicating its streak-shattering upset of Connecticut in the Big East tourney of 2003 was quickly stamped out by the Huskies Sunday afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Arena to the tune of an 84-39 wipeout before the next victim was identified when third-second-seeded Marquette held off Creighton 64-59.

The Huskies (23-1) and Bluejays (9-11) will meet Monday night to battle for the automatic bid to the NCAA 64-team field that will introduced a week from this Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

In other conference tournaments, North Carolina State, the No. 2 seed, upset No. 5 Louisville, the top-seed, 58-56 just before regulation time expired to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference bid,  seventh-ranked South Carolina, the No. 2 seed, beat No. 16 Georgia, 67-62, to claim another Southeastern Conference crown over the Lady Dawgs, who had upset No. 2 and top-seeded Texas A&M in the semifinals, and No. 4 Stanford, the top-seed, turned back No. 9 UCLA, the third seed, to win the PAC-12 title.

The remaining two Power Five conferences — the Big Ten (Indianapolis) and Big 12 (Kansas City) — will have their tourneys this week, as will the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in Atlantic City, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), at Elon University, near Greensboro, N.C., and the rest of the leagues with automatic bids.

Villanova (15-6) had applied for the role of Cinderella in the Big East field, when the Wildcats in Saturday’s conference quarterfinals, upset fourth-seeded and No. 25 DePaul in overtime.

But UConn quickly rejected the application 24 hours later, with a tenacious defense that locked down league-leading scorer Maddy Siegrist, who poured 30 points on the Blue Demons but was limited to three points and four rebounds by the Huskies. Only Sarah Mortensen was able to find the basket successfully enough to score 15 points.

On the Connecticut side, Christyn Williams, who had recently endured a brief slump, continued her comeback with 26 points, Paige Bueckers, the dynamic freshman, scored 18 and dealt eight assists, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa scored 13 while the Huskies crashed the boards for a 47-24 rebounding advantage and committed 12 turnovers.

“Well, that was a tough one,” said Villanova first-year coach Denise Dillon, who returned to her alma mater from a long, successful run downtown at Drexel after her coach Harry Perretta retired at the end of his 42nd season on the Main Line last spring.

“Again, just talking with our team, you learn a lot from every loss, and just wanting them to feel this one and recognize what we need to do moving forward with some postseason play.

“But definitely With those returning, to improve on the following season.”

The odds are long that the Wildcats would be picked as at-large to the NCAA field and it is not known if Villanova would be interested in the WNIT reduced 32-team setup at four neutral venues for the early rounds with survivors from the original eight-team regionals advancing to a final four site.

“Size-wise, they obviously have a great advantage,” Dillon spoke of the disruptive ability. There’s really no position, even with our three and Maddie, Brianna Herlihy, and Sarah Mortensen, you know, there isn’t a game that one of the has an advantage, size-wise. So just the matchup. (UConn) able to switch one through five, and that’s exactly what they did.

“They were extremely disruptive of taking us off our mark with any of our offenses.”

Dillon was upbeat on the future.

“When you take a second to reflect on what this team actually accomplished this season, it’s impressive considering, you know, every team is dealing with, with the pandemic and all the changes that were made and the paranoia of testing and what it might be. So for this group to come together with so many different pieces throughout and to kmake things happen, it’s a credit to those two leading the way in Sarah and Brianna.”

UConn’s Geno Auriemma is pleased with the way his squad had come together since the one loss at Arkansas.

“As I said to the team in the locker room, it’s a great thing when all the things you’ve been trying to work on during the season, come to life. It makes the kids feel all the work you put in was worth it. We made very few mistakes, two nights now, very few defensively. There are times when we play a certain a way, a really, really good Villanova team, and you make them take a difficult shot.

“I watched them last night, and they were really great, and Maddy Siegrist was great, an unbelievable performance, so we knew that coming that it was going to be a tough matchup, whoever was guarding here, so we just did, an amazing, amazing job.

“And Christyn Williams finally realized to play to her potential and who she is. And it was great to see because she’s been struggling with that all season. If she plays like that all season, we’re a championship team.”

Auriemma picked up his 1,114th victory, second among Division I women’s coaches to Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, who extended her record number to 1,119 with the Cardinal win in the PAC-112 championship.

The late Tennessee Hall of Fame legend Pat Summitt, now third, had the record at 1,098 when she retired fighting Alzheimer Disease at the end of the 2012 season. VanDerveer set the new record in early December and Auriemma moved past her into second in late January.

In the second game, sixth-seeded Creighton (9-11) rallied and fought to the end before Marquette (19-5) held on in the closing half-minute.

The winning Golden Eagles got 27 points from Selena Lott while Lauren Van Kleunen scored 16 points, and Camryn Taylor scored 11.

Temi Carda had 14 points for Creighton, Dee Dee Pryor scored 13, and Emma Ronsiek scored 11.

Marquette just lost at UConn last Monday, though more competitively than in the first meeting in Milwaukee.

“I think their whole is even better than the collection of their parts, so no, no shame in losing to them,” Creighton coach Jim Flannery said of Marquette. “We fought. We had chances. We trailed pretty much the whole game but it never felt like we were out of it. And, obviously, we weren’t because we had a chance to tie it or go ahead in the final seconds, We were right there and yet we couldn’t climb all the way to the top of the hill and over.”

On the other said, Marquette coach Megan Duffy, a former Notre Dame star, said, “Proud of our group to hang in there towards the end, make big plays, big shots by Selena Lott here. And fortunate enough to move on. We’re looking forward to obviously playing (UConn) them a third time. I think we learned a lot in the last two games, We’re a lot tougher. We grinded some things out.

“You don’t want to give them easy baskets and allow them to run. Because they’re one of the best teams, if not the best team, in getting out and running their lanes and sprinting the floor hard. You have to be really smart about that.”

N.C. State and South Carolina Repeat in ACC and SEC: Having beaten No. 7 Louisville during the season to ruin the Cardinals’ spot at the top of the Associated Press rankings, the No. 3 Wolfpack came back and deprived Coach Jeff Walz’ group a second straight season with a dynamic finish.

The Cardinals (23-3) came into the tourney at Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina as the top seed while the N.C. State (20-2) was the second seed.

The difference at the finish flipped when Raina Perez hit a 17-foot jumper with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation to break a tie game though it went to the absolute finish with Dana Evans, the ACC Player of the Year, missing a shot from deep that could have erased the Wolfpack’s just acquired lead.

It’s the first back-to-back for the program under Wes Moore, though the late and legendary Kay Yow produced ACC crowns four times in 1980, 1985, 1987, and 1991.

Elissa Cunane, who averaged 23.3 points per game across three rounds along with nine rebounds, was voted the tourney’s MVP.

There were 26 seconds in a 56-56 tie when Evans missed a shot for Louisville and Cunane grabbed the rebound. Time was not called and the Wolfpack came down the other way, looking for Cunane. The ball then flipped out to Perez who scored for the 58-56 final.

The Cardinals took time to advance the ball. Kianna Smith went inside, it was knocked away, though 1.3 seconds remained.

Evans then got the shot and it bounced off the rim for the outcome.

Both teams will likely get high seeds in the NCAA field.

Louisville lost a 48-40 lead in the closing nine minutes.

Kayla Jones had 10 rebounds for N.C. State while Evans had 15 points for Louiville and Smith scored 13 points.

Cunane and Kai Crutchfield made the first team of the tourney while Evans, Smith, and Hailey Van Lith represented Louisville.

The second team had Georgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj, Syracuse’ Emily Engstler, Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley, Wake Forest’s Jewel Spear, and Boston College’s Cameron SDwartz.

“Yeah, I was honestly looking for the pass,” Perez said of the winning play. “I hadn’t made a shot all second half, so I think I was inside my head. But then they doubled on ‘Liss, and I was wide open. I had to take it., and what do you know, it went in.”

“This team is just so resilient ans they find a way to win,” said Wolfpack coach Wes Moore. “Obviously, dug an eight-point deficit there in the fourth period and they didn’t blink an eye, just kept battling. 

“Yeah, there was a time there when I thought, we may never get to put on the hat and the tee shirt on and have the balloons rain down on you. This league is very, very good.Great players, first of all, great coaches, and it’s just an unbelievable experience like I said.”

On defending the winning play, Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said, “Yeah, we switched up from man to zone. We went and doubled on offense, did everything  we could to try to keep them off balance as much as we could, and I thought we did a great job today.

“Ultimately, when we had to get some rebounds towards the end, we just couldn’t do it,” Walz said. “We got them to take shots that last minute and as half that we really wanted them to take, but we just couldn’t come up with the rebound. We gave up some big-time O-boards when we got them to take the shots that we wanted.

“Unfortunately, we had some stretches we were not very good.”

Walz said he’s looking forward to the NCAA draw with every court more or less neutral in Texas and geography not a factor in the placements.

“I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how the committee does a true S curve now. I think it’s going to give us a really good idea in a crazy year of what do they value, like what does the committee value, which I think will help us moving forward.”

Meanwhile, Mike Siroky has the SEC details under this post so your Guru is slipping the result in here just to have it for the record.

The No. 2 Texas A&M upset loss to Georgia on Saturday couple with the South Carolina revenge win on Tennessee removed a second 1 vs 2 matchup in the league for the second week in a row.

South Carolina came out on top with a 67-62 win on Georgia for another conference title in the trophy case for the Gamecocks.

Stanford Takes PAC-12 Tourney Over UCLA: A long journey that forced No. 4 and top-seed Stanford from its home arena in Maples Pavilion due to stringent COVID-9 protocol procedures in Santa Cruz County in Northern California from the end of November until late February was transformed into just an inconvenience with the Cardinal downing UCLA 75-55 in Las Vegas at Michelob ULTRA Pavilion.

“We just want to keep it going,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “We have a deep team, we have a close team, and we play for each other.”

The Cardinal (25-2), winning its 14th conference tourney in 20 seasons against league competition that is tougher, will undoubtedly get one of the four top seeds in the NCAA tournament when the bracket is unveiled next week. At this hour, look for South Carolina and UConn to be up there also.

Stanford’s Kiana Williams was named the conference tournament’s MVP after scoring 16 points in the first half and finishing with 26 while turning back a late bid by UCLA (16-5).

“March is a time for winning and big players make big plays,” Williams said. “But like Tara told us, this can’t be our best game.”

Michaela Onyenwere had 30 points for UCLA.

Meanwhile, Mercer beat Wofford 60-38 to win the Southern Conference crown.

Looking Ahead: As mentioned, UConn is likely to join the trio of conference champs when it plays Marquette in the championship, which would complete as run-the-table attack on conference opponents in its first year back in the Big East after a seven-year untouched run in the American Athletic Conference.

UConn early Monday afternoon will tie Tennessee, which had a decade a a half head start, for most appearances in the Top 5 of the AP Poll in its 45-year history. The Huskies already have by Monday afternoon 249 appearances at No. 1, well ahead of the 112 from the Lady Vols. 

The game is on FS1 at 8 p.m.

No. 17 Gonzaga, the top seed, meets Santa Clara in a West Coast Conference semifinal at 2 p.m., while BYU plays San Francisco at 5 p.m.

The Sun Belt championship at 2 p.m. on ESPNU will be between Troy and Louisiana at 2 p.m.

The American Athletic Conference championship, having moved from the Mohegan Sun to Dickie’s Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, gets under way with Wichita State meeting Tulsa at 2:30 pm., followed by Memphis and Cincinnati at 5:30 p.m., while in a Big 12 regular season wrap up in the Big 12 it’s a 1-2 matchup with second-seeded West Virginia at No. 1 Baylor in Waco, Texas.

West Virginia and Baylor are already 2-1 in the Big 12 so a makeup is still being played Monday night at Baylor with the host Lady Bears a host in Waco, Texas, at No. 6 in the poll, and West Virginia is No. 20.

On Tuesday, Temple meets Tulane in an AAC quarterfinal game.

Rider opens against Monmouth in the MAAC in Atlantic City at 2:30 p.m.

No. 15 South Florida, the No. 1 seed in the AAC, meetings a Monday winner Tuesday in the American at 3 p.m.

Lots more to come in the next 24 hours.

And that’s the report. 


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