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.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Top Seed Out And Favorite Emerges

By Mike Siroky


The toughest conference in America is almost done carving itself up.


Several teams who went home before the tournament finale will win at least two in the NCAAs and make the Sweet 16 in San Antonio,


All the coaches legislated for as many to make it as many as possible, searching for nine, which is one more than deserves a Texas trip to the inclusive NCAA sites throughout that state.


With the top seed stumbling away, a historically successful team ought to win today.


Georgia 74, Texas A&M 68 


The Aggies could not show what a top seed should look like against the No. 4 seed.


Georgia won the first, third and fourth quarters and upset A&M. It is their second loss of the season. Aggie basketball became saggy basketball.


But first, the ESPN telecast missed minutes to bring us the end of  a meaningless volleyball game. Great planning, ESPN. Way to fold, SEC. No apology, of course. 


This was the first time since 2014 the top four seeds made the semifinals.


A&M had been supremely confident. Coach Gary Blair says it is because the team truly loves each other, on and off the court.


But they looked lethargic all game long. Georgia had no such struggle.


He has had a consistent starting lineup with three-year starters N’dea Jones, the program’s all-time rebounds leader, averages 10 a game to start the defense. Aliyah Wilson leads in scoring (13.2), blocks (19) and steals (43).  Ciera Johnson (12) and Kayla Wells (11.7) complete the top scorers.


Destiny Pitts (49 3s) is the top reserve in the league, voted by conference coaches the SEC 6th Woman of the Year.


Anna Dremaine has gained confidence, as the 6-5 impact off the bench. Another reserve is Jordan Nixon (75 assists)  the tough as nails transfer from Notre Dame.


They ended the league’s longest win streak at 11.


Georgia won its 20th . They will win a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAAs .


Georgia’s Joni Taylor has her second team in the SEC tournament, obviously their best showing.


It is hard to pick the Bulldogs apart. 


They are senior-dominated, providing 67 of the 78 quarterfinal points. 


Their backcourt is Gabby Connally  (12 points per game) and Que Morrison (14). Jen Staiti (14.8, 8 rebounds)  is dependable in the middle, double figures for 28 times in the past 33 games. 


She passed 1,000 career points in the quarterfinal. She has more than 500 rebounds and 150 blocks. This is going to be a tough group to  replace. All four seniors have completed degree requirements are in Master’s programs.


Taylor and Blair are each semifinalists for national coach of the year as awarded by the Naismith Foundation.  She said the game plan is simple.


“It speaks to just being able to be consistent in what we do. It gives everybody comfort. To me being a starter means that we trust you on both ends of the floor. It just means that's how we want to start the game. 


“There's a lot of players who come off the bench who we could argue at some point in the year they deserve to start. That goes to them accepting their roles and understanding we need energy and certain things off the bench as well. 


“It’s about making the sacrifice, whatever that is, that fits best for the team. I can’t even say it's a certain rotation. It is predictable in a way.


“It speaks to everybody being mature enough to be ready when their number’s called.”


The game started with the ESPN blackout.  Maya Caldwell laud it in on the Bulldogs’ second possession. Connally fed Staiti inside, just like Georgia likes it, Wilson fed Johnson for A&M’s first score. 


ESPN joined 11 minutes late.


Jordan Isaacs fed Jones and she hit one free throw.


Showing range, Caldwell hit Staiti outside and she converted a 3. A couple of possessions later and Jones again, this time on a feed from Caldwell.


Caldwell and Nixon exchange baskets, then Connally popped a shot. 


It was 12-7 Georgia halfway through the quarter. A&M was a cool 37 percent from the field. Georgia had two 3s, A&M none.


Georgia scored five straight, including  Caldwell’s second 3 for a 10-point lead. Then it was 12 after Staiti scored two free throws.


A&M was listless. 


Anna Anna Dremaine was brought in to battle Staiti, Blair called time out at 21-9 to get Alexis Morris in.


It was a 12-point deficit inside of two minutes. Morris went coast-to-coast to cut the lead to 10 on a breakaway, Morris got fouled on a drive to the basket. She hit two free throws, four points in 21 seconds to lead A&M in the quarter.


Freshman Sarah Ashlee Barker hit a free throw and Connally added a 3, back to a 12-point lead. Caldwell and Staiti each had seven, Staiti with five rebounds. The Aggies were below 30 percent from the floor, zero 33 in three tries. Georgia’s 25 was the season best for an A&M opponent.


A&M scored first in the second quarter. Wilson took a three all the way back. N’dea Jones did not start the second quarter. Pitts made it a seven-point deficit when Pitts launched a successful 3. 


Georgia was outfighting A&M. The Aggies forced a time clock violation.


Jones was back in and made a quick layup. Wells made a layup off a feed from Jones. She was fouled and made the free throw. Quietly, they had the lead down to two. The Aggies tied it at 25 on a drive by Zaay Green. They had erased the dozen deficit halfway through the quarter.


Morrison untied it with a 3. A&M fought for it underneath. 


Malury Bates fouled for Georgia. Then junior guard Mikayla Combs rolled her ankle and lost the ball. Morris was back in after Nixon made a second foul. Jones scored close in. It was 30-27, Georgia, after a Staiti drive with three minutes left in the half. Morris hit two free throws.


Jones reclaimed possession when Jones forced a tie up with a block.  Jones took a charge then hit a layup for a 31-30 lead at 1:13. The Aggies stole it again. Jones was fouled by Morrison’s third foul. Gerohia had not score for more than two minutes, five points in the wuarter. Jones made two free throws.


Staiti woke uo with a layup. Wilson hit a jumper and led 35-32, a 22-7 A&M quarter. Staiti and Jones each had 11 to lead their teams. A&M had hit 8-of-9 from the line and improved shooting to 51 percent. A&M had five assists and caused eight turnovers.


As the third opened, the Aggies wanted to continue to Impose defense, especially on Staiti vs. Jones. Staiti had four second-quarter points.


Blair usually makes better halftime adjustments. His coaching team has been together nine seasons. He often refers to it as having four head coaches.


But the third played out evenly. Georgia took the lead for a possession on a Caldwell jumper at 49-48. Wells put A&M back in front on a jumper with 98 seconds left in the quarter. 


Staiti had one basket in the quarter so the A&M defensive solution was working. Jones, 5-of-8 from the field, had scored 13. Nixon was still at 10.


Georgia called time out but could not convert. It was 50-49, A&M. Neither side showed the shivers bit neither were they over confident.


Georgia needed 23 to hit its offensive average. A&M needed 25. The difference was the six 3s for Georgia to two for A&M.


Georgia scored first in the fourth then got it back on an A&M miss. Staiti blocked the next attempt. But A&M blew the breakaway layup.


It was a sign of things to come. Georgia worked up a 10-point late lead and was happy to hit free throws. Their defense wore the Aggies out.


Georgia had lost six straight SEC semifinals. The last time an SEC champ did not make the championahip game was 2004.


So A&M had to settle for a non-title and miss another shot at South Carolina. The dismal start eventually ruined them.


They were outrebounded by six. They got it down to five points with half a minute left. Wilson missed two free throws at a three-point deficit.


Georgia finally had its impact win. It took its 20th victory.


Caldwell scored 17. Jones scored 16.


A&M headed home. They have plenty of time to ruminate without joy, losing to a team worse than themselves and truly not the No. 2 team in the nation anymore, though still likely as a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs with only two losses.


They have lost five SEC tournament semifinals. 


Assistant coach Bob Starkey said, “They played hungrier and tougher than us. For Georgia to do that, it’s disappointing. A lot of teams wold like to have only two losses, but that is unacceptable.


“We will not play for another couple of weeks, so that’s a long time – 15 days – with that taste in our mouths.  I was very disappointed in the fourth quarter. They just looked like they wanted it more.”


Anriel Howard, the previous A&M rebound record holder often communicates with Jones, serving as a mentor. “She gets it,” said Howard. “I have the desire to want to outwork everybody and so does she.”


Blair said, “ You don’t ever learn by losing. I’m not looking for momentum that way. 


“My team was ready to play. We had a good plan. We talked about they were going to take us out of our sets, and we were going to have to run a lot of high ball screens and create. 


“As a result, you saw Morris and Nixon both get in double figures because we couldn't get our wings open to run some of our sets. That's due to Georgia's great man-for-man defense. 


“We talked about it, we worked on it. But sometimes we just couldn't get Walker. She was shooting contested shots all day long. Sometimes she's got to realize you have to shoot those at the end of a shot clock possession. 


“But when you've got a lot of time on, you have to create space or drive the ball and try to find somebody else. 


“When we drove the ball, they were covering out on our wings the majority of the time. We couldn't get it to them. 

“Hindsight, yeah, we should have got the ball inside more. But that's hindsight. Hey, it wasn't that easy getting the ball inside with as much pressure as they were putting on our point guard. Connally early putting pressure, then Morrison is probably the best defensive guard in our league. Give her a lot of credit. She came in and created havoc. She wanted the ball. 


“They outplayed us today. The key point was in the third quarter I think when they called timeout. We had a four-point lead. 


“We gave up six of the easiest points you've ever seen, then we were playing catch-up the rest of the ballgame. 


“ We just got beat by a team that played better than us today. I didn’t say they were better, I said they played better. I think our kids will admit to that. 


“We've got to work on getting ourselves open to be able to run our offense. That's all on me. When we were in transition in the second and third quarter, we were pretty good.


“But when we were running halfcourt offense, we were not very good. That's my territory. But Georgia's a very good ballclub. They take you out of what they want. Morrison and Staiti played magnificent for them. Isaacs early in the ballgame, she hurt us on a couple plays early, not late. 


“We just got to do a better job. That’s all it is. We don't need a loss; we needed a game like this to be able to play against pressure man-for-man, similar to in the days at Mississippi State that used to be so good man, or back in the days when Baylor were man, and back in the days when we were pretty damn good ourselves. 


”We need to do a better job protecting the ball. We forced them into 16 turnovers, but missed some of the easy conversions that we should have had.”


Going forward, “ We have to have intensity during practice. Might not practice as long but practice more efficient. We've got to practice against pressure. 

“It wasn't nothing their full court was doing or whatever; their halfcourt defense was that good. We have to do a better job. Sometimes it comes too easy in our practice sessions and our kids are shooting 55 percent consistently, particularly inside. 


“Well, we had trouble getting the ball inside. Then a couple of the other chances we just felt like get Staiti away from the basket like we were very efficient doing that against South Carolina and against Tennessee and a couple other teams. 


“Let Ciera set the screens, N'dea clean up down low. 


“The problem is we have to hit some of those shots or go deeper in the shot clock to get a better shot. 


“We had probably 10 to 15 forced shots, and it wasn't the end of the shot clock. That's on me. 


“I’ve got to get us into a better offensive flow and us be able to score a little better. I’ll work on that. 


“But rest? We don’t need rest. We’ve had enough off because of COVID and cancellations. It’s been a long season. But this team is too much of a veteran team. We’re healthy and we’re still hungry. 


“ I'm happy for our fans. I’m happy for our parents. It’s (the NCAA tournament site in his state) a little bit closer that they’ll be able to come. 


“I just hope we get a good draw. That’s the most important thing you want now. Hopefully we’ll be able to hold onto a No. 1 seed. You know how committees are; you never know what’s going to happen. 


“It doesn’t matter if you're a 1 or a 2. As long as you’re playing in the state of Texas, that’s home to us. 


“We saw some mistakes today that we’ve got to clean up. We got to play with more of a sense of urgency, particularly down the stretch when we got down by 10 or 12 or whatever it was. 


“We missed four out of eight free throws down the stretch. That could have got it to a one-possession game. We didn’t hit those. 


“Other than that, I’m excited to keep playing. I’m glad it’s in Texas, three and a half hours away from us. 


“Whether we’re playing in Austin, San Marcus or San Antone, this team has a lot of basketball left in them.” 


Georgia is in its first title game since 2004 under the previous coach. With 20 wins, they may yet earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs.


 Taylor, as usual, praised A&M first in that stilted coaching irony.


 Then she said, “Jenna Staiti played 12 minutes in the regular season. Tonight she played 35 minutes. She has 13 points, six blocked shots. Her presence on the floor is a game changer for us. 


“Even when she's not scoring, she's a rim protector, she rebounds, she stretches the defense for us, offensively stretches the floor. 


“Also we’re playing a lot better now than when we did in January when we met up with Texas A&M the first time around. We’re shooting better, more balanced offensively. We’re really set in what it is we’re doing. 


“Extremely happy for the program. We haven’t made it to a championship game since 2004. I was an assistant coach at Troy, Alabama living off of Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly in 2004. 


“To be doing this now, I'm really happy for the program. I think about coach (Andy) Landers, I think about the text messages I got from Teresa Edwards, Saudia Roundtree, Lisa O'Connor. 


“Just the commitment they have to us, several others for that matter. I’m happy for our present team. Our seniors especially. 


“We talk about checking boxes. We’re just continuing to do that. They're doing it the right way. It’s something we obviously are going to enjoy today. We‘re not going to act like it’'s not a big deal, because it is a big deal. It’s a big deal for us, our program. 


“We got to settle in, get ready to face the winner of the next game.” 


South Carolina 67, Tennessee 52


Already knowing who is waiting in the conference title game, a less-than foe. South Carolina easily homed in on another tournament title.


The first quarter runout was enough to convince Tennessee.


South Carolina is the new dominator of the league. They got their 20th win in the quarterfinals, the third SEC team to make it. Georgia added a fourth in its semifinal win.


With its quarterfinal win, Tennessee had 1,400 all time victories, the most in college women’s basketball.


That is the legacy like  no other that UT carried into the SEC semifinal.


Yet this was their first semifinal since 2014


SC is the No. 2 seed, Tennessee is the No. 3 seed. SC is ranked No. 7 nationally. Tennessee is ranked No. 14 nationally. Each are already in the NCAA eliminations. The Gamecocks are likely top seed, Tenness in the top four somewhere. After this, they can say “See you in San Antonio” somewhere.


The Gamecocks have been a commanding rebounding force, second in the nation in rebounds per game (48.7) and third in rebounding margin (plus 15.6).  South Carolina has not been out-rebounded this season.


South Carolina has long built its offense inside. This season the Gamecocks average 43.7 points in the paint this season. They have scored at least 60.0 percent of their points from the paint in seven games this season, including four against ranked opponents. The paint points are coming from both the forwards (20.2 ) and the guards (23.5).


It is no mystery that the Gamecocks want to play fast, and they are at their best when dominating the transition game. On the season, South Carolina averages 16.9 fast-break points per game while holding opponents to  7.4 per game.


Aliyah Boston may well be the best player in conference.


Dawn Staley has pulled them to 25-24 all-time in SECTournaments by going 22-7. After not having a tournament last season, it kicked back to SC as defending champs in 2020.


South Carolina has won five of the past six tournament titles. It is the only team in league history to win four consecutive titles


Staley is 6-2 in tournament semifinal games. South Carolina is 7-2 in SEC Tournament games played in Greenville, having won two of their five titles there, (2017, 2020).


The Gamecocks are 5-2 all-time when playing the tournament as the No. 2 seed, including three wins en route to the 2018 title. They were also seeded second in 2002 and 2019.


South Carolina is 3-3 against Tennessee in the SECTournament, winning three straight now, including  the 2015 Championship Game (62-46), and the 2018 Quarterfinals (73-62).

South Carolina has won four of the past five against Tennessee and each of the past three SEC Tournament matchups.

Junior point guard Destanni Henderson continues to thrive in the SEC Tournament, following up her 2020 All-Tournament Henderson is averaging 14.3 point and 4.8 assists, shooting 54.8 percent (23-40) from the field

Aliyah Boston's rebounding dominance in the SEC Tournament has her at 11.8 rebounds per career game at the event, 52.9 percent from the field. She has doubled in three of her five career SEC tournament games.

In two seasons, Boston ranks 10th on the SEC active career rebounding list (592) and fourth on the blocks list (154). Her block total ranks sixth in Gamecock history, and her 68 blocks this season are eight in the program's single-season records. Boston's 26 career doubles are 10th in school history, and with 16 of them coming in SEC regular-season play.

Sophomore guard Zia Cooke has a team-high five 20-point games this season, including in two of her past four outings to average 18.9. Her game-high 22 points against Alabama Friday night was her first 20-point game in an SEC Tournament.

Destanni Henderson's three 3s Friday night against Alabama was her fifth such game this season. She is the team's most accurate 3-point shooter at 44.3 percent.

Leading this Lady Vol reconstruction is second-year coach Kellie Harper. They have achieved 16 wins. The marque victory was the comeback at home against South Carolina, costing them the regular-season title.

The Lady Vols are led by seniors. Rennia Davis is the best one. 

Tennessee starts big with Davis, Rae Burrell (17.1) and Kasiyahna Kushkituah ( 8.4 and 6.6 rebounds). Davis is on a streak of seven straight with at least 20 points. Burrell  hits 80 percent of her free throws this season.

Jordan Horston has 32 assists vs. 16 turnovers in her past six games and is third in the SEC in all games at 4.3 assists . and second in league contests at 4.7 assist. this season. She comes off the bench.

The Lady Vols' No. 3 seed is their highest since taking a No. 2 position into the 2015 SEC Tourney in North Little Rock, Ark., and advancing to the championship game.


Tennessee was picked to finish sixth this season by the league's coaches and media, and was selected seventh by the coaches and sixth by the media last season, overachieving in Harper's first two years.


Tennessee is seeking to capture its league-leading 18th SEC Tournament championship trophy. 


UT was victorious in 1980, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.The Lady Vols were runners-up on six occasions, including 1982, 

1990, 1991, 1995, 2003 and 2015.


UT last advanced to the title game in 2014 and 2015, winning in 2014 as the No. 2 seed, 71-70, over No. 4 Kentucky and falling as a No. 2 seed to No. 1 South Carolina, 62-46, in 2015.


Tennessee has had 15 SEC Tournament MVPs through the years, with a Lady Vol winning four of the last nine awards.


The Lady Vols won the very first SEC Tournament title in 1980, defeating Ole Miss and legendary coach Van Chancellor, 85-71, at Knoxville.


Kellie Harper had an 11-1 record at the SECTournament during her time as a student-athlete at UT with postseason tournament titles in 1996, 1998 and 1999. The only loss was in the 1997 

semifinals.!!


This one started with two free throws by SC’s Bree Beal.  It moved to 11-10 Tennesse, then South Carolina put it in gear, with a 19-3 run to close the quarter.



Yikes


Even though a 16-point SC quarter lead is the same as it was in the game UT came back to win, it did not feel the same here.


Cooke and Boston each had eight points. Cooke 3-of-3 from the line and Boston 3-of-4


 The Lady Vols won the second quarter, 12-10, but a  14-point deficit was daunting. SC spread the scoring around. Cooke had 12 and Boston did not score.


UT’s 1-of-11 3s did not signal a comeback. Davis had seven.


SC had lost the final three quarters in its quarterfinal.


They started 5-0 in the third, including a Boston 3. This is a center who by Staley design, rotates outside for some shots.


Davis fed Tamari Key for an inside shot. Blocks and misses on both sides meant no one scored for several possessions.



Boston hit a layup.


But UT got a layup and a free throw from Burrell and she kicked one out to Jordan Walker for a 3.


Boston still ruled the paint and hit another layup at 4:43in the quarter. It remained a 15-point advantage, nothing gained for Tennessee.


Staley terms such a sequence as “deliberate” play.


The separation remained the same when 2:33 was left in the quarter. There was no hint the game would change. The Lady Vols could not find another gear. SC was in cruise control.


The Gamecocks won the quarter and led by 20. Boston scored seven and had seven rebounds. Cooke flew in with 17, Henderson scored 10 with fur assists. The trio each had two 3s. The team hit 11-of-12 free throws.


Walker had 11 for UT and everyone else was pretty much spectating. UT had 13 turnovers.


The fourth quarter was played at South Carolina’s pace. There were three minutes in the second half of the quarter when non one scored. The lead was as many as 20 but never less than 15 with two minutes to go.


This was a semifinal win but it seemed more as South Carolina planted its campus  flag in its home state.


In a regular year, they’d have the two earned home NCAA games to get them to the Sweet 16 and once, even that was in their state.


Still, when they gather with fans in Columbia later this year they will have at least one title trophy to lift.


It ended with SC only needing eight points in the final quarter, 67-52. Tennessee gave them three free throws in that mindless mind game of the final seconds.


Tennessee needs to make the Final Four to gain 20 wins.


The Lady Vols had 18 turnovers, SC 13.



Boston had 15 points and 11 rebounds and may be he best league player on the best team. Cooke scored 17 and Henderson 13. They hit seven 3s,


Harper said as the 11th team checking out early, “Well, we weren't getting stops obviously. I think any time they missed a shot, they were cleaning it up on the boards. We couldn't get clean looks. 


When we did get clean looks, we weren't able to score on them. 


“We on the other end were not offensive boarding. It really came down to execution. Obviously South Carolina did a really good job getting down and guarding and being very physical. We've got to be able to handle that a little bit better. Hopefully next time we will. 



The seven early foul calls. “Completely affected our game plan. I think it completely affected how we wanted to play, for sure. 



“It took us out of rhythm. That’s on us. We’ve got to do a better job of being smart and not getting some ticky-tack fouls in those situations. 


“They kept trying. Our team kept trying to find them (the forward line) looks. We just couldn’t find looks. “Then we played a little frustrated at times. I think that affected us. The clean looks that we did get, we didn’t really knock those down at a high percentage. 


“I got to credit South Carolina's defense. I thought they did a great job guarding, not guarding every other possession; they guarded every possession. So they were making it difficult not only on Rennia and Rae but on everybody. 


“We were just trying to move the ball around, trying to figure out what we could do to find ways to put points on the board.


This is “The first time we played two back-to-back games. I think it was good for us. I wish we would have been able to do it earlier this year, being able to turn that around quickly. 

“We played hard. Our execution was lacking at times. Q\We were a little impatient offensively. They're so excited and they want to win so bad that a lot of times we get in a hurry to try to do it all at once. 


“That’s an area that we can find some growth. Defensively I thought our game plans were pretty solid. We were able to come out and execute those at times. I honestly thought our focus was actually OK. Our attitude was pretty good until today when we got a little frustrated on the court. 


“We were a little impatient at times, and then tried to make something happen that wasn’t there. I


“South Carolina didn't allow us to do that. That’s where you've got to settle in against a really, really good defensive team. You’re going to have to work. That’s what we’ve got to be OK with right now. 


“Yeah, well, the last timeout, I actually called to talk to our team about how we were going to finish. We knew we weren't going to pull this one out with the two and a half minutes left.


“ But we talked about in that last time out what’s next, who we are, what we can do. I think the beauty is we put ourselves in a really good position. We've improved throughout the year. We played some really good basketball. 


“We have an opportunity, I think we’re one of the teams that have an opportunity to play a long time. It doesn’t help the hurt that we feel right now, but I want it to help tomorrow. I want them to wake up tomorrow looking forward to what’s next.


“I'd like to do a combination of both getting them rested both mentally and physically, and I’d like to be able to check off some boxes that we are better in these areas. 


“Then I’d like to obviously maintain a competitive level of play with their conditioning. I think it’s going to be an interesting balance in the next few days.



“They’re going to be motivated. I don’t worry about them coming to practice not motivated. 


“It is a long time before we play. I tell you, some teams are going to handle this really well and some teams are not going to handle this great. 


“We want to be a team that comes out and handles this time off, finds ways to get better, are ready to play at a really high level. 


“I'll be honest with you, I felt pretty confident last year. But going into this tournament, it’s a really -- what I’m excited about is I think our team is in a really good -- put ourselves in a really good position 


in terms of how much we improved over the season, how confident they have been. 


“It wasn’t tonight, but we’ve played some good basketball. We’ve had some really good individual performances along the way. They understand there can still be some growth. 


“So I feel like after tonight, we wake up tomorrow, I think we’re going to be in a pretty good space. 


“That’s what I told our team, I want them to really feel good about what they’ve done to put us there. This is going to hurt tonight. This is going to sting. And that is OK. We’re competitive. We want to win. But then also big picture moving forward, you got to be excited about the team we’re taking, and I think they are. 


“Well, I tell you what, the SEC has been so tough this year. I mean, night in, night out, every team. I tell you, I'm so proud of our league. We've got some great teams, great players, great coaches. 


“The SEC is going to show well in the NCAA tournament. The SEC has prepared a lot of teams to go down there and to be successful. Hopefully we’re one of them.”


South Carolina gets to be the home team in its third game. as the highest surviving seed.


Coach Dawn Staley said, “ I mean, I was impressed with our team. Our team is growing and they’re learning. 


“It took us probably to lose some basketball games, just our offense stagnant in some games to really understand what we were trying to accomplish. I take my hat off to our players being able to embrace it and not feel like you’re taking the ball out of someone’s hands to put in somebody else’s, taking touches away from everyone. 


“Our young players are learning how to play. When they learn how to play, everybody is going to feel like they can get a shot at any time. So super proud of them.” 


“Two-thirds of the way done. We want to win another SEC tournament championship. We put ourselves in this position. 


“Terrific start. I mean, if you want – I’ll take that start. I’ll take the fast start like we have over the past two days in any of our games. You can manage it a little bit better throughout the rest of the game. 


But, you know, it was probably a little fatigue, but it was fatigue on both parts. I think both teams just gave it up. 


“When you play in this league, you have to give your all or else you’ll put yourself in a position where people can go on a 12-0 run and make it a game again. 


“We went through that yesterday. But, you know, a great win against a tough Tennessee team who will be NCAA bound. Hopefully we can play as well as we played, or play better, put four quarters 


together tomorrow when the SEC tournament championship is on the line. 


“I like the grit that we played with tonight. Just defensively I thought we were just engaged throughout the entire night. We made it very difficult for them to score. When they got easy opportunities, 

they bobbled the ball. That was probably just over the course of 40 minutes with them having to play and fight tooth and nail to get a basket. 


“I like what our defense was able to do. I like some of the things that we’re doing offensively, getting off to a fast start. I thought we got good looks at the basket. 


“Again, we just didn't finish layups. If we finished layups, I thought we could have won by a lot more than we did. 


“It doesn't matter. You're playing in the SEC where no lead is safe. I mean, Georgia got out to a big lead today, Texas A&M came climbing back and took the lead. We got off to a big lead. They got into our lead throughout the game. I was really happy about our players just hitting big shots. 


“Henny was big, hitting crucial threes down the stretch. Zia was attacking. Aliyah was just as strong. LeLe played great and inspired defensively and offensively. I think she had four assists, a couple of baskets. Super proud of everybody just coming together and playing some of our better basketball. 


“This particular game felt a little bit different than our normal games. Even at the Colonial Life Arena they were there. They were spread out, but we heard them. Like, we got a little extra burst because when Tennessee was coming back, they were cheering us on. When we were making our run, they were just as loud. When Tennessee had to call a time out because we went on a run, they exploded. 


“Yes, felt different. Loved to hear that. We’ve been missing that. I do believe our players played a little bit more inspired for longer stretches because we had our fans in the stands.” 


“Well, we knew going into the game that Davis and Burrell were going to take the majority of their shots. What we wanted to do is just try to get them -- just disrupt them a little bit. Not flow shots. 


“Davis went downhill on us in the second half when we played them early in Knoxville. Burrell had her way in the first half. We just wanted to stay in between them and the basket, not allow them to turn a corner. Force our bigs to rotate over. 


“When we got in between them and the basket, luckily for us we’re small so we could play underneath them. They’re big. 


“Once they go into their shooting motions, there’s really nothing we can do besides foul them. But anything underneath, dribbling, putting two hands on the ball, we felt like if we could play underneath them, maybe we can disrupt them. I thought we did a great job with creating that, and just creating layers to our defense. If they got by us, we stunted it, were able to get a hand in there and disrupt. 


“At this point we got to win basketball games. We don’t really care where the points are coming from.


“ As long as we can work inside-out and we get reversals. At that point we will create good shots for anybody on our team. But I like the aggressiveness of the three of them because they were very deliberate in the type of shots that they were taking. They didn't make all of them, they didn't shoot a great percentage, but they gave us opportunity to rebound, they gave us opportunity to get to the free-throw line by them fouling us. 


“At this point those are the three that have been putting points on the scoreboard for us, so you want your best players with the ball when the game is on the line. More than likely it will be one of them that takes a lot of shots.

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