Women's Hoops Blog: March 2004

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Cheryl Littlejohn is back in the news, God help us.

You recall the history. Cheryl used to coach my Gophers. Yes, she coached Lindsay Whalen during her freshman year.

The Gophers were terrible, perpetually at the bottom of the Big Ten. But losing wasn't the worst of the Littlejohn era. . As Voepel said a few years ago, the whole thing was just disturbing to watch.

Eventually, some players spoke up, and the U started to investigate. The university found that Littlejohn had committed a variety of violations -- she gave players money, she broke recruiting rules, she exceeded practice limits, and she encouraged players to lie to investigators.

Minnesota fired her. Its stand was clear: "This case is fundamentally about misconduct of a head coach," said the U's legal counsel. Cheryl denied many of the allegations, but the NCAA eventually found them true and imposed sanctions on the Gophers.

Littlejohn, however, wasn't finished. She found a home at Chicago State. Apparently, the school hired her before Minnesota made public the nature and extent of her violations. Unfortunately, she didn't do any better at Chicago State.

According to the NCAA, Cheryl continued to break the rules. She was fired again, and the NCAA imposed sanctions on Chicago State. It also suspended Littlejohn until 2009.

After the facts of her second round of violations came out last year, I assumed that Cheryl's career as a women's hoops coach was over. Unbelievably, I was wrong. She resurfaced with the NWBL's Chicago Blaze in January.

Third time wasn't the charm. Earlier this month, the Blaze fired her. Blaze owner Joe McCoy wouldn't disclose the reason for the termination -- he would only say that it was for "basketball and nonbasketball matters."

I am hoping that now I can finally say with certainty that Cheryl won't coach again.

But wait -- this story has a punchline. Cheryl says that she's actually happy she got fired again, because now she can pursue her real passion: politics. She wants to move back home to North Carolina and run for office.

Are we to laugh or cry in response?
The USBWA has released its individual awards: Beard as Player of the Year, Houston's Joe Curl as Coach of the Year, and Texas's Tiffany Jackson as Freshman of the Year.
Meant to post this yesterday -- the Times had a great pair of articles yesterday, Harvey Araton on Taurasi, and Viv Bernstein on Beard. Reading the latter today reinforces the feelings of sadness for Alana.

Araton also makes a few smart remarks about the women's tourney generally. He tells the critics of the site selection system to calm down, because he recognizes it for what it is: an "inevitable imperfection... designed to maximize attendance for a sport plagued by a wildly uneven fan base."

The implication -- rather than blaming the committee and the NCAA, we as fans need to recognize that we're part of the problem. Start with the man in the mirror...
For the cross-over fans among you, there's a new blog devoted to the men's college game. Good luck to proprietor Yoni.
Jackass of the Day: Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune columnist. Who tuned in to one game (Penn State-Notre Dame), decided it was boring, and tuned out the rest of the tournament. Who says that women's sports are struggling.

Women's tennis: not struggling. The sport has suffered a little in the last year with the Williams out, but they're on their way back. The level of play is higher than ever. Over that past several years, the women's side has been better and healthier than the men's.

Women's golf: not struggling. In fact, doing the best ever. Annika is an international icon, and the Big Wiesy is on the way.

Women's soccer: struggling, sort of. WUSA gone, but might be back. (Plus, this is soccer after all. What percentage of Americans even know what "MLS" stands for?) Below the pro level, the game continues to grow dramatically.

WNBA: struggling a little, but on the right track. Overall, not profitable, screwed up early expansion strategy, but some franchises (Lib, Mystics, Shock) are doing great, and others (Storm, Stars, Sun) have great prospects. Most importantly, the best rookie class ever is on the way.

Women's college hoops: not struggling. Attendance and ratings way up this year. New levels of parity. One of the most exciting tournaments ever. Will be tough to replace this class of seniors, but the Future is Here.

Other women's sports, hockey, softball, etc.: not struggling. New and small, but growing like wildfire around the country.

Oh... I should really stop responding to this stuff. But I'd just like this guy to take a trip to Minnesota right now (or even just buy a Minneapolis paper) and tell me how women's sports are struggling. And I'd just like an explanation of why major media outlets continue to publish this misleading and vacuous bullshit.
Well, this morning we have been scrambling to find a way to get to New Orleans. Sadly, we aren't millionaires, and it is looking prohibitively expensive.

Proposal for some newspaper, magazine, or, I don't know, some large sports media conglomerate located in Bristol: hire us to cover the Final Four for you! We come cheap! All we need are plane tickets, a crappy hotel room, and tickets to the game! (Courtside would be nice, but we'll settle for anything.)

We promise to be objective. If Minnesota loses because the refs call a bunch of crap on McCarville, we won't even write about it!

This is your chance to turn a couple small-time unpaid nobody bloggers into journalists. Get in on the ground floor, while the getting's good!
Voepel on great players who leave college without a title: "There are still a lot of basketball highs for the likes of Beard, Powell, Nicole Ohlde, Kelly Mazzante, Stacy Stephens and Shereka Wright. None of them will win NCAA titles. But if you let that be the lone standard by which you judge your college experience and accomplishments, you're missing the most important stuff."
The Gopher nation celebrates its stunning victory and its first Final Four.

When McCarville drew her fourth foul, it looked bleak. Gopher fans were irate at the call. The team faced a grim reality. "We all looked at the clock and thought about having to play six or seven minutes without our All-American center," Shannon Bolden said.

Said McCarville, with understatement: "I was a little nervous. They had a lot of tall players inside."

But Whalen rallied her teammates in the huddle. "I said we've got to hold it down till she gets back here. Just a couple words of encouragement. . . . tried to pump them up a little." And for the next 7+ minutes with Janel on the bench, the undersized and outmatched squad on the floor held the lead.

Finally Janel returned, took over the boards once more. The Gophers ended with a 40-29 rebounding edge, 18 of those attributable to McCarville. That dominance ultimately keyed the victory.

Unclear if the players even believe it's real. "Coach always talked to us about acting like 'we've been here before' when we win big games,'' McCarville said. "Well, we ain't been here before.''

"Obviously we thought about it and we believed in each other," said Whalen. "But it's beyond our dreams."
The Duke nation mourns its early exit and the end of the Alan Beard era.

In some ways, it's hard to understand what happened. The Devils have a team full of talented stars. They have a great coach. They have tournament experience. They got Mo Currie back. And last night, they managed to do the two most important things against Minnesota: force turnovers, and get McCarville in foul trouble.

"I don't know how to explain it," Brittany Hunter said. "With seven minutes left [and Minnesota leading 59-57] we said 'We've got this.' And with three minutes left [down 67-63], we said 'We've got this.' And with a minute left [trailing 70-68] we said 'We've got this.'"

That is exactly how the game felt. The fourth foul on McCarville seemed like the end of the ride. At the minute mark, Duke actually seemed in control of the game, and down only 2. But at every key moment, Minnesota kept making plays.

Coach G offered a candid and simple explanation for the result. "I think we were very, very tight going in... I thought we had had a handle on the pressure, but for some reason we didn't handle it well. Sometimes it is easier to be an underdog. You can just go out and play because no one expects you to win."
Tasha Butts, the hero, after her tough move around and under Nicole Powell won the game with 1.7 left.

"I can't say enough about her," Shanna Zolman said, "her guts and her attitude. She never dies. She never quits."

The Vols were tired of the criticism following the Baylor call, and tired of the local media encouraging fans to cheer against them. "It did bother me," said coach Summitt. "I don't think it was fair because (UT's players) have feelings. I don't think anyone took that into account and expressed both sides. I think that's what a professional should do."

As usual, the Vols managed managed to put it out of their heads and win the game.

Stanford played a great game, matching Tennessee blow for blow for over 39 minutes. But it just couldn't counter the last one.

Powell had the last chance, but she couldn't make the shot, and couldn't get a foul call despite some contact.

"I told them after the game that they can hold their heads up high,'' coach TV said. "Inside that locker room those kids are bawling their eyes out. But I don't feel any shame. It's hard to lose. But Tennessee is a great team."
TV ratings up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

holy shit, folks, i really don't know what to say...

Two great games tonight -- close and competitive. Four great teams. A whole boatload of outstanding players featured.

As a fan of the game, I'm thrilled with what today brought us. As a fan of Minnesota, I'm just exhausted and incoherent. I didn't believe it was possible, and I'm still not sure it really happened.

McCarville continued her dominance, even with foul trouble. And Whalen is a phenomenon. The truth is, she really made a lot of stupid plays tonight. But it just doesn't make any difference to her. She never got rattled. She simply refused to lose. Even when she was screwing up, I didn't care. I wouldn't ask her to change a single thing about her game.

Even amidst our elation (and literally, both Sara and I were almost puking from nerves), it was incredibly sad to see Alana leave the court. She's one of the best ever, and it seems somehow unfair that she leaves college without a ring. Thank god for the WNBA, which allows her to keep playing and keep fighting for a championship... and allows us to keep watching her.

And also sad to see Powell leave the court. She had another off-the-charts night, but Tennessee is just too good.

Back in our New Haven days, watching the Huskies on CPTV twice a week, we always dreamed that maybe one day Minnesota would have a good program. We always wondered what it would be like for the Gophs to square off against UConn. I still can't believe it's really about to happen...
Oh man! Yeah Gophers! After spending the last 2 hours shaking and feeling like I was going to throw up, I am ready to celebrate. The Gophs were unbelieveable tonight. The are the first women's cinderella in as long as I can remember.

Whalen is awesome. The spinning lay-up with a minute left in the game...damn! That was a gutsy play. And McCarville, I don't even know where to start. She was unreal.

The Gophers just seem to capitalize on their underdog status tonight. It seemed like Duke was playing not to lose for most of the game. The Gophers on the other had, had nothing to lose.

Defense was really the key on both sides tonight. The Gophers Bolden pretty much made Beard a non-factor tonight. Mo Currie and Tillis stepped it up for the Blue Devils, but it just wasn't enough to breakdown the Minnesota defense. Duke played some great defense too, but they just didn't have an answer underneath for McCarville. And the supporting cast for the Gophers brought their A games tonight. Andersson and Bolden both hit clutch shots.

Now the Gophs have their first shot at UConn. I am going to need to rest up for this one.

I must apologize for the scattered post, I can hardly think. I will write more once I have a drink and calm down!

Tennessee and Stanford, of course, go way back. Coach Summitt and Coach TV, of course, are both women's basketball legends.

But in a funny way, both are now fighting what they created. They established dynasties and raised the level of the game. As the game grew and got better, other schools have built great programs. Both still run elite programs, but they haven't enjoyed the same dominance -- the road is just tougher now.

Stanford and Tennessee are regular nonconference opponents, and they met earlier this year at Maples (in a game we saw). Stanford dominated for much of it, but then collapsed at the end. Because it lost that one, Stanford wants revenge. Because it was so close, Stanford knows it can win.
Tennessee has been on the defensive about the call. Coach Summitt has firmly maintained that the victory is not tainted, and she suggested that it would have been a foul at the beginning of the game, so should have been at the end too.

"A lot of people are mad with Tennessee," Tasha Butts said. "But we didn't make the call. We didn't blow the whistle. We didn't beg the official for the call."

The Vols are trying to use the criticism as motivation -- they want to win again today to prove that they belong.
ESPN has been milking the Baylor foul story. In addition to the web columns, it's been featured prominently on SportsCenter both of the last two days, and it was one of the top stories on PTI. In a great production move, Rece, Nell, and Stacey interviewed coach Mulkey-Robertson at halftime of yesterday's UConn game.

A lot of people have said that the bad call was bad for the women's game generally. But in an ironic way, the opposite might be true. As ESPN obviously knows, controversy makes good copy.
The Future is Here: beating 5 men, Candace Parker wins the McDonald's slam dunk competition.

Last year LeBron won; in 2002, Carmelo. Said Seimone Augustus when she heard the news: "The game is changing."

Hell yes...
"Gophers Worth Watching," exclaims the Washington Post. No kidding, baby.

As a fully neutral and objective observer (he-he), I'd have to say that the Gophers have been the most fun team to watch so far this tournament. But do they really have a chance against Duke, with its far superior athleticism, its superior size and depth in the post, and its brilliant all-court superstar?

(Vegas, incidentally, has Duke favored by 8.)

As coach G recognizes, McCarville's play might be the key. Whalen is likely to be guarded by Beard for much of the game, and she may do less damage as a result. But even if Lindsay has an off game on the perimiter, Janel can still tear things up inside..

Foul calls on Janel will be crucial. The Gophers don't have much depth in the post, while the Devils have several big bodies to throw in there. Mistie Bass, who banged with McCarville in high school, says "The only thing that can stop her is the refs calling fouls." There is much truth in that, so the refs may play a big role in the game.

The Gophers, at least, are not afraid, and they are embracing the role of underdog. The level of expectations -- and maybe the level of pressure -- is different for these two teams.

"There's a difference between feeling like you have to go somewhere and wanting to," says Whalen. It's true, but even with our great attitude, a lot would have to go right for us to beat the most talented team in the nation.

Whatever happens today, the Gophers' story won't be diminished. The last couple years has seen an explosion in Minnesota -- attendance, TV ratings, local media coverage, merchandise -- that has left everyone from sports reporters to sociologists amazed.

"I think it's one of the biggest turnarounds in women's basketball and one of the greatest stories in women's collegiate basketball in the last 20 years," said Nell Fortner.
Geno realized the significance of last night's game.

"For me, it was 'D needs to be at the Final Four her senior year.' Her career should not end in any way, shape or form unless it's at the Final Four. That's the way it's supposed to end for her."

Taurasi and Turner played like All-Stars. With some of their teammates struggling, Diana and and Barbara kept pouring in the points. When Penn State made a run, Diana and Barbara shut it down.

"Obviously we didn't have an answer for Turner," coach Portland said. "She was the biggest problem for us. She had a special night on a special night for her team."

The Lions' inability to hit shots was staggering. Lots of their trouble was due to the Huskies' defense. The UConn defense was smart -- constant changes, quick switches off screens, different looks on every set -- and tough.

UConn's physical play got in to PSU's head. When Mazzante would cut across the lane, she often took shots. And when she didn't get calls, she got frustrated. "They blatantly hit me coming across the middle - that was there game plan," Mazzante said.

Coach Portland left with some complaints about the lack of calls, but Chris Korman wonders if maybe Rene didn't prepare her team for championship-level play.
LSU emerges from Seattle after another great performance. The team seems driven to perform for both coaches, Gunter and Pokey.

Seimone Augustus is overflowing with basketball talent, and she has continued to mature and improve on the court. Last night she scored 29 for the second straight game and received West region MVP honors. She is living up to the hype.

Georgia had the lead late in the game, and they feel like they let this one slip through their fingers.

"We just didn't finish it tonight," said Christi Thomas, sobbing profusely. "Over the course of the game, one team makes a run, the other team fights back and that's what happened. It went back and forth. When the buzzer sounded, they ended up with two more points than we did."

Georgia just didn't have a guard tall enough or fast enough to stop Augustus down the stretch, and so the Dogs were shown the door.

But coach Landers deserves more congratulations on his great season. Considering all the ups and downs they've had this year, reaching the Elite Eight was an impressive feat.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Nice win for UConn. With the exception of one lazy stretch midway through the second half, the Huskies looked sharp, especially on defense.

Taurasi and Turner both had great nights. The Nittany Lions' box score reads like a transcript of a basketball nightmare: Mazzante and Wright both 5-for-17, Brungo 2-for-10, Strom 1-for-10.

Would the result have been different on a neutral floor? I don't think so, but until we have a neutral site system, some doubt will always remain about games like this.
Ray Ratto has a column at ESPN.com defending the Baylor call... sort of.

He rails against anyone who says that the refs shouldn't decide the game. He says that the refs always decide the game, both with calls and with no-calls. He is right, but only in a trivial sense.

When we say "don't decide the game," or "let the players play," it's another way of saying this: lay off the whistle, and err on the side of no-calls.

As I've said before, refs in college (especially the women's side) call too many anticipation calls, too many touch fouls, and too much that should be let go as incidental contact.

When you err on the side of making the call, you don't just "decide the game" in Ratto's sense, you also slow the game down to a boring pace, and you send the good players to the bench. If the refs let more go, the game might get more physical and less open offensively, but I think it's worth the risk.

The alternative to the current system isn't, as Ratto says, a system full of cowardly refs. The alternative is NBA-style refs who don't call a foul unless the act affected the play. I think that would be better than what we have now.

Ratto also says that you can only criticize the call against Baylor if you "believe that there are different standards for different fouls at different times."

That claim is just stupid. There usually is a different standard at the very end of the game, and that's probably a good thing.

But regardless of whether there are different standards at different times, it shouldn't have been a foul. The ball was loose. Neither player had position for the rebound. They came from opposite sides moving forward, both looking up at the ball, and ran into each other. The hit was hard, and Butts went down, but that makes no difference under the rules.

The play was squarely within the definition of "incidental contact." It shouldn't have been called at any time in the game.
Both the Dee Davis foul and the Tasha Butts foul implicate the "incidental contact" rule, described in Chapter 4, section 38 of the NCAA basketball rules.

"Incidental contact" generally describes the four situations:

1. contact between two players going for a loose ball, both of whom have "equally favorable positions";

2. other contact resulting from "normal defensive or offensive movement," where both palyers have equally favorable positions;

3. contact that does not hinder the opponent from her normal defensive or offensive movement; or

4. contact when a defender runs into a screen that she does not see.

Whether a foul is incidental does not depend on whether it is "excessive or severe." In other words, that someone (Davis or Butts) gets knocked to the floor doesn't make it non-incidental. "Incidental" is not synonymous with "unintentional" -- effect, not intent, controls.

The Davis foul was not incidental because she had possession (the ball wasn't loose), and Powell hindered her movement. The Butts foul, by contrast, should not have been called because the ball was loose, and both players were moving forward from opposite directions and simply ran into each other while making a legitimate attempt to get the ball.

If Charlie Gonzalez had a chance to explain his call, I think he would say this: Butts was under the hoop and closer to the play, while Stratton ran from behind the basket off the court. They were not in "equally favorable position" to grab the rebound, so it was not incidental contact.

But I don't buy it. Both players had an equal chance at the ball. In fact, as the ball fell and came within reach, it actually looks like Stratton was closer.

There was a remarkably similar play in the Kansas-Georgia Tech men's game yesterday.

Game tied at end of regulation, GT drove coast-to-coast and missed a layup. The ball was loose and there was a big scrum, everyone trying to grab it. There was tons of contact, and in theory, you possibly could have called a foul on several players on each team. But the refs didn't. The buzzer blew, the game ended in a tie, and GT won in OT.

That's what should have happened in the women's game too.
Powell on the Dee Davis hit: "It was incidental contact, in my opinion. She's smaller than me, and that's what the crowd really jumped on, a small person against a big person.''

Davis: "She tried to take me out."

Both players are exaggerating. Davis had clear possession of the ball, and an almost-clear path to the basket. Powell laid a hard foul on her -- it wasn't "incidental." It was a bit of a frustration foul, but also a clean foul with no intent to injure (and a smart "strategic" foul to prevent an easy bucket). Davis's fell pretty hard, but that was largely because she and Borchardt got tangled on the way down.
Conference records through the third round --

SEC: 13-4
Big Ten: 10-4
Pac-10: 3-2
ACC: 4-3
Big East: 9-7
Big 12: 7-7
Conf USA: 4-4

I don't know which is more remarkable -- that the SEC has 3 teams in the Elite Eight, or that the Big 12 has none.
Voepel on the call and the lack of accountability: "Yes, I know refereeing is a very hard job. I've never done it and would be terrible at it. But you know what? There are a lot of hard jobs. And in most of them, if you do something controversial or questionable, you're called upon to explain it. Maybe you have a very good explanation. Or maybe you don't, and it makes you look harder at your work."
Minnesota's improbable run continued. After a sluggish start, the Gophers pounded their way back into the game, and then dominated the second half.

"I don't even know what to say," coach Borton said.

Shannon Bolden shut down Amber Jacobs. And McCarville was off the damn hook. "I had seven blocks -- really?" she said. "I knew I had maybe three. Seven! That's a big number."

BC's emotional run came to an end, but they are deservedly proud of the way they've played down the stretch this year. "I'm proud to be coaching this team," said coach Inglese.
Duke and La Tech are two high-powered offensive teams, but yesterday's game turned into a frustrating defensive battle.

"I'm sure it wasn't pretty to watch," Coach G said. "We said although we were two of the top scoring teams in the nation, it would come down to defense."

The Techsters managed to contain Alana Beard, holding her to 5-for-15 shooting. But they couldn't hit any shots themselves, and finished only 30% for the game.

"I don't think you could play any harder or any better defensively than we did today," Tech coach Kurt Budke said. "But this time of year, you've got to make some shots."
"I cannot believe that game ended just the way it did," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said.

"I hate to see a game end like that, obviously," coach Summitt said. "But I thought tonight there were a lot of situations, a number of calls where in the postseason everyone's on edge. I didn't even see the last (foul)."

"I was very surprised," Vols guard Shanna Zolman said. "Not only does that never happen to anybody, you never determine the outcome of the game through the officials. How it ended was very surreal."

The Vols have survived a lot of close games in their history, but none quite like this. Baylor feels like it's had a bunch of breaks go against it this year. The Bears head home in shock, their season inevitably defined by that moment.

In response to the call, Jenni Carlson argues today in the Oklahoman today that the quality of the reffing has not kept pace with the quality of the women's game. It's sad to say it, but I think there is truth to what she says.
Stanford continues to silence the doubters and haters.

Down one with less than a second left, Kelley Suminski hit the shot of her life to send her team to the Elite Eight. "I don't know whether to cry or celebrate,'' Suminski said.

And it was Nicole Powell, who had endured a second half full of cold shooting and booing by the fans, who made it happen. She drove, drew several defenders, and found Kelley wide open at the top of the key. (She also ended one assist shy of a triple double.)

Vandy, frankly, choked.

With Stanford struggling in the second half, the Commodores could have put the game away. But everyone got tentative on offense, and the shots were barely reaching the front of the rim. Benningfield couldn't do much of anything, and the team missed almost half of its free throws. On the last possession, even after calling a timeout, Vandy didn't even get a shot off.

A tough way to go out for Vandy, and a win to remember for the Cardinal.
In other sports:

Wie finished in 4th, 4 behind Grace Park, at the Nabisco. Another stunning performance from the 14-year-old.

After her long-awaited return, Serena Williams has won her first two matches. In yesterday's match, however, Serena was off, and needed 3 sets to scrape out the win.

Harvard simply couldn't contain the Gophers first line, and the Minnesota women's hockey team won the national championship. Woo-hoo!!!
Iowa State's NIT run came to an end as the Cyclones lost to UNLV in the semis. UNLV wil face Creighton in the championshp on Tuesday.
In Saturday's D2 championship, Cal-Pa beat Drury 75-72 and took the title.

Sara McKinney led the Vulcans with 26 points, but it was Megan Storck who was the hero again. With Cal down by one with 30 seconds to play, Storck nailed a three-pointer to put her squad up for good.

"I don’t really know what was going through my mind," said Storck. "It was a scramble, and I just looked and Erin (Dillon) had the ball and she had a girl on her and couldn’t shoot it. But nobody was really on me, so I don’t know where my mind was. I just went ahead and shot it."

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Today was an amazing day of ball, and we'll have much more tomorrow once all the stories are out. My Gophers are flying. Suminski's buzzer-beating three-pointer was out of this world.

But I'm left with a bad taste after the Baylor-Tennessee game.

The call at the end was simply terrible. Both players were going for the ball. Neither had position. They simply ran into each other -- just because one went to the floor doesn't mean she was fouled.

Tonight on College Gamenight, Jay Bilas (not prone to overstatement or superlatives) said it was the worst call he'd ever seen. I wasn't particularly cheering for either team -- I always like seeing Coach Summitt and her team play, but Baylor was a great story. I would have been happy with either team winning, but it just makes me sick to see a game end like that.
Penn State didn't have a super perfect game yesterday, and Mazzante's shooting still isn't what it can be, but they survived and advanced.

The Irish played their best defensive game of the year, and they kept their turnovers to a minimum, but the shots just weren't falling: 32% from the field, and only 2-12 from outside.
The Gauchos did not go quietly, but in the end, playing against UConn in Hartford was just too tall an order.

Taurasi got knocked around for much of the game. She took exception, and had a few words, but despite the knocks and some cold shooting, she generally played in March form: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists.

Diana was sore today, but it won't get in the way of tomorrow's game. After all, this is what she lives for.

"People always say basketball shouldn't be your life," she said, "but it's been mine for the last 12 years. That's what I do. School is important, and I'm a B student, but every president has been a 2.0 student, right?"
Texas's loss yesterday was simply inexplicable.

"I don't have an explanation," coach Jody Conradt said. "It's something we talked about, and it's been pretty consistent that when we don't get going defensively and come out with energy and cohesiveness, it affects our offense."

Texas looked like the second-best team last year, and at times this year, they seemed unstoppable. But the team simply hasn't progressed the way anyone expected, and in fact seemed to go the wrong direction as the year went on. When people talked about the problems, the words "chemistry" and "cohesion" kept coming up... in other words, the team was missing some intangible piece that no one could really identify, much less fix.

Last year in Maples, the Horns sent the Tigers home, and Seimone Augustus had a rough time. Yesterday, she turned the tables.

"It's a wonder what a difference a year makes," Augustus said. "I'm more comfortable in the offense with my teammates getting me open. I thought I was more aggressive tonight, just knocking down shots."
Purdue's loss yesterday was absolutely heart-breaking.

The Boilermakers built a 5-point lead with less than 2 minutes left. But Georgia ended on a 7-0 run to win it.

As the clock ran down, Erica Valek drove and had a wide open lay-up to tie. Somehow, it didn't fall.

"I don't know," said Valek afterward. "It just didn't go in."

The Dogs, after a rocky season, were happy to have the breaks go there way at the end. "We'll take whatever we're given," Alexis Kendrick said. "We were probably due to have a little luck go our way, but things like that usually balance out in the course of a game."
Believe the hype, baby -- McCarville is the real deal. Check out these tournament stats:

Game 1: 19 points, 17 boards, 5 assists
Game 2: 15 points, 18 boards, 7 assists
Game 3: 25 points, 15 boards, 7 blocks, 4 steals
Just a few more minutes until tip-off of the Gopher/Eagles game! I am so nervous! Go Gophs!

I just read this article in the Star Trib about Whalen and her impact on women's/girl's basketball in MN. Seems that every little girl in MN wants to be Whalen!

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Forgot to mention the WNBA trade yesterday -- Connecticut got Asjha Jones, Washington got Tamicha Jackson, and Phoenix got the #8 pick in the draft.

This seems like a smart deal all around. Jones hasn't done terribly well for the Mystics. For a variety of reasons, it just doesn't make sense to have her and Mique on the same team. With the Sun, she could start, and she'll definitely get more minutes.

Plus, she gets to come home to the UConn fans. "I think it's exciting to come back to Connecticut because the fans are wonderful, and it's a family atmosphere," Jones said. "There aren't many places where women's basketball is No.1, but Connecticut is one of those places."

Phoenix, meanwhile, gets a great pick in this great draft. At the #8 spot, the Sun could grab someone like Thomas, Ohlde, or Brunson, if she's still around.
The Big Wiesy at Nabisco: Michelle is 3 shots off the lead, tied for 7th.

Yesterday was a rough, windy days, and most of the players shot over par. Wie managed to deal with the wind pretty well and hung on for a 72.

She says her shot selection has improved. "Like if the wind is blowing this much and I have, like, a 400-yard par-4, I would try to hit a knockdown driver (before). That's kind of impossible to hit without putting a lot of spin on it. So now I learned if I hit a 3-wood, it still goes the same distance, so why not be in the fairway? I've learned a lot the past few years."

You mean, like, in the past few years since you were eleven?

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Gauchos, having played the first two rounds in their own Thunderdome, are now preparing for a David-and-Goliath matchup against UConn in Hartford.

Of course, April McDivitt has been through this all before. Before transferring to the Gauchos, April played for the Vols.

In McDivitt's last game against the Huskies, Tennessee got blown out, and she had a rough game. After the 2002 season, she decided to leave Tennessee and move to a more relaxed life where she could have a life outside basketball. Santa Barbara -- one of the most beautiful places in the world -- has been a great fit.

"After my junior year, I stepped back and evaluated my priorities," said McDivitt. "What I wanted and what Tennessee needed - it just wasn't a good fit. I was thankful that Coach [Pat] Summitt handled my transfer the way she did."

Now April is a leader for the Gauchos squad. And she also gets to surf.
D2 semis last night:

Cal-Pa blew Merrimack away. The Vulcans sophomore point guard Megan Storck continued to shred opposing defenses -- she's scored 32 points and 26 assists in the last two games.

Drury beat Henderston State. Henderson State, however, was pretty happy with the result. After starting the season 4-11, making the national semis was quite an accomplishment.

The championship game is Saturday at 7 eastern. It'll be on ESPN2, so tune in to check it out.
Iowa State had a bunch of huge upsets earlier in the year, but they couldn't play with enough consistency to make the Dance. Now they're rolling through the NIT.

Last night they drew their first sellout -- over 14,000 -- for the NIT quarterfinal game against St. Joe's.

"There's a lot of people around the country that have talked that the NIT isn't a big deal," ISU head coach Bill Fennelly said. "They need to say that to our players, coaches, the people that stood in line and bought tickets for this game. I told the kids before the game ... make this 40 minutes something that you remember no matter what happens."
Baylor's athletic department and the basketball program were devestated by the Dotson-Dennehy matter, and the horrible fallout, last year.

The women's trip to the Sweet Sixteen means a lot to the school.

"The university needed this more than the program needed this," coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. "You can't put a dollar value on what this means to not only Baylor, but the alum of Baylor, the community of Waco and now nationally."
On Page 2, some of the writers' bloc debate whether the men's or women's tourney is better. I link to this out of some feeling of obligation -- though mostly pro-women's-hoops, the writers are just going through the motions on this retread debate, so feel free to skip it.

Bottom line for me: both tournaments are bloody fantastic. Any true basketball fan watches both. This is the best time of year for a fan. When this feast of sports is over in a week and a half, I'll only be able to stave off the postprandial depression by reminding myself that the Masters follows in short order.
Duke readies for La Tech. Coming out of the marginal WAC conference, the Techsters were something of a question mark when they entered the tournament. But after dominating Texas Tech in the second round, they have shown that they're a contender.
Auburn coach Joe Ciampi has decided to retire after 25 years. Ciampi has had a somewhat rocky season that included the loss of two players due to academic ineligibility. His family encouraged him to hang it up.

Ciampi led Auburn to the NCAA title game three years in a row but lost each game. He leaves with 607 college wins, 10th most in history.

He probably isn't done with hoops for good. After a break, he's going to look into options with the WNBA or the WBCA, or a job on TV.
Lieberman previews the BC-Minnesota matchup. She says turnovers are the key. True that.

Amber Jacobs, the heart and soul of the Eagles squad, is ready for the challenge. But as Jackie MacCallum reports in the Globe today, Amber almost quit the team last year. A deeply religious young woman from a small town, Amber struggled to adjust to the cosmopolitan life and values of Boston. But she stuck it out, and she has gained the respect of her teammates.

In Sunday's game, Amber may have to deal with Shannon Bolden, the Gophers' defensive stopper.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The D2 Elite Eight contests were held yesterday in St. Joe's.

Seattle Pacific was undefeated and ranked #1, but yesterday the Falcons lost to Drury. Drury played tough pressure defense, forcing 25 turnovers. "I don't think we were ready for it," said Kristin Poe.

South Dakota State won the title last year. Yesterday Cal-Pa. sent the Jackrabbits home. The Vulcans were able to win despite All-American Sara McKinney's foul trouble.

Henderson State beat Quincy after Aesha Carter made a jumper with 6 seconds left to give the Reddies a one-point lead.

Merrimack played tough defense in the second half and propelled itself past Augusta State.

The semis are tonight.
We are approaching an important ten-year anniversary.

On April 3, 1994, down 2 to Lousiana Tech with .7 seconds left in the title game, UNC's Charlotte Smith received an inbound pass at the wing and nailed a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded. It stands as one of the greatest moments in the history of women's basketball.

Last month, the Tar Heels gathered for a reunion to celebrate the anniversary.
Reusse on Saturday's game and the end of an era: "This was both the first time women's basketball hysteria came completely to Minnesota, and the last time Lindsay Whalen would be in the middle of it at Williams Arena. This was it, fans, the time of your lives."
TCU coach Mittie has been charged with DUI. The school has taken some disciplinary action, but it stands by its decision not to suspend him.
Last week the Chron's Michelle Smith complained about the site system. This week she says that, despite the system, the world hasn't come to an end, and most of the teams who deserve to be here are still here.

In the Seattle Times, Greg Bishop notes that the regional contests in Seattle will be a good test of whether we're ready for neutral sites. Some places are able to pull it off -- New Mexico, just like last year, was able to fill The Pit even after the Lobos got knocked out. UW has sold only 4,000 tickets so far, but it's hoping to drum up more interest over the next few days.

Jenny Vrentas, a student journalist at Penn State, takes an admirably sober look at the system, why we have it, and what changes next year will bring.
On the paid speaking circuit, Val Ackerman visited Penn yesterday, and Rebecca Lobo visited Illinois State.
More complaints about the Naismith.

More complaints about the 2 voters who didn't put Taurasi on the first team.

The Courant demands (and gets) answers to the latter controversy. Durham Herald-Sun reporter Jim Furlong put Chandi Jones ahead of Taurasi. Star Trib reporter Pam Schmid put Shereka Wright ahead of Taurasi.

In my view, Alana deserves Player of the Year awards, and Diana deserves to be on the first team. But I also don't care terribly much, and I don't have strong feelings.

The problem with these awards is that the voters hardly get to see the players play. How many times has Jim Furlong actually seen Chandi Jones play this year? Once? Twice? He says he did "3-4 hours of research" before voting... I take it that means he spent some time looking at their numbers, maybe looking at individual box scores, maybe reading news reports.

That's no way to vote.

Unless you actually watch games, you can't know how good someone is on defense, how many loose balls they get, how many passes they deflect, how many screens they set, how many double teams they draw, how many big shots they make at key moments. Or, for that matter, how many stupid plays they make, how many ill-advised shots they take. The box scores just don't tell you that.

Of course, it's not Furlong's fault -- until there are more games on TV, all any voter can do is look at numbers. So until there are more games on TV, these awards just don't mean that much.
K State is trying to recover from the loss. Voepel tries to make sense of K State's difficulties in March. She wonders whether the Wildcats need to get tougher and more physical.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is trying to recover from the win. Coach Borton is struggling to regain her voice as she prepares to face her former mentor, BC coach Inglese.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Taurasi won the Naismith for the second straight year. She joins Cheryl Miller, Clarissa Davis, Dawn Staley, and Chamique Holdsclaw as the only multiple winners.

Beard was on the AP's first-team All-American list for the third time. She joins Holdsclaw as the only three-timers.

Geno was mad that 2 of the 47 voters didn't put Diana on the first team. Coach G and other Dukies are mad that Alana didn't get the Naismith. Can't we all just get along?
Good news: TV ratings for the tournament so far have been way up over last year. For the numbers, see here (scroll down).

As national interest grows, neutral sites will become more viable. As neutral sites become viable, the tournament will get even better.
Stacey Geyer (whose blog has permalinks!) has a full run down on the Penn State win and Tanisha Wright's amazing performance.
Rebecca Lobo posts a mock draft on her blog. I'd be surprised if Hayden and Brunson didn't go higher than 8 and 10, but it's all still up in the air.

(Lobo -- how 'bout some permalinks? That's de rigeur for a blog.)
We're back.

Conference records for the second round --

Pac-10: 1-0
SEC: 4-2
Big 10: 3-2
Big East: 3-2
ACC: 1-1
Big 12: 2-3
Conf USA: 0-4

First two rounds combined --

SEC: 10-3 (wow)
Big 10: 8-3
Big East: 8-5
Big 12: 7-5
Conf USA: 4-4
ACC: 3-3
Pac-10: 2-2

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

My throat hurts from yelling, my hands hurt from clapping. In the first half, the Gophers played about as well as I've ever seen a team play. Janel McCarville is a basketball phenomenon. Look for her to compete for the Wade next year.

When I put on the hat of impartial basketball fan/reporter, I can't help but regret that K State's great season and Nicole Ohlde's incredible career had to end with a game like this. They had home court last year (and blew it), and we had to play Stanford at Stanford last year, but the year-to-year karma doesn't make the system fair. It's unfair for anyone to have to play an NCAA tournament game against the omnipotent Whalen and her 14,000 lunatic worshippers.

But let's be honest -- false pretense of impartiality aside, I'm still just one of the lunatic fans thrilled with the result.

Nutty times for us personally. We had to reschedule our plane tickets 'cause the game was so late. Almost didn't due it, in part because I (the eternal pessimist) didn't think we had a chance against the Cats. Glad we stayed. Eight of us -- mom dad, in-laws, sister, future bro-in-law all in a row cheering hard -- was a great experience.

Plus we bought a house today. Our first. In 'Sota. Coming home to see Janel's senior year. Sara's heading to grad school. I'll be... who knows what. (Oh yeah -- our house has a hot tub. That's for you, Tierney-Webers.)

Tomorrow we head back to SF for our lame-duck time in Cali. Will be back on our own DSL tomorrow. Blogging will be back to normal. Congrats to all the other Sweet 16 teams.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Penn State had an easy win over Hampton, but the game included some nastiness. Tanisha Wright got T'd up after bloodying Nicole Brathwaite's nose, and the fans rode her the rest of the game.

"It wasn't funny because of the situation that caused it," said Wright. "If it was just anything else then, yeah, OK, it's funny. But because of how it came about it wasn't funny. If people want to boo me, then boo me. What can I do? I'm here playing basketball, not looking for a crowd's support."
I've probably said enough about Minnesota... you're all no doubt sick of it. The papers here are absolutely filled with it. Just a sample:

Strib columnist Pat Reusse: Linday's game was the second-greatest ever for a Gopher, men or women.

Octogenarian Strib columnist (and notorious women's sports hater) Sid Hartman: "I have watched a lot of Gophers basketball games over the years and I've never heard a crowd scream and yell like they did Sunday.... You had to be there to believe it... [N]ever has one basketball player captivated an audience at Williams Arena like Whalen. Replacing her will be impossible."

McCarville on the tense moment with Blue: "We shook hands and gave a hug after the game. No big deal. Happens all the time."
UConn and Duke looked in top form yesterday.

The Huskies pounded Penn. Diana had 18 points on 6-for-11, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, and no turnovers.

The Devils pounded NW State. Alana didn't shoot terribly well, but she filled the stat sheet with her usual hustle plays: 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Barry emails to note that, after yesterday's game, Alana now has 500+ assists to go with her 2600+ points and 750+ rebounds. (Oh yeah: plus almost 400 steals and 150 blocks.) Simply incredible.
Yesterday saw an even bigger upset as 13 seed Middle Tennessee shocked UNC.

Said Nikita Bell: "I am still stunned. I can't believe it. ... I just wasn't ready for our season to be over.''

Ivory Latta had another rough night. 1-for-13 shooting, only 3 trips to the line. Worse yet: 3 turnovers and only 1 assist.

Latta is an amazing talent -- someone I'd pay to watch play. But she needs to change her game.

She says she styles her game after Allen Iverson. AI is incredible... but he also takes about a million shots and often does little to get his teammates involved in the Sixers offense. That part of his game shouldn't be imitated, but that's exactly what Ivory has done.

The college game is more of a team game than the pros, and the women's game is more of a team game than the men's. Ivory needs to think first about making plays. She needs to fill the box score with assists rather than with ill-advised shots.
Last year Miami was the last at-large team in the tournament. I didn't think they belonged. They lost the first round to New Mexico in the Pit, but they played tough.

This year Miami was a lock. In the first round, they got paired against Maryland, who got the last seat this year when the music stopped.

I thought the Terps probably didn't belong this year. But the Terps proved me wrong by upsetting the 'Canes.

It was the first tournament win for Maryland since 1992.

"This is a very, very special win for this team and our program," coach Brenda Frese said. "We came into this game really focused, as we have all season. Most people counted us out but it was tremendous to see the will of this team. Miami played a hard-fought game."

I'm not sure I'll ever forgive Brenda for abandoning Minnesota after only one year. But she is a great coach -- I wouldn't be surprised to see Maryland in the Final Four in a few years. I'll probably be cheering against her, but she'll have my respect nonetheless.
Off the top of my head, here's what I've got for conference records in the first round (please email if I'm wrong):

Conf USA: 4-0
SEC: 6-1
Big Ten: 5-1
Big 12: 5-2
Big East: 5-3
ACC: 2-2
Pac-10: 1-2

Sunday, March 21, 2004

It was a great day for us here.

In the first game, Valpo took a pretty good run at K State. The Minnesota fans (rooting for the underdog, not wanting to face Ohlde on Tuesday) got behind the Crusaders, but the Wildcats are just too tough.

Then the real fun started.

It was a great feeling in Williams when Lindsay Whalen stepped on the floor for warm-ups. It was even better when they announced her before the game. It was worth our plane tickets just to be there for that.

She is not all right. She has a brace on her shooting hand and can't break her wrist properly on her shot. The ball has no rotation, and frequently, no discernible direction.

I watched her during most of warm-ups, and I didn't see her hit a single shot outside of 10 feet. During the game, she hit one three-pointer, but had at least two airballs and several other bad misses from the perimeter.

And yet she scored 31 points. When they needed her to score, she just took it to the hole. She's not that fast, and she can barely dribble with her left hand, but she managed to beat taller and faster defenders and finish some amazing drives.

The game got crazy -- it was close to the end, and it seemed like disaster was imminent. Lindsay kept driving and scoring, and as we finally pulled away, 14,000 were on their feet screaming. It was deafening for the final five minutes straight. (By contrast, the Wolves game, where I went straight from Williams, was sold out and near silent.) The Gopher crowd was fabulous -- comparable to the fans I cheered with in Storrs and Hartford.

And there was this wonderful moment near the end of the game. It was just finally/almost to the point where we had it in hand. Nikki Blue (who absolutely killed us all day) went for a steal and fouled McCarville. Each player pulled at the ball.

There was a scuffle. There were some words. Nikki and Janel squared up.

Lindsay (who had been playing the crowd all day) grabbed Janel and threw her twenty feet across the middle of the floor -- pulling her out of the fight, but egging her and us on at the same time. Coach Olivier (who had been justifiably upset at the refs all day) lost her head and got T'd up. The refs (who made terrible calls all day, mostly in our favor) struggled to find each other and get some control. The crowd was screaming in every direction at everyone at once.

It was a moment when every person in the building -- the players, the coaches, the refs, and we the masses -- lost control. Frustration, confusion, delirium, elation, and release. It was a perfect sports moment.

I don't know if we have the weapons to counter Ohlde, Wecker, and Koehn. And I don't know what to make of this season and this team.

Around New Year's, I was even starting to dream about New Orleans. But even before Whalen went down, something turned the wrong direction. Then we lost Lindsay and floundered for weeks. Our ranking was a sham; we weren't even a top-50 team.

Now we're in late March, trying to cobble together a functional basketball team, built around a brilliantly overachieving young hero with a broken shooting hand. I don't know what we can do on Tuesday. But we had today.
New Mexico was one team that was not able to parlay its home court advantage into a victory.

The Lobos just didn't have an answer for Vanessa Hayden in the second half. After a quiet first, she had 15 in the second, leading Florida into the second round.

"I wanted to come out and have an immediate impact," said Hayden. "My teammates were working hard in the first half and they wanted me to come out in the second half and make an impression. I think I did that."
Like its Big East counterpart Rutgers, West Virginia had to play its first round on its opponent's home turf. Like the Scarlet Knights, the Mountaineers were ushered out of the tourney.

Ohio State's inside game was just too much for WVA.

'It was a contrast in styles,'' Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. ''You see that this time of year and it's what makes the tournament play so exciting. They obviously have a lot of talented guards to choose from, a lot of good shooters and good penetrators.''
Chattanooga stunned Rutgers. Pondexter missed much of the game with foul trouble, and she wasn't happy about the calls.

"I don't even think my third or fourth fouls should've been called," Cappie said. "But hey, that's how it happens sometimes and you can't do anything about it."

The home team went to the free throw line 38 times. Rutgers went only 7 times.

"That's the most incredible stat I've seen," coach Stringer said. "But it happens."
Taurasi, preparing for her last Dance: "I'm treating every practice like it's my last one. I'm treating everything like it's my last one. I just don't want to lose and say, `I should have done this.' If there's one thing that will kill me inside it's leaving knowing I could have done a little bit more."
Colorado couldn't handle the Thunderdome yesterday. The Buffs melted down with one of their worst performances of the year -- eg, not a single field goal in the first 8 minutes of the second half.

The Gauchos ended up winning by almost 30.

"I think the 13 turnovers in the first half were the difference. We just didn't handle their pressure well," CU coach Barry said. "Their crowd got into it and they were playing well."

This was one of the unfair lower-seed-with-home-court games, but home court doesn't get you 30 points. A disappointing end for the Buffs and for Tera Bjorklund's college career.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Speaking of unfair home court advantage...

we just took the redeye back home to Minnesota to cheer for our Gophers. Blogging will be a little spotty over the next few days (because my parents have the slowest damn internet in the world. What -- don't they have DSL yet in Minnesota?).

One thing about predetermined sites -- it did make it easier to buy plane tickets months ago.

We're hoping to meet Mechelle Voepel at Grumpy's on Sunday and have a long debate about site selections, and about why our Gophers are gonna crush her Wildcats. Mechelle, what say you?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Voepel also has a more in-depth article dealing with the site selection problem.

A couple days ago, I needled Mechelle a little bit for just complaining without offering some suggestions of what we can do to fix the problem. In her new version, she has thrown out some good ideas.

Mechelle and others have been arguing that the old system -- where the higher seeds got home court -- was better. This is one place where I part company.

In my view, any home court advandage -- whether given to the higher or lower seed -- is unfair. The Dance is a one-and-done affair. You only get one game against a team to see who's better. If you really just want to see who's better, you gotta play on a neutral floor.

Voepel and others are right that the old system was "more fair" in that the higher seed earned home court by having a better regular season.

That's true... but it was also more boring. From a fan's perspective, it wasn't very fun to have the possibility of upsets bleached out of the tournament. This year, the unfair lower seed home courts will no doubt create some exciting games and good stories.

The current system is less fair and more anarchic than the old system... but as Mike Lopresti said in the USA Today, the women's game could use a little more anarchy.

That all said, everyone agrees that the current system is still suboptimal. When the committee switches formats again after this year, they need to make it better. If they go to 8 sites, they need to make those sites neutral -- or at least more neutral.

I suspect the underlying problem is money. The NCAA wants to fill seats. The easy thing is to send the tournament to Lubbock or Hartford or The Pit. But it might be better to take the risk of truly neutral sites. There will be some busts and some empty seats in some places, but in the long run, it'd be better for the game.

Mechelle is definitely right about one thing -- coaches need to speak up and demand something better. Fans and journalists need to do the same.
Some good new stuff at ESPN.com.

Lieberman and Voepel, the two great women's hoops doyennes, pick their Final Fours. They only agree about one.

(Voepel quickly apologizes for not picking UConn or Tennessee, and asks Husky and Vol fans not to blow up her email box with hate mail.)

Mechelle also runs down some of the great early round action. There will be some huge subregional games -- at UCSB, the Pit, OSU, and Minnesota -- it should be fun.

ESPN also has its coverage map up. I'm a lawyer, and I still don't understand how this thing works.... just turn on your damn tv and watch what's on.
What are the origins of the phrases "March Madness," "Sweet 16," and "Final Four"?

Answer here.
You are all no doubt wondering: who won the Shell-Economist Essay Prize?

The answer: Pleniger, for her Interview with a Fungus.
More positive reports about women's college basketball -- yes, attendance was way up this year, but more importantly, people are now gambling on the women's game!
Gobrecht: "I poured my heart and soul into this thing and I finally got it exactly where I wanted it and then they do this. It's true that we haven't catapulted to the top, but we have been going forward."

It sounds like there's been friction between Chris and the athletic department. They've been promising her better facilities for awhile, but haven't delivered. Ironically, it sounds like part of the reason they fired her was because the new arena is finally on the way, and they want to combine that with a new big name to jump start the program.

"I hate to leave this great young team. They're the kind of kids I need to be coaching, the arena is on the way and I don't get to finish the job," Gobrecht said. "That is extremely disappointing. Someone is going to walk into an incredible situation."

Will it be Cheryl Miller?
TCU wants to get over the subregional hump and make the Sweet Sixteen this year.

They do have one additional distraction to worry about: coach Mittie was arrested for DUI last night.
Geno was on SportsCenter this morning.

He said it's unfair that Penn State has to play in Hartford -- he says they need to get rid of all homecourt in the tourney.

He said Alana Beard is one of the classiest, most athletic, most intense players he's ever been around.

He said that the Huskies could go out in the second round or could win the whole thing, and nothing would surprise him.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Big stuff from Joe Drape in tomorrow's Times:

When people talk about the men's game, many say "the game is on the decline because too many underclassmen jump to the N.B.A. and because some high school stars do not go to college at all."

On our side: "When the N.C.A.A. women's basketball tournament begins Saturday, the voices will mostly be unanimous that the game is on the upswing. Women's college basketball is attracting more fans to its arenas and higher television ratings."

The article makes the now-familiar point that the women's game has better fundamentals. But two other points are more important: first, that the quality of play is increasing rapidly as more young girls are playing seriously; and second, that parity is increasing.

(One possible touch of grey -- Drape notes that "So far, no women have left college early for the W.N.B.A." Will this be changing soon?)
Some news out of SoCal this evening: USC has fired coach Chris Gobrecht.

I'm a little surprised about this one because it seemed like the Trojans were heading in the right direction. After going 8-10 in conference last year, they went 11-7 this year, tied for third.

They played a tough nonconference schedule, almost upsetting UConn and Colorado. They were only a win or two away from a tournament bid.

But I guess it wasn't enough. USC has a great history and high expectations. Almost making the tournament doesn't cut it.
A little over a year ago when we started this blog (yes, you missed our blog birthday -- but we'll accept belated gifts), the biggest story in women's basketball wasn't UConn or Duke.

It was Toni Smith.

She was the player at Manhattanville College who made national headlines by refusing to face the flag during the national anthem.

She recently gave this interview looking back at her protest and the reaction it caused.

Although it was billed in the media as a war protest, in Toni's mind, it had more to do with her belief that the flag represents the slaughter of her ancestors (she is part Cherokee). Toni also tells how only two of her teammates really supported her, while several others tried to make her life "a living hell."

Toni now works as a mentor in New York City. She says she has no regrets.
Lieberman profiles the four #1 seeds:

Duke: probably would have won last year if Mo was on the court -- this year, they don't really have a weakness.

Tennessee: they've recovered nicely from the Moore injury, and they're still improving going into the dance.

Penn State: yes, they do have other good players on the squad, and they had a very tough nonconference schedule, which should help prepare them for the tough East bracket.

Texas: deep and balanced, but sometimes lacking in team chemistry -- seeing their losses to Tech and OU might give opponents confidence.

Nancy doesn't really make any picks here (so far, none of the ESPN columnists have --why?), but it looks like she thinks Duke has the best shot to win it all.
A Penn State student columnist despairs of the Lions' chances of beating UConn and earning a trip to New Orleans.

A Penn student columnist feels the same.
The SacBee notes Nicole Powell's future as a WNBA star.

"Along with Taurasi, Nicole is the most skilled player in the draft," says Monarchs GM and coach John Whisenant. "Nicole has Chris Webber hands - that's why she gets so many rebounds. She's a good perimeter shooter and an outstanding passer. She's definitely a point forward like Larry Bird or Scottie Pippen."

Some observers, however, are more wary, wondering what position Nicole will play in the pros. "You don't want to pass on a player like her, but if it's me drafting third, I'm not sure I'd take her there," one scout told the LA Times. "Her versatility makes her special. But I'm not sure what is her best position for the WNBA. It will be challenging on how she fits into a team."

But of course, we're getting ahead of ourselves -- there's still work to be done at the college level. This year is Powell's last chance to lead the Cardinal deep into the tournament.

"That's the challenge ahead for Nicole - leading us to the Final Four," says coach TV. "That's how we measure greatness."

But VanDerveer also notes that the team's lack of March success shouldn't diminish Powell too much.

"When you look at some of the other great players out there, they have a lot of talent around them. Nicole hasn't had as much athleticism around her as Alana Beard or Diana Taurasi. So the numbers she's posting and the things she's doing, she's doing on her own. That's not discrediting our players, but there is more athleticism around those other players. In some ways, we have to really work for our points."
To get ready for 14,000 fans (including me) at Williams Arena, UCLA has been practicing with really loud fake crowd noise.

The Bruins aren't intimidated by playing a higher seed on the road. "This isn't good enough to just get in," coach Olivier said. "We want to do some damage. We want to get in and really put our name out there and show people we belong."
La Tech wonders why it doesn't get to play in Baton Rouge.

Coach Budke thinks they are actually better off without Cheryl Ford, because last year they relied too much on her, and this year they're more of a team.
Whalen update:

"One day after having her cast removed from her right hand, Whalen followed a 1 1/2-hour practice with a 20-minute scrimmage with the male scout team. Shooting and catching the ball, she said, felt relatively normal, although passing with her weakened hand was a challenge."
Both UConn teams were picked #1 at the beginning of the year, both have struggled at times this year, both teams' stars have been beaten up... and now both are #2 seeds. Greg Garber looks at Okafor, Taurasi, and UConn basketball.
Coach Coale on playing in Tempe: "I don't expect a lot of electricity there. I don't expect much atmosphere. I like the fact that we are going somewhere warm, but I don't know that it will be so warm inside the gym."

OU, Stanford, Mizzou, and Marist fans may be few and far between also, in part because baseball spring training is making it tough to get airfare and hotel rooms.
Voepel complains again about the current site system, this time in her KC Star column.
The USA Today points out some lesser-known players that we should keep an eye on: Sancho Lyttle, Amisha Carter, Khara Smith, and Sandora Irvin.
According to the Dallas Morning News, "Predetermined site selections may give lower seeds edge."

That's some brilliant analysis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

WaPo on Mo Currie: she "isn't yet a dominant player, but few women in the country can match her combination of quickness, strength, skills and smarts."

Indeed, Mo might be the best athlete in the game. If she plays well, she could be the difference between just making the Final Four and winning it.
The Chron takes stock of the Stanford program and coach TV.

While still a marquee national program, Stanford has seen a string of early exits from the tournament in recent years. This year -- with a relatively favorable draw, senior leadership from Nicole Powell, and good recent play -- offers hope for a better result.

But don't expect TV to throw in the towel if it doesn't work out.

"I think Tara's at peace," said Colorado coach Ceal Barry, one of VanDerveer's closest friends in coaching. "She's playing the piano, she has her dogs. She's at a point where she's proven she's one of the best coaches in the country."
I've been promising D2 coverage for months but failing to deliver.

So -- South Dakota State, the defending national champion, endured a wild game last night against North Dakota. The Jackrabbits held on for the 72-70 OT victory and earned another trip to the Elite Eight.

SDSU will face Cal-Pa next Wednesday. Cal, ranked #3 in the national polls, beat Glenville State to advance.

Seattle Pacific is the #1 team in the country. The Falcons also earned the trip to St. Joe's last night be beating Cal Poly Pomona. Amy Taylor sang the national anthem and then racked up 21 points and 10 assists.
Sounds like Lew Perkins is trying to recruit Nell Fortner for the KU coaching job. He's getting ready to offer a big payday.
Lindsay Whalen's affable father says, "I even liked Cheryl Littlejohn."

It seems certain now that Lindsay will play. She likely will not be 100%, and it's unclear if she'll still have the brace on, but she'll be out there.

Great photo of Lindsay with the link above too...

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Insane Platypus has his thoughts about the bracket here. He doesn't like the major conference bias.
Good news for peace activists -- ASU and Washington are on opposite sides of the NIT bracket.
The Courant's Lori Riley has 64 stories to follow in the tournament.
Utah coach Elaine Elliott on turning down the WNIT: "I told them it isn't for me. I don't care about it. The program doesn't need it. I don't need it. It's only about them, and they chose not to do that."

Utah wonders what more could it do...

The Utes can't control how good the other Mountain West teams are or how tough the other teams' schedules are. But they can control their own nonconference schedule.

This year, they did schedule a few tough games: UCSB, Montana, and Oklahoma. They lost all three. A win in even one of those three would have gotten them in.

Utah also played a bunch of marginal nonconference teams: SE Missouri, Fresno State, St. Mary's, Wash State, N Arizona, and USF.

Utah has a reasonable case that it should have been taken over Maryland or West Virginia. (Maryland, with a 12 seed, was the last at-large team in.) But there is more Utah could have done to help its own case.
Voepel goes ballistic over the women's tournament and its pre-determined sites.

Women's hoops fans, she says, "either are like me, feeling like they're screaming from a dungeon in Bedlam Hospital because this has driven them so bonkers, or they're still trying to find a reasonable explanation for it. Which doesn't exist."

It's true, of course, that the system is ridiculous and unfair.

But the women's tournament still can't fill stadiums at truly neutral sites. Until it can, you have to have home games in the tournament.

No one really likes home games. Either (1) the higher seed has home court advantage, giving them a too-easy time and making upsets nearly impossible (killing all the fun); or (2) the lower seed has home court, removing much of the advantage that the higher seed was supposed to gain for its better performance during the season.

Until we can fill seats at neutral sites, we're stuck with some mix of these problems. Much as Mechelle's complaints are valid, she doesn't offer any way out.

In my view, the current system is better than the previous system, which gave high seeds home court in the first rounds, essentially making the subregionals a formality. From what I understand, the next system (coming in '05) will be better than the current system.

Some day the women's game will reach a level of popularity that will allow neutral sites. That's what the men's side has. That should be the goal. But we aren't there yet.

Until we get there, we're stuck with second-best solutions. Beyond just venting about it, we need to keep trying to figure out what to do to move the game forward.
More reaction:

Taurasi: "When you can play in your own state for four games and when your fans are able to come and watch you play, it's definitely an advantage for us."

Coach Summitt on having so many familiar teams in her region: "When you play this kind of schedule, you pretty much set yourself up for something similar to this.''

UNC Coach Hatchell on getting shipped to South Bend to meet Notre Dame: "It's the same as last year. That is the way it is, and we have to deal with it."

Miami coach Ferne Labati: "We really were thinking we could be a sixth seed or a seventh seed. To be a No. 5 seed, it just says so much for them respecting what we did during the year."

West Virginia coach Mike Carey on making it in off the bubble: "I was happy for about five seconds. And then I started to think about Ohio State.''

Southern coach Sandy Pugh on playing Texas at Texas: "We'll just go in and play hard. We don't have anything to lose."

K State coach Patterson on playing Minnesota at Minnesota: "Those are things you don't have any control over."

ASU coach Turner Thorne on east coast bias: "The numbers are that two-thirds of the committee and schools are east of the Mississippi, and I do think you see that reflected in the bracket year in and year out."
The committee really punished the Pac-10.

It wasn't terribly surprising that only three teams got in -- that both ASU and Washington were left out.

What was more surprising was the way the committee treated the teams that did get in.

UCLA has to play Minnesota at Minnesota in the first round. Arizona has to play Michigan State first, and then Texas at Texas in the second round.

Stanford, ranked #10 in the coaches' poll and #12 in the writers' poll, received only a 6 seed.

"We just have to play well. You can't get caught up in what seed you are,'' said coach VanDerveer. "I think it definitely shows disrespect to our team and our conference. But what are you going to do, cry about it or do something about it?"

Stanford does, however, have a fairly easy draw, and its games will be played on neutral floors. Unlike UCLA and UA, it has a fighting chance to make it out of the subregionals.
In terms of the bubble, the biggest surprise was that Utah was excluded while both Maryland and NC State got in from the ACC, and West Virginia slid in also.

Utah went 24-7 this year. It had an RPI in the 38-40 range. It was regular season co-champion of the Mountain West.

Maryland and NC State, by contrast, had RPIs in the 46-50 range. They were both 8-8 in ACC play.

West Virginia was the weakest RPI team to make the cut. It had some very good wins but some very questionable losses.

The committee obviously punished the Utes for their relatively weak schedule. Utah did not have a single win over a top-50 team, and 10 of its wins were over teams with RPIs of 200 or more.

But Maryland did not exactly have a bevy of quality wins either. It's only top 50 win was over NC State.

And West Virginia's overall schedule was no stronger than Utah's.

Utah yesterday was shocked, confused, and emotional. After the NCAA snub, they decided to turn down the NIT bid. Their season is over.