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Thank goodness.

An ugly, cranky start by the Merc gave Maya Moore the Lynx a nice lead. And then then Penny Taylor in the fourth quarter happened. And then… Bonner missed a FT, Maya didn’t, Diana missed a three and Big Syl grabbed the rebound. Lynx go to 4-0, Mercury fall to 0-4.

From Richard at WNBAlien: WNBA and the Pick+Roll, and introducing the W Dozen

Eleven days into the WNBA season, it’s a little early to be drawing any real conclusions (although the ‘Minnesota good’, ‘San Antonio bad’, and ‘What the hell is going on in Phoenix?’ hot-takes are already emerging). So we’re going to take a look at one of the key building-blocks of virtually every modern offense in professional basketball. The pick-and-roll – or even just the pick – is an incredibly simple concept. You put a teammate in the way of your defender, and then force the defense to deal with the problems that creates.

From Excelle: How New York Liberty are remaking their small forward position

The New York Liberty play a throwback style of basketball. Defense and rebounding are priorities 1A and 1B. While other teams move towards smaller fours that can spread the floor, head coach Bill Laimbeer’s squad often plays two traditional bigs together. The Lib will bog teams down to a crawl and punish them in the low post. It’s been a fun and successful brand of ball, and it hasn’t taken away from the more modern aspects of New York’s game. 

This season, the Liberty have scoffed at playing traditional small forwards, opting instead for smaller players who perform despite not fitting the mold.

Connecticut: Slow Start, Too Many Fouls, Mar Beginning Of Miller’s First Season With Sun

Because of the monthlong Olympic break in August, the WNBA season lasts into September so a few missteps in May aren’t going to make a team panic.

Still, the start of season is a critical time for the Connecticut Sun. New coach Curt Miller is trying to install his system and bring a new culture to the franchise. It would be better for all concerned if some positive reinforcement was available early to help the process.

SlamOnline.com: Q+A: Nneka Ogwumike – The fifth-year Sparks forward dishes on L.A.’s hot start.

From Paul Doyle at the Hartford Courant: Dolson Spreads Word On Her Identity, And WNBA’s

About 90 minutes before the Connecticut Sun‘s home opener, Morgan Tuck walked past a cluster of reporters surrounding Washington Mystics center Stefanie Dolson.

“Oh my God, Stefanie Dolson!” Tuck yelled.

Without missing a beat, Dolson replied.

“Oh my God, Morgan Tuck!” she said.

Then it was back answering questions, seamlessly and smiling. Dolson, who left UConn for the WNBA two years ago, is still the same quick-witted, breezy personality who became a fan favorite during her time in Storrs.

From Cosmopolitan: How WNBA Player Imani Boyette Beat the Odds — and Her Depression

From the Fever: Wheelin’ Around: Erica Wheeler’s Journey to the WNBA

NCAA

From the Tennessean’s: Joe Rexrode: Vanderbilt’s Stephanie White — worth the wait

White is the head coach of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever and will remain so through a season that could realistically end in the Finals in mid-October (she led the Fever to the Finals a year ago as a rookie head coach). She might take full command of her first Vandy team less than a month before it starts the 2016-17 season.

That’s not ideal. But if White is what Vanderbilt thinks she is, what her resume and command of a room suggest she is, it’s meaningless. It’s the delayed flight to start a vacation that you’re already laughing about at the end of the vacation.

More on White from the AP’s Teresa Walker: Stephanie White ready to speed up Vanderbilt as new coach

And more on the ‘Around the Rim’ podcast: Meeting expectations

On the latest edition of “Around The Rim,” 2005 WNBA champion Ticha Penicheiro joins women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson as special guest host.

The two discuss the Sparks’ dominant win over the Sky, why the Mercury continue to struggle, whether or not teams are exceeding or falling below expectations and which players that usually fly under the radar are playing surprisingly well.

Plus, Hall of Fame coach Lin Dunn stops in to discuss Stephanie White’s end-of-the-season departure to coach at Vanderbilt, her decision to exit retirement and return to coaching at Kentucky and much more.

Speaking of Dunn: Kentucky’s new assistant coaches have strong bonds, common goal

It’s a word rolled out with regularity by head coaches to describe their team and coaching staff: family.

The three new assistant coaches hired by embattled Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell certainly gave off that familial vibe when they met with the media for the first time Wednesday.

The newest hire, Hall of Famer Lin Dunn, said she thinks of her new boss “almost like a son” before giving a sideways glance and a smirk.

“Not a grandson, but a son,” quipped the 69-year-old, who has won more than 500 games at the college, professional and international levels.

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DANCE!!!”

h/t do AP’s Doug Feinberg (and to his colleague Will Graves for doing the leg work and tabulating – ’cause this has been a GOOD trend this tourney): Duquesne, Buffalo Among First-Timers in NCAA Women’s Tourney

In a flash, anxiety became joy. Belief morphed into reality. The slow steady rise from obscurity to respectability validated in an instant. The free T-shirts that read “Duquesne’s Going Dancing” transformed from wishful thinking to truth in advertising.

Welcome to the madness, Dukes. You too, Central Arkansas, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Iona. The NCAA women’s basketball tournament isn’t just for the blue bloods anymore.

All five programs will make their NCAA debuts this weekend after earning their first-ever tournament berths, a watershed moment for schools who have spent the last three decades relegated to watching the madness play out on TV without them.

Speaking of Blue Bloods: Duke women’s basketball not in NCAA Tournament for 1st time in 21 years

Joseph Zucker at Bleacher Report has NCAA Women’s Basketball Bracket 2016: Results, Seeds, Reaction and Analysis

Jay Drew at the Salt Lake Tribune: No. 7 seed BYU draws Missouri in NCAA Tournament

Missouri (21-9) is making its first trip to the tournament in 10 years, while BYU (26-6) is in March Madness for the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons. The Tigers lost their final two regular season games before falling 47-45 to Auburn in the SEC Tournament on March 3.

“I am happy [with the seeding],” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “I think we got what we deserved. I think if we had won the [WCC] tournament, we would have been a little bit higher, but I feel really good about playing Missouri. I have seen them play a little bit and it will be a good matchup for us.”

Adrian Szkola from Lo(wer) Hud(son): Iona draws Maryland in NCAA tournament

In the days leading up to Selection Monday, Iona women’s basketball head coach Billi Godsley made it a point to not pay any attention to the bracket predictions.

Seeing how her players reacted to when Kentucky’s opponent was revealed on ESPN’s selection show, it’s pretty obvious they didn’t do the same.

ESPN’s Charlie Creme had projected Kentucky to face off against Iona in his last bracketology update.  Iona’s players let out an “oohh” when it was revealed that No. 3 Kentucky would play No. 14 UNC-Asheville at Lexington, Kentucky.

Ken Klimek from the Notre Dame Insider: Notre Dame women get a pleasant geographical surprise

“It’s exciting to go to Lexington, but we have to focus on the first two games and do our job on those,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We have to be all business and I am sure the seniors will take care of that. Being a No. 1 seed takes a lot of work. This team makes it look easy, but they put in a lot of work all season. So does the staff.”

Mitch Blomert from the Waco Tribune: 

All year long, the Baylor women have worn green bracelets with the inscription of a message that has carried them this season: “eight is not enough,” referring to the team’s back-to-back Elite Eight exits in the 2014 and ’15 NCAA tournaments.

The Lady Bears are back in the big dance, and the path to their goal of a Final Four appearance has been paved. Now they just have to stay alive to get there.

Dave Cloninger at The State: Gamecocks earn third straight No. 1 seed

It hasn’t been a great two days for South Carolina basketball and the NCAA Tournament selection committees.

A day after the Gamecocks’ men’s team was snubbed by the tournament, USC’s women’s team was placed in the Sioux Falls Regional. While the Gamecocks earned their third straight No. 1 seed and open the NCAA Tournament at home, they would have to play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds in South Dakota, should they advance.

“It’s pretty surprising, but at the same time, we’re not on the committee. We weren’t in a room, so we don’t know what was behind it,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “But we got to do our job. Our job is to open up on Friday night and take care of our business.”

Richard Deitsch and Lindsay Schnell from Sports Illustrated ask  Can South Carolina escape Sioux Falls? and  Can No. 1 Baylor survive Dallas region? and say NCAA women’s tournament: UConn is the team to beat again

Evan McCullers from The Plainsman: Women’s basketball makes NCAA Tournament field

A year after winning only three SEC games, the Auburn women’s basketball team is going to play on the sport’s biggest stage for the first time since 2009.

NEC: Robert Morris

“Playing UConn defines the word challenge. In the history of all sports, one could really give a good argument that UConn women’s basketball team is the most dominant ever in the history of sports,” said RMU head coach Sal Buscaglia. “You’re not talking about one or two titles, you’re talking about 10 national titles.
 
“We’re really happy for the opportunity and the challenge. This is an exciting moment in these young women’s lives no matter what happens in the game. We’re just going to take this one possession at a time, prepare the same way we always do, but obviously this is a major David vs. Goliath scenario. I know our players will give everything they have on that court. It’s about the process and the journey and going to play Connecticut is something they’ll be able to tell their kids and grandkids that they did.”

More on Morris: Colonials relish opportunity to play undefeated UConn

Sean Star from the Reporter Herald: Colorado State women’s basketball headed West for NCAA Tournament

Finally, the Rams got to sit back, relax and enjoy everything they’ve accomplished all season.

Because up until now, they’ve been too busy keeping their heads down and focused on the next task.

Not this time.

This time the Colorado State women’s basketball team soaked it all in during its NCAA Tournament selection show watch party on Monday.

Michael Epps from the Detroit News : Spartans women’s NCAA vision comes to fruition

Michigan State women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant had her team watch the selection show together last year and see their team not make the NCAA Tournament.

A chip on their shoulder? That’s an understatement.

“I was on the team last year, and I know how disappointing it was to watch a selection show and know that we weren’t going to come up,” junior guard Tori Jankoska said. “Coach Merchant told us that this wasn’t to punish us, but to show us where we should be and we need to see ourselves next year.”

Jonathan Lintner from the Courier-Journal: Some drama with U of L women’s NCAA draw

“I would have loved it for our fans,” Walz said of the regional assignment in a phone interview after the selection, “but we have to win the first two games first. I’m not really big on getting ahead of myself. We have to come out and get ready to play the 2:30 game Friday. Hopefully a lot of businesses downtown can just do a half day of work and let their employees come to the game.

“It’s one of those things we knew could happen. I completely understand. If the committee wanted to put Kentucky in Lexington, it makes sense. Unfortunately for our fans, it’s not as easy of a drive — or a flight — trying to get to Dallas.

Lindsay Kramaer from Syracuse.com: Syracuse women’s basketball planning NCAA Tournament trip well beyond Carrier Dome

“Obviously, it’s good to be home,” said Orange coach Quentin Hillsman, who is taking his team to its fourth straight NCAA party. “That’s all we wanted to do is have our opportunity to play home. We didn’t really care who it was. We just wanted to have a home game and be able to play in the Dome in front of our fans. We’re just excited that we’re not packing our bags and going in the road.”

If Syracuse wins two games it will gladly break out the luggage. Success in the Dome means advancement to the Sweet 16 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and a possible showdown against No. 1 seed South Carolina. Syracuse has never reached the Sweet 16.

Joey Knight from the Tampa Bay Times : USF women happy about seed, puzzled by placement in NCAA Tournament

From Dan Wolken over at USA Today: South Carolina’s Dawn Staley emerging as new face of women’s basketball

It is just past 10 a.m. the morning after another big victory, but things are not going well for one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time. Dawn Staley’s regular pickup game with a collection of managers, graduate assistants and South Carolina compliance officials has suddenly become less friendly than just a few minutes earlier when she was gathering everyone for a group selfie and joyfully screaming to hype herself up.

Nobody is running harder at both ends of the floor than Staley, the fireball point guard for three Olympic gold medal teams, three Final Four teams at Virginia and six WNBA All-Star games. But at 45, she relies less these days on her quickness and passing than making sure the background music in the gym is right.

“We need Beyonce!” she yells as a manager goes scurrying to his iPod with Staley’s team suddenly behind 15-6.

Find USAToday’s tournament coverage here.

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….aaaaand dance by the light of the moon!”

It took a buzzer beater by Stephanie Reid, but for the first time in Buffalo history, the program has won a MAC championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

UB Women’s Basketball wasn’t supposed to here, at least not with this group of women.

After going from one of the deepest frontcourts in the conference in January 2015 to one of the youngest teams in the country by October 2016, the Bulls weren’t supposed to advance to the MAC Semifinal for the second straight year and third time in school history.

Even after upsetting them twice in the regular season, the eighth-seeded UB wasn’t supposed to beat frontrunner Ohio, sitting on a bye in the quarterfinal.

In today’s 88-87 win over fifth-seeded Akron, who beat Buffalo twice in the regular season, the Bulls weren’t supposed to hang with the Zips’ desired pace and outside shooting. They weren’t supposed to hit the half within two – or the final quarter within a single – possessions after Akron came out blazing from three. (The Zips would finish with 15 made threes). And they certainly weren’t supposed to survive losing sophomore point guard Stephanie Reid to her fifth foul midway through the third quarter.

But the Bulls hit plenty of shots…

Others singing, “Do ya, do ya, do ya wanna dance?”

Hawai’i, representing the Big West. The last time the Wahine went dancin’ it was 1998 and they were “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” and Will Smith. Senior Ashleigh Karaitiana was four.

“It was all part of the process,” Karaitiana said. “Not just for this year, but the last four years. This is what we worked for, and I’m really proud of the outcome.”

Karaitiana was named tournament MVP after averaging 15 points per game. She shot 6 of 13 from the field to help second-seeded Hawaii earn a measure of redemption after losing the Big West title game last year.

“We were in this game last year and got the result we didn’t want,” she said. “We came into this game more prepared and knowing what we need to do and took care of it on the floor tonight.”

Alabama State, representing the SWAC. No surprise, for a conference that had a three-way tie in the regular season, the final game was edgy affair.
“We knew it was going to be a war,” said Lady Hornets coach Freda Freeman-Jackson, who became the first SWAC coach to lead a team to consecutive tournament titles. “Southern is always a championship-caliber team. We knew we had our work cut out.
Idaho, representing the Big Sky. In the first “all-Idaho” finals, the Vandals got a battle from upstart Idaho State, then dug deep.

Before the hugs, before the smiles and cries, and before the trophy-hoisting, picture-posing and net-cutting, the Idaho women’s basketball team had to come to a realization: This could be the end. 

Trailing Idaho State by three at halftime Saturday in the Big Sky Conference tournament title game, the Vandals understood they were 20 minutes away from falling short of their season-long championship aspirations.

The seniors didn’t want their collegiate careers to end. The freshmen didn’t want their magical debut season to conclude with heartbreak. The coaches didn’t want the work their players put in all year to not pay dividends the way it had in the past.

North Carolina A&T, representing the MEAC. The Aggies handled Coppin State to earn their first championship in seven years, the first for fourth-year coach Tarrell Robinson.

Aprill McRae and Christina decided to transfer from VCU because they believed head coach Tarrell Robinson’s vision for winning a championship at North Carolina A&T State University. Dana Brown had the same aspirations when she transferred from UNC Wilmington.

Courtney Powell decided to play one more season of college basketball as a graduate transfer for the same reason. Perhaps the most inspiring story comes from fifth=year guard Adriana Nazario’s decision to play one more year – despite having graduated and despite having knee problems – in an effort to give this whole winning a championship thing one more try. Their decisions paid off.

James Madison, representing the Colonial. For the third-straight year, the Dukes earned the conference championship (and name collectors, here’s one for ya: Jazmon Gwathmey)

JMU (27-5) will bring a 20-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. The run includes three wins over the Dragons (19-13), who were looking for their first league title since 2009.

Gwathmey, the CAA Player of the Year, made half of her 18 shots, collected four rebounds and, at the end, absorbed a meaningful hug from her appreciative coach.

“A very special moment,” Brooks said.
“It meant a lot because this is what we work for,” Gwathmey said. “It’s definitely the way you want to go out your senior year, especially winning three in a row.”
New Mexico State, representing the WAC. Payback was on the mind of the Aggies as they routed Rio Grande Valley, 80-53.

It’s the program’s first ever back-to-back conference tournament titles, fourth NCAA Tournament bid and the first consecutive NCAA Tournament bids since 1987 and 1988.

“Going into this game, they kind of ruined our Senior Night,” said senior Sasha Weber, who was named tournament MVP. “Personally, that was a little bit of fuel for me. I know Shanice (Davis) and Abby (Scott) too being seniors. And they snapped our undefeated streak. Especially getting down at 20 at home, we knew coming into this game, a championship game, we had to start off strong and keep up the intensity up.”

Army, representing the Patriot. MVP Kelsey Minato‘s 25  helped propel the Black Knights to win number 29 and send the team back to the NCAA tourney.

“This group of young ladies has just accomplished so much with 99 wins over four years at this level is incredible and they just continue to do what it takes,” Magarity said. “Janae McNeal and the junior class with Aliyah Murray and the Morris twins [Destinee and Daizjah], as well, and I consider my coaching staff the best in America. It’s the best coaching staff I’ve ever had and I’ve had some pretty good coaches.”

He also couldn’t have had many better players than Mina1q. The senior guard – Army’s all-time leading scorer – served in her customary role of scoring when the team needed it most. She scored half of her team’s 20 first-quarter points, including a jumper to conclude the period. By game’s end, she had scored a game-high 25 points, including 4 of 8 from beyond the 3-point line.

Middle Tennessee State, representing the C-USA. The Blue Raiders ended ODU’s great run with a confident 70-54 win.

“Sometimes I get caught up in watching them play, instead of coaching them,” Insell said. “They are such a joy to watch, and a lot of people didn’t give us the credit we deserved.”

The second-seeded Blue Raiders (24-8) have won six straight and 15 of their last 16 games, and the conference championship in two of the last three seasons.

 Troy, representing Sun Belt. Known for their offense, Troy’s win came down to… defense. In the last 20 seconds, a score by Ashley Beverly Kelley followed by a win-saving block by Caitlyn Ramirez –  capped the journey of a program’s revival.

Head coach Chanda Rigby inherited a two-win program in 2012, and now just four years later the Troy women’s basketball team is the 2016 Sun Belt Tournament Champions after a 61-60 over Little Rock at Lakefront Arena on Saturday.

Troy will make the second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, and its first since 1997.

 “Our overall goal and theme was faith, faith was our motto,” Rigby said.  “I felt more out of sync and more out of the groove in this game than probably any game we’ve played the second half of the year.  It was a bad feeling, but the faith – we just kept saying to keep it close.

 “And of course, what happened at the end was nothing that the coaches called.  I believe it was Ashley Beverly Kelley’s faith in the end that she could get the ball in her hands and pull us ahead, and I think faith is what made Caitlyn go up for the blocked shot that sealed it in the end.

Other results:
I TOLD you the Horizon was going to be interesting. In the semis, Northern Kentucky took Green Bay to two overtimes before falling 80-78.
In the Southland, Sam Houston 14-17, 7-11) upset  Northwestern State (19-11, 13-5), 78-71.
As their similar records might have predicted, the Missouri State and Drake game was a back-and-forth affair. The Bears pulled away in the fourth to secure the 65-61 win.

Sunday games (DID YOU SPRING AHEAD?) that will secure the final guaranteed spots in the Tournament:

Southland: Central Arkansas v. Sam Houston State, 12:30PM. The Sugar Bears are the heavy favorite, but we’ve see what THAT means this tourney season…

A-Sun: Florida Gulf Coast v. Jacksonville, 2PM – ESPN3. Yes, the Eagles are the cream of the conference, but Jacksonville’s been making some noise.

Big South: Liberty v. UNC Asheville, 2PM. Liberty has been the traditional power in the conference, but the Bulldogs have undergone a huge transformation under coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick (3 years ago = 2 wins).

NEC: Robert Morris v. Sacred Heart, 3PM. Under (retiring) coach Sal Buscaglia, the Colonials have fought their way to the final and, to be honest, I haven’t really noticed how strong the Stags have been in conference play this year.

MVC: Missouri State v. Northern Iowa, 3PM. This ought to be a great match up between teams with similar records. They split their regular season games. (BTW, UNI’s Tanya Warren should be on AD’s “poachable” list… and in case you’ve missed it, “Hello, coach Kellie Harper!”)

Horizon: Green Bay v Milwaukee, 1PM. Year after year, teams come at the Phoenix, and year after year they get turned back. Last time these two teams met, it was a 23-point loss for the Panthers.

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