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’cause it’s the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeeear… Take a deep breath, y’all, shut the door and pull up a chair ’cause you’ve got a lot of reading to do!

First things first: WNIT!!
Saturday, April 2  |  3 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. CT
CBS Sports Network – Thad Anderson (play-by-play) and Chiney Ogwumike (analyst)

The finals are set and it pits two programs who’ve got something to prove (to the selection committee): South Dakota v. Florida Gulf Coast University.

The Coyotes earned a birth by throughly handling Oregon, 88-54.

DakotaDome’s long goodbye as a basketball facility will now officially be talked about for a very long time. The old gal just doesn’t want to give up on roundball just yet. USD will now play the winner of Michigan vs. Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday accompanied by a crowd expected to be bigger than Wednesday’s.

“Even when we were just warming up at 60 minutes (before the game), the people were filling in,” said Kelly Stewart, who was one of six Coyotes who hit double-figures. “Then every time we came out of the locker room there was more people. And finally, when we were about to do the starting lineups, I looked up and I got a huge smile on my face. Everyone was smiling.”

The Eagles took on Michigan in from of a record crowd, and came away with the 71-61 win.

“It was a great defensive effort against a great offensive team,” said head coach Karl Smesko. “Now we’re excited to get to play for the WNIT Championship. The crowd was exceptional tonight. It was a huge advantage for us to have it here with that type of atmosphere. I’m sure it’s the type of game that these players will remember for a long time.”

FYI: WNIT NOTES

-Minnesota’s Rachel Banham scored 48 points on March 16 to lead the Gophers to an 87-80 win over Milwaukee in Round 1. That set a Postseason WNIT record for most points in a game, surpassing Tamika Whitmore of Memphis (45 against Arkansas State, 1999). 

-Sharnae Lamar of Northern Iowa dished out 15 assists to set a single-game WNIT record in the team’s 64-58 victory over Drake, 64-58. 

-The 2016 title game between South Dakota and Florida Gulf Coast is the second time since 1998 that two mid-major programs have played for the Postseason crown. In 2004, Creighton beat UNLV for the title.

-Before 2016, there have been 13 mid-major teams to reach the Postseason WNIT championship game. The six mid-major champions are Creighton (2004), Missouri State (2005), Wyoming (2007), South Florida (2009), Toledo (2011) and Drexel (2013).

About that stuff happening in Indianapolis: FREE Women’s Final Four Activities

General:

Indianapolis set to be center of women’s basketball world

All of the women’s basketball world will descend on Indianapolis this weekend in a celebration of the sport.

For the first time in NCAA history the Division I, II and III women’s titles will be decided on the same court.

“We can’t wait for the 2016 championship games in Indianapolis,” NCAA vice president for women’s basketball Anucha Browne said.

Celebrating 35 Years of NCAA Women’s Basketball

Beth Mowins to replace Dave O’Brien as announcer in Final Four, first-time all-female crew for ESPN at event

Women’s basketball | Final Four: Three first-timers crash party with UConn

Meet the Women’s Final Four

Audio: ‘Around the Rim’: Final Four preview

Audio: Kara Lawson with SI’s Richard Deitsch

Audio: Sue Bird talks about the low pay for women’s professional basketball in the United States on this edition of our Keeping Score with Rick Horrow audio podcast

Audio: HBO and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons is joined by Diana Taurasi to discuss her WNBA return from Russia, UConn’s dominance (6:00), the stupidity of lowering the rims (13:00), GSW’s selflessness (16:30), playing pickup with Westbrook and Draymond (21:00), and the struggling Lakers and D’Angelo Russell (30:00).

Audio: Special Dishin & Swishin Podcast: “Ambassador” Tamika Catchings welcomes the WBB world to Indy

Audio: Dishin & Swishin 3/31/16 Podcast: Doug Bruno is back to break down the 2016 Final Four

Women’s NCAA tournament: Four keys to the Final Four

Women’s Final Four: Can Anyone Stop UConn?

At Women’s Final Four, male-coached teams not a bad thing

These Are The Last Three Teams That Have A Chance To Beat UConn

SNYDER: UConn overshadows parity among other women’s basketball teams

VanDerveer: UConn’s rule isn’t bad for the sport — but next year it could be

Jeff Jacobs: In Women’s Final Four, It’s The Men Who Beat The Odds

Jeff Jacobs: Think UConn’s Geno Auriemma Is A Rock? You Should Meet His Wife

Pac-12 Feature: From ground floor to Final Four

My turn: JUST CATCH UP

Washington:

How UW’s and OSU’s Final Four run is a breakthrough for Pac-12 women’s basketball

Pac-12 Feature: From ground floor to Final Four

7 things to know about Washington Huskies (Syracuse women’s basketball Final Four foe)

Meet the Final Four-bound UW Huskies women’s basketball team

Washington’s jump shooter doesn’t jump

HUSKIES WOMEN: Masters of the Unexpected

Four knee surgeries later, UW’s Walton unfazed by doubts

Mike Neighbors: From Blockbuster To The Final Four

Oregon State

Five questions for Beavers-Huskies

Washington and Oregon State new faces in Final Four

New to following Oregon State women’s basketball? Here’s a crash course on the Beavers

Oregon State Beavers women’s basketball blending intensity, playfulness during Final Four run

Final Four newcomer Oregon State scrappy on defense

Watch: Gary Andersen and Pat Casey on Oregon State

OSU dreams big, embraces Final Four berth

Watch: Oregon State women’s basketball Final Four appearance called ‘incredibly miraculous’

Can Oregon State Shock The World?

Rueck’s Beavers have big fans in OSU’s 1963 Final Four team

OSU has unfinished business in Final Four

Aki Hill and the bliss of the Final Four

Open tryouts to the Final Four: Oregon State’s dramatic rise

Syracuse:

Syracuse’s Hillsman, Read preparing carefully for Washington

Syracuse women’s basketball guard Alexis Peterson brims with confidence

Keep shooting: Syracuse women’s basketball senior Brianna Butler does what she’s told

Turning point for Syracuse women’s basketball this season began with a loss

Kayla Alexander: Syracuse Orange Nation on Cloud Nine

Syracuse women’s basketball center Briana Day: Bigger foes aren’t going to push me around

Go Orange! Syracuse men’s, women’s basketball teams head to Final Four

Connecticut:

Is UConn’s sustained dominance bad for women’s basketball?

UConn may be the greatest college basketball dynasty ever

Geno Auriemma: Having to defend success ‘makes no sense’

Geno: Ignore UConn Women If You Want, ‘But Don’t Demean Those Who Appreciate It’ –

Why the dominance of the U-Conn. women’s team should be embraced

UConn’s opponents need to step up their game

Jeff Otterbein: UConn Women Simply The Best, Just Watch And Learn To Live With It

Here are a few additional assignments for sports columnist

Fans appreciate greatness, even when the games aren’t close

Fans don’t agree with columnist who says Huskies are killing the game

UConn Women’s Basketball Team Confronts Consequences Of Being ‘Too Good’

UConn too good? Quit the whining, beat ’em!

Respect the Women!

Be Great. Don’t Apologize.

UConn women don’t find winning boring

UConn women should be respected

UConn can join a pair of 4-peat pioneers in women’s basketball

Connecticut poised to make history again

UConn making something hard look easy

Huskies closer to place no team has ever been

Freshmen provide Huskies with needed backup help

UConn freshmen stepping up in NCAA Tournament

Samuelson’s family is UConn women’s basketball’s family, too

Women’s basketball: Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart leads a star-studded Final Four

Other basketball news:

Rachel for threeeeee: Banham edges Smith in 3-point championship

Brava: Jennifer Azzi comes out as gay, announces marriage to her USF assistant coach

“I, too, lived a long time not being 100 percent honest,” Azzi said. “Kind of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell kinda of thing. And it’s so stupid. I don’t know why we do that, but we do that. I’m a college coach. Is it going to hurt me with recruiting? What are people going to think? And you are constantly worrying about those things.

Supporters laud Jennifer Azzi for her bravery – but you can read the fear…

New women’s basketball coach Kenny Brooks raves about recruiting potential at Virginia Tech

Jonathan Tsipis’ plan to grow Badgers women’s basketball attendance starts with being visible –

New UW women’s basketball coach wants to keep state’s best players

Tsipis tasked with turning tide for women’s hoops

Wisconsin Women’s Basketball: Tsipis’ energy stands out during initial meeting with team

Bradbury named UNM women basketball head coach

KSU Women’s Basketball Coach Agnus Berenato

Kim Rosamond named Tennessee Tech women’s basketball head coach

Finally poached: UCF announces Katie Abrahamson-Henderson as head coach of women’s basketball

Former UConn players apply Auriemma lessons as coaches

Bye: Jatarie White to transfer from USC women’s basketball program

Bye: Two leave Duke women’s basketball team

WNBA:

Updownup-down… honestly, I think the NBA should raise their rim. It’s ridiculous how easy it is for the giants who play the game to score…

Army brass supports Minato in WNBA bid

Jennifer Gish: The next goal for UAlbany’s Shereesha Richards — the WNBA

Lindsay Whalen Joins Timberwolves’ Broadcast Booth

Deep Diving WNBA Data — Griner’s Paint Defense

WNBA Award Accuracy by Win Shares

Girls Sports Month: Candace Parker on what drives her, dunking and being a mom

WNBA Reveals New Apparel Items Celebrating Landmark 20th Season

The Legend of Lauren Jackson

Cool: Boomers And Fire GMs Head To WNBA Again

Following on from a successful visit last year to work alongside management at the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, the off-court leaders at the Deakin Melbourne Boomers and JCU Townsville Fire will again embrace a fact-finding mission in Los Angeles and Phoenix this June, this time taking in eight sporting events in 10 nights.

WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw “hitting game-winning shots” on and off the court

In case you missed it: Blake Griffin’s ‘Broad City’ appearance included a discussion about the WNBA

OT, but not really: Nike responds to U.S. national team jersey controversy

The sportswear behemoth that has outfitted the national team program for decades has been hit especially hard on two issues.

First, with the women’s jerseys, the low-cut neckline has been called unnecessarily sexualizing by some fans, and simply inconvenient anatomically for others whose body shapes aren’t the same as the widely used industry standard.

Second, with the men’s jerseys, you can’t buy one emblazoned with the three stars that represent the World Cups won by the women’s team. There are plenty of men who support Jill Ellis’ reigning champions just as much as they support Jurgen Klinsmann’s collection of question marks.

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And, if you’re one of the folks running around in it, “Please be safe, please be safe, please be safe!” Or, perhaps a better warning: “Don’t be THAT idiot.”

For instance, those involved with the MSU/Maryland game which was postponed because of snowstorm

YEAH!!! Graham is writing about Kelsey!!! Minato is hoops’ best senior who won’t play professionally

That career continues when Army and Navy play in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. As the 10-year anniversaries of both Army’s first NCAA tournament appearance and former Army coach Maggie Dixon’s death at 28 years old approach this spring — two events inexorably bonded by the respective joy and sorrow they engendered and the brief time that separated them — what Minato has accomplished is a new chapter in the story.

What Dixon envisioned, Minato embodies.

The only team in the Patriot League to beat Army this season, Bucknell did so at home earlier this month only after enduring Minato’s 35 points on 16-of-26 shooting. After that game, the team’s second win in seven tries against Minato, Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell listened to people offer congratulations for a strategy as bold and daring as to allow Minato her shots and instead focus defensive attention on stopping her mortal teammates.

Jinx? Mechelle writes about Coach Vic Schaefer builds Bulldogs into national contender (and then, Barbee helps Georgia upset No. 10 Mississippi State 47-43)

When Schaefer got the Bulldogs job, the player who would turn out to score more points than any girl in Mississippi state high school history — 5,745 — was a prep sophomore: Victoria Vivians, a 6-foot-1 guard from Carthage.

“The first call I made was to her high school coach,” Schaefer said. “We worked our tails off in recruiting her because we knew the importance of keeping her here. Obviously, it’s been big for us. It’s a special time to have a kid like her on our basketball team.”

What the Bulldogs are still trying to establish this season, though, is that they are a consistently solid offensive team around Vivians too. In her second collegiate season, she is averaging a team-best 17.6 points per game for No. 10 Mississippi State.

Speaking of offense: Fast-Paced Offense Leads OSU Women’s Basketball Team Resurgence

SB: As Thomas said, you have played the four Final Four teams from last year. You lost to three of them. Is there a worry that you’re a good program but not an elite program at this point?

KM: Well. I’m at first I think you’ve got to play those teams to see where you are. And when I came here I knew we had a lot of work to to go to build the program and part of that wanted to be aggressive scheduling. And so you know, I like the fact that we kind of measured ourselves against the best we know where we have to to get better.

They got off to a fast start – and Cheryl takes note: 

Like many teams on the rise, Santa Clara continues to be a major work in progress, even during midseason. The Broncos have not had a winning season in seven years. They earned less than 12 wins in five of those years.

This season, the team added seven new players including junior forward Lori Parkinson, a transfer from Southern Utah and the team’s top rebounder, freshman guard Savanna Hanson who leads the Broncos in assists and made three-pointers, and senior forward Devin Hudson who led the team in scoring vs. Stanford.

“Honestly we’re just trying to get better every day, so we’re excited about the fact that we’re actually getting better as a ball club. We have seven new players, it has just taken a while to get everybody on the same page, but we’re excited about where we are.”

More reading: Tamika Catchings on a Lifetime of Hoops, and the Legacy She’ll Leave

When Tamika Catchings was a little girl, she was sitting with her dad and noticed the scar on his leg. So she asked him, “Well, what happened to you?”

Harvey Catchings, a former NBA player, told her that he walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Jackson, Mississippi, as a young teenager. Harvey had grown up in that southern city, and here were his neighbors gathered by the thousands to march with King. He was injured when the large throng of marchers swelled and he passed a parked car that had a broken piece of chrome sticking out. His own father wasn’t far behind and helped him move to the sidewalk and clean the wound.

It was a day that forever made a mark, inside and out.

“That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced,” Harvey said.

Graham rights about Three new teams who entered mid-major rankings

Believe it or not, we are running out of mid-major rankings. Only two more check-ins remain before conference tournaments will end the subjective portion of the season and settle which teams will get a chance to play David, or occasionally under-seeded Goliath, in the NCAA tournament.

And we haven’t even had a chance yet to talk about Albany’s perennially underrated Shereesha Richards, St. Bonaventure again punching above its weight (or at least its enrollment) and the pipeline apparently linking Colorado State to basketball courts across Scandinavia.

There are so many stories left to tell as the final month of the regular season approaches.

By the way, Doug asked, “Where have the great mid-major teams gone?

Coach Aaron Johnston’s team’s only other losses came to then-No. 6 Maryland, by seven points, and Green Bay by one.

“The margin of error for mid-majors is so small,” Johnston said. “We played Maryland and Notre Dame close this year, beat DePaul who’s ranked and lose by one to Green Bay. Unfortunately one loss gets us out of people’s minds.”

LadySwish responded

Mid-major implies there’s a second tier of teams, an “everybody else” of women’s basketball lumped together outside of the Power 5 conference. They are the Power 5 because of football; nobody grouped them as such having to do with anything related to women’s basketball.

All the teams in the sport are playing the same sport, vying for the same trophy. But the NCAA committee and the media who vote in the poll rarely treat them as such.

Alabama, Wake Forest, Boston College, Pitt, Illinois — are these teams better than, say, South Dakota State, James Madison, Duquesne, George Washington, Green Bay, Florida Gulf Coast or Gonzaga?

More stuff: Washington’s Chantel Osahor makes her Husky women’s basketball teammates better

From Seton Hall to the WNBA

What are some of your most memorable experiences as an athletic trainer working in the WNBA?

Laura London: As a female athlete growing up in the ’90s, I remember when the WNBA was formed. Being able to work with the New York Liberty absolutely has been an all-around memorable experience. Walking out of the tunnel and stepping onto the court for my first time at Madison Square Garden, “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” was a wonderful moment as a sports fan. As a newly certified athletic trainer (ATC), being able to join an efficient and effective professional sports medicine team was a major milestone for me. Having that team be led by Laura Ramus, PT, ATC, a female athletic trainer and physical therapist, was an added bonus that has been career-shaping and inspirational.

Curt Miller Seeks to “Establish a Culture” with Young Connecticut Sun

Curt Miller may not have set out to be a pioneer, but when he accepted the job as the Connecticut Sun’s new head coach, that’s just what he became. By virtue of the move, Miller is now the first publicly gay man to be the head coach of an American professional sports team.

It’s just the latest step in an impressive coaching journey that has spanned 20-plus years in both the collegiate and professional ranks. In 13 years as a head coach at the collegiate level, Miller compiled a 290-124 record, won five MAC regular season and conference tournament championships with Bowling Green, and also lead the Falcons to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. Last year he joined Brian Agler’s staff as an assistant coach out in Los Angeles with the Sparks. Now, after being hired in December, he’s the head coach of the Connecticut Sun.

Sky player Allie Quigley’s close call with Turkish bombing shows risks of playing overseas

Two blocks away was too close for Allie Quigley.

When a suicide bomber attacked Istanbul’s main tourist district last week, killing 10 Germans and wounding 15 others, the explosion rattled the Sky guard like nothing she had ever experienced.

Yah, they stopped that: IHSAA cancels seasons for Pike, Ben Davis varsity girls basketball teams after fight

Podcast: Dishin & Swishin 1/09/16 Podcast: Channeling John Wooden? Cori Close has UCLA climbing the polls

For the first podcast of the year, Dishin & Swishin looks out West where the Pac-12 currently has the best RPI of any conference in the country. This week’s polls rankings, with Stanford ( No. 9/13), Oregon State (No. 11/12), Arizona State (No. 14/14), UCLA (No. 15/21), and California (No. 21/RV), show the respect the conference is getting nationally.

One of the most interesting of those teams is UCLA, where Cori Close’s Bruins are 11-3. The three losses are a three-point loss to second-ranked South Carolina, an overtime loss to third-ranked Notre Dame, and a thrilling double overtime loss to California.

Reviewing…the situation…

Tough sledding for Cal in the Pac-12. Ditto for Colorado.

Hofstra and James Madison are 5-1 in the CAA

George Washington has moved to 7-0 in the A-10. Keep an eye on Jones’ shoulder….

It’s been a tough year. Wichita State got its first win in the MVC.

Makin’ Debbie happy: #7 Ohio State over Michigan, 97-93.

The SEC is South Carolina... and everyone else, as #9 Kentucky gets upset by Ole Miss.

Ragin’ Cajuns are 6-1 in the Sun Belt.

Yah, UTEP is diggin’ in the C-USA.

Hello, Teddy Bears! They take down Chattanooga and move to 4-0 in the Southern.  “The loss was the Mocs’ first in league play since January 2012 at Elon, snapping a 52-game conference win streak.”

Ruff! Albany is now 6-0 in the American East.

Strong start to stumbling in the ACC: Virginia Tech (2-3) and BC (1-4)… BTW, North Carolina (2-4) lost to Wake Forest (1-4). Speaking of which: Transfers leave ACC women’s basketball feeling growing pains

“We’re a young league right now,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “When you look at this senior class, you’re not looking at a lot of WNBA draft picks in the senior class. When you look at the freshmen and sophomores, you’ve got loads of talent in the conference.”

The ACC arguably has been hit harder by transfers than any major conference.

Abilene Christian is still rolling through the Southland.

San Diego and BYU are lookin’ like the top dogs in the ever-interesting WCC. St. Mary’s one-point win over Gonzaga (3 Ls in a row) keeps everyone nice and tight.

The South Dakota teams are headed for a showdown – both are 5-1 in the Summit… as is Oral Roberts.

Hey! That snuck up on me: UT Rio Grand is 5-0 in the WAC. This didn’t sneak up on me: New Mexico State has the same conference record.

This could be fun: Eastern Washington (6-0) gives Montana State (6-1) their first loss in the Big Sky.

Don’t wanna jinx’em, but the Gauchos handed UC-Davis their first conference loss, and are now 4-1 in the Big West.

Games to keep you entertained if you’re snowbound:

Oklahoma v. Texas – how do these teams play the game after a “recovery win”?

ESPN 3: The Zips face the Chippewas at 1PM EST

FS1: Interesting test? Baylor v. Iowa, 1:30 EST

The Bonnies (6-2) v. the Dukes (7-1), 2PM EST

EPSN3: Horizon bragging rights: Green Bay v. Wright State, 2PM. (BTW: Congrats to Raider Kim Demmings, who set the all-time career scoring record in Horizon League women’s basketball history

Montana State visits the Vandals, 5PM EST.

The Battle of the Washingtons, 5PM EST.

UC Riverside v. UC Santa Barbara, 10PM EST.

SUNDAY

ESPN 3: The Battle of the Floridas – Miami v. Florida State, 1PM EST

SECN: Florida v. Missouri, 2PM EST

This one feels like it could be fun: Michigan v. Nebraska, 2pm EST.

ESPN3: It doesn’t have the usual national draw, but it’s always a fun rivalry: Duke v. UNC, 3PM EST.

Despite everything, the Heels were giving virtually everyone a tough game, and they came from behind to upset Syracuse. However, that was when they had McDaniel in the frontcourt. Even though she wasn’t close to being in shape, her sheer talent and size made a big difference for UNC. When she went down, the Heels lost by double digits to Miami (understandable) and Wake Forest (far less so — this was Wake’s first league win). Not only is McDaniel’s talent irreplaceable, it means the Heels have only six scholarship players available. Right now, they are desperate for any kind of wins.

It’s odd to set up this game with so little at stake in terms of national or even league ramifications for both teams. If Duke had lost to Clemson or Wake Forest prior to this game, it would have been the first time ever that the two teams met with losing league records. As it stands, this is the first time since 1993 that neither team has been ranked going into their rivalry showdown. That said, this game should be fiercely contested, though not necessarily a thing of beauty.

ESPN2: Will South Carolina give Mississippi State their first home loss? 5PM.

Indiana v. Northwestern. One team is trying to make its mark, the other team is trying to make up its mind. 5pm EST.

Stanford v. UCLA. This. Is. Not. Even. Streamed? 9PM EST.

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From HoopGurlz: Girls’ Basketball Stories of the Year

Both tragedy and triumph resonated through the girls’ basketball world in 2011. Here are 10 stories we’ll remember well beyond the New Year.

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