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So, yeah, many of the conference tournaments have started, but I honestly didn’t think I’d have to worry about the first rounds…

“DOH!” says the Ohio Valley. Murray State straight up stuns #1 Tennessee-Martin. How big an upset? The Pacers are 11-16 (7-9) and the Skyhawks are 21-8 (14-2). The Skyhawks just played Murray State to close out the season and beat them by 21. SIEU must be thinkin’ “We don’t screw up, we get into the NCAA.” Of course, Belmont might be thinkin’ the exact same thing.

Fly, Eagles, fly: FGCU leads mid-major rankings into the postseason

If mid-major teams often play with the freedom of nothing to lose in the NCAA tournament, perhaps it’s because they already survived the part of the season when there was everything to lose. With NCAA at-large bids rarely a certainty, a season’s worth of good work can vanish within a few bad minutes in a conference tournament. But with automatic bids soon up for grabs, here is a final look at the rankings.

Wow, being a Clemson Tiger these days must be disheartening. 0-for in conference play.

You stay (Boyle), you go (Butts). This could be a busy list.

Oh, this could get ugly right quick: FIU women’s basketball coach suspended after alleged sexual misconduct

Crap: Theriot Will not Return for HuskersTheriot’s career had great moments, but also disappointment

The Nebraska women’s basketball team returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis this week for the Big Ten Conference Tournament, site of one of the great moments in the career of Rachel Theriot.

In 2014, Theriot helped lead the Huskers to the Big Ten Tournament championship, the program’s first title in their new league. Theriot was tournament MVP.

Theriot won’t be able to play in Thursday’s game against Rutgers. The senior point guard had surgery on her foot on Monday. That ends a career filled with lots of great games, but also disappointment, as her junior and senior seasons were each cut short because of injury.

So, I’m pleased that coach Dave Magarity is part of the WBCA’s “COY Region/Nominee” process. But, I’d like to mention that Army (26-2, 17-1) has had a (rather recent) tradition of winning. Bucknell, now 23-6, (17-1), not so much…

“It feels good to get a piece of a championship,” said fourth-year Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell. “This team has been through so much, and for it to result in a banner in the rafters is very rewarding. I’ve been told Army is one of the better teams in the history of the Patriot League, so for us to match them at 17-1 is an incredible accomplishment.”

Bucknell’s run through the league schedule started with an eight-game winning streak, including a victory over Army West Point. The Bison’s lone loss came to the Black Knights and has been followed by their current nine-game winning streak that they will take into the postseason. The streak is tied for the longest in program history.

Woot! to the NCAA’s “Team of the Week:”

Fresh off of claiming the school’s third Conference USA regular season title in program history (2008, 2012 and 2016), the UTEP Miners continue to impress as the calendar turns to March. UTEP clinched the title on Feb. 27 when they outlasted Charlotte, 94-91, in double overtime in front of a roaring 4,012 fans at the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP, 25-2 overall and 16-1 in Conference USA play, matched school and league records for single-season Conference USA victories this year. The Miners also concluded the home portion of their schedule at a flawless 16-0, marking the second undefeated home campaign (14-0) in program history.

Speaking of the Miners: UTEP star Turner overcomes struggle and thrives

Growing up in the hardscrabble parts of Dallas, Turner spent some nights on a floor in an apartment with six of her siblings, some at houses of various coaches looking out for her. Some days she ate better than others. Those days, she didn’t pass out in a gym. Some days she did pass out in the gym. Going to practice hungry was common.

Turner learned the rules of the street.

“I saw shootings, killings,” Turner said. “You hear shots and you get down on the ground, protect yourself. I saw lots of drugs, weed, cocaine, prostitution. Not a lot of girls I went to school with went on to college. I wanted to break that cycle; I didn’t want that to be my story.”

But there’s another part to this: Turner isn’t running from anything.

Speaking of players overcoming:

This year has not been what anyone expects of Iowa State, least of all the Cyclones themselves. This is a proud and distinguished program that’s used to the postseason; Iowa State has gone to the NCAA tournament 16 of the past 19 seasons, including the past nine years in a row.

But the Cyclones finished the regular season Tuesday at 13-16 overall after an 82-57 loss to West Virginia.

So why did it still seem like such an uplifting night in Ames, Iowa?

Because Iowa State guard Seanna Johnson was back on the court, after a very emotionally difficult past 10 days in what’s been a challenging season for the Cyclones. Johnson had missed the previous two games while at home in Minnesota with her family after her father, Curtis Johnson, suffered a stroke on Feb. 20.

Speaking of really good players: Courtney Williams worked hard to become one of game’s top players

You’ve heard the story before, countless times. It’s about the high school standout who comes to college and becomes perplexed and frustrated that what once came pretty easily had become challenging.

Common as the scenario is, it’s still a major hurdle to clear for every player who encounters it. But if she does, it’s a process she never forgets.

South Florida senior guard Courtney Williams can attest to this. She has become one of the top players in college, and is looking forward to a professional career. But she had to go through that “what I am doing wrong?” phase at one point, too.

Ladies, start your engines! UConn ready to raise the bar even higher in postseason

The undefeated Huskies are like a standout Broadway troupe that has been doing the same show for a while. They have all their lines memorized and know every mark they must hit. So how, when you’ve been essentially nailing it again and again, do you still find another gear?

That’s really the “secret” of championship teams, isn’t it? Even when they appear to be at their best, there’s somewhere else to climb.

“Back in the day, we used to say, there’s regular-season Shea Ralph, and there’s tournament Shea,” Auriemma said of the former Huskies star and current UConn assistant coach who was the most outstanding player of the 2000 Women’s Final Four. “And those are two different things. And we like to think that our team is the same way.

Ya-da-UConn “undefeated” Ya-da-UConn “national champions” Ya-da… NOT UConn?      Johnson County women’s basketball team shooting for perfect season: Defending NJCAA Division II champs are 30-0 entering postseason

The Johnson County Community College women’s basketball program earned its bona fides long ago and its second national championship last season. The Cavaliers are accustomed to winning.

So when coach Ben Conrad says: “It is surprising we haven’t gotten beat. That’s not normal,” it’s apparent something is up.

JCCC begins postseason play Tuesday with a 30-0 record, the first time the Cavaliers have finished the regular season undefeated. All but two of those wins have come by double digits. Most of those double-digit wins have been margins rarely seen outside of video games.

Looking ahead, Charlie says: NCAA’s final reveal holds small clues for Selection Monday

Mechelle, who’s been writing up a storm, notes: Bubble teams look to make big noise during Championship Week

In the five major conferences — which accounted for five automatic and 27 at-large NCAA berths last year — there are some bubble guppies and bubble sharks. The guppies don’t have much NCAA tournament history, while the sharks do — but as the “bubble” part of their description suggests, both are in precarious positions in regard to this year’s tournament.

Let’s take a quick look around the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC as they get set to face off for conference supremacy and automatic tickets to the Big Dance.

Check out the ‘Around the Rim’: Championship Week Preview podcast with Chiney and LaChina

During the first half, the two are joined by Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach Lin Dunn to discuss if UConn’s recent slow starts should be concerning, SMU coach Rhonda Rompola’s retirement and her comments on “players’ entitlement” and front-runners for the national coach of the year award.

In the second half of the show, the duo chat with espnW’s bracketology expert Charlie Creme who breaks down the significance of the upcoming conference tournaments and sheds light on which teams could make a case for a tournament bid this weekend.

Connecticut’s WNBA Team Is More (and Less) Tied to UConn Than You Might Think

…as UConn continues its skyward trajectory under head coach Geno Auriemma, the Sun look toward the 2016 season — the WNBA’s 20th — facing an uphill climb, and a clear goal to strengthen its place in the state’s women’s basketball market after a run of disappointing seasons.

The best way to do that? Win.

“For us, it’s going to come down to: how do we legitimize ourselves?” said Chris Sienko, the Sun’s vice president and general manager. “People know who we are. We’ve done great things. We have to win a championship. I think that’s when people start putting us in the same conversation with UConn.”

Hello, Prez! Atlanta Dream names Theresa Wenzel new president

WATN? Jessica Davenport: A Global Basketball Journey Close To Home

One Last Time: Q&A with WNBA star, Olympian and author Tamika Catchings

In her new book, “Catch A Star: Shining through Adversity to Become a Champion,” co-written by Ken Petersen, she details her life as the daughter of professional basketball player Harvey Catchings, how she adapted to her hearing impairment as a child, how she sought refuge in sports and how the joys and sorrows molded her into the person she is today. At the recent USA Basketball national team training camp in Storrs, Connecticut, Catchings spoke to espnW about the book and why she wrote it.

Thanks for the story, Sally: Going on offense vs. Down syndrome: Most people saw limits for Frankie Antonelli. Parents Frank and Debbie saw potential.

They had counted with an unthinking confidence on having healthy kids, maybe even a team roster’s worth. She played basketball at North Carolina State before becoming a sportscaster, and he hit .400 for the Columbia University baseball team before making a career in elite sports management, and they hoped to add some quality little strivers to the general population. Their first child was an easy birth, and they were so confident of their second that she played nine holes of golf the day he was born. Then he came out scrunched up with the cord around his neck, and holes in his heart.

The doctors spoke in dead-end terms, even the ones who tried to be positive. Though it was 1997 and not the Victorian Age, one said, “Don’t let anybody tell you to institutionalize him.” Statistics showed most Down syndrome children would not see 50.

He won’t develop properly, they said, or play games like other children. “I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words can’t and won’t,” Debbie says. Defeatist words. They seemed to apply as much to her, as to him. You can’t have a career with a disabled child. You won’t be able to work.

But the Antonellis were athletes, and athletes don’t deal in can’t and won’t. They deal in can, and will.

Eighteen years later, Frankie Antonelli is a junior in high school with sparkling eyes, and a well-defined V shape from fitness training. “Hi, I’m Frankie, I’m a celebrity,” he says, wise-guy-like as he introduces himself to a reporter. With a motor-speech impediment that doesn’t dull his meaning, he proceeds to argue with some spirit that he’s the best basketball player in the Antonelli Driveway Series.

Video: Coordinator of Pac-12 women’s basketball officiating Violet Palmer reflects on a pioneering career

Congrats to Brenda VanLengen, winner of the 2016 WBCA Mel Greenberg Media Award.

On a dabnabbit, but congrats note, WHB fave Jim Massie is closing up shop at the Columbus Dispatch. Hopefully he’s at the top of the Mel list next year.

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“Oh, now Fred, you know that’s never a good thing.”

“Very funny Ethel. No, I was just thinking about all those folks who talk about how ‘basketball is a winter sport.’ (I guess they boycotted the NBA’s playoffs, right?) And I was thinking, considering how hot it is going to be on Sunday, who’s smarter? The person who travels out to Yankee Stadium, pays $220 for a ticket and $12 for a beer and sits out in the broiling sun…or the person who travels to the Rock, pays $50 for a ticket and watches the Liberty face the SASS in lovely, air conditioned surroundings.”

“Fred, you’re asking about the ‘intelligence’ of the average sports fan?”

“I see your point, Ethel.”

“Speaking of the SASS, they sure are surging. Did you see what they did to Indy yesterday? Spotted them a nice lead and the BOINK! surged back to take the win. Not sure I’m looking forward to the return of Becky to New(ark) York.”

“Ethel, it’s been a while since Blaze pulled that fabulous move — I mean Becky for Jessica Davenport? Brilliance. Ah, the good old days of ‘things in the hopper’ and ‘rebuilidng’.”

“True, Powell over Brunson is right up there, but doesn’t live up to that standard. Memories. They do bring a tear to the eye.”

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Davenport, Vaughn grow up in WNBA After inevitable peaks and valleys, centers find their way with Fever, Liberty

As the calendar turned from July to August, it definitely looked like two young centers were emerging as forces in their WNBA careers. They had the link of the Liberty between them, and both seemed to have ended up in the right place.

We’re not saying that storyline is now blown to bits or anything. It hasn’t been. But … the first two weeks of August haven’t been as kind to Indiana’s Jessica Davenport and New York’s Kia Vaughn, which tells you about the individual ups and downs of a WNBA season in microcosm.

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Yah, tell me you thought you’d be reading this headline in your lifetime: Jessica Davenport powers Fever past Sky

Yup! Indy went home and got a welcome win after two road losses.

“It’s always nice to be at home and to have that home crowd behind us,” Davenport said. “I thought our road trip was pretty tough, but we had a great practice yesterday and everyone had energy. I think just being at home helped a lot.”

Seattle was just as happy to return home, spanking San Antonio 73-55.

“That’s the kind of basketball we want to play right there — I don’t know any way else to put it,” Wright said. “That’s the kind of basketball we want to play, we need to play, and in order to be successful, we have to play. We wanted to go into the (All-Star) break on a good note after that three-game skid.”

In other W news: From El Alien –

Before we get to yesterday’s games, first the big news from this afternoon. If the announcement that the worst team in the league is releasing their 11th player can ever truly be considered ‘big’. After 47 appearances, the Tulsa Shock finally decided that Marion Jones had served her purpose on their roster and cut her today, in order to sign backup center Abi Olajuwon. In the eyes of most WNBA fans it was about time, but some will still be sorry to see her go.

From Jayda: Take Two: Storm isn’t getting what it hoped for from veteran Katie Smith

The urge is to cover your mouth before the thought rushes out.

Has Seattle been blinded by the glitter of another legend on the downslide?

I know. Say it isn’t so. Not Katie Smith.

But the Storm has been here before with Yolanda Griffith, Shannon Johnson and Sheryl Swoopes. All were once premier athletes who created a buzz during their signings only to falter to aging bodies and lack of productivity.

Mechelle was chatting:

Dennis (Cerritos, CA): can we end this failed experiment already? People could care less about professional women’s basketball! Just look at the attendance of the games. Who actually attends these games are Boys & Girls clubs members who were handed down those tickets as some corporate gift. Only through politically correctness has this sport been force fed down our throats all the while we’re ignoring the obvious. No on watches these games whether it be on TV or in person. Women’s groups are extorting NBA owners to fund this failure or be called corporate sexist chauvenists. Who are they kidding when they bragged a few years ago about the WNBA making it 10 years. Fact is, it hasn’t “made it,” it was dragged to the finish line by the NBA owners and corporations held at gunpoint to sponsor this game. If someone out there reading this thinks I’m just being a hater and is anti-woman, please provide the ratings of a WNBA game. Now grab those ratings and compare it to what it costs to televise, operate and present a game and the ROI is simply not there. This lockout the NBA is having because the owners are claiming they’re losing millions of dollars, I bet if you look at the books, plenty of those millions lost is in funding the WNBA, but you probably will never hear that in the media. I have an open mind so if you think I’m wrong, back it up with hard numbers and I’ll change my mind. But something tells me that those numbers don’t exist.

Mechelle Voepel  (3:11 PM): OK, I went ahead and posted this, even though I really don’t have time to refute everything Dennis has in his rant. Much has been written about the fact that the average salary for one player in the NBA is far greater than the salary cap for a whole team in the WNBA. Anyone who thinks the WNBA’s expenses have anything to do with this lockout must have flunked economics class worse than I did.

But here’s another thing I want to say to Dennis and others like him. First, don’t go off on an angry, stereotypical rant about the WNBA, and political correctness and these nebulous “women’s groups” that are forcing the sport down your throat … and then end by saying you have an open mind. You don’t in any way have an open mind. Women’s sports threatens you, and you’re ticked off over who knows what, so you come to a chat about women’s basketball for people who DO care about it (who you claim don’t exist) and bash it. Feel better? Also, can you please tell me where I can find one of these powerful “women’s groups” who are controlling the NBA owners and scaring them to death by threatening to call them chauvinists? I’d love to interview the women in such a group and ask them why they are not using all their power over the NBA owners to even greater advantage. Because I’d like a team in Kansas City. Apparently all I have to do is scream about political correctness, and they’ll be so afraid they’ll do exactly what I want. Why haven’t I tried that? Don’t worry, Dennis, it’s almost football season.

When’s Mechelle’s not kickin’ butt and takin’ names, she’s also writing about San Antonio: Silver Stars ready for the spotlight – Hosting All-Star Game is another highlight in a great season so far for San Antonio

If you had suggested to a WNBA fan a decade ago that San Antonio would be a great place to have the All-Star Game and a 15th-season celebration someday, you would have gotten a puzzled stare. There was no WNBA franchise in the Alamo City at that time.

If you’d asked guard Becky Hammon in the spring of 1999 whether she thought she was good enough to play in the WNBA, she’d have given you the same answer Danielle Adams would have in 2011: Yes, absolutely. But if you were to ask Hammon now whether she had any idea what her pro career would really be like, she’d say, “It’s crazy. I feel so fortunate. I had no idea the things that were in store for me.”

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you can follow basketball in the US from far, far, FAR away (as in Ethiopia)?

Got some time before I get to serious teaching work and will do a little catching up. (Oh, there’s a pun!)

Catch’s 19 helped make the Liberty’s Newark debut a downer. They went ice cold in the fourth quarter and watched Tamika and the Fever take their revenge on the Lib for giving them their first loss of the season. Writes the ever opinionated and observant Queenie over at Swish Appeal: Defense Fails Liberty in the Clutch

Jessica Breland, go to the damn basket unless you tell me to my face that Whiz is telling you to shoot from the outside. Because I’m sorry, right now you’re one of the biggest people we have and your outside shot is comparable to mine. Maybe it was a bad night, but she didn’t impress me. Alex Montgomery lived up to her number in her one stint, stopping Douglas when no one else had managed to… and then she was buried on the bench, never to be seen again, not even when Douglas warmed back up, Catchings remembered she could occasionally shoot, and Pohlen and January were getting in on the offense. I don’t understand why a defensive coach who needed a defensive stop wouldn’t put in a defensive stopper.

Side note: It will be interesting to track media coverage of the Lib (“Thank you for coming all the way out here,” Cappie told the fans.) Looks like the Star-Ledger is sending Brett LoGiurato. The Times used Vin at the AP (no surprise) and Newsday (which is a Long Island based paper) sent Zach Schonbrun. Lenn Robbins was there from the NY Post: “Memo from Liberty to Madison Garden Square officials: Please expedite transformation on arena; our first game in The Rock was a disaster.”

The Liberty could have been the best story in the WNBA, maybe even on the New York sports scene considering the basketball and hockey teams are done, the NFL teams are in labor strife, the Mets are a woeful bunch and the Yankees can’t beat the Red Sox.

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From the Indy Star’s David Woods: Fever’s Davenport playing bigger role

Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn says Jessica Davenport could become one of the top five centers in the WNBA.

A little more than three years ago, the New York Liberty would have agreed. To acquire the rights to Davenport, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2007 draft, the Liberty traded star guard Becky Hammon to the San Antonio Silver Stars.

That sigh you heard was from fans at the Garden.

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