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One breath-taking and elegant. One grinding and bruising. Two different styles on display and, contrary to some continuously un-infromed bloviators, people were paying attention: Women’s hoops (Tennessee-Maryland & Dayton-Connecticut), ‘Pardon the Interruption’ lead cable sports nets for Monday March 30, 2015

In the Dayton v. UConn game, the Flyers reminded everyone that there is no anointing of champions – it is an honored to be earned. For 20 minutes, women’s basketball fans and prognosticators looked with amazement as Dayton matched the Huskies shot for shot and speed for speed. Then UConn changed the pace in the second half and then (eventually) put some distance between their pesky A-10 opponent to notch a win and earn a trip to Tampa Bay. From Jeff Jacobs

…before there could be Tennessee for the first time in eight years, before there could be the rivalry that once was considered irresistible, there were the irrepressible Flyers hitting 7 of 10 three-pointers in the first half.

Before we could wade deeper and deeper in the furor over Indiana’s “religious freedom bill,” a furor that spread into our state Monday when Gov. Malloy signed an executive order banning state-paid travel to Indiana and adding it would be “a wise choice” to move the 2016 women’s Final Four, well, there was the matter of that school located about 40 miles from the Indiana border.

“I can’t say enough great things about the kids from Dayton,” Auriemma said. “That’s one of the best teams we’ve played in the last five years.”

Tennessee and Maryland went at each other like two heavyweights. Not a lot of finesse involved, just a lot punch/counter-punch. One would pull away, then the other would claw back. Then, in the last few minutes, the Terps scored, Tennessee went cold, and so Maryland moves into their second Final Four in a row.

Using a vastly different blueprint from a year ago, Maryland is back in the Final Four.

The Terrapins earned a berth in the national semifinal last season by relying heavily on the all-around play of All-American senior Alyssa Thomas.

There are no such standouts on this team, so the Terrapins have featured a more balanced attack. Four different players have led them in scoring during their four NCAA tournament victories.

Hmmm… I guess Mechelle didn’t get my memo: In Tampa, it’s UConn’s title to lose

There will be no long-awaited rematch of UConn and Tennessee in the Women’s Final Four. But the more recent incarnation of women’s hoops’ preeminent grudge match — UConn versus Notre Dame — could be on the horizon.

For the third time since the NCAA tournament began for women in 1982, all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four: UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland.

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Man, do I love the Elite Eight. The last four in made it via

Rout. There are moments in sports when the individual or team are just in a zone, and there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do about it. Such was a moment yesterday, when even Auriemma just shook his head at what was happening on the court against Texas. From the Albany Times Union: Connecticut women’s basketball blasts Texas to reach Elite Eight

“Today was a lot of fun,” Stewart said. “Right from the start, shots were going in, and we were being aggressive. We knew Texas had big post players. We thought if we could get them moving a little bit, we could get any shot we wanted.”

Connecticut shot 55.7 percent for the game, a figure lowered only because of the final nine minutes when Auriemma cleared the bench. Stewart, after starting 2-for-7, made her final nine field-goal attempts, including two 3-pointers.

That being said, it’s exciting to see the return of high quality basketball in Austin. Looking forward to next year and the Texas-UConn series to see what happens when both teams are at full strength.

Upset: The feisty Flyers may have flown under the radar this season, but no more.

Jabir’s A-10 upstarts, who’ve become this tournament’s Cinderellas with consecutive upsets over second-seed Kentucky and third-seeded Louisville, for the first time this March betrayed some jitters. The normally smooth ball handlers turned it over 14 times in the first half against the Cardinals. A series of uncharacteristically wild Flyer passes included an outlet from Ally Malott to Jabir on the sidelines, and two others to an empty space in the corner near where Louisville’s large red costumed mascot stood.

In the locker room at halftime, Jabir addressed the gaffes with his crimson-clad squad. “I said, Look, I know the bird is red, but he’s got a yellow beak, and the only person in the building with a bigger beak than that bird was me, and I wasn’t playing.”

Wondering how many P5 programs are adding them to their “No Play” list (along with Green Bay, Princeton, Gonzaga, Arkansas-Little Rock…) after Dayton toppled Louisville.

Comeback: Down 17, Holly’s crew clawed their way back and used OT to secure the win.

It’s called the “persistence drill.”

The Lady Vols divide their roster into three teams at practice, and one team goes out to play defense with a 45-second shot clock. And they can’t leave the court until the clock gets to 0:00.

If that team fouls or gives up a basket, it resets to 0:45. If the group gives up an offensive rebound, it resets as well. And if the team gets a stop, the clock stops where it is — and a new team comes in.

“It’s taxing and they don’t like it. We’ve done it for 40 minutes with one team on defense the whole time,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “You just put their backs against the wall and see if they fold or if they are going to step up and get it done.”

The Lady Vols ran that drill five or six times this season.

And they ran it again on Saturday evening in Spokane Arena.

Nice work, though, by Fortier, a potential Maggie Dixon Coach of the Year (though, that award has not always been a signal for future success…)

Workmanlike: Maryland and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, made sure their former ACC rivals kept their distance, and eased into the E8.

“I think we just love being able to beat Duke in the NCAA tournament,” Frese said. “Just so many classic matchups with both teams. I think we make each other better. Just tremendously proud of our fight today. It wasn’t an easy game. I thought Duke kind of controlled some things in terms of kind of putting us into a half-court [game], but we did a phenomenal job in the second half.”

It’s Super Sunday, so sit down!

It’s the battle of the Green and Gold.

From Graham: Notre Dame, Baylor have wow factors – All-Americans Jewell Loyd and Nina Davis make Sunday’s matchup must-see TV

The word that matters this time of year is win. But all the better if there are some wows along the way.

And with Loyd and Baylor’s Nina Davis around for Sunday’s regional final (8:30 ET, ESPN), two teams that do a lot of the former are led by players who excel at the latter.

It’s not that they are definitively better or more talented than their peers, not when you see a display like the one Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart put on in the Sweet 16, but you can’t take your eyes off how they do what they do.

“I sit there just like you guys do,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said of Davis. “And I go, ‘How did she just do that?'”

Similar themed stories from the AP Baylor women haven’t forgotten loss to Notre Dame and ND Insider: History with Notre Dame on Baylor’s mind

Memories of Notre Dame’s 88-69 victory in the South Bend Regional of the 2014 NCAA women’s basketball tournament still sit in the collective craw of head coach Kim Mulkey and her Baylor basketball team.

On the eve of Sunday’s 8:30 p.m. regional championship rematch between second-ranked Notre Dame (34-2) and fifth-ranked Baylor (33-3) in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Bears admitted the porridge Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and her team prepared last March 31 hasn’t sat well during the 363-day hibernation in the series that Baylor still leads, 4-1.

It’s the Battle of Maroon.

From Mechelle: Modest Mitchell worth talking about – Junior All-American has South Carolina one win away from first Final Four

They’ll be tough moments during a practice at South Carolina, and that’s when she does it. Tiffany Mitchell will let loose the wisecrack or dry remark that seems completely inappropriate for everyone’s tense mood right at that instant.

Except, it’s actually pretty much exactly what everybody needs.

“It comes naturally from her personality; she’s a fun person,” said her good pal, Gamecocks forward Aleighsa Welch. “She takes basketball very seriously, but she values her teammates, and she’s one of the most selfless people you’ll meet. She makes everything a fun situation. Even sometimes when it probably shouldn’t be. She’ll find a way.

“I think she gets a lot of it from her mom, because they’re both definitely characters.”

The ESPN crew makes their picks, and there’s only one unanimous choice.

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…and it’s pretty frightening!”

Mechelle goes all “Sound of Music meets Sweet Sixteen”

That most feel-good of films, “The Sound of Music,” turns 50 this month, and there’s no way I’m letting the opportunity escape without somehow getting a basketball column out of it.

I’ve written about “The Sound of Music” and hoops before, but that was in 2002. You should be allowed to do it at least once a decade, right?

So now as the regionals are upon us, here are 16 (going on 17) observations about the Sweet 16.

As for yesterday’s games….

That was close…(someone will be chewing on that ill-advised three for a while). Gamecocks survive clash with nemesis North Carolina. From Mechelle:

South Carolina’s nightmare from the 2014 NCAA tournament almost came back to haunt the Gamecocks again in 2015. This time, though, the top-seeded Gamecocks are moving onto the Elite Eight.

In a game that was not for the faint of heart, the Gamecocks survived 67-65 over a tough, gritty North Carolina team that nearly upset South Carolina for the second consecutive year in the Sweet 16.

It looked rather dire for the Gamecocks here at Greensboro Coliseum, as they trailed by three points with 1 minute, 21 seconds left. They had made just one shot from the field in the previous four minutes.

And: Gamecocks topple another barrier – South Carolina in first Elite Eight since 2002, is one win away from first Final Four

Olivia Gaines stood on the foul line with the end of her college basketball career staring at her.

That’s not really what she was thinking about, but she knew. So did fellow South Carolina seniors Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam. The Gamecocks were down by three points against North Carolina, the team that had cut short their season the year before. Here they were with just 81 seconds left to keep it from happening all over again.

That was not… Irish by 21 over Stanford. Late show with Lindsay Allen lifts Notre Dame past Stanford

Lindsay Allen picked the right time to have a career night for Notre Dame’s second-ranked women’s basketball team.

Allen, a quiet 5-7 sophomore point guard who usually plays third fiddle to her equally dangerous and well-known teammates Jewell Loyd and Brianna Turner, poured in 24 points in the first half – matching her season high alone in the first 20 minutes of play – and finished with a career-high 28 as Notre Dame disposed of stubborn Stanford, 81-60, late Friday night to reach the women’s Oklahoma City Regional championship game.

That was close...(Ole! to my right. Ole! to my left!)

“At the end of the game, you just don’t think,” Romero said. “You just want to help your team to win the game. … All those games that we have had, it has always been somebody different. Today was me shooting the last shots. I’m sure (Sunday) we are going to have a lot more weapons. … Having a team like this, you just play, and it’s just easy.”

That was not… Bears by 15 over Iowa (Live by the three, die by the three?) Baylor WBB advances to Elite Eight with 81-66 win over Iowa

For a minute, the Iowa Hawkeyes looked like they were in Oklahoma City to give No. 2 seed Baylor a ball game. Iowa senior Bethany Doolittle ignited an 11-0 run late in the first half and brought her team within two points of the Big 12 champions.

But just as the game became interesting, a youth movement broke out momentarily in Oklahoma City.

Sweet 16 trip ‘special’ for Dixon, Iowa women, despite loss

Melissa Dixon was a woman on the run.

Seemingly on the move all night, Dixon was looking for an opening, looking for a screen, looking for anything that would allow the nation’s most prominent 3-point shooter a chance to get off a shot.

But Baylor’s defense was too tight and the second-seeded Bears downed Dixon and third-seeded Iowa, 81-66, in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Graham on the Bears/Irish: Supporting casts step up

It was no surprise to see Baylor coach Kim Mulkey react to a successful offensive sequence by pirouetting partway toward the crowd and pumping a fist in exaltation during the second half of her team’s Sweet 16 game Friday night. It wasn’t all that surprising to see her do it again just a few minutes later. You need only read body language on a kindergarden level to know what Mulkey is thinking at any given moment during a basketball game.

Even she acknowledged, “I’m not responsible sometimes for what I do or see or say on that sideline.”

On today’s games:

Texas v. UConn

Texas’ twin towers to test UConn – But will Longhorns have an answer for Huskies’ hot hand from 3-point range?

Stats gurus warn against predictions based on the last game you watched, but that might be Texas’ best hope against No. 1 UConn in the NCAA women’s regional semifinal here Saturday (ESPN/WatchESPN, noon ET).

The Longhorns played a “Twin Towers” lineup for much of their 73-70 victory at Cal in the second round on Sunday, and 6-foot-7 junior forward Imani McGee-Stafford and 6-5 sophomore center Kelsey Lang together scored 34 points while converting a combined 13-of-19 shots from the field.

Meanwhile, the inside presence of Lang (two blocks, two steals) and McGee-Stafford (11 boards) frustrated Cal’s talented tandem of Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray, holding the latter to just seven points.

And thanks, HuskyNan:

Texas Women Return To Spotlight, But UConn Casts Big Shadow, Courant
Capsule: Texas (24-10) Vs. UConn (34-1), Courant
UConn women face tall task against Texas front line, Register
Texas assistant coach quite familiar with competitiveness of Moriah Jefferson, Register
Women’s NCAA tournament preview capsule: Texas vs. No. 1 UConn, Register
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Geno Auriemma builds UConn into gold standard in women’s basketball, Daily Freeman
NCAA Albany: UConn capsule, Saratogian
UConn’s Breanna Stewart playing in familiar surroundings, Troy Record
Is There Anything UConn Can’t Do? Tweet, for One, NY Times
Hadley: Notre Dame, Stanford and Connecticut: the transitive property, The Observer
How Texas can pull a mammoth upset of No. 1 UConn women in Sweet 16, Sports Illustrated
Texas glad for big challenge, Albany Times Union
Texas has chance to take down Goliath, Troy Record
Texas Ready For Sweet 16 Matchup With UConn, CBS Local
Texas Longhorns ready for No. 1 Connecticut, 247Sports

From Mike DiMauro: The Texas of women’s basketball meets … Texas

The absurdity of it all.

Connecticut versus … Texas.

Texas, with its roughly $160 million athletic budget, only $100 million more than UConn’s.

Texas, from the Indian word “tejas,” meaning “friends” or “allies.” Connecticut, loosely translated from its Algonquian origin, must mean “uptight.”

Texas, famed in slogans, like “Don’t Mess With Texas” and “Remember the Alamo.” All we have is Alamo Rent a Car at Bradley Airport.

Texas, feted in song: “All My Exes Live in Texas,” the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Galveston.” After the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, what do we have, really, besides traffic and people who like to complain a lot?

Gonzaga v. Tennessee

Gonzaga relishing improbable run – Gonzaga looking to make a splash against Tennessee in its own backyard

This opportunity, to play deep into the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed, is not a new one for the Gonzaga women’s basketball team. It has one it more than any other women’s team in tournament history.

And this opportunity, to play deep into the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed 2 miles from campus, isn’t a new one, either, for the Bulldogs. They reached the Elite Eight here in 2011.

But this opportunity, this season at No. 11, might not have seemed like it was going to happen for Gonzaga.

Kelly Graves, the coach who built this program into one of the nation’s best mid-major programs, left last spring to take over at Oregon.

Dayton v. Louisville

U of L women not looking past Dayton in Sweet 16

Louisville has won its past three regional semifinals and is facing a team out of the Atlantic 10 that has never made it this far.

“When you get to this point in time, I don’t think the kids even know what round they’re playing in,” Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said Friday. “It’s just the next team that you have to face. The ball’s still the same size, the court’s the same length, everything’s the same.”

Dayton trying to knock off second team from Kentucky

Dayton has already upset one team from Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament and the Flyers don’t see why a game with Louisville should be any different.

“Playing UK on their home court really prepared us,” said senior guard Andrea Hoover. “That was a tough environment for us and playing here on a neutral court against Louisville, we’re more than prepared.”

Dayton, Louisville set for NCAA Tournament matchup

The Flyers will try to solve an unpredictable Louisville defense that uses halfcourt trapping and fullcourt pressure to force 20.1 turnovers per game.

“I think it’s a great challenge,” said Dayton head coach Jim Jabir, who held the same title at Siena from 1987 to 1990. “They’re a very well-coached team. They’re very aggressive. We just played Kentucky, and we pretty much knew what we were going to see. With Louisville, you’re going to see pressure, but it’s going to be different kinds. It’s going to come at you in different ways.”

Whitaker enjoying march to Sweet 16 – Former Lady Topper coaching against Louisville

Rob offers a 2015 NCAA Preview – Spokane Regional

Maryland has size with the 6-4 Howard, 6-3 (and massive) Jones and 6-2 Pfirman. They will need that size against Duke’s frontline, especially the versatility of Azura’ Stevens. Maryland is not a pressure defense team, nor do they play a lot of junk defenses. They play man-to-man and depend on their size and rebounding to get stops and extra possessions. This is a team better known for its offense (80 ppg) than its defense (60 ppg). Their scoring balance is excellent, and while they don’t have great shooters, they get enough out of them to make sure that the sturdy Jones gets plenty of touches and the aggressive Walker-Kimbrough gets to attack the basket. The true catalysts for the team are Mincy and Brown, who make and take big shots. This isn’t actually a bad matchup for Duke; Maryland has depth but not as much as Mississippi State. They can shoot but their shooters are streaky. Maryland has size but not as much as Duke. These are two teams that are extremely familiar with each other, teams that battled tooth and claw for a number of years. That rivalry will fuel this game beyond simply the desire to make it to the Elite Eight and could make it a very close game.

Duke v. Maryland

Maryland women’s basketball finds edge inside the lines starts between the ears

Put aside pick-and-rolls and fast breaks for a minute, and let the top-seeded Maryland women’s team take you inside their heads.

Let them tell you about their trigger words and their best selves. About the outside pressures they face and the internal focus they need. About dealing with their fears and increasing their mental performance. About making sure they don’t get trapped in downward spirals, and about focusing on process rather than outcome.

If it sounds a bit more clinical than your typical whiteboard diagram, it should. 

Maryland women’s basketball meets former ACC rival Duke in Sweet 16 – Terps to play Blue Devils in NCAA tournament for first time since 2006 national championship overtime victory

After two knee surgeries, Laurin Mincy leads Maryland women to Sweet 16

As shot after shot ripped through the net and her thin blade of a frame bounced around the Xfinity Center court, possessed by some rare electricity, Laurin Mincy felt like the player she was always meant to be.

No longer was the Maryland senior defined by the surgical scars on each knee, by the angst of playing in a body that would not answer her spirit’s call. She was back — back to being the 5-year-old girl who’d reduced opponents to tears with her precocious crossover dribbles, back to being the middle schooler who’d had her jersey retired because she was just that dominant.

Top-seeded Maryland getting ready to face longtime rival Duke in Sweet 16

Duke, Maryland rekindle rivalry in Sweet 16

The Duke Blue Devils have waited 13 months to renew their heated women’s basketball rivalry with Maryland. Now that the teams are set to square off Saturday afternoon in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, Duke plans to keep the explosive Terrapins waiting even longer whenever the Blue Devils have the ball.

“If we speed up and play at their tempo, then it could be disastrous,” Duke guard Ka’lia Johnson said Friday at the Spokane Arena.

The Blue Devils are 23-10 and ranked 16th in the most recent Associated Press poll, but turnovers and a lack of depth have posed problems all season.

“We have no depth whatsoever,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

 Okay – off do some spring cleaning… in the hopes it will encourage spring to show up…

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that looked at mid-season COY candidates in the Big 6, I used my “waiting for the dryer to finish up” time to put together a list for some of the other conference candidates. Feedback welcome:

Ivy: Courtney Banghart/Princeton — I am surprised no ones has snatched her up.

American East: Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, Albany/Kelly Greenberg, Boston University.ln the three years KAH has been there, the Danes have established something, outpacing Hartford. Ditto with BU — lordy, has Greenberg REALLY been their nine years? It’s a dogfight.

A-10: Dayton’s Jim Jabir gets all the attention, and rightly so, but at Fordham, Stephanie Gaitley has more victories this season than the Rams have complied in a decade of games (or so it seems). I was skeered for her when she left Monmouth, but she seems to thrive when challenged.

Horizon: Youngstown State/Bob Boldon. The Penguins have been the laughingstock of the league for years, and not just because of their tuxedos. Have you ever tried to play basketball in a tuxedo? They’re still no Green Bay, but they’re much improved under this second year coach.

MAC: Central Michigan/Sue Guevara seems to have found her home at Central Michigan, and she’s done a great job (especially now that the shady dealings at EMU have been exposed).

NEC: Quinnipiac/Longtime coach Tricia Fabbri has the Bobcats on their longest winning streak in program history.

Mountain West: Fresno State/Raegan Pebely: The Bulldogs lost their coach lost their coach (and we know how THAT turned out), replaced late, and are still nipping at last year’s surprise, San Diego State. Shouldn’t actually be a surprise, Pebely has earned COY honors before.

Southern: Wes Moore and Chattanooga have reestablished the “natural” order, but under Charlotte Smith (yes, THAT Charlotte Smith) Elon has surprised the heck outta folks.

SWAC: Cynthia Cooper returned to the SWAC and has made an immediate impact on Texas Southern. Last year they won a total of 2 conference games. This year, they’re second in the Conference (with the only overall winning record — which ain’t sayin’ much, but it is a winning record.)

Sun Belt: Western Kentucky/Michelle Clark-Heard. Mel’s already mentioned this coach as a Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year. (Though, considering the record of honorees post-award, you might wanna miss being tapped.)

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Top Flight Flyer

From Graham: Raterman running down titles, records – Senior likely to become Dayton’s third-leading career scorer, but is still after A-10 title

Legacies are commonly measured by championships and records. To be sure, Raterman chases both as her final season enters its final months. The ups and downs of its nonconference schedule notwithstanding, Dayton retains the potential of a team picked as preseason co-favorites in the Atlantic 10, a conference championship it has never claimed. And Raterman remains on pace to finish as the school’s third-leading career scorer, first among those in three decades of NCAA play, while making similar charges up the charts in rebounds and 3-pointers.

But for all the wins created and numbers compiled, and all those still to come, a loss better explains why Dayton is a different program because of her.

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From Graham: Gainey to play first and last game – Heart disease cut career short as a freshman, but she’ll play in Saturday’s Senior Day

It is a truth of both muscle and metaphor that one basketball game cannot mend a broken heart.

Watching the ball rise in the air for the opening tip, a split-second of stillness and inhaled silence giving way to a blur of movement and the squeak of sneakers, will not repair the myocardium of Ebony Gainey’s damaged heart. Rubbing a defender off a teammate’s screen, catching a pass and squaring up to the basket cannot fill the void left by a sister and best friend who went to sleep one night almost four years ago and never woke up.

But a basketball game, at once insignificant and monumental, can help heal a spirit. To that end, as she prepares to take the court for the first and last time as a member of the Dayton Flyers in Saturday’s home finale against Fordham, Gainey knows what advice she would receive from one person who will not be there.

 

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