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It’s almost as hot as L.A. and Minnesota are… yup, counting down to June 21st.

Meanwhile, folks in Chicago and Phoenix are scratching their heads.

Excelle: What’s wrong with the Phoenix Mercury?

Prior to the season, the Phoenix Mercury were favorites to take home the 2016 WNBA Championship. The majority of the league’s general managers picked Phoenix to win it all in their annual survey. Multiple Associated Press voters and some betting sites also favored the Mercury. But not two weeks later, the team is 0-4 and playing the worst defense in the WNBA. So, what happened?

It’s important to note that we’re just four games into the season, so hitting the panic button would be premature. Two of Phoenix’s losses were at the hands of the Minnesota Lynx, the defending champions. The other two were tight games against solid teams. Things could turn around quickly, but not without addressing some red flags.

Meanwhile…

SlamOnline: Q+A: Imani Boyette – With patience and hard work, Chicago’s rookie center is staying ready for when her number is called.

One record-setter salutes another – Pro from Don Lugo congratulates athlete who took her place in book

“My dad sent me this article and the photo and it said you broke my record,” Ms. Taurasi told Ana during their meeting on the court. “That’s good, records are meant to be broken.”

Their meeting was video taped, and was part of a 90-second video shown to the 10,000-plus fans in attendance that night during a time out.

Star Tribune: Lynx aim to stay undefeated vs. familiar foe

Moving on up: Unbeaten Sparks 2nd in AP WNBA power poll and WNBA: The Los Angeles Sparks Will Fly

Jeff Jacobs: Chiney And Nneka Ogwumike Foes On Court, Sisters Off

They went to dinner together Wednesday night. And when this game had ended, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike walked off the court together, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulder.

After the 77-72 loss to the unbeaten Los Angeles Sparks, a heartened rookie Sun coach Curt Miller would say he felt his team had “grown up” Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The coming schedule, of course, will prove Miller correct or not.

This much is certain. Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike have grown up together and will never grow apart. Sisters forever.

Rolling Stone: Elena Delle Donne’s Silent Supremacy

Amsterdam Times: Liberty drop two overtime games (Yah, we know. Sigh)

Billboard: Ballin’ Out Podcast: Fat Joe & the WNBA’s Breanna Stewart on How They Came ‘All the Way Up’

ESPN: WNBA veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones wants to go out on own terms

After another “Year of Women’s Sports” is it any surprise we get this from the Times? Pro Basketball|After Two Decades, WNBA Still Struggling for Relevance or AJC’s Is WNBA’s expectation for success just a dream?

Then there’s MSR: Youngsters inspired by WNBA trailblazers

These are the post-1997 players. These women hoopsters saw first-hand America’s longest running and most successful women’s pro basketball league as it moved from the drawing board to reality. As youngsters they could finally join their male counterparts and dream about something that many pre-WNBA generation players could only do abroad — one day playing pro ball in the States.

“The first time I thought about it, I was in fourth grade,” said Morgan Tuck, a rookie with Connecticut.

Dallas rookie Aerial Powers noted, “I can’t remember a specific moment [when she thought about playing professionally], but I do remember the Lisa Leslie dunk and her putting her hands up to the crowd.”

NCAA

Welp: Ole Miss self-imposes postseason ban for women’s basketball; reduced scholarships in football

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie battles on and off the court

This was planned as the story of a 50-year-old coach who uses her celebrity to help raise awareness and funds to combat a deadly disease that haunts her life and scarred her body. The fact her 2016 team failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in her nine-year tenure, the first time at Duke since 1994, only made it a more compelling tale of struggle and challenge.

But things have a way of turning out differently than we expect.

Hello: Hartford Hires Kim McNeill As Women’s Basketball Coach

Not too surprising, considering her record: Alabama A&M University: Head coach Semeka Randall resigns

Bye/Hello: Syracuse Women’s Basketball: Florida Guard Isis Young to Transfer to Orange

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(Not unexpected) Randall’s contract not to be renewed

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Not an easy year for Semeka Randall’s Ohio team: they’re 0-10 in the MAC.

On the flip side, it’s the Great Danes of Albany at 11-0 in the Am. East. BU is trying to keep pace (10-1). Of course, it’s more about pride than the conference tournament, since they won’t be invited. Why? They’re moving to the Patriot League next year.

Speaking of the Patriot League: The Leopards made it a game, but Navy prevailed in OT, 60-42. Coaching at any Service Academy ain’t easy, but coach Pemper has done a nice job since arriving in -08.

FGCU (12-0 A-Sun) is still soaring. This time, their victim was USC Upstate, 72-49. Interesting commentary by David Moulton: Time for the A-Sun to set in FGCU athletics history

Six years ago, the Atlantic Sun conference was FGCU‘s savior. They were there when no one wanted the university.

FGCU has done well by the A-Sun and vice versa.

For example, just this year FGCU had the best volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer teams in the conference with both soccer squads winning titles and earning NCAA berths. Both basketball teams are in first place with the women having not lost an A-Sun game in two years. The softball team is the defending conference champion and both the softball and baseball teams are pre-season favorites this year. Throw on top of that a Top 50 swimming/diving program and Florida Gulf Coast University is arguably the best athletic program in the A-Sun.

Which would be great if the Atlantic Sun conference wasn’t dying.

The Fightin’ Camels of Campbell (8-5) are trying to keep the Big South close by taking down conference top dog Winthrop (9-3), 84-69.

Cynthia’s Texas Southern is still winning. They now stand at 10-1 in the SWAC. Clearly, the runaway COY in the conference. They’ll face Southern, their best competition, on the 28th. The Jaguars (10-2) got surprised by Arkansas Little Rock (4-8), 59-50.

It was all Chambers for K-State (34,12,4), but she couldn’t overcome Iowa State’ Poppens and Christofferson.

That’s why sometimes a dunk is not just two points: it gets your teammates up and motivated: Baylor wipes the floor with Texas, 75-48. (Speaking of Baylor: Baylor women’s basketball transfer Destiny Brown enrolls at University of Delaware.)

Fresno State had a chance to claim the top spot in the Mountain West, but San Diego State  said, “No thank you, that spot is still ours.

Davidson (11-1) kept pace with Chattanooga (13-1) in the Southern by taking down Appalachian State, 56-49. The Mocs dismissed Elon, 63-40.

Again, it’s a long journey to recovery, but IUPUI is now 7-3 in the Summit. Of course, they have to face the Jackrabbits next, who may be looking for revenge. SDSU thumped Oakland, 83-48.

And again, I’m just sayin’: St. Francis (NY) wins again.

I’m sorry “I saw you,” Sam Houston: the Bearkats go down to their Southland conference challengers, 52-48.

It took OT, and 26pts from Smith, but St. John’s is still clinging to the NCAA tourney bubble — which is nice, since they’re a host.

Northern Colorado is on a roll, with back-to-back wins over the Montanas. They’re now a half game out of the top spot in the Big Sky.

Green Bay continues to be the class of the Horizon, dispatching Milwaukee, 64-49.

Couple of huge upsets: Bradley, (10-12, 4-7 in the MV) shocked Wichita State (16-7, 10-1). In fact, it wasn’t even close: the Braves by 20. #2 and #3 in the conference met, and the Redbirds of Illinois State took it to Creighton in the second half, capturing the 66-60 win.

Middle Tennessee (18-6, 13-2 Sun Belt) may have overlooked Troy (5-18, 2-12). IN Murfreesboro, the Trojans took the Blue Raiders to OT, and didn’t fade. MTSU goes down, 74-70.

It took 3OTs, but Arkansas finally got the win over Alabama, 91-80.

In the battle of the Tu’s, Tulsa used a strong second half to send the Green Wave to a loss.

The two top dogs met in the MAC (West & East), and Toledo topped Ball State, 68-64, but only after blowing a 20pt lead. The Cardinals will have a change for revenge on last day of conference play, March 6 @ Toledo.

Whyte did everything she could to keep Arizona in the game (26, 7, 8) but she couldn’t stop Cal from getting their 9th win in a row.

Charlotte gave St. Joe’s their first conference loss, and now there are four one-loss teams lurking behind Dayton. Actually, three, ’cause Dayton beat Fordham. But, unlike previous years, it wasn’t a cakewalk.

After the Lions roared away from Michigan State, the Big 10 is a bunch of teams looking up at Penn State – Purdue, Nebraska, Michigan and Illinois.

Fittingly, Delle Donne breaks Dawn Evans’ CAA scoring record against JMU. I’m sure she’s happier that Delaware got the win, 71-64. Oh, and the Hens’ pre-game trick shot was pretty cool, too.

In a battle of two teams who may have coaches feeling the heat, NC State raced away from Clemson, 79-45.

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Girls basketball coach Pat Diulus dies at age 67

Pat Diulus, who rose to national prominence as a girls high school basketball coach during a career punctuated by run-ins with the OHSAA, died Tuesday after a brief illness.

Diulus coached Trinity and Regina to a total of nine state championships and nearly 600 victories in a career that spanned 25 years. Both programs became national powers.

Coaching legend Pat Diulus dies

“I’ve been thinking back on everything he’s done,” said Riley McCormick, who played on Regina’s 2009 Division III state championship team. “There have been a lot of things going on in the past year or two that may not have given him a great name.

“But I hope everyone can remember all the lives he did change. He truly was there for each and every player that crossed his path. I have nothing but love and support for him and his family. He has made an impact without question on the player I am today and the person I am today.”

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It would have bee my pleasure to nominate you for UoY, Fordham Rams (11-17, 2-11 A-20), but you needed to seal the deal. As it was, the Bonnies had to fight back in the second half to stay perfect in conference play. The 52-45 win earned St. Bonaventure their first Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season team championship in any sport and made the 2000+ fans in the stands very happy. Said Bona coach Crowley:

“Look over the last 10 years and the teams who have been No. 1 in our conference. Look at the size of the school, where they’re located, their funding. This is not supposed to happen. And it just did. … It’s unfathomable to everyone except these players. They saw it, went after it and got it. No one can take that way from them.”

Not quite a candidate for UoY, but deserving of a nomination, Ohio (6-8, MAC) did do a number on Bowling Green (12-2, MAC). Down five in the first half, Semeka Randall’s team turned up the defense and got just enough offense to take down the Falcons, 60-56. It’s the Bobcats have beaten the Falcons at home in a decade. Writes Matt Sussman at the Hustle Belt (No, YOU’RE a longshot for an at-large NCAA bid):

The Falcons had won their last eight games against the usually mediocre Bobcats and once again they are not considered a major factor in the MAC race. But OU’s senior leader Tenishia Benson was a major player tonight. With the game tied and essentially the final possession, Benson had the play of her career at the right time: a driving layup, plus the foul, whose ensuing free throw she missed and rebounded herself, forcing a jump ball and getting the possession back. It was essentially a huge final 10 seconds, and a normally composed Falcons team was caught with their pants down.

Hey, if you can’t win the tournament, make it difficult for someone else to.

All eyes turn to Eastern Michigan, which helped itself tremendously with their win over Toledo on Tuesday. Under coach AnnMarie Gilbert (an Oberlin graduate – where she was a rock star),  EMU is makin’ noise and here’s hoping the fans notice. This “nugget” from Rich Rezler pre the Toledo game: ” from the “Rocket Docket” blog by Toledo Blade sports writer Ryan Autullo:

“EMU has drawn a total of 4,894 fans to its 10 home games. (Toledo) has topped 5,000 in each of its past two home games.”

Ball State is next for EMU (at home, the 25th), then they’re at Central Michigan (28th).

My favorite “way under the radar, but looking like its working it way up” team, New Hampshire, is now at 8-7 in the Am. East. and they’ve guaranteed their first winning season since 2005-06.

In the battle of the dogs, BU recovered from their first conference loss, and the Terriers downed the Retrievers, 61-56.

The other big dog of the Am. East, Albany, rolled over Binghamton,69-37. The win marks the Great Danes’ first 20-win season since moving in to DI play.

Temple’s win (The last of Dawn’s recruits, Shey Peddy, 31 points) over St. Joseph puts them at 12-1 in the A-10. The Owls could make it an interesting conference tournament. Looking at their schedule, Cardoza has done a nice job of out of conference scheduling (something the Bonnies will have to beef up): Ohio State (L, by 4), TAMU (L, by 12), St. John’s (L by 6), Rutgers (L, by 21), Duke (L, by 11). Their only in-conference loss? At St. Bonaventure, by 11.

Oh, and I’m not ignoring Jabir’s Dayton Flyers, who ate the Musketeers for lunch. They’re 11-2 in the conference (Losses to Temple and St. B). Their tough out-of-conference games included: UConn (L), Toledo (L), Bowling Green (W)… and Cincy? (L) (Which is why I’m wondering about who gets COY votes in the Big East. I can’t imagine the winner won’t be Muffet, but….)

Bucknell’s run in the second half against American almost had the Bison’s getting a nomination for best supporting UoY, but the Eagles held on for the 62-59 victory, and a still perfect Patriot League record, and become the first team in league history to begin conference with 13-straight wins.  Not jinxin’ them, noI’mnot, BUT, no team has finished regular season conference play 14-0. Lisa Strack had a key assist to secure the win, and her team-high 19pts pushed her over the 1000pt mark in her career.

Something’s gotten in to little ole St. Louis (who are up for the best supporting UoY award since they took down Duquense, 56-55). Last night they (10-8, 4-9, A-10) took Charlotte (15-2, 7-6 ) to overtime and got a 70-69 win for their efforts.

“This might have been the most fulfilling win we’ve had since I’ve been here,” SLU head coach Shimmy Gray-Miller (Michigan grad) said. “Not many people gave us a chance to win this game. I’ve been talking about how much heart and pride this team has, and tonight they showed it in abundance. We didn’t give up or give in, although we had many chances to do just that.”

The Sugar Bears are roarin’ through the Southland (E, but they’re heads and shoulders above the W, too). Central Arkansas’ latest victim: Nicholls State, by 20 . This is a team that only lost to Georgia Tech by 6, and is probably cranky that SFA gave them their one conference loss (January, 54-45). They may be fierce in the conference tourney and (fingerscrossed’causeIdon’twannajinx’em) in the NCAA tourney.

Well keep things interesting, why dontcha? Samford (17-10, 12-6 Southern) took down Chattanooga (1908, 14-4), 58-48.

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From Patricia Babcock McGraw: DePaul set to make the state proud

The prospects for the state of Illinois in the NCAA Tournament are slim.

Illinois will likely be the only representative on the men’s side. And DePaul will likely be flying solo on the women’s side.

It’s a sad commentary, no doubt, but here’s a silver lining: For women’s basketball fans in this state, the only game in town is a really, really good one.

From Gene Wang: Navy, American meet for Patriot League women’s title

For the first time, either Navy or American will be playing in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. That much is certain when Saturday’s Patriot League tournament title game concludes at Alumni Hall, where the Midshipmen earned the right to host as the No. 1 seed.

What’s less clear is how players from the winning side will react considering the unprecedented reward at stake for both programs. It’s not as if either side has experience handling the leap from the local to national stage. Will there be simply jubilation? Validation? Relief?

From Cheryl Coward: Baylor’s point guard phenom Odyssey Sims impressed all year, has no first-time Big 12 tournament jitters

While college coaches and fans in Texas knew about the phenom from suburban Dallas, the rest of the nation began to take notice of the freshman’s ferocious defense and prolific offense all the while running the floor like someone older than her years.

“She doesn’t play like a freshman to me,” said teammate Destiny Williams about Sims after the team’s semifinal defeat of Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament. “She plays like an upperclassman.”

Mel writes: Delle Donne And Delaware Derail ODU in CAAs

The pieces all came together for seventh-seeded Delaware Friday night in posting an historical 72-55 upset of second-seeded Old Dominion in a Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball game at the Show Place Arena.

The victory by the Blue Hens (19-12) means Old Dominion (20-10) will miss the semifinals for the first time in a 20-year run and the triumph also snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Lady Monarchs, who beat Delaware twice this season.

A little something from Michael Stainbrook on Semeka Randall: Ohio coach adopts famous mentor’s strategies

The WNIT bracket will be announced Monday, and FGSU is getting ready.

Likely FGCU first- or second-round foes are the only other Sunshine State possibilities: Florida (18-14), which was ousted from the Southeastern Conference tournament,with a 92-75 loss against fourth-ranked Tennessee last Friday, and Central Florida (21-10) if the Knights don’t win their second Conference USA tourney in the last three years. UCF will play Tulane on Saturday in the C-USA finals. Thus far, Smesko and his staff have about a dozen tapes on teams, including the Gators and Knights. By Monday, they’ll have “50 or 60.”

Oh, and ESPN is set to air the entire women’s tourney.

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