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and booked ended by cats. Life is good.

Sending out congrats to coach Verdi and his new job at UMass. I knew he was poachable, but a little surprised that he went to this program. Verdi has recent experience resurrecting the Eastern Michigan program, so I’m hoping this means there’s a new commitment to women’s basketball in the Pioneer Valley.

Fallout: Eastern Michigan coaching change may impact two NE Ohio girls basketball players

Former star Andrea (McAllister) Gorski will take the reins at Bradley.

Gorski replaces Michael Brooks, who was dismissed last month after posting a 37-84 record in four years as head coach.

Prior to SIU, Gorski was a 17-year head coach at the high school, AAU and small college level. She spent the last five years before her move as the head coach at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she transformed a sub-.500 club into a national tournament team.

Movin’ up: JMU Promotes Sean O’Regan to Women’s Basketball Head Coach

“The group of finalists for this position was as strong as any hiring process that I’ve seen at James Madison,” Bourne said in a statement. “It speaks highly of Sean that he stood out among that group as best prepared for this opportunity.”

O’Regan has been on the coaching staff at JMU for the past nine seasons. A JMU alumnus, O’Regan began as an assistant coach during the 2007-08 season.

Movin’ up: McNeese State promotes Cryer as new women’s basketball coach

McNeese State promoted assistant women’s basketball coach Kacie Cryer to head coach Friday, one day after Brooks Donald Williams resigned to take an assistant position at Alabama.

Athletics director Bruce Hemphill said Cryer has the work ethic and tenacity to quickly make this team her own.

Syracuse.com continues their good work: Hearts of Orange: For Syracuse men’s, women’s basketball it was truly March Madness

It was the best kind of gift. Unexpected and unique, a rare and impossible-to-replicate bounty of basketball.

It came in the form of gold shoes and wispy mustaches, custom eyewear and three goggles, a sting from losses that will fade and a glow from memories that never will.

The Syracuse men’s basketball team celebrated its freedom from NCAA investigation by reaching the Final Four for the sixth time in program history. The women’s team, long unable to grow in the successful shadow of the men, climbed to new heights by reaching its first.

OSU women’s basketball: Beavers look to build off most successful season

Even though the Beavers played against a team that may go down as one of the best ever in women’s college basketball — the Huskies won a fourth straight title — the loss was tough one to take.

Senior and West Albany High grad Samantha Siegner said in the locker room it was tough to sum things up so quickly after the loss.

“I just look at all we accomplished this year and especially in the four years we’ve been here, it’s been really incredible to be a part of it,” she said.

Check out: Sydney Wiese’s Oregon State diary: ‘I’m going to just remember the feelings’ of Final Four run

Hello: Forward Taya Reimer has chosen to transfer to Michigan State.

About the Draft April 14th, 7pm:

Powers looking to be DCD’s first WNBA player

ESPN Analysts Carolyn Peck, Rebecca Lobo Break Down the WNBA Draft

Transcript: Head Coaches on Next Week’s Draft

Prospects Imani Boyette, Tiffany Mitchell, Jonquel Jones Talk Draft

Bleecher Report: 2016 WNBA Mock Draft: Analyzing Elite Prospects and Hidden Gems

The .com is doing a whole bunch of Draft Previews, but it’s ridiculously hard to find them all in one place. Scroll down in the News tab.

From the Boston Globe Ex-WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw details mental health struggles

This is as good time to remind of the piece on Cassie Kerns in the Indy Star:

The photo looks happy. It’s not.

At that moment, on that court after beating Louisville 76-54, Kerns was in a downward spiral of self-loathing.

Not even a national championship in the sport she had once loved could bring her joy. She was so far in the depths of depression and mental illness, she says, that she was numb.

She smiled and celebrated in that photo, but it was a masterful cover-up. It was all a big act — a front she put on for much of the four years she played for the powerhouse team and coach Geno Auriemma.

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they must play the rest of their games with their shoes tied together…

@NDsidMasters: During pregame radio interview, Coach McGraw announced Taya Reimer has left @ndwbbfor balance of 2015-16 season for personal reasons.

But never fear, Muffet is here:

It’s been almost 15 years since the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team won its first — and so far only — national championship, and began a journey that has cemented the Irish as one of the most respected programs in the country. The number of All-Americans who don the blue and gold jersey has become constant. Loyal fans still pack into Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center to cheer on their favorite squad. The wins continue to accumulate.

And leading the way is Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw, who still paces the sideline and stomps her high heels to get her team’s attention during games. But plenty has changed — and some hasn’t — in that decade and a half. Universal changes to women’s basketball itself and personal changes for McGraw that have molded her ability to coach on and off the court.

“I think overall there have been a lot of great changes to women’s basketball, and we’re heading in a really good direction,” McGraw says. “At least here we’re heading in a good direction.”

Of course, she probably felt a little different near the end of the #18 DePaul game, having watched her team squander a huge lead. Yes, they won, but this will not be a comfortable season… though it might be one of her best coaching jobs.

#1 UConn rolled through Colgate, and then used a series of runs to take down #11 Florida State. “Under-appreciated” will become an overused word when it comes to UConn’s Tuck – but I can’t imagine opposition coaches feel that way about her. Certainly, Auriemma doesn’t: ‘She’s pretty special’

Gotta love in-state games: Cyclone Comeback Topples No. 23 Iowa, 69-66

Speaking of in-state games, weird: Analyst: ‘Quite unusual’ for UK defectors to be behind bench

Perhaps television analyst Brenda VanLengen summed up best what many fans were thinking as they watched Kentucky top Louisville on Thursday night.

“This is quite a surprise honestly,” the ESPN play-by-play announcer said just before halftime as the cameras zoomed in on two specific fans among the 14,425 at Rupp Arena.

Didn’t distract the Wildcats, though, as they took it to struggling (Walz: Cards women have talent, not work ethic) Louisville, 72-54. Graham says that With big win over Louisville, Kentucky quiets any talk of a crisis in Lexington. I say, it’s still early in the season…

Speaking of the “defectors,” the Hilltoppers get a nice pickup: Former Kentucky guard Kyvin Goodin-Rogers transferring to Western Kentucky

Texas Tech is continuing its rise from the ashes, defeating the not-to-be-triffled-with Vandals, 78-62.

Sigh. BU is still 0-fer.

Ummm… things are NOT good in the land of the Hartford Hawks. BC humbled them, 62-28.

Good: Texas ramps up efforts to sell women’s team to fans

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How much does San Diego State miss Beth Burns.

You know, UNC Asheville has been pretty awful for a while… and I don’t want to jinx them, but…. they were 6-1 for the first time in 31 years. And now they’re 7-1. AND they have a junior named Knuckles. What’s not to love?

Winning is important, but so is handling the expectations of the coaching staff and not getting too caught up in the early season success.

“The thing I’m most proud of with this team is their commitment to the process,” Kirkpatrick said. “I really think they’ve bought into treating each game separately and getting better with every opportunity.”

Super congrats to Army’s Kelsey Minato. In their win over NJIT, she became the first Army women’s player to reach the 2,000-point milestone. The 8-1 Black Knights look particularly fierce this season – might they return to the Big Dance for the third time since that fateful 2005-06 season? (watch this space for more on that team.)

Speaking of Army….#5 Maryland is 10-0, but Syracuse is the only ranked team they’ve faced. Looking forward to see how they hold up against UConn in the Maggie Dixon Classic at the Garden Monday, December 28th. (This year, I have 189 folks joining me! Come visit sections 10, 11, 12 if you want to say hi. I’ll be the shy, quiet, demure one… not!)

“Ruff!” says Gonzaga to Dayton, “we should be the top-dog in the mid-majors.”

Banham gets some love from the Star Tribune: 

Banham was 107 points shy of the record when she collapsed at the end of a fast-break layup on Dec. 10, 2014, in Grand Forks, N.D. She had torn her ACL and suffered a partial tear of her MCL, forcing her to spend the next three months watching from the bench as the Gophers returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

 

That gave her plenty of incentive for a rehabilitation period she described as the hardest thing she ever has done. Her doctors followed a strict, cautious timetable, prohibiting her from jogging until three months post-surgery and forbidding any basketball activities for seven months. As she healed, she worked with the Gophers’ new strength coach, Ralph Petrella, and began reshaping her diet.

Good to hear: Texas A&M’s Jordan Jones rebounding well after injury

Gary Blair’s plan early in the season was to lighten the load for senior point guard Jordan Jones, who was coming off knee surgery. But when the Texas A&M women’s basketball team played at 14th-ranked Duke in the second week of the season, the Aggie head coach leaned on Jones for 41 minutes to pull out a 72-66 overtime victory.

“She had played 15 minutes in her first game, 22 in her second game, and she just came in [at Duke] and kept going,” Blair said. “I did not want to play her that many minutes just coming off of that ACL, but she is the heart and soul of our team.”

BTW: That’s 700 for Mr. Blair.

Dishin & Swishin 12/10/15 Podcast: Miami leads group of upstarts changing the guard in the ACC

Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville are the teams we expect to be at the top of the ACC every year. In the last couple of years Florida State became a regular to the discussion too. This year? It is early, but Miami at 10-0, Virginia Tech at 8-1, and Boston College at 7-1 are crashing the party.

One of the reasons Missouri is 9-0: they generating more steals, fast-break chances

If the Lady Vols seeking to reverse tailspin on the road, their performance against a short-handed, shadow-of-its-former-self Wichita State can’t be seen as a good sign. Next up: Stanford (who must deal with Texas) followed by Oregon State. Seatbelt time, y’all.

Speaking of the Beavers: Weisner in a groove offensively

Jamie Weisner entered last Thursday’s game at Marquette hitting 60 percent of her 3-point attempts through the season’s first five games.

But Weisner, No. 7 Oregon State’s senior sharpshooter and leading scorer, for some reason couldn’t find the range against the quick and aggressive Golden Eagles.

She missed all seven of her attempts.

Earlier in her career, that may have led to a bit of frustration for Weisner.

But last Thursday, she wasn’t fazed.

The New York Times: A Life on the Move Molds a U.C.L.A. Basketball Star

Home for Nirra Fields these days is a room in a five-bedroom suite on the U.C.L.A. campus. It is not luxurious: Fields has decorated it with basketball and family pictures, and she shares a common space and a single bathroom with four other students. But the space is clean, and it is organized, and — this is most important — it is all hers.

After the route Fields took to get to it, that is enough.

Ah, high school:

Louisiana: Mothers of Salmen High School girls basketball players who were kicked off team make emotional appeal to School Board

Pittsburgh: West Jefferson Hills school board retains controversial girls basketball coach

Mississippi: Parent puts girls basketball coach in hospital

Seattle: Review of Bishop Blanchet football, girls basketball confirms recruiting violations, self-imposed penalties

Not high school:

Hello, Nancy Lieberman: Sacramento Kings assistant coach nails backward one-handed half-court shot

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The Irish:

From Graham: Reimer’s hiatus pays dividends for Irish

Taya Reimer wasn’t on the court the last time Notre Dame lost a game. She wasn’t on the bench. She wasn’t in the arena. She wasn’t even in the state.

It isn’t a coincidence that she is here as the Fighting Irish return to the state of Florida for the first time since that loss in Miami nearly four months ago. And if Notre Dame is to beat South Carolina on Sunday night and return to the national championship game for the fourth time in five seasons, it won’t be a coincidence that she will be on the court.

John Fineran for the Notre Dame Insider: South Carolina next hurdle for Notre Dame women to clear

“I have a lot of concerns about South Carolina,” McGraw said Saturday before sending her team out for the first workout by the four teams. “They’re such a good team and their depth is just probably the best in the game. Actually, I think they have the most depth of any team here.”

Slap the Sign: Notre Dame Basketball: Muffet McGraw’s Most ‘Unlikely’ Final Four Team

More from John at the Notre Dame Insider: Madison Cable brings competitive fire to Notre Dame and from ND’s official site: IRISH EXTRA: Madison Cable Tuned In To Irish Success

Al Lesar at the Notre Dame Insider adds: ND’s Lindsay Allen giving defenses something else to worry about

The burden of responsibility Loyd has carried into the NCAA Tournament has manifested itself with some very un-Jewell-like performances. Combine the DePaul (3-of-15) and Baylor (5-of-18) games and Loyd is shooting a chilly 24 percent, well below the 45 percent clip she carries (along with a 19.9 scoring average) for the season.

A testament to the solid nature of the Irish program was that Notre Dame didn’t crumble when Loyd’s numbers went down the tubes.

Somebody else just stepped up.

In addition to a hot streak by long range artist Michaela Mabrey (12 of 19, 63 percent, in the last three games), 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen (averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 assists) has flipped the switch from starter to finisher; from distributor to scorer.

Denise Maloof at NCAA.com: Superstar, when needed – Irish’s Loyd can dominate or facilitate come Sunday and

David Cloninger at GoGamecocks: Final Four: Jewell Loyd shines brightest for Irish

If there was a way to do it, somebody would have done it by now.

“We do have a game plan in for what to do with a player like Jewell Loyd,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “You have to make her work.”

And make sure Loyd doesn’t work your team to death – which is where she specializes.

The Gamecocks:

From Charlie: Why South Carolina’s bench could trouble Irish

A’ja Wilson could be the national freshman of the year. Alaina Coates was the SEC’s top freshman in 2014 and is the Gamecocks’ leading rebounder this season.

Yet both come off the bench for South Carolina.

And nobody inside that locker room cares. Getting the program to its first Final Four was the only goal that mattered from day one.

From Willie T. Smith III at USA Today: Notre Dame has more than just Loyd, South Carolina knows

An extensive study of film on the Fighting Irish was enough for the Gamecocks’ coach to understand why her No. 2-ranked opponent continually finds itself in the Final Four.

“Notre Dame is like a machine from an offensive standpoint,” Staley said. “They’re like Connecticut in that they find the person that is supposed to shoot it. They make basketball look beautiful and easy because they feed off each other.”

Gene Sapakoff at the Charleston Post and Courier: Lack of women’s parity or not, Gamecocks crash Final Four cartel

That South Carolina hasn’t just reached its first Final Four but crashed an exclusive party enhances a vault from mediocrity. As a parity debate simmers within women’s basketball, the Gamecocks going into Sunday night’s game against Notre Dame are a beacon of fresh hope.

“We’re not here off luck,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said Saturday. “Our team worked to get in this position, and it just goes to show some of those other programs, if you continue to work and you continue to recruit and you continue to do things the right way, I think the basketball gods will put you in this position.”

David Caraviello at the Post and Courier: In Final Four, USC’s Mitchell receives her toughest assignment yet

The women’s Final Four ramped into high gear Saturday, when house music thumped and pep bands blared as each team walked through something resembling practice. The din quieted briefly as the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association introduced its All-American squad — which included South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell and Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd, who lined up next to one another for the group photo.

They’ll get quite accustomed to that kind of proximity Sunday night.

William T. Smith, III: For Welch, Ibiam, Dawn Staley’s pitch is coming true

When recruiting South Carolina seniors Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam, Gamecocks women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley made sure the duo understood her goals for the program .

Staley believed both reaching the Final Four and winning a national title at USC were attainable.

“With both me and El, it was something she definitely pitched to us,” said Welch. “It was something she wanted both of us to really believe in. It was something we talked about on my home visit and I’m sure on El’s home visit.

More from William: Aleighsa Welch helped spark USC’s recent success

Aleighsa Welch has never met a stranger.

Friends are met with hug, acquaintances an arm around the shoulder and newcomers a warm smile.

Welch’s kindness should not be seen as a weakness, however, as beneath that smile beats the heart of a warrior.

Andrew Ramspacher at The Daily Progress: Former Cavalier great Staley returns to Final Four

Watching the game from home last week, Debbie Ryan considered the right time to send a congratulatory text to Dawn Staley.

It wouldn’t be at the final buzzer of South Carolina’s win over Florida State. It wouldn’t be when Staley was cutting the net off a Greensboro Coliseum rim in celebration of a regional championship.

No, Ryan whipped out her phone as soon as Tiffany Mitchell drained a corner 3 with 1:21 remaining to give the Gamecocks a five-point lead.

“You’re going to the Final Four,” Ryan told Staley. “Enjoy it. Have some fun.”

Gamecocks’ Staley dedicates Final Four trip to John Chaney

Vic Dorr for the Richmond Times Dispatch: For Dawn Staley, coaching brings sense of balance, fulfillment

The most stunning crossover of Dawn Staley’s basketball career occurred not on the court but rather during a job interview at Temple University.

Despite having every intention of saying “no,” Staley said “yes” in 2000 to an offer to become the Owls’ women’s coach. To this day, she seems surprised.

“I absolutely did not want to be a coach a day in my life,” Staley said. “Not one ounce of me wanted to be a coach.”

Ron Morris at The State: Building a champ: Staley has made Gamecocks into annual national contenders

Her purpose has been seven seasons in the making, yet Dawn Staley has instilled a mindset that South Carolina women’s basketball is a national championship contender.

Establishing that line of thinking sometimes has been a two-step forward, one-step backward process for Staley and her coaching staff.

Through it all, Staley said she never wavered in her belief that her program would be among the nation’s elite.

“I didn’t have any doubts, but the struggle was very real when you’re not winning as much as you’re working hard. What we put ourselves through as a staff is we had to understand it’s a process.

Amy Farnum-Patronis at NCAA.com: A matter of time

When Dawn Staley added the title “Final Four coach” to her lengthy résumé last week, it really didn’t surprise anyone in the basketball world. It had just been a matter of time.

Staley has succeeded at every level in everything she has done, so when she took over as head coach at South Carolina in May 2008, Gamecock Nation was just biding its time until she turned the program into not just a winner, but a national contender.

The Terrapins

From Kate: ‘Everybody’s rooting’ for young, fearless Terps

The Terrapins were supposed to be too young; they had lost five seniors, including the program’s leading scorer, Alyssa Thomas, from last year’s Final Four squad, and conventional wisdom suggested it would be at least a year before fiery coach Brenda Frese could make her super sophomores — Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — believe themselves capable of returning.

From Gene: To beat U-Conn., Maryland women’s basketball must first defeat doubt

Addressing the media the day before the NCAA tournament’s Spokane Region final last week, Maryland women’s basketball Coach Brenda Frese was asked for reaction to comments from her counterpart at Duke, Joanne P. McCallie, about top-ranked Connecticut.

The coach of the Terrapins’ contentious rival had mentioned there was a “monarchy” in the sport, referring to the Huskies’ nine national championships, wildly lopsided victory margins and McDonald’s all-American recruits Coach Geno Auriemma seems to stockpile by the dozen.

“She must not think her team can beat them,” Frese said.

From Diamondback Online: With renewed expectations, Maryland women’s basketball preps for UConn

“Last year, we were really excited to be there,” Mincy said after her last practice in College Park. “We were taking in the whole experience. We are going to do the same thing this year, but our mindset is a little different. We are coming in to the Final Four to win.”

But the odds are stacked against the Terps. They are set to play the tournament’s top seed, Connecticut, which has won its first four games in the Big Dance by an average of 41 points.

From Charles Walker at the Carroll County Times: Having reached elite level, Terps relish shot at ‘Goliath’ of women’s basketball, UConn

As good as Maryland has been, Las Vegas oddsmakers listed the Terps as 23-point underdogs once the match-up was set. And no one thought that particularly strange.

So why did Maryland players carry such big grins this week as they spoke of the task ahead? Well, it’s simple: They want what UConn has. And whipping the existing monarch is the surest path to the throne.

“Who doesn’t want to beat Goliath in the end?” said Maryland’s lone senior, Laurin Mincy.

From Doug: Coach Frese, Maryland hopes to end UConn’s run at Final Four

“Aren’t we tired of it,” Frese said of UConn’s dominance. “Everyone’s rooting for us. Some new stories, our sport needs it to be quite honest. I know there are a lot of people out there cheering and want to see Maryland beat UConn. For us and our sport it would be a great thing.”

Amy Farnum-Patronis at NCAA.com: Maryland’s guard play key in matchup vs. UConn

Anthony Brown at the Baltimore Wire:

What Maryland basketball has been all about the last 28 games is physicality on the boards, driving to the basket with reckless abandoned and pushing the ball in transition. Teams haven’t been able to keep with Maryland’s pace because they rebound the ball so well and their transition game is one of the best in the NCAA. Their sophomore class is a big part of their success  and Brionna Jones in the post spearheads the success of the team offensively as a rebounder and scorer.

While Maryland has their big four of Lexie Brown, Laurin Mincy, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Jones in this Women’s Final Four matchup, the Lady Terps will have to worry about these players on UConn’s squad:

The Huskies

From Mechelle: Breanna Stewart embracing UConn celebrity

 If you’re a great player like Breanna Stewart signing to come to UConn, you must realize you’ll have more on your plate than just trying to keep up the program’s crazy-high standards.

You will be a celebrity in Connecticut. Not just for the time that you’re playing, but forever after, too. Signing autographs, people adoring you, wanting to know your opinion about everything. Sounds cool, right?

“I wasn’t particularly comfortable with it,” said Rebecca Lobo, the signature star of UConn’s first NCAA title team in 1995. “I loved playing at UConn, but I never expected — because I had never experienced it before — all that other stuff that comes with it.

Rich Elliot for The Day: UConn embraces its role as the favorite

There is a sizeable target on the back of every member of the UConn women’s basketball team each time they step on the floor. It has been like that for years now as the top-ranked Huskies are considered the favorite to win every game they play.

It is a role that they have had no choice but to embrace. It is a role that has seen them thrive. And they are looking do so again over the next three days at Amalie Arena.

Greg Auman for Newsday: At UConn, it’s national title or bust

Denise Maloof at NCAA.com: ‘It comes with the territory’ – UConn’s sky-high standards are unique to rest of field

As nine-time national champions can, Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma dropped an observational nugget during media sessions ahead of Sunday’s 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four.

“I wish we would lose more,” Auriemma said Saturday, to audible murmurs. “I really do.”

Yeah, right. The quote master’s two-time defending national-champion Huskies meet Maryland in Sunday’s second national semifinal at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. They’re playing in their eighth consecutive Final Four.

Why does losing sound attractive?

Harvey at the NY Times: UConn’s Domination Is Win-Win for Women’s Game, Geno Auriemma Says

“I think the attention that comes from being really good and having a certain standard that we set and a certain level of recognition, I think it has been good in that sense,” he said. “I think coaches around the country and their athletic directors can say, hey, look, look what happened up in a small place like Storrs, Conn.; look what they’ve been able to do. Why can’t we do the same thing?

Tom Jones at the Tampa Bay Times: UConn’s greatness not necessarily a boon for the sport

Patricia Babcock McGraw at the Chicago Daily Herald: Why UConn’s program is good for the women’s game

Brian Koonz at the CT Post: Lobo is right, it’s time for women’s basketball coaches to ‘grow up’

“Grow up,” Lobo snapped, addressing an invisible audience of head coaches Saturday at Amalie Arena. “Watch what they do. Watch what those players do on and off the court.

“Make yourself better. Coaches, make yourself better so that you can compete with Connecticut. Don’t try to make Connecticut worse. They’re nothing but good for the women’s game.”

As long as critics, including head coaches, complain about UConn’s dominance, women’s basketball will remain the game with a burden.

And it’s so much more than that.

You’re not here? Nya, nya: 5 things you’re missing In Tampa Bay

Ann must be pleased: Congrats to UCLA, WNIT champs. Watch out, PAC-12, for that kid Canada

The gap in the middle of West Virginia’s defense was a repeating invitation that UCLA freshman Jordin Canada couldn’t pass up.

Canada drove to the basket often and scored a season-high 31 points to lead UCLA to a 62-60 win over West Virginia for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship Saturday.

Canada was the only double-figure scorer for the Bruins (19-18) and was selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

 

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A couple of nice primetime games last night.

#8 Louisville hung around for a while, but the combo of  Loyd (2opts) and Reimer (8-8 & game changing blocks) plus poor shooting (33%) doomed the Cardinals against #4 Notre Dame. (Great crowd for TV.)

As usual, junior shooting guard Jewell Loyd led the way for Notre Dame, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds, but this performance was more about guts than flash.

“I think everybody’s going to try to be physical with us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “That seems to be the game plan. It was a really physical game. That was something you could see we needed to get better at.”

#2 South Carolina v. #6 Tennessee was mighty entertaining – and heartening for the Vols. When South Carolina remember that Izzy was out, they scored. When they didn’t, Tennessee kept it close. It came down to the wire – or, should I say, the endline. Dozier sealed the deal and the Gamecocks, who hadn’t beaten the Lady Vols at home since 1980 and stand 4-47 all-time against them, got the win. (Another great crowd.) Writes Mechelle: 

You hear all kinds of crazy things coming from the stands when you sit on media row. But sometimes, you also hear the absolute truth.

In Monday’s intense, riveting, entertaining, “March-is-right-around-the-corner” game between South Carolina and Tennessee, the Gamecock fans were doing all they could to emotionally power their team to firmly gain the upper hand on the Lady Vols.

Then a fan said, “This is Tennessee. They don’t go away.”

Indeed, even against the No. 2 team in the country, even without their top scorer and rebounder, even with a rotation that realistically went no deeper than six, the Lady Vols pushed South Carolina right to the wire.

But that made the Gamecocks’ 71-66 victory even a little more special. This was a high-level game with a lot on the line: the SEC’s two best teams, both unbeaten in league play, battling it out.

The SEC gave us one upset for the night, as a tight game eventually went to Mississippi, beating #13 Kentucky for the first time in six tries.

“It is a very special victory. It is a program victory,” coach Matt Insell told reporters. “I can’t put into words how satisfying it is to beat a ranked-team like Kentucky. They have had unbelievable wins all year and we beat them by eight. Our team just really went out there and took control.”

Samford gave us the second, as they took down #2 in the Southern Conference, East Tennessee State, 69-46.

“I was really pleased with our preparation,” Samford head coach Mike Morris said. “We have really good young women with good character. And when you have that, you can really challenge them in different ways and their character comes out in their work ethic and how they work through different things. I thought we did a great job of just taking care of the ball tonight. And then, when they made a run, we didn’t fold, and I thought that was big at end of the first half.”

Speaking of the Southern, the conference’s top team, #20 Chattanooga, had its second loosy-goosy game in a row, having to fight off the Mercer Bears, 56-51. The Mocs, who won their 19th SoCo title,  face ETSU next.

#5 Maryland squashed Penn State like a bug, 65-34, and got a nice, shiny Big 10 trophy for their efforts.

I’m really, really proud of this group,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Going into this season there were a lot of unknowns — young team, new conference. To be able to come out and play the way they have in these first 16 games is not easy.”

The NEC got nice and tight as Robert Morris couldn’t shake off its 3-point loss to Bryant and fell to Sacred Heart, 69-60. Bryant and Central Connecticut St. continued their winning ways.

The Central women’s basketball team took control of Monday night’s home game against St. Francis Brooklyn the way it has taken control of most games.

Trailing 16-10 and facing the second-best defense in the Northeast Conference – only Central’s own defense is better – the Blue Devils outscored the Terriers 17-2 over the final 10 minutes of the first half and cruised to a relatively easy victory, 61-43 at Detrick Gymnasium.

Graham offers up a little somethin’ somethin’ on Iowa:

“I feel we have beaten teams that are more talented than we are,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “But because we do those little things better, we have come out on top.”

This is far from the first place wherein it is suggested that what we call chemistry when it comes to sports is much closer to alchemy. It is more magic than science. It can’t be measured. It can’t be quantified. It can’t be tested. Its existence might not be a matter of faith — almost all of us have been part of a workplace, athletic team or club where people got along and have likely experienced the same when such harmony was absent. But its place in the equation of success, whether it resides closer to cause or effect, is entirely a matter of belief. The basic conundrum remains.

Do teams win because they have good chemistry?

Or do teams have good chemistry because they win?

Did you catch this piece on The real Diamond DeShields

The world might never know why Diamond DeShields left the University of North Carolina, but we do know she is ready for a new start at Tennessee.

The 2014 national freshman of the year sat down with espnW recently to discuss her decision to transfer, her relationships with Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell and the Lady Vols’ Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick, and explains why she initially committed to North Carolina.

More than anything, DeShields is eager to bring closure to her decision to transfer to Knoxville. Speculation ran rampant when DeShields left the Tar Heels after her freshman season. 

Oregon State’s gain wasn’t George Fox’s loss:

Kylie Dummer was in tears following her freshman basketball season at Southridge High School in 2010, where the Skyhawks had won their fifth state title in six years.

That was when coach Michael Meek announced to the team he was leaving for a college coaching opportunity at Division III George Fox University in Newberg. The team’s previous coach, Scott Rueck, had left to take the same position at Oregon State – giving Meek an opportunity to bring his success to the collegiate level.

Now in his fifth season leading the Beavers, Rueck has taken that program to new heights. In the same time span, Meek has maintained and built upon the legacy Rueck first created at George Fox.

And in the “no, you really don’t get the idea of ethics”: Riverdale, Smyrna girls basketball teams removed from postseason

The TSSAA removed Riverdale and Smyrna from the high school girls basketball postseason on Monday following a report from a high school referee in charge of their District 7-AAA consolation game held Saturday where he said that both schools “played to lose the game.”

Both Rutherford County schools were placed on restrictive probation by the high school association for the rest of the school year and probation for the 2015-16 school year.

Both schools were fined a total of $1,500 apiece.

In the “we let our play do the talking” news: Neumann-Goretti tops Archbishop Wood for PCL title

FWIW, I’m tossing this out with a h/t to Slam: Filmmakers Seek Crowdfunding for Doc Series on Evolution of Women’s Basketball.

A feature­length documentary, Concrete Rose will use stylized interview portraits of the men and women who are the games trailblazers to tell a universal story about women’s basketball. Thematically organized around on the court play that reflect a wide range of human emotion and experience, the film seeks to reveal a larger more complex portrait of our shared love for basketball.

To be honest, the description is a little fru-fru for me.

In other history news, Ray is Catching up with Carol Blazejowski: Youth basketball, the WNBA, and reflecting on women’s basketball history

The moment stood frozen in time.

“Hi, I’m Carol glad to meet you.”

Over the years I frequently met a new officiating partner in this manner, but this was one of those situations in which I met a former player whose games I covered – a player of legendary proportions whom I virtually idolized for her achievements both on the floor and off of it in the women’s game.

“Hi, I’m Ray nice to meet you,” was the simple response.

Where do you even start when discussing the career of Carol Blazejowski?

On the Aussie front: Canberra Capitals skipper Abby Bishop signs with WNBA side Seattle Storm and

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After their nice piece on Kansas powerhouse Emporia State, boom, they drop to #3 in the DII polls after a one-point loss against Central Missouri. It’s especially painful ’cause they were outscored 9-1 in the closing minutes of the game.

Lewis University (Ill) moves into first, Pittsburg State University (Kan) second. The Pitt State Gorillas. How can you not cheer for a team like that!?!?!

Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve had an opportunity to indulge in some DII scanning (ain’t doing laundry grand!), but it’s interesting to see that all but two teams have one loss.

BTW, here’s a story that might explain the sudden surge of women’s basketball coverage from the Gray Lady:

Before last Tuesday night, I had never heard the name Scott Cacciola. 

Twenty-four hours later, I’m not certain that I could have been any more excited at the notion of meeting him. Cacciola is in his second year of covering the New York Knicks basketball franchise for the New York Times.

Due to the Knicks’ dismal start (OK, with a 5-35 record at the moment and having won only once in their past 26 games, perhaps atrocious would be more appropriate), the NYT sports editors decided to have mercy on their beat writer and send him around the country to view winning basketball. They fielded hundreds of suggestions from readers and, through a collaboration of sorts, are picking each trip one game at a time.

So, for the next couple of months, he’s become a modern sports version of “On the Road” with Charles Kuralt.

And he started with the nation’s top-ranked program in NCAA Division II.

Lose, Knicks, lose! (Can you tell I moved from Boston to NYC?)

In the DIII poll, last year’s champeens, Farleigh Dickinson U – Florham (N.J) are going strong at 13-0. Wonder if their governor knows they exist? Perennial top-position teams lurk below: Thomas More College (KY) (love their headline, “Tomas Uses Big Second Half Run to Veto Presidents.” And forcing 43 turnovers against Thief college? Love it.), Amherst College, Washington University – St. Louis and University of St. Thomas, (MN). Lots and lots of familiar names fill out the ranks.

The Jeffs better be careful, though… the NY Times just wrote about them, though this time it’s Jere’, so maybe they’re safe: At Amherst, Division III Team With No. 1 Ambition

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The story: “There’s no parity in women’s basketball.”

The truth:

Illinois over #17 Iowa, 73-61.

Pittsburgh over #5 North Carolina, 84-59.

Miami over #4 Notre Dame, 78-63.

I’m trying to decide which upset is most surprising.

Yes, Notre Dame was on the road, but lordy, they were down 20 at the half to a team whose “best” win of the season to date was… heck, it’ s hard to point to a “good” Miami win – they’ve lost to MTU, ASU and Tulane.

“You never like to lose, but we’re just so darn young sometimes that we needed maybe a kick in the pants to kind of say we need to come out ready,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “I don’t know mentally what they were thinking before the game but we were uncharacteristically bad in the first half. Credit their defense, that really set us back on our heels.”

That being said, one has to consider the impact (and back story) of the news that starting sophomore forward Taya Reimer, who did not travel with the team to Miami, is considering her future at the university.

Even without Xylina McDaniel, North Carolina’s loss to Pittsburgh makes me shake my head. It’s not just that it’s Pitt. (Blog followers know that they struggled early this season, losing to Duquesne, James Madison and Princeton, but they played #7 Louisville tough.) It’s the score. This wasn’t a close game.

Michigan was a big win for the Pitt women. 

Ohio State was a big win, too. 

Neither of those earlier victories — nor very many wins in the history of the program, for that matter — compare to Thursday’s 84-59 victory over No. 8 North Carolina at Petersen Events Center

The win was Pitt’s first against a ranked opponent in almost four years and was their third over a top-10 opponent. 

No, we haven’t been talking about Iowa a lot, but we have mentioned Illinois more than a few times, so perhaps you weren’t too surprised by the news that the Hawkeyes got taken down by Matt Bollant’s Illini.

Illinois finished the game on a 26-8 run and held No. 17 Iowa to only three field goals over the final 10 minutes of the game as the Fighting Illini pulled away for a 73-61 win at State Farm Center on Thursday. It marked the Orange and Blue’s second win over a ranked opponent this season and Illinois held Iowa to its second-lowest point total of the season. Illinois improves to 11-4 on the campaign, its best start in seven years, and 2-1 in Big Ten play.

Let’s start a new story: There’s no parity in men’s college basketball.

So, speaking of close games, I see that Duke escaped Syracuse by two. Is there something askew with the ACC traditional powers? (And, soon, ‘Cuse, sooon you’ve got to come out of these close losses with a win!)

Okay, I’m paying attention: MSU women make another piece of history

Stat stuffers don’t care how their lines in the final boxscore look. 

After all, if players who fill numerous columns with crooked numbers are doing their jobs, their team’s total in bold at the bottom of the page is going to be bigger than the opponent’s.

Dominique Dillingham’s numbers Thursday were far from the biggest on the final statistics for the No. 14 Mississippi State women’s basketball team’s 72-57 victory against Arkansas. But none of the 3,556 in attendance at Humphrey Coliseum would deny Dillingham had perhaps the biggest impact in helping MSU push its season-opening winning streak to 18. In the process, MSU made another piece of history in opening Southeastern Conference play 3-0 for the first time. 

Hey! Look who’s ranked! Western Kentucky! First time since the 1997-98 season.

‘‘It’s an awesome day for our program,’’ WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. ‘‘It gives me chills when you say that we’re ranked. It’s a great day for everyone that’s ever tied their shoe here or had to do with WKU in the past.’’

Anyone think that Ohio State is going to be scary good next year?

Yup, that’s #18 Arizona State winning, matching the program’s best start.

The Debbie Antonelli includes, of course, Sacramento State. This time they came out on top, 93-86.

In-conference play is killing San Francisco’s mojo.

It’s kinda feeling like, this year, the A-10 is George Washington’s to lose.

I’m not going to declare the Patriot League Lehigh’s until after they face American. Twice.

The Tigers roar in Graham’s mid-majors poll (and sit in the 22nd spot in the AP poll)

Courtney Banghart developed a standard response when asked about the outlook for her Princeton team this season, the first season the Tigers began coming off anything other than an NCAA tournament appearance since the fall of 2009, when every member of the current roster was in high school or even middle school.

It was a likable group of people, really likable. But she wasn’t sure they knew how hard it is to win.

“I just didn’t know if they actually had enough edge,” Banghart said. “If they hated losing — which is different, whether you hate losing more than you like winning, or you like winning more than you hate losing. I didn’t know if they were able to make the shift. Was this team really going to hate to lose and come with that edge?”

They must really hate losing. Because they can’t stop winning.

Steve Megargee of the AP give “the other majors” some love:

The first half of the women’s basketball season produced plenty of memorable moments for mid-major programs.

Chattanooga beat Tennessee and Stanford for its first two wins over top-10 opponents in school history. Princeton is ranked 22nd and Western Kentucky is 25th. Green Bay (11-3) was in the Top 25 earlier this season.

“I think it’s great for the game, for women’s basketball,” Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “That’s what we want to have the opportunity to do, to just continue to keep working and building, so … we don’t have to be in a position where we have to win our conference (tournament) to get to the NCAA.”

Michelle writes about those “other” Huskies, and their peach of a player, Plum: Plum paces Washington to 12-2 start – Huskies set to take on No. 15 Stanford on Friday, Cal on Sunday

As a freshman last season, Kelsey Plum confesses, she sometimes felt “dumb,” even if the stat sheet didn’t show it.

“At least in terms of making plays,” the University of Washington sophomore guard said. “I guessed a lot.”

Plum seems to have found the right answers pretty quickly. The nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.0 points a game, Plum is setting the tone for a Huskies team that is about to embark on its most defining weekend in a decade.

“We are finding a quiet confidence,” said Washington second-year coach Mike Neighbors.

He saw it in the days before his team played then-No. 5 Texas A&M before the turn of the new year. Washington won that game 70-49, one of the most unexpected results of the young season.

In W news, Mechelle addresses the “You’re fired!” “You’re hired!”

There are certain sports franchises — and players and coaches, for that matter — who do weird things that at first make you say, “You’re kidding. Seriously, they did that?” But then you say, “Oh, wait a minute. This is (fill in the name) that we’re talking about.”

The New York Liberty are such a franchise. But the re-hiring of Bill Laimbeer as coach less than three months after he was fired by the organization is head-scratching even by Liberty standards.

Oh, wait a minute. Not really. This is the Liberty we’re talking about.

Let me make haste to say, though, I actually don’t think this is a bad decision at all. It’s correcting a bad decision, which was firing Laimbeer back in October without a really strong idea of whom the franchise could get to replace him.

More Liberty news: 7 ON YOUR SIDE: HOOPS PRIZE WINNER NEEDS ASSIST

A little history: Former Wayland Baptist Flying Queen Cherri Rapp has been named for induction into the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame.

Rapp played for the Flying Queens from 1968-72 under coach Harley Redin, winning two AAU championships along with third- and fourth-place finishes as those teams combined for a 107-13 win-loss record.
 
A three-time NWIT and AAU All-American, Rapp scored 1,348 points to rank third at the time on the Flying Queens’ career scoring list; today, she’s 14th.
 
She was a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team that competed in the 1976 Montreal Games. She played in the Pan American Games in 1971 (Brazil) and 1975 (Colombia), serving as captain of the team that won the 1975 gold medal, and also played in the World Games in 1971 (Brazil) and 1975 (Mexico).

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