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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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but first, the WNIT kicks us off with a fun story: Double Duty In Des Moines: Kansas Band Gets The Assist For Drake Women’s Basketball

A college basketball game without a band present … it’s just not the same, is it? Drake’s women’s team was facing that, though, for its WNIT opener Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa. The school is on spring break, and the Drake band members aren’t on campus.

However, Drake got a capable substitute: The Kansas band was in Des Moines for the Jayhawks’ NCAA men’s tournament game Thursday afternoon.

As for the games:

The band helped! Drake (MVC) over Sacred Heart (NEC), 95-59.

Road-weary UT Rio Grande (WAC) got swept away by TCU (Big12), 97-73.

Arkansas State (Sun Belt) chomped on Southern (SWAC), 68-45.

It was a tight one, as short-handed Nebraska (Big10) fell to Northern Iowa (MVC), 64-62.

Ball State (MAC) went on the road and topped Iowa (Big Ten), 77-72.

Arkansas Little-Rock (Sun Belt) and St. Louis (A-10) went down to the wire, but… Billikens win! 70-69.

And I swoop! Tennessee-Martin (Ohio Valley) came back to defeat Memphis (American), 79-73. It’s the programs first post-season win since 1999.

Dayton (A-10) fell to Western Kentucky (C-USA), 89-72.

San Diego (WCC) escapes Northwestern (Big 10), 69-65. The Wildcats scored 8 in the first and 35 in the fourth. Coach must be banging his head against the wall.

No, really, remember when they stunk? IUPUI (Summit) over Central Michigan (MAC), a tough program, 63-55.

Bucknell (Patriot) over Akron (MAC), 74-70. The Bison are the first team from the Patriot League to ever win a game in the WNIT, while also posting the program’s first victory in a national postseason tournament.

“We have had a lot of great things happen this year, but to get a postseason win is pretty sweet,” said Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell. “It’s a great accomplishment for our program and our league, and a huge feather in the cap for this gritty team. I am incredibly proud of them.”

Gonzaga (WCC) chewed up undermanned UC Riverside (Big West), 88-54.

Oregon (Pac12) over Long Beach State (Big West) by 8.

After all the waiting and working and wondering, Oregon coach Kelly Graves finally got the glimpse of his team’s future that he’d been looking for the past two weeks.

And he liked it so much that Graves told his rejuvenated Ducks to go play couch potatoes for a day like the rest of America as their reward.

 Welcome to March Madness, ladies. WNIT style.

Nice showing against a program that in no joke: Marshall (C-USA) falls to Ohio (MAC), 76-68.

Eastern Michigan (MAC) led wire to wire, and eked out an away win over Saint Mary’s (WCC), by one, 74-73.

Graduate transfer Chanise Baldwin’s ffensive rebound and put back with 1.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter lifted the Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team to a 74-73 victory over Saint Mary’s College in the opening round of the WNIT Thursday, March 17. The Eagles led by as many as nine, but needed Baldwin’s late game heroics to propel the Green and White into the second round of the tournament. 

In a back-and-forth battle, it was Abilene Christian (Southland) who blinked first. UTEP (C-USA) won, 66-62.

Virginia Tech (ACC) over Elon (CAA), 68-59.

Villanova (Big East) ousted Liberty (Big South), 67-51.

Hofstra (CAA) over Harvard (Ivy), 76-50.

Even with the loss of top-scorer Mikayla Venson, Virginia (ACC) managed a two-point win over VCU (A10).

Georgia Tech (ACC) stung Mercer (Southern), 73-56.

Rutgers (Big East Big 10) last-second-shot-ed a win over Georgetown (Old Big East), 57-55.

An improving Wake Forest (ACC) held off Charlotte (C-USA), 72-69.

First round NCAA games I’m keeping my eye on:

Albany/Florida
JMU/DePaul
Chattanooga/Mississippi State
Green Bay/Tennessee
St. Bonaventure/Oklahoma State

Michelle Smith: Tara VanDerveer vs. Jennifer Azzi

Asked to remember the last time they talked on the phone before they found out they would be matched up in the NCAA tournament, both Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and University of San Francisco coach Jennifer Azzi came up with the same answer.

“Probably just a few weeks ago,” Azzi said.

“Not that long ago,” VanDerveer confirmed. “We talked about some things she was dealing with.”

There will be no talking this week.

Katie Barnes: UConn freshman Samuelson finds her footing

Bonnie and Karlie Samuelson, both of whom played at Stanford, are as responsible as anyone for making Lou the player she is.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be just like them, so that’s where it all started,” Samuelson said. “But once I got older, all I wanted to do was to be better than them.”

When will DePaul Women get their due as NCAA contenders?

Every year, I hear the same thing. “There are no Illinois teams in the NCAA tournament.”

And for the past 14 years, all those who have said that have been wrong.

Why, oh, why, do Illinois residents overlook the DePaul Blue Demons (25-8), who’ve achieved a berth in the NCAA Women’s Tournament for 14 CONSECUTIVE YEARS… also, their 21st overall appearance since 1990?

Jonathan Lintner: Cards’ Hines-Allen hitting high gear in March

Recently named the ACC Player of the Year, Hines-Allen registered a pair of double-doubles to open the postseason and hit 19 of her 33 shots.

“I want to prove to people it’s not a fluke and just give my all every single day,” the sophomore forward said. “That’s how I got the award.”

BTW: Division II has reached the Elite Eight.

4 Florida Southern v. 1 Lubbock Christian (March 22, 1pm)
2 Anchorage-Alaska v. 7 Francis Marion (March 22, 7pm)
1 Virginia Union v. 1 Bentley (March 22, 3:3o)
2 Grand Valley State v. 7 Pittsburgh State (9:30)

The big shockers were seeing #1 Union, #1 Azusa Pacific and #1 Limestone go down in the first round. #1 Ashland feel in the second round. #1 Emporia State lost in the 3rd round.

Division III’s Final Four is scheduled for March 19th, Capitol University, Columbus Ohio.

Tufts (27-3) v. Wartburg (23-7), 5pm.
Wartburg’s Final Four run stranger than fiction

 Amsberry’s Nine will do for a working title. Wartburg College’s surprise run into the NCAA Division III women’s basketball Final Four has the makings of a green-lit sports movie.

The plot is a season salvaged off life support by a group of athletes that had moved on before reuniting to accomplish an ambitious goal.

The script has more than final credits left to be written.

Jumbos book trip to NCAA tournament semifinals for third year in a row

For the past two years, Tufts had gotten it done at home in the postseason. The Jumbos had qualified for the NCAA tournament by winning the NESCAC championship, earned home court advantage and fought their way through dominant first-round wins and overtime thrillers alike to reach the NCAA Div. III championship semifinals, the Final Four.

This year was different. Tufts fell by one point in a heartbreaking loss to Amherst in the NESCAC championship but still earned an at-large bid. 

Amherst (30-1) v. Thomas More (31-0), 7:30PM

Saints on a different kind of mission

You already know what’s the same about the defending champs, so let’s look at what’s different about Thomas More this season.

It all starts with a change in hashtag philosophy.

Sister act adds to Amherst’s legacy

If Amherst head women’s basketball coach G.P. Gromacki hadn’t been persistent when reaching out to junior twins Ali and Meredith Doswell during the recruiting process, no telling what he would be doing this weekend.

 

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over at Swish Appeal: Revisiting The 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Bubble: Deserving Bids, Snubs, & Surprises

Although most analysts seemed to believe that the Texas Longhorns were pretty certain to get a bid in the 2012 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Jessica Lantz has made the point (here and here) that they should not have gotten a bid, particularly not over the Oklahoma State Cowgirls.

Of course, whatever we feel about Texas and their recent tournament history of first round exits, the question that has to be answered is who exactly should get in over Texas if people don’t buy that OSU should get the nod. Jessica made a few suggestions that I took a closer look at over the weekend but she might have gained a new ally in her doubts about Texas’ tournament worthiness after Selection Monday: Tim Mulholland of SB Nation’s Streaking the Lawn thought the absence of his Virginia Cavaliers in the field of 64 was a “shocking and a massive snub, nothing less.”

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REMEMBERING TO GET IT TO GRINER helped Baylor take care of Notre Dame, 94-81. I guess it’s true when they say defense is usually behind the offense (sorry about the Monday morning quarterbacking, Graham).

Meanwhile, Coach Boyle got the ACC’s attention as Virginia stunned the Lady Vols in overtime, 69-64.

But first, about the emotion shown in Charlottesville, Va., after the unranked Cavaliers’ 69-64 overtime victory against No. 3 Tennessee. We’re not even to Thanksgiving, so college basketball results at this time of the season are — even when they’re very surprising — mostly very faded by March. Losses now aren’t necessarily supposed to hurt a great deal, nor cause all that much euphoria, either.

But for a youngster such as Tennessee freshman guard Ariel Massengale, this is the first big college disappointment and she naturally is going to take that pretty hard. A lot has been put on her shoulders because of her talent, and like most blue-chip freshmen, she’s not used to falling short. She was 1-of-6 from the field Sunday for just two points. And while she had seven assists, she also had seven turnovers.

Dan writes: Blame game: Lady Vols look inward after road loss

“It finally caught up with us,” Stricklen said. “We’ve been a team coming out depending on the second half. What we’re doing in the second half, we have to do in the first half. We have to really bring the energy from the start. We have to go to the boards. We have to bring our defense from the start.”

Tennessee has a week to prepare for Baylor on the 27th. I’m penning January 2nd in my calendar: that’s when Virginia meets up with Duke.

(And yes, I now have two sleek gentlemen fuzzballs to keep my “older than she looks” fuzzball company. Thank you for asking.)

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Joanne Boyle: “I am not the Virginia Coach”

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from Lady Swish:

Debbie Ryan spoke for the first time since the university announced her resignation on Saturday morning. You could hear the pain in her words — gut wrenching to be honest. Here are a few of them from the woman who has coached the University of Virginia for 34 years, amassing 736 victories and surviving pancreatic cancer along the way. After her 30-minute press conference, the media stood and clapped.

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Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan To Step Down After 34 Seasons: A Legacy That Goes Beyond Longevity

As already posted by SBN’s Streaking the Lawn (Virginia), Virginia Cavaliers coach Debbie Ryan will be stepping down at the conclusion of this season.

In a University of Virginia release about Ryan’s resignation, director of athletics Craig Littlepage noted her contributions to basketball not only on a national but global scale.

And, as James noted previously, perhaps the most immediately prominent among those in a season during which the UConn Huskies set the college basketball record longest winning streak is that it was under Ryan that coach Geno Auriemma got his start as an assistant in 1981.

Yet while that might resonate most strongly with our current sensibilities, there’s no reason to look to the legacy of others to define Ryan’s.


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