You may or may not find the “Quick Dish” at ESPN.com. If you go straight to the women’s basketball page, I’m not sure you will. If you go to the main page, though, it’s there.
I sometimes find the format a bit hard to follow. Please click on it and read it there if you can, because ESPN.com counts the clicks, as they say. But just in case you’re having a hard time following it, I’m also reposting what I wrote here every day.
Did you think you knew just how this women’s NCAA tournament was going to turn out? Well, yes, UConn remains the big favorite. But a whole lot else has gone haywire on most people’s brackets.
After a Sunday of upsets in which 10th-seeded Vermont, No. 12 Green Bay and 11 seeds Arkansas-Little Rock and San Diego State all won, Monday was another big night for a team outside of the “Big Six” conferences.
This time, it was No. 7 seed Gonzaga, a program that has been knocking on the door of the nation’s elite for a while. Monday, the Bulldogs officially stopped just knocking and marched right into the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history with a thrilling 72-71 victory over No. 2 seed Texas A&M.
Furthermore, the Bulldogs did it with star point guard Courtney Vandersloot on the bench after fouling out with 1 minute, 23 seconds left. The winning basket came from Vivian Frieson, whose jumper with 21 seconds left gave her a game-high 23 points. She also had nine rebounds and six assists on the biggest night of the senior’s Gonzaga career.
A school that has celebrated its men’s program as “giant-slayers” in the past now has the women to laud for the same thing. It was a crushing defeat for Texas A&M, which had won the Big 12 tournament and came into the NCAA tournament considered a realistic challenge to top seed Stanford in the Sacramento Regional for a Final Four berth.
But the Aggies won’t even make it to California’s capital; they go home while the Bulldogs move on to face the winner of Tuesday’s Xavier-Vanderbilt game.
It was a rough evening for the Big 12 as two of its three teams in action fell. No. 4 seed Oklahoma State lost 74-71 in overtime to No. 5 Georgia. No. 4 seed Baylor, though, did beat No. 5 Georgetown 49-33 and will meet Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
Earlier in the evening, two ACC teams had to scramble to avoid being upset.
Nobody but the most gung-ho (and slightly delusional) ACC fans would have proclaimed this as a very strong year for the league. Even ardent followers of the ACC understood that a combination of graduation losses, injuries and illness — specifically with the league’s top post player, North Carolina’s Jessica Breland, who battled cancer over the summer — had left the ACC below where it’s been in some previous seasons.
That said, few were expecting the ACC might go down in flames before even the NCAA Sweet 16. Yet the league had some anxious moments Monday night — after a very bad weekend in which North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia and NC State lost — that just that might happen.
Duke, seeded No. 2 in the Memphis Regional, and Florida State, No. 3 in the Dayton Regional, were both in peril — worse yet, it was on their home courts. But the Blue Devils and Seminoles, who finished 1-2 in the ACC this season, both pulled out victories and will head to the regional semifinals with a sigh of relief.
Duke pulled away for a 60-52 victory over seventh-seeded LSU in what was, as expected, a defensive battle. In the closing minutes, though, the Blue Devils got the upper hand with hustle plays — led by Jasmine Thomas — and avoided a second consecutive loss in the NCAA second round. Last year, playing on Michigan State’s home court as a No. 1 seed, Duke was upset by the Spartans.
The Blue Devils made just 1 of 10 3-point attempts, and Thomas was the only Duke starter in double figures with her 15 points. Duke got a lift off the bench from Bridgette Mitchell, who had 12 points and six rebounds.
Duke forced 22 turnovers — although the Blue Devils did have 19 of their own. LSU star Allison Hightower finished her career with a 19-point game as the Tigers became the first of the six SEC teams to lose in this NCAA tourney.
After Duke survived, Florida State did the same — although the Seminoles had to go to overtime to do it against No. 6 seed St. John’s, 66-65. The Red Storm were trying to make the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history, and they came agonizingly close.
FSU senior post player Jacinta Monroe hit a tying layup with 17 seconds left, then St. John’s freshman Eugeneia McPherson missed a shot at the buzzer and the teams went to overtime at 62-62.
All the Red Storm were able to get in the extra period was a free throw from Da’Shena Stevens and a layup from Joy McCorvey. The Seminoles didn’t get much more — baskets from Cierra Bravard and Monroe — but that was enough to send Florida State to the Sweet 16. Monroe led FSU with 16 points, and Nadirah McKenith had 15 for St. John’s.
Stevens missed a good look at game’s end that could have won it. But instead, the Red Storm finished the season 25-7, intensely disappointed but with a lot to look forward to next season. Six of St. John’s top eight players — including this season’s leading scorers Stevens and Shenneika Smith — are returning.
****Aggies, Cowgirls join Longhorns on sidelines***
It has been almost nothing but climb time for Texas A&M since coach Gary Blair took over the program for the 2003-04 season. After Arkansas essentially pushed Blair out the door for foolish reasons, he brought his program-building powers to an Aggies team that had been going nowhere for quite a while.
Texas A&M has been to the NCAA tournament the past five seasons and won two Big 12 tournament titles in that span, including just recently in Kansas City. In fact, after that tourney run in which the Aggies handed Nebraska its only loss of the season in the semifinals, there was legitimate talk that Texas A&M was a threat to No. 1 seed Stanford in the Sacramento Regional.
Having made the Elite Eight in 2008 before a late-game scoring drought resulted in a loss to eventual national champion Tennessee, A&M had its best offensive team this season and seemed poised to possibly make that next step to the Final Four.
But instead, the Aggies didn’t make it out of the second round. After winning the Big 12 tourney title, Blair issued a press-conference plea to not be placed in UConn’s region. Maybe he should have asked to avoid Gonzaga.
Because it was the No. 7 seed Bulldogs who ended A&M’s season with a 72-71 victory Monday night in Seattle. It was a huge boost for Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference and Left Coast hoops in general, which needed it. No West Coast team has won the NCAA title since Stanford in 1992. And the Cardinal are also the only program in the Pacific time zone to have made the Final Four since ’92.
But while the Bulldogs, led by Seattle native/game MVP Vivian Frieson, and lots of Left Coasters rightfully celebrated, the Aggies were left feeling just like the Big 12 tournament champs on the men’s side, Kansas. Over and out in the second round.
Texas A&M knew of the potential danger that Gonzaga presented; the Aggies had beaten the Bulldogs by just four points in the Las Vegas Classic on Dec. 20. (That came a night after Gonzaga had fallen by 21 to Baylor. The Bulldogs can look at facing those Big 12 teams as a turning point in their season; they haven’t lost since then.)
The Aggies went through a stretch during the Big 12 season, from Jan. 17-Feb. 10, when they lost five of seven games. But after that, the bugs seemed to be worked out, and Texas A&M won 10 of its last 11 games coming into its second-round matchup with Gonzaga.
What went wrong? Well, you have to credit the Bulldogs, who endured a disappointing 65-60 loss to Pittsburgh last year in the tourney’s second round. Gonzaga controlled the pace and played the exact style the Bulldogs wanted.
A&M had to be disappointed with allowing 72 points; the only times this season the Aggies surrendered more points were in the first meeting with Gonzaga (76) and in the season opener against Duke (77). But Texas A&M won both of those games.
Still, offensively, the Aggies pretty much had a typical game, with the Kansas City trio of Danielle Adams, Tanisha Smith and Tyra White scoring 19, 17 and 11. The one “killer” statistic that stands out, though, was the Aggies’ struggle at the foul line, where they made just 8 of 15 attempts (53.3 percent). The Aggies entered the game having shot 69 percent from the line this season.
The last free throw miss was by Smith, a senior who was not able to convert a three-point play with 38 seconds left that would have made Frieson’s subsequent basket 17 seconds later a game-tying shot, not the game-winning one.
Texas A&M still had a chance to hit its own game-winner, and had the ball in Adams’ hands on the baseline. But her contested jumper missed with four seconds left, and the Aggies joined fellow Big 12 member Texas on the sidelines of the tournament. The No. 6 seed Longhorns lost 74-63 to Mountain West tournament champion San Diego State, an 11-seed, on Sunday.
Another Big 12 team fell on Monday, too, but that was less of an upset than Texas A&M or Texas. Oklahoma State, the No. 4 seed in the Sacramento Regional, had Andrea Riley back after she was suspended for the first round, but the Cowgirls couldn’t get past No. 5 seed Georgia, which won 74-71 in overtime. Riley had 31 points and seven assists in her final college game; she leaves as the Big 12’s all-time top scorer (2,835) and Oklahoma State’s career assist leader (707). Fellow senior Tegan Cunningham had 25 points; with their exit, the Cowgirls will have to find a lot of scoring from others next season.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, has holes to fill due to the loss of Smith and Damitria Buchanan, but does return its other key players, including leading scorer Adams.
The good news on the night for the Big 12 came from No. 4 seed Baylor, which defeated fifth-seeded Georgetown 49-33 — yes, that was the score for the whole game — behind an NCAA tournament-record 14 blocks from freshman Brittney Griner. She was chiefly responsible for holding the Hoyas to an Antarctic-like 17.1 shooting percentage (12-of-70) from the floor.
Griner also scored seven points. Baylor senior Morghan Medlock had a big game, getting 11 points and 16 rebounds. Now Baylor faces No. 1 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 in Memphis on Saturday; those teams met in the regional semifinals in Norman, Okla., in 2004 and had a controversial ending when a foul with two-tenths of a second left led to the game-winning free throws for Tennessee.
Three other Big 12 teams will try to advance to the Sweet 16 on Tuesday, as top-seeded Nebraska faces No. 8 UCLA; No. 3 seed Oklahoma meets No. 11 Arkansas-Little Rock; and No. 4 Iowa State plays 12th-seeded Green Bay.
The Huskers, Sooners and Cyclones need look no further than what happened to Texas A&M to know they’d better be on their guard.
***Pupil (Cardoza) set to face mentor (Auriemma)***
Does knowing the UConn program inside and out give an opposing coach any advantage when it comes to trying to stop the Huskies?
Well, that would suggest there is any advantage, period, to playing UConn. And with the Huskies on their 73-game winning streak, well … that answers that question.
So, no, don’t necessarily expect that Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, who was an assistant to Geno Auriemma for 14 seasons at UConn before leaving two years ago, has any top-secret game plan for knocking off the No. 1 seed when her eighth-seeded Owls face the Huskies in the second round (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, 7:06 p.m. ET) in Norfolk, Va. Or if she does, she’s not saying.
In this case, familiarity breeds respect, but it still doesn’t provide much of a toehold for trying to scale the UConn mountain. However, Cardoza did point out the obvious in regard to opponents’ mindsets against the Huskies.
“Being [at UConn] for 14 years, a lot of times [with] just the name on the front of the jersey, we’d be up 14 points without the game really starting because people were so intimidated,” she said. “So our players are already prepared for it. I don’t have to give them anything to try to get them going; this is what everybody wants, so these guys are excited about it.
“This is one of the best teams ever, not just the No. 1 team in this country right now. And this is something that [the Owls] will want to go out and enjoy. You know, there’s no reason to be nervous. We don’t have anything to lose.”
Already this season, Auriemma has gone against two former players who are now coaches, Jen Rizzotti at Hartford and Jamelle Elliott at Cincinnati. Elliott was also a former UConn assistant.
Cardoza’s background is different in that she played college basketball at Virginia, not UConn, although she is from the New England area, suburban Boston. She took over at Temple before the 2008-09 season after former UVa teammate Dawn Staley left for South Carolina.
Cardoza has former UConn player Willnett Crockett on her coaching staff now, so between the two of them, there’s plenty of Huskies knowledge to give their Owls. For whatever that’s worth.
Auriemma is in the role that most highly successful coaches find themselves in after they’ve been in the business long enough. Their “coaching trees” — people who either played for them and/or coached with them — branch out as those folks get their own programs and then try to replicate the success they previously knew.
That sometimes means trying to beat the coach that helped get them where they are. It’s just the nature of the business, even if it sometimes feels more than a little odd.
Although there are not always those conflicting emotions. Long ago, Auriemma was in this position himself. He had been an assistant to Debbie Ryan at Virginia before taking over at UConn in 1985. When his Huskies faced Virginia in the 1991 national semifinals, Auriemma said, “I wasn’t feeling bittersweet. I wanted to beat their [tail] so bad in the Final Four and win the national championship.”
Virginia won that game. But … when the programs met again in the 1995 East Regional final, UConn won on its way to the Huskies’ first national championship.
Auriemma also admitted it was a different feeling for him the first time he was the established power facing a team coached by one of his former players with whom he was very close. In this case, Hartford and Rizzotti.
“It’s hard, because you know you’re going to beat them,” Auriemma said with his trademark candor. “That’s the hard part. … It’s not like, ‘Well, they may win,’ so there’s a little bit of edginess. It’s hard because you’re going into the game knowing you’re going to win. You just hope that they play really well … for her, for their program, for everybody.
“Were we the underdog against one of my [former] assistants [or players], I wouldn’t feel like that, and I’d hope they’d play lousy and we’d beat their butt. But because every game that we’ve gone into with them, we’ve been so much better than them talentwise — they were all in the building stage of what they were doing — that I just root for them.”
Cardoza said if Temple were to pull the upset, which would be monumental, she would definitely have empathy for the Huskies.
“A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to be who they are and to continue to do that on a daily basis,” she said of the Huskies’ excellence, which she was a big part of for so long. “Obviously, if we pull it out and we’re able to win the game, I’m going to be excited, ecstatic — but it’ll be bittersweet. And I’m sure he’d feel the same way. If we’re unable to win that game, he will be happy for his team, but I’m sure he’ll be a little sad for me.”
Indeed, Auriemma said: “I root for them to play great, I root for them to make every shot, make a great account of themselves, be proud of themselves and feel good about themselves … and then go home losers.”
*******A farewell with flare********
As goodbyes go, this one was a classic on par with “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Stanford senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said farewell to her home gym of Maples Pavilion with a career-high 26 points, including seven 3-pointers, as the top-seeded Cardinal cruised by Iowa 96-67 in Monday’s second-round game.
Gold-Onwude is known for her defense, but she showed she can light up the scoreboard, too.
On a night when the No. 2 (Texas A&M) and No. 4 (Oklahoma State) seeds fell in the Sacramento Regional in heart-pounding games that went down to the final buzzer, the hearts of Stanford fans weren’t racing. They were just full of affection for crowd favorite Gold-Onwude, the kid from New York who came out West and has helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four the past two seasons.
Gold-Onwude led all five Stanford starters in double figures; fellow senior Jayne Appel had 16 points as she bid adieu to Maples, too. And showing that the offense was working just as coach Tara VanDerveer wants it to, the Cardinal had 26 assists.
Kachine Alexander scored 27 points for the Hawkeyes, but they were nearly doubled up at halftime, with Stanford leading 61-34.
Next for the Cardinal is defensive-minded No. 5 seed Georgia. In that matchup, Gold-Onwude will have to help contain freshman guard Jasmine James, who had 27 points — 14 of them in overtime — and 10 rebounds in a victory over Oklahoma State.
Gold-Onwude has always prided herself in being a defensive stopper for the Cardinal. But she left fans at Maples with an indelible memory Monday that she has been that and much more.
******Nebraska’s Yori honored******
Nebraska’s Connie Yori was announced as the Russell Athletic/WBCA national Division I coach of the year on Monday … just don’t ask her to expound much on the honor. Yori didn’t pat herself on the back; she credited her team and her assistant coaches.
“It’s about our players,” Yori said. “I’m no smarter than I was last year, and we were 15-16. We just have better players.”
Actually, the Huskers have most of the same players as last season; they just improved in the absence of Kelsey Griffin, who had to redshirt. Now with her back as a senior, all the pieces came together at the right time.
But who got all these pieces in place to begin with? Yori did.
“She’s one of the hardest-working people I know, and she is very deserving,” Griffin said. “She is the last one to tell you how important it is for her, but I am really excited for her.”
*******Tennessee shows offensive depth********
Angie Bjorklund, Shekinna Stricklen and Kelley Cain have been considered the three leading threats for Tennessee most of this season.
But Alyssia Brewer and Alicia Manning, both sophomores, and freshman Taber Spani are likely going to be very important, too, as Tennessee looks to return to the Final Four a year after being knocked out in the first round.
Top-seeded Tennessee pounded Dayton 92-64 in the second round Monday, and coach Pat Summitt had to like what she saw from Manning (career bests of 17 points and seven assists, plus 10 rebounds), Brewer (14 points, eight rebounds) and Spani (17 points on 7-of-8 shooting while playing just 16 minutes).
There have been worries this season about how consistent and multifaceted Tennessee’s offense is, but that has not been a concern at all so far in this NCAA tournament. Then again, that was against overmatched Austin Peay and Dayton. Baylor and Brittney Griner — whom Tennessee beat 74-65 to start the season on Nov. 15 — are up next in Memphis.