NCAA Women’s Second Round Notes

by - Published March 24, 2006 in Columns



Women’s NCAA Tournament – Second Round Notes

by Ray Floriani

TRENTON, N.J. – The top seeds moved on in second round action at the NCAA Women’s tournament at Sovereign Bank Arena. The nature of the two games was a bit unexpected.

Scores

Georgia 73, Hartford 54
Rutgers 82, TCU 48

Players of Note

Tasha Humphrey, Georgia: 26 points 17 rebounds
Sherill Baker, Georgia: 26 points
Erica Beverly, Hartford: 13 points, 6 rebounds
Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers: 24 points
Matee Ajavon, Rutgers: 18 points, 13 assists
Adrianne Ross, TCU: 10 points, 4 assists

Hartford battled Georgia tough in a game that was competitive, hard-fought and close for most of the contest. The final score does not do justice to the effort turned in by the Lady Hawks.

Following a close first half, Georgia opened a seven-point lead in the early minutes following intermission. Hartford responded with a run of their own and tied the score at 42 with sixteen minutes remaining. Over the next four minutes, Georgia responded with a 15-0 run that essentially was the difference.

“They (Georgia) overwhelmed us with their athleticism, quickness and talent,” Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “You hope you have one more run, but at that point we had a lot of guys with a lot of minutes so we got worn down.”

Hartford played Georgia even throughout the remainder of the contest. The run Rizzotti hoped for never materialized and the damage of that four-minute stretch was enough to send Georgia into the Bridgeport regionals to face UConn.

In the nightcap, Rutgers expected a low-scoring half court battle with TCU. The Scarlet Knights squeaked past Dartmouth in the first round on Sunday and TCU, a winner over Texas A & M, figured to give C. Vivian Stringer’s club a severe test. Rutgers played its usual tough defense. The offense, much like the stock market in tournament time, enjoyed a wealth of prosperity. With ten minutes remaining in the first half it was 16-14 Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights then went on a 25-8 blitz over the final ten minutes to take a 41-22 lead into the break.

Over the initial four minutes of the second half Rutgers went on a 10-2 spurt, and essentially the game was over. “Rutgers was as good as any team we’ve seen this season,” said TCU coach Jeff Mittie. “We did a few things that were decent but Rutgers was simply fantastic.”

Rutgers, paced by senior Cappie Pondexter with 24 points, had all five starters in double figures. The Scarlet Knights shot 55 percent for the game and were 6-of-11 from three-point range. True to their defensive stance, they held TCU to 29 percent shooting from the floor.

Notes

  • Rutgers will face Tennessee in the Cleveland regional. “Pat (Summit) and I seem to have a ‘cup of coffee’ every year in the NCAA tournament,” Stringer said. The Lady Vols denied Rutgers a Final Four trip, defeating the Scarlet Knights in the regional finals. Stringer remembers all too well. When asked about preparation for Tennessee, Stringer smiled and said. “I can assure you I’ve have been preparing and getting ready for Tennessee for quite some time now.”
  • Big story of the first two rounds here was Hartford. In seven years Rizzotti has done a masterful job transforming a struggling program into one of the best in the East. Hartford has now been to two straight NCAAs and three in the past five seasons. On Sunday the Lady Hawks earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory with a 64-58 win over a good Temple team. The eleventh-seeded Lady Hawks then gave third-seeded Georgia fits before the SEC representatives broke it open in the second half.
    “It’s amazing what we have done and what we are capable of now,” Rizzotti said after the Georgia game. “After we won the first game our kids felt they could compete with Georgia and they did. Not for forty minutes, but certainly a lot of the game.”
    Rizzotti was a sparkplug, a take-charge point guard on the 1995 national championship team at UConn. The qualities, hustle and hard work, she showed as a player are evident in the manner she’s turned around the program at Hartford. Following this weekend in Trenton, Rizzotti feels the bar has been raised. A new standard is set. “Our kids won’t be satisfied with going to the tournament and winning one game,” she said. “Now our kids will want to win two and get to the Sweet Sixteen. That’s the next step.”
  • Georgia coach Andy Landers had praise for Rizzotti’s game preparation. “She took us out of a few things we like to do,” Landers said. “I saw early they had a plan for us and it would be effective.” Landers would not go into specifics to reveal what was taken away. Still, the Georgia mentor cited cutting off penetration inside the lane as crucial to Hartford’s success.
  • Beside recruiting, scouting and general day-to-day coaching duties, Rizzotti and her staff have done a little homework. “As a staff we have met and studied the RPI,” she said. “We went over everthing possible to learn how it works and how to use it.” Her thinking is should Hartford have a good season and get knocked out of the America East Tournament, they wouldn’t necessarily be kept out of the NCAA. “We worked on upgrading our non-conference schedule,” Rizzotti said. “We want to have the best RPI possible so if we do lose in the tournament we can still get an at-large bid (In the NCAA).” Their performance over the two days in Trenton can’t hurt either.
  • Don Harnum was in attendance and accepting congratulations. Harnum recently accepted the athletic director’s position at Rider University. Harnum expressed the felling that it was difficult to leave the sidelines and give up coaching. On the other hand, the ever popular former Rider mentor relishes the challenge of directing the school’s athletic administration.
  • Dave Magarity was also in attendance. Magarity assisted Maggie Dixon in the women’s program this past season at Army. The Army women captured the school’s first-ever Patriot League title in basketball several weeks ago. They were eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the opening round by Tennessee. “I’m getting a demotion in rank after Sunday,” Magarity joked. On a serious note, Dave had nothing but praise for the job Dixon did this season. “She’s outstanding,” Magarity said. “After she got the job in October, I met with her and she was a big reason I decided to join the staff.”

On The Baseline

  • Georgia cheerleaders took full advantage of the stay and Trenton location. On one day, they made the sixty-mile trip to New York, and Monday traveled the thirty miles south to take in Philadelphia. A big favorite per coach Shelly Korpieski were, “Philly cheesesteaks, naturally.”
  • TCU band had a member who could whistle with such sound it virtually echoed through the arena. The band member did it everytime a Rutgers player was on the line, even after the RU fans chanted to him ‘you’re down 28.’
  • With a minute left Rutgers reserve Courtney Locke buried two free throws. The celebrating RU crowd then chanted ‘she’s from Texas’. Locke, a senior guard, hails from San Marcos in the Lone Star state.

     

Cincinnati: Bearcats Catch Another Bad Break

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Newswire



Bearcats Catch Another Bad Break: With an already short bench, Cincinnati must face South Carolina in the NIT without two of its starters, Jihad Muhammad and James White, because the school declared them ineligible to play for the remainder of the post-season. Cincinnati officials did not explain the cause for the decision, which comes very late in the season. The Bearcats lose their leading scorer in White, who averages 16.3 points per game. Muhammad averages 10.8 points per game. [3/23/06]

Kansas: …Jayhawk Will Not

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Newswire



…Jayhawk Will Not: Kansas freshman swingman Brandon Rush will stay in school for at least one more year to play college ball. Rush considered entering the NBA Draft directly out of high school last year, but he changed his mind late and ended up in Lawrence. Rush was the Big 12’s freshman of the year, averaging 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Rush and his fellow Jayhawk freshmen played poorly in the team’s 77-73 loss to No. 13 Bradley in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, not exactly the best final appearance to have in front of NBA scouts. [3/22/06]

Missouri: Tiger Tests NBA Value…

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Newswire



Tiger Tests NBA Value…: Missouri junior guard Thomas Gardner will enter the NBA Draft this year, although he may not stay in it. Gardner will follow a growing trend among college basketball players who want to determine their stock before making a life-altering decision. The Big 12’s second-leading scorer will go through with the process without an agent, which means he could return to school. Gardner averaged 19.7 points per game this season. [3/22/06]

Northern Iowa: Panthers Promote Jacobson

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Newswire



Panthers Promote Jacobson: A day after former Northern Iowa coach Greg McDermott left Cedar Falls to become Iowa State’s head coach, Panther officials named assistant coach Ben Jacobson the team’s new head coach. Jacobson worked under McDermott for six seasons, including the past five at Northern Iowa. He will earn $150,000 annually for five years, and his contract includes incentives for good performance. The Panthers have reached the NCAA Tournament three consecutive seasons, a high standard to follow. For a complete list of coaches who are switching address, check out Hoopville’s list of 2006 coaching changes. [3/22/06]

Idaho State: Bengals Tap Veteran JuCo Coach

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Newswire



Bengals Tap Veteran JuCo Coach: Idaho State found its next coach among the ranks of the best junior college coaches. The Bengals hired Joe O’Brien to replace Doug Oliver, who announced in January that he would resign at the end of the season. O’Brien comes to his first Division I gig with a 313-117 record at the JuCo level. He led Southeastern Community College to an NJCAA national championship in 2000. [3/22/06]

Idaho State Names Coach

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Columns




Bengals Tap O’Brien to Lead

by Nick Dettmann

IDAHO FALLS, Id. – The Idaho State University Bengals announced Wednesday the school’s new men’s basketball coach.

The Bengals hired Joe O’Brien, which was announced at a press conference, as the 20th coach in school history. O’Brien replaces Doug Oliver, who announced in January that he was stepping down at season’s end.

“I would like to thank the members of the search committee as well as the others, both from the campus and the community, who took part in the interview process,” ISU Director of Athletics Paul A. Bubb said Wednesday. “I feel each candidate received a very thorough and diverse day on campus and I was able to receive input from a number of individuals and groups which helped me in this process.”

Sources said that the response to the opening at ISU was abundant. A veteran of 21 seasons of collegiate basketball, including 13 as the head coach of a pair of NJCAA institutions, O’Brien brings a rich, winning tradition to Idaho State. O’Brien owns a career head coaching mark of 313-117 for a .728 winning percentage.

He earned his first collegiate head coaching job at Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill., where he led the Lynx to four straight 20-win seasons, including a 25-6 mark in 1993-94. While at Lincoln, O’Brien amassed a 100-53 record over his five seasons, before taking over at Southeastern Community College in 1996, where he led the BlackHawks to unprecendented success. During his eight seasons at SCC, O’Brien had eight winning seasons, including four 20-win seasons, and three other 30-win seasons.

In 1999-2000, the BlackHawks went 34-4 in winning their first NJCAA national championship. The following two seasons saw the BlackHawks go 25-8 and 25-10 with a Region XI Championship. In 2002-03 and 2003-04, the BlackHawks won back-to-back national titles, going 37-1 in 02-03, and 32-4 in 03-04. In his eight seasons with SCC, the BlackHawks went 213-64.

With his third title, O’Brien joined Ronnie Arrow and Allen Bradfield as the only coaches with three national titles at that level. Overall, O’Brien is one of only 11 people to have three national titles either at the JC or the NCAA level.

“I believe that Coach O’Brien brings a wealth of college coaching success with him to Idaho State University,” Bubb said. “While the winning record, national championships and personal coaching honors are all part of Coach O’Brien’s success, his demonstrated ability to recruit successful student-athletes completes the package.

“Coach O’Brien has recruited and coached high school student-athletes who have played and graduated from college and gone on to compete at Division I programs like Iowa, UConn, Washington, Florida State, Eastern Washington, Wisconsin-Green Bay and many others.”

     

Mid-Majors Know How To Win

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Columns




Mid-majors Know How to Win

by Phil Kasiecki

What are all those apologists for the power conferences thinking right now? Are they still insisting that a team that finished halfway down the standings in their conference is better than one that finished in the top two or three of another and made it to the championship game in the conference tournament?

With the first two rounds in the books, two of the four Missouri Valley teams have advanced to the Sweet 16, while Gonzaga has made it for the first time in five years (sorry, guys, you still play in the traditionally single-bid West Coast Conference) and George Mason from the Colonial Athletic Association has joined them. For that matter, what a moment for George Mason guard Tony Skinn, who sealed the win over the defending champions with three late free throws in the final minute.

For that matter, at least one team will be in the Elite Eight, as George Mason and Wichita State will match up in one regional semifinal in Washington, D.C.

There were enough wins and close calls in the first round as well to show that folks who think a few mid-majors got snubbed know what they’re talking about. The wins:

  • Northwestern State’s win over Iowa will be talked about for a while, and not just in Iowa City.
  • Bucknell made it to the second round for the second straight year.
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee won another first round game, this time taking out Oklahoma.
  • Montana knocked off Nevada to cap a solid season for the Grizzlies.

The close calls:

  • Winthrop, arguably the most dangerous No. 15 seed in a long time, almost knocked off Tennessee (a questionable No. 2 seed to begin with)
  • Colonial champion UNC-Wilmington looked like they would run away from George Washington before a late run led to overtime and a George Washington win.
  • Northern Iowa, which slumped in the final weeks of the season (oddly enough, starting the week they were ranked in the polls), gave Georgetown just about all they could handle before succumbing.
  • Albany looked like they might become the first No. 16 seed to win a game, as they led Connecticut for most of the game before a late Husky run.

Having said all of this, one thing has to be kept in mind: the performance of teams from a conference in the tournament really doesn’t say that the number of bids was justified or not. The Big Ten’s performance – a donut in the Sweet 16 – doesn’t mean it should have gotten one or two fewer teams, or that the committee was right in keeping Michigan out. Similarly, just because half of the Missouri Valley teams that made it are in the Sweet 16 doesn’t mean they really should have had five or six teams after all.

But what this does show is that those who thought teams like Hofstra or Missouri State got snubbed aren’t coming out of left field. The coaches in the CAA who felt the conference was deserving of three teams know of what they speak. They weren’t being homers when they said the conference deserved three teams. As such, they don’t deserved to be dismissed the way a lot of people were in the days following the selection of the 65-team field.

Indeed, if there’s one thing that can be said of teams that come out of mid-majors perhaps moreso than power conferences, it’s that they know how to win. Teams don’t get at-large bids coming out of the Missouri Valley with an 8-8 record in conference play like they do from the Big East or the ACC. That just doesn’t happen, and it likely never will. Teams that get at-large bids coming out of a conference like the Missouri Valley or Colonial do so with a lot of wins on the season and having won a number of games in their conference. That shows that they know how to win games.

While there is something to be said for the competition a team plays, there is also something to be said for knowing how to win. Playing a tough schedule is impressive if a team wins games along the way. A team that plays ten teams from power conferences, nine of which are NCAA Tournament teams, has played an impressive schedule. But there is a big difference between going 8-2 against that schedule and 3-7 against it, no matter how many of those games are close calls that might have turned out differently if one bounce went the other way. There is an element of luck involved in winning, but that happens when a team plays winning basketball – if a team doesn’t play winning basketball, they won’t get those lucky breaks along the way.

So as we head into the regional rounds, four mid-majors that know how to win are still alive. At least one will advance to the Elite Eight, and perhaps one might go further. If it happens, one reason for it is that the team knows a thing or two about winning basketball games, and that’s what counts at this time of the year.

     

Second Round Notes From Philadelphia

by - Published March 23, 2006 in Columns




Second Round Notes From Philadelphia

by Ray Floriani

PHILADELPHIA, PA. – The number one seeds survived. UConn and Villanova were put to the test, challenged in both rounds and responded. Given the upsets that were the norm in other parts of the country, getting the victories and moving on to the regionals was not an automatic, rather an accomplishment. The idea is the number ones get the easy route, but as UConn coach Jim Calhoun remarked, “there are no easy routes.” When the smoke cleared, UConn edged Kentucky and Villanova turned back Arizona at the Wachovia Center to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Sunday’s Scores

UConn 87 Kentucky 83
Villanova 82 Arizona 78

Until the regionals it could be ‘analysis till paralysis’ regarding UConn. The bottom line: the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16. In doing so they faced two types of challenges. UConn’s first two rounds saw distinct contrasts. Against Albany in the opening round, the Huskies trailed by 12 midway through the second half. For the next eight minutes Jim Calhoun’s club put on a clinic. “Those last ten minutes should be made into a tape,” Calhoun said, “to show future teams how to run the offense and defend.” UConn pulled away for a 72-59 decision.

In the Kentucky game, UConn drew first blood and enjoyed an early lead before Kentucky regrouped. Throughout the game the pattern persisted – UConn would build a double-digit edge and threaten to blow it open, and each time the Wildcats would make a run and close the gap. Still, UConn held their ground. “We took every shot Kentucky gave us,” Calhoun added.

In the stretch the ball was in the hands of Marcus Williams, who made a series of clutch plays. In the last thirty seconds the 6-3 UConn point guard hit all four free throws to maintain the lead. “We shoot free throws every day in practice,” Williams said. “When I went to the line all I thought of was (Washington) D.C.” – the site of the regionals and UConn’s next destination.

A month ago there were those who felt Arizona would not make the NCAA field, let alone get to round two. In the end Lute Olsen’s club gave an extremely positive account of itself. The Pac-10 representatives knocked off Wisconsin 94-75 in the opening round. Facing No. 1 Villanova in what almost amounted to a ‘Nova home game, Arizona gave its Big East competition everything it could handle before falling.

“Both teams played very well,” Olsen said, “the game was decided on a few key plays but we did everything we wanted to do. Those two guards were just tough.”

The two guards Olsen alluded to were Randy Foye and Allan Ray, who combined for 49 of Villanova’s points. Foye was chosen Big East Player of the Year. Villanova coach Jay Wright agrees the 6-4 senior was deserving but his classmate Ray deserves mention. “Randy was the player of the year for his entire Big East season effort,” Wright said. “But if you looked at Ray’s play over the last month he has played like THE player of the year.”

Arizona challenged with an inside game that grabbed 20 offensive rebounds. Olsen’s club also benefited from the guard play of Hassan Adams and Mustafa Shakur, a Philadelphia native, who added 21.

In the waning moments though, Villanova nursed and kept a slim lead. Foye hit a running jumper with just over a minute left to give ‘Nova a four-point lead. It was their only field goal in the last four minutes. Foye did miss two free throws with 35 seconds left. The lead was never lost though, as Ray hit four straight from the charity stripe the last sixteen seconds to send Villanova to Minneapolis.

Notable Performers

Marcus Williams, UConn: 20 points 8 assists
Rudy Gay, UConn: 19 points 4 rebounds
Bobby Perry, Kentucky: 20 points, 7 rebounds
Patrick Sparks, Kentucky: 28 points
Randy Foye, Villanova: 24 points, 6 rebounds
Allan Ray, Villanova: 25 points
Marcus Williams, Arizona: 24 points 8 rebounds
Nustafa Shakur, Arizona: 21 points, 5 assists

Notes

  • Villanova played three Big East games (winning all) at the Wachovia Center this season. For all intents and purposes it was a ‘Nova home game. On the Arizona side there were no excuses nor complaints. “There were 20,000 here and I bet they had 17,000 fans,” said Arizona’s Marcus Williams. “In that environment it’s loud, crazy and hard to communicate but we’ve been in that situation before.”
  • Villanova’s Jay Wright made no bones about it. The site was a definite benefit to his club. “You have the familiarity,” Wright said. “You are familiar with the locker rooms, the court, the bench you are on. Even being here you’re home. Everyone says hello to you at the hotel, you see a lot of familiar faces. Now when we go to Minneapolis, it will be like going on the road for a regular NCAA trip.”
  • Wachovia Center is a pro arena (home of the Sixers) with a capacity just over 20,000. Make no mistake, though: it can get very loud like an on campus facility. Villanova media relations director Mike Sheridan noted that some writers said the crowd level during Villanova’s win here over UConn in mid February was the loudest since the 2001 NBA finals.
  • Villanova coach Jay Wright has a truly special guard combination that transcends points. “When I coached Speedy Claxton (at Hofstra) I thought I’d never have another player like him,” Wright said. “Here I have two (Foye and Ray). They are like coaches on the floor. You put the ball in their hands and they make the right decisions and every time they get fouled they make shots.”
  • Arizona freshman Marcus Williams was outstanding. Foye had 20 at the half, so Olsen assigned the 6-7 Williams to Foye. Williams held him to five second half points while doing some damage of his own. Williams was a force inside, leading Arizona with 24 points and eight rebounds.
  • Kentucky made its second half run largely on the perimeter shooting of Patrick Sparks. The 6′ senior led all scorers with 28 pints (4-of-9 beyond the arc). “It’s tough to get over the screens from where (Sparks) shoots from,” said UConn’s Marcus Williams. “He did a great job today.”
  • Rudy Gay had a solid 19-point outing for UConn, while Hilton Armstrong made several key plays in the stretch. The 6-11 senior rebounded two missed free throws and secured another loose ball during the crucial final three minutes.
  • Lute Olsen on Villanova’s four guard offense: “The biggest problem is they (the guards) are quick and strong. Scouting reports of tape breakdowns show they get in the middle of the lane 85 percent of the time. Knowing it and stopping them are tough. If you drop guys (in the lane) to help they pass it back out to the perimeter. They are all very unselfish.”
  • Arizona’s inside game forced Wright to call on a few big men. Sheridan was his solid self with 16 points, but freshmen Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark added significant minutes for Villanova.
  • Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino was in attendance. During one timeout an announcement was made with Massimino’s picture flashed on the scoreboard as the Villanova crowd cheered enthusiastically.
  • Times really have changed. The announcement that Georgetown defeated Ohio State to advance to the Sweet 16 was met by thunderous applause by the Villanova crowd.
  • By the time the crowd exited Wachovia Center, there was knowledge that this tournament will produce a new champion, as defending champion North Carolina was upset by George Mason. In fact, the final minutes of the UNC-George Mason contest had several media members heading to the press room during media timeouts to catch the finish.

On The Baseline

  • What do some of the out-of-town cheer squads do on an off day? Take in the sights, naturally. The Kentucky group actually went to New York. “Among the places we saw were Ground Zero,” said senior Mateas Alfonso. “It was a reality check.”
  • The Arizona squad took in Philly. “We ran up and down the museum steps like in ‘Rocky’,” said junior Taylor Henderson. The trip also included a few art museums and a Ben Franklin exhibition play, a Philly favorite. “We ate three meals of Philly cheese steaks,” said sophomore Angela Peiffer.
  • Best band selection: From the Arizona band, the theme from the old Mission Impossible TV show. It was selected by an AU student and played to a nice uptempo beat.

     

Lamar: Tubbs Wastes No Time Hiring Successor

by - Published March 22, 2006 in Newswire



Tubbs Wastes No Time Hiring Successor: Lamar athletic director Billy Tubbs, one day removed from resigning as the Cardinals’ coach, promoted assistant coach Steve Roccaforte to the top men’s basketball position. Tubbs brought on Roccaforte three years ago after he had worked as an assistant at Memphis, Wyoming and Centenary. He helped coordinate recruiting under Tubbs. [3/21/06]

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