George Rodecker, National Women's Columnist
John Wooden once said,
“To me, the best pure basketball I see today … is
among the better women’s teams.”
First thought on the way in
While the WBB world extols the accomplishments of THE Big Four: Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Stanford, there’s a bit of a buzz going around College Park, Maryland, where the Terrapins of Head Coach Brenda Frese are making their own claim to fame this season. Coming off a recent win against previously undefeated Delaware 85-76, Maryland finds themselves sitting at 13-0, and No. 5 in both polls, Frese has a squad that can play with any in the land including the so-called BIG 4. With minimally six games to play against ranked teams – potentially that number could soar to a dozen before the NCAA Tournament begins, the Terps will be way, way battle tested before March gets mad.
Heading back to this preseason Frese stated: "Getting prepared this year we are thrilled with the experience we have coming back and the challenges we have lying ahead this season. I am pleased coming back from the off-season with the strides that we have made are even larger than they were last off-season. We are a very physically fit team and it will be fun to see them get up and down the floor and what we will be able to do both on offense and defense."
This edition of Maryland basketball may be as deep as any team Frese has fielded since arriving in 2003 after head coaching stops at Minnesota and Ball State, perhaps as talented and as deep as her 2005-2006 Maryland National Championship squad.
Alyssa Thomas leads five scorers in double figures while Tianna Hawkins averages a double-double. Seven Terps play over 21 minutes a contest while 2 more play over 14.
Frese certainly has the talent, the depth and the experience to crash the BIG 4/Final Four party come March and it wouldn’t surprise some if Frese got her scissors out for a second net cutting ceremony in Denver on April 3, 2012.
Every so often I’ll be at a game and see teams not in the national spotlight or playing BCS Conference and come away impressed. Such was the case recently during a triple overtime consolation game of the Saint John’s Holiday Classic on their campus in Queens, NYC. I was treated to an amazing performance by Larissa Scott of Prairie View A&M that left my usually gabby self speechless. The wiry Scott pulled down 19 rebounds with 10 coming off the offensive glass giving the Panthers several second chance opportunities to convert the buckets. The freshman just oozes game! Unfortunately, the Panthers fell in triple overtime to Louisiana Tech 89-83.
Meanwhile, while LA Tech was winning that consolation marathon, one of the Lady Techsters made an indelible impression on me as well. In her very first collegiate start, Jelena Vucinic tallied 21 points and played 51 of the 55 minutes that this war of attrition took.
Head Coach Teresa Weatherspoon said after the game: “Jelena never complains. When her name is called she is going to perform, whether one minute, two minutes, three minutes or in this case 51 minutes. She is going to perform. Her name is called because of the work she has put in over the last few weeks. She understands what we ask of her … to get out and run the floor, to defend, to box out, to rebound, to score, and to get to the rim. She did all of those things. She played with a great deal of confidence, and it paid off. I couldn’t be more proud of an individual that I am of what she came out and did. She was able to come out and help this team win. We are looking for even better things from Jelena as we move forward.”
Vucinic, from New Zealand is the product of basketball playing parents. Her mother Tatjana Zizic played for Yugoslavian teams when younger before playing for the New Zealand national team. Her father Nenad Vucinic played for the New Zealand national team and is currently its head coach.
Jelena, playing high school hoops in New Zealand was so far off the NCAA recruiting radar, that she had to flip the process upside down and instead of being pitched by schools, she had to pitch herself to schools and luckily for Bulldog fans she’s made her way to Ruston, Louisiana.
As far as a New Zealander acclimating herself to Louisiana and its legendary Cajun cooking, she’s already made some mighty important decisions regarding the famed cuisine.
“I haven’t tried crawfish,” Jelena said. “I don’t like bugs. I don’t like food that looks like bugs. I just don’t like when it looks like a little bug, and I’m eating it. I had gumbo. It’s good. And jambalaya … that stuff is good.”
And so, too, is her burgeoning game!
Skylar Diggins versus Brittany Griner: The POY
For games 12-18 through 12-31
In a competitive and significant 66-61 home win over No. 2 Connecticut, Griner played all 40 minutes and delivered 25 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. Then against McNeese State she tallied 15 points and 13 boards in a 24 minute performance, and finally Griner got 29 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in a lopsided 93-55 win over Mississippi Valley State.
Diggins delivered 16 points and 11 helpers in a big win over previously undefeated No. 8 Kentucky 92-83. She then had a 14 point, four rebound effort in a walkover win over UCF 90-38. Then in a 92-26 waxing of Longwood, Diggins played 18 minutes and contributed 11 points, 10 dimes, five boards and three steals. In a 128-42 shellacking at Mercer, Diggins had 21 points in limited action.
Advantage: Tie for the week - Griner leads Diggins 2-1-2
Around the Conferences
The South Dakota Coyotes are 8-3 thanks in part to the play of senior Amber Hegge. Hegge won her second player of the week award in the Summit Conference after posting an overflowing stat line of 19 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and four steals. She shot 6-7 and 2-3 from long distance in a 63-54 win at Utah Valley. Hegge can certainly be a most dangerous threat – both inside and out and is a game changer for the Coyotes.
Duke University freshman Elizabeth Williams was
selected Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Rookie of the Week on
Monday. The honor for Williams is her third of the season
becoming just the fifth Blue Devil in school history to be named
ACC Rookie of the Week three or more times. And as ACC play
looms, the freshman Williams is leading Duke in points: 13.4,
rebounding: 8.8, and blocks: 3.2. She’s second in
minutes played at 29.5 and is a big reason why Joanne P.
McCallie and her #9 Dukies will not be an easy out come
Mountain West’s San Diego State's Courtney Clements and Wyoming's Ashley Sickles can stake their claim to a conference rarity. They are the only two players in the league this season to score double digits in every single game. Clements has scored 10 or more points in all 10 of the Aztecs' games, while Sickles has reached the mark in all 11 Cowgirls' games.
Last thought on the way out
Conference play begins right about now and I for one am getting REALLY worked up thinking about some of the next two months of matchups. Yep, no more North Nowhere State or Cupcake University on the schedules along with 135-20 blowouts that don’t belong on anyone’s calendar.
Memo to coaches: Stop talking about how great your top 25 teams played against a D-III school without a winning record or a scholarship to offer. You guys do a great and incredible job of building tremendous programs. Don’t make a 75 point drubbing of a no-name school sound like you just won your conference tourney.
So are you ready for the ACC where Maryland, Miami, UNC & Duke will play each other two times? Or the Big 12 where Baylor, Texas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State plus two more teams - all with winning records will square off against each other in a slugfest of a schedule. Or how about the BIG EAST which boasts six of the top 19 teams in the latest polls. Connecticut versus Notre Dame will be worth it alone!
Oh yeah, it’s time alright, time to kick back and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year!
Happy New Year to all and:
Long live WBB!
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Frese photo courtesy Maryland
Athletics; Williams photo courtesy Jon Gardiner, Duke