2014 NCAA Tournament: Near-upsets, key injuries mark opening day in Notre Dame Regional

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March 23, 2014 - 2:01pm
Fifth-seeded Oklahoma State's Liz Donohoe signals the play as the Cowgirls come from behind on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., to stave off an upset and take a 61-60 win over 12-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the final seconds of overtime in the first round of the Notre Dame Regional of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Pinola Photography/Courtesy OSU Athletics Media Relations)

Fifth-seeded Oklahoma State's Liz Donohoe signals the play as the Cowgirls come from behind on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., to stave off an upset and take a 61-60 win over 12-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the final seconds of overtime in the first round of the Notre Dame Regional of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Pinola Photography/Courtesy OSU Athletics Media Relations)

The opening round of the Notre Dame Regional Saturday produced few surprise outcomes, but a couple of near upsets and an injury to a key player headlined the first day of play in this bracket of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament.

In West Lafayette, fourth-seed Purdue will take on five-seed Oklahoma State. Purdue defeated Akron, 84-55, and Oklahoma State rallied to knock off Florida Gulf Coast in overtime, 61-60.

In Lexington, it will be sixth-seeded Syracuse taking on third-seed Kentucky from Memorial Coliseum Monday. Syracuse defeated a gritty Chattanooga squad, 59-53, for its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, but might have compromised its chances to go further when one of its key players went down in the second half. Meanwhile, Kentucky showed no mercy in crushing Wright State, 106-60.

In Toledo, No.-1 seed Notre Dame had too much for Robert Morris as the Fighting Irish rolled to an easy 93-42 win over the Colonials in the second game at the University of Toledo.

The Toledo opener saw Arizona State get 16 points off the bench from Katie Hempen and 14 from Sophie Brunner as the Sun Devils knocked off Vanderbilt, 69-61. Ninth-seeded Arizona State will take on top-seeded Notre Dame in the second round Monday night at Toledo's Savage Arena.

In Waco, it will be second-seed Baylor taking on seven-seed California. The Bears bested a persistent Western Kentucky, 87-74, while California squeaked past, Fordham, 64-63, to move on.

We start today's wrap in West Lafayette with one of the day's true cliffhangers.

AT WEST LAFAYETTE
Round One Results: Saturday, March 22

Game One: (5) Oklahoma State 61, (12) Florida Gulf Coast 60, OT

This is a loss that will haunt Eagles coach Karl Smesko the entire offseason.

A game that was there for the taking –- a game that would significantly elevate the national stature of his already well-respected Florida Gulf Coast program -- got away from the Eagles in the fourth quarter and overtime Saturday afternoon at Mackey Arena.

“This is a very frustrating way to go out,” said Smesko, whose Eagles finish their season at 26-8 (17-1 in the Atlantic Sun). “March can be very cruel sometimes. I'm really proud of our team and the way we played, we just didn't finish regulation. We needed to make one more play in overtime to advance. Give Oklahoma State credit -- they fought and refused to lose.”

Tiffany Bias, typically the Cowgirls' leading scorer at 14 points per game, struggled to find the bottom of the basket all afternoon, finishing with just six points but eight assists. Bias was 0-8 as the clock wound down on the game's extra minutes. But she came up big when it counted most: It was Bias' layup with 41 seconds left in overtime that helped Oklahoma State stave off the near upset and pull out the come-from-behind win.

“I just think its one of those things where you have to attack and get to the free-throw line. I think it was more in our minds to go through and get the foul and it was one of those things, it's determination, just knowing you're going to make it,” Bias said.

Oklahoma State Coach Jim Littell credited his team for battling, but praised FGCU for its effort.

“I've got about 50 texts on my phone saying ‘survive and advance’ and that's exactly what we did,” he said. “We knew going into the game that it was a very tough guard for us, and the fact that they spread you out and drive so much, they shoot so many threes. We may have been a little too locked in on guarding the threes, and we really got beat a lot off the dribble drive. I'm happy right now that we advanced. It's one of those games in 36, 37 years of coaching that you kind of look at and go, 'How did we win that game?' But these kids didn't quit.”

Led by Jenna Cobb’s 16 points, Stephanie Haas’ 15 and Whitney Cobb’s  11, the Eagles rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit to take their first lead of the game (27-26) with mere seconds to go in the opening frame. OSU's Kendra Suttles dropped in a layup to knot the score are 28 heading into the break.

The Eagles began to assert themselves early in the second stanza, leading for much of the frame. The still held a 52-42 lead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation. But FGCU proved unable to close out.

The Cowgirls gradually whittled away at the gap, and took their first lead (56-55) of the second period with just 1:23 to go. Bias knocked down one of a pair at the free-throw line -- to that point her only source of scoring -- to make it a two-point game.

Whitney Knight fed Kaneisha Atwater for an FGCU layup that tied things up at 57 apiece with 35 seconds still left on the clock. OSU had the opportunity to close things out in regulation, but Roshunda Johnson's go-ahead jumper missed the mark, sending the game to extra minutes.

“When you're playing a team as good as Oklahoma State, you can't just hope the time runs out,” Smesko said.  “You have to make a play to win the game and I think we got tentative, especially the last four or five minutes.  Maybe we were too afraid to make a mistake or be the one to do something wrong. We weren't as aggressive as we probably could have been.”

Both sides struggled to score in the overtime period with Cobb's three-pointer, roughly two minutes into OT and the Eagles' only points of the period, putting FGCU back on top, by a single point, until Bias' decisive layup.

Johnson’s 11, LaShawn Jones' 10 and Liz Donohoe’s nine led the way for the Cowgirls, whose win raised their record to 24-8 (11-7 in the Big 12).

“When we were down 10 or 12 in the second half they continued to make plays and just found a way to win at the end and I'm very proud of ‘em,” Littell said. “(FGCU) plays such good defense if you get behind them 10 to 12 points like we did, they're kind of a ball-control offense. They're so well coached in the fact that they'll run the clock all the way down to wait for you to make a mistake. They don't make mistakes. They're going to get a good shot at the basket, so it was touch and go for a lot of minutes and it was more than the last four or five minutes.”

Game Two: (4) Purdue 84, (13) Akron 55

Sheryl Versyp’s 300th career win came in a lopsied rout, as her Boilermakers proved to have too much depth and balance for Wright State to overcome.

Purdue, who improves to 22-8 (11-5 in the Big Ten) zipped out of the gates early and never let Akron stay in the game.

“It was huge,” Versyp said. “For us to get off to a 16-2 start, that was big. You know, that's what we have to do, and that's what we talked about and the kids have been hungry and they are tired of practice and they wanted to go get somebody else. It's just really trying to set that tone early.”

Whitney Bays had 20 off the bench for the Boilers, while April Wilson and Courtney Moses notched 12 each and Dee Williams added 11. Bays also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds to help Purdue to a 50-28 advantage on the boards.

“We knew Akron's players -- our post players have been good,” Bays said. “And we could go high-low, so that was the emphasis the last two weeks was working on the high-low game and getting inside.”

Rachel Tecca posted 18 and Hannah Luburgh nine to lead Wright State, who finished 3-of-18 from three-point range. They wrap up their season at 23-10 (14-4 in the MAC).

“I guess I'm not used to playing against players that are a little bit taller and stronger and at no time did our kids give up," Akron coach Jodi Kest said.

Up Next

Round Two:  (5) Oklahoma State (23-8) @ (4) Purdue (22-8)  --Monday, March 24 - 6:30 p.m. EDT (Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.)

AT LEXINGTON

Round One Results: Saturday, March 22
Game One: (3) Kentucky 106, (14) Wright State 60

Athleticism, size and depth were too much for Wright State to handle Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, as seven players scored in double figures for coach Matthew Mitchell’s Wildcats, who shot 44-of-80 from the field, improving to 25-8 (10-6 in the SEC) with the victory.

“I’m really, really proud of our players,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve played a game. They’ve worked really hard to try and prepare themselves for this tournament and we got off to a great start. I’m really excited for them. They reaped the rewards of a lot of hard work and I’m proud of them.”

Despite the final margin, it wasn't that Mitchell was trying to run up the score. The Wildcat bench saw plenty of minutes, as Jennifer O’Neill led the way for the 'Cats with 21 points off the bench, Janee Thompson added 14, and Samarie Harper and Lanae Walker 12 each. Bria Goss and DeNesha Stallworth posted 11 points each, and Azia Bishop chipped in 10.

“We’ve been off of for a couple of days, but we haven’t been off of practice, “ O’Neill said. “That’s the way we’ve been practicing. Today everybody was just clicking on all cylinders.”

The Wildcats' performance even surprised Mitchell.

“I think that we had a real advantage personnel-wise and we had some size advantages that made it difficult for them to score at the rim,” he said. “I think they still did some really good things. I think our size at the rim bothered them a little bit. I think our guards in the first half did a really good job of not letting them get into the lane. I didn’t think we did as good of a job of that in the second half, but they had some good players and I think our personnel and our depth probably helped ware them down a little bit physically, so I think just our depth and our overall talent was the reason we were able to be so successful.”

Ivory James had 16 points, Tay’ler Mingo 14 and Kim Demmings 12 to lead coach Mike Bradbury’s Raiders, who wrap up their season at 25-9 (12-4 in the Horizon League).

“We missed some open shots, especially early in the game and that got us behind the eight-ball a little bit,” Bradbury said. “Then, it just kind of continued from there. I will say, I’m very proud of our team. We continued to fight, we continued to play hard, we didn’t roll over, didn’t lay down and we fought them to the end there. It just wasn’t our day. We don’t have any McDonald’s All-Americans and they’ve got three or four. That’s where it’s at. It’s a different level and let’s not pretend it’s not. Their budget is eight times what ours is. I think we can use this to hopefully continue to improve our program.

Game Two: (6) Syracuse 59, (11) Chattanooga 53

If the opener in Lexington was well beyond a rout for the under-seed, 11th-seeded Chattanooga gave sixth-seeded Syracuse all it could handle and then some for much of the day.

Still, when the final buzzer sounded, Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman’s squad had done something no other squad in program history has been able to do –- win a NCAA Tournament game.

Shakera Leary had 15 points, while Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes each had 13 for the Orange.

“This means a lot, not only for me, but it’s about the school and the program,” Leary said. “I think Coach Q did a great job this season preparing us for that by putting us through tough situations in practice. It just carried over, so I think this is amazing and I’m just excited.”

However, the win may have come at a high price for one of the Orangewomen's key players, as Sykes left the game, not to return, with an apparent injury to her right knee that left her in visible pain.

“I told her that we’re not here without you,” Hillsman said of the injured sophomore guard who is the team's leading scorer at 16.7 points per game. “I told her that you’re the reason why we’re here and no matter what the outcome of the situation is – we thank you for us being here. There have been games where she has been carrying us. That was really just to calm her down and let her know that everything is going to be OK and that we have the best care for her and just relax and lets get back there and find out what’s going on.”

Chattanooga was down by just four points, 40-36, with nearly 13 minutes to play when Sykes was helped to the sidelines. But the Mocs would come no closer, though neither would they ever let the game get out of reach, as the two teams traded baskets the rest of the way.

Taylor Hall had 19 and Faith Dupree eight for coach Jim Foster’s squad.

“This was a very winnable game and we didn’t do things that we needed to do to win,” Foster said. “You have to make foul shots in games like this and you have to win X-number of races for loose balls. Some you’re going to lose because there’s a quickness factor involved, but if you don’t go for every one of them, you’re not going to win enough of them. You have to do little things. You have to make foul shots. You have to have five people on the floor who want to score.

“When you have a player like Taylor, you can’t get used to a player making the big shots or making the big plays and assuming that it’s her responsibility. That’s a mentality that they will continue to be worked on. It’s a team game and if you help, someone’s got to help you. That’s the mentality we are striving for.”

Up Next
Round Two: (6) Syracuse (23-9) @ (3) Kentucky (25-8) -- Monday, March 24 -- 6:30 p.m. EDT (Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.)

AT TOLEDO

Round One Results - Saturday, March 22

Game One: (9) Arizona State 69, Vanderbilt 61

With the starters struggling against Vanderbilt, it was Arizona State’s reserves who proved to be the difference against the Commodores.

Katie Hempen, a redshirt sophomore guard, and frosh forward Sophie Brunner came off the bench to provide the spark the Sun Devils needed, scoring 16 and 14 points, respectively.

“Honestly,” Hempen said. “[Coach] Charli [Thorne] and I had a talk a couple weeks ago saying, ‘Katie, just shoot the ball,’ and that's what I've been doing. I've been moving better off the ball and that's helped me a lot. Sophie did a great job seeing everybody and a great job passing and just catch and shoot. That's all I'm thinking right now."

Hempen was a solid outside presence for ASU, finishing 7-8 overall and 4-of-5 from three-point range. Brunner was 7-of-9 from the field and effectively controlled the paint.

"I just knew that if they collapsed on the outside shooters, the inside would be open,” said Brunner. “[Coaches] really emphasized at halftime to look vertical, to look down the middle and the guards did a really good job of seeing me.”

Promise Amukamara had 10 points, and Elisha Davis, has played in reserve for much of the season but got the starting nod in this outing, logged 11, for coach Charli Tuner Thorne’s squad, which improves to 23-9 (11-7 in PAC-12 play) with the win.

“I think different people had to step for us,” Turner Thorne said. “Obviously, we might have liked to give Promise [Amukamara] a little more of a blow. I didn't really want to take her out. She probably needed it. She is a high-motor kid. When we're playing like we played today, we feed off each other. This is the team that won 20 out of 25 games. We continued to step up and feed off each other. When we weren't winning they kind of did the opposite; so they did a great job of setting up."

Marq’ues Webb and Christina Foggie had 18 and 16 points, respectively to lead Vanderbilt which closes the books on 2013-14 at 18-13 (7-9 in the SEC). Webb and Foggie were a combined 12-of-25 from the field.

“They took away a lot of our looks on offense and made us go fast, and by the time we adjusted and slowed down we had trouble finishing lay-ups, making free throws,” Commodores coach Melanie Balcomb said. “In the second half, when we did make our runs, we then couldn't get the stops that we needed at the end of possessions. It was almost like our runs wore us out trying to get back."

Balcomb was pleased with her team’s effort, especially that of Webb.

“We're very young at the four and five positions,” she said. “To have Marqu'es play so well and to actually be the go-to player for us was great. That was actually the best performances that I've had by a freshman in an NCAA Tournament game and I told her that.”

Game Two: (1) Notre Dame 93, (16) Robert Morris 42

Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia knew going into this game his Colonials were going to have a very difficult time containing coach Muffet McGraw’s high-powered Fighting Irish offense.

His fears were realized early on.

Notre Dame (33-0, 15-0 in ACC) dominated the game from the start, led 28-6 a little past the midpoint of the first half and built the lead to 50-15 at intermission. McGraw emptied her bench in the second half as five different players scored in double figures to lead a very balanced Irish effort.

Michaela Mabrey’s 16 points led the way for the Fighting Irish. Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa added 15 each, Madison Cable 13 and Ariel Braker 10.
Cable went 3-of -4 from long distance, part of an efficient overall performance for the heavy favorites. Loyd shot 7-of-11 from the field and had seven rebounds. Freshman Lindsey Allen passed out seven assists in her 20 minutes on the floor.

"In the tournament, you can't take anyone lightly," said Braker. "Upsets happen all the time."
 
"You never know with the first NCAA tournament, how the freshmen are going to respond," McGraw said. "Lindsay, she has that poise and that personality of just a steady demeanor the whole game."

Anna N. Stamolamprou posted 12 points and Rebeca Navaro nine to lead the Colonials, who close their season at 21-12 (14-4 in the NEC).

Up Next

Round Two: (1) Notre Dame (33-0) v. (9) Arizona State  (23-9) -- Monday, March 24 --6:30 p.m. EDT (Savage Arena, Toledo, Ohio)

AT WACO

Game One: (7) California 64, (10) Fordham 63

Led by Brittany Boyd (22), Afure Jemerigbe (13) and Reshanda Gray (10), Cal's Golden Bears (22-9, 11-4 in PAC-12) held off a determined upset bid by the Fordham Rams.

“I’m as proud of this win as I have been of any of them we’ve experienced together in our three years as a group,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “That’s because this year for us has been about growth and people taking on new things and sort of figuring out our identity, and I thought that was on display tonight. Every coach wants to have it be really clean and win by 15 or 20, but the grit and resolve our teams showed tonight is something I’m really proud of. It is a huge credit to Fordham. They were a terrific basketball team who did what they do very, very well. They made everything difficult for us. They were hard to guard and hard to score against.”

Fordham, which closes its season at 25-8 (11-5 in A-10 play), had a chance to win at the end, but Erin Rooney’s shot failed to fall as time expired.

"It was kind of a clear-out play,” Rooney said. “ So top screen and everyone else was running through to the other side for an iso. On the right hand side I pulled up, and I didn’t get a good look at it.”

Rooney finished with 17; Samantha Clark and Emily Tapio posted 15 points each for the Rams.

“I think when you go through games like this, and obviously being in the NCAA tournament, once you get a feel for being here, you always want to come back,” Rams coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “And you want to keep that feeling. We took a Cal team that went to the Final Four that is a nationally ranked team and was second in the PAC-12, and we took them right to the wire.

“So I think that shows a lot about where Fordham has come as a program and I think those kids that are returning in that locker room have a taste of it now. They learned a lot from their senior class, and I think we will build off of it. This gives the locker room a lot of sad faces, because we were right there to steal it, but this is something that you build off of.”

Game Two: (2) Baylor 87, (15) Western Kentucky 74

The powerful one-two punch of Odyssey Sims and Nina Davis proved too much for the Hilltoppers to handle on Saturday.

Davis finished with 32 points and Sims with 31 as the two combined to shoot a whopping 22-of-33 from the field. As a team, the Lady Bears shot 30-of-60 from the field to snap Western Kentucky’s 10-game winning streak.

“I think everyone had plenty of opportunities to score,” said Baylor associate head coach Bill Brock, filing in for head coach Kim Mulkey. “I just think we uncharacteristically missed a few shots tonight that we normally do hit from the perimeter. I really wasn’t caught up, I wasn’t looking at a board, I had no idea that Nina and Odyssey both had 30 ever. I just knew this: If you get Odyssey Sims in a one-on-one situation with the ball in her hands, good things have a chance to happen. She did that in the middle of the floor two or three times.“

Mulkey was not at Saturday’s game due to the one-game suspension she was handed for criticizing officials following last year’s semifinal loss to Louisville.

“When I walked out there and the fans started standing and clapping,” Brock said. “That made me relax a little bit, I have to be honest with you. I think that’s a big advantage of playing at home and I think that our fans reacted like they are educated basketball fans.”

Though Mulkey was not on the sidelines, she prepared her team to deal with her absence. The veteran coach told her players during the week not to take Western Kentucky lightly.

“Coach Mulkey told us that they were better than a 15-seed and they were,” Sims said. “Give credit to them; their defense was good. They kept making runs when we were trying to pull away.”

The Hilltoppers proved Mulkey prescient. Though Baylor took an early edge, Western Kentucky kept things within reach, holding their nationally ranked hosts to within single digits throughout the first half, and even briefly taking the lead when Bianca McGee drained a three-pointer to make the score 28-27 at the 7:15 mark of the first period.

Baylor quickly recovered, but the underdogs kept hanging around, and trailed by just six, 47-41, after Chastity Gooch knocked down a jumper seconds before the buzzer sounded the intermission.

Things continued in the same vein for much of the second stanza, with Baylor twice briefly swelling its edge to double digits (56-45 at the 16:58 mark; 66-65 with 10:33 to go). But each time Baylor threatened to separate itself, the Hilltoppers promptly whittled the deficit back to just four or five points.

Baylor, which improves to 30-4 (16-2 in the Big 12), eventually pulled away over the final five minutes of the second half to crush any hopes of the big upset, but even then, the margin, while far from close, was equally far from the blowout one would expect in a two-versus-15-seed pairing.

Gooch finished with 23 points, Kendall Noble had 21 and McGee 18 to lead the Hilltoppers, who close their season at 24-9 (11-5 in the Sun Belt Conference).

“They’ve done a ton,” Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “For us to come in here and compete the way that they did and go to the last three minutes, it just says a ton about this team and how special they are. These two sitting next to me, and the rest of the team in the locker room, I’m just super proud of them, and I want to say thank you to my two seniors (Bianca and Chaney Means) who bought into this whole program when we first got here, and I’m proud of them.”
 

Up Next

Round Two: (7) California (22-9) @ (2) Baylor (30-4) -- Monday, March 24 -- 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT) (Ferrell Center, Waco, Tex.)

 


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