ESPN Commentators Sound off on Women’s Div. I Basketball Championship’s Final Four Teams
ESPN’s 15th year of exclusive presentation of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship culminates with the Women’s Final Four live April 4-6 from the Alamodome in San Antonio on ESPN HD, ESPN360.com and ESPN Mobile TV. Highlights from ESPN analysts’ early assessments of the 2010 Women’s Final Four:
ESPN Game Analyst Doris Burke
Final Four picks: Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford, Nebraska; champion: Connecticut
Tina Charles combines great length and speed with a willingness and commitment to working as hard as she can on a possession-by-possession basis, something she didn’t do early in her career. So now when she sprints the floor in transition, she’s not looking to get to the box, she’s looking to bury her defender underneath the cup. And only two things can happen: she’s going to score and/or you’re going to foul her. And, unlike early in her career, her finishing percentage is exceptional; she’s shooting 63 percent from the floor, a difficult check.
The reality is what they’re doing is hard. I think one of the things that’s a major part of how they’ve done it is their defense: 223 consecutive times (before the Tournament) where an opponent doesn’t shoot 50 percent. What that allows you to do is absorb bad shooting nights like they had against St. John’s.
ESPN Reporter Rebecca Lobo
Final Four: Connecticut, Duke, Stanford, Nebraska; champion: Connecticut
Q: What impresses you about UConn? That they’ve been able to do it twice. I was smart – we did it and then I graduated and got out of there. This team is totally focused on their next opponent, their next day in practice.
When I talked to them near the end of the season, the players didn’t have any idea how close they were (to the record). They only even were aware of it a little bit because the media kept bringing it up to them. The record doesn’t mean anything to them. They are just focused on what they need to do to improve every day. And it’s not even necessarily beating their next opponent – it’s trying to perfect the game, whether it’s in practice or in the games.
Coach Auriemma has done such a fantastic job of keeping these women focused on the task at hand, and that task isn’t necessarily going undefeated or winning a championship, it’s just being the best they can be from play to play.
ESPN Studio Analyst Carolyn Peck
Final Four: Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Nebraska; champion: Connecticut
What I think is most remarkable is replacing a senior like Renee Montgomery … how do you do that? Geno Auriemma loved her and loved how she could lead this team. Now you’ve got to rely on two sophomores, and then Caroline Doty who didn’t play much last year, to lead this team. How did it happen? I think it was the emergence of Tina Charles and then those two young ladies, they grew up real quick.
ESPN Studio Analyst Kara Lawson
Final Four: Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford, Oklahoma; champion: Connecticut
The centerpiece of this team and the reason why they have not skipped a beat in between undefeated seasons has been Tina Charles. It’s how she works in the paint, constantly working throughout the entire possession. She’s physical, she gets down low, she uses her elbows a little bit. She gets great post positioning and when she gets that deep in the paint, it’s tough to stop. Her emergence of her finishing game around the basket has really helped in her junior/senior seasons. And then sprinting the court – if you can get a post player who can sprint the floor … it enables her to get early positioning.
BAYLOR and Brittney Griner
Baylor is obviously centered around Brittney Griner, but the health of Melissa Jones and her effectiveness will determine how far the Bears go. Griner, how much attention she draws on the offensive end, the double teams, the triple teams, that’s key to get her players open shots.
I spoke with (Griner) earlier this season, and I asked her where on the court can she be and feel like she can affect every shot that happens in the halfcourt defensive area. She said in the middle of the paint. With her length and her athleticism she can contest a 3-point shot, she can affect a guard driving in the lane. There’s no shot taken in a halfcourt offensive scheme that she can’t get to or affect. And that is amazing.
Baylor sets themselves up very nicely – not to have a UConn-like run – but sets themselves up to be contenders for the next three seasons. Not only have opponents had to adjust, playing with Griner, her teammates have had to. She’s a unique individual. So as they learn to utilize her more on the offensive and defensive end, with the recruits that Kim Mulkey has coming in, this is a team that’s set up to be a national championship contender for the next three years.
Two things that have carried them all season: first, their defense, and second, that 6-8 freshman Brittney Griner. (Against the Huskies) You like the fact that Baylor can defend, and that they have star power in Brittney Griner. But their offensive contributions from some of their ancillary players, they’re going to have to pick up if Baylor wants to bring home a national championship.
Peck on Griner
The thing that she does is alter shots. If she doesn’t block it she definitely makes you think twice about coming into the paint. I think it (Griner punching an opponent) was just an immature action by a young player. Brittney, she thinks a lot of her coaching staff. She’s learned from this and understands how important it is no matter how much you’re pushed – that’s going to happen the rest of her career – you’ve got to keep your cool.
Burke on Griner
It (Griner punching an opponent) was late in the season. You’re 18 to 20 years old – you don’t want to be defined by those moments. I’m hoping as her career moves on people remember her for something other than that punch.
Lobo on Griner
Every time down the floor not only is it double and triple teams, it’s constant shots to the mid-section, getting her legs taken out from under her, and she never lost her composure. She never even looked frustrated on the court; she just kept going down and making an impact on the game.
And that game that we did with Texas A&M, (Aggies coach) Gary Blair was saying, “I’ve never spent so much time game-planning for one player.” And not how to defend Brittney Griner, but how his offense can work going against this 6-foot-8 presence in the lane.
STANFORD and beating UConn
Stanford is going to be better than they were early in the year. Jayne Appel is a major part of what they do on the offensive end. And when she’s healthy she’s one of the best passing post players in the country, and they feature her ability to do that.
Stanford’s got a good shot. They’ve got the experience, they’ve already played them (UConn) once and they led at halftime. What does Stanford have to do? Put two halves together. A lot of that has to be driven by Jayne Appel in the center. She can’t be just a passer, she’s got to be a threat, along with Nneka Ogwumike, hitting that post play inside.
If Jayne Appel’s not ready to go, put Nneka Ogwumike on the block. She has so many moves, she’s so athletic that she could potentially get a Tina Charles in some foul trouble.
On Appel against UConn: She’s got to be aggressive. Tina Charles ate Jayne Appel’s lunch in that regular-season game. She’s got to be more of an impact player. I think the emergence of Ogwumike, she’s been an All-American, she’s Stanford’s best player, she’s kind of an X factor. But I think the onus is on Stanford’s guards.
When you play against Connecticut, because they’re so sound defensively, you have to have guards that can make plays, make contested shots and can get around the defenders, and I’m not sure Stanford’s guards can do that. I like their post game but that really is where my question mark lies for Stanford.
Look at the first matchup (Stanford at UConn). Remember, this was December 23rd, and it was at UConn – that is a huge advantage for Connecticut, playing on their home floor. Jayne Appel wasn’t quite 100 percent, still coming back from that knee injury; she wasn’t in the shape that she needs to be to get up and down the floor. If these two teams match up on a neutral floor it’ll be a very different second half than the one we saw in Hartford.
When the two teams (Stanford vs. UConn) played in December of this year, I asked (Stanford coach) Tara (VanDerveer) if her team is the type that learns a lot or learns more from losses than they do wins, and she said yes. It was before the game, but it was almost a way of saying if Connecticut beats Stanford this would be a much better Stanford team if they had to play them a second time around.
Danielle Robinson to me is one of the most exciting players in the country. She’s a dynamic guard by virtue of her scoring ability and her ability to get into the lane and not only make shots for herself but to set up her teammates and put them in the right position to score. Amanda Thompson has finally reached a level I thought she would reach when she was a freshman. I thought she had star potential. And what about the improvement of Olajuwon inside? That’s been monumental for this team.
They were a little short-handed when Whitney Hand tore her ACL and after the graduation of the Paris twins, but Sherri Coale did one of her best coaching jobs ever this year with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Oklahoma showed when they played Connecticut they had no fear. You talk about the play of Danielle Robinson, what I like about her is her demeanor. That kid ain’t afraid of nothing, and the rest of the team follows suit with how she plays.
Ensemble cast. That’s what this team is. Sometimes personalities and teams tend to thrive when it is an ensemble cast and each player knows they have to carry their weight. These are supplemental players: Nyeshia Stevenson, Carlee Roethlisberger, Abby Olajuwon – players that haven’t had a chance to play a lot of minutes, and now they’re earning it. They’re getting the chance to do it together, and I think that and that alone, the fact that they have to do it together, is what has made this team special.