March Madness kickoff

(l-r) Gopher freshman Destiny Pitts, Coach Marlene Stollings and Gopher junior Kenisha Bell (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

March Madness is college sport’s Super Bowl – its biggest stage whether on the court, in the pool, on the ice, on the mat or on the floor apparatus – at a time when so many amateur sports conclude their respective seasons in the same given calendar month at virtually the same time. This, along with high school sports, and you have a mad, mad, mad March in crowning a champion.

Nebraska Coach Amy Williams called March “the third season.” She and her fellow Big Ten coaches talked to reporters on Monday, including the MSR, on the 2018 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, which begins Wednesday and ends Sunday in Indianapolis.

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer called this time of year for her team “Season Two.”

“It is always an exciting tournament,” Penn State Coach Coquese Washington declared.

Everybody wants to play their best ball at this time, Wisconsin Coach Johnathan Tsipis stressed.

“We feel this is a brand-new season for us,” Indiana Coach Teri Moran said. “We know that the first game of the tournament is very important.”

“Everybody has a chance” in this week’s tourney, Michigan Coach Kim Barnes Arico said.  “I think this is the best the league has ever been…since I have been here,” she added, calling it an exciting time for both fans and coaches.

“We have a season-laden group, and I think we will be ready to play” in Indy this week, said Ohio State Coach Kevin McGriff.

The top four seeds – Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska and Minnesota – get a double bye, which according to Iowa’s Lisa Bluder, whose Hawkeyes are seeded fifth, gives those clubs “a tremendous advantage. I wish it could be [fairer],” she said

Minnesota (22-7, 11-5) posted its best regular-season finish since 2008 as they tied for third and won the fourth seed and double bye. “It has been a thrilling Big Ten season for everybody,” Coach Marlene Stollings told reporters Monday. “We like the momentum and energy we are playing with right now.”

The Gophers all season have played with contagious-like confidence that first emerged from  Destiny Pitts, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by both coaches and media on Monday, and then spread to the rest of the squad. She recalled telling the coaches prior to the season, “I said we are going to be a team to look out for.”

“She came in not acting like a freshman and not playing like a freshman most of the year,” Stollings said of Pitts, the 5’-10” guard from Detroit. She also was a unanimous all-freshman team selection, and the media named her all-conference second team.

“We consider her one of our leaders,” the coach noted. “Her level of maturity, how she handles herself, she’s an extremely humble kid.”

Junior guard Kenisha Bell, arguably the conference’s quickest player from end to end, has 18 team-leading scoring games this season. On Monday the 5’-9” Minneapolis native was named unanimous first team all-Big Ten (media and coaches).

“She leads us and gets us to the pace we want to go,” point guard Stollings said of Bell.

Minnesota is scheduled to play Friday. “We are peaking at the right time,” Stollings concluded.

March on ice

Minnesota plays Ohio State Saturday in the second game of the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals at Ridder Arena. The two Saturday winners play for the WCHA title on Sunday.

The Gophers’ task is to win Saturday, then hopefully repeat the effort on Sunday, Coach Brad Frost stressed. “We will prepare for Ohio State, our next opponent,” he told the MSR last weekend.


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