February Frenzy full of pink, hope

Updated: February 7, 2008

AP Photo/Bill Feig

Georgia and LSU both wore altered jerseys for the Think Pink push.

Perfect And Pink

Call it a perfect day in Raleigh, N.C., the city that loves Kay Yow the most. The primary inspiration in women's basketball's "Think Pink" campaign got a victory and the emotional equivalent of a "group hug" from the 7,589 fans in Reynolds Coliseum and millions across the country.

NC State beat Boston College 60-41 behind 24 points from Shayla Fields. Yow always has been a mother-figure to her players, and for this day, they even took her last name.

The Wolfpack women wore pink uniforms that all had "YOW" on the back, a symbolic gesture that brought the coach and her players to tears when they first saw the jerseys. Also present at Sunday's game were many past Wolfpack players, including those who took Yow to her only Final Four in 1998.

And in a gesture that truly speaks to the fondness her colleagues have for Yow, Tennessee assistants Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell came to Raleigh to make a halftime presentation of a check for $10,000 to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. The Tennessee coaches raised the money by selling Geno Auriemma dartboards door-to-door in Knoxville during the summer …

Kidding! They raised it on a benefit motorcycle ride this past summer, and on Sunday, they were able to get away from Knoxville -- and preparation for Monday night's big showdown with Rutgers (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET), which is also a "Think Pink" game -- to come to Raleigh. NCAA rules prevented them from watching any of the NC State-BC game, but what they would have seen was a scrappy Wolfpack crew dictating the tempo to their advantage for most of the game.

Yow's sincerity, humble personality and genuine kindness have allowed her to do something that almost no coach in any sport can achieve: receive universal affection. When Auriemma's UConn team fell to NC State in the 1998 Elite Eight, even such a legendary competitor as he is said that if had to lose to anyone, he was glad it was Yow.

And although Tennessee cancelled its series with UConn -- leaving their battle for now to be fought off the court by pundits and fans -- respect for Yow even got Auriemma and Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt to appear together with her for a promotional message for the breast cancer-awareness cause.

What a cause it is -- one that, unfortunately, likely has touched every team in Division I women's basketball in some way or another: through a mom, an aunt, a sister, a cousin, a best friend, a coach, a teacher, a wife, a daughter.

Sunday, everyone rejoiced that Yow continues to throw punches at cancer -- and that we can all help in eventually knocking it out.

Q Balls For LSU

Two of the sharpest-looking dudes wearing pink prowled the sidelines in Baton Rouge, La., Sunday afternoon, matching wits. LSU coach Van Chancellor, however, had a slightly more effective weapon than did Georgia's Andy Landers.

Sylvia Fowles finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds for LSU, edging counterpart Tasha Humphrey's 17 and 10. LSU won 63-57 and moved to 20-3 overall and 9-0 in the SEC, with Tennessee coming up next, Thursday in Knoxville.

LSU also had the "Q factor" -- Quianna Chaney hit four 3-pointers on the way to 14 points. Chancellor can drop some big names from his coaching past on his kids at LSU, and he did that earlier this season when talking about Chaney's work ethic.

"She'll be at practice before anybody," Chancellor said. "Her practice habits remind me a lot of Cynthia Cooper when I had her with the Comets. I just want Q to have that 'dagger-in-your-heart' attitude that Cooper had. She's getting closer."

It looked a bit like Easter Sunday at the Maravich Center, with all the pink and purple. But with this group, Chancellor doesn't have to put all his eggs in one basket as the program attempts to make its fifth consecutive Final Four appearance. Certainly, Fowles is the centerpiece, but Chaney, RaShonta LeBlanc, Allison Hightower, Ashley Thomas and Erica White are providing plenty of support.

Plus, Chancellor has as his sidekick Bob Starkey, the X's and O's guru who stepped into the head coaching role when needed last March and then gracefully stepped back out. All that pink Sunday was especially meaningful for Starkey, whose wife, Sherie, has battled breast cancer.

Irish Beat Pitt, But Might Have Lost Peters

It would have been a nice break from reality if the ligaments and joints supporting the players given a spotlight for a bigger cause than basketball had been spared for at least one day. But there wouldn't have been a need for an event like Sunday if life always offered rewards for good deeds.

Notre Dame got an important 81-66 conference win against Pittsburgh, but like so many ranked teams in recent months, the Fighting Irish must now wait for results beyond their control after freshman Devereaux Peters fell to the floor clutching her left knee during the second half.

Perhaps the only bright spot in Notre Dame's disappointing performance at home against Tennessee earlier this season, during which she held her own against a frontline of Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike, Peters is an emerging star. Like Xavier sophomore Amber Harris, she has the athleticism and post skills to be a force in the paint on both ends of the court. She also the handle to lead an occasional break or shoot from outside. When the injury occurred Sunday, Peters was leading the way against the Panthers with 11 points, five rebounds, a block and a steal.

Notre Dame succeeds without much in the way of 3-point shooting by maximizing its possessions -- averaging better than two field goals per turnover -- and disrupting its opponents' possessions to the extent that Muffet McGraw's team averages nearly 10 more field goal attempts per game than its opponents. That becomes a much more difficult balance to strike if the Fighting Irish are without Peters, who had accounted for 47 percent of the team's blocks and 14 percent of its steals, for any extended period.

Hopefully Sunday's line won't be the final contribution in an outstanding freshman season.

Cowgirls Light Up Huskers

The lights weren't working right at the Devaney Center on Sunday for Nebraska's matchup with Oklahoma State. Unfortunately for the host Huskers, they eventually did come on. After being run over by the Cowgirls -- and particularly guard Andrea Riley -- Nebraska might have preferred staying in the dark.

Riley, the Big 12's leading scorer, had 24 points in leading Oklahoma State to a 92-81 victory. It was the cap of a very good week for the No. 17 Cowgirls, who on Tuesday handed No. 6 Baylor its first Big 12 loss.

After a stumble with consecutive defeats to Texas and Kansas State, Oklahoma State now has won three in a row and takes a good head of steam into Texas Tech next. Following that are two home games -- against Iowa State and Texas -- followed by "Bedlam II."

The first Bedlam game this season -- last month in Stillwater -- was a sellout at Gallagher-Iba Arena in which Riley had 45 points in the Cowgirls' victory over Oklahoma. Expect a sellout at OU's Lloyd Noble Arena on Feb. 23 for the rematch.

(Incidentally, Oklahoma's "Think Pink" game is Tuesday against Texas A&M, and one of the fund-raising items to be auctioned off are a pair of pink Jimmy Choo high heels worn by Sooners coach Sherri Coale during the game. Wonder if Sarah Jessica Parker has heard about this?)

Meanwhile, the Huskers can take something positive out of Sunday's game in that they did come back in the last 10 minutes. And they will have another chance for a better outcome in their "Think Pink" uniforms. They will wear them again when facing Kansas in Lawrence next Sunday, when the Jayhawks will be host for their "Think Pink" game.

Hair Apparent

Full marks to all the players, coaches, officials and fans who donned pink during Sunday's games, but nobody went to greater lengths to support the cause this weekend than Marquette players Kelly Lam, Courtney Weibel and Jocelyn Mellen.

Or more accurately, nobody surrendered greater lengths.

Lam, Weibel and Mellen all donated at least eight inches of their hair Friday as part of the Beautiful Lengths program, which provides wigs for women who lose their hair while undergoing treatment for cancer. Bald is indeed beautiful when it comes to anyone battling cancer, but any small measure of comfort gained by those who take advantage of the wig banks set up by the American Cancer Society is equally worthy.

Even with their shorn locks, Lam, Weibel and Mellen didn't stand out as boldly during Sunday's 70-67 loss at Syracuse as did players clad completely in pink elsewhere. But the slivers of pink marking the hair bands holding back their bobbed ponytails were more than simply symbolic fashion statements.



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Player Of The Day

Andrea Riley and Angel McCoughtry were separated by about a thousand miles on Sunday, but that didn't stop two of the most exciting individual talents in women's college basketball from staging an interstate head-to-head duel.

At least on this day, McCoughtry got the last word.

Riley turned in a typically prolific, if atypically inaccurate, scoring day with 24 points in Oklahoma State's 92-81 win at Nebraska, but McCoughtry stole the spotlight by matching a career-high with 41 points in Louisville's 79-68 win at DePaul. She shot 14-for-24 from the field, made 10-of-12 free throws and grabbed nine rebounds.

The two leading scorers in the country who play in power conferences, Riley and McCoughtry are destined to fight over that crown throughout February and March the same way Obama and Clinton are poised to battle over delegates. McCoughtry's big day pushed her scoring average to 24.1 points per game, slightly ahead of Riley's 22.9 mark.

Now if only we can get an Oklahoma State-Louisville game in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. -- Graham Hays

Yow, NC State Beat Boston College

Next up: Tennessee Vs. Rutgers

Tennessee officials on Sunday said Candace Parker's bruised knee wouldn't keep her from playing in the Big Monday matchup against Rutgers (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). In between cutting to various games during the February Frenzy coverage, ESPN's studio analysts weighed in on what might be the X factors in the rematch of last season's NCAA championship game.

"Tennessee exhibited a lot of interior presence the last time these two teams played," Kara Lawson said. "Obviously, the Lady Vols had player of the year Candace Parker. But Nicky Anosike also did a tremendous job, with 16 rebounds, including 10 offensive, in the title game. So it's important for Kia Vaughn to lead that interior crew for Rutgers and try to keep the Scarlet Knights even in terms of production on inside."

Stacey Dales pointed to two other factors.

"After Tennessee's win over Mississippi State, Pat Summitt said she needed a better performance from her bench," Dales said. "And with all the injuries to Tennessee -- Angie Bjorklund's broken nose and an aggravated shoulder for Alberta Auguste -- it will be interesting to see how the Lady Vols can produce off the bench.

"It also comes down to intangibles. Whoever the aggressor is will win." -- ESPN.com

LSU Tops Georgia, Improves To 9-0 In SEC

Purely Packer

While diversification is an admirable enough goal on one of those tediously worthless employee self-review exercises, there's a fine line in reality between da Vinci's notebooks and the McDonald's menu.

Sometimes you're better off playing to your strengths and accepting your limitations.

On the same day she passed Katie Smith for second place on Ohio State's all-time 3-point leaderboard, Marscilla Packer did just that by showing she's more than a shooter. Packer scored a team-high 23 points in Ohio State's 80-77 win at Wisconsin.

Suggesting that no player in college basketball has a smoother stroke from behind the arc than Packer is a subjective point (no matter that anyone who argues otherwise is wrong). What's actually inarguable is that few players are more productive shooters than Packer, who entered Sunday's game ranked 22nd in the nation in 3-pointers per game and 20th in 3-point field-goal percentage.

But for a player who attempted 67 percent of her field goals from behind the arc as a freshman, and attempted just 24 free throws that season, Packer's performance against Wisconsin was a testament to just how well she has grown into the role of all-around star.

In the span of about five minutes in the second half of Sunday's win, as Ohio State erased a double-digit deficit and took control of its game against Wisconsin, Packer did a little bit of everything. Coming down in transition, she pulled up and drained a 3-pointer. Next, she lowered her head and drove hard to her weak side to draw a shooting foul. And finally, she slid to the top of the lane and drained a 15-foot floater.

With at least seven games remaining in Ohio State's season, and probably closer to 10, Packer has already set a career high in free-throw attempts, suggesting a more aggressive approach with the ball. So while she actually attempted a greater percentage of field goals from inside the arc last season than she is this season, it might only be now that she's making the most of every foot of space on the offensive end.

Packer is one of the best pure shooters in the game. She's also much more. -- Graham Hays

No. 17 Notre Dame Beats Poor-shooting No. 15 Pitt

Class-act Coaches

DePaul coach Doug Bruno said he'd donate $5 to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund for every student who showed up to Sunday's win over Louisville. Judging by the crowd, that's quite a donation he'll be forking over.

The same can be said for Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale. On Sunday, Coale challenged Sooners students to help fight breast cancer; Coale will donate $1 to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund for every student in attendance at Oklahoma's final three games at the Lloyd Noble Center.

Coale will also match the final figure with an equal donation to OU's Campus Activities Council, which will be dispersed among the university's registered student organizations. Coale has set a minimum donation of $2,000 for each fund.

The Sooners' remaining home games are Tuesday against Texas A&M, Feb. 23 against Oklahoma State and March 2 against Texas.

"I think it is a great opportunity for OU students to help promote breast cancer awareness," Coale said. "I know our students want to make a difference, but may not be able to help financially, so this is a way for the Sooner Nation to support the WBCA's 'Think Pink' initiative.

"Come to our games and you'll be fighting breast cancer." -- ESPN.com