Experienced point guards pay dividends
When this NCAA tournament began and the No. 1 seeds were revealed three weeks ago, the chatter began about freshmen point guards. Three of the four No. 1 seeds had rookie floor generals.
Youthful, brash, talented and unafraid -- these young players played well all season and were apparently ready for prime time, prepared to lead their teams to the promised land.
But this past weekend proved hype isn't a sufficient replacement for experience.
• Tennessee fell to Notre Dame in Monday's regional final, and first-year Lady Vols point guard Meighan Simmons -- the team's leading scorer heading into the tournament -- was 1-of-11 from the floor, playing only 19 minutes.
• Baylor played from behind all night against Texas A&M, and the Lady Bears, who were ranked No. 1 for much of the season, saw their season end. It was not an easy day on the big stage for Baylor's freshman point, Odyssey Sims, who finished 0-for-6 with two points in 40 minutes.
Connecticut's Bria Hartley is the lone rookie of the group to make it all the way through to Indianapolis. She plays with the unique benefit of sharing the floor with superstar Maya Moore.
With the exception of Hartley, the other guards who will lead their teams on the floor at Conseco Fieldhouse on Sunday are longer in the tooth, and more comfortable under the lights.
"I think you can definitely tell, with the two freshmen point guards of the No. 1 seeds [that lost], that it's a little bit of pressure," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "There's a lot of pressure going into that game to get to the Final Four. It's a lot for a freshman to take in."
Stanford senior point Jeanette Pohlen had her own struggles in the regional semifinal against North Carolina with a 1-for-9 night, but followed up by hitting five 3-pointers in the regional final against Gonzaga.
Notre Dame sophomore Skylar Diggins, the South Bend hometown girl, scored 24 points in the Tennessee game and was named the region's Most Outstanding Player.
And then there is Texas A&M's Sydney Colson, who has learned her own hard lessons in NCAA tournaments past. She scored 12 points, with four assists and five steals, to help the Aggies earn their first trip to the Final Four.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said he thinks his young point guard gets a bit of a break because the spotlight shines so brightly on Moore.
"Because we have Maya, I don't think Bria got the attention that the other ones got, so she's been kind of doing her thing every game." Auriemma said. "I think my focus with Bria is going to be about what we need her to do for us, not necessarily her matchup against [another point guard], whoever it may be, whether we're lucky enough to play two games or just one."
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said that Colson, a senior, has learned valuable lessons in previous tournaments against other experienced point guards such as Arizona State's Briann January and Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot.
"I've been there before with freshmen point guards, you live and you love them, but sometimes it's the decision-making, it's not the ability, it's the decision-making that they make under pressure," Blair said. "My kid just had a better ballgame [in the regional final], and a lot of it was just her experience and her failures that she's had in other tournaments."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer has said all along she is good with her senior point guard. Pohlen is preparing to start in her third Final Four and will be the most experienced of the experienced group.
"In our bracket, we had all of the experienced guards. Courtney Vandersloot was the reason Gonzaga was there, Italee Lucas, she's a big part of why North Carolina was there," VanDerveer said. "Maybe the younger point guards struggle a little bit."
Pohlen isn't sure she wants that much credit for her team's success. She credited her teammates for the Cardinal's success, but conceded: "I don't know if it's me being a senior, but I think it has helped that I've had the experience a little bit in the past few years and been able to know the feeling, I guess, of what it takes to get there."