Team With Co-Coaches Making Mark in NCAA Play
ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ With a surprising run in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, San Francisco is becoming more than just that team with the husband and wife co-coaches.
Which suits the husband, Bill Nepfel, just fine.
San Francisco, unranked and a No. 12 seed, meets defending national champion Connecticut, seeded first and ranked second, in the semifinals of the NCAA Mideast Regional on Saturday night. Iowa plays Vanderbilt in the first half of the doubleheader at the Rosemont Horizon.
Most of what was known about San Francisco (24-7) before this concerned Nepfel and his wife, Mary Hile-Nepfel, the team’s co-coaches for nine years. Bill Nepfel is happy to see some of that attention finally switch to the team, which has upset No. 16 Florida and No. 13 Duke in the first two rounds of NCAA play and has won 20 of its last 22 games.
``This team is here not because there’s co-head coaches. This team is here because they’re good players, because they work well together and they’ve played well coming down the stretch,″ Nepfel said. ``I think we’re going to come out on the floor tomorrow night with the confidence we can win this game.″
This is the first time a No. 12 seed has reached the round of 16 and the Lady Dons have done it in just their second NCAA appearance. They made the NCAAs for the first time last year and lost to Arkansas in the first round.
But please, don’t call them Cinderella.
``I don’t see us as a Cinderella team at all,″ junior forward Renee Demirdjian said. ``What does that mean? It ends at 12 o’clock? I see Cinderella, she defeated her stepsisters. There’s definitely a victory in that. But I don’t really see how that works for us.″
What does work for San Francisco is its defense and a well-executed offense led by Valerie Gillon, a 6-foot-3 senior from Belgium who averages 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Gillon also averages almost two blocks a game, contributing to a defense that has limited opponents to 56.5 points a game. But that defense will be tested by Connecticut (32-3), which has first-team All-Americans in 6-7 Kara Wolters and guard Jennifer Rizzotti, plus Final Four veterans Jamelle Elliott, Nykesha Sales and Carla Berube.
``Our basic defense is to try to take away the thing they do best,″ Nepfel said. ``But we can’t figure out what that is. They do a lot of things so well and have so many people who can score.″
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma thinks San Francisco operates pretty well on the offensive end, too.
``They all handle the ball well. They all pass the ball well,″ he said. ``They’re good. If they weren’t good, they wouldn’t be here.″
That’s what the favorite is supposed to say about the underdog. But it’s also exactly how the Lady Dons feel about themselves.
``I think we can play with any team in the country,″ guard Jamie Shadian said. ``I’ve thought that all year.″
Iowa (27-3) against Vanderbilt (22-7) could be one of the better games of the tournament because the teams appear evenly matched. Both are deep and have a lot of players who can score. Both also are strong defensively, holding opponents to less than 38 percent shooting.
Sheri Sam, a 6-1 senior, leads Vanderbilt with a 20.2 average and has been on a tear in NCAA play. A third-team All-American, Sam scored 39 points in a first-round victory over Harvard and 28 against Ohio State.
Six players have scored at least 18 points in a game for Iowa. Sophomore Tiffany Gooden leads the team with a 14-point average.
``The thing is, I don’t think we’ve peaked yet,″ Gooden said. ``We still haven’t had a game where we’ve clicked on all cylinders. Fortunately, we’ve had enough different people have enough big games for us to win.″
And if the Hawkeyes would hit on all cylinders?
``I wouldn’t want to be the opposing team,″ Gooden said.