Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Guru Extra: While the Guru Slept- The Great Bracket Leak Chaos

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA – Though many might  have thought so, this has not been as usual a week this time of the year, being impacted by the leak of the women’s bracket on Monday and the dual exit of friends and longtime mbb coaches in Philly – Fran Dunphy at Temple and Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s.

But in this day of transparency and finally sort of catching up asc the NCAA gets under way, and having now finally written the Dunphy/Martelli blog and posting, the Guru thought you might be entertained since many of you assume at times he is a front for a guy behind a curtain a-la Wizard of Oz.

First let’s go back to last weekend and move forward.

The 50-Hour Saturday

The Guru finished the week staying in Delaware for the CAA since it was not expensive and cheap enough rather than running back and forth on short turnarounds.

Meanwhile, an aside, a month ago the port in the Guru’s iPad went bad and while might be fixable, three attempted visits to the A-store resulted in being told it would be a three hours waits. 

Well, no time in March Madness so everything has been done on Guru’s phone, writing, etc., which destroyed normal way of doing things with the phone as a second screen serving as hard copy for info while writing on iPad.

Finally was able to work on the PC not used in a year and got it back to the living with the proper connects to MS Office, though Guru can’t find his mouse in the house and hasn’t had a chance to replace it but will in next 24 hours.

Update the mouse has been purchased.

So at 10 a.m., arose for the 1 p.m. Drexel final and had a thought – might be able to make it in time for the 830 tip at Yale with Penn and Princeton. 

However, transit connections weren’t workable so, fine, not to worry, we’ll get to USciences’ 730 game in semis (campus near Palestra) for the D2 East Regional.

Of course, Towson upset Drexel and with it happening,  overall Tigers SID and Guru friend and summertime WNBA scribe Rob Knox went into an immediate lather but with his skills, the Towson has benefitted before facing, gulp, UConn.

But Rob did manage to get Guru to the rail line and early in the first quarter, the Guru arrived at USciences.

Afterwards, the Guru got a lift to the nearby rail station, figuring he could write over there, but then realized to go home and get up in the morning to head to Yale, meant dealing with the crazies who would be coming aboard in North Jersey to get to Gotham for St. Patty’s Day.

So the Guru decided, didn’t have to use a lot of points, jump Amtrak, get some shuteye on train, only problem was arrived too early at 530 am in New Haven to get to next point.

So a 20-minute google in the station revealed a nearby all-night diner that was decent and the Guru burned a few hours eating his real Saturday meal and then headed to Yale, but still needing another hour, managed to find a smoothie shop open down the street from the arena.

And then to the  game, with Penn’s ensuing loss, there was not going to be any Selection Night parties in Philly so for the Guru in thinking ahead while still in the moment was going to be at Princeton or Rutgers.

But still had to get back from New Haven and hadn’t checked if anybody drove but since ace honcho friend Doug Feinberg had already calculated a Metro North back to NY (for him) the Guru went that way since cheaper than Amtrak and agot a quick connect on the subway at Grand Central over to Penn Station and then iit was southbound on Jersey Transit to Trenton, connect to SEPTA into Philly and was back in town at 1 a.m.

Since the Guru was wide awake and mentally stable it was off to an all-night diner in the neighborhood since hechadn’t written any of the games, so it would be now or never and finally wrote the roundup you all read.

Then arrived home at 7 am and hit the sack back in synch for how would handle Monday night.

In a conversation with Princeton SID Warren Croxton,  mentioned likely coming up to Jadwin, and he was going to check and let me know what the deal was there. 

Rutgers, though a good story, wasn’t worth backtracking and can handle the remote.

Preparing For Normalcy

OK, to let you all in inside wbb, this is what has been tradition from a long time ago back when it was still selection Sunday, Guru was part of a select group dealing with the NCAA to get the bracket when ready so we could be intelligent on the conference call and the promise made, any leakers on our side would be banished.

Furthermore, with the world being different, lack of technology and other things, there had been many committee/media sharings during the season with what they thought – we had to figure their consensus since many were individual conversations – and they us, so we knew differences. 

This, long before the days of the mock bracket exercises.

When we moved to Monday, the NCAA was told it was even more imperative to get the bracket as early as possible or it was not going to appear in most Tuesday papers because the graphics departments wouldn’t have time to make their deadlines.

In the very early days of the NCAA before the secrecy of waiting till TV to learn, individual schools in the field would get phone calls, who they were playing, where, and then all them would call each other with each piece of the jigsaw to figure the bracket.

As far as the Monday drill for the Guru,  once getting the bracket, the quick looks – local, who’s in, who’s not in, what are the first weekend sites, what’s cheapest to get to (in post-Inquirer years), and so by the time the show came, the Guru was very organized, knew the storylines, by then also had looked at the national perspective, and just had to wait for the reaction quotes.

The one benefit a site got from the Guru’s presence, as soon as the embargo was lifted, a quick bracket printout was possible.

OK, that was on the Guru’s radar before going to sleep, with the idea, if coherent to be careful, he would work on the final update to theAP poll database for the season and generate notes for SIDs with significant poll histories.

Later of course there were going to be four local teams in the WNIT to factor in this weekend’s equation.

While the Guru Slept

And so the Guru rejoined the earth at 1 p.m., decided to lay off the update, and just do normal Monday affairs of state.

 At 250 Rutgers checked in to see if the Guru was coming, he gave the news nada but said don’t worry will deal from afar.

At 3 p.m., the Guru then drifted off back to sleep, an after effect of the just completed marathon.

At 5:15 p.m. his eyes opened, still time to get to Jadwin, until, the first thing he saw on his phone was an email from Warren, ok guys, the bracket was leaked early, the show is going early, so the plan is off.


 Ok, then where’s the NCAA email?

 Then in today’s world as we all do when we learn late of a major news story, the Guru was trying to back pedal the time it broke, so he can get on a coherent timeline moving forward.

3:10 p.m. Are you kidding me?

Total Chaos

So now all the Guru could see was Blake’s scribble.

 It was like a bronc out of control.

 The Guru was trying to get his immediate stuff answered, where’s Rutgers – oh a 7, not an 8 or 9, ok they dodged the UConn projections, wait a minute, UConn a 2, ok, still the same game at Elite Eight in Albany. 

Where’s Princeton going?

 And remember as hectold you above, all this is being discerned on Guru’s phone.

Then there were the hordes of people who had sent messages while the Guru was out cold.

And the tweet and facebook reactions.

 Also had to figure what was going on , on what days to see on Team Guru if Erin is available for anything, forget to mention on the other post, she also had sideline work with the local Philly Wings lacrosse team.

Then we have some new people in the mix.

 Already set for Tampa Bay as usual will be our Tennessee photo friend Willbill and coming aboard Saint Joseph’s Avery Marz. 

We have no idea at this hour, since haven’t heard for a while, about photo talent Melissa since she started a new job, believe it or not, with a neighborhood newspaper consortium, the presenting sponsor last November, whose people she met while in the buffet line at the Guru’s Philly Sports Hall of Fame induction. 

As the Guru looked at the reaction to the leak, that was the story to be told, not who was the culprit (of course for someone but not me), but how to handle it. Parties cancelled. Teams practicing when leaked. People on the west coast in chemistry class when their phones started going nuts.

The best was said by rising star Syracuse SID Olivia Corio in a note:

 “And I realized every single person has a unique experience learning who was in the tournament today as opposed to most years when we all find out together sitting in front of a TV of sorts.”

Meanwhile, as the Guru tried to grapple the plan, which then included Villanova and Penn hosting WNIT games same time Friday night, credit to colleague Jonathan Tannenwald for helping to finally get the bronc under control with the Guru also then making the necessary shifts.

On Thursday, socialize with Old Dominion since won’t be at Nova Friday, even stayed at their hotel to finish getting organized and  gettingbthis PC finally in Microsoft and communications synch, go to Penn Friday, then Saturday with phillycollegesports colleague Glenn Papazian and possibly if available Temple senior TV talent  Spencer Tracy, really that’s her name, off to Maryland since Tennessee/UCLA will be the story of the day, Sunday off to UConn if Rutgers still alive, and Monday back to Maryland for the lead-in to Albany from there.

Then we’ll also see who advances and still home for the next WNIT round.

So now we are almost all caught up. Hope you enjoyed the marathon readying experience which before posting was back to being edited on the phone while enjoying pregame eats at Cozara near the Palestra before pregame media feed.

(And that’s the report).

Guru Feature: Philly MBB Exits By Martelli and Dunphy Also Felt in WBB Circles

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — The departures, one unforeseen, this week of longtime Philadelphia Big 5 men’s basketball coaches Fran Dunphy at Temple and previously at Penn, and Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli,  were felt as much on the women’s side as the men’s side as a poignant end of an era.

For many of you who wouldn’t know, both are contemporaries of your Guru before many of you have come to know the work of yours truly.

As has been noted in the past accounts about the person writing this, your Guru in his Temple days was the basketball manager of a team that won the NIT in New York when it was still a very fashionable tourney with a 16-team field, the same size as the NCAA’s event, which was filled with automatic qualifiers and a few at-large selectees.

In the Guru’s early writing days at The Inquirer, he even covered games in which Dunphy played for La Salle while Martelli played at a smaller school Widener down in Chester.

And as a child of the Big 5 golden era along with journalism classmate known to all of you today as Dickie “Hoops” Weiss, we would hang with the coaches and other notables in the Philadelphia sports community.

There was at the time a famed sports bar in Delaware County, near the Llanerch Diner that was part of the Silver Linings Playbook film starring Bradley Cooper, in which anybody who was anybody would venture into the place on a given night.

For the most part it was also Saint Joseph’s watering hole as well as a hangout for the area high school boys’ coaches.

In the summer and many times in the winter the late Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas was a regular and many 76ers, Eagles, and Flyers notables from the basic front office staffers to the players themselves might appear.

One particular night when nerph basketballs became fashionable, way late beyond the stroke of 12,  John Nash, then executive secretary of the Big 5, on the spot set up and emceed a foul shooting contest.

Dunphy was still an assistant coach at his alma mater at the time.

The place was quite filled that night but after the initial round was completed just two people outshot everyone else – quite funny that the two were Dunphy, nothing wrong with that, and the Temple basketball manager, your Guru.

As a heavy underdog in the ensuing playoff, your Guru became the Cinderella favorite and after Dunphy appeared to have the event locked up, your Guru, who had missed two of the first three, hit the rest in a row to force one more round.

And lo and behold, by one shot, the Guru prevailed and immediately was hoisted by Hoops and several others and carried around the bar.

As years have gone on, Dunphy always cited that night on first notice of each other at a place.

In fact, in taking new Guru team member and talented Penn State grad Erin Dolan to the American Athletic Conference media day last fall, the Guru alerted her what was going to happen if Dunphy was still there and I would introduce her.

Sure enough, as we approached Dunphy, he uttered the usual greeting with the phrase “Shields Tavern.”

As the Guru began to cover women’s hoops and help start the Big Five women’s competition, all of those people were appreciative of what was being done.

When former La Salle great and Cheryl Reeve teammate Kelly Greenberg (no relation) became Penn coach, ultimately leading the Quakers to their first two Big Five titles, she and Dunphy had a great relationship with their programs.

And as he came to Temple to succeed John Chaney, his comradeship increased with Owls women’s coaches Dawn Staley and now Tonya Cardoza.

As for Martelli, there was even deeper involvement in both worlds.

For one, he, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, and many others who have gone on to great success in both worlds, were campers and counselors at Immaculata coach Cathy Rush’s summer basketball operation.

 Former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan was also a regular.

In fact, when she was looking for an assistant one summer, she called Rush asking about Phil.

Cathy said, he won’t want to do it, he’s with the boys but Geno might.

As the Guru heard the tale, someone called out to the counselors hanging around, anyone want to be an assistant women’s coach at Virginia, and supposedly Geno shot right back, “What does it pay? “

The rest is history.

 Geno also had been an assistant to Martelli coaching in high school later on and in wbb to Jim Foster at St. Joes prior to Virginia.

The Guru was made aware of the Martelli connections because one day The Inquirer sent him to cover a men’s game at Widener and Cathy and a whole bunch of Mighty Macs were in the stands.

What are you all doing here?

Judy’s (Marra) boyfriend (now husband) Phil plays on the team.

And so it went through the years and as Auriemma became famous the connection between him and Phil became legendary.

Likewise, on Hawk Hill, Cindy Griffin and Phil with their two programs were one big family.

And at times as soon as Phil would see yours truly, he might start a conversation about Geno and coming games, past games, as well as other things in today’s women’s world.

When word came out of nowhere Tuesday on Phil’s dismissal, it was a stunner – the Guru, still trying to recover at the time from Monday’s ESPN leak of the bracket and its affects (in another post here to go up shortly), first learned when he got a text from Erin, who was speaking at a seminar at Penn State.

Erin also makes freelance appearances several times a week here on the early morning sports reports on local TV station PHL17 morning news and recently did a sideline appearance on the Big East Villanova WBB broadcast.

For some of us, it’s exceptionally tough because of our relationships with new Hawks athletic director Jill Bodensteiner, involved in the decision, because of her past duties as the women’s administrator at Notre Dame where former Hawk star and Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw coaches.

Bodensteiner was also on the WBB basketball committee and recently on a bad weather day on which the Hawks had a WBB game scheduled, an inquiry unwittingly led to Jill picking up a pastrami sandwich from a nearby popular deli for your Guru since we were coming to Hawk Hill from different directions.

You should know that after Tuesday’s events the Guru sent a note out to friends at USA Basketball that it could be a great idea to find a dual role for both Fran and Phil, who have steered the quite successful Coaches vs. Cancer program here from their innovation.

That would put a great Philly touch in in the organization considering Villanova men’s coach  Jay Wright is on the Olympic mbb staff.

Meanwhile, obviously there is disappointment and anger with the move.

So for that end, the Guru reached out to longtime UConn Women’s beat writer Carl Adamec to get Geno’s reaction, which he posted, the Guru believes, but also sent it down here so we will close below with what was sent in the email.

(talk to Phil?, how doing)

"As you would expect, not good," Auriemma said. "This wasn't a guy coming from California to coach at Saint Joe's and it's a job.

“ This is a guy who grew up in the area, lives and dies and breathes every minutes Hawks' basketball, and has been someone who's meant so much to the Saint Joseph's community.

“ It's a difficult time. It a sad day. I hope someone else gives him the opportunity to coach.

“ They won the A-10 tournament just a couple of years ago so it's not like he's forgotten how to coach.

(separate personal/business sides of this, look at this personal/professionally)

"I think I look at it both ways," Auriemma said. "I understand, professionally, that presidents and athletic directors make decisions that are best for their programs. I get that. That's a professional decision and what you're paid off if you're the president or AD. I get that. And as someone in the business, it's part of the job.

"Personally, you say that there had to be a different way that this could have gone down. There's got to be a variety of ways that this could have been handled that made it more reflective of all of the years he spent there and made it more of an appreciation for what he did for the university and this is how we're planning the transition to the next coach. 

“I just think the way it came down ... I don't know what the reaction has been in Philadelphia but I can't imagine it's been positive and throughout the coaching community."

(you have so many connections to SJU, are you bitter towards them)

"I don't think there's a certain bitterness. I don't think it's that," Auriemma said. "It's more a statement of where the business is right now, the business of coaching, the business of college athletics. 

“When someone in the world of boosters or donors or whatever, and you see it everywhere, when they want that coach is out that coach is out. 

“You get a new AD, you get a new president, they're under pressure to make a statement.

“ It's not like at Saint Joe's they're going to fire the offensive coordinator in football.

“ Basketball is the No. 1 thing at that school. That's what is going to be the focal point.

“ There's no way you can avoid that. It's unfortunate, I get the business of it.

“ That doesn't mean it goes down any easier. And obviously it's more emotional when it's a friend of yours.

“ I went through this last year with Jamelle Elliott in Cincinnati. Stuff happens, and people you're close to lose their jobs. 

“You react like, 'Hey, you're entitled to a new basketball coach if that is what you want.' 

“Sometimes the timing and the way it's done leaves a lot to be desired. What can I say? People overlook a lot of things when you're winning a lot of games. The minute you start losing games the things that didn't matter before all of a sudden start to matter."

(asked about Dunphy finishing up -- and he talks Martelli)

"Temple made the NCAA tournament," Auriemma said. "And it would have shown a lot of class on Saint Joe's part to say, 'Look, we're going to give you one more year and you'll be able to do this or do that.' “Then Phil has to make a decision, 'Do I really want to go that route or not?' My guess is he would have said yes, 'Yeah, I'll take a shot at it.' 

“What if all of a sudden Saint Joe's wins the conference tournament and two games in the NCAA tournament? You don't know. There's a way it could be handled. 

“These aren't two young coaches who didn't make it on their first try. They could say, 'We gave it a shot and it didn't work.' 

“These are two icons in the coaching community. In the big picture it's distressing. More personal, I'm good friends with Dunph and obviously close to Phil and his family."

(conversation with Phil)

"It was hard," Auriemma said. "It's not a four-year, five-year contract and after three years or four years ... This was 37 years. He's been there over half his life. I'm not saying you're not entitled to a new coach but there's got to be a way ... It's the business we're in, the life we lead."

(he's still interested in coaching)

"These guys ... Everybody that's in it wants to get out and everybody that's out wants to get in," Auriemma said. "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen. 

“Phil is an energetic guy. He's non-stop morning to night. I wish I had the same passion for coaching and for his team and for his players and for the community he has. He's got his hands on everything. I wish I had the time management ...

“ Now, he doesn't have to deal with some of the stuff that I have to deal with. I'm amazed at how much time and energy he puts in. It's not like he is tired. 

“He hasn't forgotten how to coach. He wants in. You know what? Somebody at some school would be doing himself a favor by saying, 'We need to stabilize our program.' Maybe it's just a couple of years and he would be perfect. 

“You know he's going to do it the right way and he's going to represent the school and get the student body and community involved. 

“Coaches vs. Cancer in Philadelphia wouldn't exist without him and Dunph and Jay. I hope he gets another shot. You know, the way the world of basketball is going, I might be able to hire him as a consultant or player personnel director."

(could he work for you?)

"Well, I worked for him," Auriemma said. "And I would pay him a lot more than the 400 bucks that he paid me. I'll tell you that right now."




Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Select Seven Representing in NCAA

By Mike Siroky

The best conference in women’s basketball, the Southeastern, placed seven in the 38th NCAA elimination tournament. Three of the top four seeds are the teams with 30 wins.

No. 1 seeds: Mississippi State (Portland);  Louisville (Albany); Notre Dame (Chicago); Baylor (Greensboro). 

UConn is No. 2 in the final poll, ahead of No. 5 Louisville as the other team with 30 wins. This is where the Magic 8 Ball logic starts, No. 2 in America but behind someone else in the NCAA view.

One of the reasons we keep calling it the best conference is that Select Seven, along with the idea two of the nationally seeded league teams were one-and-done in the league tournament, another first.

 Another NCAA home team lost an upset in the semifinals.

Upstart Arkansas found winning 20 and making the conference tournament final were not enough because of the quality of the league.

 For the first time in all 38 NCAAs, a 20-game winner and conference finalist was found unworthy by the Magic 8 Ball logic of this year’s Selection Committee.

 They change the rules with every season.

By the way, only us real basketball nerds will recall the Louisville coach is suspended one tournament game for comments he made on NCAA officiating after the loss to Mississippi State in the  previous Final Four. 

The NCAA statement: He “directed inappropriate comments and profane language toward committee members and NCAA staff seated at the scorer’s table.”

And, it doesn’t matter what the whacky Cremeologist of ESPN thought.

 He simply followed the AP poll for his top “selections.” 

Anyone can cut-n-paste the Top 16. He is as reliable as an ouija board. If you use him as your pick-em guide, you have already lost.

He had the order wrong on several of them and had dismissed Tennessee as even getting in by January.

 He didn’t acknowledge the strength of the SEC champ until the last week of the season. He is one reason coaches can claim fake news.

The election Committee put both UConn and Louisville in the East, which guarantees there will be a new Final Four.

 UConn remains the favorite.

It is likely only one SEC team has a six-game run left in them. Those that start at home have the usual chance of being in the Sweet 16, a first goal.

We will report every night an SEC team plays.

So, here we go:

No. 1 seed,  Mississippi State, Portland

As strange as it is, even with the run to two straight National Championship games, all the individual and program awards, Mississippi State achieved yet another first with this year’s bid. 

It is the first automatic bid in program history. 

Maybe that is why the NCAA made the Bulldogs wait for the automatic bid to make them a top seed.

Ever since the conference went to the money ball tournament in the post-season, only validating its importance by making the tournament winner the automatic bid winner, has Mississippi State finally won that. 

The conference nationwide did the same, trying to explain the reason a compressed tournament week is more important than a full season run.

It is not, of course. 

But conferences gain more money by making the players push themselves one week more.

 Purists recognize it’s the season that is more important.

 Athletic directors and school presidents recognize it is the money gained from a few more games that is important.

State is likely the fourth No. 1. 

That means their No. 2 is Oregon, the best of the No. 2s.

That is one of the two teams State lost to this season.

The Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring margin (28.3) and have the No. 2 scoring offense (86.1).

 They top the SEC in field goal percentage (49.2), assist/turnover ratio (1.3), assists (16.6), rebound margin (12.9) and offensive rebounding (17.3).

Magnificent Mississippi State warmed up in practices all week.

 One of the leadership leftovers from the conference tournament was senior Jazzmun Holmes getting mad when coach Vic Schaefer let them skip a shootaround to rest after a travel day.

She got angry at me, Schaefer said, and they talked about it.

 Everything was OK.

 But it showed him how much his system had become part of her life and how she continued the theme they are not yet satisfied.

Her job is to feed the monsters inside. It was noticed in the post-game ceremonies when she joined Teaira McCowan and Anriel Howard on the all-tournament team.

A coast-to-coast flight gets them to Portland after the opening round. 

Forget the guff about geography used in past seedings. 

Greensboro is closer than Portland for State and Portland is closer than Greensboro for Baylor, the alleged No. 1 of everyone.

Before booking a Sweet 16 hotel, State welcomes 20-12 Southern to StarkVegas.

  The winner gets the South Dakota-Clemson survivor.

  Clemson is coached by a former Florida coach. The Selection Committee gave State a break by not putting another conference team in its bracket.

“We’ve still got a lot in front of us,” Schaefer said. “We feel the same way about the NCAA Tournament as we feel (about the SEC Tournament). We’re going to go try and win it.”

They did not cut down the nets after the first SEC tourney title. They were given them. Perhaps the message is the team is working on unfinished business.

Schaefer did not put up with the ESPN monkey business on the reveal. As a result, he was the
only coach of a top seed not interviewed by the network.

Just an insult. He did not mention it.

As for his team, he said the joy of McCowan is “We can play through her, not just to her. She is not a dead end in the middle.

“She is a great passer. She can see the floor well. She knows where those kids are supposed to be. That’s another piece we’ve just added, offensively.”

As he continues to move up the coaching food chain, Schaefer has been named as  an assistant to the World University Games team.  He also was named the ESPN women’s coach of the year.

The USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee, chaired by George Washington head coach and former UConn All-American Jennifer Rizzotti, is responsible for selecting the coaching staff, which is approved by the USA Basketball Board of Directors and pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.

“I am very honored and humbled to have the opportunity to represent the United States of America, across the world in competition,” Schaefer said. “Being the son of a full colonel in the United States Army, I have a tremendous appreciation for the red white and blue along with this great country. To have the opportunity to be a coach on a team representing this country is the ultimate, for me, as a coach and a competitor.”

This competition is for players with college eligibility left.

This is the start of the national ladder for anyone who wants to be an Olympic coach. These Games also take place every four years in the one immediately preceding the Olympics.

There a plenty of worthy non-seniors in the SEC alone.

McCowan achieved her first All-American status on the path to being a consensus in Division 1.

 The ESPN women’s division announced first. 

Still to come are the Associated Press, United States Basketball Writers, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, among others. 

She won her state’s Gillom ward, emblematic of a combination of academics and athletics as a player of the Year. 

She is also one of four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year.

Schaefer is one of four coaches nationally in contention for Coach of the Year.

This is the first time in a decade both State basketball teams are in NCAA tournaments.
No 4 seed Texas A&M, Chicago

The magician got an all-sophomore lineup to an eighth SEC tournament semifinals without his best player, league leading scorer Chennedy Carter. 

Her sprained finger is all better now. 

She was actually cleared to play on Selection Day. They referred to it as “availability players” in their metrics.

They are the last of three conference teams to host an opening round.

It will be a different team in the NCAA eliminations. 

They left the stitches in until selection day. They removed the cast on Tuesday so she could start individual workouts. 

It is spring break on campus. 

Not everyone worked out over the weekend.

They are blessed with a shot at two games at home, starting with Coach Gary Blair wanting to work on limiting turnovers. 

He was especially focused on the 26 in the tournament semifinal loss. 

“There is no excuse not to make seven out of eight shot,” he said.

 “When momentum changes, sometimes you cannot stop it. As coaches we put all of that on us. You don’t blow a 17-point lead. I wanted to get to 60 first. We didn’t. That’s on the coaches.”

Just by getting to the semifinals, he said, helped the NCAA seed them in the Top 16. 

“It showed we are not a one-player team, which was important for us,” he said.

 Also important is having a university representative on the Selection Committee, though this is her last year there.

The traditions of the SEC and the Aggies’ play in it has made his team a certainty for the elimination games, which allows him to enjoy a selection party with the home fans.

As he points out, not every SEC team this year scheduled a gathering because they were not sure if they were getting in. 

His team had confidence, calmly preparing.

Among the players he praised is senior Lauren Davidson, in Aggieland for two seasons after a start at Texas Tech.

 “They were so welcoming when I came in,” she said. She has at least one home game left.

They open with Wright State, which played nobody of significance in a 27-6 season. 

The winner gets the winner of Marquette vs. Rice. 

The top seed in the Regional is defending National Champ Notre Dame.

Both A&M and Wright State had viewing parties on campus for the “reveal.”

Then the dunderheads at ESPN posted the bracket early, so everyone knew who was in and where they were going two hours before the lame cablecast. 

When you sell your broadcast rights to an uncaring company, you take your chances.

 ESPN even staged “surprise” reactions to the announcement two hours late
ESPN apologized for the leak within the hour.

“In working with the NCAA to prepare for tonight’s Women’s Selection Special we received the bracket, similar to years past,” ESPN’s prepared statement said.

 “In the midst of our preparation, the bracket was mistakenly posted on ESPNU. 

“We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community. We will conduct a thorough review of our process to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.” 

So, ha.

Wright State was not deterred.

“We want to go and be competitive,” senior guard Mackenzie Taylor said. “We're not just satisfied.”

“We're going to the NCAA tournament. We’re going wherever they tell us to go,” fellow-senior Emily Vogelpohl said with a laugh.
No. 4 seed South Carolina, Albany

The Gamecocks are in Louisville’s bracket with No.2 UConn.

 The Huskies destroyed them in the regular season, the former Olympic Coach still tutoring his successor.

But that is two games away.

Even in the midst of one of the greatest eras, the Gamecocks have renewed enthusiasm after one-and-done in the SEC tournament.

 It interrupted a Gamecock presence on the all-tournament team.

With coach Dawn Staley, they have at least 20 wins for the eighth straight season.

 The Gamecocks have played in the NCAA Elite Eight three times in the past four seasons, including winning the 2017 National Championship over conference rival Mississippi State.

They lost in the Regional final to UConn last season. 

They have been ranked in the AP Top 25 for 129 consecutive weeks, the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. 

The Gamecocks finished in the top two of the SEC for the sixth straight season and played down to the last game for the league regular-season title.

 After opening the season 4-4, South Carolina won 13 of its next 14 to climb as high as No. 11 in the poll.

 All eight of the Gamecocks' losses have been to teams ranked in this week's top 25 with an average RPI of 13.

The new offense had 10 different Gamecocks lead the team in scoring at least once -- nine in SEC games.

 Eight have scored 15 more more points in an SEC game at least once. Five Gamecocks averaged double-figure points in SEC play this season.

Guards Te'a Cooper and Tyasha Harris feed Alexis Jennings. 

Neither Cooper (Tennessee) nor Jennings (Kentucky) started their careers at SC. 

Destanni Henderson and Victaria Saxton are superior freshmen.

Senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore needs 17 Points to reach 1,000 in her career.

Tyasha Harris needs one more assist to move into the program's all-time top five.

Harris is one of five finalists for the point guard Lieberman Award to be issued at the Final Four.  She is the only SEC finalist.

The Gamecocks start 100 miles away from home because the men’s tournament bumped them. It is another evaluation of men’s vs. women’s basketball that the women are always bumped.

South Carolina opens with Belmont on Friday morning. 

That’s where the current Florida coach established the team. They also went head-to-head with Kentucky a few seasons ago.

Also in the Gamecocks’ home bracket are Florida State and Bucknell.

“I’m happy,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We were just waiting after we lost prematurely in our SEC tournament, so you just never know.”

They did move up to 15th in the final poll, so the Selection Committee had an easy placement as a Top 16 host team.

“In the SEC, our body of work showed we were worthy. Everyone at our university did their part. We put ourselves in a position to play at the highest level,” Staley said.
No. 6 seed Kentucky, Greensboro

Coach Matthew Mitchell, co-coach of the league, was stunned when the Kats went one-and-done in the league tournament. 

It cost them a hosting position in the NCAAs.

He has recovered his balance.

The top Regional seed is Baylor. There are three SEC teams in this Regional, an NCAA first.

The Kats open with Princeton. 

The winner gets whoever survives between host N.C. State and Maine.

It will have been 15 days between games.

“For this particular team, this particular year, I think it’s really good for us,” Mitchell said. “Coming down the stretch, we were playing tough, tough games, we were trying to position ourselves.

“ (The last) five games, in a real grind, I thought had depleted us a little bit from an emotional standpoint and an energy standpoint.

“We were able to get three days off, completely off, from basketball and school, it was spring break,” Mitchell said. “I thought that was great (for the team).”

Freshman Rhyne Howard blazed across the nation as she did in the SEC. ESPN has selected her as nation al Freshman of the Year.

Senior guard Maci Morris has been named one of national finalists for the  Ann Meyers-Drysdale Award which annually seeks to honor the nation’s top shooting guard. 

Mississippi State guard Victoria Vivians won last season.
No. 7 seed Missouri, Greensboro.

Basketball purists get to see attack dog Sophie Cunningham at least one more game.

 Her teams have not lasted long in the NCAAs. She has ratcheted back her WWE-style play for weeks.

 She smiles brightly and pretends to not get it when she is booed. 

But she is also that player you hate when she in on the opposite bench and would embrace if she was one of yours.

So it is sad she is done playing on her home stage already. 

Missouri opens with Drake.

The Tigers would likely get No. 2 seed Iowa next on the Hawkeyes’ home court. Drake upset then No. 13 South Carolina and lost to LSU in their 27-5 season.

No. 10 seed Auburn, Chicago

Slowly, coach Terri Williams-Flournoy has built a national footprint without many steps in any NCAA tournament. 

A couple of NCAA wins is the next major steps. 

They open at Stanford against No. 7 seed BYU, with No. 2 seed Stanford hoping to survive No. 15 seed UC Davis.

What is motivation is they were not one-and-done in the SEC tournament. 

Then they lost on a shot with five seconds left to Texas A&M, a second two-point loss in the series.

“(It was) definitely a winnable game,”  Williams-Flournoy said. "We turned them over 26 times. Offense was the problem. We didn't score enough points off those turnovers. 

“The offense in the second half was bad."

So that is what they worked on in the off week, that coach’s dream of concentrating on her own team, without knowing whom the NCAA would select for them to go against next.

Now for the intense game-planning and inhaling knowledge about the Cougars.

“I’m so happy for our team," Williams-Flournoy said. “I'm very excited to be heading out to California; it's going to be great. We don’t really know too much about BYU at this point; we'll get the film and get to work.

“The one thing we’ve been talking about since the start of the season is building a ‘Team of Excellence.’

“ We didn't want to talk about going to the NCAA Tournament. We knew if we built a ‘Team of Excellence,’ doing the right things, getting wins, that would get us to the NCAA Tournament.”

According to the NCAA, Auburn and Tennessee were among the final teams selected in a group of seven, both on strength of schedule in the toughest conference in America. 

Indiana eked out the difference, by the way, in what eliminated Arkansas.
 No. 11 seed Tennessee, Albany

This is redemption for Holly Warlick, dissed all season by ESPN.

 The network said they were out of the NCAAs in January, of course they were not. They are not the Tennessee of legend. No one is.
Warlick basically lost her center to a bum knee, not having her at full strength is when the slide began.

 But superior sophomore Evina Westbrook emerged not only as a leading scorer, but also as team facilitator Warlick has lacked for several seasons.

Don’t forget Te’a Cooper fled this team. What a difference she could have made.

A smaller off-team loss was when the local newspaper eliminated the women’s basketball beat in a continued downsizing. 

It affects the team and recruiting when there is not local coverage. Tennessee has had that since 1979.

 Notre Dame is among other national programs without a beat writer, for the same reasons. 

Tennessee’s local newspaper, for instance, did not even preview the game at South Carolina.

Tennessee is a road warrior now. 

They need one win to make 42 seasons in a row with at least 20.

“We are very excited to be competing in our 38th consecutive NCAA Tournament and look forward to our match-up with UCLA on Saturday,” Warlick said. “Our young team has continued to be resilient and bounce back when faced with adversity this season, and I'm happy that they’ve earned this bid. 

“Our challenging non-conference schedule combined with the toughness of the SEC proved to be beneficial when it came time for the committee to make some tough final decisions. We're grateful for the opportunity." 

Using the “young team” crutch early is a bad vibe. 

Tennessee can demonstrate the weird charisma of being able to win every game and lose every game.

Maryland, the host team, gets Radford in the other opener.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Bummer Weekend: Penn, Drexel, USciences Felled by Late Rallies

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW HAVEN, Conn.  — The last two hopes of the Philly Six to advance to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament went crashing down in similar fashion in their respective conference championships in a less-than-24 hour period up here late Sunday afternoon in the Ivy League showdown between regular season co-champions Penn and Princeton after Drexel succumbed to a rally by Towson Saturday in the Colonial Athletic Association title game in Newark, Del.

And the bad karma that smothered the two neighboring rivals from West Philadelphia also felled another neighborhood team in USciences that suffered a fourth-quarter flameout Saturday night at home in the Devils’ Bobby Morgan Arena to Le Moyne from Syracuse in a semifinal of the NCAA D2 East Regional.

Princeton, however, is part of the overall Guru Local D-1 mix so in that regard is a representative to the dance as is Rutgers, which finished third in the Big Ten and advanced last weekend to the semifinals.

The Scarlet Knights are considered a lock for an at-large invite for their first appearance since 2015,  though Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer will not be on the sidelines having been given doctors order to take a rest, beginning with the close of the regular season and then last week extended to as long as Rutgers lasts in the 64-team field.

Tim Eatman is running the squad in Stringer’s absence.

The complete NCAA field and draw will be revealed Monday night at 7 on ESPN.

The losses of several D-1 locals in conference play, however, did not preclude them from more basketball with appearances slated in the 64-team WNIT, whose field will be announced soon after the NCAA participants and pairings are all presented.

Penn and Rider own the WNIT automatic qualifiers as the highest finishers not heading to the NCAAs from the respective Ivy League and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Drexel, finishing second and a past WNIT champion, had the CAA automatic until No. 1 James Madison was upset in the conference quarterfinals and not likely to be rescued by the NCAA committee. 

However, the Dragons will receive an at-large bid as will Villanova, which finished fourth in the regular season but quickly ousted by fifth-seeded Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals last weekend.

The Ivies for a few minutes while Penn was still ahead were alive to have two teams in the field for the second time in league history when ESPN from the committee presented the Debatable Eight — the final teams under discussion for the last four spots.

Princeton, which received the Ivy’s only at-large bid, several years ago, was part of that discussion but taken off the list once the Tigers had grabbed their 65-54 victory.

Penn was not posted as a replacement and while a very late lobbying effort was launched on behalf of the Quakersa, in a manner of speaking the train had already left the station before Penn could board.

Alarie Leads Princeton to a Repeat  Ivy Title Conquering Penn

In the past decade Princeton and Penn have become the old Connecticut-Tennessee heavyweights of the Ivy League competing in all three Ivy tourney title games, the last two going to the Tigers after Penn captured the first.

We are now up to the last ten regular season crowns going to one or the other with Princeton winning six outright, Penn three and this season a shared 12-2 rule over the Ancient Eight.

In early January, the Quakers (23-6) surprised the preseason favorites at their Jadwin Gym when the Tigers were finally getting healthy enough from a slew of injuries, including one to now two-time Ivy player of the year Bella Alarie, which resulted in a seven-game slide following a season-opener rout at nearby Rider.

That gave coach Mike McLaughlin’s squad a one-game lead that went to two when Yale also upset the Tigers on their Turf.

But Penn’s second-meeting with Harvard, who they destroyed in one of Saturday’s semifinals, resulted in a double-overtime loss on the road in Cambridge, Mass.

The Quakers’ standings lead was reduced to a game and on Feb. 26 the Tigers came to The Palestra and Alarie singlehandedly brought Princeton to a standings tie in a 33-point performance that led to a Tigers 68-53 victory.

And so they finished deadlocked and cruised in Saturday’s semifinals at John J. Lee Amphitheater on Yale’s campus here with Princeton bouncing fourth-seeded Cornell, 68-47, while Penn dispatched second-seeded Harvard, 91-62.

The previous two tourneys in the new era were held at Penn’s Palestra.

Going into Sunday, McLaughlin thought his team had the adjustments to avoid the Tigers’ mayhem of their second meeting and after Princeton (22-9) took an early close lead that was two points at the end of the first period, midway through the next, the Quakers went in front going ahead by as much as seven and still ahead by three with one ten-minute period remaining.

Alarie was still a force but Penn’s defense was enough to get key stops and control the flow.

Princeton edged in front in the fourth but it was still anybody’s game as Kendall Grasela tied it for Penn, 51-51 with 6 minutes, 28 seconds left.

That was to be the last hurrah for the Quakers.

Gabrielle Rush, who finished with 18 points behind Alarie’s 24, put Princeton in front and after Grasela made one of two to trail by a point, Carli Littlefield, who scored 13 for the champs, hit a shot and then after a Penn turnover, an unlikely three came from Julia Cunningham for a six-point lead with 2:19 left.

Though Sydney Jordan fouled out for the Tigers with 1:59 left, Princess Aghayere was just 1-for-2 from the line.

Littlefield was 1-for-2 to get it back to six and then Alarie turned over Aghayere with 1:23 left.

Penn was forced to foul to get Princeton to the line with a chance to rebound potential missed shots.

But Penn could not hit a field goal, connecting once on a 1-for-11 effort for the quarter and Princeton just kept extending the differential on the way to its victory.

In all from the 51-51 tie earlier in the period, the Princeton run the rest of the way was 14-3.

Ashley Russell, who became a surprise contributor of sorts her senior season, had a team-high 14 points but while Eleah Parker, referred to as “another pro” by Banghart, had a double double 10 points and 11 rebounds, she was also defensed by Alarie (5 blocks) to a 5-for-23 effort from the field.

"It doesn't hurt to have Bella Alarie on your team," Banghart said. "Those people who are just getting to see her … come back. She held another pro in Eleah Parker to 5-of-23 from the field and that's a stat line that speaks for itself."

Alarie was named the most outstanding player with Littlefield, Rush, and Cunningham from Princeton, and Penn’s Russell and Parker making the all-tournament team.”

“Congratulations to Princeton, it was one heck of a basketball game,” McLaughlin said. “We competed as long as we possibly can.

“Outside of the result, I think we stood up to the challenge, we played in the moment, we competed at the highest level, (though) we struggled on the offensive side in the fourth quarter.

“I’d like to have a couple of possessions back, but that doesn’t happen. I’m proud of our group, they were resilient, we represented our league. I wish we were sitting here on the other end of the score, but I respect the sport, these guys too, … it will be a tough ride home.”

Russell noted, “… the first half and third quarter, we were right there, our defense was really locked in, and in the fourth quarter, we weren’t getting good flow and that’s when it got the best of us. Everybody gave their all each possession, and it just didn’t go our way.”

When it came Princeton’s turn to take the podium, Banghart said, “I want to give credit to Penn. Anyone who watched that game, anyone who watched that game saw two great teams who played with great toughness and discipline.”

As for the change in momentum at the finish, Alarie said, “We decided it’s now or never. Our freshman Julia hit that huge three-pointer for us, we just put our heads down and played the rest of the game.

“They’re a great team,” Alarie said. “At the end we wanted it so much more. You could see everybody’s eyes on the court. We wanted it.”

Drexel Falls at Finish as Towson Wins First CAA Title

NEWARK, Del. - Poised to win its first CAA title in a decade since 2009 and second overall, second-seeded Drexel’s offense and ball control went cold and fourth-seeded Towson rallied in the closing minutes to win its first CAA in a tournament that had all kinds of upsets here in the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center.

It’s the second straight year that the Dragons (24-8), losing in the title game, were unable to prosper from someone else doing the dirty work knocking top-seeded James Madison out of the tournament.

Last season defending champion Elon had taken JMU down in the semifinals at Drexel, but the Phoenix kept going to repeat their automatic NCAA bid.

This time it was worse. At least the loss was decided long before the actual game ended a year ago.

But 12 months later Drexel could see the trophy on the horizon before the offense and ball control died in the closing minutes to the Tigers (20-12), whose Diana Richardson in her second season led the Tigers to the promised land after her CAA peers gave her the coach of the year award before the tournament got under way.

In Thursday’s quarterfinals, ninth-seeded Hofstra upended JMU, which missed two key players, including Kamiah Smalls, who won preseason accolades. Lexie Barrier got hurt 47 seconds into the Hofstra game.

It’s the first time a No. 1 seed got ousted in the quarterfinals.

On the season, the Tigers (20-12) upset the Draqgons in Philadelphia at the buzzer the first weekend in CAA play before Drexel came back and blasted Towson in Maryland in the final game of the regulasr season.

On Saturday, the game was an epic confrontation with neither team getting much of a lead.

But the pace was to Drexel’s liking.

Aubree Brown scored for the Dragons to make it 46-43 with 3 minutes, eight seconds left in the game.

Drexel then got a steal and in its system a score on the next possession might all but secure the win.

Then Niki Metzel’s shot was blocked, but freshman Keishana Washington stole a ball only to lose it seconds later and Murray scored to get the Tigers within a point with 1:41 left.

Bailey Greenberg, the CAA player of the year, missed a three-pointer, Towson rebounded and Nukiya Mayo, the tournament’s most outstanding player with 20 points in the championship, scored to put Towson in front.

Then Brown turned it over with 49 seconds left and Kionna Jeter, the other Towson player in double figures with 10 points, extended the lead to three points with 25 seconds left.

Greenberg then lost the ball and Mayo hit two foul shots to make It Towson 51-46 with 11 seconds left.

Brown made it close with a three-ball with two seconds left but Drexel, behind 52-49, had to foul and Mayo went to the line for the game’s final points.

Greenberg finished with 15 points and Metzel had 10 to make the all-tournament team from Drexel while Jeter, Northeastern’s Jess Genco, also made it.  Hofstra’s Boogie Brozoski rounded the award winners      off her record 42 points in the opener the first day when the Pride ousted the eighth-seeded defending champion Elon group.

“We always preach it’s a game of possessions, and that’s what it came down to,” said longtime Drexel coach Denise Dillon. “We had the ball, we had a little cushion, and we tried to execute a play to get Bailey another look, and Towson’s overly aggressive, and we don’t pay attention to detail and Towson comes up with the basketball.

“Then we came down again, so it was just two crucial turnovers.”

Said Richardson of the rapid rise of her team, “I was just blessed with some super super athletes and great people that really wanted this.”

Towson’s only other championship game appearance in a conference was in 1983-84 beating Delaware in the old East Coast Conference.

USciences’ Road to the Sweet Sixteen Ruined by Le Moyne

After trading losses with arch-rival Jefferson University in the D2-Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and losing also to the Rams by a point in overtime in the CACC title game, the ultimate villain to No. 6 USciences’ season Saturday night was NE-10 Conference’s Le Moyne from Syracuse, which rallied over the No. 6 Devils, 63-56 in front of a packed Bobby Morgan Arena in Southwest Philadelphia.

The Devils had built a 10-point lead at 38-28 with 5 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third period, only to then yield the momentum the rest of the way to the opposition whose coach Gina Castelli, formerly with Siena, decided to gamble with full court pressure in the NCAA D2 _East semifinals.

Jefferson was eliminated in the first round Friday night by Stonehill after the Rams had enjoyed a historic season.

That left the Devils as the only local still standing for what became just until 24 hours later among the area’s small college brigade.

Le Moyne (26-5) rallied all the way back to tie the score at 39 when a layup in the final minute of the period capped an 11-1 surge, but Irisa Ye's late 3-pointer put USciences back on top entering the fourth quarter. 

The Dolphins scored the first 12 points of the final period though, holding the Devils scoreless for the first 5:34, to take their largest lead of the evening, 51-42, when a layup capped a 23-4 run with 4:45 remaining. 

Le Moyne made 27 of its 34 free threes, while USciences made 10 of its 14. 

The Devils also turned the ball over 19 times to the Dolphins' 11, which led to a 26-11 disparity in points off turnovers. 

The Devils finished with a second straight 30-win season, matching last year's program record. 

USciences also set or tied program records for regular season wins (26), Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference victories for a 19-game league schedule (18), national ranking (No. 4), East Region Ranking (No. 1) and win-streak (18).

The season culminated in USciences hosting the first NCAA Regional in the history of the University.   

Saturday evening capped the careers of seniors Colleen Walsh, Alex Thomas, Hadiya Tucker, Micah Morgan, Alyx McKiernan and Marissa Sylvester. 

They graduate as the all-time winningest class in program history. 

“That right there makes them very special," said coach Jackie Hartzell, who previously coached Archbishop Ryan in Northeast Philadelphia. "They came in and worked hard every day and they really turned the program around. 

“As good as they were on the court, they are even better off the court. They are going to be really successful in life, and we are going to miss them."

Ye led USciences with 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including a perfect 3-of-3 3-pointers to break the program's NCAA era single-season scoring record with 561 points.  

McKayla Roberts had 28 points for Le Moyne, who will meet Saint Anselm Monday night for the right to move on to the Elite Eight as the East champs.



Saturday, March 16, 2019

CAA Tourney: Drexel Reaches Title Game Playing Towson

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEWARK, Del. – One year after the Drexel women suffered an unhappy finish in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game losing to third-seed Elon 57-45 at home, the Dragons are going to get a chance for a do-over Saturday afternoon against a different opponent.

Coach Denise Dillon’s group will face Towson, making its first appearance this far in its own CAA history, at 1 p.m. here in the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center (TV: NBC Sports-Philadelphia).

Towson’s only other appearance in a conference championship occurred in 1984 beating Delaware for the ECC title back when NCAA women’s basketball was just in its third season.

The fourth-seeded Tigers (19-12), who split with the Dragons during the season, had an easy time of it here in the opener, ending ninth-seeded Hofstra’s Cinderella run with a 69-48 win fueled by a tournament-record second quarter offensive 29-8 thrust.

The Pride (11-22) had made their own CAA tourney history after dispatching defending champion and eighth seed Elon in Wednesday’s opener, they proceeded to upset No. 1 seed James Madison Thursday, making the preseason favorite Dukes the first top seed to be eliminated in the quarterfinals.

That result became the luck of the second-seeded Dragons on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day weekend considering Drexel lost both regular season games to JMU and would have been a significant underdog against the Dukes in the championship.

As it was a year ago, Drexel made it this far for the sixth time after a nail-bitter in the semifinals Friday afternoon just as the they did a year ago, outlasting Delaware 58-53, while Elon upset JMU the same day.

The chance this time to move within 40 regulation minutes to become one of potentially two Philly Six schools — the other neighborhood-rival Penn in the Ivy tournament — to make the NCAA field became reality against sixth-seeded Northeastern in another epic performance rallying for a 73-69 victory in overtime.

Drexel’s one other CAA crown came in 2009, ending a 17-year rule by former member Old Dominion in the semifinals, though the Dragons still had to beat James Madison, 64-58, at the Dukes’ JMU Convocation Center for the title. 

The fact that it took an extra five minutes Friday for Drexel (24-7) to get the job done against the Huskies (21-10) should not be surprising considering the history of the series featuring overtime encounters, including one claimed by the Dragons which went an NCAA record five of them on Feb. 22, 2007 at home in Philadelphia after squandering a 13-point lead.

Earlier this season Drexel held a 14-point lead in the second half against Northeastern up in Boston and squandered all of it to be rescued when Bailey Greenberg hit a winning shot as regulation time expired. 

The second time in Philadelphia did not involve any drama last month with the Dragons easily winning  76-45. 

On Friday here, Greenberg, the CAA player of the year, was a factor in the win combining with Niki Metzel for 39 points.

Metzel, a cause in Drexel’s  early game struggles going to the bench with two quick fouls in the first period, finished with a career-record 24 points, shooting 8-for-10 from both the field and the line, while Greenberg, who played all but two of the 45 minutes, had a double double 15 points and a career-record 15 rebounds.

Keishanna Washington, a member of the CAA all-freshman squad, also scored in double figures collecting 14 points while making all four of her foul shots and a field goal in the overtime. Metzel was 7-for-8 from the line in the extra period.

Ana Ferariu off the bench gave Drexel depth with eight points.

Northeastern’s Ayanna Dublin had 16 points, Gabby Giacone had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Jess Genco had 13 points but struggled from the field shooting 2-for-15 thanks to the defense of Drexel guard Hannah Nihil, and Alex Hill scored 12.

“Well, that was a game,” said Dillon, a former Villanova star. “Talking to the team, I said it would be a game of possessions and it exactly was that.

“I was pleased with our poise and resilience and they did a great job.”

With Metzel, who had 20 in the quarterfinal win, on the bench early, Drexel struggled in the the first period, trailing 15-9 when it ended, though it might have been more had not it been for the Dragons’ defense, which is tops in the nation in limiting points.

In the next stanza, however, Drexel fought back to get to a 23-23 tie at the break.

“I was a little surprised by that, we weren’t shooting the ball well, we weren’t on point, defensively,” Dillon said of the struggle. “But we were still in a great position there, 0-0, at halftime.

“I think it just comes down to the players understanding. The jitters are there, the excitement, their shots weren’t falling, but the effort was there and it continued. We kept ourselves in a good position to get the job done and we held on.

“We talked to the team after the first quarter and said, ‘listen the shots aren’t falling, but we’ll get into a little bit of a rhythm, but just focus on the defense end,’ because we did stop a couple of sets when we needed to,” she said.

“But as soon as they heard that, they did regroup and got it back together to give us that opportunity to tie it at the end of the half and get the win in overtime.”
Northeastern got to a six-point lead near the end of the third before Drexel cut it by a basket trailing 45-41.

The momentum swung back to Drexel in the fourth, the Dragons taking the lead 48-46 on a pair of foul shots by Aubree Brown, who had seven points for the game.

Drexel, however, could not get much distance from the Huskies, and after failing behind, Greenberg got the game deadlocked again with a pair of foul shots to make it 54-54 with 1 minute, 27 seconds left in regulation.

The score was still deadlocked with Northeastern in possession and a timeout with 24 seconds left.

Drexel defensed the Huskies and as time expired Shannon Todd’s attempted three-point game-winner was off the mark.

“Yeah, they had a chance to win it but we got the stop to put it in overtime so the girls felt good about that once we got the stop,” Dillon said. “Once we got the stop, the energy level was back up and we did a nice job in the overtime.”

Greenberg’s layup as the overtime got under way gave Drexel a lead the Dragons would not relinquish and grew to six on Washington’s two foul shots.

Northeastern cut it in half on Hill’s three-point play with 1:53 left, but then Todd fouled, Metzel hit two free throws with 1:36 left and then Northeastern coach Kelly Cole, a former Harvard assistant, was hit with a technical. 

She admitted to working the refs but of the assessment, Cole said in the postgame press conference “No, there was no warning.”

Metzel hit two more free throws for a seven-point lead with 1:24 left.

It got down to four with 54 seconds left, Brown hit two from the line to get it back to six, Genco missed a three-point attempt, but Hill missed one of two from the line for the Huskies on an ensuing Drexel foul to leave the score at 68-63 with 43 seconds left.

Washington then hit two more from the line for a 70-63 lead with 32 seconds remaining in the extra period.

Genco’s three sliced it to 70-66 with 19 seconds left but forced to foul, Northeastern put Metzel on the line for two more and a six-point advantage with 17 seconds left.

Dublin swung it back to three behind with a driving layup and foul shot with nine seconds left.

Metzel then went back to the line making one of two with eight seconds left.

Northeastern then missed a three, got the rebound, and then missed a jumper as the game ended.

Of her early struggles in the game, Greenberg said, “Sometimes I psych myself and put too much pressure, so I always try to remind myself defense and rebounding, if you focus on those things other good things will come from it.

“I think the team did a great job with Nikki on the bench with two fouls. She does a lot of scoring and she draws attention away from other people as well, so we held it together and was really proud of us.”

   As for playing Towson, Dillon said, “Obviously (Kionna) Jeter is a great scorer,” Dillon said. “And (Nukiya) Mayo as well. So we’re going to put our two top defenders and we’ll mix it up — a little bit of zone and a little bit of man.

“And as I said to the team, we have the No. 1 scoring defense in the country going against the No. 2 offensive scoring team here in the CAA, so we do have our work cut out for us.”

Northeastern is still hopeful for an at-large bid to the WNIT, Cole saying, “We do have a resume. 

“Wow, that was great basketball,” Cole said of the game. “You hate for anyone to come out on the losing end. I think that is what March is all about. That’s what the CAA is all about. It was a fun game to be a part of.

“Both teams played well, played up to the occasion, and then as I said to the team, this is one, both teams need to walk away with their heads up because it was great on both ends of the game and very, very proud of our ladies today and throughout the season.”

Towson Advances to First CAA Title Game

After an opening period in which Towson took a slight 14-10 lead, the Tigers then hit the accelerator switch to a 22-0 run and ultimate tourney record 29 points in the second period.

Nukiya Mayo had 22 points for the game and Qierra Murray scored 10. 

The Tigers shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first period, 57.9 percent in the second, and 50 percent in the third with 52.1 percent being the mark for the entire game.

Jaylen Hines had 17 points for Hofstra and Boogie Brozoski, who had a record-setting 42 points in the opening win over Elon, scored 12.

Towson started the conference schedule with a buzzer-beating win at Drexel while the Dragons came back last week in the final regular season game winning 77-44 in Maryland.

“I think we played some good basketball today. I think our defense turned into our offense and so we were going out there and being aggressive and got ahead in the game and so stayed ahead with the aggression,” said Diana Richardson, who took the CAA coach of the year honors from her peers prior to the start of the tournament.

“We stepped into the passing lanes, we got steals and run outs and that fueled us. We kind of like to be uptempo,” she said. “We continued to do that and turn them over and go for layups.”

In saying of playing Northeastern or Drexel before knowing who Towson’s opponent would be, Richardson said, “They both play system basketball and very similar.

“When you finish a game you look at the things you have to fix,” she said referring to the 27 turnovers, though it didn’t cause too much disruption.

 “We have to be poised. Especially tomorrow. We have to be poised with the ball and our guards have to be poised with the ball and our guards have to be poised with the ball.

“ We have to be strong with the ball as well. We got some rebounds taken away so we have to take care of that. We’ll be doing a lot of film watching tonight.”

As for the title game debut, Richardson, just in her second season with the Tigers after having served on staffs at nearby George Washington and Maryland, said, “We’ve just concentrated on getting better. As we get better the wins will come.”

Meanwhile, after a season of disappointment, Hofstra finished with some good memories with the two upsets.

“Today, Towson had Mayo and we needed a little bit more,” Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky, a former North Carolina State star, said. “We shot 62 to their 48 and with their 27 turnovers, if the ball goes in the hole, we’re having a different conversation right now talking about the semifinals.

“That’s the highs and lows of basketball.”



Friday, March 15, 2019

CAA Tourney: Drexel Moves to Semis Against Upset Winner Northeastern

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEWARK, Del. — For the second straight year in the Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball tournament enhanced opportunity has knocked for Drexel but it is up to the Dragons to finish the deal to take care of their own business after getting a helping hand.

Several hours before taking the floor here late Thursday afternoon at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center in the third quarterfinal of the day, the all-time shocker in the 36 years of the tournament occurred when ninth-seeded Hofstra eliminated No. 1 seed James Madison.

The win came a day after taking down eighth-seeded Elon, the defending champs.

But you might say, where have we seen this before.

Well in terms of the No. 1 seed knocked out in the quarterfinals, never.

But in terms of the Dukes, which would be the favorite in any matchup, just a year ago Elon, then a three, took out JMU in the semifinals at Drexel but then the Dragons fell to the Phoenix in the championship.

So that history was enough to give Drexel fans a bit worry considering that the opponent No. 7 William & Mary squad split with coach Denise Dillon’s bunch — Drexel winning at the finish 62-58 in Williamsburg, Va., but the Tribe rallying for a 77-72 triple overtime win at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in West Philadelphia.

Well, even as temperatures warmed somewhat in the area, for something different, it was a no-sweat affair on the Dragons side after an early five-point deficit as they took control and rode to a 71-60 victory that wasn’t that close.

Then after Drexel (23-7) was done collecting tickets to another semifinals appearance, No. 6 Northeastern completed a bookend of upsets in the four games, ousting No. 3 UNCW 75-64.

Following the 1 p.m. opener when Hofstra meets Towson, then the Dragons and Huskies will tangle at 4:30 p.m., the games on CAA.TV.

Friday’s winners move on to the Saturday championship at 1 p.m. on NBC Sports-Philadelphia.

After seemingly like no one from the Philly Six was going NCAA this season, it could be those neighborhood rivals who have been the best of the half-dozen all season Drexel and Penn — the Quakers are two wins away in he Ivy tourney Saturday-Sunday up at Yale in New Haven, Conn. — may get to the main dance hall.

If you’re looking for some CAA karma, Drexel’s only conference crown came a decade ago when the Dragons were led by player of the year Gabriela Marginean in 2009.

Well, for the first time since then another player of the year has been claimed by the program — Bailey Greenberg.

In the two Northeastern games, Drexel did another escape act beating the improved Huskies 61-59 in Boston before cruising at the DAC with a 76-45 rout.

But as Hofstra is showing, anything can happen once the regular season becomes the postseason.

So you say, they gave up over 60 for the first time this season after leading the country in low defensive yield, yes but the game was never in doubt after the first few minutes.

From a 9-4 deficit, a flurry of three-pointers carried Drexel on a 14-5 run to lead 18-14 at the end of the first.

It got to 43-30 at the half and then a margin as much as 21 points near the end of the third before the Tribe (15-16) chiseled into it, but never dangerously the rest of the way.

Niki Metzel had a near career-high with 20 points, shooting 7-for-10 from the field, while Greenberg was 4-for-4 on the way to 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds and Keishana Washington, an all freshman team pick, had 11 also and Aubree Brown scored 10.

Hannah Nihil again keyed the defense with four steals.

Bianca Boggs had 18 points for the Tribe, Victoria Reynolds scored 17, and Eva Hodgson had 12.

“We’re obviously pleased with the effort and energy of our team, which showed up with a plan, stuck to the plan, and got the job done,” Dillon said afterwards. “I thought they played really good team basketball.

“We shot the ball well today. We took 31 more shots than they did at our place and obviously missed a majority. So I was just talking to (her team) about the ball movement, player movement, and that was on us at our place.

“I just felt today the rotation was much better.” 

As for the outlook of the rest of the tournament since the Dukes’ ouster changes the complexion of the four remaining teams, Dillon observed, “It still looks the same to us. It’s been Northeastern or UNCW so that’s our focus, we got one, and all we’re worrying about is number two.”

As for the team’s start observed on the floor, Washington said, “It felt good. Just hitting shots like ‘coach said. Just being confident taking those shots, pushing the ball in transition, looking for each other, knowing where are options are in the offense, I think we took advantage of everything we had today.”

At the time of the postgame, the Dragons’ opponent for the semis had yet to be determined, but Dillon put it all on her group.

“I think it’s going to come down to defensive mindset. Both teams can score the ball. Northeastern, similar to what we just saw in William & Mary. They’re disciplined. They move the ball nicely. They have the three point shooters. They can do a little bit of everything.

“Again, you’re playing teams you’re familiar, players resetting their minds for what the next game plan is.”

From the Tribe’s side, coach Ed Swanson said of the Dragons this time around, “Just a buzzsaw. I thought at the beginning of the game we had great energy and then Drexel, who hadn’t been shooting the ball great from three-point range all year, but they were 6-for-8 in the first half and that took us out of what we really wanted to do.

“I thought that our pressure was keeping them off rhythm a little bit but I thought they hit big shots and really knocked us back on our heels. So a lot of credit to Drexel. It’s been a great year all year in CAA women’s basketball 1-through-10. It’s as competitive as it’s ever been. 

“I’d like to give a little shout out to my senior class. They tied a school record for most wins in a four-year career. Bianca Boggs broke the single season program scoring record in terms of 530 points,” he said.

“But Drexel’s a great team. Denise does a fabulous job and every mistake you make on defense they hurt you.”

Northeastern Upsets UNCW

After the third-seeded Seahawks had been the other surprised improved conference team alongside Towson, the sixth-seeded Huskies, which also had progression, controlled almost the whole game in landing a 75-64 win.

Northeastern (20-10) built a 20-point lead by the fourth quarter before UNCW (18-12) carved away some of that in the closing minutes.

Jess Genco had 22 points for the Huskies, primarily helped shooting 13-for-16 from the line, while Shannon Todd scored 16 as did Alexis Hill. Another player in double figures, Gabby Giacone scored 11.

UNCW’s Ahyiona Vason scored 24, shooting 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, Lacey Suggs scored 13, and Shrita Parker, a transfer from Rutgers, scored 11.

“Our kids came out and played a fantastic team game,” said Northeastern coach Kelly Cole, a former Harvard assistant. “This is what we have been working for all year long, we’ve certainly had our ups and downs, but this is what it’s all about. 

“At this time of the season you want it all coming together and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

Of the 10-1 game season start, she said, “It was a different feel. It kind of took us a while to understand expecting to win, and to be still on the attack and going after it still. This is really a team that’s grown into what we want to become.”

Of Drexel, “It is a great matchup. I think we play similar styles and she’s been there longer than I have here, and she’s got some tradition going, but it’s going to be a great matchup and one we look forward to going to all the time.”

Seahawks coach Karen Barefoot made major strides in the two seasons coming from Old Dominion.

“It’s hard to put into words what I feel for this team. It’s been an awesome year and we really fought our butts off all year to come back in games and do some special things.

“I just wanted it so bad for them. Give credit to Northeastern. We started off strong and then they got more aggressive. We didn’t respond. We didn’t get to the free throw line. And they outrebounded us.

“I was talking about those things at halftime. It was like we were trying too hard and we lost sight of the game plan.”

CAA Tourney: Hofstra Takes Down No. 1 JMU While Towson Tops Delaware

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEWARK, Del. – For the first time in the 36-year history of the Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball tournament a quartet of once defectors from the America East Conference — three in 2001-02 and another in 2005-06  — have made it to the semifinals.

For the North to become totally relevant in the once-collective of southern universities it took an equally historic moment in Thursday’s quarterfinal round here in the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of Delaware, another former defector, right from the start when ninth-seed Hofstra refused to give up its Cinderella pair of glass slippers, stunning No. 1 seed and preseason favorite James Madison 57-50 a day after ousting eighth seed and two-time defending champion Elon.

It’s the first time a No. 1 seed has ever fallen in the quarterfinals where the Dukes (25-5) had prevailed to compete 33 times in the semifinals with just four losses.

Granted, JMU, which has become the new Old Dominion following the departure several years of the long-time member Monarchs to Conference USA, was missing two key scorers, Neumann-Goretti grad Kamiah Smalls out of Philadelphia who hurt her right hand last week against Delaware and Lexie Barrier, who was injured 47 seconds into the game.

But while acknowledging the difficulty, Dukes coach Sean O’Regan said , “This team was still good enough to beat Hofstra (11-21).”

The day also ended with an upset when sixth-seeded Northeastern took down third-seeded UNCW 75-64. 

The winning Huskies’ recap will appear in a separate post with the recap of their next opponent.

In between, fourth-seeded Towson facing a true road game situation prevailed over fifth seed Delaware, the host, 59-49.

In the other game which is addressed in a separate post, after two narrow outcomes with a split decision during the season, No. 2 Drexel handled No. 7 William & Mary 71-60.

In Friday’s semifinals, Hofstra will open play at 1 p.m. playing Towson (18-12) before Drexel (23-7) takes the floor against Northeastern (20-10) at 4:30 p.m.

Those games will be on CAA.TV.

The winners move on to play in the championship Saturday at 1 p.m. leading to an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. 

NBC Sports-Philadelphia will televised the game.

JMU, not expected to get an at-large NCAA bid after its loss, now becomes the automatic qualifier for the 64-team WNIT field, but should Drexel, now the favorite, not earn its second CAA title and first since 2009, the Dragons will undoubtedly receive an at-large bid to the WNIT, which they once won.

Recapping two of the games here, we begin with the JMU-Hofstra encounter, which in the first half saw the Dukes shake off their latest chunk of adversity and move to a 26-16 halftime lead.

But the Pride were not exactly ready to head back to their campus in Hempstead on Long Island, N.Y.

   Through the first two periods JMU managed to shutout Hofstra’s Boogie Brozoski, who scored a record-battering 42 points in Wednesday’s opener against Elon.

However, the Pride weren’t ready to start packing for the trip back to their campus in Hempstead, N.Y. on Long Island.

Storming out of the locker room, Hofstra bolted on a run of 21-2 to go ahead 37-28 before JMU, which had won 13 straight, got the deficit back down to five at 37-32 in a quarter the Dukes were outscored 21-6.

In the run Brozoski finally got untracked with a three-pointer to get the Pride within three and Ana Hernandez Gil hot two of her three triplets.

JMU temporarily doused the upset hopes going up three quickly in the final period but Hofstra fought back and down the stretch Brozoski hit a bunch of foul shots to carry the Pride to another day.

“Basketball is a game of momentum and when it came back I thought we were going to ride it to the end,” JMU’s Devon Merritt said.

“We got a little more calculated and ran a few things because I knew we needed to score,” Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey, a former North Carolina State star, said. “I didn’t let us get down. It was just ‘OK, on to the next.’ 

“I thought we answered, and answered in a couple different ways . . . At the start of the fourth quarter, we had some terrible possessions. It was crazy. We had a lot of wasted possessions. But when it was time, they buckled down and they executed and hit the shot.”

She is in her 13th season guiding the Pride after being an assistant at James Madison.

JaKayla Brown had a career-high 17 points shooting 7-for-12 for the winners. 

Brozoski got to double figures, scoring 14 points, predominantly at the line where she finally missed one that made her 11-for-12, all in the fourth quarter. 

She had made 49 straight before the miss with four seconds left and then she scored one more. Jaylen Hines grabbed 14 rebounds.

“It feels great,” Brown said of the win. “Just knowing that we came in as underdogs and everyone counted us out before we even stepped on the floor. We just proved to them that we can play at the right time.”

JMU’s Merritt scored 15 points, Jackie Benitez scored 12, Aneah Young scored 11, and Kayla Cooper-Williams grabbed 12 rebounds.

Hofstra had lost eight straight to the folks from Harrisonburg, Va.

“The defense made a difference and we made big shots when we needed,” Kilburn-Stevesky said. “I wanted these kids to have every experience I did. You remember every sight, and sound and smell.”

On the other side, O’Reagan said, “Tough outcome, I thought we fought as hard as we could, the ball just didn’t go down for us today. I’m disappointed in the outcome but I’m not disappointed at all at how we fought.”

Smalls played a couple of minutes but then sat down, O’Regan saying she was only cleared for two minutes.

As for the third period, he said, “I thought they played hard in stretches. It was the first team all year that outrebounded us since the Wake Forest game.

“They speeded it up with their press and forced us to play a little faster tempo, which was a smart coaching move by her. We had one point guard and my latest backup point guard just got hurt.

“They were the aggressor for a little bit. Not for the whole game, but it gave them some momentum. 

“She made some … what ever adjustments she made at the half, to give up single digits the first two quarters and then give up 20 in each of the next is a big difference for us.

“With a little more practice time, this team today could win a championship,” he said. “We just didn’t have any time to prep, especially with Lexie’s absence.”

JMU was also missing freshman guard Madison Green, who was not cleared.

“It felt like in the third quarter we just couldn’t get a ball to go down. As the game goes on, you begin to press and wonder, `What can I do to get it to drop.’”

O’Reagan said his team will play in the WNIT, which is now likely the best destiny left for the Dukes and he thought there is some value out of the competition.

“Give us a little more time to prep, we got talent,” he said of the way some of his players stepped up in the face of adversity. “We’re going to play. We’re not one of those teams. I can’t speak for everybody’s situation but I think it’s a good opportunity for people to step up.

“(Almost) everybody’s returning so now you can get — Green doesn’t have a serious injury. Smalls should be back by then. So this is going to sting for a while but we’ll get back at it, we’ll practice, but this is a tough one.”

Towson Moves On Ousting Delaware

The home team Blue Hens never led though the game was tied four times but the Tigers, who had a 10-point lead in the second quarter and nine in the third had to fight off a Delaware (16-15) rally to a one-point deficit near the end of the third before running off an 9-0 sport at the end of the period.

The Hens fought back again in the final period, moving to within a basket with 1:11 left in the game but the Tigers’ Q Murray answered launching an 8-0 run to the end of the game.

Kionna Jeter was deadly for Towson, scoring 30 points and grabbing 10 rebounds while Murray scored 13.

Samone DeFreese scored 13 for Delaware, which faced adversity all season beginning with losing player of the year Nicole Enabosi to a knee injury prior to the start of play last fall but regrouped to ultimately winning 10 of its last 13 all on the conference schedule.

Alison Lewis scored 10.

Facing the challenge of Towson’s game not being on neutral hardwood, second-year coach Dianne Richardson, who took the conference coaching honors from her peers, said, “We played really hard, Delaware was a tough, tough team, and we maintained our composure.

“This conference, anybody can win, which we saw earlier today. We have to be prepared and we came in here prepared for anybody we see.”

As for knowing JMU would not be the Tigers’ next opponent if they advanced, Richardson said of keeping her team’s eye on the prize, “It was really tough for JMU. You hate to see kids go down hurt.

“We have to maintain and stay on the road that we made for ourselves and not be distracted by those things.”

Towson, which won at Saint Joseph’s in the non-conference schedule, upset Drexel 55-54 to start CAA play in January, though the Dragons finished the regular season winning 77-44 in Maryland.

Though Hofstra is riding a surge, the Pride lost to the Tigers, 92-68 and 68-56.

“I think they’re being more offensively and more players are stepping up offensively, so we have to make sure not only do we stop Boogie, but we stop everybody else so not to let someone else get off on us, too.”

As for Delaware, it is likely time to go back to the drawing boards and prepare for next season in which barring further setbacks the Hens will be healed and having at least gotten more players experience as replacements than might otherwise have happened.

“Not the outcome we wanted today, but as I told the team, this moment today isn’t going to negate the things we did this season,” said second-year coach Natasha Adair.

“This is a group that is resilient, this is a group that has fought through a whole bunch of adversity, and this is also a group that is hurting, because we prepared, and wanted this moment.

“My hat goes off to Towson. Coach Richardson is a personal friend of mine and what she has done in year two is amazing and a tribute to her. 

“But I’ll go to war with my girls any day. Because in these two years we have grown, and we have experienced things, but today we just didn’t put it together for 40.”