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.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Guru's Time Machine: January, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

On Nov. 24, Rutgers and Penn State will meet in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. The two once had an intense rivalry when they competed in the Atlantic Ten Conference and also in earlier years as Region IB competitors under the AIAW.

Both held their respective media days on Wednesday.

Those events inspired the Guru to ingite the newly built Guru time machine, looking back at coverage, and landing in January, 1991, during a brief two-week period when both schools made national headlines.

Shelly Caplinger's three-point shot in Charlottesville, Va., at the buzzer, gave Penn State a stunning upset of then-No. 1 Virginia and propelled coach Rene Portland's team to the top of the rankings for the first time the following week.

The move to the top was short-lived. Then 10th-ranked Rutgers soon thereafter upset Penn State to jump from No. 10 to No. 6. But then the Scarlet Knights went on the road and were upset at Holy Cross.

What follows in chronological order from the Guru's coverage is the advance on the Penn State-Virginia game, the coverage of the Penn State-Virginia game, a short story saying Penn State was about to be ranked No. 1 (this was made necessary so the Guru wouldn't be scooped on his own poll), the story of Penn State's official ranking, the Rutgers-Penn State game, and then the top of a notebook interviewing Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons after his team beat Rutgers (no we weren't there).


-- Mel


Jan 03, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

Fifteen years ago, Debbie Ryan, who is now the women's basketball coach at Virginia, danced at the wedding of Rene Portland, now Penn State's coach. Tonight is Portland's wedding anniversary. "But I guess this time, Debbie and I will be on opposite sides of the dance floor," Portland said.

Tonight, Portland's fourth-ranked Lions (8-0) play Ryan's top-ranked Cavaliers (11-0) in what will be Penn State's first chance to achieve a No. 1 ranking in the weekly poll of women's coaches.
"It couldn't come at a better time," Portland said of the intersectional contest in Charlottesville, Va. "It's a big national game for us, but it comes before a big conference game next week when we go to Rutgers. And, in the long run, that game is even bigger, especially the way Rutgers is playing. "

Charlottesville is where Penn State played its final game of last season, losing to Virginia, 85-64, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"Our heads just weren't in the game, but things have changed and our kids have memories," Portland said.

Last season, Virginia, led by Dobbins High grad Dawn Staley, went on to upset Tennessee and make its first NCAA Women's Final Four appearance. That success led to a No. 1 preseason ranking, which the Cavaliers have defended. Tonight's game will be their first real test of the season.

The Lions began this season ranked No. 18, but a string of wild upsets has enabled them to climb steadily to their highest ranking ever, which they received this week.

If Penn State wins tonight, it will be the first time it has beaten a top- 10 team on the road since 1978, when the Lions ended Montclair State's home-court win streak.



Jan 04, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. _ Shelly Caplinger made a three-point shot just before the buzzer to lift undefeated Penn State - ranked No. 4 - to a 73-71 upset victory over top- ranked Virginia last night.

"Tanya (Garner) was supposed to shoot it, but she was covered, so she passed it to me and I let it go,"' Caplinger said.

The official under the basket appeared to wave off the shot, but the trailing official, who has the call, said the shot counted, giving the Nittany Lions (9-0) what is probably the biggest women's
basketball win in school history.

"I'll tell you, that's the last thing I look at in the last four seconds, I'm so busy keeping them cool and making sure they execute the play," said Penn State coach Rene Portland. "But the officials rule the game and he said it was good, so we're the winner. "

"I thought it was a good call," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, whose Cavaliers are 11-1. "It was a hell of a shot by Caplinger. She caught the ball, turned and made the shot. Give Penn State credit, they came in here and won.

"People don't realize that in the women's game, you just have to be in the act of shooting before the clock (expires). You don't have to release the ball. "

Several seconds before the shot, Virginia appeared to have gained an impressive come-from-behind victory - the Cavaliers had trailed by 16 points with nine minutes left.

Tammi Reiss inbounded the ball to Dawn Staley, who drove the length of the court and shoveled a pass to Heidi Burge, who hit a layup to give the Cavaliers a 71-70 lead.

Susan Robinson and Kathy Phillips each scored 18 points to lead the Lions, and Lynn Dougherty of Archbishop Carroll High in Philadelphia had 14 points.

Heather Burge had 22 points for the Cavaliers, Reiss had 14 points and Tonya Cardoza added 12.
The Lions outrebounded the Cavaliers, 44-34, and were particularly effective on the offensive boards with 16.

In the first half, the Lions built a 33-26 lead, despite going 0-11 from the free-throw line. Staley sat out a portion of the first half after breaking a tooth in a collision with State's Dana Eikenberg.

The win puts Penn State in a position to be ranked No. 1 for the first time when the next weekly coaches' poll is released on Monday. Previously unbeaten and No. 2 North Carolina State lost at Clemson on Wednesday night.

Purdue, ranked third, will meet No. 7 Auburn in the Big Ten challenge on Saturday.



Jan 07, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

When the weekly women's basketball poll is announced today, Penn State will be the No. 1 team in the nation.
A survey last night showed that the Lions will get at least 53 of 61 first- place votes from among the 70 coaches across the country who vote in the poll.

Penn State will become only the 13th team to be voted No. 1 in the 14-year history of the poll and the first from the Northeast to rise to the top. Of the previous 12, 10 were from South, one was from the West and one from the Midwest.

The No. 1 ranking also will mark the most dramatic rise in one season in poll history. Penn State was 18th in the preseason poll.

The Lions (9-0), currently ranked fourth, put themselves in position to get to the top by upsetting top-ranked Virginia, 73-71, on Thursday in Charlottesville, Va., on a controversial three-point shot at the buzzer by Shelly Caplinger. Additionally last week, No. 2 North Carolina State lost to Clemson, and No. 3 Purdue lost to Auburn.

After her team's loss to Penn State, Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said that Caplinger's shot had been good because "the rule says you only have to be in the act of the shooting; you don't have to release the ball. "

However, the next morning, Ryan reversed herself.

"I got the rule wrong," she said. "You have to release the ball, and I don't see her doing that (before the buzzer) on the tape. "

But she added: "Hey, it's good for the sport when teams start moving in and out of No. 1.

Besides, they outplayed us most of the game, until the last eight minutes, when we decided to play some defense. "

The Lions had a 16-point lead with nine minutes to play, but the Cavaliers rallied to go ahead with four seconds on the clock, when Dawn Staley drove the length of the court and dished off to Heidi Burge for an inside bucket.

Then Penn State drove the length of the court, with Tanya Garner passing to Caplinger, who fired the shot that just may have lifted the Lions into the top spot in the country.



Jan 08, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

It's official.

The Penn State women's basketball team is No. 1 in the nation in the weekly coaches' poll, announced yesterday.

The unbeaten Lions (9-0) received overwhelming support from a nationwide panel of 65 women's coaches, who gave them 57 first-place votes and 1,614 points.

Virginia (11-1), the team Penn State beat, 73-71, on Shelly Caplinger's three-point shot in the final seconds, fell to the runner-up spot with three first-place votes and 1,493 points after having been No. 1 the first seven weeks of the season.

Penn State was 18th in the preseason poll before making the most dramatic rise in the 15-year history of the poll. The previous 12 teams ranked first were each listed in the preseason top 10 before making a run to the top.

The Lions, who were fourth last week, were aided when two other teams ranked above them also lost. North Carolina State (11-1), which was upset by Clemson, fell from second to third, while Purdue (11-2), which was upset by Auburn, fell from third to seventh.

Although the theme on the cover of the Penn State women's brochure is ''When you wish upon a star," the Lions could not have imagined this occurrence in their wildest dreams. Or could they?

"An Immaculata kid did it," said Penn State coach Rene Portland, who starred with the Mighty Macs in the early 1970s. "Our kids will be thrilled.

"We went through basketball hell two years ago when we were 14-14, and now we're in basketball heaven. "

"It feels great," said junior Lynn Dougherty, who starred here at Archbishop Carroll. "It was always a dream of mine to play for a No. 1 team, and I thought it could happen at Penn State. But now we've got to keep it going. "

"You can't really say you're No. 1 until you walk off the floor in March," said Susan Robinson, an all-America candidate. "But we'll definitely take it. It's a big step for Penn State women's basketball. "

The Lions are the 13th team to receive a No. 1 ranking and the first from the Northeast. But they will not have much time to enjoy their new status.

After meeting Temple tomorrow night at Rec Hall, they must travel to 10th- ranked Rutgers (10-0) for an important Atlantic Ten contest at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Scarlet Knights are coached by Theresa Grentz, a former teammate of Portland's at Immaculata, who will head the U.S. Olympic squad in Barcelona next year.

First-place votes in parentheses.

1. Penn St. (57) 9-0 1,614 4
2. Virginia (3) 12-1 1,493 1
3. N.C. State (1) 11-1 1,392 2
4. Tennessee (2) 10-2 1,389 5
5. Auburn (1) 11-2 1,344 7
6. UNLV (1) 11-0 1,316 6
7. Purdue 10-1 1,219 3
8. Georgia 9-2 1,177 9
9. Stanford 8-3 1,142 8
10. Rutgers 10-0 1,098 10
11. Northwestern 8-2 926 11
12. Clemson 9-1 905 16
13. Washington 10-1 890 13
14. Arkansas 11-2 726 14
15. LSU 9-2 702 17
16. Mississippi 9-2 633 12
17. W. Kentucky 11-1 536 21
18. Connecticut 10-2 509 20
19. Providence 11-1 342 23
20. Texas 7-4 333 22
21. Iowa 6-4 326 15
22. Long Beach St. 6-4 264 19
23. La. Tech 5-4 157 18
24. Notre Dame 7-3 122 25
25. Oklahoma St. 11-2 113 24
Other receiving votes: Vanderbilt 75, Michigan St. 50, Kentucky 31, Lamar 29, Stephen F. Austin 27, Kansas 25, Miami-Fla. 22, Richmond 21, California 20, Arkansas St. 18, South Carolina 18, James Madison 11, Butler 10, DePaul 10, Florida St. 10, Nebraska 10, Cent. Michigan 9, Tennessee Tech 7, N. Illinois 7, Houston 6, Montana 6, St. Joseph's 6, Colorado 4, S. Illinois 4, Texas Tech 4, Indiana 2, Southern Cal 2, Hawaii 1, Holy Cross 1, Maryland 1, N.C.-Charlotte 1, SW Missouri 1, West Virginia 1, Wisconsin 1.
Based on a nationwide vote of 65 women's coaches.



Jan 13, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

PISCATAWAY, N.J. _ Penn State's reign as the No. 1 team in women's basketball may have been short-circuited by 10th-ranked Rutgers, as the Knights posted an 84-70 triumph yesterday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, pulling away in the closing minutes of an Atlantic Ten Conference game.

The Nittany Lions (11-1 overall, 3-1 conference) had moved to the top of the weekly coaches' poll Monday for the first time, but second-ranked Virginia (14-1) may be poised to reclaim the crown after beating No. 3 North Carolina State, 123-120, yesterday in triple overtime in Raleigh, N.C.

"Losing the No. 1 ranking doesn't mean as much as the fact that it was a conference game," said Penn State's Susan Robinson, who led the Lions with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Tanya Garner added 16 points.

With the victory yesterday, Rutgers (12-0, 5-0) kept its unbeaten streak alive. Rutgers is one of just two unbeaten teams in the country. The other, Nevada-Las Vegas (12-0), played at Long Beach State last night.

While the Knights' victory may be considered an upset by virtue of the rankings, the outcome was not really that much of a surprise. This is the seventh straight season the Lions have lost at Rutgers.

Penn State never led, but kept the crowd of 5,054 in suspense most of the way by staying withinin striking distance. Finally, with 3 minutes, 13 seconds left and Rutgers ahead, 70-66, the Knights' Vicky Picott scored off a steal - the first basket of a 10-2 run that sealed the outcome.

"Our shooting percentage (38.5 percent) was awful; credit Rutgers' defense for that. And we made bad decisions with our passing," said Penn State coach Rene Portland. The Lions committed 22 turnovers.

"We had a total team effort," said Rutgers coach Theresa Grentz. "I think, when you look at the stats, we were able to go to a lot more people and not rely on one or two as they did. "

Rutgers had five players in double figures, with Picott leading the way with 25 points. Tanya Hansen had 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Lynn Ust and LaTonya Johnson each scored 14 points. Belgian recruit Caroline DeRoose had 11.

Rutgers jumped to a 12-6 lead in the first seven minutes, but Penn State ran off six straight points to make it 12-12 with 12:26 left in the first half.

The game's last tie was 14-14 with 10:47 left in the first half. Then Picott and Ust combined to power the winners to a 21-14 lead with 9:08 left.



Jan 21, 1991

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

Last week, while scouting Rutgers at a game in Piscataway, N.J., Holy Cross women's basketball coach Bill Gibbons ended a conversation with a brazen promise.

"Well, I'll talk to you Saturday after our tremendous upset of Rutgers," he said.

The confidence was admirable, but Holy Cross (11-4), which plays in the new Patriot League, was not a likely contender to end sixth-ranked Rutgers' unbeaten streak.

But once again in this never-say-never season, the unpredictable occurred.

Final, Saturday, from Worcester, Mass.: Holy Cross 78, Rutgers 67.

The Lady Knights dropped to 13-1.

"I told our kids before the game," Gibbons said, " 'When you shake hands with them, you look them right in the eye. Do not be intimidated. You are the favorite going into this game. '

"I honestly believe that if the game had lasted another five minutes, we could have won by 15 or 20 points. "

Because of Holy Cross' move from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Gibbons has not been able to award athletic scholarships the last two seasons.

"It's like the Ivy League," Gibbons said.

"This is probably the last hurrah," he said of his program's ability to compete on a regional, and
sometimes the national, level. "We had to come up big in this game and beat a top 10 team. At least you had an (NCAA tournament) automatic bid to shoot for in the MAAC. But we don't have that here. You only hope the (NCAA) committee looks at our non-conference play when they consider at-large bids."


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