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.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Guru's Time Machine: 'Nova Stops UConn Streak

By Mel Greenberg

As we move closer to real current coverage -- the Guru will be at College Park, Md., Tuesday for the Terps' media day -- who can forget this blast from the past that happened in 2003 at the Big East Tournament at Rutgers. It resulted in overall page one coverage as well as the following story that dominated page one of the sports section. The story also topped the Washington Post, which got it by way of the Knight-Ridder Wire. -- Mel


Wildcats' Wild Upset

Villanova's victory not only ended UConn's nine-year stranglehold on the Big East tourney, it also ended the team's record 70-game winning streak.

Mar 12, 2003

By Mel Greenberg

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

PISCATAWAY, N.J. _ Villanova shocked the women's basketball world last night by ending the University of Connecticut 's record 70-game winning streak with a 52-48 victory in the Big East championship game at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center on Rutgers' campus.

'Nova's victory, before a national television audience and a loyal following from the campus of 10,000, ended the Huskies' nine-year ownership of the Big East tournament. It was, said an elated Wildcats coach Harry Perretta, "maybe a miracle. "

"This is the greatest moment in our program, to beat the No. 1 team in the country," said Perretta, who has coached the women's team for 17 years. "It's great for the kids. I've been around a long time. I've had good things happen to me. I'm just happy for the kids. "

So was Jay Wright, the Villanova men's coach. "It's a great day for Villanova basketball," Wright said. "We've always known that Harry's had a great program, and now the rest of the country knows it.

"I'm happy for Harry and their team. They've been building and building, and tonight they proved themselves. "

Geno Auriemma, coach of the perennial women's power from Storrs, Conn. - and the team most likely to be the star of the upcoming national tournament - saw his season fall short of the perfection of UConn's undefeated championship team of a year ago. Still, the Norristown native could not help but smile at the night enjoyed by Villanova , and Perretta, his longtime friend and peer.

" Villanova is tough," Auriemma said. "If they get the lead, they are impossible to play against. They play a different style of play than most people are used to.

"They had a perfect game plan, and we missed a lot of shots. "

Again, Auriemma smiled. "He [Perretta] is always worried whether his team's good enough. Well, tonight, they proved they're good enough. "

Perretta's team trailed by as many as nine points in the second half, but the Wildcats persevered, though, and their triumph highlighted what already has been a phenomenal season.

Now 25-5, the Wildcats earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with last night's upset. It was also their first conference championship since 1987.

Trish Juhline, who had carried the Wildcats past conference heavyweights during the last month of the season, put the game away with four foul shots in the last 39 seconds, including a pair with 13.3 seconds left for the final score.

The Cardinal O'Hara graduate, who was voted the most outstanding player in the tournament, finished with 18 points. Diana Taurasi and Jessica Moore each scored 13 for the Huskies (31-1).

"The last minute and a half of the game I thought was an hour and a half long," Juhline said. "We still can't believe it happened. We're so excited. You should see us in the locker room. "

Senior Katie Davis also expressed the disbelief the Wildcats felt. "We knew the streak was going to end. We just didn't think it would be us," she said.

Perretta said of Juhline's performance: "It's unbelievable. She made every free throw. She made shots down the stretch. "

As for the rest of the architects of 'Nova's biggest victory, he said: "Nicole Druckenmiller made threes. Courtney Mix. . . . But Trish has been absolutely phenomenal. It's the only word I can use to describe it. "

The Huskies' season is certainly not over. "Maybe this will be the best thing for us," Auriemma said. "It will rejuvenate us for the NCAA tournament. "

The Wildcats got off to a small but early lead in the game as Juhline pumped in 10 points. The crowd, dominated by Huskies fans, kept waiting for UConn to take control, but Villanova would not yield, and by the time the half ended, the Wildcats had a 20-17 lead.

It was the first time the Huskies trailed after the first 20 minutes of action during their record Division 1 70-game winning streak .

"If I tell you we're going to outrebound the other team," Auriemma said, "and we're going to hold them to 34 percent [shooting], and we're going to get 16 offensive rebounds, we should win that game, right?

"I guess we're going to start from scratch now," Taurasi said. "The last couple of weeks haven't been going all that well.

"We couldn't get anything going on either end. We're used to their style of play. We just didn't execute," she said.

The big statistic of the opening half was on the boards, where Villanova matched UConn, 20-20. Jana Rediger and Jennifer Hilgenberg helped key the defensive effort with three rebounds each.

Wildcats fans began to think the highly implausible might occur, especially with a statistic that showed that Villanova was 53-2 over the last three seasons when ahead at the half.

Connecticut , however, had overwhelmed Villanova in recent times with an 18-game winning streak by taking 26 of the last 27 meetings. And Connecticut had averaged more than 80 points per game during its winning streak .

The Wildcats stayed tough early in the second half, and when Mix hit two foul shots with 16 minutes, 20 seconds left in the game, Villanova still had the lead, 23-22.

With 12 minutes to play, the Huskies had a slim 28-27 advantage. Connecticut went on to build a 36-27 lead with 9:27 left in the game and the Huskies looked to be back in control.

Villanova , however, would not quit and went on a 15-0 run to regain the upper hand.

Even if Perretta's squad had come up short last night, his players went into the game knowing they were in outstanding shape for an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament when the 64-team is announced Sunday afternoon.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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