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, October 20, 2006

The Guru's Time Machine: Wrong Exits

By Mel Greenberg

Before returning to memory lane, some quick notes:

The ballot box is open: The Associated Press preseason poll starting the 31st year of voting will be released on Nov. 8 with the preseason all-America team to follow the next day. To you Sports Information Directors out there, Chuck Schoffner is still completing changes on the voting panel. The Guru will send the list when it is ready. The Guru will also clarify whether the release date for the first poll means it will move 6 p.m. on Tuesday for Wednesday AMs or 24 hours later. Weekly voting begins the following Sunday and the Guru will also clarify the weekly release dates as to whether AM and PM cycles will alternate.

The boss shares her dough -- sort of: On Thursday night we attended the Jimmy V dinner in New York to preview the men's doubleheader classic that will be held at Madison Square Garden and the women's single-game classic with Duke to visit Rutgers. It was mentioned that the women's classic might move to the Garden in the future.

As it evolved after the dinner, as the Guru stood in Penn Station deliberating what train to take, a familiar woman approached from the opposite direction.

"Well nothing like coming to New York to be stalked by the head of the newsroom," the Guru remarked to the Inquirer's Amanda Bennett.

She had been in the city visiting a friend from her collegiate days. Once aboard the train, Bennett offered the Guru a half of her sandwich, inspiring the headline for this section.

And to the Guru's newsroom colleagues reading this, no, the approaching deadline for contract negotiations with the unions was not a topic of conversation.


Moving on to the time machine, the Guru offers four more items from the electronic tomb of past coverage. Today, we bring what became the final collegiate games of three of the all time greats -- Cheryl Miller at Southern Cal; Chamique Holdsclaw at Tennessee; and Dawn Staley at Virginia. Each event was in a losing effort with only Miller reaching the title game her senior season after winning two NCAA crowns as a freshman and sophomore. There's also a notebook that followed Holdsclaw's exit a day later.

The order will be, for local reasons here, Staley, then Miller in a game that made Texas an unbeaten champion, and then Holdsclaw. And if any of you out there, or y'all down there in the south, have a local or national memory you think the Guru might have covered, feel free to email make the request.

-- Mel


Apr 05, 1992

By Mel Greenberg


LOS ANGELES _ This was a short circuit of the worst kind for a player who had energized her sport the last four years.

It was not the way she wanted her brilliant season to end.

The career of Virginia's Dawn Staley came to a screeching halt yesterday - without an NCAA title.

The crowning jewel of Staley 's career would not be won, just as it had not been won when the Cavaliers had a men's all-time great, Ralph Sampson.

Last year the villain was Tennessee, which toppled Virginia, 70-67, in overtime in the NCAA women's championship game.

Yesterday it was Stanford 's turn to be the spoiler, as the Cardinal ended the Cavaliers' season with a 66-65 upset victory in the second of two semifinals, one that had the closest result ever produced in an NCAA women's Final Four.

It ended when Staley , a 5-foot-5 senior point guard from Dobbins Tech, grabbed one last pass and launched a futile shot as the final eight-tenths of a second evaporated.

As the shot left her hands, she still believed.

"We always think we're going to win, and Georgia Tech won with that amount of time left," Staley said of an NCAA second-round victory by the men's Yellow Jackets this year. "We practiced those shots a lot every day. "

But this time, the shot didn't go in.

Staley 's career scoring meter stopped running at 2,135 points, an all-time mark for the Virginia women's program.

"I think I played a pretty good game," Staley said. "But my shots just didn't fall. "
She drilled 7 of 18 shots for the afternoon.

"They knew I liked to drive and penetrate," Staley said. "They really made it tough inside. "

Much tougher than many opponents had while the Cavaliers were on their way to a 113-21 record during her four-year career.

In that time, Staley elevated the Cavaliers to a new level as she became a three-time all-American and was twice lauded with player of the year honors, as she was this season.

Within two years of her joining the roster, Virginia had landed in its first women's Final Four.

The Cavaliers lost to Stanford in the 1990 semifinals, but that was OK, because the Cavaliers were young and there was time to grow.

So last year, they returned as the favorite, but lost again. That was tough, but there was still one more shot - until yesterday.

"I was hurt," said Staley , who played the final game of her career before a crowd of 12,421 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. "I didn't want my career to end this way. Our team deserves better. We worked so hard all year.

"I gave my all, and that's all I can ask for myself," Staley continued. ''Some possessions I'd like to have back, but that's the way the ball bounces. "

And with that it was time to start thinking of the future.

"I guess I'll take a few weeks off and start training for the Olympics," she said.

But for Stanford and Western Kentucky, there will still be today.

For Staley , however, her dream of a title ended just as her final shot did - just a little off the mark.



Mar 31, 1986

By Mel Greenberg

Special to The Inquirer

LEXINGTON, Ky. _ Last year, it was the Villanova men's basketball team that performed magic here at Rupp Arena. Yesterday, the artistry belonged to the University of Texas women.

Unlike the Wildcats, the new NCAA champions are no miracle bunch. You simply do not say that about a team that was ranked No. 1 ever since the first preseason story was written. But the Longhorns, who completed a perfect 34-0 season with a 97-81 victory over No. 3 Southern California (31-5), still must be called special.

They had been called the best before, but until last night, the tower in Austin had never been lit in celebration of a women's national championship.

While the year ended in high-fives and net-cutting for Texas, the brilliant career of USC's Cheryl
Miller came to a conclusion in the worst of ways. She was sprawled on the floor, fouling out with 7 minutes, 30 seconds to play after getting her fifth foul chasing a loose ball.

"I did not want to see her go out that way," Southern Cal coach Linda Sharp said. "I thought Cynthia Cooper was fouled by both their players on the way to the basket. The officials don't call anything, then the shot bounces back and goes loose and they call that on her.

"I would have loved to see her leave the way she came in - sitting on top of the basket blowing kisses to fans. "

Long before her fifth foul, it had become apparent that Miller would not be celebrating a third national title.

Given an opportunity to finally reach for the brass ring, Texas did not simply grab - it gang-tackled.

The Longhorns produced 58 points from their bench, while the substitutes for the Women of Troy contributed only 4.

"All year long, I've said it doesn't make a difference who starts for us," said Texas coach Jody Conradt, who called the comparison meaningless.

The two substitute stars were freshman Clarissa Davis, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, who scored 24 points, and Cara Priddy, a senior who collected 15 and played a major role in shoring up the Longhorn defense after senior Annette Smith got into foul trouble early.

"As a sixth player, Davis played a key role in Texas' winning the national championship," Sharp said. "There's not a better sixth player in the country. "

Conradt agreed, but she also cited Priddy's relief work. "When we talked before the game, Cara said, 'Everyone is talking about Cheryl Miller's last game. Hey, I'm a senior, and it's my last game, too. I want to play well. ' "

Working inside, Texas jumped off to an 8-2 lead before Cooper was able to get USC activated with 7 points, to help bring the USC women back to an 18-18 tie with 12:34 left in the first half.

Even then, the Texas depth was showing. The Longhorns' inside people were racking up fouls, specifically defensing Miller, but there always seemed to be a fresh body to help out.

"This may be the best team of all time," Conradt said.

Sharp, who had won two previous titles with the 6-foot, 3-inch twins, Pam and Paula McGee, along with Miller, objected mildly to that statement.

"I'm rather sensitive on the issue because I thought we had a pretty good bunch," she said.

"However, we only did it with seven people. In terms of the depth, you'd have to credit Texas. They have everything it takes to win a national championship. "

USC's last lead was 30-29 with 5:29 left in the first half. Then, with Priddy and Yulonda Wimbish (10 points), another substitute, hitting some key shots, Texas made a run and built a 45-35 lead at the end of the period.

"Other than our fastbreak opportunities, Texas was giving our quarter- court game trouble all evening," Sharp said. "We missed three easy baskets early, and I knew it just wasn't going to be our night. "

Miller had all 16 of her points in the first half, but she was 2 for 8 from the field. The rest came on foul shots.

"We needed to have Cynthia Cooper play in the first half like she did in the second, but they really defensed her well," Sharp said of the USC senior, who scored 27 points.

In the second half, Texas rode to a 58-42 lead with 14:26 left to play. But Southern Cal, led by Cooper, made a run and cut it to 70-61 with 9 minutes left.

"We kept celebrating too early," Conradt said, "And USC wanted their own celebration. "

"I thought we had a chance at that point, but we were just too beat," Sharp said.

Texas took advantage of the physical and mental attrition to go on a 14-3 tear, and the long quest was over.

"It was something I've wanted ever since I was 8 years old and watched Old Dominion and Tennessee on television," Priddy said. "I told my mother, 'Some day I'm going to be there. ' "
Yesterday, her dream and those of her teammates finally came true.




Mar 23, 1999

By Mel Greenberg


GREENSBORO, N.C. _ Duke pulled off one of the classic upsets in NCAA women's tournament history last night by felling top-seeded Tennessee, 69-63. The triumph gave the third-seeded Blue Devils the East

Regional title and brought a sudden end to the storied collegiate career of Chamique Holdsclaw .

Tennessee (31-3) had won 21 straight NCAA tournament games and was poised to claim a fourth straight national title. But Duke , which lost to the Volunteers in December, had other ideas. And now the Final Four figures to be wide-open.

``We were playing for respect,'' said Duke coach Gail Goestenkos, whose team survived a challenge by St. Joseph's a week ago in the second round.

``I told our players in the locker room that no one out there but you thinks we can win this game tonight. ''

It was the first time in Holdsclaw 's basketball life, dating to her days at Christ the King High School in New York City, that her season had ended in defeat.

Acclaimed as the greatest women's college player ever, Holdsclaw suffered through one of her worst performances. The future WNBA star and U.S. Olympian shot 2 for 18 from the field, committed five turnovers, and scored just eight points while grabbing 11 rebounds.

With 24.5 seconds remaining, Holdsclaw was charged with her fifth foul and went to the bench, where she slumped in tears and buried her head in a towel.

The scene brought to mind the end of another great college career - that of Southern Cal's Cheryl Miller, who fouled out while chasing a loose ball as her team was losing the 1986 NCAA title game to Texas.

The Blue Devils (28-6) earned the way to San Jose, Calif., and their first women's Final Four.

They will meet Georgia in one of the semifinals Friday night. This is the second time in NCAA history that the men's and women's team from the same school have advanced to the national semifinals in the same season.

Several members of the Duke men's team, which advanced Sunday by beating Temple, were in the crowd of 12,235 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

``They did everything we asked them to - everything,'' Goestenkors said of her players. ``You can't ask any more as a coach.

``Our goal from the beginning was to win a national championship. It wasn't to beat Tennessee. It wasn't just to get to the Final Four. Tennessee just got in the way. ''

The Blue Devils took it to Tennessee from the outset, getting a punishing block by Peppi Browne of a shot by Tamika Catchings. Having set the tone, Duke went on to open a 13-point lead late in the first half before settling for a 35-24 advantage at halftime.

``We're feeling a lot of pain right now,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. ``It's been a tough night for us. You can want something so much in life sometimes to the point that you can't just relax and go get it.

``If you look at tonight's game and break it down, Duke played extremely well. They played loose. They played with great intensity and confidence. I think we came out tight. Shots didn't fall for us. You could look back and say we took too many quick shots or modified shots, but we didn't get to the boards and they did. ''

Nevertheless, Tennessee could have been expected to make a second-half rally, much in the manner of a year ago, when it closed a 12-point gap in the final seven minutes against North Carolina on the way to the Mideast title.

Sure enough, the Vols began chipping away, but they were never able to get the lead.
A telling moment came with 6 minutes, 52 seconds to play, when Catchings missed two foul shots with Tennessee trailing by 46-45.

``I knew we never wanted them to get the lead,'' Goestenkors said.

Tennessee was down by 48-47 when Duke 's Georgia Schweitzer hit two foul shots, and the Blue Devils built the lead from thered.

Schweitzer, who was named the regional's outstanding player despite a separated shoulder, led Duke with 22 points, going 3 for 4 on three-point shots. Nicole Erickson, who made some key foul shots to keep Duke in front in the closing minutes, scored 17 points, while Michele VanGorp, the Blue Devils' 6-foot-6 senior center, added 12.

VanGorp and Erickson are transfers from Purdue, which will be the Midwest representative in the Final Four after beating Rutgers last night.

Tennessee's Semeka Randall scored 18 points, while Catchings added 13, and Kellie Jolly 11.
Of her poor shooting performance, Holdsclaw said: ``I had some great looks. They just didn't go in. They weren't bad misses. It was front end, front end. It just wouldn't go in. ''

Holdsclaw , Catchings, Erickson and VanGorp joined Schweitzer on the all-region team.


(Women's Notebook)




Mar 24, 1999

By Mel Greenberg


This was not the way the collegiate chapter of the Chamique Holdsclaw story was supposed to end.

Sure, the possibly had existed that some team would upend the Tennessee women's basketball team in the Final Four in San Jose, Calif.

But it all came to a stunning conclusion on Monday night - earlier than anyone would have anticipated - when Holdsclaw , arguably the greatest women's player ever, tossed clinker after clinker at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina as the Volunteers succumbed to Duke , 69-63.

Holdsclaw 's numbers on the night: 2 for 18 from the field, 4 for 8 from the foul line, 8 points, 5 turnovers and 11 rebounds.

It was not the first time this season that the four-time all-American had come up short at a critical moment. In January, the New York City product was 2 for 9 from the field and was held to eight points and nine rebounds in her homecoming game at Madison Square Garden.

However, Tennessee still was able to turn back Rutgers, 68-54.

``That's not the Chamique you'll see in San Jose,'' Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer promised at the time.

In fact, the Chamique everyone will see in San Jose will be in street clothes, accepting one final haul of awards for an outstanding career. She may make one more playing appearance prior to a pro career in the WNBA if she decides to participate in the coaches' association senior all-star game.

On the heels of last season's 39-0 NCAA crusade, Tennessee was poised to become the first team in either the AIAW or NCAA era to win four consecutive national championships.

Holdsclaw and senior classmate Kellie Jolly would have become the only individuals associated with that distinction.

Furthermore, after crossing the 3,000-point milestone in Saturday's regional semifinal win over Virginia Tech, Holdsclaw had the potential to pass Patricia Hoskins of Mississippi Valley, who holds the NCAA mark of 3,122 points.

``Maybe this is a selfish thought,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said in Greensboro, ``but I hate to see a team so exciting with the best player in the game won't get a chance to get into the Final Four this year. ''

One mark got away from Tennessee earlier in the season when Purdue beat the Volunteers in their second game, depriving them of a shot at the women's all-time win streak.

Nevertheless, Tennessee was still regarded as the team to beat, even when it was not holding the top spot in the Associated Press poll.

The subject of invincibility was put to Holdsclaw and her teammates after Monday's debacle.

``I never think we're invincible,'' Holdsclaw said while struggling with her emotions, ``but I never expect to lose. ''

A year ago, after Tennessee's third straight triumph and sixth overall, Holdsclaw was asked if her team was the best ever.

``No,'' she said with a smile. ``Next year's team will be the best. ''

Duke coach Gail Goestenkors agreed prior to her team's victory.

``They're better than a year ago,'' she said, ``but all of us are working harder to get where they are. ''

Remember us? Although Connecticut and Tennessee are no longer part of the action, Louisiana Tech's 88-62 victory over UCLA for the West title sent last year's runner-up back with another shot to gain a third national crown.

Coach Leon Barmore's program has almost as much Final Four experience as Tennessee. In meeting Midwest winner Purdue in one of the semifinals Friday night, the Techsters will find a familiar opponent.

A year ago, the Boilermakers were Tech's stepping-stone to the finals in the Midwest title game. However, Purdue reversed the outcome at the start of this season with a 71-65 win at West Lafayette.

The other double. Duke 's men's and women's teams earned Final Four berths. The women's semifinal opponent, Georgia, matched the feat with the Bulldogs men in 1983.

Nice partial forecast. When Tennessee beat Connecticut in January, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma mused at the time: ``You only hope you get a chance to play a game like this again in March. Hopefully, someone will get to them and we won't have to worry about it. ''
The problem, of course, is someone got to UConn first. Iowa State upset the Huskies in the Mideast semifinals.

-- Mel


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