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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blue Hens Get Defensive in Easy Win Over Penn

By Jonathan Tannenwald

Greetings once again, followers of the Guru’s wisdom. Mel had to take another round of diversity training tonight, which is to say he was covering the Toledo-Drexel men’s basketball game. Meanwhile, yours truly was on press row at the fabled Palestra, just a few blocks south of Drexel’s gym on 33rd Street in the Philadelphia neighborhood known as University City.

I was there to see the Delaware women’s basketball team, still riding the wave from its big win over No. 20-ranked Kentucky over the weekend in San Francisco. The Fightin’ Blue Hens had a date with the homestanding Penn Quakers that served as a rematch of Delaware’s 78-34 blowout win a year ago in Newark, Del. Longtime readers of this blog might know that I’ve been covering the Quakers in various forms for a while; this evening marked the fourth season in which I’ve covered the team, which doesn’t come close to Mel’s experience but is still a bit sobering.

Nonetheless, the Blue Hens were the focus of my attention and a considerable portion of the fans in attendance. While Delaware seemed to still be suffering a bit of jet lag from that trip out west, the team lived up to the “Fightin’” part of its nickname in a physical 73-49 victory.

The game was defined largely by poor shooting by both teams. Delaware shot only 39.7 percent from the field on 58 attempts and made only two of seven three-point attempts, while Penn shot 35 percent from the field on 40 attempts and was 4-of-13 from beyond the arc.

Delaware coach Tina Martin praised both teams’ defenses, conceding that “the shots we did get were short pull-ups, and that’s what you have to do against an attacking defense.”

The Blue Hens’ tenacity soothed some of Martin’s concerns that her players might suffer a lack of energy after the cross-country travel.

“I thought physically we looked fine, we hustled,” she said. “I’m not worried about a letdown mentally, I was more worried about a letdown physically. On Monday we just pretty much watched film and shot free throws – it was basically just another day off.”

Martin employed a zone defense for much of the game, and with a considerable height advantage over Penn, was effective in restricting Penn’s perimeter shooting. The Quakers’ top outside scoring threat, 5-foot-4 guard Joey Rhoads, made only two of five three-point attempts. Both were from nearly NBA range, and the first came right as the shot clock expired.

Rhoads’ backcourt partners, Lauren Pears and Anca Popovici, are 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-7 respectively. Penn coach Pat Knapp conceded that he knew his team would struggle against a Blue Hens team whose starting guard trio of Alena Koshansky, Melissa Czorniewy and Tyresa Smith stand 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9 and 5-10 respectively.

They are “a team with length that plays a good zone,” Knapp said. “They play it smart, they’ve just got to stand there with their hands up.”

Knapp dealt with the zone by getting the ball into the hands of forward Monica Naltner as often as possible. Naltner, one of three Penn seniors along with Pears and Rhoads, led all scorers with a career-high 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting. She also made 10 of 11 free throws, missing only the last one with 8:46 to go in the game.

“It was, I think, the only way I really got to score in the second half,” Naltner said. “So 10-of-11 should have been 11-of-11 from my point of view.”

Martin, on the other hand, was not too concerned.

“[Naltner] did a good job and the Penn players did a good job of finding her,” Martin said. “But overall, I think our team defense was outstanding.”

The two teams combined to commit 46 fouls, with Penn whistled 26 times and Delaware 20. Knapp admitted that this was part of his game plan, although he had to watch starting point guard Anca Popovici be called for four fouls in the first half.

“They’re a physical team,” Knapp said of Delaware. “I think we wanted to play as physically as we could play, so I’m not surprised with a lot of fouls.”

Delaware’s frequent trips to the line was a major reason why Tyresa Smith was the Blue Hens’ top scorer on the night, as 14 of her 20 points came from the free throw line.

Both of these teams will be back in the Guru’s spotlight in the days to come, pending whatever might happen in the Inquirer and Daily News labor negotiations this week, and it looks like Mel will have a bit of a decision to make. Delaware will visit Drexel at the exact same time that Penn will host Villanova – Sunday at 1 p.m. Delaware will also visit La Salle two days later, which could be quite an interesting game if the Explorers are still undefeated at that point.


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