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.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

CAA's Hofstra and Delaware Make Their Move

By Mel Greenberg

Eight months or so removed from when the Colonial Athletic Association barged its way into national notoriety in the men’s world of hoops, the conference's female counterparts are suddenly doing likewise.

The big story for the men, of course, was George Mason gaining an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and then advancing all the way to the Final Four.

At the same time, Old Dominion made it to New York and Madison Square Garden for the National Invitation Tournament semifinals.

Now, it’s the CAA women who are making a name for themselves.

On Wednesday night, Hofstra (3-1) gained its first-ever win over a nationally-ranked opponent by stunning No. 17 Michigan State, 57-53, in Lansing.

On Friday night, Delaware (3-1) followed up by shocking No. 20 Kentucky, 86-70, in the first round of the Odwalla Classic in San Francisco.

The Blue Hens had trailed the Wildcats by 11 points in the first half.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry, whose Monarchs have been synonymous until recently as the one-team in what was considered a one-team CAA.

Although ODU has won all 13 CAA tournaments since joining the league, the Monarchs have been tested in recent seasons, The most recent post-season challenge came from Delaware in 2005 when the Blue Hens won both regular-season games and then held a lead in regulation in the championship, only to fall in overtime.

Larry’s team stands to gain by the CAA’s growth because in the past a slip in the conference tournament would mean spectator seats in the NCAA event.

Now, as the Monarchs’ sister schools begin to show themselves, it changes the perception for all parties because the CAA then begins to elevate itself in the thought process as a group whose standard is rising among its mid-major designation.

Hofstra began its rise under former coach Felisha Legett-Jack, a former Syracuse star who left after last season to become head coach at Indiana.

Her successor, Krista Kilburn-Stevesky, a former James Madison assistant who starred at North Carolina State, picked up the veteran Pride contingent and took them over the threshold this week.

“It’s wild,” Kilburn-Stevensky said Friday night. “Suddenly, you find yourself spending time watching the ticker and cheering for everyone in the conference," she said while keeping track of Delaware.

The Blue Hens have developed into a competitive unit on the national scene since Tina Martin arrived a decade ago, although until Friday night, they had their shares of just-missed opportunities.

Delaware made an NCAA appearance in its final year of membership in the America East before moving to the CAA and it didn’t take long for the Blue Hens to become a factor challenging Old Dominion’s dominance.

Meanwhile, other schools such as James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth, William & Mary, and UNC Wilmington have made strides while some of the younger squads such as Drexel have shown to be disruptive on a given night such as the Dragons’ recent scare of three-time Atlantic Ten defending champion Temple late in the game.

Meanwhile, the fact that Hofstra got its big win on a hostile court and Delaware’s win was also on the road could mean extra ballot power from the Associated Press voters on Sunday night when the next poll is determined.

Gonzaga of the West Coast Conference also had a big win Friday night upsetting UCL:A in Hawaii.

Martin said of Friday night’s win that “obviously, when you win a conference like we did in the America East and go to the NCAA, it’s very special.

“But in terms of regular-season non-conference, this is the biggest win in the history of Delaware.You always schedule these games in hopes of gaining some exposure and national respect.

“For us and Hofstra to do this now means maybe people will understand that we play some great basketball in the CAA,” Martin said.

“We made some adjustments at the half and our kids did what we told them,” Martin said of the comeback. “And offensively, it was the best we played all year.

“We came out here with the promise that we could meet a nationally-ranked team. That’s what many of us have to do, since it’s tough to get home-and-home situations many times. But hopefully, this will help us all in the long run.”

Rutgers Win Is Paradise Over Old Foe Penn State

No. 18 Rutgers continued reversing an early slide Friday night by beating Penn State, 57-44, in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in the opening round of the Paradise Jam.

In the first meeting of almost a decade between the former Atlantic Ten rulers, Rutgers eked further ahead in the all-time series between the two at 20-18.

The win enables the Scarlet Knights (2-2) to meet No. 13 Arizona State (5-1), which beat Western Kentucky (2-2) and sent the Hilltoppers into the third-place game against Penn State (4-2).

Rutgers forced 21 turnovers by the Nittany Lions, a defensive factor that may also have to be used against Arizona State.

Elsewhere, No. 16 Cal, having its best showing ever in the AP rankings, gets a good test on Saturday night when coach Joanne Boyle’s squad will meet No. 14 Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Oh, yes, Candace Parker converted her fourth dunk for Tennessee, which continues to do likewise to Stanford in their long-running series.

-- Mel


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