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.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Guru's Time Machine: Rutgers Stops Georgia

Guru's Note: Rutgers' season opener against Georgia Sunday at Oklahoma recalls one of coach C. Vivian Stringer's greatest triumphs when the Scarlet Knights beat the Bulldogs in 2000 to advance to the Final Four in Philadelphia.

There are two stories here.

One was the game story, most of which was written ahead of time because of the late start from the West Coast in Portland, Ore., (that's how we do it in this business), and the other was the second-day follow and feature on Stringer, who until recently had become the only men's or women's coach to take three different teams to the Final Four.

With great vision, the Guru imagined the layout of the front page of his sports section. We were hosting the Women's Final Four that year. Thus we had a writer at each regional and the other three teams that had qualified earlier in the night each had a Philadelphia connection.

These also service as a historical reference for the current student beat writer (To those of you who have inquired over her absence this fall: She can't blog, she's too busy with women's soccer and school work), who was only 14 years old at the time.


Mar 28, 2000

By Mel Greenberg


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Save those last bench seats at the NCAA Women's Final Four for more Philadelphia folks ready to join the party.

Rutgers ' season-long dream became a reality in the West Regional final last night when the second-seeded Scarlet Knights upset top-seeded Georgia , 59-51, to advance to the First Union Center in Philadelphia for the national semifinals on Friday night.

It will be the first Women's Final Four appearance for Rutgers (26-7), which won the last championship of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) by beating Texas at the Palestra in Philadelphia in 1982.

Last night's triumph was especially sweet for Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer, who, also in 1982, guided Cheyney State to the first NCAA title game, where it lost to Louisiana Tech.

By winning last night, Stringer extended a record by taking a third program to the Women's Final Four. In 1993, she guided Iowa to a semifinal appearance before it lost to Ohio State.

The defeat was a tough one for Georgia (32-4), which many believed had the talent to grab a national title.

The Bulldogs, who were a solid preseason bet to get to Philadelphia, overran Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee, 78-51, in January at home in Athens. The two powers would have been matched up again on Friday in the early game of the national semifinal doubleheader. Now Rutgers will take Georgia 's place. Connecticut will meet Penn State in the nightcap.

Rutgers made the difference in the game when it went on a 6-0 run in the second half to break a 39-39 tie and take the lead for good.

Shawnetta Stewart, a graduate of Philadelphia's University City High, led Rutgers with 22 points. Twins Coco and Kelly Miller scored 15 each for Georgia .

In the first half, Rutgers played with the same defensive intensity that had helped it turn back St. Joseph's in the second round of a West subregional back home in Piscataway, N.J.

Karlita Washington got Stringer's team off to a 2-0 lead before Tawana McDonald scored on the inside for Georgia to even things quickly.

Then Stewart hit a three-pointer, and Rutgers built a 7-2 lead on a steal and layup by Tasha Pointer with 16 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first half.

The Scarlet Knights shut out the Bulldogs over the next nine minutes as they went on a 10-0 run.

Just before time expired in the first half, freshman Kourtney Walton hit a shot to give Rutgers a 23-20 lead.


Mar 29, 2000

By Mel Greenberg


PORTLAND, Ore. -- As the clock wound down the final seconds in Rutgers' 59-51 victory over top-seeded Georgia in the West Regional finals late Monday night, someone held up a sign behind the bench of the winning Scarlet Knights:

1 Coach

3 Teams

3 Finals 4s.

That's a minibiography of Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer, the first coach to lead three different colleges to the NCAA women's Final Four. In 1982, she was there with Cheyney in the first-ever NCAA title game, and in 1993, she returned with Iowa.

"You can't imagine the emotion of pride that I had," Stringer said after this year's trip was guaranteed. "It's overwhelming at times.. . .I really don't have any words. I'm just lost for words.
"It meant the world to me to have them play their hearts out the way they did. I'm just proud of this team. I'm just proud of this team. "

Her previous trips to the finals have been tinged with tragedy. As Cheyney made its tournament run in 1982, Stringer split time between court and hospital, where her then-infant daughter battled spinal meningitis.

In 1993, the exhilaration of reaching the Final Four was tempered by the death of her husband, Bill, from a heart attack at the start of that season.

This time, there have been no life-or-death distractions, and Stringer has been able to focus on motivating a highly talented team to live up to its preseason press clippings and challenge for a national title.

The fact that the game will be played in her old home town makes this trip to the Final Four special. Cheyney lost in the title game and Iowa lost in the semifinals. This time, Stringer wants her team to win it all, and so does another Philadelphian - her star guard, Shawnetta Stewart, who was the MVP of the West Regional final after dropping 22 points.

Several of those points came in clutch situations, especially at the foul line in the closing minutes as Stringer stood on the sidelines, clapping and pumping her fist before finally allowing herself a small smile.

"You can't tell anything now, because it's not over," said Stewart of her resolve to win.

Stewart was Stringer's first recruit when the coach left Iowa to come back East in 1995 and rebuild the Rutgers' program. Rutgers had won a national title in 1982, when the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) still vied with the NCAA for control of the women's game.

"I believed in the vision that she had," said Stewart, who played for University City High. "She didn't have to sell me on anything, but there wasn't anything to sell. I believed in everything she said. You've got to remember that she has done this in the past at Cheyney State and Iowa. "

A common thread all season has been Stringer's emphasis on defense as the way to victory. Who cares if the games are low-scoring and ugly?

That was the situation Monday night, but it enabled Rutgers (26-7) to prevail over Georgia (32-4), which had won 18 of 19 games, including a share of the regular-season championship with Tennessee in the powerful Southeastern Conference.

"It's an unusual defense they play, and then they switch it," Georgia coach Andy Landers said in praise of Rutgers. "You find out in the first five minutes of the game that none of your zone defenses are going to work because they're more man in their zone than they are zone.

"When we'd score four, five points, it seemed like we turned the ball over. When we built momentum, we threw it out the window. "

Throughout the night, the Scarlet Knights battled fiercely, forcing turnovers and fighting hard on the backboards.

"Everything I've done in the off-season had paid off," junior point guard Tasha Pointer said. "I thought after we lost confidence at mid-season, we redeemed ourselves with an attitude and a passion for basketball. "

Landers cited Rutgers' control of the backboards, where it enjoyed a 38-25 advantage.

"The difference in the game was on the boards," Landers said. "When a team is having trouble scoring, possessions become very important, and they got 13 more rebounds than we did. "

The decisive run that put Rutgers ahead for the rest of the night occurred after the score was tied, 39-39, with 10 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game.

Stewart broke the deadlock with a field goal, and then center Tammy Sutton-Brown, who was the only other Rutgers player in double figures with 14 points, scored inside on a pass from Linda Miles.

Then Miles hit from the outside for a 45-39 lead before Stewart nailed a three-pointer to make it 48-39 with 6:17 left to play.

The widest margin was a 12-point advantage, 55-43, after two foul shots by Stewart with 35 seconds to go.

But it wasn't totally comfortable just yet. Georgia twin sisters Coco and Kelly Miller each hit three-pointers to cut the lead to 55-49 with 30 seconds left. That also gave the twins team highs of 15 points apiece.

Then Stewart closed the door by making three of four foul-shot attempts, while Miles added another after missing the first of a two-shot attempt.

Later, Stringer looked back at her series of successes.

"It took me 11 years to get it done at Cheyney. Then it took 10 years at Iowa. To do this in five is really something.

"But I'll tell you what," she said with a big smile. "This is it. I'm not going anywhere to start from scratch again."


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