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 15, 2006

La Salle Tops Villanova For Memorable Big Five Triumph

Guru's Note: This is an enhanced report of The Inquirer print edition coverage of the La Salle-Villanova game.

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _
Carlene Hightower is not a name that’s kicking around in WNBA circles these days in the hunt for future post players.

That could change before the season is over.

The Archbishop Prendergast High graduate poured 26 points, three below her career high, Tuesday night as La Salle got its first win over Villanova in the current millennium, a 74-62 triumph in a Big Five women’s game at the Pavilion.

Senior forward Crista Ricketts delivered 23 points to account for 49 of the Explorers’ total from inside the paint. Jenna Graber was the next highest for La Salle with eight points, of which six came off a pair of treys.

The win pushed La Salle off to a 2-0 start and snapped a six-game losing streak that began in the 2000-01 season.

It was the Explorers’ first win on the Main Line at the Pavilion since 1988.

“I think I was two years old,” Hightower said with a smile.

OK. So this is not your grandmother’s Villanova team, whose 0-2 start is the worst for the program since an 0-3 beginning in 1992-93. But it is still a Wildcat team that can provide the traditional three-point attack as was evident in the first half when a 9-of-18 effort from beyond the arc enabled coach Harry Perretta’s group to go to the break with a 39-38 lead.

The margin was extended to five at 47-42 in the second half before La Salle exploded with a 19-1 run that was helped by Villanova’s sudden cold spell.

“You have to outscore this team to beat them and a 1-for-17 (shooting) effort is not going to win many ball games,” Perretta said. “That’s part of the game. That’s part of growing up.”

Because of Villanova’s ability to frustrate opponents, Ricketts didn’t feel totally comfortable about her team’s control of the action until the closing minutes.

“We’re not used to playing a team that’s coming off a zillion screens,” the senior, who is the Atlantic Ten Conference co-player of the week, said. “Even when you think you’re playing good defense, they still frustrate you.”

Hightower was the Big Five’s and A-10’s most improved player last season and the way she talked afterwards, she could likely be in the hunt for those honors again.

“I worked really hard in the summertime improving my game a lot,” Hightower said. “I was also in summer school. I know education comes first, but I was in the gym twice as much.

“Villanova is going to knock down shots, no matter how good we play defense.”

But La Salle was able to dominant the boards with a 45-28 rebounding advantage.

Hightower spoke of what she focused on to get even better.

“Basically just being more aggressive and going to the basket strong,” she said. “I’m not used to going to the basket strong. This is college. This is a different level.

“My sophomore year was the first year I actually played. I had to make a lot of adjustments. These girls out here are strong. I had to go to the weight room a lot and work on how to go to the basket extra strong. I can’t go soft. I have to be strong all the time.”

Ricketts enjoys having someone else to provide scoring now that Divineia Payne has graduated.

“I knew she was going to step up and be good,” Ricketts said of Hightower. “She’s fun to play with.”

La Salle coach Tom Lochner talked about the two halves.

“We made some adjustments, but it could be their shots just didn’t go in. Sometimes it’s what the other team does or doesn’t do,” Lochner said.

He praised Hightower’s performance which also included seven rebounds, a blocked shot, and a steal. Furthermore, the La Salle run began after her fourth foul.

“She had a monster game,” Lochner said. “She’s a very skilled offense player. She’s a competitor. When the lights go on, she turns it on.”

If the post game continues, the search for a singular point guard may not be as critical as it was thought going into the season.

“We just have to make sure they (Hightower and Ricketts) touch the ball each time and we have to have movement on the perimeter,” Lochner said. “They need to touch the ball and good things will happen.”

Perretta talked about the frustration of the learning process his squad is going through, especially since Stacie Witman’s stress fracture leaves senior Jackie Adamshick as the Wildcats’ only experienced player.

“This team is a very good running team, but we’re not very good defensively,” Perretta said. “I have to figure out a way we’re going to play. I’m not sure running the ball for 40 minutes is a good idea.

“Coming into the game, we were worried, because we felt they had two kids we were going to have serious problems stopping,” Perretta said. “And we did.”

-- Mel

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