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, December 01, 2006

NCAA Title Field Narrowing Early

Guru’s Precede: Before going forward, a few quick notes.

I’m told I’m to thank management and labor at the home office for continuing contract talks through the night that enabled the Friday paper to be printed in which a certain half-page ad in the sports section appears involving the Guru and a recent headline-making event.

Dinner with Erin Damio and her family was absolutely delightful – superb Italian cooking, as promised in a country setting minutes away from the UConn campus. She’s now back in Boston at Northeastern U. where she headed into an early wake-up call to be back on the Charles rowing before taking class. Erin’s threatening to make her next blog appearance after attending the UConn-Holy Cross game in Worcester next week.

By Mel Greenberg

STORRS, Conn. –
The polls are billed as Top 25 rankings. There’s a lot of talk about the arrival of parity in women’s basketball these days.

Now, here’s the reality.

The race to spots for the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Cleveland is narrowing quickly and it’s only the first of December. Major matchups are still to occur, but most of those involve teams against each other that will be in the hunt over the long haul.

Such a game loomed here Thursday night when No. 7 Connecticut hosted No. 9 Purdue in a non-conference meeting that seemed a good test for each side.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t ready to give his Huskies an “A” after their 66-55 triumph over a team with great size, if not great speed, but he saw enough to indicate it could be like old times by the time March Madness comes rolling along.

The Huskies (4-0), who just returned from a week in Italy, dealt Purdue (6-1) its first loss of the season.

Auriemma, whose night began with the unveiling of two banners celebrating his inductions earlier this year into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, is a little more mellow these days.

He gave his team’s performance a “5” but noted, “maybe in the past it might have been a `4.’”

He wasn’t saying “We have Renee Montgomery and no one else in America does,” which meant substituting a name for the prolific Diana Taurasi, who was a past recipient of similar boasts in her UConn career.

But after Montgomery matched a career-high with 26 points, he acknowledged that she had the keys to the offense as the point guard.

Defensively, there was much to like from Mel Thomas, who hounded Purdue all-America candidate Katie Gearlds into a 2-for-18 effort from the field.

“Basketball’s a very humbling game,” Geralds said afterwards. “Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. I thought I had great looks – great, great looks. It felt good going off my fingers all night.

“I was frustrated, but I kept shooting,” Geralds said to laughter. “She (Thomas) contested a lot, but I thought I used my height as an advantage. She was smart. She knew where to put her hands when I shot.”

Purdue has enough to make its Big Ten meetings with No. 6 Ohio State intriguing, but, again, can either team bust the looming monopoly involving the national pursuit?

As of now, the front five in the Associated Press poll – defending champion Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Duke, are the frontrunners.

So the question becomes, where are the challengers?

Connecticut showed much on Thursday night to indicate the Huskies might barge through. More will be known after games against LSU and North Carolina, to name a few.

Georgia, once the whole team is back together, is another with the potential moxie to advance. The Bulldogs’ run through the Southeastern Conference will tell us much.

LSU has Sylvia Fowles, but do the Tigers have enough overall stuff to make things happen now that Seimone Augustus is gone?

Looking at the rest of the rankings, Rutgers, which might slide off the list before moving upwards, has enough talent that if the Scarlet Knights have it all together in late February, they might be a decent threat.

But that seems to be all of it, unless injuries or other unforeseen maladies affect the teams we mentioned.

There’s room for a Cinderella, to be sure, and we can say that the competition for that honor is definitely wide-open.

-- Mel

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