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 03, 2010

Drexel Tops Tulsa For Best-Ever Seasonal Start

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA –
Foreign affairs continue to be a hallmark of the Drexel women’s basketball team, which set another program milestone Thursday night courtesy of a 64-47 nonconference win over Tulsa at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
For the previous four years Romanian Gabriela Marginean had been the toast of the school in becoming the all-time local career women’s collegiate scorer out of all three NCAA divisions of competition.

She helped lead the Dragons to their first Colonial Athletic Association title and NCAA tournament appearance in 2007-08.

Along the way they drew national notoriety by becoming the first to fell Old Dominion in the conference tournament and then stayed focused the next day to beat James Madison on the Dukes’ court in Harrisonburg, Va., to earn the automatic bid.

Marginean topped it all off by being taken by the Minnesota Lynx in last April’s WNBA draft, though she was the last cut prior to the opening of the season.

Now two other Europeans who played in Marginean’s shadow have moved to the front row.

One is Belgium’s Jasmina Rosseel and the other is Lithuania’s Kamile Nacickaite.

The duo with support from this side of the Atlantic Ocean recently helped Drexel rip through a hard-to-believe 4-0 run through 80 percent of the Big Five. The Dragons rarely play Temple, though they had a brief set of games several seasons ago.

On Thursday night, Nacickaite was a quelling force to subdue the Golden Hurricanes (2-3), shooting 6-of-7 three-pointers and finishing with 20 points.

“She’s stepping into that role,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said of her former recruit who previously played at Regis Jesuit College in Colorado. “She’s finding the open spot. She’s using the screens – her teammates are doing a great job of setting screens. You’re talking about everyone contributing and a lot of times you don’t see that on the stat sheet.

“We talked at halftime, (freshman) Fiona Flanagan set two massive screens for Kamile coming off and she gets those shots. It doesn’t happen within our offense and the way we teach them. You don’t get open shots. It doesn’t work that way. Your teammates get you open if you’re willing to use the screens. They’re playing some good team basketball.”

The outcome gives Drexel is best ever seasonal start at 5-0, though the road begins to get rougher Saturday night when the Dragons will visit Virginia.

“I just explained to the girls, Virginia is going to be a little bit quicker, a little bit more skilled than what we just saw tonight but it’s a chance to give us a taste of what we’re in store for,” Dillon said. “So a little bit of practice before we go up against the best.”

It will be interesting to see what mind set the Cavaliers (4-4) have at the start of the game following their 74-46 loss to No. 6 Ohio State (6-0) in Columbus Thursday as part of the challenge between Atlantic Coast Conference schools and Big Ten schools.

Meanwhile, Dillon, a former Villanova star, expressed pride at Drexel’s ability to be moving forward in the aftermath of Marginean’s graduation.

“It’s interesting that we continue to do things in this program – that’s breaking records so of course we’re very proud of that,” Dragons coach Denise Dillon said afterwards.

“Happy that December has started off well. We knew the girls were emotionally involved in all of the games in November with the city teams – a little bit of a fear coming into this game with an unknown team as Tulsa in which there’s no connection whatsoever in any aspect,” Dillon said.

“But again they came out and proved they’re ready to play each game. Putting two halves together is something we’re going to continue to work on. I’m glad we came out strong, though and then found our composure down the stretch. But we have to continue to work against that press.”

The Dragons were the greater force by far in the first half, fed by Nacickaite and shooting 65.2 percent to take a 34-14 lead at the break.

“We came ready to play,” Dillon said. “We executed the offense. We were knocking down shots, which always helps and gives you the momentum on the defensive end and we did all the necessary things, defensively – forcing them to take some tough shots, not allowing the dribble penetration and boxing out. There were six offensive rebounds we gave up but a lot of them were from long shots. So I could handle that.”

But Tulsa, which will be at La Salle Sunday, had enough turbulence for the second half to reduce a 23-point Drexel lead to seven at 47-40 with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game until Drexel again found a way to prevail down the stretch.

“We knew at the half they were going to make some adjustments because they weren’t familiar with us,” Dillon talked about the flow over the final 20 minutes. “They didn’t get to see a lot of tape because of the rules within the Big Five about tape exchange so they weren’t familiar with what we were doing.

“Once they saw what we were capable of doing, switching every screen, kind of taking us out of that flow. It wasn’t the pressure of the press, it was almost how they were sagging off, taking up a lot of space and forcing us to think.

“But in the first half, yeah, if you could bottle that up and play 40 minutes of that, we would really be scary,” Dillon said with a laugh.

As for instructions to her team when Tulsa challenged, Dillon noted:

“I just explained to them you can’t sit back and become passive. You have to just play, stop thinking.

“I always tell them that’s our job. At this point you’ve done everything at practice to prepare you to play in any situation on the court. Once we start thinking, then we become individualized instead of getting the whole concept of `team.’

Tyler Hale, a 6-0 junior forward from Baltimore, reached a career high with 18 points while Taylor Wootton set a career-high with 13 points.

Tulsa’s Taleya Mayberry was the only Golden Hurricane player to score in double figures, collecting 12 points.

The Drexel contingent had to hold their breaths for a while when Rosseel went down with an ankle injury with 14:12 left in the first half.

However, she returned near the end of the first half.

“I got nervous because Jas has become so much of al leader,” Dillon said. “She’s always talking and keeping everyone together. When she went out, it got real quiet. No one was talking.”

Tulsa, which competes in Conference-USA, is coached by Charlene Thomas-Swinson, a 1992 graduate of Auburn who coached at St. John’s in the Big East from 1996-99.

She was also an assistant at her alma mater under Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Joe Ciampi, and also served as an aide to Carolyn Peck, now an ESPN broadcaster, at Florida and with the former Orlando Miracle in the WNBA.
Thomas-Swinson offered her viewpoint of the game from Tulsa’s side.

“The biggest thing is a coach’s worst fear when you’re on the road where you come out flat and just try to find a way to get them going was the biggest thing we were most concerned with,” she said.

“When you look up, you get a couple of timeouts. You try to get them corralled and they didn’t get corralled – I think the thing I was most pleased with was how we came back out after the half to show what we can actually do in the post in addition to being able to play 90 feet of basketball.

“But Denise does a great job with this ball club. Everything they do and the motion offense, we knew they were going to bring that to us – we just had to fine tune some things,” Thomas-Swinson said. “She’s done a great job with this club of teaching fundamental basketball and being patient and drilled it to a science.”

Considering that Drexel is not formally part of the Big Five, which is what made the Dragons’ start such a story, it was interesting that Dillon said the program shares in the local rule with the other schools in terms of not providing film for scouting purposes from one team to an outside opponent who will meet another.

“Hey, we’re still all city teams and we have to look out for each other,” Dillon smiled and said.

Villanova Survives A Dueling Scoring Drought

While covering the Drexel game for this post, the Guru could hardly believe the ESPN tracker when monitoring the events out on the Main Line where Villanova was hosting Fairfield, a traditional non-conference rivalry, at the Pavilion.

Is that right? Wildcats up at the half 16-9? That couldn’t be the final score could it in terms of points – Villanova 30, Fairfield 29.

Heck, Drexel scored more points against Tulsa than the two teams combined.

But apparently it was all true, getting the information right from the source, Wildcats coach Harry Perretta by phone shortly after the game ended.

“I wish I could tell you what I’m seeing but I have no idea what I’m seeing. It’s unbelievable,” Perretta said.

“We’re up 30-22 with 5:11 left and we didn’t score another point. We’re so young I don’t have leaders out there to help others,” he added.

“I said (Temple transfer) Lindsay Kimmel still needed to learn our offense, but the problem is everyone else is so young, I don’t have anyone to help her.”

So here’s some of the gruesome facts off the Villanova web site on the game and win over the Stags (4-2):

The Wildcats (5-3) outscored Fairfield off the bench 22-0 because sophomore Laura Sweeney had 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Rachel Roberts scored 10 points.

It was Villanova’s lowest point total since the 30 points against Utah in a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament at College Park, Md., in 2008.

The last time the Wildcats scored 30 as a low score on the winning side was a 30-13 win over Our Lady of Angels in 1969 when Perretta was still in knickers.

The combined 59 points between the two teams was the lowest since a 26-25 win by nearby Rosemont in 1972.

The nine points the Wildcats held the opposition to in a half previously occurred in a 41-37 win over Boston College (now in the ACC) in a Big East tournament quarterfinal game in 2005.

A year ago Villanova had a defensive stand against Penn, winning 44-28.

The Wildcats shot 22 percent in the game, making just 2-of-17 treys, a shooting skill which is usually one of Villanova’s strengths. Fairfield shot 10-for-46 and was 1-for-15 on three point attempts.

Next up, gulp, is a visit from No. 10 West Virginia next Thursday to start the Big East slate.

Penn State Edged By Boston College In High-Scoring Duel

If Villanova and Fairfield couldn’t score Thursday night, then up north Penn State and Boston College couldn’t stop in Chestnut Hill, Mass., next door to Beantown.

The Nittany Lions (6-2) reached triple digits as did Boston College (7-0) in overtime but unlike a season-opening win in which they topped host Dayton in double overtime, this time Penn State fell to the Eagles 113-104.

The game was part of the Big Ten-ACC challenge that occurred at several places Thursday night.

Alex Bentley had a career-high 31 points for Penn State and sent the game into overtime with a shot with 0.5 seconds remaining. The Lions are now 2-1 in all three true road games, which have all been overtime encounters.

Freshman Maggie Lucas, a Narberth resident and Germantown Academy graduate, continues to be one of the better productive newcomers this season. She scored 28 points, including six three-pointers.

Yawn – The Counter Moves To 85

That’s the new win streak number, extending UConn’s women’s record run that began at the start of the 2008-2009 season.

The Huskies are now three games away from matching the win total of 88, the record set by the UCLA men’s team under the fabled John Wooden.

Oh yeah, the Huskies beat sister Big East school South Florida 80-54 in Tampa as freshman Stefani Dolson scored 16 points. As the Guru noted on his twitter account @womhoopsguru this was the one road trip of the season where UConn could tan somebody’s hide and at the same time come back hiding the Huskies’ collective tan from playing in a tropical setting.

Nationally Noted

For those of you still with the Guru in this post: No update on the condition of Elena Delle Donne who missed Wednesday’s loss to Princeton by Delaware. She took herself out of Sunday’s win at La Salle six minutes into the game and is said to be suffering from fatigue stemming from an unknown cause.

Delaware next travels to Navy Sunday where fatigues may also be an outfit worn on the Academy grounds by Midshipmen in Annapolis, Md.

Speaking of Maryland, the school, not the state, got a big win Thursday, edging host Purdue 56-55 as the No. 22 Terrapins (6-1) got 20 points from Lynetta Kizer over the Boilermakers (4-1) in West Lafayette, Ind.

In a battle of Ohio teams host Dayton (4-3) beat Cincinnati 70-59 handing the Bearcats (5-1) their first lost of the season under second-year coach Jamelle Elliott, a former UConn star and assistant under Geno Auriemma.

Fourth-ranked Xavier (7-0) in Cincinnati nipped Southern Cal 69-66 as Amber Harris scored with 38 seconds left for a Musketeers lead and Ta’Shia Phillips had an offensive rebound and score with four seconds left against the Trojans (4-3).

ACC powerhouses dominated the Big Ten in other challenge games with No. 14 North Carolina beating visiting No. 18 Iowa 79-67 in Chapel Hill; No. 5 Duke won at Wisconsin 59-51.

Indiana beat Clemson 65-51, while Minnesota beat Virginia Tech 63-58.

--- Mel

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