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, December 18, 2010

Guru Report: Princeton Not Just Any Old Ivy Team

By Mel Greenberg

PRINCETON, N.J. –
Asked to name the face of Princeton men’s basketball in the storied history of the Tigers’ longtime success in the Ivy League, Bill Bradley’s name becomes the quick answer even though many who would respond to the question were probably still years removed from arriving on the planet when he did his thing in the mid-1960s.

When it comes to performances on the Princeton women’s side, the face on what is becoming perhaps the greatest Ivy team ever in the gender is not one individual but rather a crowd.

That certainly seemed to be proven Friday night in historic Jadwin Gym where sophomore sensation Niveen Rasheed, the Tigers’ statistical leader (18.0 points per game, 7.6 rebs) was sent to the bench early with her fifth personal foul with 12 minutes, 18 seconds left in the game and surprising Drexel ahead 33-32.

Then the Tigers (8-2) really went to work and pulled away down the stretch for a 64-52 victory over the Dragons (6-2) in the nonconference game.

Addie Micir, a 6-foot-2 guard who is one of only two seniors on the Tigers, finished with 18 points, while Lauren Peters scored 17 points and Devona Allgood scored 12 for the defending Ivy League champions.

Micir is a graduate of Council Rock North in the Philadelphia suburbs across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania while Laura Johnson, who scored six points off the bench, played for former La Salle coach John Miller at Mt. St. Joseph Academy.

Both players see a lot of Drexel’s squad in the summer competing in the Philadelphia Dept, of Recreation’s women’s NCAA league in suburban Hatboro.

One Drexel’s side, the Dragons’ Kamile Nacickaite, a native of Lithuania, continues to be one of the most improved players this season out of the six Division I schools in Philadelphia.

She scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Jasmina Rosseel of Belgium had 11 points and popped a trio of 3-pointers from outside the arc.

Before the game, when fourth-year coach Courtney Banghart was told by the Guru that she had the best-Ivy team ever, she simply smiled and said “It’s exciting, isn’t it?”

The Guru recalls a moment several years ago at a Final Four in St. Louis at the post-live shootaround podcast hosted by Debbie Antonelli and Beth Mowins that Banghart, after a rough season, approached the Guru and said, “Come see us next year. We’re going to be really good.”

Her prediction came true as promised last season.

And, yes, the standard for excellence in the Ivies has been the great Harvard team with future WNBA All-Star Allison Feaster who pulled the famous 16th-seed upset of No. 1 seed over Stanford in the NCAA tournament first round in 1998.

But by the time the ball went up in that game the reality is the Cardinal, who lost two key starters to injuries in the week leading up to the game, were no longer a true No. 1.

And Harvard was certainly worthy of more than the 16th seed heaped upon it by the basketball tournament committee, which didn’t have much respect for the Ivies, which as a group dragged the Crimson down on Harvard’s computer profiles.

“We beat that team, when I played for Dartmouth,” Banghart smiled looking back to her years as one of the top players in the Ivies in the late 1990s.

Princeton set all kinds of program records a year ago with 21 straight wins and 26 overall and actually got respect from the NCAA committee with a league best-ever 11th seed before losing to St. John’s in the first round.

These Tigers, however, with a year’s seasoning under their belts, might even be better considering a narrow loss at Rutgers in the closing seconds, a win over Pac-10 also-ran contender Southern Cal – Stanford is a runaway favorite, and a close loss at Vanderbilt in the Commodores’ tournament they’ve never suffered defeat.

Drexel actually was more competitive in this one than a year ago back in West Philadelphia when former senior Gabriela Marginean was doing her thing for the Dragons.

“But we didn’t have Jas in that game and that hurt,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said.

The Dragons committed 19 turnovers, while the Tigers committed 16 in the game between two defensive specialists.

Dillon said that most of Drexel’s miscues were the result of Princeton’s performance even though the Dragons managed to take away 20 points from the Tigers’ scoring average.

“I said to the team, you have to give credit where credit is do,” Dillon said. “They took us out of our game and we didn’t make the basketball plays that were necessary.

“I just felt we had some unforced turnovers but we had plenty of turnovers where they forced us out of our offense.”

Dillon also paid tribute to why Princeton was able to gain the momentum after Rasheed was sent to the sidelines.

“They’re solid at every position and their bench is deep,” Dillon said. “When we did the scouting report, every player contributes something on that team.

“And, yeah, they lost a key player when she fouled out, but at the same time they continued to make basketball plays. Make or miss, they stayed in it, they stayed sharp and they took advantage when the time came.”

This was a marquee game at the Mid-Major level with the Tigers holding a No. 4 ranking and Drexel 15 in the Mid-Major poll.

“Both programs have certainly grown,” Dillon said. “Courtney has certainly done a phenomenal job here and it’s showing. Every night they’re on the floor they’ve done a great job and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at Drexel.

“It was a tough battle and we expected it to be. It’s a tough loss, we’re disappointed with the outcome, but I hope it’s a learning experience.”

Drexel, one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, travels to Penn State Tuesday night. The Nittany Lions are also one of the top bombers in the early season.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of zone defense in that one,” Dillon smiled.

Meanwhile, Banghart was pleased the way her squad was able to stay on course after Rasheed was disqualified.

“I just love how we have each other’s backs,” Banghart said. “We lost one of our own and everyone was like, `You know what? We have to rally around.’ This team competes but they play with great poise. And it really showed tonight.

“Drexel’s a really hard team to guard. They run a lot of action. There’s not a lot of margin of error because they keep the ball for so long, they keep the possessions down.

“They’re well coached. They execute well. We knew defensively we had to be mentally tough for 40 minutes.”

Princeton goes to St. Joseph’s Sunday at 2 p.m. against a program the Tigers have never beat.

The game will be going up against the Connecticut-Ohio State game in New York where the top-ranked Huskies will be trying to beat the Buckeyes and tie the fabled 88-game win streak record set by the UCLA men’s team in 1971-74 under John Wooden.

Considering that the game will be televised on ESPNU and ESPN3, which doesn’t reach many homes in the Philly area, one could go to the St. Joseph’s game or the Temple Big Five battle at Villanova without missing anything.

In fact, if the Huskies win and are made an instant classic, more viewers will see the game for the first time in re-runs than watch it as it occurs.

Tuesday’s game, which could have UConn break the record with a win over No. 15 Florida State in Hartford, will air on ESPN2.

The Guru’s New URL Address

Because of the events of the weekend involving the Maggie Dixon Classic and the UConn game as well as the Rutgers-Texas A&M, the Guru is holding off commenting on a new look to the blog that went live Friday under the hosting auspices of Inside Women’s Basketball – the fine internet magazine produced by Kelly Kline.

Though the Guru’s content will still be produced right here in terms of platform for now, http://melgreenberg.com is on the air, so to speak. Well, many of you said that was the way to go after the Guru left The Inquirer in April but the url has been in storage until now.

A quick caveat: Only the story at the top of the posts out of here will be reflective on the new home page, but there are several links that get you right here especially on a day when the Guru puts up several posts.

As always, he will let you know at the top of each post what else is new.

But since the new url is easy to remember, you can go there first, if you choose, and then click over to here and the numbers will hopefully will rise and look impressive to potential advertisers and then maybe the Guru will be able to travel more outside the corridor, which provides plenty enough during the season.

There is an email link so feel free to offer what you like, don’t like or would like to see as the site expands to more of a daily web destination beyond the Guru’s commentary.

Obviously just ahead when we meet again before the big game will be a special advance here and the Guru will be making a guest appearance with a companion piece to Frank Fitzpatrick’s preview in the Sunday Inquirer.

The Guru will also be doing the game detail in New York and, if needed, in Hartford for his employee alma mater.

So before the sun comes up, see you before the next sunrise and the trip to Jersey Transit in Trenton to catch the train.

-- Mel

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