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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guru Report: St. Joseph's Dials 700 Wins Capturing Own Tourney

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA --
On Jan. 17, 1974 two years after the Congressional passage of Title IX, St Joseph’s University took the floor against Immaculata, the UConn of its time in women’s collegiate competition, and promptly got smacked in its then-called Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse by the Cathy Rush-coached Mighty Macs 59-24.

Three days later on Jan. 20, showing the resiliency of its mantra “The Hawk Will Never Die,” the team returned for another home game and met another local rival, routing Manor 67-30.

“We were playing so well I went home at the half,” assistant athletic director Ellen Ryan joked Wednesday afternoon of her one-year coaching stint on Hawk Hill.

Ryan’s comments came an hour before Cindy Griffin, a St. Joseph’s star of the late 1980s-early 1990s, guided her own alma mater to an easy 75-40 win over Lafayette to capture the Hawk Classic and post the 700th victory in the history of the women’s program.

That puts the Hawks (10-3), who won their seventh straight, just 47 behind a former staffer – one UConn coach Geno Auriemma who shares in 16 of the 700 wins from the 1978-79 season in which he was an assistant to Jim Foster, the newly-hired head coach who went 16-9 his first shot at the sidelines.

A star on that first team Ryan coached was Muffet O”Brien, later known to most of the women’s basketball world after her marriage to Matt as Muffet McGraw, the successful coach of Notre Dame. The Irish who beat Gonzaga on Wednesday, are now one win behind St. Joseph’s, the first Division I Catholic School to reach 700 and 31st overall in the histories of schools who compete in NCAA Division I.

Manor avenged the St. Joseph’s loss later that first season but that was it in terms of setbacks as Ryan guided the Hawks to a 9-2 record. The wins included a 4-0 sweep of Big Five schools that came prior to the official start of City Series competition in 1980-81 when each of the five schools associated with the men’s Big Five first played a formal round-robin.

Ryan then turned the reins over to a kid fresh out of Immaculata in Theresa Grentz, who was later to have success at Rutgers and Illinois. The Hawks turned to another Mighty Mac in Rene Portland, who went on to Colorado and Penn State. Then came Foster, who also became the head coach at Vanderbilt and currently Ohio State. Monmouth coach Stephanie Gaitley, a former Villanova star, followed Foster and was succeeded by Griffin in 2001.

The notoriety of this mentor tree – McGraw will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June – has led to St. Joseph’s calling itself “The Cradle of Coaches.”

In Wednesday’s win over the Leopards (6-7), freshman Ilze Gotfrida of Latvia had a career-high 20 points and Katie Kuester, the tournament MVP, scored 19.

The Hawks will close out their nonconference slate Sunday afternoon when No. 18 Maryland visits.

Dianne Nolan, who grew up across the Delaware River in Gloucester, N.J., and was a longtime coach at Fairfield, coaches Lafayette. She is in her first season after being an assistant at Yale.

In the third place game, Quinnipiac (4-8) edged New Hampshire (2-9) when Lailah Pratt hit one of two foul shots with two seconds left in regulation for a 62-61 victory.

The Bobcats are coached by one of Nolan’s former Fairfield stars: Trish (nee Sacca) Fabbri, who also grew up in South Jersey. New Hampshire coach Maureen Margarity also has Philly DNA off her father Dave, the Army women’s coach who is from the City of Brotherly Love.

Delle Donne Return Questionable

Delaware sophomore sensation Elena Delle Donne is now said to be suffering from back problems according to the Wilmington News Journal as reported in beat writer Kevin Tresolini’s blog at Delaware Online.

The problem began on Nov. 20 during the win over Yale.

The nation’s leading scorer at 26.0 point per game, Delle Donne did not make the trip with the Blue Hens (6-4) to Virginia Tech where Delaware lost to Vanderbilt 72-51 in the first round of the Hokies Tournament in Roanoke.

Prior to the game coach Tina Martin has texted the Guru that Delle Donne did not make the trip and her return to action was unknown.

The Guru first heard of the back condition from a member of Delaware’s radio crew at the half of Delaware’s win at La Salle last month when Delle Donne removed herself six minutes into the game.

Afterwards, Martin said the 2008 national high school player of the year out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy was suffering from fatigue. Delle Donne did not play in the next game, a loss to Princeton, but returned the following Sunday in a win at Navy.

She was voted the rookie and player of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association last season.

The Guru also heard of the back condition again Wednesday afternoon when a member of the St. Joseph’s coaching staff said they had been told by Delle Donne of spine problems prior to the Hawks’ win over the Blue Hens in Newark last Thursday.

The Blue Hens open CAA play next week at home against Hofstra, which has had one of its better season starts in the Pride’s history.

Delle Donne played in the loss at Penn State but has been sidelined in the Blue Hens’ three other setbacks.

Quakers Doubling The Output

When one is trying to rebuild a program the name of the opponent is inconsequential especially when similar teams were having their way a year ago.

So at the moment, credit second-year Penn coach Mike McLaughlin with making progress going into the 2011 portion of the schedule after the Quakers’ 66-38 win at St. Francis of New York (1-9) Wednesday night.

The Quakers, at 4-5, have now doubled last season’s entire win total and the two straight wins by more than 20 points have last occurred in that magnitude 30 years ago.

One reason for success – Penn last had four wins prior to January during the 2007 season – is the addition of freshman Alyssa Baron, who had a career-high 23 points. The Quakers head to Lafayette on Sunday and then open Ivy play next Saturday at their traditional rivalry spot – gulp – Princeton.

Villanova Ready For Some Streak-Busting Again At UConn?

While New York City continued tackling plowing problems in the wake of last weekend’s snow, Villanova used a visit to Fordham’s tournament in the city Wednesday afternoon to break through the Wildcats’ recent inability to score.

Coach Harry Perretta’s group (6-6) beat Siena 57-50 in the opener, although the Wildcats nearly squandered all of a 23-point lead that was built in the first half.

Rachel Roberts scored 18 points against the Saints (1-8) while transfer Lindsay Kimmel, a former Temple star, scored 17. Villanova will stay to play Yale Thursday afternoon in the tourney that had a one-day delay start because of the weather and related travel conditions.

Villanova, which drew national notoriety in 2003 when the Wildcats last stopped UConn’s then-women’s record win streak at 70 in the title game of the Big East tournament, will have at least one opportunity and perhaps two to repeat history during Wednesday’s visit to Storrs for a conference encounter with the two-time defending NCAA champions.

Unless No. 9 Stanford (8-2) gets to the Huskies first in Palo Alto, Calif., Thursday night before a sellout crowd in the Cardinal’s Maples Pavilion (9 p.m., ESPN2), Villanova will be seeking to avoid becoming consecutive victim No. 92 during what is now a combined NCAA Division I win streak record for men and women.

UCLA had the former mark when the men’s team won 88 straight between 1971 and 1974 under John Wooden, the legendary Hall of Fame coach who died earlier this year.

But even if Stanford applies a bookend around UConn – the Cardinal were the last to stop the Huskies prior to the streak with an upset in the 2008 NCAA semifinals – Villanova can still regain notoriety in Tuesday’s Big East confrontation.

UConn last suffered consecutive losses when coach Geno Auriemma was using his Philly moxie to teach cavemen how to rub two stones together to light a fire thereby coining the phrase: “rubbing people the wrong way.”

Officially, the back-to-back losses happened more than 17 years ago when Auriemma could leave Storrs and visit his native Norristown outside Philadelphia for half the price it would cost to make the same trip today on a tank of gas.

But win or lose Thursday night, Connecticut will enter Wednesday’s game against ‘Nova tied with itself and former arch-rival Tennessee for most consecutive women’s home wins in Division I at 69.

Elsewhere Locally

Ebonee Jones set a career record for the second day, scoring 20 points, while Ashley Gale scored 19, but La Salle (4-8) lost the consolation game of Maryland’s tournament to Liberty 75-53 in College Park as the Flames improved to 5-7.

Apparently the Guru didn’t look at the tournament arrangement at San Diego State a while back when assembling the schedule and Drexel, which lost to No. 7 Texas A&M in the opener, had the night off before playing the consolation game Thursday against Texas-San Antonio.

Rutgers (7-5) is at No. 5 Tennessee (11-2) Thursday afternoon in a matchup of the two active women’s coaches, who are both Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers, with the greatest number of wins.

Tennessee’s Pat Summitt is at 1,048-198 in 37 seasons while Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer is at 850-300 in 40 seasons. In between retired Texas coach Jody Conradt, also a Naismith Hall of Fame, is at 850-309.

Rutgers, is at 7-5 overall but the Scarlet Knights are 1-5 in what Stringer would call real games having beaten Georgetown at home but experienced losses at California, Stanford, Temple, Boston College and recently to Texas A&M in the Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden.

This is Rutgers’ first visit to Knoxville since the infamous game in 2008 when Tennessee gained a 59-58 victory as a result of the clock in Thompson-Bolling Arena that inadvertently stopped. Game officials failed to apply the correct procedure for the hiccup and went unpunished for the error that allowed a foul call against the Scarlet Knights that gave the Vols the win at the finish.

Had Rutgers won, the Scarlet Knights would have become the first to beat two No. 1 teams in consecutive games. Rutgers was coming off an upset at home of Connecticut in a Big East contest.

That caused a change in the next poll and Tennessee rose to the top before the Scarlet Knights arrived for their next game on the schedule.

The furor rippled over to the next AP vote when Rutgers picked up eight first-place votes, despite the loss, from some media panel members who felt the team had been wronged.

Meanwhile, in another game of note Thursday, Temple will visit No. 3 Duke at night. The Owls are coming off a tough upset loss at Eastern Michigan, one that might be damaging in the long run in terms of NCAA at-large potential unless Temple can quickly reverse direction.

A year ago on New Year’s Eve the Owls stayed with the Blue Devils before fading down the stretch at home against the Blue Devils in McGonigle Hall.

Penn State opens Big Ten play at home against nationally ranked Iowa, giving the Nittany Lions another chance to enhance their potential to receive an at-large pick in the NCAA field if they fail to win the conference title and automatic bid.
Coach Coquese Washington’s team has incentive in that the Nittany Lions are one of 16 schools hosting first and second round games in the NCAA tournament.

House Finds New Home Returning To WNBA

As mentoned in the previous post, former New York Liberty and Washington Mystics assistant Jeff House has returned to the WNBA as an aide to new general manager-coach Pokey Chatman, the former LSU coach, with the Chicago Sky.

"The setup is a lot like New York with the offices being in a big downtown building like the Liberty are situated in the towers by Madison Square Garden and Penn Station," House said.

"Pokey has already done a lot of good things setting up scouting, organization, etc. -- things they didn't really have in place," he added.

That’s it for now. The Guru will return before the next sunrise following the next mega-showdown for UConn in the Stanford game.

-- Mel

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