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 11, 2010

Guru Report: Temple Navigates Hartford Cruising On Thames

By Mel Greenberg

Temple’s McGonigle Hall was a place for insiders Friday nighr where the Owls defeated Hartford 63-45 primarily on the work of 6-0 forward Natasha Thames’ double double collection of a career-high 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The non-conference matchup on the sidelines pitted two former prominent insiders from the powerful University of Connecticut Huskies – the team poised to make history Dec. 19 when they meet No. 6 Ohio State at Madison Square Garden in New York. That’s when they will attempt to tie the all-time basketball win streak record of 88 games set by the UCLA men in 1971-74 under the late Hall of Famer John Wooden.

Temple coach Tonya Cardoza previously served 14 years at UConn as an assistant to Geno Auriemma until her hire by the Owls (6-4) in July 2008. Hartford’s Jennifer Rizzotti was a star with the Huskies in the mid-1990s when they won their first NCAA title in 1995. She has been coaching the Hawks (1-9) for 12 seasons.

The win was Temple’s fourth straight and also was the first triumph over the Hawks in three meetings. Twice before the Owls were upset victims in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Trenton in 2006 when Dawn Staley still coached here and last season in Hartford.

The loss in Trenton marked the end of the all-star collegiate career of Temple’s Candice Dupree who went on to become a WNBA All-Star in Chicago and Phoenix.

Even Friday night it took a while before Temple was able to finally have its way with Hartford.

“When you look at Hartford’s record, one thing we talked about was they’re probably the best 1-8 team we’ve ever faced,” Cardoza said going against the All-American guard she coached at UConn. “They’re extremely disciplined. They work extremely hard. They’re a reflection of (Rizzotti) and that’s the way she was when I coached her as a player.

“Today I thought we did a good job of limiting their best scorers and their weapons – their 3-point shooting. I thought our guys did a good job of limiting that and making other guys shoot,” Cardoza added. “But I thought it was a great effort and we finally got some really good touches in the post where we were aggressive in scoring and I think if we can continue to have that balance, I think things will be brighter for us in the future.”

Satoria Bell scored 11 points for the Owls, who have over a week off before traveling to Villanova next Sunday for a Big Five game. Kristen McCarthy scored 10 points, while BJ Williams drew Cardoza’s praise for controlling the action on the floor and dishing four assists.

“BJ Williams did a great job being the floor leader and pushing the tempo and being that aggressive point guard mentality out there. I would definitely say her play – you can look at the stat sheet and I know it doesn’t pop but I know what she brought out there and she was the reason the intensity level stayed high.”

Temple has had ball control problems in the past but the Owls committed just eight turnovers and only one in the first half when they slowly built a 33-24 lead over the first 20 minutes. The Hawks committed 14 turnovers.

“That was amazing. That was great,” Cardoza said.

Thames’ work enabled Temple not to have to rely simply on three-point scoring, which the Owls have become quite skilled at executing this season.

“When Natasha is scoring like that, there’s no reason to jack up threes,” Cardoza said. “The thing is that sometimes when we throw the ball (in the post), we come away empty and then we’re forced to do that.

“But on a night like tonight, not only ‘Tasha, but ‘Vic (Victoria Macaulay), and all those guys when they got the ball in the post they actually looked to score. So we’re not going to shoot that many threes and that’s the type of balance that we need – we need to be able to score in the paint – not just by dribble penetration but by throwing the ball to the post players and having them score with their back to the basket.”

Thames previously had a double double in a loss earlier this season at Seton Hall, where she achieved her previous high of 12 points.

“I think I definitely came out more aggressively this game,” Thames said and nodded toward Cardoza. “Like she said I was looking to score but the guards did a really good job of making passes into the post so I was taking advantage of that.”

Thames is from Port Huron, Mich., and talked about choosing Temple after she had also considered Rutgers.

“The coaching staff and my team – I really fell in love with them when I first got here,” Thames said. “That was different from other schools I looked at.”

Hartford had won a bunch of America East titles but is struggling at the moment because of injuries to the upper class. Daphne Elliott scored 12 points and Nikkia Smith added 11.

“We’re just plugging away,” Rizzotti said. “Unfortunately, seven of our nine healthy guys are underclassmen – two seniors and seven sophomores and freshmen.

“So we’re just trying to get them opportunities to play good teams and give them reps until our juniors and our one other senior are healthy or until we get better,” she continued.

“I told them I’d rather play these guys and other good teams and have them learn from mistakes than getting easy wins. Although our record isn’t good, I’m pretty confident we’re getting better.

“We always play a tough non-conference schedule as well, because we expect to play in the postseason as well. I’m not going to change it. Even though I knew we were losing a lot from last year’s team, I felt we needed to challenge these guys early and make them play against the best. I want our young guys to know what it feels like and I want them to get tougher.”

Penn Turning A Corner?

Does anybody know what second-year coach Mike McLaughlin ordered for the Quakers’ pre-game meal Friday afternoon before a first-ever meeting with Maine in the Palestra.

Whatever it was, it certainly enabled Penn (3-5) to tame the Black Bears (1-7), coached by former all-American Cindy Blodgett at her alma mater.

Though not set up as any challenge, nevertheless, the Quakers’ lopsided 69-48 victory and Temple’s win over Hartford gave the
Big Five a 2-0 sweep over America East Conference schools in the only local Division I games played Friday night.

Penn, which topped last year’s overall win total, roared to a 17-3 start and 36-15 lead at the half. The Quakers also crashed the boards for an equally lopsided 41-25 advantage paced by 10 rebounds each from senior Erin Power and junior Jess Knapp.

Power had a career-high 16 points, while freshman Alyssa Baron also tallied 16 points for Penn and Brianna Bradford scored 12 points.

Maine’s Amber Smith scored 11 points.

It’s the most one-sided Penn win since a 66-38 nonconference triumph over Rider in January 2006.

Had not the Quakers’ hearts been broken recently in another first-ever meeting when Niagara won on a three-point shot near the end of the game at the Palestra, Penn would be 4-4 at .500.

The Quakers now break for the holidays and return to travel to St. Francis, N.Y. on Dec. 29.

Drexel Signing

Tiffany Johnson, a 5-7 point guard from Prep Charter School here in town has signed a letter of intent to play at Drexel next season.

“She is a scoring guard with a lot of talent,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said in a statement. “Tiffany comes from a good high school program and has been well coached, so she will fit nicely into our system here at Drexel.”

Johnson was a first-team all-Public League selection as a junior, according to the Drexel announcement, earned women’s player of the year honors from the South Philadelphia Review and was a first-team honoree on The Inquirer’s all-Southeastern Pennsylvania team.

She also helped her team with two PIAA Public League championships. Another newcomer next season is Nicole Jones, who becomes a junior post player after transferring from UMass.

Guru Updates:

I --
In the previous post, if you read it, the Guru listed all the St. Joseph’s players who were on the roster when current University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was a one-year assistant with the Hawks to current Ohio State coach Jim Foster when Foster became coach of St. Joseph’s in 1978-79.

Thanks to the diligence of women’s media contact Jack Jumper, he caught one missed name by the Guru and it’s a great find.

Apparently Renie Dunne Shields was a freshman then. Her daughter Kerri plays for Boston College and another daughter Erin is a Hawks freshman and Renie is a compliance officer at her alma mater who also broadcasts Hawks women’s games.

The reason this is good is that the Guru now has a key person from that year to go down memory lane for a printed Inky article next weekend to advance the Maggie Dixon Classic when UConn meets Foster’s Buckeyes in Madison Square Garden attempting to tie the all-time 88-game basketball win streak record set in 1971-74 by the UCLA men’s team under John Wooden.

II – On Thursday night the Guru tweeted from Rutgers a report that colleague and longtime friend Steve Tucker of the Chicago Sun Times may have suffered a stroke and was being hospitalized as related to AP national women’s writer Doug Feinberg.

The news is now much better per a text sent from Bruno to the Guru a little while ago after making an inquiry on ‘Tuck’s condition.

“Good news. Only a seizure, not a stroke. … At Northwestern University Hospital still in ICU because he is not coachable.
Docs want him to stay in bed while they search for best anti-seizure drug. Tuck wants to get up and move when he shouldn’t, so they are restraining him because Docs don’t want him to lose balance and take a spill … Is conscious .. Told not to visit till Sunday.

And Doug promised to update on Saturday.

With that good news, the Guru closes for now contemplating a Saturday short trip to Easton, Pa., an hour and change away, to Lafayette which is hosting La Salle with the Explorers being the only local Division I team on the schedule.

-- Mel


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