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.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Guru Muse and Review: The Delle Donne Dilemma

By Mel Greenberg

If Delaware sophomore sensation Elena Delle Donne generated revenue across arenas at schools in the Colonial Athletic Association last season as crowds increased when the Blue Hens tour arrived with the 2008 national high school player of the year, her current medical condition keeping her out of action is costing those venues a few pennies the second time around.

Sunday’s crowd at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center in West Philadelphia was nowhere near the sellout of a year ago when Drexel prevailed over the Blue Hens in overtime as Delle Donne missed her sixth straight game because of a nerve condition in her back.

But the 1,012 who did show up were treated to the usual close encounter between the two local rivals in an exciting game won by Drexel 59-56 in the closing minutes.

Delle Donne was in the house standing under the basket to pass the ball back to her teammates during the pre-game shooting session.

However, her sweat suit never came off and the only action the graduate of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy saw involved walking from the bench to the basket and also to be involved in the pre-game stretching exercises.

“Same thing,” coach Tina Martin, now the all-time winningest women’s coach at Delaware, said when asked Delle Donne’s status. “Day-to-day.”

There’s not much else Martin can say or do while Delle Donne continues to be evaluated but the 6-foot-5 guard-forward is also becoming known as The Dilemma, not only for Martin but also for those panels selecting players on national watch lists for postseason awards.

For example, with Delle Donne missing virtually one more than half of Delaware’s games, an intermittent run that began with her removing herself six minutes into last month’s win here in town at La Salle, she no longer qualifies at the moment for the NCAA statistical report, which would otherwise have her leading the nation with her 26.0 scoring average.

Furthermore, she is not likely to be on the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award this week because of the number of games missed, though under the system she is eligible to reappear on the next report depending if she returns to action.

Martin, meanwhile, trying to keep the Blue Hens (9-5, 2-1 CAA) in contention, is stuck between a potential imminent return of the Blue Hens’ weapon of destruction or trying to move forward while Delle Donne remains on the sideline.

Had Delaware prevailed Sunday, Martin could have been pleased with her team keeping pace with frontrunner Old Dominion’s 3-0 conference record and the Blue Hens would have had an array of getting things done over the last week.

They opened conference play back home at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark a week ago by rallying from a 16-point deficit that existed early in the second half to beat Hofstra. Then they handled Northeastern on the road in Boston Thursday night.

A win over Drexel would have shown ability to succeed in an NCAA tournament-style pressure cooker contest, though the loss to the Dragons (10-4, 2-1 CAA) still showed a respectable effort.

Though all three games between the two schools went into an extra period last season – two won by Drexel in regular play and one by Delaware in the CAA tournament – right now it is the trainers of both teams who are working overtime.

Delaware has also been missing point guard Kayla Miller since the start of the season, also because of back trouble.

Drexel had been cruising along until just before the New Year on a course that had NCAA tournament at-large invite written all over the Dragons.

But then starting point guard Marisa Crane suffered an ACL, followed last Tuesday by a similar injury to freshman Jackie Schluth. On Thursday afternoon prior to the Dragons’ home game with Georgia State, starting forward Tyler Hale suffered a concussion colliding with senior Jasmina Rosseel during the afternoon shoot around.

Hale did not play Sunday.

But although both lineups had major subtractions, the game remained closely fought with 10 ties and five lead changes.

The momentum moved in Drexel’s direction near the end as the two regular season contests of a year ago when Jasmina Rossel’s three-pointer gave the Dragons a 53-49 lead with 1 minutes, 56 seconds remaining.

Jocelyn Bailey’s layup 19 seconds later cut the differential to a basket but then Rosseel hit a pair of free throws with 1:09 left for a 54-51 lead.

Sarah Acker, the 2008 Big Five rookie of the year at St. Joseph’s prior to transferring out after an injury, hit two foul shots with 45 seconds left to keep things close for the Blue Hens.

But Hollie Mershon, the former Archbishop Carroll star who came off the bench Thursday to beat Georgia State with a career-high 18 points, hit a jumper with 19 seconds left for a 57-53 lead.

Lauren Carra erased three of those points with a trey with 10 seconds left but Kamile Nacickaite hit two foul shots with nine seconds left for the game’s final points, though Carra’s desperate game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim.

“I have great respect for Denise and her program,” Martin said about her Drexel counterpart Denise Dillon. “And I’m sure she has great respect for our program. So it’s two very good programs battling tooth and nail. And that’s the way it’s always been. Both teams know each other well and I’m sure it’s not going to change.”

Nacickaite finished with game highs of 20 points and 10 rebounds for Drexel, while Rosseel, whose Belgium parents were at the DAC for both games this week to watch their daughter for the first time in a Dragons uniform, had 16 points.

Mershon scored 11 points.

Delaware’s Carra had 16 points and Jaquetta May scored 10.

“I think in those situations when it’s a close game, we rely on the offense but it’s more important to focus on the defense,” Mershon said in line with Dillon’s coaching philosophy. “It’s about getting those stops and rebounds. When we play good defense, it results in good offense.”

Meanwhile Dillon has become the Duchess of the DAC this week producing inconceivable wins under her rule.

“It was definitely going to go to the last minute with the kids each of us had out there willing to battle on every possession,” she said. “Both teams are in a situation of trying to adjust without key players.

“The only way to do that is by playing hard, playing a little harder on defense, making the hustle plays and, in their case, crashing the boards which Delaware does a great job.

“Just looking at the score you could see it was a defensive battle. Thankfully, we hit a couple of shots at the end and we hit some foul shots. I’m happy to get this one at home – you don’t know what’s in store at their place (Feb. 6) and when we hit the road this week against some tough opponents,” Dillon said.

Drexel travels to CAA defending champion James Madison on Thursday and then to William & Mary Sunday, while Delaware will be at home hosting William & Mary Thursday and then conference frontrunner Old Dominion on Sunday.

Elsewhere in the CAA, Old Dominion (9-5, 3-0 CAA) beat visiting James Madison 71-55 to drop the Dukes to 9-6 and 2-1 while Virginia Commonwealth (8-5, 3-0) beat George Mason 64-46 as the two winners stayed unbeaten in the conference. Drexel, Delaware, and James Madison are tied at 2-1 in conference play. Georgia State at home upset Hofstra 84-70.

Beantown Reunion ACC Style

Boston College coach Sylvia Crawley was a key member of North Carolina’s NCAA championship under Sylvia Hatchell when the Tar Heels rallied against Louisiana Tech in Richmond in 1994 on Charlotte Smith’s three-pointer at the buzzer.

On Sunday the two reunited in Chestnut Hill, Mass., as the No. 8 Tar Heels (15-1, 1-1 ACC) edged the Eagles 84-83 after leading by 17 points as Jessica Breland scored 18 points for the winners in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Kerri Shields had six three-pointers leading to 18 points for the Eagles (13-3, 0-1). She is an Archbishop Carroll graduate and the sister of St. Joseph’s freshman Erin Shields. The sisters’ mother Rene Shields is the Hawks’ compliance director and a former St. Joseph’s star guard.

Elsewhere in the ACC, Georgia Tech beat Clemson 64-53 after upsetting North Carolina last week. Miami won at Virginia Tech 69-56 while Florida State beat Virginia 61-51.

Ohio Rivals Tussle In A-10

Amber Harris scored 23 points and No. 9 Xavier (12-2, 1-0 A-10) in Cincinnati held off Dayton 63-59 in a conference opener to extend the Musketeers’ home win streak in Atlantic 10 competition to three years.
Xavier next travels to St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia Wednesday for a noon game at Hagan Arena. Harris also had 11 rebounds. The Flyers fell to 9-6.

Wildcats in Free Fall

Khaalidah Miller, no relation to former Georgia great Kelly Miller, scored 24 points as the unranked Bulldogs (12-3, 3-0 SEC) upset No. 10 Kentucky 61-59 to end the Wildcats’ 25-game home win streak.

It was the third straight loss for Kentucky (11-4, 0-2), which got 17 points from Victoria Dunlap. Georgia was the last to beat the Wildcats in Lexington, which occurred on Feb. 26, 2009.

Earlier in the week Kentucky lost at No. 3 Duke, 54-48, and then lost to No. 25 Arkansas 78-67 in an SEC contest.

AP Shuffle

The Guru may not be voting in the AP poll for the first time this season since the panel became filled with media members in 1994-95 but he still can make observations.

It will be interesting to see how far Kentucky plunges after three straight losses, though being at No. 10 last week may be high enough to keep the Wildcats in the poll.

Other teams that might be at risk but could survive if outsiders can’t get enough support if the vote is diverse include No. 20 Ohio State (10-5), which lost for the fourth time in the last two weeks; No. 22 Texas (11-4) lost to Missouri 85-80 in a Big 12 opener; No. 23 Syracuse (13-2) lost to No. 15 Georgetown 80-62, but then on Saturday the Hoyas lost at home to Marquette 75-73 in double overtime, both games in Big East competition.

Will Connecticut (14-1) slip from No. 2 to No. 3 behind No. 3 Duke (15-0) after a narrow 79-76 win at No. 13 Notre Dame (13-4) in snowy South Bend, Ind?

No. 18 St. John’s (12-4) lost twice in the Big East to Louisville 84-73 and No. 16 DePaul 69-54. Next up for the Red Storm is a pseudo home game Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden against UConn at 9:30 p.m.

The Huskies last visit to the Garden was almost a month ago when a win over Ohio State tied the UCLA Division I men’s mark of 88 straight games. Next time out UConn returned to its second home in Hartford and beat Florida State to establish a new Division I record at 89. It then extended to 90 with a win at Pacific before Stanford got revenge for a loss in last year’s national title game and stopped the Huskies’ run in Palo Alto, Calif.

Meanwhile, some candidates for inclusion include Miami (16-1), Georgia Tech (14-4), Duquesne (14-2), Texas Tech (14-1), Louisville (12-5), Marquette (13-3), Penn State (13-4), Northwestern (12-4), Kansas State (10-3), Drexel (10-4), Tulane (13-2), Wisconsin-Green Bay (15-1), Princeton (12-3), Marist (12-2), Bowling Green (14-1), Georgia (12-3), Middle Tennessee (12-4) and Gonzaga (12-4).

The Guru will be back in the next 24 hours.

-- Mel


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