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.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Guru Report: Baylor And Coach Mulkey Make AP Poll History

By Mel Greenberg

The Bear Went Over The Mountain is the way the popular children’s nursery song goes, but down in Waco, Texas, the Baylor Bears are on top of the mountain in the world of the Associated Press women’s basketball poll.

The victory by Stanford over Connecticut last week in Palo Alto, Calif., at Maples Pavilion to end the Huskies’ Division I record win streak at 90 sent tremors across the map. One such ground shake occurred at AP’s weekly vote count central where Monday’s release announced that for the first time in 52 ballots UConn is no longer the top vote getter from a nationwide media panel.

Reacting to Connecticut’s loss, in a bit of a mixed result, the AP voters collectively anointed Baylor (13-1) for the first time ever as the No. 1 team. UConn (12-1) was demoted to second place after being No. 1 since February of 2008.

The outcome in the poll gave Baylor coach Kim Mulkey a special distinction – she’s the first person ever to play for a women’s team ranked No. 1 among AP voters while also later becoming coach of a team selected to No. 1.

“Wow, that is some kind of statistic,” Mulkey said after awakening from an unintended nap early Monday night and returning a call to the Guru, who covered her as a player at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s.

“Sadly, though, that must also mean some of us are getting old,” she chided with a laugh.

The Techsters were the UConn of their day when Mulkey was a prolific guard racing up and down the court.

In a twist, Leon Barmore was coaching alongside Sonja Hogg when Mulkey was helping to get the job done on the court for the Techsters and now Barmore is alongside Mulkey at Baylor as an assistant.

Mulkey is already in the record books for a dual achievement having been the only person to play for an NCAA women’s tournament champion (1982) and then also coach one, which occurred with Baylor’s victory over the then-coached Joanne P. McCallie Michigan State squad in 2005, ironically in Indianapolis – the site of this season’s Women’s Final Four as well as NCAA headquarters.

Baylor is the second Big 12 team to gain the top, joining Texas, which did it twice as a Big 12 team in 2004. But previously the Longhorns earned numerous No. 1 rankings as a member of the former Southwest Conference.
The Bears, who play No. 17 Iowa State in a Big 12 opener Saturday, lost to Connecticut by a point in November in Hartford.

Remember the vote is really a snapshot in time at weekly moments of the season so despite the loss to the Huskies, it is not unusual that Baylor would now land ahead of UConn.

If the Huskies’ loss to the Cardinal last week had been much closer or in overtime perhaps they might still be No. 1 judging by this week’s vote totals.

It would not be unprecedented to suffer a loss and stay No. 1. UConn already pulled that feat back in 2003 when Villanova ended their record 70-game women’s win streak record of the time in the Big East title game.

The Huskies went on to win a second-straight NCAA title.

Ironically, Villanova and UConn are set to do a Big East tango in Storrs Wednesday night and a Huskies win sets another record. They are currently tied with themselves and Tennessee – and you thought the two would never be together again – for consecutive home wins at 69 so UConn gets that record outright by landing on top of the Wildcats.

Old Dominion once lost to South Carolina way back in time and stayed No. 1.

Incidentally, in noting the Mulkey distinction in case the question is in somebody’s mind – Marianne Stanley (ODU) and Rene Portland (Penn State) coached No. 1 teams but when they played at Immaculata in suburban Philadelphia, the early 1970s pre-date the AP poll’s 1976 launch, though the Mighty Macs’ success impacted the creation of the rankings by the Guru.

The current vote total is one of the closest at the top with Baylor getting 23 first-place votes and 978 points while the Huskies got 14 first-place votes and 967 points – a difference of nine points.

But previously back in time there were two instances of results as close as can be with Louisiana Tech and Tennessee tied at the top of the preseason poll of 1989-90 followed by Tennessee moving ahead by beating the Techsters the next week.

Similarly well before gaining a clamp on No. 1 in the mid-1980s Texas made a one-week appearance at the top tied with Old Dominion on Jan. 29, 1980 right before the Longhorns played the Lady Monarchs and lost.

A member of that team was Nell Fortner, the current Auburn coach who also coached at Purdue and guided the United States to the 2000 Olympic gold medal in Sydney, Australia before taking over the reins of the WNBA Indiana Fever.

Duke (13-0), now coached by McCallie, was third this week and got a first place vote while Stanford (10-2) jumped from ninth to fourth. The Blue Devils have two major contests this week playing No. 10 Kentucky Tuesday night and No. 14 Maryland at home Thursday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference opener.

The shakeup in the voting creates an interesting scenario if the rankings were applied to the top of the bracket in the NCAA tournament in March.

Baylor with first up in access to near-geography would be placed in Dallas, UConn in Philadelphia at Temple’s Liacouras Center, the home (seven times this season) of former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza, who coaches the Owls; Duke would be in Dayton and Stanford would be in Spokane, Wash.

“Well, we’ve gone out and played a schedule so hopefully that will help us when they put the tournament together,” Mulkey said.

Baylor most likely needs to help itself to keep No. 7 Texas A&M, a Big 12 rival, at bay to avoid the Aggies moving ahead of the Bears in an effort to grab some perks from the NCAA committee.

Here are the 22 teams ranked No. 1 in AP history with their total appearances at the top.

Connecticut 152
Tennessee 112
Louisiana Tech 83
Texas 47
Duke 34
Old Dominion 34
Virginia 24
Southern Cal 16
LSU 15
Maryland 14
Auburn 11
Stanford 9
Wayland Baptist 9
Iowa 8
Penn St. 6
Vanderbilt 6
Delta St. 5
Georgia 5
North Caro. 5
Notre Dame 5
Purdue 4
Baylor 1

Scoring Race

With Delaware sophomore star Elena Delle Donne currently sidelined because of a nerve condition in her back, she has dropped out of game total requirements for the NCAA statistical listings where she had been the nation’s scoring leader averaging 26.0 points.

She was due to see a specialist this week according to the Wilmington News Journal, which covers Delaware’s games.

Unknown is whether Delle Donne will return for the Blue Hens’ Thursday night game in Boston against Northeastern before heading to nearby Philadelphia Sunday against top Colonial Athletic Association rival Drexel.

Despite Delle Donne’s absence, the CAA still has the nation’s scoring leader in James Madison senior Dawn Evans with a 25.6 average. Next up is Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender (24.7) followed by UConn’s Maya Moore (24.0) and Courtney Hurt (24.0) of Virginia Commonwealth, another CAA school.

Secretary of No Defense?

The Guru drove up to the only area game on the schedule Monday night, which was in Piscataway, N.J., where Rutgers (8-6) bested George Washington 60-50 in a nonconference game after trailing the Colonials (5-9) early.

This used to be a key game back in the day when Rutgers, then coached by Theresa Grentz, was in the Atlantic 10 as a rival of George Washington’s.

The postgame press conference produced a few highlights.

Sara Mostafa, a native of Galloway, N.J., and graduate of Absegami High further south, had 23 points and was quite a thorn in the early action against the Scarlet Knights.

Asked if she might have brought some resentment into the contest for not being recruited by Hall of Fame Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, Mostafa impressed third-year GW coach Mike Bozeman with this response:

“I feel comfortable in the A-10 (GWU’s conference), my team is a great fit for me and I know I chose the right school and I know I wouldn’t want to go to any other school.”

Bozeman immediately interjected “That was good.”

Stringer, whose team next hosts Villanova, has made her reputation on teaching defense, particularly the 55 press which has swallowed many an opponent.

Recently, though, a decision was made to spend more time on beefing up the offense so now Stringer would like to know why this team suddenly has forgotten what it does best.

At least that’s the short-form interpretation.

Here is some of what Stringer said: “The posts (like Mostafa) cannot eat us up. I’m so disappointed with this because one of the things is, if we couldn’t do anything else, we could always play great defense.

“We as a team are paying poor defense. We’re scoring but when a team tightens up and starts changing defenses, we start to struggle. So the only thing you can count on, and I know, it’s a fact, one thing you can count on every day, day in and day out, is defense.

“And defense requires great effort. It requires great effort because nobody knows that – you don’t say `This person was a great defensive player.’ Defensive credit means a win. You as a team will win but they (media) won’t say, `So and so gets the credit,’ because … `So and so scored this, this and this.’ So and so had five blocks and how many rebounds.’ That’s an important part of the game.

“We had been practicing a lot this year on the offensive side of things. But on a consistent basis, you could always count on the defense more so ever than the offense. We didn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter today, other than April (Sykes – 20 points). OK? That’s not unexpected simply because offense will fail you from time to time, especially perimeter offense.

“But in the meantime, defense can’t fail you and that’s what failed us. So when (Mostafa) scored all those points, we have to put more pressure because the guards don’t put pressure on the ball and the posts aren’t denying that cut. And if those two things don’t come together, we’re going to die a slow death because it still comes back to defense whether you talk about an entire team.

“It just so happens that was a post player who did that. But you could say the same thing if it was Connecticut and they have outstanding guards. We just have to be a better team overall. A much, much better team and if we do that we will realize the potential that we have. … That’s what leaves me with a serious question – how can I do better. We will get better.”

One reason, perhaps, is that Khadijah Rushdan, the team’s top player who did not play in the lopsided loss at Tennessee because of a bruised knee suffered in the lopsided loss to Texas A&M two weeks ago in the Maggie Dixon Classic, might return for the Villanova game.

In another game of note Monday night, Dayton (9-5), predicted as one of top Atlantic 10 teams but had been on a roller coaster effort, upset host Boston College 95-77 as Patrice Lalor scored 22 points and Justine Raterman scored 21.

Speaking of defense, the Flyers held the Eagles’ Carolyn Swords to 1-of-5 from the field for two points.

Next up for the Guru is a trip to Princeton Tuesday night where La Salle visits. There may be some unfortunate player news involving the Tigers unless it is already out there.

Actually, just checking, the Princeton website advance of the game notes that (top player) Niveen Rasheed suffered a knee injury and is being evaluated.

Look for a tweet from the Guru’s account @womhoopsguru

And before the Guru forgets to note it, St. Joseph’s Katie Kuester is the Big Five women’s player of the week.

-- Mel

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