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, February 21, 2011

Guru Report: Busted Play Dooms Delaware Against James Madison

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, Del. –
On Delaware’s day to Think Pink for breast cancer awareness, coach Tina Martin was internally seeing red over her Blue Hens’ inability to think at all at the finish.

And by the time another episode of the Colonial Athletic Association’s women’s basketball season was officially posted, Delaware’s narrow 69-64 loss to James Madison (21-6, 14-1) at the Carpenter Center Sunday afternoon in front of a lively crowd of 3,316 placed the victors and defending conference champions on the doorstep of a regular season title.

As for Delaware (15-11, 8-7 CAA), less than a week after it seemed the Blue Hens had a chance to catch Virginia Commonwealth (16-9, 11-4), which visits here Thursday, for fourth place and the final bye slot in next month’s CAA tournament at the Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., the squad remains the best of what has become a black-and-really-blue invisible Central Division in the standings well below the leaders but unable to break away from each other.

Delaware is still fifth, now three games away from VCU and one ahead of Drexel (15-11, 7-8) and Hofstra (15-11, 7-8), tied for sixth, who had their own sad stories to tell as did eighth place George Mason (10-16, 8-10).

Drexel squandered a 10-point lead to VCU in the second half to post its second home loss of the season 73-67 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.

Hofstra fell to second-place Old Dominion 79-77 at home on Long Island, while home was also no comfort to George Mason (12-14, 6-9) where the Patriots dropped a 59-53 defeat to the Towson (9-17, 3-12) bunch from up the road in Maryland.

Thus Old Dominion (18-8, 12-3) and N.C. Wilmington (20-6, 12-3), which gained a 48-33 win over visiting Northeastern (8-18, 3-12), remained tied for second two games behind front-running James Madison and one ahead of VCU.

Focusing on the dialogue out of here first, from the James Madison side of things came another in an ongoing of stellar performances from senior point guard Dawn Evans, an all-American candidate among the nation’s scoring leaders who produced 27 points for the Dukes’ 12th-straight win.

Lauren Jimenez had 14 points, Tarik Hislop scored 11, and Jalissa Taylor grabbed 11 rebounds.

Delaware sophomore sensation Elena Delle Donne, on her seventh game back from missing 11 straight suffering from symptoms of Lyme disease, scored 21 points while Lauren Carra scored 17 points.

Sarah Acker, the transfer whom three seasons ago was Big Five rookie of the year at St. Joseph’s in nearby Philadelphia, scored 10 points.

Delle Donne and Evans didn’t quite match the scoring fireworks of a year ago in Harrisonburg, Va., when Delle Donne, the eventual CAA player and rookie of the year, smashed the JMU Convocation Center record with 54 points and Evans tied the all-tiime team high mark of 38 in the 88-83 overtime victory by the Dukes.

That loss was part of a trend, which continued here Sunday, in which Delaware showed it could hang with the best teams of the CAA but not prevail in the closing minutes.

JMU coach Kenny Brooks was glad to take the win, move near the regular season title, and perhaps have a team suddenly build enough of a resume to be the lone CAA school capable of landing an NCAA at-large bid if the Dukes don’t win the automatic bid at next month’s conference tournament.

“All of a sudden you’re creeping (into the picture), your RPI is in the high 30s or low 40s and you continue to win, you get a chance and that’s why today’s game was so big,” Brooks said.

“The kids have really bought into one game at a time, and when they do that, the focus is on what’s right on hand,” he said.
Brooks spoke of his star and Delle Donne.

“They’re two of the better players in the country,” Brooks noted. “Obviously they have to do more for their teams than most superstars in this league.

“I watch Elena Delle Donne on film. I watch her half the time as a fan and half the time as a coach and then I get to see Dawn Evans every day in practice. I’m blessed with a kid of that caliber.

“This league has been fortunate with (former Drexel star Gabriela) Marginean, Delle Donne, Evans, and now (VCU’s) Courtney Hurt.”

Delle Donne was the focal point of what became a busted play at the finish for Delaware when the Blue Hens still had a chance to win near the end.

But before getting to that moment, let’s take it to where the Blue Hens were up 64-62 in what hand been a terrific contest, with just over three minutes left.

Hislop tied the score at 64-64 after a Delaware turnover and then the Blue Hens committed three more miscues without getting a shot off before Evans’ layup gave the Dukes a 66-64 lead with 1:45 left in regulation.

Somewhere in there also appeared to be a missed travel call against JMU by the officials.

Acker, with a chance to cause another deadlock, missed both foul shots.

Taylor, making one of two foul shots, extended the lead to 67-64.

With 27 seconds left, Delaware called time. But the play drawn up never happened. Delle Donne, who has had trouble with her three-point shot because of the effects of her recent illness concerning stamina off her legs, launched a desperation trey that hit the front of the rim with 12 seconds left.

Evans grabbed the rebound and then was fouled and went to the line to score the last two point of the day.

Martin, afterwards, went through what was supposed to happen, uttering her despair but also tempering her emotions.

“We messed up the play,” Martin said. “Meghan (McLean) was supposed to have the basketball. We were supposed to bring Elena off a double screen. If Elena had a good look at a three, she was supposed to take it. If not, we were going to run a ball screen and she was supposed to go to the rim.

“HOWEVER, that never happened because Meghan never came and got the ball and Elena took the ball and took it off the top screen,” Martin said.

“But bottom line, they’re kids. I love them to death. We didn’t execute the play it was supposed to be executed. And again, you hear it all the time in the world of sports.

“You draw up a play, and we practice it all the time, too. It wasn’t something I drew up on the scene. We had practiced this particular play for weeks. We did not run it. She was going to go to the rim unless she had an open look at a three. The second option was Carra.

“But because we never came back and got the ball, we never set up the play. Elena ended up with the ball in her hands and did what she thought was best at that moment.

“She came off the top of the screen and didn’t get a good look. She shot it and rimmed it. This is what happens in college basketball. That’s just the way it is. You write something up. They don’t always do it.

“I’ll live with it. I’ll go home and have plenty of sleepless nights because we didn’t do what we were suppose to do.”

Delle Donne was philosophical.

“You can take away positives instead of negatives but it still hurts to lose that game,” she said.

Incredibly as this sounds, Martin can still dream after the nightmare ending.

The reason is for those who live on the prairie and look at the numbers in the CAA and get one impression, the reality is that in this particular year, though it appears that there is a clear cut frontal group, on a given day the forlorn middle of the pack crowd have the capability to wreak havoc in the CAA tournament, especially in the quarterfinals.

Martin spoke to that very concept.

“From where we’ve come from, from all the crap we’ve had this year, JMU hasn’t had near the issues that we’ve had, they’re a great team and we had a chance on our home floor to beat them.

“So yeah, I’m disappointed. I’m extremely disappointed for the kids. I’m proud of the kids. They battled their tails off but when we needed to execute again, the three sophomores that were on the floor – we’ve got to be able to execute.

“We’re playing without a starting point guard. We’re playing with Elena, who’s been back for fifth games and who has missed half our season.

“We’re in a position now, we won’t be in the top four (with byes). But the bottom line is there are some teams in this league that can win four games in four days and we’re one of them.

“We gotta be. That’s what I have to believe now and that’s what I have to sell to my team. And that’s what we’re going to do,” Martin continued.

“We played three games last year, two of which we won and in the semifinal we lost at the buzzer and my kids said they would have had enough to play in the championship.

“So the bottom line is: Why not us be the first one to win four games in four days. I’m not counting my team out at all.

“This is like our second season. We had Elena for the first part of the season. And then for 11 games we didn’t have her and we tried to find ourselves.

“And now we’re in, what the fifth game or sixth game, we have her back again. So we’ve had three different segments of our season.”

Actually, on a count, it’s been seven and the Hens are 4-3 in that stretch.

“That’s really hard. I’m not giving up. Our team’s not giving up. We have another game on Thursday we have to try to win. We have to win as many as we can win (three left including trip to ODU). All three are going to be tough.

“We’re the ones scrambling and trying to put people all over the place. We’re going to flip the coin and try to get as good as we can in the next two or three weeks and then we’re going to go after it.

“There’s teams in the middle – Drexel, Hofstra – teams in this league are very, very competitive. The teams that have been able to have stable seasons both physically and mentally, they’re in the top four.

“Teams that have had to battle all kinds of adversity like us because of illnesses and injuries – we’re not in the top four. But guess what? We’re going to strap our shoes on and when it comes tournament time on that neutral floor, we’ve got just as good a chance as anyone else.”

Dragons Fire Cooled By VCU While Monarchs Rule Pride At Finish

Drexel’s Kamile Nacickaite equaled her career high with 30 points only to have the effort by a 22-2 run by VCU in the second half to gain a 73-67 win.

Courtney Hurt, a top candidate with Evans and Delle Donne for CAA player of the year to be voted by the coaches, had 29 points and 11 rebounds.

Andrea Barbour, a transfer from Virginia Tech, had 24 points.

Jasmina Rosseel had 15 points and Tyler Hale scored 10 for Drexel.

Kquanise Byrd’s shot with three seconds remaining gave Old Dominion a 79-77 win at Hofstra that kept the Lady Monarchs tied with N.C. Wilmington for second two games behind James Madison, while the Pride stayed tied for sixth with Drexel.

Shadasia Greene had 17 points for ODU, topping three other teammates in double figures.
Hofstra’s Shante Evans had 18 points and 10 rebounds while the Pride’s Nicole Capurso scored 19 points.

Nationally Notable

No. 11 Michigan State (24-3, 12-2 Big Ten) clinched a share of its third Big Ten title and first since the 2005 season when the Spartans reached the national title game by beating Illinois 69-56 as Kalisha Keane scored 27 points.

The Illini’s Karisma Penn had her conference-leading 16th double double with 33 points and 11 rebounds.
Idle Penn State is now two games back with two left.

Though Ohio State won’t win the Buckeyes’ seventh-straight regular conference title in the Big 10, they are becoming a force again, beating Purdue 76-74, while Northwestern beat visiting Minnesota 62-55.

La’Keisha Sutton’s career high 24 points helped South Carolina to a 65-49 win over visiting Auburn as the Gamecocks’ record improved to 16-11 overall and 8-6 in the Southeastern Conference.

The win total is the best in the three seasons Dawn Staley has coached South Carolina since leave Temple.

No. 7 Xavier’s 77-51 win over visiting Duquesne (20-7, 7-5) put the Musketeers (23-2, 12-0) back into a first-place tie in the Atlantic 10 with Temple, while Duquesne’s loss now makes it a five-way tie for fourth and the last bye for next month’s A-10 tournament at the Tsognas Center in Lowell, Mass., near Boston.

Ta’Shia Philllips had 26 points and 11 rebounds for Xavier, which also got 16 points and 12 rebounds from Amber Harris.

Samantha Pollino had 11 points for Duquesne.

In the Big East, No. 10 DePaul (25-3, 12-1) stayed in second by blowing away No. 18 Georgetown 82-57 in Chicago as Katherine Harry had 10 points and 12 rebounds to give the Blue Demons the most conference wins since becoming a member.

Sugar Rodgers had 20 for the Hoyas (20-7, 8-5).

Chiney Ogwumike’s 18 points helped No. 3 Stanford (24-2, 15-0) stay first in the PAC-19 with a 67-53 road win at No. 9 UCLA (22-3, 12-2), which got 14 points from Darxia Morris.

No. 7 Duke (24-3, 10-2) held its share of the lead in the Atlantic Coast Conference beating visiting Virginia Tech 90-40 at Cameron in Durham, N.C. Jasmine Thomas had 27 points for the Blue Devils against the Hokies (11-16, 1-11).

No. 15 Florida State (22-5, 10-2) stayed locked with Duke by beating No. 16 Maryland 72-66 in Talahassee, Fla., as Cierra Bravard and Chelsea Davis each scored 14 points.

Maryland (21-6, 11-5 ACC), which was coming off a big home win over Duke, got a career-high 26 points from freshman Alyssa Thomas, while Lynetta Kiser had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Boston College (18-9, 5-7 ACC) stayed in the NCAA picture beating Virginia 73-50 in Charlottesville as Kerri Shields, this sister of St. Joseph’s freshman Erin, had 17 points, and Carolyn Swords had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Cavaliers (15-13, 4-8), who host Duke Thursday, were outrebounded 51-36.

Kentucky (20-7, 9-5 SEC) took a Southeastern Conference win 80-71 at Vanderbilt (18-9, 9-5) as Kayla Snowden scored 22 points for the No. 19 Wildcats.

Boston U stayed in the America East race with a 72-68 win over Stony Brook. Houston won the regular season Conference USA outright with a 77-61 win over Texas-El Paso.

That’s plenty to chew so the Guru will be back in more than a few with the next post.

-- Mel


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