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, February 10, 2011

Guru Report: Gale Force Ending La Salle A-10 Tournament Drought

By Mel Greenberg

Progress is measured in different ways depending on the status of team handling the yardstick.

At the University of Connecticut, for example, progress has been gauged in dealing with a youthful roster, that also became shorter, and the ability for the No. 2 Huskies to recover from the 90-win streak-ending loss at Stanford in late December.

Here at La Salle, the mark of progress for the Explorers under new coach and former Pittsburgh associate head coach Jeff Williams is being able to shed a doormat image that resulted in a last-place pick by the Atlantic 10 coaches in the preseason forecast.

Consider the mission accomplished for the moment, although the conference, due to still existing mathematic possibilities, cannot officially certify the obvious.

But barring a slew of huge upsets over the final portion of the regular season, La Salle is headed for the Atlantic 10 tournament for the first time in four seasons.

Unlike some other conferences such as the mega-populated Big East where everyone gets a shot in the postseason tournament, the bottom two teams in the Atlantic 10 standings get an early start on spring activities.

La Salle has been in that position the last three seasons and the Explorers ouster a year ago was determined by a tie-breaking coin flip with Fordham.

Several days later coach Tom Lochner’s contract was not renewed, although he was given a position elsewhere in the university and he also is serving as an assistant to former Penn star Diana Caramanico at Penn Charter.

The Explorers inherently achieved the trip to Lowell, Mass., and the Tsongas Center next month by rallying from an early 10-point deficit to beat Rhode Island 61-49 Wednesday night at their Tom Gola Arena.

Ashley Gale hit 5-of-12 three-pointers and had a game-high 21 points along with five steals while Ebonee Jones (15 points) and Alexis Scott (11 points) each hit three treys as the Explorers were a nifty 11-for-25 from beyond the arc.

Nadia Duncan had 12 rebounds and Jess Koci grabbed 11.

“I’m really excited, that was our goal,” said Gale, a senior who has had to previously sit home each March after the regular season. “But we can’t stop now. We have to keep playing.”

Gale’s 21.1 points per game leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring in games within the conference.

On Sunday she became the 23rd Explorer to score 1,000 career points and her 3.1 steals per game is 17th in the nation while she is also seventh in treys made per game with a 3.1 average.

“Going through the conference so far, I think she’s an all-conference player because she does it on both ends,” Williams said. “She normally guards the opposing team’s best player and she’s still putting up 20 points in conference.

“That’s what I gauge it on. People are gearing up to stop her and she’s still scoring 20 points.”

Megan Shoniker scored 20 points for Rhode Island (6-17, 0-9) while Caitlin Kearns scored 12 points with 10 rebounds, and Lara Gasper scored 10 points.

The game was also a homecoming for sophomore Ajanae Boone, an Abington High grad from Roslyn, who started and had five points and four rebounds in 27 minutes with URI.

The result also gives La Salle (8-16, 4-5) a two-game win streak for the first time since the early part of the 2008-09 season although that may be short-lived because the Explorers will be decided underdogs Saturday when they visit Temple in what will also be a Big Five contest at the Owls’ McGonigle Hall.

La Salle is tied with St. Joseph’s for eighth place only a half-game behind St. Bonaventure.

Every team behind the Explorers in the conference standings lost Wednesday night.

The win over URI, which is last in the A-10, gives the Explorers a four-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Rams, which is in one of the elimination spots.

La Salle also has a three-game edge and the tiebreaker over St. Louis, the team in the 13th-place elimination spot.
To look at things conservatively, barring upsets La Salle is likely to lose three games to Temple, Charlotte and Richmond – the latter two are home games – with the game at St. Joseph’s perhaps a tossup and a potential win at Massachusetts.

While mathematically, La Salle could finish with 10 losses, Rhode Island is not likely to beat Dayton at home and Duquesne on the road, which would keep the Rams behind the Explorers.

URI hosts St. Louis and Fordham, who are also fighting to avoid elimination, and visit Massachusetts.

St. Louis goes to Rhode Island but is likely to lose four games to frontrunner Xavier, ranked seventh in the nation, St. Bonaventure, Charlotte and Richmond, which would keep them behind La Salle.

This was obviously a game La Salle needed to get against the Rams, who jumped to a 14-4 and 16-6 advantage in the opening minutes before the Explorer then went on a 27-10 run and never trailed again.

“We felt that this was one we got to get (beating Rhode Island) to really separate ourselves from those lower-level teams,” Williams said.

“Now we have to set new goals because we’re jockeying for position. We have Temple this weekend so we’ll see if we can step up to the challenge.”

Temple and Xavier Continue To Roll

The Owls (18-6, 9-0 A-10) kept pace with No. 7 Xavier, running their win streak to 11 straight by beating host St. Bonaventure 54-38 in upstate New York.

Temple moved closer to clinching one of the four bye berths for the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Qwedia Wallace scored 13 points for Temple while Kristen McCarthy had 12 points.

Temple again played strong defense – coach Tonya Cardoza was also pleased with the bench support – holding Megan Van Tatenhove to eight points for the Bonnies (15-10, 5-5).

Xavier (20-2, 10-0), which visits Temple the last game of the regular season at the end of the month, routed host Richmond 70-57 as Tyeasha Moss had a career-high 21 points, a total matched by teammate Ta’Shia Phillips, who surpassed her 2,000th career point.

Brittani Shells had a game-high 24 points for the Spiders (15-9, 6-4), who are in sixth place.

Defense Carries St. Joseph’s Again

The Hawks (14-9, 4-5), who are tied for eighth with La Salle, beat Fordham 54-47 in the Bronx, holding the Rams to 28.1 percent from the field to drop them to 10-15 overall and 2-7 in the conference.

Fordham is tied for 10th in the conference with George Washington (7-15, 2-7), which fell 71-55 at Charlotte (19-5, 7-2), which is holding down third place with Duquesne (20-4, 7-2), a 67-41 winner in Pittsburgh over visiting St. Louis (7-17, 1-8).

“We have to find ways to score but our defense has been terrific,” St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said.

The Hawks hit 9 of 12 foul shots in the final two minutes.

Katie Kuester scored 13 points for St. Joseph’s and Kelly Cavallo had a team-high nine rebounds, scored 10 points and equaled her career high with five blocked shots.

Ashley Prim scored 10 points while Fordham’s Kyara Weeks had 12 points.

Dayton (16-8, 8-3) stayed in fifth place by picking up a 66-58 win at home over Massachusetts (6-19, 2-8), which is in 12th place a half-game ahead of Saint Louis.

Villanova Swept By Providence

The Friars (11-11, 4-6 Big East) at home in Rhode Island had more than a few prayers in rolling to a 34-17 halftime lead and eventual 58-49 win over the Wildcats (8-15, 0-10) who remain winless in the Big East.
Providence won both games over the Wildcats.

Coach Harry Perretta is still six wins from his 600th career triumph and not likely to reach the milestone until next season.

Villanova’s Laura Sweeney scored 13 points and former Temple player Lindsay Kimmel, who became eligible this season after her transfer two years ago, scored 12 off four three-pointers.

Big Ten Showdown

Truth be told, although the Guru did cover the La Salle game, this post is really being written up here in the pre-sunrise hours at State College where the Guru zipped away soon after the Explorers’ game had ended.

And for those who know the Guru’s trick, two for one succeeded again.

Thursday night its No. 23 Penn State hosting No. 13 Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten which the Nittany Lions lead the Spartans by a half-game prior to the showdown in the Bryce Jordan Center.

How big is this game? Well, this is the Guru’s first in-season, post-media day visit here in three seasons, if not four.

-- Mel


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