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.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guru Report I: St. John's Survives Big East Visit To Villanova

(Guru's note: If you are in melgreenberg.com, press mel's blog to go to an updated interview with Carol Blazejowski in the post over there under this one. Press media links and philly local to read new Dicision II-Division III news.)

By Mel Greenberg

VILLANOVA, Pa. –
St. John’s made sure Villanova would not be the one Tuesday night to derail the Red Storm’s NCAA tournament hopes with a 57-46 victory in the Big East at the Pavilion that virtually ensured the Wildcats having all summer to plan the celebration for veteran coach Harry Perretta’s 600th career victory.

Perretta, in his 33rd season, began the night needing four more victories to hit the milestone and ended it the same way meaning the only way it could come about before the Wildcats (10-17, 2-17 Big East) close shop is to win Saturday’s senior day game against South Florida, Monday’s trip to Pittsburgh, and two rounds in the conference tournament.

Villanova had topped the four-team invisible basement division of the conference with a two-game win streak over similar cellar dwellers in Cincinnati and Seton Hall, which both lost Tuesday night.

But in St. John’s (19-8, 8-6), the Wildcats faced a squad in and out of the rankings that is trying to make sure it has enough of a resume to not be the one Big East team among nine NCAA contenders to suddenly be given a WNIT party hat.

St. John’s hosts Pittsburgh Saturday and then visits No. 19 West Virginia Monday night. The Mountaineers (21- 7, 7-7), in a similar situation to St. John’s, lost to No. 8 Notre Dame Tuesday night and visits Rutgers Saturday night.

A few sips of hot Coco as in Centhya “Coco” Hart and Da’Shena Stevens helped lead the way for the Red Storm on the offensive end with 15 points each, while Nadirah McKenith scored 12 points and Shenneika Smith went for double 10s in points and rebounds.

Laura Sweeney, shooting 4-for-14 from the field, was the only Villanova player in double figures with 10 points and also was limited by foul trouble.

Sarah Jones had one of her better games with nine points off a 4-for-7 effort from the field, but Lindsay Kimmel, the transfer three-point shooting ace from Temple, had seven points and was just 1-for-6 launching treys as compared to the seven each she had made in recent

Furthermore, before the game, the school announced starting guard Rachel Roberts would miss the remainder of the season because of a right thumb injury.

“At least it’s only one major injury and not like last year,” said Perretta, whose teams in recent seasons have suffered key injuries in February, if not earlier.

“Thank God she didn’t get hurt three games ago or maybe we don’t beat Seton Hall or beat Cincinnati,” Perretta said.

As Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and West Virginia coach Mike Carey have stated on visits here this season, so did St. John’s Kim Barnes Arico utter relief on overcoming Villanova’s methodical style.

“I was just happy to grind it out and escape,” Barnes Arico said. “Because you know, in a nine or 10-point game, it’s only three shots and they can get back in it the way they shoot.”

St. John’s held a 38-28 rebounding advantage although several scrums in the second half made one wonder if Villanova had already made a declaration to play Big East football and was applying the move to all sports in case someone missed the memo.

“Yeah, can you believe it?” Barnes Arico said with a smile. “They killed us.”

Perretta, meanwhile, had to resort to discuss another night of struggles on the offensive end, a recurring theme through most of the Wildcats’ Big East schediule.

“It was brutal,” he said. “I told our team at the beginning we were not ready to play – we were lethargic, slow, and now we get down 10-3 and we’re trying to dig our way out of the hole the whole game.

“We’re not a good enough offensive team to get behind anybody by a lot of points. And then when Laura gets in foul trouble that kills us because we can’t score. And then Rachel not playing tonight hurt us.

“You take an eight-point scorer (Roberts) out of a 52-point scoring team and it’s a lot of points. And St. John’s a pretty good team. They play decent defense. They’re aggressive. They break you down off the dribble, they’re very good at that. And we’re not good at defending that kind of stuff.

“We can defend their plays but not when they take it off the dribble because they’re quicker.

“Our defense was decent, but most of the time we are very inconsistent at executing our offense. The last two games we executed our offense very well and we scored 62 points. Today – St. John’s had something to do with it, don’t get me wrong – but we’re not mentally focused.

“The first two possessions – like Lindsay Kimmel is supposed to set a back screen and she doesn’t set it. I said, `What are you doing? I said, `You didn’t set the back screen.’ She said, `I did set it.’

“They’re mentally out of the game. The last three games she’s been very mentally focused and today she kind of reverted back to a first-year player. Now in the three games before this, she played extremely well within the system. Today, she didn’t play well within the system and you saw when she doesn’t play well within the system.

“Now the last three games, she played very well. She moved without the ball. She knew where she was going. And she made 16 threes or something like that? Today nothing was in the flow. She got some shots but nothing was in the flow.

“When we’re not in the flow, we look worse.”

Perretta talked about needing more players to throw into the guard spot.

“We’ll know next year – if we don’t show improvement, I hate to say it but maybe this group of kids aren’t good enough to get it done in the Big East.”

Perretta keeps hoping this group may be like the one that struggled several years ago but eventually improved enough to land a spot in the NCAA tournament.

The Other Dance

Because some conferences such as the Southeastern that used to land a slew of teams in the NCAA are not as strong this year, here’s what to know about the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which also has a 64-team field.

There are two ways to earn bids. The automatic qualifier for each conference goes to teams that finish first in the regular season standings but get upset in conference tournaments and then get bypassed by the NCAA.

If any of those teams make the field, then the AQ goes to the second-place team, if it doesn’t land an NCAA bid, etc. If a tie exists, the conference designates its best team of the two, usually by overall record.

In terms of picking at-large squads, schools have to be .500 or better in their overall records but can have a losing record within the conference.

A year ago, Florida was behind South Carolina in the SEC but went because when the Gamecocks lost in the first round of the SEC tournament, Florida then had a better overall record.

Temple In Print

Your Guru was requested by his former place of employment to whip up a feature on the Owls in light of the 14-game win streak and showdown games with St. Joseph’s for the Big Five title on the Hawks’ turf Wednesday night and the womano-womano grand finale Sunday at home against No. 7 Xavier that will determine the top seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament no matter what happens in Wednesday’s games.

You can find it over in Philly.com though with the cyber revisions, the Guru can’t tell you exactly where. But he’ll be back with Wednesday’s action, which also includes a key game in the Big East with South Florida visiting Rutgers.

The Guru, obviously, will be at St. Joseph’s.

-- Mel

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