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.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Guru Report: Michigan State Tops Penn State in Big Ten Showdown

By Mel Greenberg

Things have a way of quickly changing overnight here in Happy Valley.

One can go to sleep in mid-winter having gazed at a clear star-lit sky above the local mountains and awaken to a sheet of white in the form of a howling blizzard.

Likewise inside the Bryce Jordan Center on back-to-back nights the arena unwittingly changed settings from an energized Bon Jovi rock concert Wednesday to a critical women’s basketball game in the Big Ten Conference that saw No. 23 Penn State get rocked and rolled 60-49 by No. 11 Michigan State (21-3, 9-2), which moved to the stop of the standings a half-game ahead of the Nittany Lions (20-6, 9-3).

A short while later Wisconsin’s win over Northwestern put the Badgers in a tie with the Nittany Lions, whom they beat several weeks ago home in Madison.

Heading into Thursday battle with the Spartans, who made the sport appear Greek to Penn State, it was like old times during the three-day build up here after the Nittany Lions, off a five-game win streak, returned to the rankings for only the second time since the end of the 2004-05 season.

That’s when Penn State would regularly own a ranking and head into major conference showdowns in the Big Ten and previously the Atlantic Ten such as Thursday night with the home team atop the Big Ten by a half-game.

But before too long in this one Michigan State turned the clock back to old new times with the Nittany Lions playing tentatively as they did a year ago when they faded after landing a ranking for the first time in what was then year No. 3 in the Coquese Washington coaching era.

One minute Penn State was getting its introductions Thursday night with the expectations of another high-scoring effort. And the next followed by many more, the Nittany Lions offense was reduced to a major power outage forced into 24 turnovers.

It was still a close game when freshman sensation Maggie Lucas of Germantown Academy and Narberth nailed a three pointer to bring Penn State within a point at 19-18 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first half.

But that shot became the high water mark of the Penn State mini-surge.

The Spartans promptly went on a 13-0 run early into the second half and were never seriously threatened, though Penn State did make it slightly interesting near the end of the game.

“We weren’t playing our pace of basketball and we weren’t making shots,” said Lucas, who has dominated the conference weekly rookie award this season. “It’s hard to win when you are not playing your game.”

Mia Nickson with Lucas supplied the only semblance of scoring for Penn State with Nickson collecting 22 points while Lucas scored 15 off the bench. Devon’s Julia Trogele, the only Nittany Lion senior, had 14 rebounds but was scoreless.

Michigan State’s Lykendra Johnson narrowly missed a triple double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals. Taylor Alton scored 12 points.

Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said the key for her squad was to avoid getting into a running game with Penn State, citing the opposition’s ability to make open shots.

Washington, a former associate head coach at Notre Dame, cited the Spartans’ experience as a factor in the opponent’s victory.

“They had four seniors on the floor and they played like it,” she said.

“They had players who had been in this type of game on the road a lot. It didn’t matter what was going on with the game. They maintained their confidence. They maintained their composure.”

However, there was also the knowledge that if the wheels hadn’t come off this game was still very much capable of being claimed in Penn State’s favor.

“You had the top defensive team (Michigan State) in the conference and the top offensive team in the conference and so it was going to be a battle of pace,” Washington said. “And the pace of the game was the pace they wanted.

“The pace of the game that would put the game in the 50s or low 60s. We didn’t push the ball up the floor like we’ve done in the past and then the turnovers slowed the pace of the game for us,” Washington explained.

“Our kids came into the game ready to play but we might have been too ready to play. We might have been too hyped up for the game. When you’re over-emotional that can impact your ability to perform what you normally do.

“We were so hyped up and so ready for the game we might have wound ourselves a little too tight.”

Penn State next heads to Indiana and then to Ohio State, whom the Nittany Lions have already beaten here several weeks ago.

“This was an NCAA tournament type game,” said Washington whose school will be one of the 16 first and second round host sites next month. “And our kids haven’t been in this kind of environment. So we just have to learn.”

Delaware Remains In Contention for a CAA Bye

Towson has been a Bermuda Triangle when the Blue Hens have played on the Tigers’ court in Maryland the last three seasons.

But coach Tina Martin’s squad didn’t disappear Thursday night, winning at Towson 64-52, to hold down fifth place. The Blue Hens (14-9, 7-5 CAA) also move within a game of fourth-place Virginia Commonwealth (13-9, 8-4), which fell 71-51 at home to front-running and defending champion James Madison in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

Dawn Evans scored 30 points for JMU (18-6, 11-1).

The top four teams in the final standings get a bye in next month’s tournament at the Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.

The Blue Hens held Towson (8-15, 2-10) to completing just 7-of-38 field goal shooting attempts in the second half.
“It definitely was not pretty,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said afterwards. “But that’s how Towson makes you play. You have to give credit where credit is due.”

Ellena Delle Donne scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Danielle Parker of nearby Phoenix celebrated her homecoming appearance with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Delaware, which goes to William & Mary Sunday, hosts Virginia Commonwealth, but still must also host James Madison and visit Old Dominion.

Drexel Repelled at Hofstra

A Dragons rally fell short against the Pride on Long Island and Hofstra (14-9, 6-6) took over sole possession of sixth in the CAA with a 66-59 victory that dropped Drexel (13-10, 5-7) to seventh.

West Chester Henderson grad Shante Evans scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the Pride while Drexel’s Hollie Mershon scored 15 points and Jasmina Rosseel scored 14 points.

The Dragons host Northeastern on Sunday at the DaskalakisAthletic Center. The Huskies lost to second-place Old Dominion 69-44.

South Carolina Upsets Kentucky

Dawn Staley may be making some progress guiding the Gamecocks after gaining another upset of a ranked team after recently beating Georgia.

Thursday night’s ambush, also in the Southeastern Conference, occurred at home in Columbia where South Carolina nailed No. 15 Kentucky 66-61.

La’Keisha Sutton and Ieasia Walker each scored 17 for the Gamecocks (14-10, 6-5 SEC).

A’dia Mathies had 16 points for the Wildcats (18-6, 7-4), who lost their second straight this week after a narrow loss to No. 4 Tennessee on Monday.

Kentucky now has to be wary of LSU (17-9, 7-5), which plays the Wildcats Sunday and moved within a game by beating Auburn 55-52 handing the Tigers (13-11, 6-5) their third straight loss with the setback in Baton Rouge.

The Kentucky outcome was one of two major surprises in the SEC with No. 24 Georgia (18-6, 8-3) being shocked at home 69-59 by Vanderbilt (17-7, 8-3), which had squandered all but one of a 16-point lead.

Jasmine Lister had 22 points for the Commodores, while Georgia’s Porsha Phillips was the leading Lady Bulldog scorer with 12 points.

Staley still has hopes of South Carolina reaching the NCAA tournament by using the win as a launch pad for a season-ending run in the conference.

Long Night Ends Well For Virginia

Speaking of Staley, when she played at Virginia in the early 1990s she was involved in an all-time classic triple-overtime win against North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That has now been surpassed with the Cavaliers prevailing in four overtimes 94-92 against the host Wolfpack in Raleigh, N.C. as Ariana Moorer scored before time expired.

It was the longest game for either team as Virginia improved to 14-12 and 3-7 in the ACC while the Wolfpack fell to 10-14 and 1-8.

China Crosby had 19 points for Virginia and Marissa Kastanek topped N.C. State with 23 points.

The Cavaliers have little time to celebrate heading into a game at No. 12 Maryland (20-4, 6-3), which lost an ACC showdown at No. 20 Miami 83-75.

Shenise Johnson scored 30 points for the Hurricanes (21-3, 7-2) in Coral Gables, Fla., while Lynetta Kizer had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins.

Meanwhile in what will be a while-traveling back East on what will be a game-day decision to visit the Ivy League, the Guru will be at either Penn hosting Cornell Friday night or Princeton hosting Columbia.

-- Mel


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