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 17, 2011

Guru Report: A Sweep Night In The Atlantic 10 For Big Five Trio

(Guru's note: Depending how you got here, there is a post above this following up on the events at Swarthmore on a busy night for the Guru who started there and arrived at La Salle in time for the finish. There is also some D2-3 coverage under the Philly Local tab in media news at megreenberg.com)

By Mel Greenberg

It was quite a Wednesday night for the Philadelphia Big Five wing in Atlantic 10 women’s basketball.

Temple clinched a first-round bye and at least second place in next month’s conference tournament and kept pace with No. 6 Xavier – each posted lopsided wins – staying on a collision course for their end-of-the-regular season showdown Feb. 27 at the Owls’ Liacouras Center.

La Salle, picked for last place by the A-10 coaches in the preseason poll, used the front door in dramatic style to end a three-year drought to earn a place in the conference tournament with a stunning 85-84 upset of third-place Charlotte in the Explorers’ Tom Gola Arena.

And St. Joseph’s looked more like the Hawks of December in surprising host Duquesne 79-73 in Pittsburgh to win their fourth straight.

Owls Rout George Washington

While Xavier (22-2, 11-0 Atlantic 10) was giving La Salle some unnecessary help with an easy 92-60 win over host St. Louis (7-19, 1-10) as Amber Harris scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and teammate Ta’Shia Phillips scored 20, Temple was having a party in the nation’s capital decimating George Washington 89-36 in the Coionials’ Smith Center.

“It was our best game of the year in that we were scoring and also playing great defense,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said from the team bus after the Owls (20-6, 11-0) won their 13th straight.

It was not that long ago that George Washington (8-17, 3-8) was the major threat to Temple’s pursuit of conference titles.

The 53-point differential was the second most one-sided victory in Temple’s history and six Owls in the game scored in double figures as they rang up their eighth-straight 20-victory season.

Qwedia Wallace scored 18 points. Shey Peddy scored 16 and dealt nine assists, Kristen McCarthy and Victoria Macaulay each scored 14 points, and BJ Williams scored 11.

“Victoria was very good in the post for us tonight,” Cardoza said.

Dani Jackson scored 10 points for GWU, the lone Colonial to score in double figures.

Temple, which hosts idle Dayton (16-9, 7-4) Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Liacouras Center in a game that will be televised on the CBS College Sports Network, committed just seven turnovers – a season low – while the Owls forced the Colonials into 26 turnovers, which yielded them 46 points.

Depending what happens in the bottom of this week’s Associated Press womern’s poll, a Temple win over the Flyers could returns them to the rankings for the first time since 2007.

The losses by Charlotte (20-6, 8-3) and Duquesne (20-6, 7-4) means Temple will finish no worse than second since they have wins over both teams.

The Owls visit St. Joseph’s next Wednesday with the Big Five title on the line before hosting Xavier at the end of the week.

La Salle Renaissance Continues

Before La Salle (9-17, 5-6) foiled predictions on the night, had they lost to the 49ers, they could have backed into the A-10 tournament, which will be held next month at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass.

The St. Louis loss and the 64-43 loss by Rhode Island (7-18, 1-10) to Fordham (11-16, 3-8) would have kept the Explorers in front of those two because of wins over each serving tiebreakers when the final standings will be compiled.

Idle Massachusetts, which plays Rhode Island Saturday and La Salle next weekend at the finish, could replace one of the two bottom teams in terms of elimination.

The bottom two teams don’t go – a fate suffered the last three seasons by La Salle, which was ousted a year ago by virtue of a coin flip with Fordham.

But new coach Jeff Williams, the former associate head coach at Big East member Pittsburgh, has finally gotten the Explorers on a winning mentality in recent weeks.

Mental toughness is what was needed at the finish in a game in which the Explorers were down eight points at the start of the second half.

Ebonee Jones got La Salle on the winning side of the scoreboard for good at 58-57 with a jumper as 11 minutes, 55 seconds remained in the game.

She followed next with a three-pointer.

Still, the game came down to the final moments.

La Salle had gone ahead 83-81 with 21 seconds left on two fouls shots by senior star Ashley Gale, who had never been to the A-10 tournament in her career.

Then after Charlotte missed a shot, Nadia Duncan grabbed the rebound and went to the line but missed both La Salle foul shots.

Charlotte’s Jennifer Hailey got the rebound with five seconds left but Gale stole the ball and then went to the line, making both foul shots with two seconds left.

Then as time expired, Jai Fourney launched a long trey to set up the game’s final score.

Gale finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and four of La Salle’s 10 steals, while Jess Koci and Alexis Scott each scored 14 points.

Epiphany Woodson topped five Charlotte players in double figures with 18 points, while Hailey had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Charlotte had recently been projected by bracketologists into the NCAA women’s field with Xavier, Temple, and Duquesne.

“We made plays down the stretch,” Williams said of the outcome. “We hadn’t done that so this was the first time that we made plays.

“Our goal was to make the conference tournament, we accomplished that, now we just want to finish .500 or above (in the A-10), he said with an eye to Saturday’s A-10 and Big Five battle at St. Joseph’s (2 p.m.).

“We want to position ourselves for the tournament and hopefully make some noise when we get there,” Williams continued.

“Nadia Duncan had a huge rebound at the end, got to the line, missed two free throws, but Ashley, being Ashley made a huge defensive play.

“She doesn't get enough credit for her defensive prowess. She has stepped it up offensive, defensively and as a team leader. She’s somebody who you can depend on for 20 points and a great defensive effort. She made the play of the game with the steal.”

Gale was determined to win this one.

“I was like, `I’m not losing this, when plays come down, I just have to be there,’” Gale said of her plays down the stretch.

“Everything is beatable for us – that’s the way we go in there – to fight to the end.”

Baker Cooks A Hawks Win

St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin hadn’t seen Michelle Baker perform as she did Wednesday night against Duquesne since late in the nonconference season back in December when the Hawks seemed poised to stir things on the conference slate.

“She was tremendous,” Griffin said after the game. “And we got some help from the bench. The thing is we scored and when we are scoring, we play enough good defense that we can win a few games.”

Baker, hitting 10 of 15 field goal attempts, was unstoppable scoring 22 points and the Hawks shot 56 percent from the field.

Ashley Prim scored 12 from the bench and dealt eight assists while Katie Kuester and Kelly Cavallo each scored 10 as the Hawks won their fourth straight and host La Salle Saturday.

If St. Joseph’s wins, they will join Temple at 3-0 in the City Series race, going into next Wednesday’s game to decide the local crown.

The Owls won the earlier A-10 only game last month at the Liacouras Center.

The St. Joseph’s streak started with a win at Rhode Island in a game they trailed by 11 points and appeared to be sinking down to elimination territory in the A-10 standings.

Now the Hawks are in a three-way tie for sixth with St. Bonaventure and Richmond, holding the seventh seed for the moment.

La Salle is ninth.

Samantha Pollino scored 20 points for Duquesne, which lost its second straight and travels to Xavier for a noon game Sunday on the CBS College Sports Network.

The Dukes are in danger of dropping out of a bye slot – there are four – for the A-10 tournament.

Looking Ahead

No. 23 Penn State will be trying to stay at least a half-game behind Michigan State and go for a season-sweep Thursday night when the Lady Lions visit Ohio State, which had been a top 10 team at the start of the season but has since plummeted in the conference standings.

Drexel, trying to hold sixth place in the Colonial Athletic Association, will host William & Mary.

Delaware, which can still catch Virginia Commonwealth for fourth place and the last bye slot for next month’s CAA tournament at the Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., near Washington, will visit George Mason, which upset the Blue Hens in Newark earlier this season.

The Guru will be joining Associated Press national women’s writer Doug Feinberg, fresh off his exclusive interview with Diana Taurasi after she was cleared of taking performance enhancing drugs, as your writing duo heads to College Park, Md., for Thursday night’s ACC tussle between No. No. 16 Maryland and No. 5 Duke, which leads the conference.

The Guru is having some technical difficulty tossing direct links into this blog at the moment, but if you Google, besides Doug’s coverage, there’s a good AP story on James Madison’s Dawn Evans fight against kidney disease and another on former Temple coach Dawn Staley’s efforts that seem to finally have South Carolina on the move.

Staley’s Gamecocks play No. 4 Tennessee Thursday night.

There’s also an advance of the Maryland game.

Actually, if you go to hoopfeed.com our friend Cheryl Coward usually has all the links at her site.

-- Mel


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