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.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guru Report: Temple Survives La Salle While Penn Thrives Off Ivy Weekend Sweep

By Mel Greenberg

Temple avoided a Saturday day and night of upsets in the Atlantic 10 by holding off local rival La Salle 72-63 for the Owls’ 12th straight victory while St. Joseph’s was one of those A-10 teams that pulled an ambush in grabbing a third straight victory by topping visiting Richmond 71-61 at the Hawks’ Hagan Arena.

Freshman Erin Shields had 17 points and four assists for St. Joseph’s (15-9, 5-5 A-10), which clinched a berth at next month’s Atlantic 10 tournament at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass.

A week ago the Hawks had begun to appear in danger of not making the 12-team A-10 field before rallying from an 11-point deficit at Rhode Island to start the current win streak.

Samir Van Grinsven had 15 points for St. Joseph’s, Kelly Cavallo had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Katie Kuester scored all 11 of her points in the second half against the Spiders (15-10, 6-5)

Meanwhile, Penn with a 60-40 Ivy League win at home over Columbia at The Palestra continued to set personal standards for success in recent competition. As for the two locals on the road in the Big East Saturday -- Villanova and Rutgers – well, put that discussion on hold until much further down in this post.

Temple (19-6, 10-0 A-10, 3-0 Big Five) was a prohibitive favorite going into a visit from nearby La Salle (8-17, 4-6, 0-3) at McGonigle Hall in what were a conference game, a Big Five local battle, and the centerpiece of the Owls’ efforts in the annual Pink Zone initiative to fight against breast cancer.

Penn (9-12, 3-4) also had its Pink Zone event Saturday night in its game against the Lions (5-17, 4-4).

The common denominator on both sides for Temple and La Salle was a quest for victory but mostly for different reasons.

A La Salle win would put the Explorers on the doorstep of officially avoiding elimination from an Atlantic 10 tournament slot for first time in four years.

Teams in the 13th and 14th places at the bottom of the final regular season standings stay home. A year ago, La Salle missed out by losing a coin toss with Fordham for the final slot leading several days later to former coach Tom Lochner’s contract not being renewed.

He was given another position in the university and several weeks later replaced by former Pittsburgh associate head coach Jeff Williams.

An Explorers win Saturday would also keep them alive for at least a piece of the Big Five title.

Temple’s goals had more of a premium quality, which is the norm for such schools extending their profile into the national picture.

A win meant keeping pace with No. 7 Xavier (21-2, 10-0) at the top of the conference as one of two unbeaten squads in A-10 competition (the two will collide here at the Liacouras Center on February 27), extending a win streak that is on a four-year high, moving closer to clinching one of four first-round byes in next month’s A-10 tourney in Lowell, Mass., at the Tsongas Center, and moving within one game of a four-team sweep to end Villanova’s one-year reign as Big Five champions.

Most importantly, it meant gaining more strength for an eighth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and ninth in the last 10 season as well as a potential return to the rankings in the next Associated Press poll in light of some losses suffered by several teams in low spots of the current Top 25.

Xavier, which has been in the Top 10 all season, won its 25th straight A-10 regular season game, beating Fordham 77-55 at home in the Cintas Center in Cincinnati to drop the Rams to 10-16 overall and 2-8 in the conference.

Amber Harris scored 18 points for the Musketeers.

Temple got help in the quest for a bye courtesy of several upsets elsewhere Saturday.

The 73-52 win Saturday night by host Charlotte (20-5, 8-2) over Dayton (16-9, 7-4) kept the 49ers two games behind Temple with the victory.

But if the Owls win at George Washington (8-16, 3-7) Wednesday, they clinch a bye over Dayton ahead of the Flyers’ key visit Saturday to Temple at 5 p.m. They could also finish no worse than second if La Salle upsets Charlotte at home on Wednesday night because the Owls have already beaten the 49ers on the road last month to start conference play.

George Washington, a former perennial conference power that has fallen on hard times, stayed in the hunt for next month’s A-10 tournament by getting a 62-46 win at home in the Smith Center over Massachusetts (6-20, 2-9), whose loss was helpful to La Salle.

Tara Booker had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Colonials while teammate Danni Jackson also scored 16 points.

A Temple win over the Colonials also guarantees the Owls a finish ahead of Duquesne (20-5, 7-3), which was upset 70-63 at St. Bonaventure (16-10, 6-5) as Jessica Jenkins had career highs of 31 points and eight rebounds for the Bonnies.

The Owls beat Duquesne in Pittsburgh last Saturday.

St. Joseph’s stayed in eighth with the win over Richmond (15-10, 6-5) but the Hawks mathematically, though not likely, could finish as high as fourth and gain a bye if they win their last four games.

They also could drop to 11th by losing them all.

Once Saturday’s action at Temple got under way, it seemed the Owls would make quick work of La Salle, jumping to a 16-6 lead with 10 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first half.

But just as they did in Wednesday’s win at home over Rhode Island, the Explorers recovered from an early double-digit deficit and went to the halftime break ahead 31-30 on Jess Koci’s shot before time expired.

Though outrebounded in the first half 25-18, Temple controlled the boards after the break gaining a 28-14 advantage the rest of the way.

For the first time in a while Temple was unable to achieve the signature component of the Owls’ tough defense: shutting down their opponent’s top scorer.

Ashley Gale scored 22 for the game, matching the total of Temple’s Kristen McCarthy, but the Owls got a break when the Cheltenham grad went to the bench with her fourth personal foul with 16:07 left in the game.
Minutes earlier Gale’s trey gave La Salle a six-point lead but then Temple used a 9-3 run to tie the game 41-41 with Gale on the sidelines.

After another quick tie 43-43 the Owls went on a 7-0 run to go ahead and stay for the rest of the game. Gale returned with 11:18 left in the game and Temple ahead 50-43.

“That was a blessing for us because we couldn’t stop her,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “So, good thing she did pick up her fourth foul. But again the last thing you would want is for someone to come in here and outplay you and have their leading scorer get her average.

“We’ve been priding ourselves on our defense and we definitely didn’t defend like we should have. That’s something you just can’t make excuses for that.

“We definitely weren’t communicating on the defensive end. We allowed (inaudible) getting wide-open shots. One of the things we haven’t allowed the team’s best player to score – not only score, we haven’t allowed them to get shots off.

“The fact she was able to get 16 shots off means we weren’t defending the way we were suppose to.”
McCarthy, the reigning Big Five player of the year, also had seven rebounds, dealt three assists and grabbed six steals. Natasha Thames in the post tied her career high with 15 points and also grabbed nine rebounds.

Shey Peddy had 16 points and also grabbed nine rebounds while Qwedia Wallace had 13 points.
La Salle’s Koci scored 12 points.

Williams had mixed feelings about his Explorers, happy with the comeback but not exactly elated with them being put back on their heels at the outset.

“We spotted them nine points and it’s tough to come back against a team like Temple and when you get back in it, you’ve exerted so much energy that it kind of wears on you down the stretch and you are unable to make some hustle plays, getting some loose balls down the stretch that could have made this a little tighter game,” Williams said.

He again praised Gale’s effort.

“She’s been doing it all year against anybody we’ve lined up against and the thing I love about Ashley is she plays both ends of the floor. She defends the opponent’s best player, she defends the press and normally she doesn’t come out of the game.”

Williams saw it as a sign of progress in being competitive against Temple after being rocked earlier by Xavier and Dayton in the conference.

Despite the loss that dropped La Salle into ninth place a game behind St. Joseph’s, the Explorers inherently are still in strong position to make the conference tournament.

They could also impact the Big Five race when they go to St. Joseph’s on Saturday because a win would mean the Hawks could only tie the Owls for the Big Five title by beating them at home on Feb. 23.

If St. Joseph’s wins, both will be unbeaten in the Big Five before the last game. Temple earlier defeated the Hawks at home in the A-10 only contest.

But the Big Five part of Temple’s game against La Salle was definitely on the minds of the Owls who had won four straight City Series trophies under former coach Dawn Staley and then shared a fifth with the Hawks in Cardoza’s first season in 2008-09.

A year ago, Villanova’s ugly 44-32 win at Temple ended the string as the Wildcats won the Big Five outright a game ahead of the Owls.

“The thing is there’s a (Big Five) championship on the line and we knew that coming here and playing this game today,” Cardoza said. “We wanted to put ourselves into position that when we do go to St. Joe’s, we go there to win a championship.

“But we’re just trying to play good basketball right now – every victory counts. The month of November was tough – I think we started 2-4 – so we have our backs up against the wall. But once the New Year came around, we’ve been playing pretty good basketball and we can’t have setbacks.

“And today was definitely a setback for us on the defensive end.”

Penn’s Milestones

The Quakers completed a weekend sweep in the Ivy League for the first time in two seasons after beating the Lions and also matched the school record for best improvement over the previous season with seven overall wins.

Penn can easily top that in the second half of the Ivy schedule, playing five of seven games at home.

This wasn’t ice hockey but the Quakers, who were tied 25-25 at the half, used power plays, actually plays by Erin Power who had 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had five steals.

Meghan McCullough had eight points and six steals for the Quakers, while Jess Knapp scored 13 points.

Brianna Orlich scored 15 for the Lions.

“It feels unbelievable,” Power said of the weekend sweep. “It feels great to get two wins at home, especially in front of a great crowd. It’s hard to put in words how hard we worked for this and how good it feels.”

Knapp spoke of Penn’s new identity in using a strong second half to subdue the opposition.

“We always talk about having an identity as a team,” Knapp said. “And Columbia is dangerous. They start off helter skelter, a really fast-paced game.

“I think in the first half, we were just playing that kind of game. We weren’t really playing our game with our defensive principles and all that. I think at halftime we just went in there and had to make the 20 minutes of the second half our kind of play and we really did that.”

Penn had suffered two tough road losses the previous weekend at Dartmouth and in double overtime at Harvard.

Second-year coach Mike McLaughlin, who previously coached local Division II national power Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia, talked about the Quakers’ ability to shake off the adversity.

“It’s unbelievable the progress these players are making,” McLaughlin said. “To come in here and earn a first sweep – a year ago everyone doubted we could do this but the credit goes to the players.

“To come in here and bounce back from the game last night (a win over Cornell) and not to be anything but to come out here and try to get our first sweep – its huge but credit the players.

As for the resiliency, he noted, “I think they were really upset but I think they knew that that’s the way this game goes and they didn’t put their heads down at all.

“That was a tough weekend and to come back here – they’re getting better.”

Princeton also showed an ability to bounce back and thanks to help from up north from Yale and Brown, the Tigers are once again all alone in first place defending their championship of a year ago.

A week ago Harvard at home in Cambridge, Mass., had ended Princeton’s 22-game Ivy win streak.

Following the win over Columbia, Friday night, Princeton (17-4, 6-1) returned to Jadwin Gym Saturday night and downed Cornell 65-43 as Devonna Allgood scored 22 points for a career-high.

Addie Micir added 14 points while Lauren Edwards scored 13 against the Big Red (5-17, 2-6) as Princeton won its 18th straight home game.

Meanwhile what Yale (10-12, 6-2) started Friday night, Brown (7-15, 3-5) finished off Saturday night at home in Providence, R.I., with their third straight win: a narrow 57-56 victory over Harvard (13-8, 5-2) that toppled the Crimson from first place.

Sheila Dixon had 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in helping the Bears pull the upset. Hannah Passafulme scored 13 points for Brown.

Harvard’s Emma Markley had 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Yale capped its Pink Zone weekend by taking a 66-53 win over Dartmouth (5-16, 1-6) at the John J. Lee Ampitheater as Megan Vasquez had a game high 21 points and Janna Graf had 15 points.

Big East Struggles Continue For ‘Nova and Rutgers

Maybe Villanova’s winless run through the Big East will end Tuesday when Cincinnati visits and maybe not on the team’s Pink Zone night at the Pavilion.

But the conference misery continued for Harry Perretta’s young Wildcats (8-16, 0-11) Saturday at Syracuse (17-7, 5-6), which rolled to an easy 70-49 win at home in Manley Fieldhouse despite a career-high 21 points from Lindsay Kimmel, who transferred out of Temple two years ago.

Kayla Alexander had 22 points and nine rebounds for the host Orange.

Villanova hit 13 of 36 three-point attempts, the eighth game this season the Wildcats had made totals of three-pointers in double digits.

Meanwhile, Rutgers (14-10, 7-4) was unable to pull an upset for another conference signature win, losing to Big East rival No. 8 Notre Dame 71-49 in South Bend, Ind.

Chelsea Lee had 13 points, Monique Oliver scored 12, and Erica Wheeler scored 11 against the Irish (22-4, 11-1), who head to No. 2 Connecticut in Storrs, Saturday for a season’s rematch.

Rutgers will try to revive its dwindling NCAA possibilities Thursday, trying to get into the tournament.

Khadijah Ruston dealt eight assists for the Scarlet Knights, her third straight game in reaching that total.

A 16-3 run by the Irish midway through the second half broke the game open for Notre Dame, which got 21 points from Devereaux Peters and 20 from Skylar Diggins.

-- Mel


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