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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 09, 2011

Rutgers Means Justifies Rushdan's Triple-Double Ending In Win Over Pitt

By Mel Greenberg

There is no end to the variety of headline-producing endings, happy and otherwise, in the long and storied 36-year history of Rutgers women’s basketball.

For a sampling, there was the most famous of them all in 2007 when former Duke all-American Lindsey Harding did the improbable by missing two foul shots with a scant bit of time left on the clock to ensure a Rutgers win in the NCAA tournament regional semifinal in Greensboro, N.C.

That led two days later to a Scarlet Knights win over Arizona State and a second trip to the Women’s Final Four where an upset of LSU led to a place in the title game in Cleveland, which led to a loss to Tennessee seen on TV by one national radio talk show host Don Imus, which led to more than a few inappropriate comments on the makeup of the team the following morning on his program out of New York, which led to a national controversy.

The following season in the back half of 2007-08 came the incident at Tennessee where the clock inadvertently stopped in the closing seconds allowing enough time for a foul to be called against Rutgers ensuring a Lady Vols win. That denied the Scarlet Knights an otherwise would-be historic win in becoming the first team to beat two separate No. 1 teams back-to-back.

A few days earlier Rutgers upset Connecticut here causing a change in the rankings that elevated Tennessee to the top spot prior to the game with the Scarlet Knights.

Earlier this season Wilmington’s Khadijah Rushdan made a shot at the finish to foil an upset at home by nearby Princeton. Two weeks later Temple slipped past Rutgers in Philadelphia at the finish.

As recently as a week ago, Rutgers was poised to win a game at metro rival St. John’s until Erica Wheeler missed the first of two foul shots with two seconds remaining and then had her second shot to force overtime denied by officials, who assessed a lane violation penalty on April Sykes on the play.

The latest chapter of closing-seconds angst occurred Tuesday in a must-win game on Think Pink Night that was already sealed in the Scarlet Knights’ 54-42 outcome against Big East rival Pittsburgh at the Louis Brown Athletic Center that made them 14-9 overall and 7-3 in the conference.

That’s when Wheeler fired up a long and successful three-pointer at the buzzer that enabled Rushdan to earn her 10th assist and the first triple double by a Rutgers player since assistant coach Tasha Pointer did likewise with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Georgetown on Feb. 27, 2001.

Pointer is the only other Rutgers player to achieve the feat while Rushdan with an additional 18 points and 10 rebounds to go with the 10 assists became the first to gain a triple double against the Panthers (11-12, 3-7).

An aside: Talk about juxtaposition. The evening, whose theme was part of the annual coaches association’s fundraising fight against breast cancer, featured the first official return of former Rutgers women’s media liaison Stacey Brann, now with Pittsburgh, who was able to help her successors find the data on Scarlet Knights triple double performances.

Pointer was thrilled for Rushdan, a high school contemporary of Delaware’s Elena Delle Done starring at Ursuline Aacademy’s rival St. Elizabeth.

“I think my first triple double occurred against Providence,” Pointer said afterwards and added, “But I’m excited for Khadijah because I believe she can get five more this season just because the nature of the way she plays.”

Pointer said the coaching staff was aware of Rushdan’s stats near the end of the game, though Rushdan said in the postgame press conference that 40 seconds remained when she knew of the potential history-making feat.

“Triple doubles don’t happen every day so we wanted to get her a triple double,” Pointer said. “I don’t know, I’m sure other people will see it as we’re trying to run up the scoreboard.

“That’s not who we are. That’s not who coach (C. Vivian) Stringer is.”

Well that seemed all well and good and having just visited Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato with Associated Press national writer Doug Feinberg, the Panthers coach, whose team had previously upset then No. 14 West Virginia in Morgantown. She seemed to be in a pleasant mood with no axe to grind over the ending as she greeted about 20 or more of her former classmates from Gloucester Catholic High in South Jersey near Philadelphia.

But maybe not, based on Stringer’s comments that were being made in the postgame media session while we were chasing down Berenato, thinking it might take a short bit until Stringer appeared.

Home News Tribune beat writer Keith Sargeant was in the room and reported the comments in his Scarlet Scuttlebutt blog that included Rushdan noting “Getting a win obviously a great thing but to do something historic means a lot. I can only thank my teammates because without them finishing the assists wouldn’t have come.”

Sargeant went on to report that Stringer said Berenato was unhappy with Wheeler’s play at the finish.

“I consider (Berenato) to be a friend both professionally and personally, and I would hope that she would know me better and know that there was something special (happening),” according to Stringer. “I would think she would say, `Hey, Viv, that is something that hadn’t been done in, what, 10 years?’ So why wouldn’t you let the kid have the last (assist). It just so happened to be on the last shot.

“She knows me better than that. I think she might’ve been upset in the beginning but I gotta believe that she’s a lot better than that to know I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t have time to organize it.

“Something that’s not been done in a decade and you mean to tell me you’re going to deny this kid this? If anybody gets upset with me than they’re just going to have to get upset.

“It was kind of a strange set of things,” Stringer said of the closing seconds. “I never like to add on. It seems a bit overwhelming that something like that could happen. Just told them to run (the clock out). Sometimes players know (the statistics) before you do. … I couldn’t figure out why all this mess, why was everyone jumbled like that (before the shot).

Saying it is not her nature to run “up the score, period,” Stringer continued, “I was caught in a heck of a predicament so if that’s the end of the world I guess that’s the end of the world.”

It might have been the end of the world had Rutgers lost.

But after the debacle at St. John’s the Scarlet Knights returned home to grab two imperative wins against Syracuse – their second of the season over the Orange – and the Panthers.

Wheeler finished with 16 points, Sykes scored 13, and Monique Oliver had 12 to keep the Scarlet Knights hanging on in the hunt for an NCAA at-large bid if they fail to topple the rugged Big East crowd of No. 2 UConn, No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 10 DePaul, among others, to win the conference’s automatic bid next month at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Pitt senior Chelsea Cole had 12 points and 10 rebounds for a youthful squad that Berenato said is making her become more patient that she might otherwise be.

“When you’re playing freshmen a lot of minutes, they’re going to do a lot of great things and then they’re going to miss opportunities,” Berenato alluded to a run that had brought the Panthers within a basket before Rutgers pulled away for good.

“Unless they do it, they’re never going to know they shouldn’t – they’re freshmen. Unfortunately, they’re playing major minutes for us.

“I’m pretty patient right now. I knew this was going to be a learning situation and I still feel the month of February, we’re going to be OK. We’re going to learn and get better.”

Rutgers, on the other hand, now hits a steep hill on the schedule with road stops Saturday at No. 8 Notre Dame, Tuesday at No. 10 DePaul, and Feb. 19 at No. 21 Marquette before returning home Feb. 23 against South Florida.

Then No. 17 West Virginia, which nearly upset UConn but lost 57-51 Tuesday night at home, will visit Rutgers followed by a regular-season ending visit by Rutgers to nearby Seton Hall.

Rutgers will be underdogs at the first two stops but could top either Marquette or West Virginia. The Scarlet Knights must avoid losses to South Florida and Seton Hall and if so will become a stronger at-large candidate in what appears to be a soft year in terms of finding teams to fill the NCAA field.

Of course Rutgers needs to last a few rounds in the Big East tournament to stop a sudden ending ruin a new beginning in the Big Dance.

Quick Notes

Penn’s Alyssa Baron picked up another honor sharing the ECAC player of the week with Connecticut’s Maya Moore. Rider’s Myneshia McKenzie was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rookie of the week.

MAAC commissioner Richard Ensor, a member of the NCAA women’s tournament committee, was in the house.

The Pitt bench had former Rutgers star Patty Coyle, now an assistant coach, after having previously coached the WNBA New York Liberty before being let go by former general manager Carol Blazejowski midway through the 2009 seasons.

The Guru will be at La Salle Wednesday night as the Explorers host Rhode Island trying to move closer to a berth in the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time in four seasons.

-- Mel


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