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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guru NCAA Notes: Caldwell Back in Play At Virginia?

(Guru's note: An updated NCAA schedule is under this post. If you are in melgreenberg.com just click the mel's blog link on the left side.)

By Mel Greenberg

Well apparently UCLA’s Nikki Caldwell may still be in play at Virginia and based on a whisper or two might have even detoured to Charlottesville sometime Monday on the way to doing in-studio analysis at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., for Monday night’s Dayton and Spokane Regional Finals of the NCAA tournament won by Notre Dame over Tennessee and Stanford over Gonzaga.

Several other sources confirmed Cavaliers athletic director Craig Littlepage’s visit to Sunday’s Philadelphia Regional final – only thefact that he was here – at Temple’s Liacouras Center most likely to view Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy guide the Hoyas against Big East rival Connecticut.

Virginia alum Dawn Staley, who made a successful coaching debut building Temple into a nationally recognized program in her eight seasons on North Broad Street and moved to South Carolina in 2008, may be too expensive in terms of the Gamecocks’ buyout in addition to the ongoing Temple buyout according to one source.

Incidentally the Guru was astounded at the through-the-roof numbers on the previous post concerning the vacancy – highly competitive with the readership that visits the Guru from UConn – showing Hoos women’s hoops does draw interest.

The Pluck of the Irish

Congrats to DishnSwish’s David Siegel, who on our radio panel go-round two weeks ago on his program, after the bracket was announced, emphatically predicted Notre Dame to come out of the Dayton Regional beating Tennessee.

The Guru chose Tennessee on the program but he did express reservations over his own pick, believing the Southeastern Conference to be quite soft this season. While the Lady Vols may have seemed great he did not think they had seen enough of a strong dose of competition the SEC used to offer.

By contrast consider what the Irish faced in the Big East. Notre Dame saw a heavy diet of nationally ranked teams night after night so although they went into Monday night’s game 0-20 against Tennessee, this particular season that gaudy statistic was moot.

Texas back in the day used to have similar difficulty when going a long portion of a season without meeting a real threat. The Longhorns would register key nonconference wins heading into January, as Tennessee did this season, but then would so dominate the old Southwest Conference that by the time they met a high quality opponent again in the tournament they would suffer premature upsets.

Of course, Texas finally got so good as to go unbeaten in 1986 —the first and only perfect season in the NCAA era until Connecticut came along in 1995 and produced the next one and three more since then.

Tennessee put up an unbeaten mark in 1998 with the fab freshmen and Chamique Holdsclaw.

With Monday’s advancement by the Irish and Stanford, for the fourth straight season by the Cardinal, out of the West, the Women’s Final Four could have double famers.

Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw is slated for induction in June as part of the 2011 class into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in, of all places in light of Monday’s win, Knoville, Tennessee.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer is a finalist for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., whose class will be announced this weekend.

Usually, the entire class is presented at the men’s Final Four, but because the Cardinal will be in Indianapolis, if VanDerveer has been elected, she will have to be introduced at the women’s site.

Sometimes maybe karma is the real reason that things occur.

Consider this is the 10th anniversary of Notre Dame’s first and only NCAA title, though it is the Irish’s third trip to the Women’s Final Four on the way to a potential championship.

To win it all in St. Louis in 2001 Notre Dame had to rally and beat Big East rival Connecticut in the national semifinal.

Ironically, the timing couldn’t be better for one Jeff Goldberg, the former Hartford Courant beat writer covering the UConn women.

Goldberg’s first book, Bird at the Buzzer, had recently gone public. It focuses on the 2001 Big East title game in which Sue Bird nailed a long shot just before time expired to give the Huskies a win over the Irish, who had beaten them in South Bend, Ind., in the regular season.

The two programs were the best two in the country in 2001 but met in the semifinals – don’t ask about the bracketing in that one.

On tour with the book, Goldeberg had planned to be at the Final Four and now if Connecticut beats second-seeded Duke here Tuesday night, a rematch of that national semifinal in which the Irish got the last word against the Huskies will occur Sunday night.

The other side will have Stanford against the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Big 12 rivals Baylor, the top seed in the Dallas regional, and Texas A&M, the second seed.

But don’t cry over the failure of Tennessee and UConn to hook up again in the tournament for what would have been the first meeting since Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt cancelled the nationally followed regular season series between the two in the summer of 2007.

They almost met, anyway, in 2008 but Connecticut lost to Stanford in the national semifinal before going on the NCAA-record 90-game win streak.

Tennessee almost didn’t make it to the title game, either. It took a last-second shot against LSU to advance to the final against Stanford and the second of back-to-back titles for Candace Parker before she headed off to the WNBA.

Tennessee and Connecticut were on an NCAA collision path in 2009 but Ball State ejected Tennessee in the first round and a year ago the LadyVols lost in the regional semifinal to Baylor.

Lots of storylines exist in place besides the potential UConn-Notre Dame rematch that brings together two Philly people in McGraw, a St. Joseph’s graduate who was a local product, and Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown and was an assistant at St. Joseph’s to his friend Jim Foster for one year.

Ironically, McGraw replaced Auriemma, who spent just one season with Foster.

As for other storylines, since two games must be played Tuesday night, let’s wait 24 hours to go over all of them or at least the ones that still will be in place after two teams are eliminated.

Duke Seeking Ambush Mode

The Blue Devils, though never having won a national title in this tournament, own one of the all-time upsets in felling Tennessee in the East Regional Final of 1999,ending the collegiate career of Chamique Holdsclaw.

A similar occurrence would come about if Duke prevails over Connecticut Tuesday night, which would short-circuit Maya Moore the same way Holdsclaw was stopped in that previous game.

“She’s the best player in the world,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said at Monday’s press session when asked to discuss Moore.

An aside, purists would argue Moore is close to that but a former UConn star that was starting out as a freshman a decade ago in Diana Taurasi, currently with the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, occupies the throne at the moment.

“She’s the greatest women’s basketball player alive today. I think she obviously has a tremendous work ethic.” McCallie continued. “I think that she obviously has a tremendous work ethic. She works hard, she plays hard, and she has a smooth jump shot and a quick release. Her inside-out game can just absolutely get you on the boards and other facets of the game. She’s an exception player, she’s going to do very well at the next level and hopefully will grow women’s basketball.”

The two schools have only met nine times but do have an interesting history together.

When they met in Durham, N.C. at Cameron in 2003, Connecticut was ranked second and Duke No. 1.

Auriemma got the Blue Devils student body in a lather beforehand because in responding to a Duke player’s comment that she had chosen the school over the Huskies because of the degree value, he responded “I know many waiters in restaurants with Duke degrees.”

Connecticut, led by Taurasi, jumped to a big lead in front of the first-ever women’s sellout at Duke and then held off a Blue Devils rally.

Revenge came twice later in two of the three Duke wins.

Trailing by a ton at the half, Duke rallied in Hartford and Jessica Foley, an Australian, nailed a long trey at the buzzer for a 68-67 victory on January 3, 2004, that ended what had been a UConn NCAA home record win streak of 69 straight, which the Huskies eclipsed this season, and 76 consecutive wins overall.

In 2006, Duke edged Connecticut 63-61 in the regional final in Bridgeport, Conn., at Harbor Yards when Charde Houston missed an outside shot that would have sent the game into overtime.

Duke went on up the road to Boston, beat LSU in the national semifinals, and took a big lead against ACC-rival Maryland in the title game.

But the Terrapins rallied and sent the action into overtime on Kristi Toliver’s three-pointer at the buzzer and Maryland went on to win its first title.

McCallie was still at Michigan State at the time and has been with the Blue Devils for four seasons with a 114-25 record.

Bad Timing

Believe it or not, Immaculata is having a $250 black-tie, red-carpet gala at the Franklin Institute at 6 p.m. to debut at long last what is now entitled The Mighty Macs, the movie that was filmed on campus and in the suburbs in the early summer of 2007 about the school’s winning the first national title in 1972 under Cathy Rush.

That spurred the growth of the modern era, as the Mighty Macs took the torch from West Chester that had held the first all-collegiate women’s invitational in 1969 . Immaculata went on to set the future path leading to the current NCAA tournaments.

One event will not impact the other in terms of crowds, though you all know where, unfortunately, the Guru will be Tuesday night.

More details will follow on the public rollout of the movie.

- Mel


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