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.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Guru Report: Delle Donne And Delaware Derail ODU in CAAs

(Guru's note: The posts under this have the complete conference roundup and the breakout daily schedule.)

By Mel Greenberg

The pieces all came together for seventh-seeded Delaware Friday night in posting an historical 72-55 upset of second-seeded Old Dominion in a Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball game at the Show Place Arena.

The victory by the Blue Hens (19-12) means Old Dominion (20-10) will miss the semifinals for the first time in a 20-year run and the triumph also snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Lady Monarchs, who beat Delaware twice this season.

Sixth-seeded Drexel (19-12) on the other hand, also seemed in upset mode against third-seeded UNC Wilmington (23-7), but unlike Delaware, the Dragons’ pieces fell apart down the stretch and the Seahawks grabbed a 63-51 victory to advance against Delaware in Saturday’s second semifinal contest.

The other semifinal will feature top-seeded James Madison (24-7), which advanced with a 70-51 win over ninth-seeded Georgia State (12-19) to face fourth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (19=10), which stayed alive with an 87-76 win over fifth-seeded Hofstra (19-12)

Some of the teams dispatched were hopeful of receiving a bid to the Women’s National Invitational tournament, although Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry was pessimistic about her team’s chances to return to the 64-team field for a second straight year.

Elena Delle Donne, who has not been in any basketball championship since being voted the 2008 national high school player of year out of nearby Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy, continued her way back from suffering with symptoms of Lyme disease that caused her to miss 11 straight games and 12 overall.

The sophomore forward exploded for 31 points and 10 rebounds and blocked four shots. Additionally, she was 7-for-7 from the foul line to break her own school record with 43 straight free throws.

Since her return near the end of the season, Delle Donne has missed just four foul shots.

Furthermore, the supporting cast fed off Delle Donne with Vanessa Kabongo scoring 11 points and Jaquetta May came off the bench to score nine points in a solid performance. Danielle Parker also scored nine points.

“Our team, including myself, we just want this (a CAA title) so bad, and you know whoever is standing in the way, we’re going to try to push out of the way, obviously,” Delle Donne said.

The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. No team in CAA history has won the conference title by playing all four rounds.

But several weeks ago, as Delle Donne returned to the lineup and the Blue Hens tried to get everything back in sync, Delaware coach Tina Martin sensed her group could have the ability to come through the pack in the 12-team field.

“I know this is tough for them,” Martin said about the loss dealt the Lady Monarchs. “But for us it feels really good, it feels really good and my kids deserve it.

“We’ve been working really hard the second half of the season,” Martin continued., “For that matter the whole season, we’ve had our struggles, but we were finally rewarded with a terrific victory that these kids really earned tonight.

“I felt we really dominated the boards, controlled the pace of the game, all the things we talked about as a team that we needed to do to defeat a team like Old Dominion, we got done tonight.”

Jasmine Parker scored 16 points for Old Dominion, while Kquanise Byrd had 14 points, Alena Voronina had 11, and Tia Lewis scored 10.

Delaware had a 28-14 advantage – double – in scoring points off turnovers while the Blue Hens had a 17-3 advantage on second chance points and got 16 points from the bench to just four gained from ODU substitutes.

Until two seasons ago, Old Dominion had won 17 straight titles in 17 tries since joining the conference but Drexel came along and ended the run in the semifinals on the way to the Dragons’ first CAA crown.

A year ago, James Madison at home, triumphed over the Lady Monarchs who had advanced with a one-point win over Delaware.

In the history between the two, there was the 2005 season, which Delaware swept to end Old Dominion’s 122-home win streak in conference competition.

But the Lady Monarchs in the CAA title game rallied from a deep deficit and then crush Delaware’s heart in overtime.

The Blue Hens were resolved not to let that happen this time, though none of the current players were part of that effort.

“I thought we dug ourselves a pretty good hole in the first half,” Larry said of her team’s play. “Then, I thought we had a good energy punch in the second half but I also thought Delaware answered every ring.

“And we didn’t have enough in the gas tank to overcome that deficit. We just didn’t have good communication the last couple of games.”

Asked what was different in this particular performance by the Blue Hens, Larry observed: “I think energy and passion comes into play.

“You have to play with great energy any time you’re in a tournament and you have to play with passion and I thought we did at times but not consistently for 40 minutes.”
Delaware was 25-for-30 from the line while ODU was 11-for-24

“We had a good combination that fought back in the second half and then Elena made two threes with hands in her face, people tugging on her shirt, everything you could possibly do and long ball threes in when we cut it to six and then she was just a one man show.”

Larry said she sensed "unity" on the Delaware squad.

Drexel, meanwhile, built a five-point lead in the first half but in the closing minutes UNC Wilmington began to pull away.

Though Drexel focused on limiting the Seahawks’ two scorers in Brittany Backwell, who was held to five, and Martha White 10, UNC Wilmington took the dare to let others win the game, which is what happened with a scoring outburst of 21 points from Alisha Andrews, the CAA freshman of the year, 13 from Kristen Hanzer, and 12 from Jessica Freeman.

Drexel’s Kamile Nacickaite had 22 points but was the only Dragon scoring in double figures.

“We played a good first half of basketball,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said. “Came out OK in the second half and things just started to unfold.

“Just making the extra passes, moving the ball, and then the turnovers, they capitalize. There was a quick swing, we went a little cold and they took advantage.

“We allowed the pressure to get to us. We didn’t take advantage of the cuts in the middle, getting the ball to the middle and making the extra pass.

“To (UNCW’s) credit, they took us out of the flow. At that point you count on the (team) to make basketball plays and we really haven’t been in that position this year. We haven’t been faced with a matchup like that.”

The Seahawks are coached by former WNBA superstar Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who was voted CAA coach of the year in her first season with the Seahawks.

“I thought we really needed this game,” she explained. “We needed to get our legs back into game rhythm. We’ve been off for nine days. It took awhule to get our focus back.

“I thought we played better defense in the second half. We started in a 2-2-1 press and then we played a combination of man and zone. At the end of the day, we had players step up.”

In the opening game, Dawn Evans, Lauren Jimenez and Courtney Hamner each scored 14 points for JMU while Tarik Hislop scored 13 points for the Duchesses.

Jimenez also grabbed 10 rebounds.

Angelique Burtts and Chan Harris each scored 15 points for Georgia State.

In the other game, Andrea Barbour, a transfer from Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference who didn’t become eligible until just before CAA competition began, scored 28 popints for Virginia Commonwealth, while Courtney had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Jessca Taylor had 17 point and 12 rebounds.

West Chester Henderson’s Shante Evans had 17 points for Hofstra, which had five players score in double figures.

Elsewhere, the big story of the day other than the Delaware upset was Tulane’s 70-60 upset of 22nd ranked Houston, the top seed in Conference USA, in a semifinal game.

The league was perceived as a one-bid operation in terms of the NCAA tournament so it will be interesting to see what the national tournament committee does in terms of offering the Cougars an at-large bid at someone else’s expense.

The Guru will be back late Saturday when the day’s action is complete.

-- Mel


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