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, March 03, 2011

Guru Report: Drexel Rules Monarchs As CAA Season Ends

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA –
Drexel finished its regular season on a high note with a 65-51 upset of Old Dominion Wednesday night here at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center in a Colonial Athletic Association game and lost a prestigious scoring record claimed elsewhere in the conference.

Elena Delle Donne, who missed 11 straight games and 12 overall suffering from symptoms of Lyme disease, was back in early season form as Delaware routed Towson at home in Newark.

James Madison, the defending CAA champions, finished first just as the coaches predicted back in the preseason with an exciting win over new power UNC Wilmington as senior Dawn Evans became the conference all-time scoring champion.

And after the final buzzer went off at the last of the eight games played Wednesday night the CAA home office turned to just four of the 18 scenarios listed to set the final standings, break ties and determine the pairings for next week’s postseason tournament – the first in CAA history at a neutral site – that will send the winner on to the NCAA national competition will the
high also-rans will be hopeful of either at-large bids or playing in the WNIT.

Drexel, which was light years away from competing against Old Dominion when the Dragons joined the conference back in 2001-02, has now beaten the Lady Monarchs three of the last four meetings after Wednesday night’s 65-51 triumph that enabled coach Denise Dillon’s squad to tie a team record with 12 home wins in a season.

The most enduring triumph over the Monarchs was the win in the conference semifinals two seasons ago that ruined ODU’s perfect and long-running CAA tournament record as Drexel went on to beat host James Madison the next day and claimed its first CAA title.

On Wednesday night, sophomore Hollie Mershon, a graduate of Archbishop Carroll, set a career-high with 23 points while Kamile Nacickaite of Lithuania knocked down 4-of-5 three pointers and finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

The outcome enabled Drexel (18-11, 10-8 CAA) to finish in a three-way tie for fifth with Hofstra (18-11, 10-8) and Delaware (17-12, 10-8) before landing the sixth seed when the tournament opens next Thursday at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.

That’s the same site the Atlantic 10 used a year ago before moving on this season to a second neutral site – the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., where that conference tourney will begin Friday.

Old Dominion (20-9, 14-4) got 13 points from Jackie Cook and finished tied for second with UNC Wilmington and will be the second seed in the CAA tourney.

Drexel’s Jasmina Rosseel is the lone outgoing senior and her career was celebrated before the game.

“I can’t say enough about what Jazzy has done for this program, not only as a player but as a person,” Dillon said of the native of Belgium who is one of Drexel’s all-time three-point shooters.

“She’s a better person than she is a player. She is one of the nicest, kindest young women that you will ever come across. And the opportunity to coach her the last four years has been a blessing.

“Her teammates love her, we love her and it’s a sad day knowing this is her last game here at home.”

However, that emotion is tempered with the return next season of a core lineup that will add some talented newcomers.

Trailing 33-32 early in the second half, Drexel launched a 17-0 run to go ahead 49-33 with 11 minutes, 34 seconds left in the game and the Dragons were never seriously threatened the rest of the way.

“Defensively, we stuck with the game plan,” Dillon said. “Transition D. This is a team Old Dominion that wants to run the ball and get quick easy points from layups and rebounding, which again in their number one focal point.

“So we were trying to keep our players focused – even if you don’t have an opportunity to box out, go after the ball – knock it out of bounds and force them to run it out of bounds.

“Hollie Mershon did a great job of recognizing their pressure and attacking the basket.”

Drexel will open CAA play Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against Towson (9-20, 3-15), the 11th seed whom they just beat Sunday on the road near Baltimore.

“I keep telling our players you have something to prove,” Dillon said of developing a tough mind set. “But you have to go out there every game – it doesn’t matter if it’s the last place team or the first place team because it seems like William and Mary and Towson – they give us a harder time than the top teams.

“But you need to have that mentality – something to prove, stick together, good, bad and indifferent. Just work it out and gut it out and find a way to win.”

Hofstra, which beat William & Mary 91-84 on the road in Williamsburg, Va., Wednesday as West Chester Henderson High’s Shante Evans set another career mark with 36 points to go with 14 rebounds, got the fifth seed off Sunday’s last-second upset of James Madison on Long Island.

The three teams were tied with the same record among themselves so Hofstra earned the fifth slot for beating the highest team in the final standings.

Drexel, off the win over ODU got the nod ahead of Delaware for sixth.

The Monarchs got the second slot off a head-to-head win against UNC Wilmington (22-7, 14-4), which set a season school record for wins in the first year of coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the former WNBA All-Star who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the fall in Springfield, Mass.

There might have been a two-way finish at the top but James Madison (23-7, 16-2) edged UNC Wilmington 79-77 at home in Harrisonburg, Va.

Dawn Evans, the nation’s leading scorer, collected 18 points and her three-pointer with 5:25 left in the game enabled her to become the new all-time scorer for women in the CAA.

Evans now has 2,589 points heading into the tournament which eclipses the mark of 2,581 set a year ago by former Drexel star Gabriela Marginean, whose total is the top mark in Philadelphia collegiate women’s history among all three local NCAA division schools.

It’s the first time JMU has won the No. 1 seed since the 1995 season.

Lauren Jimenez set a career high with 31 points, prompting JMU coach Kenny Brooks to say, “To get the number one seed, for Dawn to break the record, and for Lauren to have a career-high, it’s a storybook ending.”

Evans’ 23.8 average is tied with Oral Roberts’ Kevi Luper for best in the nation.

JMU is considered the top CAA school to have a shot at an NCAA at-large bid if the Dukes don’t win the automatic bid. Old Dominion is on the bubble but probably needs to lose close in the title game if reduced to an also-ran.

The middle group in the standings has played the top teams tough all year, which is why Delaware is trying to make history by coming through the pack in four straight days.

Delle Donne and the Blue Hens tuned up against Towson 85-57 as she scored 31 points and got seven rebounds against the Tigers (9-20, 3-15) I, who tied Northeastern (8-21, 3-15) for 10th, but dropped to the 11th seed off a head-to-head loss to the Huskies.

Eva Riddick is the lone senior leaving Delaware this season.

“This has been a solid year, considering everything we have been through,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said. “The bottom line is we have a winning record and we will be looking to make some noise in the tournament.”

Delle Donne, the 2008 national high school player of the year out of Ursuline Academy in nearby Wilmington, entered the game averaging 25.0 points, which would lead the nation but her 12 missed games make her ineligible to appear in the NCAA statistics.

A year ago at the awards dinner, she was named both the CAA rookie and player of the year.

Virginia Commonwealth (18-10, 13-5) was assured fourth place and the last of the first-round byes prior to Wednesday night but the Rams still went out and grabbed a 69-57 win at Georgia State (11-18, 6-12) in Atlanta.

Courtney Hurt had 31 points and 10 rebounds to set a CAA double double record with her 23rd of the season, which is also tops in the NCAA statistics.

VCU set a school record with 45 attempted foul shots.

George Mason (13-16, 7-11), with a 77-55 win at home over Northeastern, grabbed the eighth seed ahead of Georgia State, though the standings are a moot point to the Patriots who were heading into an 8-9 matchup either way with Georgia State.

The pairings for the CAA tournament can be found in the daily conference tracker below this post.

-- Mel

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