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.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Guru Report I: Princeton Ivy Title Party On Hold After Harvard Slips By Penn

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA –
The champagne or sparkling apple cider or fizzy soda or whatever other form of bubbly is used to celebrate a championship may have to wait just a bit longer up the road at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym.

The Tigers nearly wrapped their second straight Ivy title Friday night with a little help from some of their friends except one right here in Penn’s Palestra let things go haywire down the stretch.

To get the victory party going for coach Courtney Banghart’s Princeton’s squad, which has two games left to the regular season, three things had to have happen.

First, Princeton (22-4, 11-1 Ivy), holding a two-game lead in the loss column over Yale and Harvard, had to beat visiting Dartmouth to clinch at least a tie and at worst land in a playoff to determine the league’s NCAA automatic bid.

The Tigers had little difficult achieving that goal, routing the Big Green 81-42, the largest winning margin in the Ivies this season. Devona Allgood had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Dartmouth (7-19, 3-9). Lauren Edwards scored 14 points and Kristen Helmstetter came off the bench to score 12 points for a career high.

Janelle Ross Ross scored 17 for the Big Green.

The next step needed was a loss by surprising Yale (13-14, 9-4) and Columbia (7-20, 6-6) helped Princeton’s cause with a 48-42 upset in New Haven, Conn., as the host Bulldogs faded in the closing minutes.

That left the other helping hand to come here from Penn (10-16, 4-8) and despite the rivalry the Quakers were well on the way in the first half to help Princeton’s cause. They led Harvard (17-9, 9-3) by as many 12 points which were cut down to eight at 30-22 on a three-pointer by the Crimson’s Victoria Leppert with 16 seconds left in the period.

Harvard in the second half erased the deficit to a 39-39 tie with 10:18 left in the game but did not go ahead until Jasmine Evans hit a layup to make it 47-46 with 3:52 left.

That spurred the Crimson to continue on an 8-0 run heading into the last minute of play for an eventual 56-48 triumph.

Freshman Alyssa Baron scored 19 points for Penn, which has now lost three straight games to Harvard falling at the end. Jess Knapp scored 12 points.

Harvard’s Emma Markley and Lippert each scored 13 points and Berry Brogan scored 13. Christine Matera, a graduate of Camden Catholic, had nine points in a homecoming visit while Elle Hagedorn of Mount St. Joseph’s had a rebound in her six-minute homecoming appearance.

So the race comes down to Harvard’s visit to Princeton Saturday night at 6 p.m. where a Tigers win ends the race or a Crimson win moves the action to Tuesday night’s finale when Princeton visits here at 4:30 p.m. and Harvard visits Dartmouth.

“Winning an Ivy title is a huge accomplishment but it’s not an accomplishment we want to share,” Banghart said after her Tigers clinched the tie. “We’re looking forward to taking care of that tomorrow night.”

The Harvard-Penn outcome here was symbolic in the way the Crimson hung by a thread most of the night to survive and for the moment continue to do so in the Ivy hunt.

“We’ve done that all year,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We have not played consistently well.

“We toughed it out at the end,” she said of the win here. “(Coach) Mike (McLaughlin) does a great job, his kids played so hard and so well and they’ve gotten better, and better and better.

“I don’t know if we feel the pressure or we folded under the pressure. I’m not really sure. I wish I could get my kids to play a little more consistently.”

She is looking forward to the second showdown with the Tigers this season after an earlier victory back home in Cambridge, Mass., that ended Princeton’s 22-game Ivy win streak and dislodged Banghart’s group for one week until Harvard got swept on the road at Brown and at Yale.

“It’s going to be fun. We match up well with Princeton,” Delaney-Smith said. “They’re also a very good team.

“The league is better than the league’s record so we’re in a tournament every weekend. That’s what we’re made of.”

The Ivies are the only one of 31 conferences whose NCAA automatic bid is determined in the regular season through a grueling set of back-to-back Friday-Saturday games, especially for teams on the road.

Harvard is actually in another race with the Ivy title potentially unattainable. The runner-up team in the Ivies gets an automatic bid to the WNIT.

The Crimson must finish one-game better than Yale in second place or the Bulldogs will go to their first postseason tournament in 32 years because of having swept Harvard in the league.

Back on the Penn bench, McLaughlin, in his second year with the Quakers, must continue to find ways to not let games slip away like the one that did Friday night.

A year ago, Penn lost in the final seconds at Harvard, where last month the Quakers fell 88-84 in double overtime. Then came Friday night’s adventure.

“It’s disappointing because we had them on the ropes and we let them off the ropes again and it’s disappointing,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t think we played the last five minutes of the game very well.

“We made some unforced turnovers and didn’t really execute when it counted down the stretch. It’s not that we missed shots at the end, I just don’t think we executed very well.

“We have a lot of young kids in these situations and they hurt right now, so we have to find a way to bounce back tomorrow.”

-- Mel

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