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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.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Guru Report: St. Joseph's WNIT Win Makes Shields Sisters Foes At Boston College

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – Following a successful deal of revenge in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament Thursday night, next up for St. Joseph’s is a trip to Beantown Saturday afternoon for a sister act on opposing sides featuring two former Archbishop Carroll stars.

The Hawks (20-11) returned the season-ending dispatch papers issued by Virginia Commonwealth (19-12) a year ago in a similar opening round exit, also at Hagan Arena, by short-circuiting the Rams 72-66.

St. Joseph’s didn’t need the luck of the Irish, or Jesuits for that matter, on St. Patrick’s Day, playing two solid halves to stay alive in the postseason.

“It’s such a big win for our program – 20 wins (on the season) – that’s what our coaches deserve,” said Hawks junior Katie Kuester. “We wanted to give them that today. Making free throws down the stretch – that’s what wins games. We needed a little redemption (from last year), so that helped, too.”

VCU’s Courtney Hurt was nearly as explosive as she was in the last meeting between the two schools, scoring 26 points, but Michelle Baker led a balanced St. Joseph’s attack with 19 points, while Samira Van Grinsven scored 12, freshman Erin Shields had 11, and Kelly Cavallo scored 10.

“We did remember (last year) and we didn’t want the same result, so we’ve been preparing, we had tape on them, we did our homework, we know how good they were, and we really wanted this one, we didn’t want to send (senior Dominique Bryant) home like that, so we played hard,” Baker said.

“`Coach’ (Cindy Griffin) always tells us it’s a game of runs and they made their run and we responded to it,” she added.

St. Joseph’s one advantage, not counting a lower 13-18 advantage on fewest turnovers, was getting 13 bench points as opposed to just 2 in comparison between the depths of squads.

“They did a very good job in the first half – they were being very aggressive, being physical with our post players and it came down to they got some critical offensive rebounds that they stuck for a three or an easy layup,” VCU coach Beth Cunningham said.

“We tried to make a run and shift the momentum, but they always seemed to have an answer.”
Cunningham is a 1997 graduate of Notre Dame who played for Muffet McGraw, who played for St. Joseph’s in the late middle 1970s.

She also practiced in this building in the late 1990s as a member of the Philadelphia Rage in the former American Basketball League.

The win advanced St. Joseph’s to a Saturday game in Chestnut Hill, Mass., at Boston College (19-12), which advanced to a home game at Conte Forum (1:30 p.m.) by making Yale’s first postseason experience a short one with an 85-61 win over the Bulldogs (14-15) in New Haven, Conn.

Jaclyn Thoman scored 23 points for the Eagles, who finished seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference and came up just a few wins shy of being part of the NCAA tournament field.

Yale had tied for second in the Ivy League with Harvard behind Princeton but advanced to the WNIT because of a season’s sweep over the Crimson.

In the St. Joseph’s game, Shields ensured a dilemma for her mother Renie by making six straight foul shots down the stretch to set up a first-ever meeting against her older sister Kerri, who is a sophomore guard at Boston College.

Mom is a former Hawks star in the Big Five Hall of Fame who is also the compliance director for her alma mater and also broadcasts the women’s games.

“Good foul shooting by Erin,” Renie Shields said afterwards. “It will be a great matchup. I hope both teams play well. That’s it.”

Erin talked a little about the reunion afterwards.

“I didn’t know what (B.C.) was doing,” she said. “Everybody was asking me in the locker room, `Anyone know the score?’ I said, `I was with you guys the whole time.’

“It’s nice to hear they won. I wanted them to win, too.”

Erin said it would be the first real game in which she and Kerri will be on opposite teams.

“We’ve done it in AAU fun games and, of course, in one-on-one, but this will be the first real time.”

As for the win over the Rams, Shields, who was still at Archbishop Carroll a year ago, said of the Hawks veterans, “You definitely learn from experience. We came out really strong. The second half, (VCU) came out and had very good players and we were able to stop them.

“They had a run and we stopped it.”

The Hawks had a 14-point lead with 12:01 left in the game when VCU launched a rally to move within four points but St. Joseph’s held the Rams off several times in the last three minutes.

“Erin’s a competitor and she’s going to want to win no matter who she’s playing against,” Griffin said. “It’s going to be a fun game. We just have to be prepared for it because B.C. is definitely an NCAA quality team playing in a very good conference. We’ll take that challenge and see what we can do up there.

“It was very important to experience a win in the postseason,” Griffin said with an eye to next winter. “Sometimes when you are off 12 days you get very sloppy.”

The Hawks had not played since going 1-1 in the Atlantic Ten tournament almost two weeks ago, losing to eventual champion Xavier in the quarterfinals.

“You lose that little hunger, you lose that little taste,” Griffin said of the long layoff as opposed to VCU, which played in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals last Saturday, losing to eventual champion James Madison.

“We hit home on it every day,” Griffin said and noted that since the Hawks last played the school went on spring break and there were a few extra days off from practice. “We said, `Hey, half the teams (in the nation) are at home right now. If that’s what you want to do, that’s what’s going to happen if you don’t show up tonight.’

“They don’t want to stop playing and they know they have to make a run at this thing so that next year we’re in better position to make a run at the NCAA tournament.

“They bought into that. This is a highly motivated group. They want to succeed for themselves, but they also want to succeed because they wear St. Joseph’s on their chest.”

In other WNIT results of note, Eastern Michigan beat Michigan, 67-59, while UNC Wilmington beat Richmond, 63-54.

Virginia got started with a 69-56 win over Morgan State and advances to Loyola, Md., on Sunday as Cavaliers coach Debbie Ryan extends her Hall of Fame career another game.

The host Greyhounds stayed alive in Wednesday’s openers by a one-point win at Old Dominion on a last-second shot.

“What a great reward,” joked Loyola coach Joe Logan, a former St. Joseph’s assistant. “I beat (ODU’s) Wendy Larry and my reward is going against Debbie Ryan. They’ll be tough.”

The game is in Baltimore because Virginia is hosting NCAA first and second round games.

Oral Roberts beat TCU, 78-74, despite senior Helena Sverrisdottir getting only the third triple double in TCU history. She had 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists.

She had another triple double as a junior, joining Horned Frog former all-American Sandora Irvin, who had the other triple double.

-- Mel

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