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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guru' College Report: Tennessee Stops Rutgers With 3-Point Shots In Final Minutes

By Mel Greenberg

– On a night that No. 11 Rutgers bottled up No. 6 Tennessee’s vaunted inside attack, the Lady Vols’ Meighan Simmons connected with two long-range three-point shots to break open a tightly-contested game down the stretch Monday and the visitors headed back to Knoxville with a narrow 67-61 victory and a sweep of their two-game road trip to the New York-New Jersey Metro area.

On Sunday Tennessee (6-2) handled then-No. 20 DePaul with an 84-61 win in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In that contest Tennessee, the favorite in the Southeastern Conference, scored 50 points in the paint against the Blue Demons, a rival of the Scarlet Knights (9-2) in the Big East.

Rutgers, however, paced by senior April Sykes who had a game-high 27 points, was able to turn that differential to a 38-18 advantage against the Lady Vols, who played their second game without freshman point guard Ariel Massengale who is out a projected two to three weeks with a finger injury.

But Tennessee most times in the long series featuring two of the most highly decorated coaches in the women’s game – Hall of Famers Pat Summitt of the Lady Vols and C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers -- finds a way to survive.

And the Lady Vols did exactly that after the Scarlet Knights had rallied from an early 13-point deficit to take a slim lead several minutes after the start of the second half.

The momentum and crowd of 6,368 in the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center were still with the home team as it held a 54-51 lead on a layup by Sykes with 8 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game.

But then Tennessee struck with a 13-0 run highlighted by Simmons’ consecutive treys and an ensuing three-pointer from Taber Spani and the game got just out of reach for Rutgers, trailing 64-54 with 1:53 left in regulation.

“I thought it was a typical Rutgers-Tennessee game,” Lady Vols associate head coach Holy Warlick said afterwards. “It was very hard fought, very athletic play, our goals were to keep them out of the paint and we allowed 38 points, so we could get a little better on that end.

“But I thought when we needed it, we came up big with rebounds and these two young ladies (Spani and Simmons) hit some big threes to help us out at the end.

“Rutgers makes you play hard. They make you play fast. Vivian has done a great job with her team and at times we didn’t have an answer for April Sykes – she was pretty special tonight.”

All-American Shekinna Stricklin topped Tennessee’s scoring with 22 points, while Simmons and Spani each scored 13 points.
Senior Khadijah Rushdan also scored in double figures for Rutgers with 16 points.

The game may have been typical but the evening was not as the Rutgers contingent struck a balance to pay tribute to Summitt while still going after a victory.

In August, Summitt made a public revelation that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer, but planned to continue coaching and fight the disease through various means including starting a foundation to raise money to seek a cure.

Summitt received a long-standing ovation when she first appeared on the court when her team came out to warm up. Rutgers players wore special T-Shirts in warm-ups with the slogan “We back Pat.”

Tim Pernetti, the Scarlet Knights Athletic Director, presented his Tennessee counterpart Joan Cronan at halftime with a Rutgers jersey that also included the slogan and the university at the game sold Pat Summitt Foundation bracelets.

Many in the crowd, not necessarily Tennessee fans, wore orange shirts in support of Summitt.

“It’s just a tribute to the fans here and how they’ve appreciated Pat every year we’ve been up here,” Warlick said. “And Vivian and Pat have been great friends.

“And it’s just awesome to Pat’s credit that what she stands for outside of basketball. This was special. Everyone in the whole arena was so positive and Pat’s so appreciative of that.”

There have been adjustments as Tennessee has gone into the season and one of the changes is that Warlick comes in with the team at postgame press conferences, per Summitt’s decision, though she does the postgame radio show on Tennessee broadcasts.

She is available to local media during Tennessee practice sessions.

This was the second tough loss for Rutgers in a week’s time after losing at then-No. 10 Miami last Monday in double overtime after holding a 16-point lead early in the second half.

Nevertheless, the schedule will ease for a while, especially on the opening portion of the Big East race and the way Rutgers is playing, it appears for the first time in a while the Scarlet Knights should not hit February in desperate need of a string of wins to make the NCAA tournament.

“We’re disappointed but I’m not disappointed with the effort,” Stringer said of the outcome. “We know what we need to do – clean up three or four minutes and work harder.

“But this is early in the season and Tennessee is just a great team and it speaks to their poise that they were able to do the things that they did,” Stringer said.

“We have to find a way within our offenses to get to the free throw line more,” she said of the gaps in scoring at several points of the game.

She spoke of the drought near the end of the game that proved costly.

“We didn’t have a good offensive flow and at some point in there we were trying to give (Rushdon) a break.

“On the defense that we play (the three point shots) shouldn’t happen.”

Sykes spoke of extra motivation considering the way some of the Tennessee games have gone.

“Whoever we lost to in the past, we take it personal. As seniors we take everybody we lost to personal. We want to beat them. We don’t want to leave Rutgers a legacy of losing to those teams and putting pressure on teams after us.

Stringer spoke of the change in Summitt’s demeanor in terms of not being the fiery coach off the bench as in the past considering how much responsibility is now being handled by the assistant coaches.

“It is very unusual,” Stringer said. “I’m sure her players are drawing a lot from her. She doesn’t have to get up and do the things she normally does.

“I can see that they’re playing in her image and that’s a real tribute to her. Just by being there – I think that’s major. And I think she gives strength to the assistant coaches. And I don’t think there’s a player that would give less than their best when they see her trying to do what she’s trying to do.”

Rutgers next hosts Iona on Sunday.

-- Mel


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