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, December 23, 2011

Guru's College Report: Villanova Tops Temple And Clinches Big Five Tie

(Guru's note: Since this goes deep, way below are national results on such teams as Hofstra, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, St. John's, and George Mason.)

By Mel Greenberg

Temple became the latest victim of Villanova’s renaissance season Thursday afternoon as the Wildcats clinched at least a tie for the Women’s Big Five title with a 56-47 win over the Owls (5-6) at Temple’s McGonigle Hall.

The Wildcats (9-2), who struggled to score last season and finished 12-19 overall, made it three straight over City rivals and six straight overall and they are the only team in the Big Five still unbeaten and just have Penn left in the local round-robin at home on January 17th.

Two other city teams hit the break Thursday afternoon with impressive wins – Penn, another team making major progress, won the Battle of 33rd Street in West Philadelphia, shaking off a Drexel rally to beat the neighboring Dragons 67-65 in overtime at The Palestra.

St. Joseph’s in the Hawks’ first-ever meeting with UCLA held off the Bruins to triumph 64-60 at home in Hagan Arena.

Meanwhile, La Salle trailed by 16 against visiting Fairfield before rallying to within a point but falling short against the Stags 55-52 at the Explorers’ Tom Gola Arena.

Meanwhile, in the Villanova game the Wildcats, who were picked 12th in the preseason by the Big East coaches, jumped to a 9-0 lead and never trailed while repulsing several attempted Temple rallies.

The Owls had won three straight, all at home, following a five-game slide on a six-game road trip, and less than 48 hours earlier had beaten UCLA.

It was Temple’s first Big Five game of the season in defense of last season’s title. Villanova won in 2010 after the Owls had won four straight and then tied for the City Series crown with St. Joseph’s in 2009.

“This really hurts,” Temple’s Kristen McCarthy said of the loss. “This was an important game for the Big Five championship. Villanova just has to play Penn and we haven’t played anyone yet so this was a chance for us to take it.”

Two newcomers helped the Wildcats’ cause Thursday with Villanova redshirt freshman Emily Leer, a graduate of Abington High, getting a career-high 13 points, a total matched by redshirt freshman forward Lauren Burford of Fairfax, Va., in suburban Washington.

Junior Laura Sweeney, a leading contender for Big Five player of the year, had 11 points to also score in double figures for Villanova.

Sweeney, who is in double figures 22 of her last 25 games, calls home in Marlton, N.J., across the Delaware River and she is a graduate of Cherokee High.

Temple’s senior combo of McCarthy (14 points) and Shey Peddy (13) each scored in double figures but struggled from the field with Peddy shooting 3-for-14 and McCarthy 5-for-14.

“They just weren’t falling like I wish they were,” Peddy said.

Overall the Owls shot 25.5 percent from the field while Villanova shot 37.7 percent but also connected on seven three-pointers, five more than Temple.

“We played a very good game today,” Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. “We play according to how our bigger kids play. When Emily and Laura play well what happens is it forces the other teams to double us and if they make the right passes it opens us up to take easier shots on the perimeter.

“In the course of the game today we took 19 threes and I would say 15 of the 19 attempted threes came from kickouts from the post where (Temple) doubled and our kids made the right pass,” he added.

“When we play Temple we have trouble running our offense against them because they are a good defensive team in terms of their lateral movement. So our motion doesn’t work very well against them because how well they can move laterally,” Perretta discussed the game plan.

“So what we tried to do is take that out of the game, throw the ball to our post kids and if the post kids could establish themselves, now what happens is they (Temple) double and we don’t need to run an offense.

"(The posts) just have to make the right pass and obviously we have to make shots and we did. Emily came out big today. She had been struggling and we had a talk yesterday and I told her to keep doing the things she had been doing and she turned around and had a good game and I was happy for her.”

Leer, who along with many Villanova players on squads in the Philadelphia/Suburban NCAA Women's Summer Basketball League, spoke of the way things went for she and her teammates.

“I thought today was a battle, as they always are. Everybody played really, really hard – it was a team effort. I just think we really worked hard after every rebound after every lose ball and made the right passes to make the open shots.”

Villanova was able to limit Temple offensive rebounds to eight and was only outscored 16-12 in the paint.

“That’s big for us but that’s because we’re better inside.”

In light of the ongoing conference musical chairs, especially involving Temple in the Big East discussion, it was suggested to Perretta that perhaps just his Wildcats ought to think about applying to play in the Atlantic 10.

Villanova has wins over St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Temple and next play as very hot St. Bonaventure team in the opener of Monmouth’s tournament next Thursday in central New Jersey.

The Wildcats’ two losses have been on the road to two-time defending champion and Ivy favorite Princeton and at home to Colonial Athletic Association favorite Delaware, which features junior Elena Delle Donne, the nation’s leading scorer.

Villanova also won at Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference favorite Marist and opened the season in Iona’s tournament upsetting then-ranked (USA Today/ESPN coaches) Michigan State enabling Perretta to gain his 600th win in 34 seasons, all on the Main Lline, the next day with a win over the host Gaels.

Temple was picked by the Atlantic 10 coaches as a co-favorite with Dayton to win the conference – each team drew seven first-place votes.

“It’s been a brutal nonconference schedule but the good thing is our RPI is 14. The nonconference schedule is great if you win those games,” Perretta said.

Combine that with a competitive run in the Big East in the upper middle of the 16-team power conference and Villanova would find itself in discussion for an NCAA tournament berth.

That has been an ongoing achievement for Temple but Thursday’s loss was tough setback considering perennial Top 10 and Atlantic Coast Conference power Duke is next up on the schedule with a December 30th visit to McGonigle Hall next Friday night.

“That is not how we wanted to come out and perform today,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I thought we would definitely been smarter defensively and defended them better than we did.

“But credit to them. They did a really good job taking advantage of mismatches and clogging the lane and not letting our guys get clean looks on drives inside.”

Cardoza had fears the other night that despite the win over UCLA there were breakdowns Villanova could capitalize against the Owls.

“When we were playing UCLA, we talk about how we’re going to defend situations, plays, players. And when you’re not doing them properly, that is going to come back and bite you in the butt,” she said.

“We made some mistakes (against UCLA) and if we make those same mistakes against Villanova, they’re going to capitalize off of them. And that definitely took place.

“We said if we made mistakes not defending them properly that we would get burned and we did.”

Cardoza has had a long history of dealing with Villanova after previously serving 14 seasons as an assistant to UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whose perennial national championship contending Huskies are a rival of the Wildcats in the Big East.

Villanova started Lindsay Kimmel, who made her first appearance at Temple in uniform since transferring from the Owls to the Wildcats two seasons ago.

Cardoza noted one reason Temple’s three-point shooting is below last season’s record production is moving the arc back.

“Moving the three-point line back, I’m sure a lot of people are struggling with the three-point line and definitely we are and that’s why we put the ball on the floor as much as we can until we can get accustomed to the move.

“It’s definitely affected us.”

Villanova, known for its traditional skill beyond the arc, does not seem to be affected and has now scored at least one trey in 248 straight games.

Among the crowd were Villanova former greats Laura Kurz, Sibohan O’Connor and Courtney Mix.

Fresh off the 16th ranked Penn State’s 78-54 win at Bucknell Wednesday night before the break, hot-shooting Maggie Lucas, a graduate of Germantown Academy, Talia East of the Lady Lions (10-2) were at the game.

East is a former Friends Central teammate of Temple freshman Monaye Merritt.

Penn State opens play in the Big 10 on December 30th against new comference member Nebraska, which is ranked

Villanova is now 95-35 all-time in Philadelphia Big Five play topping the other four teams in total victories in the City Series begun in 1980.

The Wildcats, who lead the all-time series with Temple 26-12, are 6-1 on the road this season.

Hawks Ruin Bruins

St. Joseph’s took advantage of a short-handed UCLA squad that grew even less populated in the first half of the Hawks’ 64-60 win over the Bruins (5-6) in the first meeting between the two at Hagan Arena.

Coach Cindy Griffin’s squad (7-4) never trailed, though it was tied several times, and as Temple did in the Owls’ Tuesday win over the Bruins, the Hawks were able to repulse an attempted comeback by UCLA late in the game.

Samira Van Grinsven and Ashley Prim each scored 12 points for St. Joseph’s, who next host Boston College on Dec. 29 when for the second time and first since last season’s WNIT Hawks sophomore Erin Shields will play against her sister Kerri on the Eagles.

The sisters are Archbishop Carroll graduates.

Prim was 6-foor-10 from the line where overall St. Joseph’s was 17-for-23 against the Bruins’ 8-for-11. UCLA also shot an array of long-range blanks, going 0-for-10 on three-point attempts, while the Hawks were 3-for-13.

Michelle Baker scored 10 points for St. Joseph, which overcame a Bruins 40-28 rebounding advantage.

UCLA is under former first-year coach Cori Close, who previously was associate head coach to Sue Semrau at Florida State.

Prior to the season, the Bruins lost star player Jasmine Dixon, a former Rutgers player, to a knee injury, which also befell Atonye Nyingifa before UCLA played Temple.

Markel Walker, a native of Philadelphia, missed UCLA’s first seven games because of a thumb injury but also did not play in the first half of the game against St. Joseph’s because of what Close called “a violation of a team rule.”

When Walker appeared in the second half, she helped the Bruins’ effort with a game-high 16 points, shooting 6-for-10 and grabbing nine rebounds, while also getting one steal and dealing three assists.

Thea Lemberger had 12 points and Rebekah Gardner scored 10.

“I thought today we were very focused, we played very solid, and the thought on this game was who wants to go home faster for Christmas and go home with a win,” Griffin said.

“We were very focused and disciplined. UCLA’s a great team and it’s a quality win for our program and a quality win for our kids.”

UCLA had a 22-13 scoring advantage off the bench, dominated 38-24 inside, and also led 18-8 in second chance points.

But Griffin pointed to stats that aren’t kept in terms of what worked.

“It was a lot of little things. We won the battle of 50-50 balls, we had enough of a cushion that when they went on their run to catch up – our defense did a nice job on Gardner, who we had a high concern for, and I thought we did a nice job Lemberger, who also was putting up some big numbers.

“Obviously Walker was out the first half for whatever reason but either way we were ready.”

Griffin said she did not know of Walker’s situation until 10 minutes before the game when starters have to be sent to the table.
Van Grinsven spoke of her contribution.

“UCLA is a well-known team and I worked hard in practice with my teammates and we all got ready for this game,” she said.
“Today we proved we are able to play at that level.”

Prim said: “Their guards were pretty tough, we hadn’t seen that except for the Maryland so this is a good test what conference play is going to be.”

UCLA next week opens Pac-12 play against California.

Quakers’ Youth Stop Dragons’ Experience

Sophomore was outstanding as a freshman for Penn a year ago and now Kara Bonenberger is playing even better.

The Quakers newcomer had a career-high 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Baron continued to do her thing as the Ivy scoring leader poured in 26 points as Penn held off a stirring Drexel rally for a 67-65 win in overtime in the Palestra for its first triumph over its neighbor of several blocks away on 33rd Street since 2006.

Kamile Nacickiate led the Dragons with 24 points, including a trey with 0.1 seconds left in overtime that provided the game’s final points. Drexel’s Hollie Mershon added 13.

The Guru was at the two previous games in this post but talked to Penn third-year coach Mike McLaughlin Thursday night about the win in front of a massive kids day crowd, explaining the noon start.

“The great thing about this win is Drexel comes back after we had an 11-point lead and you’ve seen it in the past. The other team comes back and gets you and then takes control in overtime,” McLaughlin said.

“But our kids just got resilient in the extra period and didn’t want to lose.”

Commenting on the Penn website, McLaughlin, who previously coached longtime Division II power Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia, stated,

"That was a tremendous college basketball game. It was a great atmosphere. To play in front of a good crowd, a lively crowd, it's only going to help us moving forward and in a positive direction,” he said.

"Just to play in The Palestra any day is a great thing, but with the people here and the atmosphere with Drexel being the next block over, this is what Philadelphia basketball is all about," McLaughlin added. "Both teams competed really hard and I'm just really happy we found a way to win."

Penn (6-2) is off to its best start in the team’s 42-year history and though one can say that while the absence of Big Five games until January has been helpful, the Quakers are gathering enough momentum to cause some concern out of St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova, who have yet to play McLaughlin’s group.

The squad is also 5-0 in the Palestra for the first time since 2003-04 when the Quakers won their second Ivy title.
League-favorite Princeton, incidentally, opens Ivy play at Penn January 7.

The Dragons (5-4) parted with a four-game win streak over Penn, which Drexel defeated by 31 points last season in the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Both teams are quite familiar with each other and have played in numerous pickup games between the two squads.

Two seasons ago the Quakers won just two games and the second came at Dartmouth on the final weekend of the season.

Marisa Crane gave Drexel a chance to win in overtime when she connected with 2.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.

“(Drexel coach) Denise (Dillon) drew up a great play for them,” McLaughlin said of the Dragons extending play.

Meghan McCullough hit a long shot in the extra session to give Penn a three-point lead with 1:02 left in the overtime.

The issue was finally decided when senior Jess Knapp blacked Drexel’s attempted trey to tie the game with 15 seconds left and then Baron grabbed the rebound, got fouled and went to the line to secure the win.

For the game, Drexel was 22-of-55 (40.0%) from the field, while Penn was 20-of-55 (36.4%). Penn entered the game No. 7 in the NCAA in three-point defense at 22.1 percent. Drexel entered ranked 22nd in the nation from beyond the arc at 36.7 percent. On Thursday, the Dragons were just 7-of-24 (29.2%).

The Quakers won the rebounding battle, 39-36, and forced 19 turnovers - well above Drexel's average of 13.9 which also ranked 22nd in the nation. Meanwhile, Penn had 14 assists and just 14 turnovers. In the last two games the Quakers have 30 assists and 26 turnovers, and are +10 in turnover margin.

Penn after the holiday break heads to the West Coast to meet UNC-Greensboro in San Diego State’s Surf ‘N Slam Classic on Thursday and then play the host Aztecs on Friday.

Drexel next hosts South Carolina on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Dawn Staley-coached Gamecocks’ first-ever visit, though it is a homecoming trip for the Philadelphia basketball legend who last had South Carolina here to play St. Joseph’s two seasons ago in the Hawks’ holiday tournament.

The Drexel men play Fairfield at 7:30 p.m. and Dragons coach Bruiser Flint and his wife Renee are longtime friends of Staley’s, who previously coached Temple.

La Salle Rally Falls Short

The Explorers, coming off a tough loss at Drexel, whittled a 16-point deficit to one with 1:20 left in regulation but Fairfield held them off for a 55-52 victory as La Salle fell to 3-9.

Brittany Wilson had 15 points for La Salle while Alexis Scott, who had a career night Monday against Drexel scoring in the 30s, scored 14 against the Stags and Nadia Duncan had 10.

Katelyn Linney had 19 for Fairfield (7-3), including five treys.

The Explorers after the break play host Dartmouth in the Big Green’s Blue Sky Classic on Thursday and then meet Vermont the next day in Hanover, N.H.

Worth Noting Nationally

In a battle of New York metro area teams host Hofstra survived Marist 71-69 when a video review caused officials to rule a potential game-tying basket to be too late and the Pride (9-2) won their own New York Life Holiday Invitational at the Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead, N.Y.

Former West Chester Henderson High Shante Evans had a three-point play with 12 seconds left that stood up for Hofstra and dropped Marist to 5-5.

Hofstra is ranked 14th and Marist 22nd in the Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major women’s poll.

Evans, the tournament MVP, finished with her fifth double double of the season and 36th of her career with a game-high 29 points and 18 rebounds, including a career-tying 13 on the offensive boards. Katelyn Loper had 14 points and Hofstra of the CAA had a 60-38 rebounding advantage over the Red Foxes, who got 14 points each from Corielle Yard and Casey Dulin.

The Pride’s Candace Bond had 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.

Hofstra next hosts Princeton in another battle of Mid-Major nationally prominent teams next Thursday.

Harvard Upsets St. John’s: The Crimson Harvard made it a 2-0 sweep for the Ivies against the outside world by stopping Big East power St. John’s 61-56 at home in Cambridge, Mass., in the first-ever regular season meeting between the two teams.

Amber Thompson had 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for St. John’s (7-6), which now has Da’Shena Stevens back in the lineup. She dealt five assists.

Eugenia McPherson had 14 points for the Red Storm, while Shenneika Smith add 12 points.
The Crimson (5-5) had four players net 12 points each, Emma Golen, Victoria Lippert, Brogan Berry and Christine Clark.

Bonnies Still Booming Traditional Atlantic 10 powers are struggling but St. Bonaventure continues to impress in the Mid-Major shadows.

The Bonnies, who Villanova meets next week in the Monmouth tournament, reached 11-1 following a 68-49 win at Colgate (2-11) in Hamilton, N.Y.

“That’s what I told our team, `We just beat Temple and now we have to play an 11-1 St. Bonaventure team,” Villanova’s Harry Perretta noted.

“I put these teams on the schedule and they’ve all gotten good.”

St. Bonaventure is the only 6-0 road team in Division I.

Armelia Horton and Chelsea Bowker each scored 15 points for the Bonnies, who stopped a two-game Colgate win streak.

George Beats George: Host George Mason of the CAA in Fairfax, Va., beat neighboring George Washington of the Atlantic 10 from Foggy Bottom in the nation’s capital as Taleia Moton scored 20 points for the host Patriots (7-3) in the Patriot Center.

Chakecia Miller scored 20 for the Colonials (5-6), who host No. 12 Rutgers next Friday.

Spiders Spin Hartford: Rebuilding Atlantic 10 contender Richmond continues to surprise prior to conference play as the Spiders’ record reached 10-2 with a 69-56 win at home in the Robbins Center over perennial America East power Hartford, which fell to 8-4.

Ruthanne Doherty making a homecoming return to the Virginia city scored 12 points for the Hawks, who will be looking for revenge next week from last season when they host Harvard.

Richmond’s Genevieve Okoro scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Richmond.

Next up for the Guru with the women’s teams at rest until next week is a visit to the Penn men’s game Friday night at The Palestra.

But he’ll be back with some national observations before the next sunrise.

And happy holidays for the record.

-- Mel


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