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, January 05, 2012

Guru's College Report: Notre Dame Plunders Seton Hall's Pirates

By Mel Greenberg

Third-ranked Notre Dame has two trips to New Jersey slated this season on the Big East portion of the Irish's schedule.

The next visit at the end of the month about 45 minutes to the south of here could be the more troublesome of the two when the Irish visit No. 10 Rutgers.

But the business at hand Wednesday night against host Seton Hall was completed in a matter of minutes at the Pirates' Walsh Gymnasium though coach Muffet McGraw's group had to keep at it until the final buzzer got the 74-36 win into the record books.

The Irish (14-1, 2-0) jumped to a 24-7 lead across the first 11 minutes and kept the defensive pressure on to maintain a positive result well out of Seton Hall's hands the rest of the way.

So much for the threat of a trap game heading into Saturday's first of two showdowns back home in South Bend, Ind., when Notre Dame hosts No. 2 Connecticut (12-1), which beat West Virginia, 79-60, in Hartford.

It will be the Irish's first meeting with the Huskies since upsetting them in the national semifinals at the NCAA Women's Final Four in Indianapolis in April.

The two conference and national powers will meet again in Connecticut Feb. 27 and then potentially less than two weeks later again in Connecticut in the Big East tournament.

"We kept our focus because this has been a tough place to play in year's past," McGraw said. "We did some pretty good things defensively eespecially with the starters."

All-America candidate Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride each scored 14 points for the Irish while Natalie Novosel scored 13 and Deveraux Peters grabbed 10 rebounds as part of a massive 41-18 domination on the boards.

That led to a 30-14 advantage in the paint while only Seton Hall's Jasmine Crew was abke to overcome Notre Dame's relentless press and score a game-high 17 points for the Pirates (7-9, 0-2).

The Irish sizzled from the field with a 52.2 percent shooting average and kept the Pirates on ice limiting them to 27.9 percent.

McGraw's biggest problem in these blowouts has been similar to UConn's Geno Auriemma in terms of being merciful using substitutes while trying to keep the front of the rotation fresh.

Even then the substitues on both teams could start and succeed at a ton of other places in Division I.

Meanwhile, former WNBA New York Liberty president Carol Blazejowski, a frequent visitor who works nearby at her alma mater at Montclair State, was at the game.

She hired Seton Hall coach Anne Donovan and promoted her to interim coach early in the 2009 summer season and then made her a full time coach for 2010 before Donovan decided to return to the collegiate ranks with the Pirates.

Renee Brown, chief of basketball operations and player relations, was also at the game to get a look at the talent on Notre Dame who will be joining the WNBA in drafts the next several seasons.

Though the Connecticut showdown is coming early in the conference schedule, McGraw downplayed the event with an eye to plenty of Big East action left in the 16-team league that has six teams currently ranked in the AP Poll.

"It doesn't have a lot of implication because we're playing them again," McGraw said. "We just want to get better. We've had some games against teams that weren't ranked and we haven't learned how much better we've gotten since the Kentucky game (Dec. 18).

"That's what we need to see. It's a measuring stick for us to see where are we now on Jan. 7? How good do we have to get before March?"

Notre Dame has wins over Kentucky, Purdue and Duke -- the latter of which the Irish rallied from a 16-point deficit -- while Connecticut has beaten Stanford and Texas A&M, the defending NCAA champion who edged the Irish in the title game.

The lone loss in both Notre Dame's and Connecticut's records came at top-ranked Baylor.

But the Bears aren't the only ones to have hosted both national contenders.

Seton Hall didn't get the kindness in Big East scheduling the NFL affords its teams the next season who finish at the bottom of the standings.

Though the Pirates finished last in the conference at 8-22 overall and 1-15 in the Big East, their first two games were a 70-37 wipeout here to UConn on Dec. 9 and Wednesday's loss.

Of course the upside for Donovan, whose team is one win short of the overall total of last season, is that the biggest thorns are now in the Pirates' past and they can move on to more competitive footing from the middle of the Big East and down.

But first was the chance to rehash the challenges Notre Dame presented with its press.

"More than anything is their confidence in it," Donovan said. "You can tell they've been running it together for a long time so they force you to do things you don't necessarily want to do.

"But they're very aggressive in it nd they're persistent with it. It makes it look like teams never practiced against it before, because it's hard to simulate it in practice."

Donovan said that part of her team's problem is finding someone else consistent besides Crew, who said the Pirates had did have dreams up upsetting the Irish as a followup to the Seton Hall men who shocked UConn Tuesday night at the Prudential Center in nearby Newark several miles from here.

Since she had to go against both Big East powers, Donovan was asked if she had a favorite for Saturday.

"Notre Dame has played so well together," she said. "It just seems like Connecticut is adjusting to lineups -- (freshman Kaleena) Mosqueda-Lewis coming off the bench and obviously a tremendous job.

"But it just seems the experience of Notre Dame is unbelievable and that's not just from tonight -- it's from watching game tapes, some tough games they've played and really sat on.

"I think they're experience, playing at home, comfortable level, playing in front of their own crowd -- yeah I think -- I'm going to be an interested spectator."

-- Mel


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