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.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guru's College Report: Together At Last -- Delle Donne, Biden and Delaware

(Guru's note: There is a print version of Sunday's Drexel game in philly.com. Tuesday's notebook will lead with St. Joseph's in the print section. Material on Penn State drawn from wire reports. At some point Monday a Big East notebook will appear in Full Court Press at the web site.).

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, Del. –
On the front and back ends of a weekend in late August 2008 down here, the two biggest news events of the year in this state occurred.

On a Saturday it became official that U.S. Senator Joe Biden had been picked by Barack Obama to be his running mate on the Democratic ticket for the presidential campaign, which resulted several months later with Biden becoming vice president of the United States.

Two days later local high school sensation Elena Delle Donne, the high school national player of the year out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy dropped the other shoe after foregoing her scholarship to powerful Connecticut.

Delle Donne held a press conference here at the University of Delaware to say she had enrolled but to play volleyball saying she had suffered burnout from the sport of her acclaim.

Much has happened to the two marquee names since that eventful weekend in which some noted Delle Donne’s presser drew more reporters than the throng who camped out near Biden’s house expecting his appointment by Obama.

Biden has gone on to be anything but the traditional bit player vice presidents have been as he has helped Obama in establishing policies of the administration.

Delle Donne eventually returned to basketball the following spring, transferring sports again and joining Tina Martin’s squad to ultimately lead Delaware to new vistas in this her junior season with a first-ever national ranking as well as becoming the frontrunner and favorite in the ongoing title chase in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

Though it seemed it should have happened before, the two finally crossed paths Sunday afternoon when Biden was part of a first-ever women’s single-game sellout of 5,021 at the Bob Carpenter Center that watched Delle Donne and her teammates on the 16th-ranked Blue Hens hold off longtime rival Drexel for a 60-49 win to move into sole possession of first place in the CAA at 16-1 overall and 7-0 in the conference.

Drexel (9-8, 5-2) dropped from second to a third-place tie with James Madison but another 1-2 CAA showdown looms Thursday night when Hofstra (14-4, 6-1) visits.

Biden is a Delaware graduate and also at the game was Delaware governor Jack Markell.

Drexel missed its first seven shots, falling 10 points behind and making it appear that for once this encounter was not going to be the closely-fought encounters that are a staple of the series dating back to the days when the two battled in the America
East before joining the CAA for the 2001-02 season.

But the Dragons rallied, got to within two near the end of the half. However, Delaware, which was part of Drexel’s only sellout two seasons ago in Philadelphia, did not yield ground and eventually pulled away late in the second half.

Delle Donne finished with 21 points, below her nation-leading 28.4 average. She’s still comfortably ahead in the NCAA statistics.

Since Martin doesn’t like the use of the phrase “supporting cast,” in terms of Delle Donne’s teammates, she heartily enjoyed the phrase “other options,” to discuss the across-the-board blend of Delaware’s attack.

Akeema Richards had a first-ever double double with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Danielle Parker and Lauren Carra each scored 10 points.

Drexel, which had a four-game win-streak snapped and was held to a season-low output, got 12 points from Kamile Nacickaite and 10 from Tyler Hale.

But before getting to the normal basketball talk there was the excitement of the surprise visit by Biden and of course the record crowd to address by Martin.

“It was an honor to meet him and the kids were thrilled they got a chance to meet him,” Martin said and reported Biden came into the locker room after the game.

“He even did a U-D Hoop Squad cheer. It was really cool. He was in the locker room with the kids, taking pictures and what an honor for our team and he said he’s been trying to come for two years now to see us play,” Martin continued.

“Obviously, he said, we’re the happening thing right now in Delaware so that was nice of him. That was very complimentary. It’s a thrill. It’s not every day you meet the vice president of the United States. It was very cool.”

Martin said she wasn’t aware of the impending visit until informed during her pre-game radio interview.

“I said, `What??’ I heard the governor was coming but I didn’t hear about the vice president.

“They were keeping it low key. The secret service was there. He obviously bleeds Delaware through and through so he was rooting for us all the way. It’s just an honor that he came to the game.”

As for how the game played out, Martin said, “Drexel and Delaware, we know each other so well. And these kids play against one another and it’s always going to be that way.

“You throw out the records, you throw out the statistics – we’re 35 miles apart from each other and all the games are like this – they’re knock down, drag out games. To win by double digits speaks volumes about our team.

“Drexel certainly put up a great fight and they’re a good basketball team and they understand now they’re really playing well together, they’ve got their two shooters going – I thought we did a very good job of defending them today,” Martin continued.

“But they’re going to fight and scrap and I have the utmost respect for Drexel as a team. I knew it was going to be a fight – it always is when we play them – and it’s going to be a fight when we go up to Drexel.

“This is the type of game you get – good, intense college basketball.”

Martin cited her team’s ability to be more aggressive in the second half to stay in control.

“(Drexel) was playing a triangle and two to start and then they switched to a box-and-one and then they went to a 2-3 zone and they stayed in that 2-3 zone but every time Elena got the ball they were playing her man-to-man in the zone.

“So wherever she cut, she had somebody hanging on her, so we moved her outside a little bit more to open up some of the driving lanes. Akeema Richards took advantage of that, Lauren Cara got to the rim a couple of times – to have four people in double figures – and obviously Danielle Parker got some looks out of that too. And Elena was able to slice, cut, and get some looks herself.

“I thought we shared the ball and attacked the rim much more effectively than in the first half. We were a little impatient.”
Delaware will have to switch gears Thursday to deal with Hofstra’s explosive attack.

“Hofstra plays a different style. Obviously Drexel like to run a motion type offense, a lot of back screens, a lot of things curl-ins, back-door cuts and things like that, whereas Hofstra just likes to run a 100 miles an hour and score 100 points,” Martin explained.

“They’re a hard team to defend because they just run, run, run. We’ve got to be again patient on the offensive end and do some good things against them because their tempo is going to be different than this game.”

Martin referred to the conference run as a “grind it out” effort at the moment compared to earlier in the year in playing the likes of Penn State, Princeton, St. Bonaventure, and Maryland.

“Everyone knows what you’re doing. A lot of junk defenses. Very physical. We have a target on our back and people are coming after us and how can you not be excited as a player,” Martin said in talking about the ambience in the arena.

“I don’t care if you are on Drexel, Hofstra, whoever you are. You come into this building and there’s 4,000 people every night – today this was obvious a sellout. This is why you put the uniform on.

“Then the vice president is here on top of that. So you’re up. Your blood is pumping and you’re ready to go. Every game is going to be like that because the opposing team knows there’s going to be great crowds, so it’s what college basketball should be.”
As for the matter of second options:

“Our other options are really starting to step up,” Martin said of the total team effort. “Elena scores a lot of points and certainly she’s got a great shot but these kids are screening and passing the ball to her and she couldn’t go 1-on-5 against anybody in the country – not even a Division III school.

“So credit goes to our other options. Our players for all the things they do – getting Elena looks and in turn Elena getting them looks – the combination of Elena and Trumae (Lucas) and Parker and Carra – it’s all those players combining their talents – if Elena scores, we all score; If Parker scores, we all score; If Carra scores, we all scores and our kids realize that.

“It’s great to have four kids score in double figures today. It’s a team and everybody needs to realize that and respect that and give these kids credit because I’ll tell you what – bodies are flying out there – these kids are playing their hearts out for Delaware and they deserve respect for thoat.”

Penn State Stays In Big Ten Hunt And Mourns Paterno

Playing hours after the passing of former Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno at the age of 85 because of cancer, the No. 22 Lady Lions beat Iowa 68-52 in a Big Ten game at the Bryce Jordan Center as Alex Bentley scored 21 points.

Penn State coach Coquese Washington said Paterno took care of her from the moment she arrived in Happy Valley from her previous job as associate head coach at Notre Dame, her alma mater, when she was hired in the spring of 2007.

“It wasn’t like we had Sunday dinner every week,” Washington related. “But the times we spent together he was always giving me some advice and inspiration.”

The Lady Lions (15-4, 5-2 Big Ten) had black bands on their uniforms and Washington had a black ribbon on her sweater.

“I know he would have been ticked off if we lost,” Washington said. “We just wanted to play our best today, give our best effort in honor of a man who always gave his best to Penn State.”

The Lady Lions, trailing 50-48 with 6:32 left in the game, surged with a 20-2 rally to beat the Hawkeyes (11-9, 3-4).

Temple: New Digs and New Look In Win Over Penn

After moving into impressive new offices and practice facilities built on the top of McGonigle Hall, Temple used a special post presence Saturday to beat Penn 72-47 in a Big Five game that was the last nonconference event for both teams before the Owls head back to the Atlantic 10 with a Tuesday visit to Xavier and the Quakers head back to the Ivy League to host Columbia on Friday night at The Palestra.

Victoria Macauley had a career-high 20 points and Joelle Connelly, a transfer from Hofstra, had the best effort as an Owl with 16 points.

Penn also had two players with landmark games in their careers as Jackie Kaites scored 17 points and Kristen Cody scored 12.

The Quakers on the grueling part of their schedule are now 7-8 overall on a six-game losing streak that included a league-opening loss to powerful Princeton at The Palestra. The Tigers are the two-time defending Ivy champs and league favorites.

Penn finished 0-4 in the Big Five, playing three City Series games in January after having gotten off to the best 10-game start in the program’s history.

Temple is 10-8 and 1-1 in the Big Five, already won by Villanova. One of the Owls’ Atlantic 10 games with St. Joseph’s will also count in the Big Five as will the regular-season-ending visit to La Salle.

Shey Peddy had 15 points and Kristen McCarthy scored 10 marking the first time this season four Owls scored in double figures.

Penn used the city’s subway system to travel from the Quakers’ campus in West Philadelphia to Temple in North Philadelphia.

“I thought our posts came up hugh for us, I thought our defense did a good job limiting (Alyssa) Baron’s touches,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “Last year she had a really good game against us.

“Our post presence took the pressure off our guards,” Cardoza said. “That’s how you would like to play – shooting high percentage shots.”

Despite the outcome, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin felt his players competed much better than in their previous outing, losing at Villanova on Tuesday.

“I thought we had so many open shots that we missed, but we ran a better and cleaner offense and I thought we executed better than we did the last five games.

“We need to look at the progress we are making and I thought we did. Unfortunately, we have to make those shots, playing a team like this who made us pay for every mistake we made,” McLaughlin said.

“We did some real good things in our non-league. Jackie Kaites had a breakout game – she needed one – and she controlled our portion of what we wanted to do today and that’s going to help us immensely.”

It’s not inconceivable that Penn could finish second in the league and that would lead to a bid to the Postseason WNIT.

St. Joseph’s Wins A Close One Again

The Hawks survived a visit to two-time defending Atlantic-10 champion Xavier in Cincinnati 70-67 as Michelle Baker scored 15 points, Erin Shields had 13 points and Samira Van Grinsven scored 12.

The win kept St. Joseph’s (13-5, 3-1 A-10) in a two-way tie with Temple for third, a half-game behind Charlotte and 1.5 games behind St. Bonaventure, whom the Hawks visit Wednesday night in a key game in the conference.

Xavier (3-14, 0-4) got 19 points from Jessica Patchko.
In another A-10 game Saturday involving a local team, La Salle lost its second straight – a tough one at Richmond, 74-70, despite Jada Payne’s 24 points, a second-straight career best.

La Salle fell to 9-11 overall and 3-2 in the conference while the Spiders improved to 15-4 overall and 3-2 in the A-10.

Rutgers Recovers

After an upset loss at St. John’s earlier in the week, No. 7 Rutgers beat host South Florida 72-66 as senior April Sykes had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Khadijah Rushdan, also a senior, scored 16 against the Bulls in a Big East game in Tampa. Monique Oliver had 14 points.

The Scarlet Knights (16-3, 5-1) will host No. 21 DePaul Tuesday night. Blue Demons coach Doug Bruno was just announced as an assistant to UConn’s Geno Auriemma along with WNBA Atlantia Dream coach Marynell Meadors and former WNBA Los Angeles Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom for the summer Olympics in London.

The same staff guided the Americans to a gold medal in 2010 at the world championships.
South Florida fell to 11-9 overall and 3-3 in the Big East.

That’s the news for now until the next sunrise.

-- Mel

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