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.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Guru's Local Report: Princeton Pounds Penn In Ivy Opener

(Guru’s note: He was not there but the Guru has coverage of the UConn-Notre Dame showdown at the Full Court Press website whenever the post goes up. The folks are on the West Coast so they are asleep three hours behind us Atlantic seaboard types).

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – Though Princeton just finished its heavy lifting mode on the nonconference portion of the Tigers’ schedule, it’s the diet of opponents the next two months that will provide the safest way to make it three straight seasons in the NCAA tournament as the Ivy champions.

“That’s one!” head coach Courtney Banghart smiled after the Tigers pounded a vastly improved Penn squad 83-48 in the Palestra as both teams opened Ivy competition Saturday night.

“And wasn’t that great defense?”

Anyone looking at the box score indicator with 31 of the 40 minutes elapsed would have to be in agreement because until after that moment sophomore Alyssa Baron, who finished with a game-high 23 points, was the only player in the game for the Quakers (7-4, 0-1 Ivy) who had connected with a field goal.

Princeton (11-4, 1-0) shared the wealth – and the Tigers have plenty of it – with four players scoring in double figures.

Nicole Hung had a team-high 11 points while Megan Bowen, Lauren Edwards, and Niveen Rasheed each scored 10 points. Rashed also grabbed 11 rebounds.

If the NCAA committee truly followed its mantra in making selections for the best 33 at-large teams in the NCAA field without looking at conference identity, Princeton would be strongly at-large worthy if the Tigers slipped in pursuit of a title.

Incidentally, the Ivies are the only one of the 31 conferences who doesn’t hold a postseason tournament to determine an automatic bid unless there is a tie at the end of the regular season.

Prior to Saturday, the Tigers racked up wins over St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Marist, and Hofstra while suffering home losses from Colonial Athletic Association-favorite Delaware, nationally-ranked DePaul, and losing on the road at No. 4 Stanford and at defending Patriot champion Navy, the only of the four setbacks in which Princeton was the favorite.

Furthermore, the RPI has been in the teens, though it will start to slip as the Tigers work their way through the league. However, the body of work could gain Princeton another seed much higher than Ivy winners usually get.

But in any event, the goal is simple for Banghart’s group who has won 31 of its 27 of its 28 league games the last two seasons – Win and you’re in.

And besides, the Tigers won’t be strangers to the type of competition that must be hurdled to make a deep run in the NCAA field.

“That’s what we told them before the game – The Ivy had what we want and that’s the NCAA bid,” Banghart said.

“And now we have to win them one by one and that’s the first one. You don’t get into the NCAAs unless you get these, so we just have to go after them one at a time. That was a good first outing and now we have to regroup and have another chance next weekend.”

Though the trip down here from Princeton is about as long as a 40-minute regulation game, the Tigers didn’t need much time to handle the Quakers, who had been off to their best 10-game start in the program’s history.

It was 41-14 at the half before Penn was able to mount some competitiveness the next 20 minutes.

But that is because Princeton is that good, not that Quakers are all that bad as two seasons ago in coach Mike McLaughlin’s first year when Penn won just two games and the second game the final weekend of Ivy play.

Furthermore Penn was also without senior post player Jess Knapp, who hurt her knee in the recent tournament in San Diego and it is not known yet if she’ll return or not.

A medical evaluation will take place early this week, a Penn spokesman said.

“I told our players just now, that’s not a bad team you just beat,” Banghart said. “They beat Drexel and they have a winning record. We just made them look worse than they are, that’s for sure.”

For Penn’s McLaughlin, he is trying to make sure his squad can recover quick enough for Wednesday’s home game against NJIT. Then it’s three straight road games on the Big Five circuit at St. Joseph’s, Villanova, and Temple before returning to the Ivy pool the rest of the way.

“Coupled with the fact that (Princeton’s) really good and we just lost our top senior leader to an injury, I think (he has) to try to teach them in this moment but also let them know we’re a long, long away, which I’ve said to them many, many times, but I also have to keep building them up,” McLaughlin said of trying to handle the outcome with his players.

“This is a very young group going through a very difficult part of their schedule right now. So a little bit of love and a little bit of tough love. But this is tough because we got it handed to us,” McLaughlin said.

He also was a bit realistic that in its way going against Princeton was not much different than Penn’s December trip to No. 3 Notre Dame.

“This is one of the better Ivy teams to play,” he said of the Tigers in the history of Ivy women’s competition. “Maybe we can look at things like how we can score against quality opponents like this. It starts with me and trickles down from there.”

McLaughlin got to see some of Princeton’s nonconference games on film while scouting the Tigers.

“I just think they’re really, really good, no matter who they play,” he said. “Courtney challenged them with the schedule and she should. They’re juniors and seniors and they’re very talented and done a very good job on their end.”

Knapp was the third leading scorer (7.1 points per game), and leading rebounder at 7.1 per game.

Penn will close out the regular season at Princeton in March.

“Hopefully, we will give them a better game than tonight.”

McCarthy Shot Gives Temple Comeback Win

It may have been only the Owls’ first Atlantic 10 game on the schedule.

But after a roller coaster the last two months, the last thing Temple needed was a conference loss right from the get-go.

And while several months ago, opening against a rebuilding Richmond team on the road didn’t seem much a threat at the time, the Spiders have been one of the surprise teams in the conference the last two months.

The Owls and Dayton were made co-favorites from the A-10 coaches to succeed Xavier as the conference champion, though only one can win the automatic bid.

But as the game played out Saturday night against the Spiders in the Robins Center in Virginia, Temple held to its form of going into a deep deficit of 14 points in the first half before launching a rally.

A 13-0 run in the second half got Temple back in the contest but it seemed headed for naught until senior Kristen McCarthy put the lights out of Richmond coach Michael Schaefer’s birthday cake with her own firecracker – a jumper off an assist from fellow classmate Shey Peddy to sparkle Temple to a 56-55 win with but 0.2 seconds left in regulation.

The win got the Owls back to .500 at 7-7 while the Spiders fell to 12-3 overall, so at least the strength of schedule portion of Temple’s RPI will remain strong.

“Wow, there’s nothing else to say. Wow,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said from the team bus as the Owls headed north to return home.

And there’s little time to celebrate because next up is a visit from St. Bonaventure Wednesday night in the Liacouras Center – not McGonigle Hall – and the Bonnies just set a school record with 13 nonconference wins.

McCarthy finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds while Peddy had 12 points, as did Brittany Lewis.

Abby Oliver had 21 points for Richmond and Rachel Bilney scored 13 points.

St. Joseph’s String Continues

The Hawks continue to look like a conference threat, especially considering they will be the tournament host in March.

An 86-58 win at Massachusetts (5-11, 0-1) in Amherst made it five straight extending into the conference opener for the Hawks (10-4).

Senior Kelly Cavallo had a double double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, though Ashley Prim was the Hawks scoring leader with 14 points and five assists.

Senior Katie Kuester scored 13 points, while classmates Michelle Baker scored 12 points and Samira van Grinsven had 10 points.

The Hawks next host conference co-favorite Dayton Tuesday morning at 11:30 at Hagan Arena as part of the annual Fieldtrip to the Fieldhouse promotion for area youth.

La Salle Still Hot

The Explorers in their A-10 opener matched Temple for gaining narrow victories with a 53-52 triumph at Saint Louis in Missouri.

The winning basket came on a three-point play (not shot) from freshman Ruvanna Campbell with 27 seconds left to play in regulation.

Their fourth straights win improved La Salle to 7-9 overall while the Billikens in their opener fell to 6-10 overall.

La Salle’s Nadia Duncan had a team-high 13 points, one less than the Billikens’ Mallory Egert.

St. Louis jumped to a 9-0 lead to start the game.

Villanova Edged At West Virginia

A career-high 18 points from Rachel Roberts wasn’t enough to overcome the Mountaineers in a 61-56 loss in a Big East game in Morgantown.

Emily Leer had 14 points for Villanova (11-4, 2-1 Big East) and Megan Pearson scored 13 points.

Brooke Hampton scored 18 for the Mountaineers (11-4, 2-1).

Villanova stays on the road to go to Marquette in Milwaukee Tuesday before returning for Saturday’s home game at 2 p.m. against second-ranked Connecticut, which lost at No. 3 Notre Dame in overtime.

Rutgers Moving Up

After Ohio State lost its first game on Saturday, falling to Michigan, while defending NCAA champion Texas A&M lost earlier in the week, the 10th-ranked Scarlet Knights are poised to move up a few spots in Monday’s next AP Poll after a 58-47 win against Cincinnati in a Big East game at Rutgers’ Louis A. Brown Athletic Center.

Rutgers is now the X-factor in the Big East race, potentially having enough upset potential to disrupt domination by either No. 2 Connecticut or No. 3 Notre Dame, whom the Scarlet Knights will meet back-to-back at the end of the month with a home visit from the Irish and then a road trip to UConn’s campus arena in Storrs.

Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer was anxious for her squad (13-2, 2-0 Big East) to get off to a fast start against Cincinnati after Wednesday’s difficulty beating Syracuse and it quickly blitzed away to a 9-0 and 11-2 lead.

“One thing about this team, we do learn from our previous games,” said Rutgers senior April Sykes, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. “That fast start is what helped us control the game.”

Bjonee Reaves had 15 points for the Bearcats (9-7, 0-3), who are coached by former UConn star and assistant Jamelle Elliott.

Monique Oliver added 15 points to the Scarlet Knights’ total.

“They get after you for 40 minutes,” Elliott said. “They swarm you, they’re aggressive, they want to go for steals and they don’t let up. You really have to handle that first surge of pressure.”

That should make the UConn game interesting for Rutgers in light of Notre Dame forcing the Huskies into 27 turnovers in the overtime loss Saturday.

The Scarlet Knights travel to Pittsburgh Tuesday.

Lucas Gets Scoring High In Penn State Loss

It seems some conference favorites around the country are struggling in the early going on their league schedules.

No. 16 Penn State, the Big 10 favorite, is in that mix after dropping a second conference game at home – a 75-65 loss to Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College.

Taylor had a career-high for the Spartans (11-5, 3-0), who are unbeaten in the conference despite several roster losses to injuries.

Maggie Lucas, a graduate of Germantown Academy from Narberth in suburban Philadelphia, also had a career-high and 28 of her 33 points came in the second half for the Lady Lions (11-4, 1-2).

Her points were fueled by seven treys, also a career high.

“We really wanted to get the win,” she said. “We were fired up and we really rallied together. It just wasn’t enough.”

Penn State coach Coquese Washington is taking things in moderation despite the loss to the defending conference champions.

“It’s only three games into the (Big 10) season,” Washington said. “It’s no time to panic. We have time to get things straightened out.”

Michigan visits Thursday fresh off the Wolverines’ upset of Ohio State.

DII Philadelphia University Stays Hot

The Rams on the road in Waterbury, Conn., grabbed a 79-73 win over Post, pulling away down the stretch in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) game.

Coach Tom Shirley’s team snapped a 67-67 tie and scored 12 of the game’s last 18 points to improve to 10-4 overall and 5-1 in the CACC, heading into Tuesday’s visit to Georgian Court for a conference showdown.

The Rams already have a win over Georgian Court at home in the Gallagher Center.

Christine Wooding scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Phila. U, while Kristen Blye had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Taylor Peltzer had 14 points and nine rebounds against the host Eagles (3-9, 1-4).

Looking Ahead

Towson, fresh off its Thursday night experience at Delaware, where Elena Delle Donne scored 37 points in a win, visits Drexel Sunday at 2 p.m. prior to the night game schedule for the Dragons’ men’s team, both part of the Colonial Athletic Association.

Delaware will be visiting George Mason, which swept the Blue Hens 2-0 last season.

The Guru will be tweeting from Drexel and perhaps by Monday morning will take his first look in a post at how the candidates for at-large bids in the NCAA field are shaping up.

-- Mel

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