By Mel Greenberg
NEWARK, Del. – Having stayed off the blog grid for two days the Guru will start here and go back across the weekend locally, as well as the national moments of note, as the one-month countdown to March Madness is under way.
With an eye in that direction, Delaware continued to make its own history Sunday beating Virginia Commonwealth University 68-49 here in front of a crowd of 4,646 -- some 500 persons short of a sellout -- in the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center as they stayed perfect in the Colonial Athletic Association and widened their first-place lead to three games.
Up North Drexel recovered from Thursday’s upset home loss to George Mason and on the road beat Northeastern 63-41 in Boston for a sweep in the CAA series and stayed in the hunt for a potential first-round bye in next month’s tournament at the Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.
In the Big Ten No. 19 Penn State rallied to go ahead on Alex Bentley’s three-pointer with 38.9 seconds left and beat Minnesota 68-65 as Maggie Lucas of Germantown Academy and Narberth, Pa., outside Philadelphia, became the third sophomore in Lady Lions history to reach 1,000 career points.
Lucas had 10 points for the game.
In the CAA game here on a day junior sensation Elena Delle Donne wasn’t feeling one hundred percent, according to coach Tina Martin, the nation’s leading scorer still collected 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Blue Hens (20-1, 11-0 CAA), who got off to a hot start and got contributions from Martin’s other options who share the lineup with the native from nearby Wilmington.
It was Delle Donne’s eighth double double and Delaware’s 10th straight win to enable the Blue Hens to reach the 20-win mark for the third straight season and 10th in the last 13 under Martin, who is in her 16th season running the program.
“That’s a lot of hard work by a lot of people,” Martin said of the win totals. “I just happen to be the dummy running the show.”
Danielle Parker scored 16 points for Delaware, Akeema Richards scored 12, and Lauren Carra had 11.
Trumae Lucas dealt a career-high eight assists.
WNBA head coaches Cheryl Reeve of the champion Minnesota Lynx along with the Connecticut Sun’s Mike Thibault and his assistant Scott Hawk were in the house to view VCU senior Courtney Hurt, among the nation’s scoring and rebounding leaders who had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Rams (13-9, 6-5) while Andrea Barbour, a transfer from Virginia Tech who became eligible last season, scored 17 points.
It didn’t hurt to have Delle Donne in the game to observe though neither WNBA team would have a chance to draft her this year and are not likely to finish out of the playoffs this summer to have a shot next time around.
Earlier last week Delle Donne said she planned to return for another season – she has an option to turn pro in March if she desired and technically whatever she says a month or so from now will be the statement the WNBA considers binding.
For now, Delaware and Delle Donne are content to be making the most history in the state since it became the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution in the late 1700s.
Actually, Martin’s group joins the Blue Hens football team in terms of making national notoriety in the sports while a former United States senator named Joe Biden became the current vice president when Barack Obama was elected to the White House.
In Sunday’s contest Delaware jumped to such a fast start at 13-2 it seemed the Blue Hens were involved in a promotion from Dover International Speedway besides the Women’s Health Awareness Day.
The team wore pink jerseys, socks, and sneakers and most of the crowd wore outfits featuring pink as part of the Breast Cancer Awareness and Play-4Kay support of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund named for the late North Carolina State Hall of Fame coach who succumbed to the disease in January, 2009.
A lull in the second half allowed VCU to cut the advantage to six with 10 minutes left in the game and then Delaware darted away again.
Delle Donne has been taking a pounding from double and triple team defenses.
“All I can say is we send the films to the league office and can’t say much more without getting into trouble,” Martin said of the physicality the Blue Hens are experiencing these days.
“You just have to play through it.”
As for the game, Martin said of the way her team got under way following its recent struggle at the outset Thursday night in Delaware’s win at UNC Wilmington:
“I felt we came out with a punch, which was really good. We needed that.
“This has been a long stretch for us (in terms of travel). I think it’s a grind. It’s February, we’ve already played 20 games at that time. So they’re kids. They get tired. They don’t eat right. They don’t sleep right.
“Some of them are getting a little run down and they have to take care of the bodies. They’re playing through it. Practices will be reduced as far as length and we try to stay as sharp as we can through this month of February.”
Delaware will host Old Dominion Thursday night.
Martin discussed the balance in the lineup, which she’s looking to extend.
“We have a rotation of eight right now. I keep saying, I’m not one to give handouts – that’s the way I am. You have to earn it. I’m still waiting for a ninth person. But until people prove day in and day out, make good decisions and do things the way I want them done, I’m going to stay with that rotation of eight.
“I’m not saying we won’t get to nine because I hope we get to nine but right now the people who are getting the playing time are earning the playing time and the bottom line is those eight kids have to be warriors.”
Martin was not surprised that VCU rallied to make it a contest again in the second half.
“This is a senior laden team, I knew they weren’t going to go away,” she said.
“When we can get out and run, we’re a very tough basketball team. Our defense ignited us and we got better movement.”
She said Delle Donne has been feeling a little sluggish but the whole team is and they need a little more rest. “You can’t live on McDonald’s and Pizza.”
As Delaware continues to gain national attention Martin said she is not looking at the ups and downs of the polls.
“I’m not worried about that. This season has been an incredible run so far. All we’re trying to be is the best we can be. Wherever that lands us that lands us. We talk everyday about just getting better.
“You can’t get too far ahead of yourself. One day at a time. One second at a time.”
Meanwhile, Drexel (11-10, 7-4) snapped a two-game losing streak by beating the Huskies (4-18, 2-9) as Kamile Nacickaite had 18 points and 11 rebounds for her first double double of the season while Fiona Flanagan matched her career high of earlier in the season with 10 points.
The Dragons are in a two-way tie with UNCW and have the tie-break for fourth – the last spot worth a bye in the conference tournament.
Drexel is a game behind Hofstra (16-6, 8-3) and JMU (17-5, 8-3) but could gain a tie-break with JMU by beating the Dukes at home Thursday night for a season sweep.
A win Thursday would also enable coach Denise Dillon to tie Lil Haas for the all-time Drexel Division I record with 144 wins.
In other CAA action, Hofstra trailed Old Dominion by 19 points in the second half and rallied to tie the game at home in Hempstead, N.Y., outside Manhattan, only to lose when Jackie Cook hit a layup with 2.7 seconds left for the Lady Monarchs (8-15, 5-6).
Shante Evans had her 13th double double for the Pride, including 31 points, while Mairi Buchan had a career-high 20 points for ODU.
The loss dropped Hofstra from sole possession of second place to a tie with James Madison, three games behind Delaware.
James Madison edged visiting George Mason 49-45.
Penn State Rallies
The 19th-ranked Lady Lions are still alive in the Big Ten race, which they were picked to win in the conference preseason polls by coaches and media.
Alex Bentley, the preseason conference player of the year, hit a three-pointer to put Penn State (18-5, 8-3 B-10) ahead with 38.9 seconds remaining and snap a seven-game losing streak to Minnesota (12-12, 4-6) in Minneapolis dating back to Dec. 28, 2001.
Coach Coquese Washington’s team, which trailed 32-24 at the half, is alone in fourth but a game behind the troika virtually tied for first place in 15th-ranked Purdue (19-5, 9-2), ranked 16th-ranked Nebraska (19-3, 8-2) and 11th-ranked Ohio State (20-2, 7-2).
The Lady Lions made just one of their first 18 shots and were down by 15 points earlier in the first half.
“We figured out the rhythm of the game, we executed better and we got stops on the defensive end when we needed,” Washington said of the turnaround.
“We’re a very confident team,” she added. “I always try to tell them if they miss early, keep shooting, the ball will find its way to the basket. I wasn’t too concerned with the shooting, we were getting good shots.”
Penn State’s Mia Nickson scored a season-high 20 points while Bentley had 16 points and passed the 1,200-point career milestone.
Rachel Banham had 14 points for Minnesota and Kiara Buford had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Wisconsin visits Penn State on Thursday night.
Elsewhere in the Big 10, Purdue beat visiting Illinois 77-66 as Sam Ostarello had a career-high 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Boilermakers while Adrienna Godbold had 25 points for the Illini (8-16, 2-9).
Nebraska and Ohio State were idle on the weekend.
Temple Surge Continues
Coach Tonya Cardoza wasn’t too dismayed when Fordham played her Owls tough in the first half of Saturday’s 69-51 win in an Atlantic 10 contest at McGonigle Hall.
“I thought that was a good game for us, especially because we had to defend against things we’re not used – they’re a lot like Villanova where all their guys on the floor can knock down a three – so we had to change how we played – go smaller – but I thought we definitely did a better job in the second half of getting into the passing lane and taking things away and making it a little more difficult for them.
“But they came out and played hard but we expected that. But once we got it going, it definitely separated.”
Shey Peddy had 21 points for the Owls (14-8, 7-1 A-10), who won their seventh straight and are tied with Dayton (15-5, 7-1) for second in the conference but hold the tiebreaker by beating the Flyers on the road last month.
Victoria Macaulay continued her inside play and scored 18 points – three less than her career high of 21 she had against St. Joseph’s.
Arielle Collins and Becky Peters each scored 15 points for Fordham (11-13, 2-7), which is coached by former Villanova star Stephanie Gaitley, who coached St. Joseph’s in the 1990s.
Her two other homecoming visits this season resulted in an overtime loss at St. Joseph’s and a narrow loss at La Salle, which also won at Fordham last week in the final seconds.
Temple next travels to St. Louis (8-15, 2-6) Wednesday night against a Billikens team that pulled a 56-55 upset of Duquesne (15-8, 3-5) at home Sunday when Jenna Mueller hit the winning shot with 1.1 seconds left in regulation.
La Salle (11-12, 5-3), which was picked for 11th by the conference coaches in the preseason poll, moved into sixth place a game ahead of St. Joseph’s (14-8, 4-4), as a result of the Explorers’ 81-67 win over Massachusetts (6-17, 1-7) Saturday night at home at the Tom Gola Arena while the Hawks were routed earlier in the day, 78-59, at Richmond (18-5, 6-3).
Brittany Wilson scored 18 points for La Salle, while Nadia Duncan scored 14 points, Michea Bryant also scored 14 points, and Jada Payne had 13 points. Ruvanna Campbell had 11 rebounds and early in the game La Salle’s first 18 points all came as a result of six straight 3-point shots.
In St. Joseph’s game, Michelle Baker became the 21st Hawk to reach 1,0-000 career points, the lone highlight in the struggle against the Spiders.
Baker had 16 points for the Hawks, while Ashley Robinson scored 12, and Katie Kuester scored 11.
Abby Oliver had 19 points to lead three other Richmond teammates scoring in double figures.
St. Joseph’s travels to La Salle Wednesday at 2 p.m. in a game that is both critical to the teams in the conference standings – the Explorers’ magic number is two to return to the A-10 tournament – and the fight to finish second in the Big Five behind Villanova, which clinched the title last month with a 4-0 sweep.
Meanwhile, St. Bonaventure (22-2, 9-0) continued to hold first and stay unbeaten in A-10 play Saturday by gaining an 80-69 win at home over George Washington (10-12, 3-5) as senior Jessica Jenkins hit eight 3-pointers to enable the Bonnies tie a school record with 11 straight wins.
Jenkins is now the nation’s active career leader in 3-point shooting with 314.
It is the first time in Bonnies’ coach Jim Crowley’s career he has reached .500 at 176-176 in his 12 seasons in charge of the program.
St. Bonaventure was picked for sixth by the coaches in the preseason.
Crowley is the longest active coach in the A-10, one year ahead of St. Joseph’s Cindy Griffin.
The Bonnies are on the verge of getting ranked for the first time, though South Carolina’s upset at Tennessee on Thursday will undoubtedly get coach Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks votes to return to the AP Poll after a one-week stay earlier this season.
Tiana Myers had 27 points, including her 1,000th at GWU.
In another A-10 game on Saturday Charlotte (15-8, 7-2), which is a half-game back in fourth behind Temple and Dayton, beat visiting Rhode Island (1-22, 0-8), which is hosting one of the four NCAA Regional Finals in March.
The 49ers, who won 72-35, got 13 points each from Amanda Dowe and Jennifer Hailey to stay a game ahead of fifth-place Richmond for the fourth and final bye slot for next month’s conference tournament at St. Joseph’s.
Finally, in another A-10 game on Sunday, Dayton, which was co-picked with Temple by the conference coaches to win the A-10 title, beat host and two-time defending champion Xavier, 74-65, in Cincinnati for the Flyers’ fifth straight win.
Cassie Sant had 16 points for Dayton while Sam MacKay scored 12.
The Flyers had just 11 turnovers but forced the Musketeers (5-16, 2-6) into 22 turnovers.
It was Dayton’s first win in Xavier’s Cintas Center since Feb. 7, 2008.
Dayton will host Charlotte Wednesday morning.
Princeton Returns – Penn Swept
It wasn’t exactly like getting back on the bicycle but after a three-week layoff to take exams two-time defending Ivy champion returned to the court Friday night in a rocky 57-45 win over Brown at home in Jadwin Gym and then blitzed Yale 72-47 Saturday night to maintain a one-game lead over Harvard (11-8, 4-1).
Penn, meanwhile chased Yale for a while Friday night in the Palestra before losing 72-60 and then Saturday night suffered another tough one, falling to Brown 59-55, in overtime.
Princeton (15-4, 5-0) star junior Niveen Rasheed had 19 points against the Bears (12-8, 3-3) Friday night and 11 Saturday against the visiting Bulldogs (12-8, 4-2).
She now has 961 for her career heading into the Dartmouth-Harvard road swing this weekend.
“It was definitely different having three weeks off practicing against each other – trying to do something different,” Rasheed said. “To see the same faces every day – every one was kind of excited for tonight and we were a little frantic and not playing at our pace and not being in synch.”
Kate Miller had 10 points for Princeton in the Brown game and the Tigers have now won 32 of 33 Ivies games over the last two championship seasons and this one.
Hannah Passafuime had 10 points as the lone Brown figure in double figures against the Tigers.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart smiled on Friday night following three weeks of playing male practice players when she wasn’t on the road recruiting.
When the Tigers signed off they held a lofty RPI of 11 off a rugged nonconference schedule that began to dip after three Ivy wins against Penn on the road and Cornell and Columbia at home.
Halfway through the weekend the ranking was 25 and the strength of schedule, though still solid off the out-of-league opposition, fell to 45th.
“At the end of the game I just said, `you better get better,’” Banghart said after the Brown game.
Banghart, of course, is hoping Princeton, if the Tigers emerge with another automatic bid, can last a while in the NCAA tournament so while the Tigers can get away with mistakes in the Ivies, that wouldn’t be the case out of conference, where their only losses were to DePaul, Delaware and Stanford – all ranked at the time – and to defending Patriot champion Navy on the road.
“We’re very athletic,” Banghart said. “So if we rely on our athleticism we’ll win in our league. We want to do more than win in our league.
“Tonight was a step back. So I hope it was all cobwebs and we’ll rebuild. But we’ll see.”
Brown coach Jean Marie Burr did not expect to see much rust from Princeton.
“They played against a male scout team and it’s like a scrimmage and I felt they would be well prepared – especially with Courtney’s coaching – I think she does a great job.
“I was disappointed we weren’t able to score well against their pressure – I thought we had some good looks. We were rushed and they did a nice job pressuring our shooters.”
Princeton has won eight straight including the win over Yale.
“We didn’t think we came out very strong against Brown and whenever we don’t play well we really want a chance to redeem ourselves,” Banghart said. Saturday. “We talked about how we were going to do whatever it took.
“Yale’s a tough team and so are we, and it was a good battle.”
Nicole Hung had a career-best 14 points against the Bulldogs while Tigers teammate Devona Allgood scored 18, Rasheed grabbed 10 rebounds to go with her with her 11 points, and Lauren Edwards scored 10.
Yale’s Michelle Cashen had nine points.
The Bulldogs had better success on the road Friday night winning at Penn
Alyssa Baron had 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds for the Quakers against Yale and with seven assists was just three short of the first-ever triple double in the program’s history.
Katy Allen scored 10 points, Jackie Kates scored 10, and senior Jess Knapp in her second weekend since deciding to play before surgery for an ACL suffered in late December had seven points, six rebounds and a blocked shot.
Meghan Vasquez led four Yale players in double figures with 19 points.
Penn had its opportunities Saturday night in rallying from an early seven-point deficit to tie the game at the half 23-23.
Late in regulation in the second half, Baron tied the game 46-46 on a pair of free throws with 1:37 left before Lindsay Nickel hit a shot for a 48-46 lead with 1:10 left.
Then Baron went to the line with 46 seconds left but made only one of two free throw opportunities.
However, Nickel missed a long three, Penn got the ball but Baron missed two straight shots before Kara Bonenberger kept the possession alive with a rebound and went to the line with 15 seconds left.
She made the first free throw to tie the score but missed the second. However Brown was forced into a turnover with five seconds left.
Penn executed a play but Baron’s shot at the buzzer missed and into overtime it was.
The Quakers took an early lead on a Bonenberger shot but then Brown nailed a trey by Passafuime and while Penn had its chances, the Bears held on for the finish.
Baron finished with 16 points and Allen had a career-high with 12.
Passafuime had 19 for Brown, Aileen Daniels scored 15 points, and Sheila Dixon scored 12 while grabbing 10 rebounds as did Nickel.
“We’ve been in three overtime games and won two,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said.
“We didn’t do enough but it’s still progress in this group. They’re young, they’re learning, they’re competing, but we want to be rewarded.
“I thought we executed and gave ourselves a chance to win but it’s just a bad feeling right now. We’re going to keep accentuating the positives.
“It’s a tough start – We had our first five at home (in the Ivies) and we only got one win. Now we have to go on the road for seven of our last nine in a difficult league to win on the road so we probably missed a pretty important opportunity for this program.”
Allen said, “We battled back and eliminated some mistakes so that was good. We’re going in the right directions but we just have to get there.”
Brown was coming off the loss to Princeton.
“Basketball is a very volatile game,” Brown’s Burr said. “You have to grind it out. You have to play defense. You have to rebound. And after coming off of last night’s game in keeping Princeton under 60 we knew we had that working for us.
“We were trying to make Penn make decisions and rotate but they did such a good job with their offense – very balanced.
“In the Ivy League these back-to-backs means every game is a tournament feeling and I have to make our kids understand that. You just have to take it one game at a time.”
Nova Edges Friars
Villanova stayed in the hunt to be part of the middle of the Big East made it a season sweep of Providence, beating the Friars at home in a conference game in the Pavilion 59-53 as Lauren Burford scored 17 points.
Devon Kane scored 13 points and Rachel Roberts scored 10 for the Wildcats (15-8, 5-5).
Teya Wright had 21 points for the Friars (12-11, 4-6).
Villanova now goes into the deeper end of the Big East pool, heading to Chicago to play DePaul Wednesday night in what will be Villanova coach Harry Perretta’s 1,000th game.
Meanwhile, with Khadijah Rushdan back home still recovering from a concussion suffered a week ago Sunday at Georgetown No. 13 Rutgers had to carry a two-game losing streak minus their leader to No. 3 Connecticut Saturday for another Big East showdown between ranked teams.
It wasn’t much of a show because the Huskies got the Scarlet Knights down quickly and went on to a 66-34 victory at Gampel Pavilion on the UConn main campus in Storrs.
Stefanie Dolson had 16 points for UConn (21-2, 9-1) while Tiffany Hayes added 14 to help the Huskies win their 98th straight at home, counting hosting the Big East tournament and wins at the XL Center in Hartford, their other home.
Rutgers, which has had trouble scoring and been routed at Georgetown and at home by Notre Dame, got 15 points from Monique Oliver.
“I’m happy this happened,” said Hall of Fame Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer after the Scarlet Knights fell to 17-6 overall and 6-4 in the conference. “I’m grateful that we had an opportunity to play someone who would pin us. If we didn’t, we’d be stunned in the first round of the NCAA tournament.”
Elsewhere in the Big East, No. 2 Notre Dame kept rolling, beating DePaul at home Sunday, 90-70.
On Saturday, host West Virginia upset Louisville 66-60, while Georgetown won at Cincinnati 65-54, and St. John’s won at Seton Hall 55-25.
The Rest Of The Nation
A major upset occurred Sunday out of the Southeastern Conference where No. 6 and frontrunner Kentucky was ambushed by LSU 61-51 on the road in Baton Rouge as Adrienne Webb scored 19 poinrs and LaSondra Barrett had 12 for the host Tigers (15-8, 5-5 SEC).
A’dia Mathies had 12 points for the Wildcats (21-3, 10-1), who had a 10-game win streak snapped.
No. 8 Tennessee (17-6, 10-2 SEC) bounced off its upset loss to South Carolina in the SEC and beat Auburn 82-61 at home Sunday in Knoxville as Auburn fell to 11-13 overall and 3-8 in the conference.
On Sunday UTEP stayed unbeaten in Conference-USA and is now 20-2 overall and 9-0 in the conference after winning at Rice 45-41.
Philadelphian Markel Walker on Saturday night had 14 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in UCLA’s 73-52 win in Los Angeles over Washington State in a Pac-12 game for the first triple double for the Bruins (12-10, 7-4) in eight years.
Boston U., whose coach Kelly Greenberg is a new Big Five Hall of Fame inductee for her playing career at La Salle, is still unbeaten in the America East after beating Binghamton 62-49 on Saturday.
And that is the news for now until the next sunrise.