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.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Guru's College Report: Notre Dame Routs Rutgers For 19th Straight

Guru's note: Updating to include precision and rarity of Devereaux Peter's rebounding achievement that was communicated from Notre Dame.

By Mel Greenberg

These have not been the happiest of visits on the Big East tour for Notre Dame in the past.

There have been times that the No. 2 Irish have come visiting No. 13 Rutgers high on a built up series of successes and left here cut down to size by Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer and her defensive pressure schemes.

But things were much different Tuesday night to the point that Muffet McGraw, a Hall of Famer in her own right, made observations by WNBA scouts a moot point in terms of anticipating performances by seniors on both sides of a pair of nationally-ranked teams performing in a competitive environment.

Cheryl Reeve, coach of the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx fresh off Monday night’s award from the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association – she’s a La Salle grad, was in the house.

Notre Dame (22-1, 9-0 Big East) arrived holding a series of buzz saw victories inside and out of the conference while Rutgers (17-5, 6-3) was reeling after a narrow escape from then-No. 23 DePaul at the last second a week ago and a lopsided loss Sunday at No. 20 Georgetown in Washington on Sunday.

Furthermore, Scarlet Knights senior Khadijah Rushdan, the savior of the win over DePaul and glue whose game talks more than her statistics, was sidelined for an indefinite period with a mild concussion suffered in the loss to the Hoyas less than 48 hours before.

So what surprises could Stringer spring under these circumstances?

Well, how about starting four very talented true freshmen for the first time since Feb. 6, 2005 along with junior forward-center Monique Oliver?

The move seemed a stroke of genius in the opening minutes though Stringer later said the young quartet needed to be thrown to the fire and considering the opposition it was as good a moment as any to learn who were the warriors for the stretch drive into the postseason.

Oliver scored nine of the Scarlet Knights’ first 11 points and Rutgers was dead even at 11-11 with the Irish as the clock showed 12 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the first half.

But 15 seconds later Oliver picked up her second foul and went to the bench while Notre Dame launched a 15-2 run spurred by three 3-pointers from junior all-American Skylar Diggins and the Irish continued to unleash the full fury of their versatility on the way to a 71-41 rout.

“They don’t do anything spectacular but everything they do is efficient,” said one WNBA scout of Notre Dame while spouting a list of all that was excellent.

Diggins finished with 18 points, eligible graduate Deveraux Peters continued her double-double assault, especially on the backboards with 10 points and 17 rebounds, while Kayla McBride double doubled her way into 13 points and 10 rebounds and Natalie Achonwa had 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

The 52-24 assault on the boards, including 23-10 on the offensive end, was terrifying to the Rutgers’ portion of the crowd of 3,530 at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center but equally delightful to the Notre Dame contingent that included McGraw’s teammates from her days as a Big Five all-star at St. Joseph’s University down the road in Philadelphia.

Former Rutgers coach Theresa Grentz, another Hall of Famer, who coached McGraw at St. Joseph’s was also in the house.

Oliver became the lone scoring star for Rutgers with 17 points and nine rebounds. April Sykes off the bench was held to two points on a 1-for-9 effort from the floor.

“You can’t really key on one person,” McGraw noted. “We’re a team that has a lot of different weapons. It could be anyone’s game. Natalie coming off the bench provided a spark for us.”

The Scarlet Knights’ shooting was as dismal as in Sunday’s loss but this time at a season-low 30.2 percent from the floor

And things don’t look much promising directly ahead considering next up is a trip to No. 3 Connecticut Saturday night in the Huskies’ Gampel Pavilion on campus in Storrs.

It’s the first time Notre Dame, the NCAA national runnerup from last season, had beaten Rutgers three straight including a first-ever back-to-back set of wins in the Scarlet Knights’ home.

“I was pleased with our defense,” said McGraw, whose previous trip to North Jersey earlier last month produced a suffocation of Seton Hall up the road.

Notre Dame was in the metro area on Saturday in nearby Jamaica, N.Y., where the Irish posted a lop-sided win at St. John’s.

“Coming into a hostile environment, it took a while to get ourselves together,” McGraw said. “We shot the three pretty well in the first half but we didn’t want to settle for that so in the second half we did a better job attacking the basket.”

Peters’ three-straight games of 15 or more rebounds dates back to the 1970s in terms of finding the last Irish player to achieve that feat while her consecutive streak of three straight double doubles is the first by a Notre Dame player since Jacqueline Batteast in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

“I’m realizing my time’s almost up,” said Peters. “I want to make the most of it. I’m a fifth-year senior and I want to get our team winning and go as far as we can.”

No Notre Dame player has accomplished the feat of three straight games of 15 or more rebounds since Feb. 16-24, 1979, when Jane Politiski did so during the program's AIAW Division III era at Marion (21 rebounds on Feb. 16), and then in all three games of the AIAW Division III North District Tournament in Rensselaer, Ind. on consecutive days against Valparaiso (15 rebounds on Feb. 22), Saint Mary's (Ind.) College (18 rebounds on Feb. 23) and the host St. Joseph's College (16 rebounds on Feb. 24).

Peters is the fifth Notre Dame player to record three 15-rebound games in one season, with Katryna Gaither the last to do so (four in 1996-97), along with two seasons from Letitia Bowen (three in 1992-93, four in 1993-94), one from Shari Matvey (five in 1979-80) and two from Politiski (school-record seven in 1977-78, four in 1978-79).

Notre Dame has won 19 straight since suffering the lone loss of the season at top-ranked Baylor and the victims list prior to Rutgers includes Duke, Kentucky, Tennessee and Connecticut heading into Sunday’s contest with DePaul.

On the other side, with Stringer, who took a traditional while to appear at her portion of the postgame press conference and knowing how dismayed she gets in defeat, it was expected that she was going to reel off a bunch of misdeeds on the floor committed by her players.

But carrying a bit of a realism, including the nature of the opposition, Stringer was surprisingly positive and even looked back to history a bit referencing some struggles in the closing days of the 2007 season before upsetting Connecticut in the Big East tournament title game and going on to advance through the NCAAs all the way to the championship contest against Tennessee.

“Anytime you have four freshman and a junior to take on the No. 2 team in the nation, and they did,” Stringer said. “They kept their heads up. The thing is we wanted them to hold on for the first 10 minutes. And they did and it’s a good feeling.

“We played hard, we missed a lot of shots. We can’t give up as many rebounds. Aside that Notre Dame is a great team. We were trying to adjust,” Stringer alluded to Rushdan’s absence.

“Overall as a group, I thought they held their heads up,” she added. “You might say, `How does 30 points (differential) look?’ Well, it looks real bad. But I don’t measure that. I measure winning and losing not necessarily by the score but by the attitude.

“And if you go by our attitude, we won. I’m not upset. I’ve been plenty upset when we lost games and I felt we gave up and we dropped our heads. I don’t think we dropped our heads. I think what this game has done or hope it will is to signal to the freshmen, who need to get better, and the upper classmen need to tighten up their game a whole heck of a lot.

“If this game is a measuring stick – all the small things that seem boring, we’re going to have to focus on that. We were able to get away with some things we need to work on a lot more.

“We should not drop our heads. We should not be discouraged. We need to establish that the freshmen play with no fear. The upper classmen will get it together. Maybe we can pull this thing together.”

Villanova Tops Seton Hall

Securing a win that was a necessity on the Big East circuit, the Wildcats topped the Pirates 62-53 at home in the Pavilion to improve to 14-8 overall and 4-5 in the conference.

Villanova has a strong RPI that has the Wildcats projected into the NCAA tournament right now but the reality is they need to finish much better than the 12th place the Big East coaches forecasted for them in the preseason poll.

Another opportunity for a win is available Saturday when Providence visits. The Wildcats previously beat the Friars earlier in the season in Rhode Island.

In Tuesday night’s game, Lauren Buford had 17 points, Laura Sweeney scored 16 and Rachel Roberts had 10.
Villanova also was on target beyond the perimeter knocking down 12 of 27 three-point attempts.

Jasmine Crew had 24 points, the lone player in double figures for Seton Hall (7-16, 0-9), whose nonconference wins include a home triumph of Drexel.

But Sweeney and Crew tied for game honors with nine rebounds each.

Devon Kane, the Big East’s top foul shooter with a .916 average, has made 33 of her last 34 for Villanova, which is 5-0 when Roberts and Buford each score in double figures.

DePaul Upsets Louisville

The Blue Demons, who were bounced from the Associated Press Poll this week and are making do with just seven players after a series of injuries, including a season-ending knee operation to senior Keisha Hampton out of Philadelphia, could be on the way back to the rankings after upsetting No. 14 Louisville 86-61 at home in Chicago though Notre Dame is next up on the schedule Sunday.

Anna Martin had 19 points and Katherine Harry had a career-high 20 rebounds and six assists for DePaul (17-6, 5-4 Big East).

The win was the Blue Demons’ second straight after a crucial loss at the finish at Rutgers that resulted after holding a 16-point lead in the second half.

Brittany Hrynko scored 18 points, Jasmine Penny and Harry scored 14 each, and Megan Rogowski had 11 for DePaul, which went wire-to-wire against the Cardinals (17-5, 6-3) after taking the lead from the outset.

Louisville, which rallied to beat Villanova at home Saturday for the Cardinals’ third straight, got 14 points from Shoni Schimmel while Asia Taylor had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Philadelphia U. Triumphs

The Division II Rams got a career-high 33 points from senior Christine Wooding in a 74-43 road win at Wilmington (Del.) to stay in the hunt with a 16-2 record in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference to go with an overall mark of 16-5.

Wooding also grabbed 17 rebounds while Kristen Blye scored 11 points and Najah Roberts got 10 points off the bench.

Erin Moore and Lauren Brown each scored 12 points for Wilmington (1-15, 0-11 CACC).

Philadelphia U. next hosts Concordia (N.Y.) in a conference game 2 p.m. Saturday in the Gallagher Center.

Looking Ahead

On Wednesday night Temple visits St. Joseph’s at Hagan Arena at 7 p.m. in the first of two meetings between the two local rivals though this one only counts in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings and not the Big Five where the Owls, Hawks, and La Salle are both fighting to finish second behind Villanova, which claimed the title on a 4-0 sweep.

Temple and St. Joseph’s are both on the NCAA bubble, at best, for the moment, in terms of getting an at-large bid if neither were to not emerge as the Atlantic 10 champs at the conference tournament on Hawk Hill next month.

The host Hawks are looking to snap an 11-game losing streak to the Owls, who besides the lone buzzer-beating setback are 17-1 in the last 18 games against St. Joseph’s.

La Salle looking to break a losing streak, visits Fordham, whom the Explorers already beat at the Tom Gola Arena in an early A-10 tilt.

On Thursday night in Colonial Athletic Association action Drexel hosts George Mason while No. 12 Delaware visits UNCW, whom the first-place Blue Hens already defeated once at home in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

Penn State, looking to bounce back from an upset loss at Michigan State, will host Indiana.

On Friday, Princeton ends a three-week break for finals and hosts Yale in pursuit of the Tigers’ third straight Ivy title while Penn will host Brown at the Palestra.

The two visitors then exchange arena stops on Saturday night with Yale at Penn and Brown at Princeton.

Also on Saturday in the Atlantic 10, Fordham visits Temple, and St. Joseph’s travels to Richmond.

As mentioned, Villanova hosts Providence and Rutgers travels to Connecticut.

On Sunday, Virginia Commonwealth visits Delaware and Drexel travels to Northeastern in the CAA, while Penn State travels to Minnesota in the Big Ten.

The Guru will be at the St. Joseph’s-Temple game tweeting at @womhoopsguru and also will be back on the blog in the next 24 hours.

-- Mel


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