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.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Guru's Musing: South Carolina Dispenses Tennessee in Upset

By Mel Greenberg

A day and night like Thursday when women’s basketball news suddenly began gushing all over the place calls for the Guru to depart from the normal routine roundup – it’s all out there anyway – and go into commentary mode to provide some perspective and observation.

Of course there were a few items in terms of announcements that will also be spoken to.

So much happened that it is tricky to find a starting place but Knoxville, Tenn., is as good as any place, where South Carolina coach Dawn Staley finally had her night in the land of the Lady Vols.

Later this year in June she and assistant coach Nikki McCray, herself a former Lady Vol, will also have their weekend, also, when they are part of the 2012 induction class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

When Staley, the former Virginia all-American, Olympic multi-gold medalist and WNBA All-Star takes the podium, she is entitled to refer to Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw’s opening comments in her acceptance speech last year at her induction when she smiled broadly, and beamed, “You picked a good year to invite me to Knoxville.”

The previous March McGraw’s Irish beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight – the first-ever win in 21 tries – and advanced to the Final Four where Notre Dame upset favored Connecticut, its Big East rival, in the semifinals before losing to Texas A&M, which had upset Stanford also in the semifinals.

On Thursday night South Carolina topped Tennessee 64-60 with a closing rally in Thompson Boling Arena for the Gamecocks’ first win over the Lady Vols since 1980, which was when Staley, a mere nine years old, was challenging the boys on the blacktop playground courts in North Philadelphia.

You remember that South Carolina team, don’t you?

Magic Johnson’s sister Evelyn was a freshman and though the Gamecocks won in the regular season in Columbia, they later lost to Tennessee in Knoxville and in the AIAW national semifinals.

Staley pulled out all the stops in this one which included a balancing act of emotions prior to the opening tip when she and McCray presented Tennessee Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt’s son Tyler a $20,000 donation for Alzheimer’s research.

Summitt revealed late last summer she had been diagnosed with early onset alzheimer’s disease, causing a shuffling of duties on her staff with associate head coach Holly Warlick adding more responsibilities including being the point person at postgame press conferences.

Warlick was a point guard on that Tennessee team that lost to South Carolina before winning the next 40 – the second most active win streak by a team over another behind Stanford’s 52 straight over Washington State in the PAC-12.

“I’m just glad our players got a chance to experience this experience, knowing the tradition of Tennessee,” Staley said. “By far, this is the biggest win of my career.”

The win all but certain assures the Gamecocks at least an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament unless they fall apart over the next month.

But aside from South Carolina’s long-running rivalry in the Southeastern Conference with Tennessee, Staley and the Lady Vols have their own personal history as rivals.

In fact, Staley had her own Virginia coach, Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan who sort of retired after last season, speak to the Gamecocks ahead of Thursday’s game.

“We had my college coach Debbie Ryan come talk to our team about everyone believing on one accord and being on one accord and anything is possible,” Staley said. “I think our team took that to heart.”

Staley and her Cavaliers’ teammates shocked Tennessee in the 1990 NCAA regional title game, depriving the Lady Vols of a trip to their own arena to host the NCAA Final Four.

“That was my NCAA title,” Staley has jested to her Olympic teammates with Lady Vols backgrounds in the past.

Tennessee got revenge a year later, beating Virginia in the championship – though years later referee Patty Broderick, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame past inductee, admitted she blew a call late in regulation that likely deprived the Cavaliers of a national title.

As a fledgling coach at Temple in her native Philadelphia at the start of the last decade Staley brought the Owls to Knoxville and missed in the last minute pulling a stunning upset of the then-No. 1 team in the nation.

At South Carolina, Staley has had some near misses against Tennessee since arriving to take charge in the spring of 2008.

Meanwhile it was a bad day all around for Tennessee and it appears the respective restraint the media has shown in its coverage of the Lady Vols’ season since Summitt’s announcement as she fights the disease is beginning to loosen.

ESPN’s HoopGurlz ,which reported Thursday junior Kaela Davis, of Buford, Ga., the No. 2 prospect of the 2013 class according to the website’s high school rankings, was reconsidering her decision to join the Lady Vols, also offered analysis hinting that Tennessee’s traditional role as a magnet for recruits may be declining amid the uncertainty surrounding the future of Summitt and whomever may next take charge.

The belief is that Warlick is likely the successor, but in these days in college athletics, nothing is an absolute.

With losses to No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Kentucky unranked Virginia and South Carolina, which recently made a one-week AP return appearance, Tennessee is now 16-6 overall and 7-2 in the SEC.

When the season began there was the talk of the team winning the NCAA title in honor of Summitt, but now there are allusions to the Lady Vols being less than ready for prime time.

Unless things get shored up quickly, Tennessee may begin to slip, if not already, to a projected three seed in the NCAA tournament as opposed to a potential No. 1 seed back in the preseason.

“We continue to let star players put up big numbers against us, and that’s been a focal point for us, but obviously it hasn’t been good enough,” Warlick said after Thursday’s loss.

As Tennessee works its way through the rest of the season, to a person in the media, writers and broadcasters are hoping for the best that can be for Summitt but at the same time have a duty in their role as journalists to report the wins and losses as they occur.

Summitt, herself, when she revealed her situation last August was emphatic in not wanting any “pity party.”

With a month left before March Madness rolls around Thursday’s loss may have just been for Tennessee one of those nights, which almost everyone but the top tier is experiencing this season.

But there is no answer either way right now. And it may not come until either Tennessee is eliminated or carrying Summitt in triumph off the court on the April championship night in Denver.

Delle Donne’s Decision

Former WNBA great Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who is in her second season coaching North Carolina-Wilmington, was beaten twice by Delaware junior sensation Elena Delle Donne on Thursday night.

On the court, the 2008 national high school player of the year and the current top women’s collegiate scorer, had 29 points and 14 rebounds as the No. 12 Blue Hens (19-1, 10-0 CAA) beat Cooper’s Seahawks 62-53, pulling out another Colonial Athletic Association win in the closing minutes to maintain a two-game lead over Hofstra in the standings.

Based on reports from those at the game in North Carolina, Cooper-Dyke attempted to smother Delle Donne, defensively, no matter how many fouls the Seahawks racked up.

“As I said before, if you guys would have given me the kitchen sink, I would have thrown that at her, too,” Cooper-Dyke joked afterwards.

Several weeks ago when UNCW lost by a much larger margin at Delaware, Cooper-Dyke was asked about Delle Donne’s WNBA potential right now, knowing that she has the option to forego her fourth year of eligibility.

“I hope she goes now to give the rest of us in the CAA a chance,” Cooper-Dyke said with a big smile.

Apparently that isn’t happening.

Though the Guru was told by solid sources several weeks ago Delle Donne was likely to return, he held off in difference to the former Ursuline Academy star in nearby Wilmington making the announcement when she was ready.

And besides, whatever she says now, she can change her mind after the season, though there won’t be a repeat of the 2008 soap opera summer when she arrived at powerful Connecticut and darted back home within 48 hours to eventually enroll, originally, to play volleyball at Delaware close to home.

On Thursday, ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel reported that Delle Donne told her in an interview she guaranteed she was returning, so the CAA will have to endure another season, though Delaware must still finish proving itself this one.

Still, WNBA coaches will be on the observation trail and the Guru knows of at least one prominent one who will be at Sunday’s game in Newark when Delaware plays VCU.

Staying makes sense because anything goes in the WNBA competition this summer where there will be as much attention to teams in the basements of the East and West as there will to those pursuing the title.

After all, though four teams will be in the lotto for the 2013 draft, such prized picks as Baylor’s Brittney Griner, Delle Donne, and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins will be on the table to obtain among others.

And from Delle Donne’s side this time in April, the West teams have all the lotto picks – champion Minnesota is holding Washington’s pick (three overall) through a trade made before last season, Seattle grabbed Chicago’s (two over all) in a deal that sent Swin Cash and Le’Coe Willingham to the Windy City, Los Angeles through ineptness on the court and luck in the draw holds the No. 1 pick, and Tulsa, through worse ineptness on the court and bad luck in the draw, holds the fourth pick.

When Minnesota swapped with Washington before the season, who knew the Mystics, off their best ever effort in 2010, would be awful last summer?

Actually, in deference to the D.C. Basketcases bloggers, don’t answer that.

So Delle Donne, by staying, could very well end up playing close to home if Washington can’t improve or New York gets aced out in what is expected to be another close race in the East.

Along the way she has found happiness and fun with the Blue Hens with her own personal family nearby.

And wouldn’t it be something if Tennessee, off the loss to South Carolina, falls below Delaware in next week’s poll, considering that the Lady Vols were one of Delle Donne’s original final four choices along with UConn, Middle Tennessee and Villanova.

Incidentally, aside from the Delle Donne side of the Delaware story, people need to begin giving credit to coach Tina Martin for national postseason honors.

Think about this – in taking Delaware from a series of down years in routine rebuilding prior to Delle Donne unsuspectingly becoming the show, Martin not only has built a cohesive force that includes a first-ever national ranking, she has found the magic bullet to a safety valve at-large bid to the NCAAs.

Yes, winning is important, but how about scheduling – Delaware’s RPI last year was in the high 80s. This season it was No. 1 during the nonconference portion of the schedule and it has stayed in the Top 10 despite playing all different types of profiles that are attached to CAA opponents.

The Guru will have more to say about Martin, but with much more to cover at this moment from other points, we’ll temporarily leave the topic until the CAA tournament looms on the horizon.

Bonnies’ Time Coming?

Aside from some AP voters who don’t appear to have been doing their homework involving North Carolina, which has stayed in the rankings amid some dreadful performances, next week could be the moment Atlantic 10 frontrunner St. Bonaventure might finally cross the threshold to a first-ever AP appearance if they beat visiting George Washington this weekend.

The Bonnies were the top also ran last week.

Teams in the lower portion of the poll who have already taken hits include No. 25 Texas Tech, earlier, and No. 22 BYU on Thursday night.

DePaul, which fell out last week, but upset No. 14 Louisville and must still play No. 2 Notre Dame Sunday, will draw attention as will South Carolina off Thursday’s win over Tennessee.

Overtime Galore

There was an abundance of games that went into overtime on Thursday’s card.

No. 24 Georgia Tech, (17-6, 7-2 ACC) which this week entered the poll for the first time this season, squandered a nine point lead late in the game to North Carolina State in Duluth, Ga., but Sasha Goodlett had seven of her 21 points in the extra period and the Yellow Jackets emerged with a 75-68 win over the Wolfpack (14-9, 4-6) in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

No. 16 Nebraska, which is in its inaugural season in the Big 10 having moved from the Big 12, won a triple-overtime game at No. 15 Purdue 93-89 in West Lafayette, Ind., to saddle the Boilermarkers (18-5, 8-2) with their second straight loss and tie them for first in the conference standings.

Lindsey Moore had eight of her 26 points in the third overtime for the winning Cornhuskers (19-3, 8-2).

Jordan Hooper had 27 points for the winners.

“We weren’t expecting this at all but we got the win,” Hooper said.

Alex Guyton had 16 points and 13 rebounds for Purdue, which was in its first-ever triple overtime contest.

Washington (11-9, 3-7 PAC-12), which has lost several overtime games under first-year coach Kevin McGuff, formerly in charge at Xavier, dropped another one – this time at UCLA 79-73 on the road in the PAC-12 contest.

Rebekkah Gardner tied it in regulation with two baskets in the final 14 seconds for the Bruins (11-10,6-4), which also has a new coach in former Florida State associate Cori Close. Markel Walker had 16 points behind UCLA teammate’s Gardner’s 17.

In a Big Ten game involving unranked team, Iowa beat Wisconsin 85-79 in overtime to go with the extra minutes played in the conference in the Purdue game.

In the PAC-12, second-place California in overtime won at Arizona, 78-74, while in the Big Sky, Montana State needed an extra period to beat Idaho State 79-67.

Incidentally, someone in the PAC-12 has media influence in a year that the conference is launching its own TV network because every Pac-12 game, including those not involved with ranked teams, is appearing on the AP report out of the West.

In another long losing streak ending as part of SEC competition, Florida beat LSU 73-64 for the Gators’ first win in Baton Rouge since 1996.

As needing a place to mention two other local results, Drexel blew a first half lead at home and fell to George Mason 56-51 in the CAA as the Dragons fell to 10-10 overall and 6-4 in the conference. The Patriots, who got 28 points from Taleia Moton, are 11-10 and 5-5.

Drexel coach Denise Dillon would tell you the less said about the night the better, so other than to say Drexel’s Hollie Mershon had 23 points and Kamile Nacickaite had 14, the Dragons go to Boston Sunday to play Northeastern.

Elsewhere in the CAA, Hofstra didn’t need 100 points to beat William & Mary the second time around but the host Pride prevailed 82-75 to stay in second two games behind Delaware at 16-5 overall and 8-2 in the conference.

James Madison, having edged Old Dominion on Wednesday night, is holding third ahead of Drexel, UNCW and VCU, which beat Towson 66-59 on the road.

In another game of local interest, though almost 200 miles away from Philadelphia, No. 19 Penn State at home rolled over Indiana 76-44 in the Bryce Jordan Center in a Big Ten contest and next travels to Minnesota Sunday.

Germantown Academy grad and Narberth resident Maggie Lucas had 24 points for the Lady Lions (17-5, 7-3) while the Hoosiers (5-18, 0-10) didn’t get anyone to score in double figures. Milika Tuafa scored nine for Indiana.

Lucas, a sophomore, is closing in on 1,000 career points and this was the 13th time this season she’s scored 20 or more points. She will be only the third sophomore to reach 1,000 out of Happy Valley when she scores the eight points necessary to hit the grand total.

Back in the ACC, No. 9 Maryland had a week to stew about last Thursday’s home loss to Virginia Tech and then returned to its Comcast Center in College Park, Md., to rout Boston College 86-44.

Laurin Mincy had 16 points as did Brene Mosely for the Terrapins (19-3, 6-3 ACC) and Alyssa Thomas, who missed the last game because of a sprained left thumb, had 14 points. Joy Caracciolo had 10 points for the Eagles (5-17, 0-9).

The tough sister act of Nneka and Chiny Oguwmike were at it again Thursday night in the PAC-12 for No. 4 Stanford as Nneka finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds while Chiney had 20 and 16 for the Cardinal (19-1, 9-0) in a win at Arizona State (15-6, 10-4) in Tempe.

A10-Traffic Pattern Nearing Gridlock

Good news from Temple’s side after the Owls’ win at St. Joseph’s Tuesday night. The RPI has no dropped into the low 40s and the strength of schedule in the 20s continues to be strong.

The bad news is they must keep their pedal to the metal the rest of the way. But if they do and Dayton upsets St. Bonaventure a week from now, there potentially could be a three-way tie for first involving the seeds for next month’s conference tournament at St. Joseph’s.

In a three-way race once the regular season is over, the ties get broken this way.

Head to head – they’d all be 1-1.

But in terms of who did better against the highest possible rival, Temple at 2-0 over the Hawks would get the No. 1 seed.

Then Dayton with the win over St. Bonnies would get the two seed and the Bonnies’ seed would be three.

Hall of Fame Bound

Earlier Thursday, the Big Five in Philadelphia announced its five inductees who will be enshrined later this month at the annual luncheon at The Palestra.

On the men’s side Temple’s Marc Jackson and Penn’s Matt Maloney are joined by women’s inductees Kelly Greenberg (no, no relation by family to the Guru), who starred at La Salle and now coaches Boston U., former St. Joseph’s star Melissa Coursey, and former Villanova star Jenn Beisel.

The Guru will have more coverage in the next several days.

Greenberg also coached Penn to two Ivy titles and was a teammate of WNBA champion Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve at La Salle.

She is also a former Archbishop Wood star and is a contemporary of Debbie Black, the former St. Joseph’s and WNBA All-Star who is now an assistant at Ohio State, which is a half-game behind the leaders in the Big 10.

Also, Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade, a native of Gloucester City in the South Jersey suburbs across the river from Philadelphia, has been named an ACC Legend to be honored at the annual conference women’s tournament.

A sister of Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato, McGlade was also the women’s SWA for the conference and was also honored in the past as a player at North Carolina.

That covers it for now but the Guru will be back soon enough as soon as he locks in his decision where to go Friday and Saturday.

-- Mel


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