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, February 26, 2012

Guru's Musings: Princeton Not Resting After Ivy Three-Peat

(Guru's Note: A post under this has coverage of Temple's rout of La Salle and other Atlantic 10 items as well as Big East locals. If you are in melgreenberg.com as your point of first arrival, click mel's blog on left side to connecticut to full archive on blogspot.)

By Mel Greenberg

As Princeton takes on the three-game remainder of its Ivy League with a weekend stop at Yale and Brown before finishing up hosting Penn the following Tuesday the Tigers will be out to cement themselves into a special place in the annuals of league history.

Coach Courtney Banghart’s squad Saturday completed a two-night clinching party shredding Dartmouth 94-57 at home in Jadwin Gym to take a third-straight Ivy title outright. The Tigers (21-4, 11-0 Ivy) decimated Harvard 74-44 on Friday at home in the first of the two-step process to clinch at least a tie with the Crimson and Yale, which was upset at Columbia. 56-52, also on Friday.

“It was just wonderful that we were able to celebrate at home cutting down the nets in front of family and friends and having the NCAA bid in our possession,” Banghart said several hours later.

The Ivies are the only one of 31 conferences, which does not have a postseason tournament to determine a champion to earn an NCAA automatic bid and get their business done on a series of games built mostly back-to-back Friday-Saturday nights from January to early March.

The gauntlet has not seemed to bother the Tigers, who even quickly dispensed of rust after a three-week layoff in January because of final exams.

The twin triumphs this weekend put Princeton back into the NCAA tournament for the third straight season – this time as an early arrival one week ahead of last year’s home clinching and early capture of a bid.

So now to keep from getting bored for the next two weeks while the other 30 conference winners are determined and at-large bids are deliberated by the NCAA selecton committee, the Tigers can chase the ghosts of the 1996-1998 three-peat Harvard bunch to become the new best-of-the-best.

That Crimson group featured Allison Feaster, who was to go on to All-Star status in the WNBA with enough solid credentials that no one ever considered her an unusual phenomenon out of the Ivies into the world of pro basketball the way former Harvard star Jeremy Lin has become in recent weeks with the NBA New York Knicks.

That three-year run gave Harvard an overall record of 63-19 including one unbeaten season and an Ivy mark of 39-3 in the same time span besides gaining national notoriety in 1998 with not only the sole NCAA Division I tournament win by the Ivy women but the one in which the Crimson became the only men’s or women’s 16th seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the opening round when they took down Stanford on the Cardinals’ court.

Close followers of the women’s game, however, note that by the time Stanford took the floor to start the tournament the Cardinal were not really a true No. 1 seed after suffering major injuries by two significant stars.

And, for that matter, if Harvard had not been dragged down in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) caused by playing perceived weak Ivy rivals, Feaster’s talent made the Crimson a group that should have been seeded higher than a 16 by the NCAA tournament committee.

“Actually I may have had a hand in that,” said Banghart, who starred at Dartmouth at the same time. “I was a junior and we beat them that final weekend, so maybe the loss knocked them back a bit.”

In recent seasons, Banghart, whose Tigers won their 14th straight, has beefed up the nonconference slate to earn the highest seeds ever by an Ivy participant at No. 11 and this year three of the losses were to opponents nationally-ranked in the Associated Press women’s poll -- two at home to DePaul and Delaware and one on the road at Stanford, besides suffering a sole upset at defending Patriot League champion Navy in Annapolis, Md.

“These guys love to compete and they wanted the best schedule,” Banghart said. “What you see, regardless of the win-loss record of our opponent, we just love to compete. To be 21-4 with the schedule that we’ve had, I’m just really proud (of her squad).”

Harvard on the road a year ago at the moment is the only Ivy stumble the Tigers have taken on a current run of 38-1 including an unbeaten season two years ago when all-American candidate Niveen Rasheed was the top Ivy freshman.

She missed most of her sophomore season with a knee injury but now Rasheed and her junior classmates, as well as the seniors, can become the first sub-group in Ivy history to win two unbeaten titles.

Furthermore Princeton can shatter the Harvard 63-19 three-year mark, including three NCAA tournament games at 1-2, with a 74-12 record before the Big Dance.

A perfect finish between now and after the Penn visit would give the Tigers 24 wins, matching their last season’s second-best ever mark by an Ivy school and topped by the current group in 2010 with 26 wins.

Banghart’s schedule has been crafted as much as to attract national attention with wins – Princeton was among the high also-rans in last week’s AP Poll – and also to give the Tigers a strong dose of what they would face in the NCAA field of opponents so they might make an unprecedented run.

The Tigers’ RPI is unusually high for an Ivy team holding at 28 during the past week and was as high as 11 during the nonconference phase.

Princeton has a four-game lead in the loss column over Harvard and Yale – the widest ever in the league at the finish was five games by Penn’s unbeaten 2001 group, and Harvard back-to-back in 2002 and 2003.

Incidentally, Brown also had a three-peat in 1992-94 but the Ivies didn’t get an automatic bid until 1994 when Brown shared the title with Dartmouth and then beat the Big Green in the playoff to advance to the NCAA field of 64.

That Brown group was 37-5 in league play and 59-21 overall during the Bears’ three-year reign.

In Saturday’s win over Dartmouth (4-21, 2-9), which was also Senior Night, Lauren Edwards had 29 points and connected on 7-of-10 three point attempts while Rasheed had 24 points and 16 rebounds for Princeton. Additionally, Laura Johnson, a former member of the Mount St. Joseph’s Pennsylvania state champions, had 11 points.

Johnson and Edwards are seniors.

Princeton sizzled from the field, shooting 55.9 percent, and for the second straight night, dominated the opposition in the paint 44-28 and in points off turnovers at 31-15 as well as fast break points at 16-2.

The Tigers’ bench produced a merciless 27-9 advantage over Dartmouth’s substitutes though Big Green starters Sasha Dosenko and Faziah Steen had 21 and 19 points, respectively.

Meanwhile, down at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Penn once again came up just short of Harvard, falling to the Crimson 57-53 after rallying from a seven-point deficit with 9 minutes, 1 second left in the game to produce two ties at 48-48 with 3:53 left and at 50-50 with 1:51 left.

A trey from Victoria Lippert for Harvard (14-11, 7-4) snapped the final deadlock.

Lippert had a team-high 17 points, Emma Golen scored 13, and Christine Clark scored 12. Miriam Rutzen grabbed 10 rebounds.

Alyssa Baron had a game-high 20-points for Penn (11-14, 47) while Jess Knapp, who celebrated Senior Night with Quakers classmate Jourdan Banks, scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

“Mike has done a great job rebuilding his group,” said Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith of Quakers third-year coach Mike McLaughlin.

Delaney-Smith was on the sidelines Saturday night for her 800th game as a head coach at Harvard and is now in her 30th season with the Crimson with an overall mark of 470-330.

“It was close but no cigar,” McLaughlin said of the game that came on the heels of a rout at home Friday night over Dartmouth. “They executed pretty well and made some tough shots at the end.

“We executed, too. I was proud of our kids tonight. We ran out of gas a little late. Fatigue took its toll but we had our chances,” McLaughlin said.

“We wanted to have our seniors running off the court (with a sweep) just like the seniors are doing up at Cambridge (Mass.) right now.”

His allusion was to the Penn men who won at Harvard at the finish Saturday night to tie the Crimson for first in the standings heading into the final three games.

If the two men’s teams stay deadlocked a playoff will be held at Yale to determine the Ivy men’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Penn women head Friday and Saturday to Brown and Yale before trying to stop Princeton’s second run at Ivy perfection in the final regular season game unless Yale or Brown beat the Quakers to the notoriety.

Meanwhile with Princeton owning the NCAA bid, attention in the Ivies also turns to the battle for second between Harvard and Yale (16-10, 7-4), which is a half-game in the league win column ahead of the Crimson.

Technically, Brown and Cornell are still alive, though second place is improbable for either, while Penn was eliminated with the loss to Harvard.

The Ivy runners up earn an automatic bid to the National Women’s Invitation Tournament, which Yale did a year ago courtesy of a sweep of Harvard.

This time the two teams split so if the they finish deadlocked again it would be a comparison of the best record against the highest opponent between the two but with Yale hosting Princeton for a potential loss by the Bulldogs, that scenario may quickly become moot.

Former Penn Coach Makes Good

Kelly Greenberg, a former La Salle star who coached Penn in the last decade to its only two Ivy titles and who was inducted this past week into the Big Five Hall of Fame, guided her current Boston University team to the America East regular season title Saturday with a win at Hartford to earn the No. 1 seed in next week’s opening phases of the conference tournament at Hartford.

The winner will be decided the following weekend on the court of the highest surviving seed between the two semifinals winners.

Boston U. went 15-1 in the America East and is assured of a spot in the WNIT if the Terriers don’t win the NCAA automatic bid by taking the America East tourney title.

-- Mel

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