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.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Guru's College Report: Dayton Upsets St. Bonaventure For A-10 Title

(Guru’s note: A post below this speaks to the potential field of 64 in the NCAA tournament. If you are in melgreenberg.com, just click mel’s blog button on the left to get to the location.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – Two days ago the potential, if not the reality, suggested that a non-Big Five game in terms of official designation with Big Five teams might battle for the Atlantic 10 championship at St. Joseph’s Hagan Arena early Monday night.

But the host Hawks fell hard to top-seeded St. Bonaventure while Temple, a second seed, came up just short to third-seeded Dayton in the semifinals.

Not to worry over a lost marketing opportunity.

In one of the most thrilling title bouts in the history of the conference tournament a Big Five game broke out with non-Big Five teams in quite the electric atmosphere and when time expired as the Bonnies’ Jessica Jenkins missed one of her specialty long three-point bombs Dayton emerged with an upset 56-53 win over 16th-ranked St. Bonaventure and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament courtesy of a first-ever A-10 title.

“It’s a good day to be a Flyer,” said veteran Dayton coach Jim Jabir, who last experienced the thrill of a conference title in 1994-95 with Marquette in the former Great Midwest long before the then-named Warriors joined the Big East.

The Flyers (23-6) squandered a 22-point lead they held in the first half before moving ahead near the finish to claim the title.

Dayton, which had no assurances coming into the conference tournament that it could land an NCAA at-large bid, took the easy way to avoid fret and sweat between now and Selection Monday when the 64-team field and pairings are announced six days away.

“That was definitely big,” Dayton senior Patrice Lalor said of the Flyers wanting to control their own destiny. “We’ve been there watching (TV) when the bid goes up, whatever, and biting our nails all week. Everyone knew we were not only playing for an A-10 championship but to extend our NCAA tournament run.”

The Flyers have been to the NCAAs the previous two seasons each time nervously waiting the week out until the tournament committee released the bracket. A year ago in their first appearance in the A-10 title game, they fell to former two-time champion Xavier.

Now St. Bonaventure (29-3) and Temple (21-9) must endure until next Monday night’s ESPN’s telecast when hopefuls for 33 at-large bids, who did not earn one of the 31 automatic berths that are the perks of conference championships, will be thrilled to see their team names on a bracket or disappointed to learn that they must wait another year to land in the Big Dance.

The Bonnies, off a landmark season, and a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 15, according to the weekly NCAA public report of its data, should have little worries.

“Hopefully, we’ve done enough to get in,” Bonnies coach Jim Crowley, a veteran of 12 seasons, said. “But we’ve eliminated the guarantee of that. They can’t take away with we’ve done. Until we see our name (on TV) a week from tonight, it’s never for sure.”

Temple’s numbers are a little less daunting but the Owls’ total body of work, including a rugged nonconference schedule in which they competed much better than a team still being talked up in a BCS conference to the south, should have enough to make it nine straight appearances in the NCAA field.

Still one never knows for sure, especially when perceived wrong winners pop up in one-bid leagues, as was the case Monday when BYU knocked off No. 23 Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference.

Meanwhile, heading into Monday’s game here St. Bonaventure had emerged out of nowhere off the preseason to cast a shadow over the rest of the A-10 with school records for overall wins, a regular season A-10 title off a perfect 14-0 run, and an 18-game win streak.

The Bonnies also cracked the Associated Press women’s poll for the first time ever when a nationwide media panel welcomed them after mid-season.

Dayton, which squandered a big lead at home to St. Bonaventure last month to lose 56-55, was a co-favorite with Temple in the preseason conference coaches poll which also had the Bonnies picked sixth.

And for the most part the slim difference in the conference standings at the finish was St. Bonaventure’s wins at Dayton and Temple for first place, the Owls’ win at Dayton for second, and the Flyers’ wins over everyone else for third.

All that said, the Bonnies’ play during the season seemed to indicate it might be 40 minutes of formality in their first-ever title appearance before getting a chance to cut down the nets to put icing on everything accomplished to date.

But it was not to be despite a great rescue effort.

Dayton bolted to a 27-5 lead with 7 minutes, 20 seconds left in the half before the Bonnies got untracked and were able to shave the deficit to 10 points at 27-17 when intermission arrived.

“This one was on me,” Crowley said. “I didn’t have our kids where they needed to be at the start of the game.

“They were really tight and I think I was too and portrayed that to them and we dug ourselves too big a hole. So proud of the way we came back – to Dayton’s credit, they made big plays down the stretch, they made free throws, (Andrea) Hoover made a tough layup on a day we didn’t play as well as we could have.

“I’m so proud over the way we battled the way we did. I’m not surprised because that’s the way we played all year and hopefully we’ve got some more basketball left.

“A lot of our bad play was Dayton. They played great defense, they executed on offense and got a lot of good things out of that, but once we were able to settle in and forced them to take some more contested ones and did a pretty good job on the boards – I’ll take our defense any day of the week and we showed that today.”

Justine Raterman, the most valuable player of the conference tournament, scored 13 points for Dayton and Lalor scored 11.

“This is huge,” Raterman said of winning the A-10 title. “Ever since I got here, it’s been up on our list of goals as a program. Like `Coach’ said, we’ve been taking steps every single year toward something like this. And this is something we work for.

“In the summer when no one sees us, this is what we work for. We’re running and lifting. This is what we work for every single day. And to finally reach that, it’s not even real yet. I can’t even put it into words.”

Doris Ortega was the only Bonnies player in double figures with 18 points and 12 rebounds. The normally high-scoring combination of guard Jenkins and forward Megan Van Tatenhove were held to nine points each.

“We just sort of started out tight, big game situation, being on TV as well, I just think we let it affect us and when we finally got to settle in, we were playing our game. But by then it was too late.”

The second half with the stands roaring from all corners as the two teams battled, the Bonnies kept chipping away and it seemed they were about to bottle their momentum when Alaina Walker hit two fouls shots for their first lead of the game at 51-50 with 2:16 left in regulation.

Dayton got the lead back at 52-51 on two foul shots by Lalor and after Ortega missed a jumper for the Bonnies, Raterman got the rebound and Hoover, the A-10 rookie of the year, scored on a layup for a 54-51 lead with 23 seconds left.

CeCe Dixon countered for St. Bonaventure with a layup with 11 seconds left to make it 54-53.

“Everyone was quick to say, `We’re finishing this,’” said Raterman about when the game was in the balance. “And we just put our minds to it and there was no doubt in my mind we were going to finish strong.”

Then with eight seconds left while trying to tie up Hoover, Jenkins was called for a foul and Hoover nailed two free throws for a 56-53 lead with eight seconds left.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Crowley said when asked if he thought the official should have called a jump ball instead of a foul. “We weren’t trying to foul there, we were certainly trying to get the tie-up, but it wasn’t called.”

The Bonnies had one more chance and came flying down the court to get the ball to Jenkins, who launched a trey attempting to tie the game.

“Absolutely,” Van Tatenhove said when asked if she thought it was heading for sudden life. “When it went off the back iron I absolutely thought it was in. It looked perfect from my angle. But Jessica played extremely hard.”

Jabir was never convinced it would be an easy ride after Dayton took a big lead.

“That’s not in their DNA to quit,” he said. “We were up on them big at our place and lost by one. They take great care of the ball, they’re very patient on offense, Ortega hurt us. Jenkins got loose a couple of times. I thought we did a great job on Van Tatenhoven and Jenkins.

“The biggest stat was here’s a team that leads the nation in the fewest amount of turnovers and we forced 19. Our defense was critical. Our offense stalled on us later and we kind of struggled and plugged along the whole second half.

“But we got shots when we needed them ... We kind of found a way.”

Raterman was joined on the all-tournament team by Dayton’s Lalor, Temple’s Shey Peddy, St. Joseph’s Michelle Baker, and St. Bonaventure’s Tatenhove.

Before the tipoff a reception was held and Atlantic 10 officials also made a halftime presentation to former St. Joseph’s associate athletic director Ellen Ryan, the first Hawks women’s basketball coach, who retired from the university last summer.

Next stop on the Guru tour is at Princeton Tuesday night for the Tigers’ attempt to beat Penn in a final NCAA tune-up and finish with a second unbeaten Ivy record in three seasons.

The Penn men play the second game of the doubleheader against Princeton attempting to win and tie Harvard to force a playoff for the automatic bid in the Ivy League for the NCAA men’s tournament.

-- Mel

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