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.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gurus' College Report: Delaware and Drexel Advance to CAA Semifinals

By Mel Greenberg

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – Delaware appears to be on a path of repeat resistance here while Drexel played a game of Seek and Hide Friday on the way to separate semifinals appearances Saturday in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament at the Show Place Arena.

Though Delaware has gone from seventh seed in the CAA quest for a title and NCAA automatic bid to seventh ranked in the country besides being the top seed in the tournament there are similarities to last year’s Cinderella run to the championship round.

And, of course, there are differences due to the Blue Hens’ steady date with history.

A year ago, coach Tina Martin’s group had to play a first-round game and its star player Elena Delle Donne – then a sophomore – was working her way back from a season-long bout with Lyme’s Disease that caused her to miss 12 games and deprive her of a potential national scoring title.

This time after going unbeaten through the 18-game CAA slate and also setting a school record for overall wins, now 28-1, Delaware got the first round off as the top seed and this time Delle Donne is on the verge of locking up the NCAA scoring title with a 28.0.

The 2008 national high school player of the year out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy has nearly a four-point lead over Tavelyn James (24.2 points per game) of Eastern Michigan, whose team plays Saturday in Cleveland for the Mid-American title and automatic NCAA bid.

Last year the Blue Hens became the first team to knock former CAA power Old Dominion out of the quarterfinals, perhaps accelerating a process that ended the long-time reign of former coach Wendy Larry.

The Lady Monarchs after entering the CAA in 1992 won 17 straight conference titles until Drexel eliminated ODU in 2009 in the semifinals on the way to the Dragons’ first-ever championship.

Until this season, the Lady Monarchs were the last to have an unbeaten run in the conference and that was 10 years ago.

In Friday’s opening quarterfinal game, Delaware again ousted Old Dominion, this time 74-54 to finish the Lady Monarchs’ first season under Karen Barefoot, a former assistant who returned to succeed Larry, at 11-21.

Delle Donne, who on Wednesday repeated her 2010 freshman achievement as CAA player of the year, had her 14th double double of the season at 21 points 10 rebounds before getting a long rest in the second half with the game well in hand.

“It was a good first game and we’re ready to move on,” said Delaware coach Tina Martin, whose sweet 16th season with the Blue Hens was highlighted with her being named CAA coach of the year.

Martin is also a candidate for national coaching honors handed out by such groups as the United States Basketball Writers Association, the Associated Press and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

ESPN on Friday named St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley its national coach for the Bonnies’ regular season unbeaten title in the Atlantic 10.

Delaware was one of three teams to beat the Bonnies, winning at Olean, N.Y., in December on the school campus, while Villanova won in the first round of Monmouth’s tournament in Central New Jersey and Dayton claimed the other win in the title game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

“We played well considering the long layoff, especially in the second half,” Martin said of Friday’s win.

Delaware and the rest of the CAA finished up a week ago Wednesday.

“Defensively, we really clamped down and showed how we’ve played solid defense all year. It was just good to get over that anxiousness of waiting to play. After a great team effort, hopefully we’re here for the long haul.”

The Blue Hens shot 50.8 percent from the field – the third straight game they were on target above the 50 percent line.

Trumae Lucas had 14 points, shooting 7 for 9 from the field, while Lauren Carra had 12 points and Jocelyn Bailey scored 12 points, shooting 6-for-6 from the field.

Jackie Cook and Myeisha Hall each had 14 points for ODU.

After dispatching the Lady Monarchs last season, Delaware upset North Carolina-Wilmington 62-47 in the semifinals after the Seahawks had enjoyed a landmark run under then-first year coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, a former WNBA All-Star and Olympian, as well as a member of a Southern Cal NCAA championship contingent.

This season the Blue Hens swept UNCW, though in the physically played second game Cooper-Dyke regretted in jest not having a kitchen sink to throw in Delle Donne’s direction as part of the defense.

Now the two teams will meet again in the semifinals because the Seahawks (20-11), this time a fifth-seed, upset fourth-seeded Hofstra 94-87 to send the Pride out of NCAA consideration and most likely on the way to the WNIT.

Abria Trice had a career-high 33 points for UNCW, whose 94 points acquired in the track-meet nature of games by anyone against Hofstra (19-11) were the most by the Seahawks in over a decade. The points are also the highest in the CAA tourney since 2006.

Shante Evans, a resident of West Chester, Pa., in the Philadelphia suburbs who made the all-CAA first team, had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Pride while Nicole Capurso scored 18 points and Candace Bond scored 17.

The Delaware run in last season’s tournament came up short in the title game against James Madison, which won its second straight, and the two could meet again if the Blue Hens advance and the second-seeded Dukes (24-6) get by third-seeded Drexel (17-12).

The Dragons locked down sixth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the first half of Friday night’s last quarterfinal game and then had to hang on for their CAA lives in the second before escaping with a 65-61 victory.

Drexel held the Rams (17-14) in the first half to a tournament record-tying low in leading 30-12 at the break.

“I feel like we just played two games of basketball,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said. “The first half, obviously went smoothly for us. We were sharp, we were on point with our defense and we were doing what was necessary.

“We panicked a little bit in the second half and we just talked about it. Obviously the first game is tough and the players want to survive and advance and it took a little bit to do that in the second half but I was proud of their composure to get the job done.”

Senior Kamile Nacickaite, an all-CAA first team pick by the conference coaches, had 25 points, while Hollie Mershon, an all-second team CAA choice, had 13 points, Tyler Hale scored 12 to go with eight rebounds, and Taylor Wootton scored 10.

Andrea Barbour got 18 of her 19 points in the second half for VCU, while Courtney Hurt, a likely pick in the WNBA draft next month, had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Robyn Hobson had 13 points and Robyn Parks scored 10.

Hurt also became the sixth CAA player to score over 2,000 career points.

Drexel led by as many 22 points but the Rams second-half surge reduced the advantage to a mere basket at 63-61 on Barbour’s three-pointer with 1.1 seconds left in the game.

Nacickaite then got fouled and hit two free throws for the game’s final score.

“We had tremendous effort in the second half and gave ourselves a tremendous effort after a really tough first half, but give Drexel credit – they came out assertive and we didn’t seem to score on the offensive end and they shot 60 percent. We really dug ourselves a hole,” VCU coach Beth Cunningham said.

VCU shot 19 percent from the field and had 10 turnovers in the first half besides being swept in all three meetings with Drexel.

Cunningham is a former Notre Dame star who played on the 2001 NCAA champions and later played for the Richmond-Philadelphia Rage in the former American Basketball League as a teammate of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley.

VCU is likely to get an invite to the WNIT but considering the job openings occurring daily, Cunningham might be sought to fill a vacancy.

Charlotte and former two-time Atlantic 10 champion Xavier had Cunningham in their sights on lists of candidates last season and now another A-10 vacancy has occurred with the ouster of Mike Bozeman at nearby George Washington University.

Saint Louis is also open in the conference.

Meanwhile, James Madison advanced beating seventh-seeded George Mason 64-54, using a 9-0 run in the second half to finish off the Patriots (15-16).

It’s the eighth straight semifinals for JMU, which lost at home for the first time in a regular-season game with Drexel but later got revenge defeating the Dragons in overtime in Philadelphia.

Tarik Hislop had 16 points for the Dukes, while Nikki Newman scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Kirby Burkholder scored 12 points.

Taleia Moton, an all-CAA pick, scored 22 for George Mason, while Amber Easter scored 11.

Delaware is assured an NCAA bid via the at-large route if the Blue Hens stumble but JMU is on bubbly ground, so to speak, so it would best be served getting to the NCAA tournament the same way coach Kenny Brooks has guided the group the previous two seasons.

It all begins at noon and check the CAA site for coverage but your Guru will be tweeting throughout both games at @womhoopsguru.

The Guru must temporarily delay NCAA data analysis because the so-called media hotel – a chain the Guru often uses for its reasonable pricing – has a printer restriction limiting eight pages per file with no way to over-ride.

The Guru did use a trick or two to get some printouts.

He mentions this only to say everything isn’t glamour, especially when one is trying to get a jump-start on a record number of ballots to date in counting towards determining USBWA postseason honors.

The Guru will be back at some point in daylight, which, by the way, reminds for you to remember to set the clocks ahead one hour Saturday night to not miss Sunday’s CAA title game.

-- Mel

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