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, March 04, 2012

Guru's College Report: Temple and St. Joseph's In A-10 Semifinals

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – When the sun came up Saturday morning the three Big Five teams alive in the Atlantic 10 women’s basketball tournament for the quarterfinals at St. Joseph’s Hagan Arena had three diverse situations going into the competition for the championship and automatic bid to the NCAA field of 64.

Eighth-seeded La Salle, fresh off its first win Friday in the conference postseason since 2004, had a daunting task to upset top-seeded and 19th ranked St. Bonaventure in the first of four games Saturday.

St. Joseph’s knew it had to win the tournament to get to the Big Dance but just ahead on a more personal level was the chance to get some revenge on two straight teams for losses the Hawks believed could have been avoided with a little attention to detail.

And second-seeded Temple, knowing it was very close to stop a straddle between characterized as a bubble in favor of being called a lock for a ninth straight NCAA appearance, was a little wary that a dangerous seventh-seeded Duquesne team might play havoc with the Owls’ 13-game win streak and near-perfect run through the conference that was giving them cache with NCAA prognosticators.

By the time the day ended with the final game, not involving a local, in which third-seeded Dayton topped 11th-seeded St. Louis 69-51, the three Big Five scenarios all factored into the way those schools played.

La Salle (14-17) kept the Bonnies (28-2) in range into the halftime break trailing 27-25 and at least causing the Explorers’ fan base to daydream that perhaps they were watching one of the amazing upsets of the season about to occur.

And why not considering that La Salle fell quickly behind 16-2 before making the game competitive again?

Then reality struck when coach Jim Crowley’s bunch remembered this was not one of the A-10 events of the past when they were not one of the stars of the show.

The Bonnies quickly built a 12-point lead that grew to 26 late in the game to keep their season of firsts expanding into more achievements.

Believe it or not, St. Bonaventure, which already has gained a first-ever AP women’s poll appearance, a school record for overall wins in the season, and a school-record win streak that has reached 17, has made it to the A-10 semifinals for the first time.

Five players scored in double figures – Megan Van Tatenhove had 13 points, Jessica Jenkins and Amelia Horton each scored 11, and Chelsea Bowker and CeCe Dixon each scored 10.

La Salle’s Brittany Wilson, whose winning play knocked two-time defending conference champion Xavier out of the tournament Friday, had another big day with 19 points, though 17 occurred in the first half.

Nadia Duncan scored 10 as the Explorers continued to make progress under second-year coach Jeff Williams.

St. Joseph’s Unravels Spiders

The fifth-seeded Hawks (21-9), after dispatching Fordham on Friday, had fourth-seeded Richmond (22-8) targeted to make amends for a 78-59 road loss early last month in Virginia.

The Spiders grabbed an early lead that did not last long and St. Joseph’s took over for good using offense in the first half and tough defense in the second to ride to a 69-57 triumph and a move into Sunday’s semifinals against St. Bonaventure at noon.

On one hand, off preseason talk, the Hawks' win would not be called an upset as the seeds indicate. St. Joseph’s opened practice loaded with upper classwomen while Richmond was thought to be in a rebuilding mode this time around.

But the Spiders played well and the Hawks at times were sporadic, though they began to get some cohesion as the regular season drew to a close.

Senior Michelle Baker scored 20 points while Ashley Prim had 15 for the winners while Richmond’s Genevieve Okoro scored 17 points, Rachel Bilney scored 14, and Becca Wann scored 12.

But St. Joseph’s shut out the A -10’s top scorer in Abby Oliver (17.1 ppg.), harassing her into an 0-for-11 shooting effort from the field.

“We played really, really hard and really, really smart and Michelle set the tone offensively and defensively,” St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said.

She talked about living off a tenacious defensive effort.

“Just staying more aggressive,” Griffin said. “I think we’re better when we’re more aggressive. We used our quickness and our size to our advantage and we played smart.

“We learned from the last game we played against them because we didn’t really play well, making silly fouls. The great thing about this team is they learn from their mistakes and they’re able to execute a new plan and they did that today.

“Michelle Baker controlled the tempo because there were times it looked like the offense got a little out of kilter and she was able to come up with some huge baskets, Ashley Prim as well from the foul line (8-10).

“This time of the year you have to lean on some kids who can get you there and Michelle is one of those teams.”

Baker talked about her game making key shots to hold off the Spiders when they attempted to rally.

“I try to stay calm at all times. You’ll never see me looking at the score too much. I just try to stay balanced and I really believe in our game plan so I’ll never falter.

“I’m really on cloud nine right now,” Baker said. “`Coach talks about being the key but I try to stay as humble as possible. My teammates do so much to make me really look good. So it’s not just me, it is the whole team.”

The performance was reminiscent of St. Joseph’s Cinderella run in the 2007 tournament. They needed to win the title to get to the NCAAs and although that did not happen – 2000 was the Hawks’ last appearance – as a five-seed they pulled two upsets to get to the championship round before losing to host Xavier.

“This team is similar to that one. That team is special and this team is special. We have to do things to win. We don’t have a superstar per se, obviously Michelle’s our superstar and we’re going to ride her as long as we can and the other players need to step up as well.”

With Richmond out of the way, the Hawks are focused on delivering another payback – this one to St. Bonaventure, whom they extended on the road during the season before losing down the stretch.

The Bonnies, off just two season losses to No. 8 Delaware at home and Villanova at the Monmouth tournament, are assured of their first-ever NCAA berth, even if it doesn’t come with a title Monday for the automatic bid.

But St. Joseph’s, likely to land in the WNIT if the Hawks fall short here, is focused on being able to play the Bonnies on level ground, though they do have a home court advantage.

“They have a two-headed monster in Tatenhove and Jenkins, but the kid who hurt us the most up there was (Doris) Ortega. She’s their X factor. The kid coming off the bench CeCe Dixon is also another kid. They’re very well coached. They’re very well drilled and they don’t rush anything, they’re very patient and I think it’s going to be a great game for the Atlantic 10 and national television (on CBS Sports Network).”

Temple Rallies Past Duquesne

If St. Joseph’s arrived here calm, cool and collected Saturday, Temple (21-8) might have had some jitters going against a dangerous Duquesne squad knowing that a loss to the Dukes (20-11) could cause the Owls’ NCAA outlook to get a bit foggy.

Sure enough shots failed to drop in the first half, Duquesne was able to penetrate Temple’s defense just enough to cause concern and though Carly Vendemia’s layup gave the Dukes a slim 25-24 lead at the half, the Owls had to feel fortunate just to be down by a point.

It certainly didn’t help that Temple senior Shey Peddy, the A-10 defensive and conference player of the year, had just four points in the first 20 minutes.

“We were nervous to come out, every one had jitters. We tried to win a game in one play. In the second half we settled down and came out and played the way we know how to play,” Peddy said.

Incidentally, the new statistics are not out yet but Peddy is likely pass Richmond's Oliver to become the A-10’s top scorer on the season.

Meanwhile, things got worse before getting better in the next stanza with Duquesne going up 39-31 with 14:25 left to play.

Then Peddy hit a trey, Victoria Macaulay scored inside, and a steal by Joelle Connelly led to another trey from Peddy and the game was tied at 39.

But then Peddy went down, hitting her head against the stands on Temple’s offensive end, though she eventually brought relief when she left the court on her own power with a little help.

BJ Williams got Temple a quick lead soon after Peddy’s departure and scored again to keep the game even until Peddy returned three minutes later to take over.

She immediately hit a jumper and then a trey to make it 48-44.

Defensively, after Orsi Szecsi’s shot gave Duquesne the eight-point lead, the Dukes did not get another field goal until Wumi Agunbiade’s layup with 1:17 left to cut Temple’s lead to 54-48, though the Owls held on.

Peddy finished with 30 points, getting 26 in the second half, while Williams had 12 points and Macaulay grabbed 12 rebounds.

“As the time kept ticking, I didn’t want this to be my last game and everyone felt the same way,” Peddy said.

“In the first half I was trying to do too much,” Peddy said. “So I just tried to settle down and let the game come to me.”

Agunbiade scored 21 for Duquesne, Alex Gensler scored 13, and Szecsi had 12 as the Dukes wait a probably WNIT bid.

“Every single time we play them it’s a tough game, usually right down to the wire,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I’m just happy we’re able to survive and advance. That’s what March Madness is all about.”

The Temple coach talked about the Owls’ stinginess on defense stopping Duquesne to rally.

“We knew we had to buckle down if their best player (Gensler) is getting wide open threes. That’s not a good sign. At halftime we talked about making sure we’re committed on the defensive end.

“If we’re committed and can get stops, we can get out in transition a little quicker. I thought we did a much better job communicating and switching.”

Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, a former Penn State all-American, Olympic gold medalist and WNBA All-Star, discussed the tough loss for her team.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the way they competed,” McConnell-Serio said. “We played a very good team. They have a great player in Shey Peddy, who just took over the game.

“I thought our players played hard but there were some missed opportunities on the offensive end. We knew that rebounding would be the story of this game and it certainly was. We gave up way too many offensive rebounds.

“Rebounding and turnovers were the difference in the game.”

Temple next plays Dayton Sunday in the 2:30 p.m. semifinal.

The Owls got back on track in early January beating the Flyers on the road 61-57 after having lost to St. Bonaventure at home the previous time out for what became the difference bvetween the Bonnies finishing first unbeaten and Temple finishing second with the one conference loss.

The two schools were tied as favorites in the conference coaches’ preseason poll that also had the Bonnies picked sixth.

Temple will also be looking for revenge off of last season’s semifinal loss to Dayton in the A-10 tourney at Lowell, Mass.

With the game here in town, Temple will be able to draw its fans as will St. Joseph’s also draws, though Dayton and the Bonnies have followings who made the trip here.

Though Dayton would seem worthy of returning to the NCAA tourney as an at-large team if the Flyers don’t win the automatic bid, they have not appeared in many projections so they will be motivated against Temple, to be sure.

Princeton Still Chasing History; Penn Gets Weekend Sweep

Both ends of Tuesday night’s Ivy League doubleheader finale will have value in Princeton’s Jadwin Gym when the Tigers women host Penn before the men’s teams of both schools meet.

The Quakers’ men are looking for a win to tie Harvard for first and force a playoff for the NCAA automatic bid.

The Princeton women could arrive for their 5 p.m. contest with the prestige of being the first Ivy women’s team ever ranked in the AP Poll after missing by just one point in last week’s vote by a nationwide media panel.

On Saturday night coach Courtney Banghart’s squad, which locked up a third straight Ivy crown last weekend, made it 16 straight overall with a 77-60 win at Brown in Providence, R.I.

The Tigers, one of the top Mid-Majors in the nation, are now 23-4 overall and 13-0 in the league.

In the last three seasons they are 40-1 in the Ivies heading into the Tuesday’s final and if they beat Penn, they will be the first team with a junior and senior class who have been on two unbeaten Ivy champions.

In Saturday’s win over the Bears (16-12, 7-7), Devona Allgood had 21 points off the bench, Niveen Rasheed scored 18, and Lauren Edwards scored 10.

“Devona has been suffering an injury all week and we brought her back slowly yesterday,” Banghart said afterwards. “Today was fabulous – 10-for-14 from the field, eight rebounds. She was very efficient in 25 minutes of work. She was a key tonight.”

As for the ongoing preparation for the NCAA tournament, she noted: “We hope to learn a lesson from every game and I think our communication is one of the areas that we will learn we play much better when we communicate. It is a long grind; it’s a long season. You’re not always going to play your best, but we will learn from it and we will get better.”

Meanwhile, Penn in the final minute won at Yale 62-58 in New Haven, Conn., for the Quakers’ first Ivy road sweep in five years.

Penn, at 13-14 and 6-7 in the Ivy League, has the most wins since 2004-05, while Yale fell to 16-12 overall and 8-6 in the league.

It’s the first time since 1991 the Quakers won the New England jaunt when Brown was the first stop on the two-night weekend trip.

Alyssa Baron scored the decisive point for a 59-58 lead with 2:37 left. She finished with 13 points as did Jackie Kates.

Senior Jess Knapp had seven points and six rebounds.

Holy Family Takes CACC Title

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin’s former team Holy Family is back winning titles in the Division II Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.

In a game between two Philly teams playing for the title in Caldwell, N.J., at Caldwell College, the Tigers, whom McLaughlin left for Penn three seasons ago, beat University of Sciences 71-46 to win the NCAA Division II tournament automatic bid.

Holy Family (24-7) last won the title in 2008 and has won six overall.

Erin Mann of the Tigers was named the tournament MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by Philadelphia U’s Kristen Blye, USP’s Carolyn Edwards and Becca Ruggear, and Holy Family teammates Kelly Brady and Anna Cruz, who had 22 points in the title game while Mann scored 18 and Brady scored 15. USP’s Elizabeth Birman scored 13 points for the Devils (19-11).

The Guru will be back here at St. Joes tweeting at @womhoopsguru Sunday and will be back on the blog soon enough.

- Mel


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