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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guru's NCAA Report: Delaware And Delle Donne's "Fun" Season Becomes History

(Guru’s note. In keeping with ongoing Kingston Regional overviews, the Penn State story is addressed over at fullcourt.com.)

By Mel Greenberg

A Cinderella season for Delaware, though not one that was unexpected, was relegated back to the pumpkin patch, perhaps just one game too early, when upstart Kansas, an 11th seed, downed the third-seeded Blue Hens 70-64 in a second-round NCAA tournament game Tuesday night in Little Rock, Ark., that is part of the Des Moines (Iowa) regional.

It looks like the Jayhawks (21-12) are becoming the women’s tournament’s version of the likes of schools such as Virginia Commonwealth on the men’s side.

Before the tournament began, NCAA basketball committee chair Greg Christopher, also the athletic director at Bowling Green, revealed the four teams that were the last to make the cut for the 64-team field.

To the surprise of several that just missed the cut as well as many media members, one was Kansas, which lost a key player a month ago to an injury and dropped 9 of the Jayhawks’ last 12 games.

But in Sunday’s opener, Kansas upset No. 6 Nebraska before ending Delaware’s landmark season Tuesday night.

Angel Goodrich had a career-high 27 points, which nearly erased another dominating performance from Blue Hens junior Elena Delle Donne, who followed her 39-point opening performance against Ark.-Little Rock with 34 against the Jayhawks.

So in the Sweet 16 Kansas will be the one facing second-seeded Tennessee in the Des Moines semifinals, though a Delaware matchup would have made for a more compelling story in that the Lady Vols, as well as Villanova and Middle Tennessee, were the ones turned down when Delle Donne made her original pick of UConn before eventually putting the Huskies also on the shelf.

Finishing with a season average of 28.1 points, the graduate of Wilmington’s Ursuline High who was the 2008 national high school player of the year will be the leading scorer in Division I.

Technically, Delle Donne was the leading scorer a year ago, but she did not play in enough games to qualify because of her battle with Lyme’s disease.

Delaware (31-2) seemed in fine shape with a 37-31 lead at halftime before the Jayhawks took over.

And when they were through with the Blue Hens it was time to sadly reflect on the fun season that is no more, though the next one should be just as enjoyable.

Delaware set all sorts of school records – a 14-0 sweep of the Colonial Athletic Association before capturing a first-ever conference title.

A first-ever ranking in the Associated Press women’s poll was gained and the Blue Hens climbed all the way from the low 20s to the Top 10 landing at seventh in the final vote.

The 31 wins and 21-game win streak were also tops, with the only tough moment being a competitive loss at No. 5 Maryland in December in the Terrapins’ tournament.

And Sunday marked Delaware’s first-ever postseason win and first in three tries in the NCAA tournament.

But all of that is on memory lane until new ones can be made.

“This has really been a dream season and a dream team,” Delle Donne said, trying to control her emotions, according to the AP report. “The thing we’re most disappointed about is just it being over, especially saying goodbye to our seniors.

“I’m just sorry for the seniors and for my teammates, because it was a lot of fun.”

Delaware faced few challenges, though Drexel in the CAA wars had the Blue Hens on the ropes in Philadelphia until Delle Donne rescued the Blue Hens with a game-winning shot to escape 40-39.

Kansas lost its leading scorer in Carolyn Davis a month ago and went into a slide, but still made the NCAA on the strength of its RPI and schedule compared to some schools missing the cut.

“We’ve got a good team, but we have to find ways to win,” Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “We have to prove to the committee that we belong. We have got to prove to them that we can win without her, and Angel has carried us and Aishah (Sutherland) has been really, really good, too.”

Delaware coach Tina Martin promised the Blue Hens would return, a guarantee easily made since most of the offensive unit will be in tact.

Next season already got a head start a month ago when Delle Donne said she would not take advantage of a loophole that would allow her to enter next month’s WNBA draft since this is her true senior year.

Given the coverage leading into the tournament, look for national media to focus on the Blue Hens in November and, considering what’s back, look for them to also land in the preseason polls, though maybe not in the top 10.

Furthermore, there is a motivation because Delaware has already been tabbed as a host site in next season’s NCAA tournament for the first two rounds meaning the faithful won’t have to travel hundreds of miles to follow the team.

And if things break right, assuming Delaware is back at the Big Dance, the Blue Hens could be slotted into the Trenton Regional, guaranteeing another cost-saving trip if they make the Sweet 16.

The season may be over for Delaware but off the court it’s barely getting started for Delle Donne.

Though Baylor’s Brittney Griner is likely to edge her out for all the individual national player of the year awards, look for Delle Donne to be a top five honoree by the Wooden Award and Naismith Award folks, which has already happened in terms of the latter, as well as all-American status from the Associated Press voters, the United States Basketball Writers Association, and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA).

The latter all-American accolade automatically gets Delle Donne a trip to Denver, the site of the WBCA convention in conjunction with the Women’s Final Four.

Texas Search

A day after Gail Goestenkors abruptly announced her resignation from Texas after the former Duke mentor had a mixed five-year run with the Longhorns and said she was tired, athletic director Chris Plonsky spoke with the AP a little about the search for a successor.

Plonsky said it would be a little more wide open than last time in 2007 when after Hall of Famer Jody Conradt retired, she immediately targeted Goestenkors, who had made the Blue Devils a regular at Final Fours.

While Plonsky didn’t mention any names, she said she could wait until a team still in the tournament loses before asking permission to approach a potential candidate.

Well, since the field is down to 16 teams, let’s look at the list:

Not likely: Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell, Gonzaga’s Kelly Graves, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, though depending what moves are made after the season perhaps associate head coach Holly Warlick or Kathy Harston, director of basketball operations, might get a call; Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw, St. Bonaventure’s Jim Crowley, or Texas A&M’s Gary Blair.

That leaves seven of the Sweet 16.

Duke? The Athletic Director has since switched but it might still be not right to go back to the same well and chase the Blue Devils’ Joanne P. McCallie.

Maryland? Brenda Frese has an NCAA title and fits a lot of the profile that Plonsky has characterized.

South Carolina? Dawn Staley performs magic everywhere and has experience landing Texas-grown players though Kelsey Bone didn’t stay around too long.

Penn State? Depending what happens against UConn, the Lady Lions’ Coquese Washington could be a target, though not a prime one.

Georgia Tech? MaChelle Joseph’s could be on the list now that she’s led the Yellow Jackets to their first Sweet 16.

Kansas? Bonnie Henrickson is in the Big 12 working for a sister school of the Longhorns.

St. John’s? In terms of a youth movement, Kim Barnes Arico becomes an attractive candidate after leading the Red Storm to a win at Oklahoma and a first-ever Sweet 16 appearance.

As for teams that have been eliminated, Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale on her own merit would be near the top of anyone’s list but, again, there’s Big 12 political consideration; Princeton’s Courtney Banghart fits in the same mode as St. John’s Kim Barnes Arico; Amanda Butler is at Florida; Melanie Balcomb is at Vanderbilt; if males are considered, maybe Jeff Walz at Louisville.

As for other names, just check the Guru’s post from 24 hours before this one.

Penn State Hiatus Ends

The Lady Lions’ win over LSU Tuesday night puts Penn State back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004 when they were ousted by “host” Connecticut in the Elite Eight.

That was the last year for Kelly Mazzante, the all-time Big 10 and Penn State scorer who went on to win a couple of WNBA titles with the Phoenix Mercury.

So it’s like picking up where everything was left off – especially since Penn State sophomore Maggie Lucas arrived last season from Philadelphia’s Germantown Academy has set scoring marks not seen since Mazzante’s time in Happy Valley.

Since 2004 Penn State met Connecticut one other time, in December 2008, a game also won by the Huskies on a neutral court on the way to the first of two unbeaten seasons that occurred back to back.

Local Makes Good

Congratulations to Philadelphia Univesity’s Christine Wooding who has picked up several all-American honors in Division II this week.

WNIT Reminder

Temple hosts Syracuse Thursday night in McGonigle Hall at 7 looking to advance to the quarterfinals. On the Western side of the bracket, Villanova will be at Colorado, which bounced the Wildcats from the Sweet 16 of the WNIT several years ago.

Conference Bragging Rights

In the Sweet 16, the Big East has three teams: Connecticut, St. John’s, and Notre Dame. The Big 12 has three: Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas; The ACC has three: Maryland, Duke, Georgia Tech; the SEC has three: Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina; while the Atlantic 10 (St. Bonaventure), West Coast Conference (Gonzaga), Big Ten (Penn State) and Pac-12 (Stanford) have one each.

That’s it for now. The Guru will be tweeting at @womhoopsguru throughout and will be at the WNIT Temple game Thursday night.

-- Mel

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