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.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guru's WNIT Report: St. Joseph's Ousted And Villanova Thrives In Final Seconds

(Guru note: NCAA Kingston Regional ongoing coverage at fullcourt.com.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – The end that was nowhere in sight for the St. Joseph’s women’s basketball team arrived at the very last second with a steal and layup in overtime Sunday afternoon in a 67-65 loss at home in Hagan Arena to Virginia Commonwealth in a Women’s NIT second round game.

Christina Carter knocked the ball away from senior Michelle Baker, who appeared to become wide open to win the game, and Andrea Barbour grabbed it and went the distance to score for VCU (19-14) with 0.07 left on the clock.

It’s the second straight last-second rescue by Barbour, who scored as time expired to win at Bowling Green 72-71 in the opening round Thursday.

“We’ll take the luck of the Irish today,” said VCU coach Beth Cunningham, a former Notre Dame star, 24 hours St. Patrick’s Day concluded.

She was a member of Notre Dame’s first Final Four contingent in 1997.

“Great game,” Cunningham said. “It was a great battle. Obviously, we played them the last three years so it’s really started a rivalry I think. Just a great game. Hard-fought. Both teams. We were just fortunate we had the ball in our possession, AB and Courtney made plays.”

Barbour scored 26 points for the Rams while Courtney Hurt had 19 points and 19 rebounds. Hurt is the all-time leading scorer at VCU with 2,067 points and leading rebounder with 1,226. Her 12.8 rebounds per game prior to Sunday leads the nation.

VCU beat St. Joseph’s in an opening round game here in the WNIT in 2010 and the Hawks got even with the Rams also here in a WNIT opener last season.

“It wouldn’t be the postseason unless we are here in Philadelphia playing St. Joe’s,” Cunningham quipped before the game.

VCU will meet in the next round the winner between Monday night’s game between host Toledo (22-9) and Cincinnati (16-15), which is coached by former UConn star and assistant coach Jamelle Elliott.

The heartbreaking finish for the Hawks (22-11) at the hands of the Rams of the Colonial Athletic Association marred what has become a Philadelphia party so far in the WNIT’s 64-team field. Two local teams have already advanced to the Sweet 16 and there’s a chance for one more to keep things going Monday night when Drexel (19-13) of the CAA hosts Syracuse (19-14) of the Big East at 7 p.m. at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

The winner will meet Temple (23-9), which advanced Saturday night beating Ivy runnerup Harvard 64-59 at McGonigle Hall.

If VCU stays alive, the Rams could potentially bump into either Temple or a fourth time play CAA rival Drexel, unless Syracuse were to get to the quarterfinals.

Villanova (19-14), in contrast to St. Joseph’s, rallied Sunday afternoon from a 10-point deficit with 8:23 left in the game and looming end to the Wildcats’ season to win at Illinois State 58-55 in Normal.

They eliminated the Redbirds (19-13) and move to the Sweet 16 where they await Monday night’s winner between host South Dakota (23-7) and Colorado (19-13).

All three schools have a bid to host the next round, according to a WNIT spokeswoman.

Devon Kane hit a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 56-55 lead with 23 seconds left and then hit two foul shots in the final seconds after Illinois State missed a chance to retake the lead and Lauren Burford grabbed the rebound.

Villanova played without Lauren Sweeney, the Wildcats’ leading scorer and rebounder who suffered a broken hand in the last game and is done for the season.

“Everyone played well and it is more impressive that we were able to win the game without Sweeney,” Villanova veteran coach Harry Perretta said.

Rachel Roberts scored 16 points, while Kane scored 10 points as did Megan Pearson for Villanova while Pearson and freshman forward Taylor Holeman each grabbed eight rebounds.

In the St. Joseph’s game that featured 12 ties and seven lead changes, the Hawks had control, leading 65-61 after Ashley Prim and Katie Kuester scored the first two baskets of the extra session with 4 minutes, 2 seconds left in the period.

On the ensuing possession, VCU missed four straight shots but after Prim’s rebound got the ball back to St. Joseph’s, the Hawks missed three straight opportunities.

However, senior Michelle Baker was then fouled and she went to the line to give St. Joseph’s some security but she missed the front end of the one-and-one with 46 seconds left.

VCU got the ball and Barbour brought the Rams within two on a pair of free throws with 42 seconds left when Baker fouled her.

But then Barber fouled Prim on the Hawks’ possession, but given another opportunity to get St. Joseph’s close to safety she, too, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 35 seconds left and Hurt grabbed the rebound.

Robyn Parks missed a shot for VCU but Hurt grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by Ashley Robinson. She tied it 65-65 with 21 seconds left.

The Hawks on the inbounds play then found Baker open in the middle and as she scampered down the floor, she drove into a crowd and Carter made the swipe that knocked the ball in VCU’s direction and ended the collegiate careers of Baker, Samira Van Grinsven, Kuester and Kelly Cavallo.

Baker scored 16 points, Prim had 15, and Kuester and Van Grinsven had 10 each, while Van Grinsven completed a double double with 10 rebounds.

“I thought it was a great, great game,” St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said afterwards. “I thought both teams gave everything they had. I think there’s a mentality this time of year of refusing to lose and I think both teams had that today.

“It came down to making free throws at the end – something we’re capable of doing but just didn’t do it today.”

St. Joseph’s was outrebounded 54-38 by VCU, including 24-14 on the offensive end,which produced a 24-10 advantage in second chance points in favor of the Rams.

Though there were many plays that could have factored the outcome the other way for St. Joseph’s had they occurred differently from the way they went, Griffin still noted the obvious in pointing to the Hawks’ demise.

“You’re up four with 40 seconds to go, you think, `Close it out.’ It’s the free throws. It’s the free throws we could have gotten more separation.

“We just weren’t able to close out the game. Any game when it’s this close, it’s about free throws and layups and we certainly missed some layups and free throws,” she continued.

“But I think we played well. We played hard. I think the senior class did a really nice job but (VCU) got the best of us today.

“There’s only two teams that are going to end up being happy this time of year,” Griffin alluded to both the NCAA and WNIT title games. “You have to put it in perspective.

“The end is near, just when is it going to happen. Today, it happened.

“I think we had the confidence to close this out and we didn’t come through. But, again, it’s overtime. It was a great game to watch. It was a great game to play. It was an awesome game to coach,” Griffin said.

“Special situations. We do those a lot in practice. It really could have gone either way. VCU, you have to give them a lot of credit. They have two seniors who are fabulous. You look at their record and you say, `Wow.’ They’re better than their record. They really are. And maybe this is their time that they’re going to go and make some more noise.”

Ironically, Drexel beat VCU in three meetings in the CAA, including the conference tournament quarterfinals while St. Joseph’s handled Drexel in a nonconference meeting in Hagan early in the season.

Besides the Drexel, Colorado and Cincinnati games already mentioned, the WNIT second round concludes Monday night when Richmond (23-8) of the Atlantic 10 travels to nearby Virginia (23-10) of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Besides VCU and Drexel, the CAA also has James Madison (26-7) alive and in the Sweet 16 the Dukes will host South Florida (19-15) of the Big East on Friday.

In the Western bracket, Washington (19-13), under new coach Kevin McGuff, has advanced to the Sweet 16 with two wins and will face PAC-12 rival Oregon State (20-12) on Tuesday.

It would be ironic if Temple got to the title game and met Washington, whose McGuff had been a nemesis to the Owls in the Atlantic 10 when he coached Xavier to several conference titles.

The Guru will stay in town, bypassing the NCAA Kansas State-UConn game in Bridgeport, to go to Drexel Monday night where he will tweet at the usual @womhoopsguru.

-- Mel

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