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 20, 2012

Guru's WNIT Report: Syracuse Closing Surge Swamps Drexel

(Guru’s note. Besides the locals in the WNIT over here and regular Guru commentary, he is also responsible for the overall wrap on the NCAA women’s tournament Kingston (R.I.) Regional for the newly configured fullcourt.com.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – The Orange of Syracuse put the squeeze on host Drexel Monday night with a punishing 21-2 run over the final 6 minutes and 18 seconds to take a 65-43 win in the second round of the Women’s NIT.

As a result, instead of an all-Philly party in town for round three Thursday night, the local game will feature a Syracuse squad that is heading out of the Big East with the rest of the athletic department to the Atlantic Coast Conference against a Temple team that will be arriving from the Atlantic Ten as a replacement a year from now.

The Temple game is set for 7 p.m. at McGonigle Hall, which makes it three straight in the WNIT that the Owls (23-9) are the host team.

In another round-three game involving a local team also on Thursday, Villanova (19-14), which advanced Sunday night winning at Illinois State, will travel to Colorado (20-13), which advanced Monday night with a 64-55 win at South Dakota (23-8).

The Lady Buffaloes dispatched Villanova in the third round of the 2008 WNIT but in 2003 the Wildcats topped Colorado in a regular season invitational tournament in Boulder and then won again in the Sweet 16 in Knoxville, Tenn.

That win, for you non-locals reading this, ended the collegiate career of Colorado point guard Kate Fagan, the former Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter who is now a columnist at ESPN W and covering the NCAA women’s tournament.

Drexel (19-14), meanwhile, had its books on the 2011-12 season sealed shut by Syracuse (19-14), which normally does not relish its Big East trips to the Philadelphia suburbs playing Villanova in the Big East.

Less than a month ago the Wildcats got a 68-60 win over the Orange at The Pavilion.

This time Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman had to deal with one of Villanova coach Harry Perretta’s prodigies in Drexel’s Denise Dillon, a former Wildcats star whose strategies have often caused opponents to refer to the Dragons as “Little Villanova.”

“They’re a very good basketball team,” Hillsman said. “They have some pretty good shooters. I knew they would do a very good job moving the ball against our zone.

“We just wanted to get there and contest all their shots.”

He agreed that perhaps Syracuse’s athleticism helped wear down Drexel in the closing minutes after they had come within three points of the lead at 44-41 on Hollie Mershon’s 3-pointer.

“We started playing the paint and we took better shots in the second half and imposed our will in getting to the rim and I thought that was the difference in the game.”

In terms of performance, Dillon shuddered at two statistics in the box score that said all that needed to be related as to the cause of Drexel’s exit.

The Orange had a whopping 58-33 advantage on the backboards, including 22-8 on the offensive end that led to a differential of in favor of Syracuse 22-5 in terms of second chance points.

On the offensive side, Drexel shot 26.3 percent from the field.

“As we said beforehand, if we didn’t rebound, if we didn’t make shots, we have no chance, so there you go,” Dillon said afterwards.

“It’s quite simple. You have to rebound the ball, and knowing they’re playing zone, you gotta knock down some shots. We didn’t do either. We got crushed on the boards and we shot poorly.”

Two Syracuse players had double doubles in Kayla Alexander who had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Carmen Tyson-Thomas, a graduate of Conwell-Egan Catholic High who enjoyed this homecoming trip with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Elashier Hall and Rachel Coffey each scored 11 points.

Tyler Hale and Kamile Nacickaite each scored 11 points in their final games for Drexel, which also said farewell to seniors Marisa Crane and substitute Ayana Lee.

At a timeout in the last minute, Dillon removed the quartet of upper class women as the crowd gave them a standing ovation.

Despite the ending, Drexel, which had been struggling a month ago, exceeded expectations that began in the fall with the Colonial Athletic Association coaches picking the Dragons for fifth in the conference.

“Now you have to take the time and step back and acknowledged what you accomplished this year,” Dillon said.

“It was a lot when you consider the conference. Obviously, we had a tough out-of-conference schedule and we took our fair share of hits,” Dillon said.

The Dragons hosted three-time Ivy champion Princeton, which became the first Ivy team to be ranked in the Associated Press women’s poll landing at 24th in the final vote of the season by a national media panel.

Drexel also hosted South Carolina, which also got ranked and whose coach and local legend Dawn Staley on Monday night guided the Gamecocks to a win over host Purdue and a spot in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Staley, who previously coached Temple (2000-01 to 2007-08), hadn’t been that far since her days as a player at Virginia in 1992.

“Maybe those hits helped us do a nice job in the conference, securing that top four spot, finishing third and making it to the championship game in the CAA tournament,” Dillon said.

“So the girls did everything possible to finish strong, and then giving us a chance in the WNIT, winning our first-ever postseason game,” she continued.

“I just told the seniors as a whole how proud I am on the mark they made on this program. They expected nothing less than another championship so they did everything in their power but they were going up against a team – Delaware – that’s not really going to fare well.

“Now we lose four key players and we have a lot of work to do. I don’t know if the younger ones are aware of that. But they’ll learn quickly how good the four seniors were.”

Nacickaite looked back at her career and cited her two most memorable moments.

“My best memories here – two stand out more than most – the freshmen year winning the CAA championship and the senior year going to the championship because nobody in the beginning of those seasons expected us to get there at all.”

The Lithuanian finished with 1,649 points, fourth best in Drexel history and she also became the Dragons’ best-ever three-point shooter, nailing 240 of 628 attempts for a .382 percentage, which is 10 percentage points better than anyone else who has played at the school.

Dillon said she is cheering for the other CAA teams alive in the postseason, having sent text messages to Beth Cunningham for VCU’s win over St. Joseph’s and Kenny Brooks for James Madison’s win over Wake Forest in the WNIT and to Delaware’s Tina Martin for the Blue Hens’ first-ever postseason win, which occurred Sunday in an NCAA opener against host Arkansas-Little Rock.

On Thursday night, Temple, which has better athleticism to contend with Syracuse, will be looking to advance to the quarterfinals against either VCU or Toledo, which ousted Cincinnati Monday night.

Villanova, in the western part of the bracket, will be looking to win and play a quarterfinal game against either Oklahoma State or Missouri State.

The Guru will be tweeting from Temple Thursday night as well as ongoing news at @womhoopsguru.

-- Mel

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