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, November 13, 2012

Guru's College Report: Penn Almost Mightier Than Cavaliers of Virginia

(Guru's note: The Guru is putting the game story on the national circuit here for those who may not know about Guru Local, actually http://philahoopsw.com where it actually looks prettier with pictures. This blog also has some AP poll notes at the bottom.)

By Mel Greenberg

Yes Virginia. There is a Penn.

And on Monday the Quakers nearly pulled one of the all-time upsets in the history of the program as well as the Big Five women when coach Mike McLaughlin’s group took a commanding lead over the Cavaliers at The Palestra only to fall in the final minutes 68-65 in the second game of the season for both schools.

“It’s disappointing because it could have been a signature win for the program,” McLaughlin said afterwards. “They looked Virginia right in the eye, and I thought we were the better team tonight.”

Junior Alyssa Baron and sophomore Kara Bonenberger, who were successively Big Five rookies of the year the previous two seasons, were nearly the winning ticket in a game that still showed how far the Quakers have come since McLaughlin left Division II powerhouse Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia in the spring of 2009 to attempt to bring the Quakers to a new era of success.

Baron finished with 21 points and nine rebounds while Bonenberger scored 14 points. Sophomore Kathleen Roche, who has moved into the starting lineup, scored 10 points and gives McLaughlin hope to be one of the answers in his search to supplement his Baron-Bonenberger duo with additional options to connect with the basket.

The Quakers suffered an unforeseen roster departure a week ago when sophomore Jackie Kates left the squad on good terms to pursue life opportunities.

Kates and Baron are slated to play for the United States Maccabiah team this summer at the games that serve as the Israeli olympics.

Despite the tough loss, there was the realization that much could still be achieved this season.

“We know we can compete with anyone on the road, and we’ll be tough to play against,” Baron said. “We were just talking in the locker room — if we can compete against ACC schools then what’s the difference between playing Big 5, Princeton, Harvard?”

Virginia’s salvation came from an unlikely source in junior Kelsey Wolfe, who scored 18 of her game-high 22 points in the second half to far surpass her previous career high of 12 points – one of only two previous times she scored in double figures.

“She absolutely carried us,” Virginia second-year coach Joanne Boyle said. “We didn’t come out and play our normal style. (Penn) got us out of our rhythm and made us change what we do.

“Typically, we don’t do that. We stay with what we do, defensively. We got kind of lackadaisical and give them a lot of credit, they didn’t back down at all.”

Telia McCall added 14 points to the Virginia total and Ataira Franklin scored 13.

As expected, the Cavaliers dominated the boards 40-28, but the Quakers capitalized in transition scoring 19-8 against them in points off turnovers. Virginia, however, powered 22-9 on second chance points.

This game was set up, returning a Quaker visit two seasons ago; to serve as a homecoming appearance for Lexie Gerson of Fort Washington but hip surgery in September sidelined her for the season.

Gerson was also named to the Maccabiah squad representing the United States.

Virginia (1-1) arrived here fresh off a 78-57 season and home opening win Friday night over Colonial Athletic Association power James Madison, while the Quakers (0-2) were not too far away from Charlottesville in suffering a disappointing 60-51 loss at Norfolk State.

But in the first half, Penn seemed like it belonged more in the Atlantic Coast Conference shooting 53.8 percent and bolting to a 15-point lead before finishing the half ahead 35-23.

And Virginia looked more like a Mid-Major than a member of the BCS crowd shooting 32.3 percent from the field.

Hard to believe the Cavaliers were once led by such notables as Dawn Staley, Monica Wright, and Tonya Cardoza.

Coincidentally, UVa athletic director Craig Littlepage is a former Penn Star.

Who would believe a week ago before the presidential election that the Penn women could score more points on Virginia than Obama.

McLaughlin, however, knew his team wasn’t going to stay that hot forever.

The Quakers cooled down the final 20 minutes and the Cavaliers kept chipping away until Wolfe, the unlikely heroine, produced a three-point play to give the visitors their first lead since the game-opening basket at 57-56 with 4 minutes, 19 seconds left in regulation.

Penn, however, refused to fold and sophomore Katy Allen’s shot gave the advantage back to the Quakers and they nursed it until Wolfe’s layup put it back in Virginia’s hands with 1:59 left.

Baron gave the home team its last hurrah at 65-64 with 1:41 left.

Then the tide turned the other way for good as Franklin hit a jumper to put Virginia up 66-65 with 1:31 left.

Baron missed a jumper but a Virginia turnover gave the ball right back to Penn only to be doomed when Baron then turned it over and McCall converted her steal for a 68-65 lead with 36 seconds left.

The Quakers’ Roche missed a shot blocked by McCall while Wolfe grabbed the rebound. But Allen had a steal with nine seconds left before Roche’s attempted trey to tie the game was off the mark as time expired.

Incidentally, one of the officials who worked the game was Desiree Peterkin, who once was the operations director on the staff of Cindy Griffin at Saint Joseph’s. She also served as a helper running statistics printouts to the media in the early days of the WNBA New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden.

Penn next heads to Army Sunday afternoon and returns to The Palestra Nov. 30 to host La Salle in the Quakers’ first Big Five contest of the season.

Delaware Bound For Duquesne

As predicted Sunday night, following Delaware's upset loss at home to Georgetown, which enabled the Hoyas to move back into the Associated Press women's poll for the first time this season at No. 25, as well as advance to the Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament seminfinals against North Carolina, on Monday the WNIT announced the Blue Hens will travel to Duquesne Wednesday night in Pittsburgh for a consolation game.

It is not known if Delaware's super senior Elena Delle Donne will play after missing the first two games of the season. The nation's top scorer in 2012-13 is suffering a recurrence of the effects of Lyme Disease and is listed day-to-day.

Duquesne nearly upset North Carolina on the road in Chapel Hill Sunday night.

Former Penn State star Suzie McConnell-Serio, an Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA standout, coaches the Dukes of the Atlantic 10.

In the summer of 2011 McConnell-Serio coached Delle Donne as an assistant to Iowa State's Bill Fennelly on the gold medal winning USA squad at the World University Games.

Delaware's loss shot the Blue Hens down from 11th to 17th.

Tennessee At The Edge Of The AP Cliff

Though a win over Georgia Tech knocked the Yellowjackets out of the AP Poll, Tennessee's loss at unranked Chattanooga Friday night to launch the Holly Warlick era on the sidelines dropped the Lady Vols from 20th to 24th.

That is the first time Tennessee has dropped below the 20th ranked threshhold since the poll expanded to 25 slots for the 1989-90.

The Lady Vols have been ranked a record 493 times dating to Feb., 1985 after being unranked 10 straight weeks. Tennessee has missed just 14 polls, the first-ever poll and a three-week spurt several seasons before the 1984-85 drought.

In that time on the current streak, the No. 19 Tennessee ranking the week before the final poll -- they finished 18th -- was the only time the Lady Vols had dipped below 15th.

Meanwhile, the shuffle this week that brought in Texas and Georgetown, though the two have been ranked before with Texas an elite performer, their arrival brings two brand new coaches to the poll and six overall in the first two weeks of the season.

Karen Aston took over at Texas and Keith Brown was promoted at Georgetown so he has been indirectly associated with a ranked team as has Aston from her time as both a Longhorns and Baylor assistant.

Last week Joe Tartamella arrived with St. John's, though he was an assistant with the Red Storm during their previous ranking; Lindsay Gottlieb with Cal, and likewise; Holly Warlick with Tennessee, obviously the same as the others, and Jim Littlel with Oklahoma State, who may not have been with the Cowgirls during their previous appearances.

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