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, January 06, 2013

Guru's Musings: Notre Dame's Upset of UConn Leaves Duke Last Unbeaten

By Mel Greenberg

STORRS, Conn. –
So how many of you out there thought that Duke would be the last unbeaten team standing in Division I women’s basketball and it would come down to just one team still alive with a perfect record by the end of the first week in January?

Well after Notre Dame’s pulsating 73-72 win over soon-to-be-former-top-ranked Connecticut in the Huskies’ own campus Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon or early evening, considering daylight appropriately became darkness as the opening Big East battle drew to a close, that is exactly the situation.

The nuances of the game have been picked over by nearly everyone else at the event by the time this post is being put together.

Suddenly, we have a five-for-four fight for the No. 1 NCAA seeds among UConn, Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Duke. And maybe someone else can push their way into the crowd if stumbles by perceived invincible teams continue.

Go back to summer conversations and Stanford and Notre Dame shouldn’t even be involved in this discussion considering expectations that the duo would be in a little re-tooling after losing significant players to graduation, some of who went on to mixed to great summers in the WNBA.

Baylor was going to be invincible so while, yes, Odyssey Sims missed most of the Stanford game, the Cardinal still shouldn’t have even been in the contest, let alone pull an upset.

And then in one week’s time it evolves that a 1 vs. 5 game in terms of the Associated Press women’s poll becomes more exciting than a 1 vs. 2 slaughter that last week was in California when the Huskies overran Stanford on the Cardinal’s court.

And going back to summer conversation, Brianna Stewart’s subpar afternoon, stellar freshman that she is, makes one wonder whether too many things get taken for granted in these parts raising expectations beyond the high threshhold they’re allowed to exist.

With the game on the line, Saturday, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma learned that lifelines from his summer Olympic squad of former UConn greats are not permitted by the NCAA to takeshooting attempts in place of existing players with the game on the line.

A year ago, Auriemma was showing some reality in saying his team should not be considered among the prime frontrunners for the 2012 NCAA title, though the Huskies played themselves into that position.

Then he put an addendum claiming, to paraphrase, but the next two years we shouldn’t even lose a game.

And as this season approached, he noted of his highly touted incoming class that UConn had freshmen who really aren’t freshmen, until Saturday when the best of the bunch in the entire nation played like one while an Irish newcomer out of Belmar, N.J. – Michaela Mabrey – played like a senior all-American.

“She’s a Jersey girl,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw gushed after making it five out the last six UConn matchups in which the Irish have walked away winners, including two straight wins in the NCAA national semifinals.

The reality of the game is that all the givens of the current women’s season have gone out the window where there is now an element of suspense in the national title chase because no one is invincible.

Around here, the perception gets fueled when the local media gets all worked up over how many times and seconds UConn trails in a game off a schedule that in its early phases has its share of fluff to go with the high-powered clashes.

And how the local populace reacts to such occurrences when they come about, made it a little shocking to leave the arena afterwards and discover that no tremors occurred causing cracks in the roadways and pavements.

In fact, people had already returned to looking ahead to February’s visit from Baylor, which they were already doing after the Stanford win without thinking that Notre Dame could possibly win in Gampel – competitive, yes, but win ???

So remember this in the overlook department. In two weeks Duke comes visiting and it’s possible that the group on the opposition bench many still be the one with the perfect record.

And so as the day came to an end off opening play around the beleaguered Big East, for a short time over the next few days one will see Seton Hall tied at the top of the standings and UConn at the bottom.

ABL East vs. ABL West in the WNBA

That Seton Hall reference was a way to note the recent hire and return to the WNBA of Pirates coach Anne Donovan, who was announced Thursday as the successor to Mike Thibault of the contending Connecticut Sun.

She will maintain the Seton Hall job to the end of the season making Saturday twice now that she is the only person to win at the college and pro level while holding two jobs at the same moment.

Two seasons ago she was in her final season with the New York Liberty on the way to the Seton Hall job when she led the WNBA squad back to the playoffs and a tie for first with Washington in the East.

On Saturday, Seton Hall opened with a win at home in the conference against Pittsburgh, which Donovan coached on the way to the Sun job this March.

When the Seattle Storm and Sun match up in their two WNBA East-West games this summer, the Storm will have former American Basketball League notables Brian Agler, who won two ABL titles, on the sidelines, and Karen Bryant in the front office, a job she held in the ABL with that Seattle team.

For the Sun, Donovan coached the short-lived bankrupt season of the Philadelphia Rage when the ABL collapsed at a time when current Sun general manager Chris Sienko had the same position with the New England Blizzard.

Future WNBA Top Picks Deliver

So in one week’s time – Elena Delle Donne, who could be anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 in the next WNBA draft, scores 29 points for Delaware and the game-winner in overtime in a great triumph for the Blue Hens at St. John’s while Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, likely No. 2 or No. 3 overall pick, gets the game-winner with two foul shots at UConn.

Big East Implosion

Looking at opening matchups Saturday and those to come Sunday makes one sad over the soon-to-be demise of the Big East as we know it for women’s basketball, though it does create some humor when one considers the expanded description of the results tallied and next set of games.

On Saturday:

Catholic Seven-bound Seton Hall at home topped Atlantic Coast Conference-bound Pittsburgh 69-56.

C7-bound Georgetown on the road topped C-7 bound Providence 79-64.

ACC-bound Notre Dame on the road edged surviving limbo Connecticut 73-72.

ACC-bound Syracuse on the road topped C-7 bound Marquette 92-79.

C7-bound DePaul at home upset ACC-bound Louisville 86-80.

That makes the Standings at the moment:

C7-bound teams 3-2 with an in-house result.

ACC-bound teams 2-2

Connecticut in a league of its own 0-1.

On Sunday:

Big Ten-bound Rutgers hosts C7-bound St. Johns.

C7-bound Villanova at surviving Cincinnati.

And that’s it for now.

-Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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