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, February 06, 2013

Villanova Upset Bid of No. 2 Notre Dame Falls Just Short At Finish

(Guru's Note: Because of the national nature of the Big East matchup, the Notre Dame-Villanova game appears here in addition to at http://philahoopsw.com where photos also exist as well as game coverage of Drexel.)

By Mel Greenberg

A week ago after Villanova was routed by No. 3 Connecticut in Hartford, veteran Wildcats coach Harry Perretta said there was quite a distance between his own squad and the top three teams in the country.

That differential, however, grew much shorter Tuesday night when ‘Nova trailed No. 2 Notre Dame by just a basket 48-46 with 4 minutes, 45 left in a Big East game at The Pavilion following a rally with a 7-1 run.

Could the Wildcats ruin another homecoming visit by Women’s Basketball and Big Five Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw, the coach of the Irish who grew up in West Chester and starred at Saint Joseph’s in the mid-1970s?

Not according to Kayla McBride, whose Notre Dame team had had easier times the last three seasons beating Connecticut and Tennessee then dealing with Villanova.

She scored to extend the advantage to four and after Rachel Roberts’ attempted trey failed to drop and bring ‘Nova within a point, freshman Jewel
Lloyd scored for the visitors, who made it an eight point game.

Laura Sweeney got the ‘Cats back to within six but that was where the rally died and Notre Dame went on to a 59-52 triumph making McGraw’s return visit this time sweeter with her 700th career win, including a brief stint at Lehigh before making the Irish into a national power.

“I feel so blessed,” McGraw said. “I am so incredibly lucky to be coaching at Notre Dame. To be surrounded by such class people. All of the players who have come through the last 25 years – the assistant coaches, the administration from the president on down.

“Everybody at Notre Dame has treated me so well. Our fans I think are the best in the country and I have to pinch myself. It’s just an amazing place to be and I am so blessed to be there.

“It was great to win it (700th) in Philly and we’ll celebrate with cheesteaks and Tastykakes on the way home.”

McGraw also coached at Archbishop Carroll in the Catholic League before moving up to the collegiate ranks.

“I was just thrilled to come in here and get a win,” McGraw said of the challenge the Wildcats present because of their style of play. “This is a difficult game for us. It’s always hard to play against Villanova. They just have such a patient offense.

“And we want to go. We want to score 80 points,” she continued.

Though Notre Dame (21-1, 9-0 Big East), whose only loss has been to defending NCAA champion Baylor early in the season, has been synonymous with star senior all-American Skylar Diggins, the native of South Bend near the Irish campus, this particular night was highlighted by
Natalie Achonwa who scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the conference game that was televised nationally.

McBride scored 16 points, Diggins finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, though she was just 4-for-17 from the field and neither she nor ‘Nova’s Sweeney scored until late in the first half, and Lloyd had 10 points.

“I was really pleased,” McGraw said. “I felt Natalie had a fantastic game – another double double. She leads the Big East in double doubles. She played extremely well.

“I felt all our guys played well. It was a game where we had to shorten the bench a little bit and I thought that everybody that came in did a great job.”

Diggins is happy not to be playing ‘Nova any more, barring a rematch in the Big East tournament that Roberts would like to see occur.

She is projected among the top three picks in the WNBA draft in April with the others being Baylor great Brittney Griner, anticipated to be the first pick by the Phoenix Mercury,and Delaware sensationa Elena Delle Donne, likely to go second to the Chicago Sky. The Tulsa Shock have the third pick.

This could all change if trades are made between now and April and there has also been a bit of a buzz that perhaps Texas A&M star Kelsey Bone may come out since this would normally be her senior season. She originally began her collegiate career at South Carolina, recruited by Dawn Staley, before transferring back near home in her native Texas.

“We wanted to push the pace because we knew they wanted to slow it down,” Diggins said of facing the Wildcats. “They’re a tough team to play against because their offense is constant movement so they make you play defense and they want to play offense for the whole shot clock.

“So you have to be disciplined to play against a team like that. You have to be honest because they shoot the three-point shot but they can also take it to the basket. It’s a pain to play against them so I’m glad it’s my senior year.

“But I’m glad to get the win for ‘coach on the road and at (her) home. So No. 700 is special for her.”

The Villanova loss ruined one of the better performances by Emily Leer, the Abington High graduate who had 15 points for the Wildcats (16-6, 5-4), who have dropped three straight in a shooting-the-rapids stretch in the conference schedule that began at Connecticut, continued last Saturday in a tough overtime defeat at Rutgers, which rallied near the end of regulation, and went into Tuesday’s game with the Irish.

But the schedule will ease a bit Sunday when Marquette, demolished Tuesday night at Connecticut, visits. The trip will bring the first appearance of assistant coach Tyler Summitt, the son of Hall of Famer and legend Pat Summitt, now the coach emeritus at Tennessee after stepping down after last season due to her ongoing battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer type.

Meanwhile, Rachel Roberts had another outstanding night with 14 points for Villanova, including connecting on 3-of-6 three-pointers, while Sweeney had 11 before fouling out near the end of the game.

For Notre Dame and McGraw, the game brought a happy end of an era here in the series and maybe forever since the Irish are bound for the Atlantic Coast Conference whenever the school can make the move, while Villanova is one of seven of the so-called “Catholic” contingent that has also announced plans to depart.

West Virginia left for the Big 12 after last season while Pittsburgh and Syracuse are headed for the ACC after this season.

McGraw, however, has made sure that her homecoming visits remain by scheduling Penn, beginning next season and also hoping to get her alma mater Saint Joseph’s on her nonconference schedule.

“I want to take the team to The Palestra. I feel it’s going to be a great, great game for them,” McGraw said of the Penn series. “And then visit Hawk Hill.

That’s a great possibility. But I won’t be back here. I can guarantee you that.”

The game drew 2,939 in a lively Pack-the-House promotion that had a large group of fans cheering for the Irish wearing green shirts happily handed out by McGraw to family and friends, which included many of her former Hawks teammates and former Hawks coach and Immaculata star Theresa Grentz.

“I thought we played very well today – we played very well in spurts,” Perretta said. “And then we made a few mistakes in spurts and the difference is against a high quality team – it doesn’t make a difference who you play against. If you make mistakes people are going to capitalize on them.

“But (Notre Dame) are one of the best teams in the country and they took advantage of every mistake we made. We didn’t switch a screen right, they scored.

“If we didn’t step up, they hit a shot. But that’s what good teams do. I thought we played decent enough of offense. We generated enough three point shots (7-for-18 vs. 2-for-7) to make the game competitive and we were using Emily because she can shoot the three. Overall, it was a good game and we just try to get better and show up for the next game.”

-- Mel


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