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, December 31, 2013

Guru Report:St. John's Cliffwalks Way to Win at Delaware

Guru’s note: At some point Tuesday, a link to Laurie Dougherty’s photo gallery from the game in Delaware will be re-tweeted by the Guru at his handle @womhoopsguru

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, Del. --
A lack of toughness, especially on the backboards, in the words of Delaware coach Tina Martin, resulted in a tough 61-58 nonconference loss to St. John’s Monday night at the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center.

On the Red Storm side, however, shortened readiness time necessitated by the retro Big East Conference slotting a league opener at home Saturday was overcome when senior reserve Keylantra Langley got a quick do-over to be the heroine for the visitors at the finish.

Having missed the front end of a one-and-one on the foul line that could have sealed the win with 37 seconds left in regulation, Langley came back with two connected free throws with 12 seconds left for the final points of the game.

Delaware (8-3) had one last chance to send the game in overtime (8-3) had one last chance to send the game in overtime but freshman Erika Brown’s attempted trey was off the rim.

In some ways there was a dose of revenge the Red Storm (8-4) were able to deliver for last year’s buzzer-beater in overtime from former Blue Hens superstar Elena Delle Donne that gave Delaware a victory at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y.

The win was the third straight for St. John’s and it has been a stroll on a tightrope in the budding streak that began with a last-second win against SEC power Texas A&M at the Maggie Dixon Classic played at Madison Square Garden.

That was followed by a closing surge Saturday to grab a Big East opener against Seton Hall, which ironically meant in two games the Red Storm went from playing a team from outside Newark, N.J., before traveling down here Sunday night to the other Newark.

Though not the near sellout of recent vintage off the last two seasons, a lively crowd of 1,458 was in the house and got to see a tightly-fought contest wire-to-wire.

The score was tied eight times and the lead changed hands 18 times with the largest advantage by either side being the seven held by St. John’s with 14 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first half.

“It was a big win for us to close out the nonconference,” St. John’s second-year coach Joe Tartamella said. “Proud of the way we closed. We struggled in stretches in the game, but, I felt we kept ourselves in the game, too.

“We may some big stops and key shots toward the end. But for us to go on the road with our first true road game against a team that’s been successful this year, that was important for us. It’s a tough place to play, so very proud and you can hear their enjoyment in there,” he said in the interview outside the locker room.

St. John’s Amber Thompson had 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Aliyyah Handford had 13 points. Langley scored just two, but those were enough to ward off defeat for the moment if Delaware had been able to connect with a long shot on its final possession.

“It was a tough game but a great game to have,” Langley said. “It was a quick turnaround and tough to come back in a short amount of time and Delaware’s a good team.

“Just make it and win for me team,” she said of her thoughts on the line while shooting the winning free throws.

“Briana Brown, Langley, along with Eugeneia (McPherson), our three seniors, have been fantastic for us and this was important for us to be able to close out a tough road game,” Tartamella said.

Delaware, which launches defense of its two straight unbeaten Colonial Athletic Association titles when Hofstra visits Sunday, hadn’t played here since Nov. 19.

Having faced the Blue Hens squad that has since lost six other seniors besides Delle Donne, Tartamella compared the two units, saying, “They’ve got a couple of kids they’ve groomed well.

“The (Kelsey) Buchanan kid played well and hurt us inside – we’ve got to get better. I think the way they had Elena make plays down the stretch as we all know last year, they’re still trying to find that person. They’re not running things totally different. We lost two pros so it’s the same thing. We lost 80 percent of our scoring.”

Buchanan had 16 points and freshman Shanice Johnson from Cardinal O’Hara scored 13 but the 41-28 rebounding advantage by the Red Storm was a killer, according to Martin.

“That’s the bottom line,” she said after being deprived of her 350th victory. “We did enough good things to stay in the game. St. John’s is very talented. They’re very tough, they get to the rim. They’re too athletic.

“If you rebound the basketball, you win the game. We did not rebound the ball. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve posted up. You hope that nonconference play prepared you for conference play – that’s what it’s all about.

“We’re too nice. You hope we get a badge of honor and say we’re not going to let this happen again. We’ll see if we put the big girl boots on, I like to say. This is going to be what most of our conference play is going to be like.”

Evaluating the nonconference slate, Delaware had narrow losses to the three toughest teams – Temple, Princeton (in overtime), and St. Johns, was 2-0 against next level opponents Wake Forest and at Lehigh, and 6-0 against RPI SOS killers.

Drexel Win at Cornell Snaps Losing Streak

The snow elements in Ithaca, N.Y., were nothing compared to the blizzard of three-pointers launched by Drexel’s Rachel Pearson far above Cayuga’s waters at Cornell Monday and the result was a dominating nonconference 69-44 win.

Pearson had a career-high 23 points and after making her first six daggers and seven overall, Pearson was just one short of the school record held by two former Dragons.

Abby Reddick added to the career accomplishment day with 13 points of her own as this time Drexel (5-7) did not allow a large lead to get erased as occurred in the recent home loss to Hampton and then down the street at Penn

Tory Thierolf dealt five assists for a career mark while Drexel teammate Meghan Creighton dealt the same number.

Defensively the Dragons have held opponents under 50 four straight games after limiting Cornell (5-5), the second of three straight foes from the Ivy League.

Four-time defending champion Princeton, the favorite to make it five straight, visits Sunday before the Dragons head into CAA action, where the Dragons were predicted to finish second behind James Madison.

Never trailing, the Dragons built a Lead of 30 over the Big Red and shot 65.2 percent from the field in the first half.

La Salle Clipped by Binghamton

The Explorers’ Leeza Burdgess scored 14 points and in grabbing a career high 19 rebounds she became the third player from the Guru’s 10-team PhilahoopsW local Division I coverage group to reach that high for the season.

But it all went for naught with a tough 57-56 loss to Binghamton (3-10) at Dartmouth’s Blue Sky Classic in Hanover, N.H., that deprived La Salle (5-7) of getting back to .500 on the season.

Alicia Cropper had a game-high 17 points and newcomer
Micahya Owens scored 14 points wirh four treys for La Salle.

Though the two-day event was nor played in normal tourney bracketing, Binghamton’s Sherae Swinson was named MVP after scoring 16 points against the Explorers.

La Salle now heads into Atlantic 10 play at Rhode Island Thursday and stays on the road to meet conference newcomer George Mason, formerly with the CAA, on Saturday.

As the only PhilahoopsW team on the New Year’s Eve slate Tuesday, Villanova is in Milwaukee to meet Big East rival Marquette.

On Wednesday Louisville is at Temple at 4 p.m. in a matchup out of the new American Conference televised by ESPN3 while Penn is in Florida to play Miami in a game the Quakers scheduled to give senior star Alyssa Baron a homecoming event.

Weekly honors this week saw Princeton’s Blake Dietrick get the Ivy award, while Rutgers’ Betnijah Laney got similar citations from The American, and Temple’s Erica Covile got the Big Five award.

In other news former Penn State scoring sensation Kelly Mazzante, who was with two champions with the WNBA Phoenix Mercury among other teams and has been playing in Europe, will announce her retirement next month.

More to come.

- Mel

Monday, December 30, 2013

Guru Report: Temple and Saint Joseph's Gain Key Wins

Guru’s note: Information for roundup, including quotes, compiled off team reports

By Mel Greenberg

Temple and Saint Joseph’s picked up signature wins Sunday while in other games involving teams in the Guru’s 10-member PhilahoopsW  group of Division I locals for coverage purposes, No. 17 Penn State and La Salle got victories and Princeton fell to host Virginia in the title game of the Cavalier Classic.

The signature label is given to Temple for the Owls’ impressive 63-56 win at Memphis to open play in their brand new American Athletic Conference while Saint Joseph’s closed out its nonconference schedule, except for the Penn tilt next month in the Big Five, by winning at Florida Gulf Coast.

Temple (7-4) was picked ninth out of the 10-member group and Memphis (7-6) was picked sixth so every win the Owls can pick up in conference play will bode well for the future.

Unfortunately, that is likely not to happen in their next game on Wednesday when NCAA runner up Louisville makes its only appearance on New Year’s Wednesday in McGonigle Hall because the Cardinals are headed off to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

Unlike the days of their life in the Atlantic 10 where the Owls were usually a title contender sincer 2001, they aren’t likely to attain penthouse level this time.

 That’s because top-ranked UConn, Louisville, and Rutgers, also bound elsewhere for life in the Big 10 next season, means the Owls can be penciled in for at least six losses baring a potential upset in the Rutgers meetings off the home-and-home schedule. So, making the NCAA this time is a long shot.

But if Temple can remain competitive with everyone else the Rutgers and Louisville exits mean the Owls could compete for a finish right behind powerful UConn in the future.

The win over the Tigers will be seen as an upset in many places but inside the Owls’ family, they must felt strongly that a win in Tennessee was possible.

Temple used a balanced attack with four players in double figures as  sophomore Erica Covile had 14 points, Tyonna Williams scored 13, freshman sensation Feyonda Fitzgerald had 11, and senior newcomer Shi-Heria Shipp had a double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Additionally, Natasha Thames fortified the defense with 11 rebounds.

“That’s what we feel makes us a good team,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said afterwards. “It’s hard to  key on one person.”

Temple answered a 9-0 run that gave Memphis a 20-18 lead with one of its own that was fueled by four straight three-pointers including two from Williams and even though the Owls’ 11-point lead at the outset of the second half was shaved to a point with 1:33 left in regulation, unlike last Sunday’s tough loss at home to Villanova, Temple held on at the finish.

“They started scoring on us and getting offensive rebounds,”Cardoza said of the late fireworks from Memphis. “They’re at home, and they will continue to fight.  When they cut it to one, we definitely took over the game.”

Ariel Hearn was “Memphis’ high scorer with 22 points. The Tigers will visit Temple Feb. 9 and the game telecasted by ESPNU will be one of the few the Owls will host in the larger Liacouras Center where the men play.

Sunday’s game was part of the package of the conference’s new American Digital streaming broadcast that can be viewed on computers, smart phones and tablets.

Also down South, Saint Joseph’s handled a Florida Gulf Coast squad that had been ambushing opponents the last several seasons on the way to gaining Division I status in the NCAA.

The 76-64 win in Fort Meyers, Fla., like Temple’s outcome, featured four Hawks players in double figures as Erin Shields scored 17 points while sophomore Sarah Fairbanks had 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Eagles (6-6).

The defense forced 16 turnovers that Saint Joseph’s mined into 24 points.
Nastasha Cloud had 14 points and continued to be a prolific disher with nine assists. Kelsey Berger added 10 points.

Last season the Hawks took off on the Atlantic 10 portion of the schedule with a deep run prior to the conference tournament where Saint Joseph’s grabbed its first title in over a decade to return to the NCAAs in the same amount of time.

With a narrow loss at nationally-ranked Syracuse the only tough setback besides the opening weekend loss at nationally-ranked LSU that was expected, the 10-2 mark would be good enough to gain an at-large tournament bid.

But the rest of the schedule must be played out beginning with Thursday’s conference opener at Richmond in the city that will host the women’s A-10 tourney in March.

The deal now is not to slip up because the Hawks will we wearing targets placed by conference opponents the rest of the way. On Sunday an improved George Washington squad will visit ready to rekindle the rugged times of yesteryear in the series between the two.

Penn State Tunes Up for Conference Play

The No. 17 Lady Lions had an easier time Sunday handling the school carrying the name of the capital city of Connecticut then the earlier visit against the national power that uses the state name, though the coach of visiting Hartford is a former star of the Huskies.

That didn’t help much as Penn State topped Hartford 70-56 in the Lady Lions’ Bryce Jordan Center as Narberth’s Maggie Lucas had 18 points and Ariel Edwards scored 15 to enable coach Coquese Washington’s bunch finish out of conference at 9-3 while the Hawks coached by Jen Rizzotti are now 3-10.

The three Penn State loses were to the nationally-ranked 1-2 punmch of UConn and Notre Dame while the other was a road loss at South Dakota State.

Now defense of the regular season Big Ten title begins with visits to Iowa Sunday and Illinois a week from Thursday on Jan. 9.

La Salle Bests Dartmouth

The Explorers beat the host Big Green 54-43 in Hanover, N.H., in the Ivy school’s Blue Sky Classic to draw near to .l500 at 5-6.

The event is not a pure tournament format so La Salle was already set to play Binghamton on Monday.

A 17-2 run in the the first half did the trick against Dartmouth (1-10) as Leeza Burdgess had had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Alicia Cropper contributed a game-high 13 points for La Salle and Khrisdtin Lee scored 11.

After Monday, the Explorers head into the Atlantic 10 with a league opener set for a road stop at Rhode Island Thursday before moving on to a visit at George Mason on Saturday.

Princeton Bid Falls Short at Virginia

Following a good triumph Saturday over Alabama, the four-time defending Ivy champions were unable to keep Virginia from its string of winning its own Cavalier Classic and fell 69-54 as the home team extended its tournament event streak in Charlottesville to 10 straight.

Blake Dietrick had 19 points for Princeton while Vanessa Smith scored 11 for the Tigers (8-5), who next visit Drexel Saturday. That will be the third straight Ivy opponent for the Dragons, who lost to Penn and visit Cornell Monday.

Both Kristen Helmstetter and Dietrick made the all-tournament team, the first such honor for either player.

Kelsey Wolfe had 22 for Virginia (7-6).

And that’s the report for now but the Guru will be on the scene Monday afternoon when Delaware hosts St. John’s.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Guru Report: Familiar and Peculiar As Big East and American Competition Begins

By Mel Greenberg

JAAMAICA, Long Island, New York --
In several places conference play kicked into schedules Saturday as the as the second half of the season crept to a start several days in advance of the arrival of the New Year.

Until this moment, the effects of the large scale musical chairs in terms of realignment has been more window dressing with familar folks haing unfamiliar identities as they went about business that otherwise looked close to what it had in the past.

Nationally, top-ranked Connecticut, the defending NCAA champion, went about basically plundering top nonconference opponents though no longer as the most prominent member of what was known as the old Biig East.

In fact the most drama involving the unbeaten Huskies occurred offf the court as the key member of the AAC, oops, make that The American, and the most promnent new member of the ACC, Notre Dame, engaged in a game of finger-pointing until talk of reluctance to meet on their own accord was put into the background as the two national powers announced a two-year home--and-home agreement to meet sooner rather than whenever beginning next season.

In other places Satturday it was a case of the something familair being something peculiar though the only comedy was the one of errors the Guru had to overcome attempting to visit here in what is actually datelined by the locals as Queens, N.Y., for part of the launch of the new Big East, which, if the conference officials wince everytime the media uses the description, could be easily in the women's games identified for the most part as the retro Big East with Saint John's hosting Seton Hall.

After all, the host Red Storm and Pirates of northern New Jersey have been longtime rivals in conference play, though St. John's coach Joe Tartamella is in the second season in charge after being an assistant to former coach Kim Barnes Arico, now at Michigan, while Tony Bozzella is well known iin the metro area as the former longtime coach of Iona in his first season succeeding Hall of Famer Anne Donovan, who went off to coach what unwittingly became the Seton Hall of the WNBA otherwise known as the Connecticut Sun.

Donovan, though, may have the last laugh in that regard in that a summer of injuries and no-shows resulted in landing the No. 1 pick of the next draft in April.

Irronically, the person associated with the last No. 1 pick in former Baylor star Brittney Griner, was here in Carnesca Arrena as the new women's basketball czarina of the conference in Amber Cox, who gave up the laid-back lifestyle of the desert as a llongtime executive of the Phoenix Mercury to head East and deal with life in the big city under new commissioner Val Ackerman, the former and founding president of the WNBA.

Cox's associates of the past should know that she speaks the newly-acquired language of the retros and collegiate competition quite fluentally and played a key role Saturday in helping the Guru's misfortunes transform into a happy ending, once again as he proved that an event in which the Guru said he would appear isn't over until he opens with the first question of the postgame press conference.

As for the game, itself, not one second of which the Guru actually witnessed, and we'll get to all that way down below, St. John's pulled away at the finish with a 72-63 victory as Briana Brown had a career-high 20 points, wihile the bench made major contributions with Danaejah Grant and Keylantra Langley each scored 16 points to give the Red Storm a 7-4 overall record.

The win was a successful followup to Sunday's dramatic last second win over Texas A&M in Madison Square Garden when Aliyah Handford scored the winning basket, was the top scorer and was subsequently named the conference player of the week.

Handford, however, was shut down Saturday, scoring justt four points, causing Tartamella to quip perhaps she had "orange juice instead of water" prior to tipoff.

He was happy to get off to a winning start in the Catholic Wars but his team must now quickly shrug it off to slip back into nonconference clothes for a trip to Delaware, Monday, where the Blue Hens are an unknown commodity for opponents trying to solve the mysteries of their success so far in the early stages of the post-Delle Donne era.

The Guru will be at that game as will photog Laurie Dougherty, who will also shoot Wednesday's New Year's Day extravaganza when NCAA runnerup Louiisville visits the Owls in the afternoon at McGonigle Hall.

In fact, it was a year ago that the superstar added to her legend of closing daggers her with a last-second shot to give Delaware another signature win.

Speaking of signatures, on Seton Hall's side, Bozzella could happily proclaim his Pirates "are better than last year," with an 8-3 record to date but still needing much to do as his words of dissapointment spoke of a lost opportunity to get a conference heavyweight in both the old and new world on its own court.

Ali Bra'Shey had 17 points for Seton Hall, while Ka-Deidre Simmons scored 14, and Sidney Cook stirred up a double double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.

"When you take 19 more shots than the other team and they double your number of turnovers (18-9), you usually win," but not so this time with a 34.2 percent effort from the field.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the PhilahoopsW contribution to the Big East in founding member Villanova took its hot start off to the Midwet in Omaha, Neb., where the presence of nearby Boys Town may or may not have been influential as the bounce off Sunday's one-point win at Temple went flat in a 65-58 loss to Creighton, which pulled away near the end.

Though the Blue Jays are new to the conference, as are Xavier and Butler, Villanova (9-2) gave a demonstration of its oldtime ability to still go cold at key moments, such as the start of the second half where an 0-for-8 draught enabled Creighton to go on an 11-0 run

An ensuing cold spell occurred again as Creighton (7-6) went on a 9-1 run for a double digit before thhe Wldcats used an 8-0 run of their own to strike back and get within four at 56-52 with less than four minutes to play.

Incidentally, Villanova overcame another Creighton at the start of the season beating Drexel, who is led by Meghan Creighton running the offense.

The Wiildcats got witiin a field goal at 58-56 with 1:18 left but a desperate three-point attempt beat the shot clock for Creighton, which went ahead by five.

In the last 27 seconds Villanova, down three, was forced to foul and Lauren Works connected on both attempts from the chairty stripe. The Wildcats then missed a trey attempt and Crieghton gave Villanova the Works at the foul line with two mmore points for what became the final score.

The sophomore Coyer sisters carrried the brunt of the Villanova attack on the offensive end with Katherine gettting a career-high 16 points while Caroline scored 10. But Creighton countered with three players in double figures.

The sister act has accounted for 53 points in the two games this past week involving Villanova.

It was the first time the Wildcats ever met a team out of Nebraska, though there are not that many to choose from in Division I led by the Cornhuskers of the Big 10, formerly with the Big 12 several years ago.

Creightion will return the Villanova visif later this season while the Wiildcats just ahead stay in the Midwest to Milwaukee and meet longtime conference rival Marquette bringing another person reunion with longtime 'Nova coach and Marquette assistant Tyler Summitt, the son of Tennessee legend and former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who struck up a working relationship prior to Villanova's magical season of 2003.

Rutgers Winning Ways Continue

Both New Jersey members of the 10-team PhilahoopsW collecton of Guru local Division I were in action Saturday.

Princeton, the dynasty bunch of the Ivy League, made more history beating a Southeastern Conference foe for the first time when the Tigers topped Alabama in the opener of Virginia's Cavalier event in Charlottesville.

Rob Knox was on the scene and his report is posted below this one.

Meanwhile, down south in Tampa, Rutgers and South Florida posed for piictures to signify the start of competition in The American, though ceremonies would be better appropriate on Sunday afternoon where newbies Temple and host Memphis meet with the Owls formerly a power in the Atlantic 10 and the Tigers likewise in Conference USA.

The Scarlet Knights and Lady Bulls were longtime combatants in the old Big East but while the Rutgers football team was playing earlier in the day against Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium, the best performance across the timeiline was by the Yankees of New Jersey making their annual invasion of the South with a 66-53 triumph for Rutgers' sixth straight victoriy in the Sun Dome.

It was the last visit to the Sun Dome in a conference setting since Rutgers (10-2) is heading to the Big 10 next season.

Betnijah Laney is in full blossom this season for Halll of Famer C. Vivian Stringer who coached Betnijah's mom Yolanda, anall-American at Cheyney out of Philadelphia's University City High.

The Younger Laney had her seventh double doubble of the season with 18 points and 13 rebounds while dealing five assists.

If this keeps up Rutgers should soon return to the rankings for the firstt time in several seasons, soft schedule not withstanding.

Rookie Tyler Scaife conntinues to impress after scoring 14 points, and Rutgers used a 21-0 run to fuel the victory. South Florida, which has had its moment in the old world in the past, is now 5-7.

The Scarlet Knights get their first taste of a new opponent on Saturday when Rutgers will trot out its arsenal to celebrate Military Appreciation Day hosting Houston.

What was new Saturday was the launch of The American's new digital network, telecasting two games, one of which was Rutgers, which the Guru viewed quite clearly on his new iPad mini riding the New Jersey Transit train back from the North.

True, there were a few connection glitches but they might be more part and parcel of going through Central New Jersey, which is always a place that can be cell-phone challenged.

Looking Ahead

The Temple game on Sunday has already been mentioned as has Princeton, which could make more history beating Virginia.

Penn State in a last nonconference meeting of the year hosts Hartford, whose coach Jen Riizzotti is a former UConn star who was inducted to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., last June.

Saint Joseph's, ranked fifth in ESPN's weekly mid-major poll, has its final nonconfeence game, other than the Big Five meeting next month against Penn, when the Hawks visit Florida Gulf Coast.

Though it was the Hawks' closeout from this point on moving forward a year ago that led to the Atlantic 10 title and automactic bid to the NCAA tournamennt, ending a long drought, Saint Joseph's is clearly NCAA bound right now, at worst as an at-large team, barring some collapse in conference play the rest of the way.

La Salle meets host Dartmouth Sunday before staying in Hanover, N.H. to meet Bnghamton on Mnday.

Meanwhile on Monday besides the already-mentioned Delaware game, Drexel will try to shake off two tough losses after holding large leads, by visiting Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., before hosting Princeton on Saturday.

The Villanova game at Marquette on New Year's Eve has already been mentioned and besides the Temple game on New Year's Day, Penn visits Miami to give senior star Alyssa Baron a homecoming visit.

On a national/regional note, Connecticut opens play in The American with a familiar foe Sunday hosting Cincinnati whose coach Jamelle Elliott is a former UConn star and longtime assistant to Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma, who returns as the Olympic coach in the new USA Basketball cycle.

Pittsburgh is hosting its annual crosstown meeting with nonconfeence rival Duquesne, Sunday, but this time Panthers new coach and Hall of Famer Suzie McConnell-Serio will befacing her former team in the Dukes.

The Guru had planned to attend but the thought of traveling on the long triip across the Keystone State in potential dicey weather conditions made him opt to stay home and go to see the Drexel men, after making an annual appearance at Dragons men's coach Bruiser Flint's home Christmas Day.

That answers, btw, the Guru's tweet about dining at a local celebratory, which now enables him to segui to the next and final segment on this post.

Guru Conquers Travel (et al. Barriers) for a Fast Finish in Vsit to St. John's

OK, for those of you still with the post this deep or those who jumped straight here to learn more, here's the deal on why things are not as glamarous as they appear to outaiders who observe Guuru world.

With all the locals way out of reach -- the Guru had considered visiting Virginia to see the Dawn Stalley statue and watch Princeton and Alabama until Rob said he would be there in any regard -- the decision was made to make what would be a simple trip to Gotham and environs to the St. John's game and also chat with Amber Cox, who was mentiioned way above in this post.

The cheapest and best way these days is public transit given cost of gas, even in New Jersey, combined with variious tolls for turnpike and bridges.

Having done the same trip several weeks ago, little hassle was expected, and that last trip happpened on Santa-Con day.

So the Guru got a little late start for the 2 p.m. tip but if he got on the 1207 NJT at the Hamilton stop between Trenton and Princeton, he wouldn't be too latte.

Problem A is the road to the garage is still closed, adding several minutes navigating the detour.

So as the Guru is on the elevator going down to the platform the train arrives but on this day lots of people getting on holds it up and the Guru decides to avoid the ticket line, give the standard speech when on board, and pay the special ratee, but it would be cash not credit.

No problem and then the fun begins.

The conductor on arrival proclaims track one has a platform shorter than the train and so the doors aren't opened until everyone in the back two cars move forward.

This was 1.25 p.m. when the minutes delays began.

Once off the train, it was a small matter of working through crowds heading for NJT traiins Southbound to get over to the subway at 34th street.

The agenda called for the E train, which goes to Union Turnpike and then it's a short bus ride near the arena door.

Well, next off the Guru in his recent previous visit didn't refill the metro carrd he carries for the number of trips he makes in NYC and so it was a wait in line to get a new card.

Then before getting on the platform aa big sign was posted saying E trains on the weekend where running blocks away on the F track line in Manhattan.

What city on one of the busiest weekends cuts off service per say at one of the busiest stops.

True, if the Guru had used one of his other apps for NYC subways on his iPad, he would have seen the notice, gotten off in Newark, N.J., (not Delaware, that Newark is on Monday), taken the Path train to lower Manhatttan and made the quick connect over there. Besides, it would be less crowded then Penn Station, not counting the out-of-towners at the end of the subway line who visit the 911 Memorial Site.

Anyhow, a study of the subway map on the wall suggested that head to the next stop on any train to 42nd, take then 7 line into Queens, and then connect with either the F or E train at Roosevelt in Jackson Heights and continue.

For you New Yorkers, yes the R line might have been another option, but the Guru hasn't looked back yet to check.

Oh yes, in the middle of all this the Guru is having seriious problems getting his cell phone charged --- a problem with the device, not the battery -- so it was at low yield when the Guru decided to take it anyway and attempt at the outlets at the press table at St. John's.

So next up while the map shows a simple connect at 42nd Street, the reality was a combined eight blocks walk underground until jumping on the 7.

It was the Guru's misfortune on the 7 to get train not having a digital alert on the route and also had a muffled PA system making it impossible hearing anything intelligible from the conductor.

But the Guru used dead reckoning until it became apparent too late that the stop at the intersect is called something else than the on the E-F line at the same point.

So there went a potential quick connect. But the Guru realized the error quick enough and was able to get off at the next stop and get on the inbound platform without paying a new fare and the train came quick enough that it wasn't much of a delay, but still more time added to the trip.

He then got the train, felt pretty good about figuring the navigation and knew could pal AP Doug would be impressed as the Guru was recently when he witnessed Doug pump gas for the first time ever when the Guru was taking him to a train on a rcent trip.

OK, the day was quite sunny and a bit warm, unilike the recent trip of freezing rain, snow and slush, and the Guru's gametracker on the iPad informs a close contest and ten minutes left.

Great. Piece of Cake. Wrong.

The following never happened to the Guru in all the years of similar arrivals late when a media credential pickup was needed.

Knowing no one would be at the far entrance that late in the game, the Guru heads to the lobby entrance and the Guru is refused entrance by security, saying game was almost over and he would not alllow entrance and said no credentials available.

Tmeout to you readers. This is a report but not a condemnation of St. John's, wiith which the Guru has a long, long, friendly history and loves everyone there from the AD level right down the line.

In any other place, though, the security has realized the situation and either allowed access or called to get permision. That is the only issue the Guru has in the exchange but the Guru respects the guy is doing his job.

But what to do now. He is not getting right back on the bus. The game still hs some time left. BTW, when he saw the Seton Hall bus he thought he could save trouble on the way back hitching to Newark.

However, Doug was actually at the game.

Anyhow, what to do? The Guru's phone is dead so he can't call SID Byrne, who he knows is busy tracking the finish and lining up post game.

So then the Guru gets a light in the brain -- maybe Byrne or Amber have iphones and thus Guru could text out of the iPad to the phone and hope either sees the note.

Bingo. Amber sees the note, they get someone in action, (told you she was the star), and the Guru is led to the room just in time for the start of the press conference.

On the way back, the Guru decided to simpify things and avoid the walk to penn station or switch of path trains necesitated if you get on at 33rd and 6th avenue.

So the Guru goes to the end of the line, jumps on the path straight to Newwark annd then gets on a train that has hundreds of Rutgers football folks heading back to New Brunswick.

So, standing room for a bit and then finally back to normalcy and now you know.

With that, the Guru returns with lots more in 24 hours.

-- Mel

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Princeton Still Claiming Milestones Wth Win Over Alabama of the SEC

By Rob Knox

The Princeton University women’s basketball team has higher goals than just reaching the NCAA tournament or winning the Ivy League for the fifth straight year. Don’t get it twisted, those accomplishments are awesome, it’s just the Tigers won’t be satisfied with playing one game this year in the tournament.

That’s why experiences like Saturday’s surprisingly easy 79-59 victory over the University of Alabama in the opening round of the Cavalier Classic hosted by the University of the Virginia was another step in the right direction for a program accustomed to success.

The Tigers (8-4 overall) got an opportunity to flex their collective muscles against a program from the Southeastern Conference, which is something the Tigers have been looking forward to since losing to Oregon on Dec. 1.

Princeton will get another chance to compete against a school from a Big 6 conference when it meets Virginia, a 70-45 winner over Coppin State, in the Cavalier Classic championship Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Alabama will battle Coppin State in the consolation contest starting at noon.

Virginia has won its own tournament nine straight times.

In extending its winning streak to a season-high five games, Princeton was as sharp as neatly pressed suit, finishing with 22 assists on its 29 baskets.

Offensively, Princeton was led by its junior dynamic duo of Kristen Helmstetter and Blake Dietrick.

Helmstetter had another outstanding effort with a game-high 21 points, 10 rebounds and tying her career high with seven assists. It was Helmstetter’s third double-double this season.

Dietrick added 17 points and six assists for the Tigers, who outscored Alabama, 44-29, in the second half. Vanessa Smith had 10 rebounds for Princeton, which decisively won the battle of the boards, 54-35.

“If Kristen had her way, she would rather pass the ball every time,” Dietrick said. “She’s a pass first player and it doesn’t look that way with her statistics.

"She understands that she has to score, but if she didn’t need to, she would rather get 100 million assists and very few points.We love to compete against big teams, big names these are the games you live for and we love to compete. It’s a great win for us.”

Princeton really did the job defensively.

The Tigers knew they were facing a challenge in containing Alabama junior Daisha Simmons, the reigning SEC Player of the Week who was coming into the game off a 37-point performance in her last outing.

Simmons never got untracked as she was held scoreless in the opening half. Alabama’s leading scorer was Ashley Williams, who scored 21 points.

Helmstetter was familiar with Simmons’ ability entering the game because they played against each other in high school.

“We were able to execute our game plan, which was to go under screens of their non 3-point shooters and over on 3-point shooters,” Dietrick said. “I think we defended (Simmons) pretty well as a team. Our goal was to make it a five-on-five game because Alabama is a good one-v-one playmaking team. We were ready with help defense and our rotations were good.”

The Tigers are getting strong at the right time as conference play looms with the traditional opener against travel partner Penn on January 11 at The Palestra on the Quakers' campus.

. The Tigers lost three out of four games to Saint Joseph’s, Georgetown and Oregon that left them with a 3-4 record. Outside of an overtime win against Delaware, the Tigers have rolled over their last few opponents, winning by double digits.

“It was a matter of time,” Helmstetter said. “We’re good and we have a lot of good players. We’re young and we have a lot of talent offensively. We are working hard each day in practice and we are beginning to get better as a team.”

Princeton trailed 17-12 seven minutes into the game before eventually gaining control.

The Tigers took the lead for good, 31-30, following a Dietrick layup with 1:42 remaining in the first half. Overall, Princeton used a 21-2 run that bridged the first and second halves to open a 51-32 advantage with 12:54 remaining.

During Princeton’s burst, Alabama was 1-for-9 from the field. Simmons scored her first basket with 17:31 remaining.

“This was a big game for us,” Helmstetter said. “Coach (Courtney Banghardt) said it was a neutral court and one of us had to make it our home court. We went out and played hard with a lot of energy. We expect the most from ourselves everyday. We’re starting to click and get into our groove. That’s kind of exciting and I think that will push through.”

In the second game:

Virginia 70, Coppin State 45

The host Cavaliers placed three players in double figures led by guard Tiffany Suarez’s 16 points. Sarah Imovbioh added 13 points and Ataira Franklin contributed 12 points and eight rebounds for the Cavs, who used a 14-0 run late in the first half to reverse a 17-14 deficit and take control of the contest. Virginia (6-6) has won two straight games.

In dropping its third straight game, Coppin State (4-7) got 16 points from Kyra Coleman, who has 984 career points, and 14 points from Larrisa Carter. The Eagles shot 20 percent (6-for-30) after intermission.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Best Conference Race Ever Looms Ahead

By Mike Siroky

As 2013 closes, one thing is sure in women’s college basketball: The mighty Southeastern Conference will chew up some teams and reward others.
So here’s our best guess preview.

We have said all along Kentucky is the best team here. One loss to a higher-ranked team does not discount that. In fact, it gives them something to work on.

But it is Tennessee who is the defending regular-season champ. That’s a
”Yeah, But” thing. Someone else wins, yeah, but it’s because Tennessee stumbled in this or that game.

Here’s what Lady Vol coach Holly Warlick has said about the conference, definitely old school:

“It’s a challenge for us. Everyone was gunning for us last year. We haven't talked about rankings but we talk about how hard we work and what goals we have. Our goal is to win the SEC Championship and to compete for the national championship.

“We talk about that and put it out there. We don't shy away from it. That's our platform on how we recruit as well ."

Tennessee needs to get back to another tradition, like making the Final Four.

The past two graduating classes are the first not to make at least one Final Four in their time at Tennessee.

“I think this is one of the most talented teams we've had in a while. I think we have pieces in place that could be special,” said Warlick. “For us, it's a matter of staying healthy, staying focused, and playing together.

“This summer, I asked our players to stay in summer school because I thought it was important for us to bond. Our leadership was not as good as if needed to be. You see a result of a team that's very close-knitted and very together. I think we have the results we were looking for.”

She now has the one season as the real head coach, after the transition season of basicallly running the team in Pat Summitt’s farewelll tour. She naturally altered the staff to fit her own configuaraton.

“I think the importance of using our staff was key for me last year,” she said.
“I used to always think more was better and now I listen to our players who listen to their bodies. Quality practices are better than quantity. I don't have to coach with a lot of effort during our practices because of the energy and the work ethic. You can get where you want to go with the help of your team and being on the same page.

“Last year, I didn't think I had to prove myself but it was different for my players and for me. Every game I got more comfortable. It wasn't a difficult transition.”

Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell echoes the thought, conference comes first.

“I haven’t seen any teams play at a championship level that have been poor defensive teams,” he said. “All the successful coaches I have studied under made defense a big priority.

“That team that knocked us out of the tournament and won the National Championship (UConn), is a very good defensive team.”

He said he has never seen any example of a team poor on defense winning anything meaningful.

Georgia’s Andy Landers has a swell start to a 20-win season, at 11-1. He is already the coach with the most SEC seasons. This year, he will become the SEC coach with the most NCAA tournaments. His detractors can’t ever take that away from him.

Still, once the grind of the SEC comes into play it is doubtful a team dominated by four rookies and five sophomores can maintain.

So let’s say either LSU and South Carolina are the third-best team in the league. LSU and A&M each host a sub-Regional, so seem destined for the Sweet 16 without much challenge.

Having set that standard, let’s say at least six will be in the Sweet 16 and three of them can win Regionals. Though one of them has to go to Stanford to do it.

The Regional no one else will win is the once that gets UConn.

And, automatically, the SEC will be one of those conferences with two teams in at least one Sweet 16. The only other time Notre Dame hosted the least-attended Regional ever, three of the teams were Ole Miss, UT and Georgia, with Georgia winning its first Finals berth.

It says here Geno might even enjoy going to the Notre Dame Regional in this final year of on-campus (and therefore home team) sites. UConn has a sub-Regional walk of death for two opponents. Even Muffett McGraw of Notre Dame questions the integrity of allowing women’s teams to have such a Regional advantage.

The SEC top pick wants to play at Louisville, even if the now-damaged Cardinals are there, too.

Obviously UK would love to win the sub-Regional at home then stay in-state with a trip to the Final Four in Nashville on the line.

UT, after a Regional road trip (they go to either Notre Dame or Lincoln, Neb.) would come back to their home state for the finals as well.

On one amazing Saturday, three of the ranked SEC teams lost. The last of the undefeateds lost to a higher-ranked opponenet on the following day.

Our loyal critics don’t like to read this, but the SEC, top to bottom, is the toughest league in the country.

In the two months of league play, we mark the SEC Fab Five (those ranked in the AP poll). 51-7 against the world.

The next best four league teams (which does not even include Texas A&M at this point) are 45-5 against the world. These are the nine teams likely to be in the NCAA field, more than any other conference will have, and all are at lest halfway to that 20-win season marker.

As they unwrap presents this week, here’s how the Fab Five underperformed:

•Kentucky: The Wildcats were No. 5 in America when they lost by eight at home to the No. 2 team, Duke.

They only fell one spot.

The Blue Devils may be that team which is better than anyone else but UConn.

Tennessee used to play that role in the early days of the elite teams like Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech. They will be a formidable Regional foe in the NCAAs and likely the top seed at Louisville.

For a team which prides itself on preparation and defense, the Lady ‘Cats showed little of both as they simply could not control Duke All-America
Tricia Liston.

The senior guard just mostly used her height and quickness to score easy layups no matter who was on her.

She scored a season-high 28.

The game had been moved to Rupp Arena to allow a larger crowd and 23,706 showed up, the largest crowd to see a women's game in Kentucky as well as the largest Duke has ever encountered.

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie is one of the classiest in the game. She knows her history of the game, which is one reason she jumped from a Final Four team at Michigan State to a better opportunity in the ACC several seasons ago.

“It was a great crowd, super crowd for women’s basketball,” she said.
“I think that’s really important. We were thrilled to be here. I was really proud of our team’s poise and composure. I thought we had tremendous adversity with the foul trouble, too many people with four fouls.

“Wow, we had some serious foul trouble, but we continued to persevere as a team. I thought Tricia’s leadership was incredible. She is a very, very smart basketball player with a lot of experience. She was huge for us in terms of gluing it together.

“ We’ve played a great schedule in 2013. We have a lot more of that coming after Christmas. This was good for us, gives us a chance to grow a little bit.”

The 6-foot-1 Liston thrived on mismatches and was 10-of-19 from the field, including two 3s, finishing a point short of a career best. Duke's 6-3 center, Elizabeth Williams, was 6-of-10 with 17 points and eight rebounds.

The Blue Devils (12-1) stifled Kentucky (11-1) around the basket, limiting the home team to 25-of-75 shooting (33 percent) and 3-of-15 on 3s. Kentucky perhaps showed the most shakiness from the line, a season-worst 8-of-19.

Janee Thompson had 12 second-half points to lead Kentucky and helped cut the difference to 59-55 with 6:07 remaining.

Liston answered with consecutive layups to stretch Duke's lead back to eight and provide a safe cushion as the Blue Devils won their second in a row after the blowout loss to UConn.

"We just stayed more focused on what we needed to do, taking care of the ball and getting stops on defense, rather than worrying about it getting too tight," Liston said. "We needed to make sure not to get involved with the crowd and everything else that was going on. We did a really good job of staying poised and staying with our game plan."

UK coach Mitchell pulled no punches.

"They outworked us today and I think that's what happens in games with two really good teams going at it," Mitchell said. "They were just a team that worked harder. Not that our team didn't work hard, I just think Duke worked harder. You give them credit. They did a nice job."

The game began in a charged atmosphere with the Wildcats playing before a crowd four times their season average at nearby Memorial Coliseum.

Duke entered its third game in a week after blowing out Albany on Thursday.

There have been few easy opponents for the Blue Devils, particularly this month with Kentucky representing their fourth ranked foe in five games.

With size advantages at many positions including Williams having a two-inch edge over anyone guarding her, Duke simply exploited it on both ends.

Frequent layups helped the Blue Devils shoot 14-of-29 from the field including seven straight baskets during one stretch.

Again, Mitchell kept the harshest observations of his own team’s lack of transition defense.

“I thought it was poor,” he said.

“I thought that we didn't communicate well. That is the coach's fault. That's a direct result of practice and what they're doing in practice.

“So we'll take the blame for that one. We didn't have our players in good position to transition defense. Again, Duke outworked us there. Just ran by us a few times.

“So as a coach you need to have your team prepared much better than we were prepared today, so I feel bad for our players that I didn't have them any better prepared.”

"One thing that we talked about was being able to control the tempo this game, knowing they were a pressing team," Williams said. "We were aware of their pressure and overall we did a pretty good job."

Duke's length also made it difficult for Kentucky to pass and shoot against the zone. The Wildcats began 0-for-5 en route to 10 of 35 for the half, often finding hands in front of them as they struggled to work the ball inside and around the perimeter, keeping them from spotting up from long range

UK is still without senior team leader and leading scorer among the starters, DeNesha Stallworth, expected to miss at least another week while recovering from cleanup arthroscopic knee surgery.

Mitchell would not take the bait on a homer question about missing her.

“You can talk about that all you want to. It's not anything,” he said. “We won't know unless we play them again and DeNesha is in the game. So it's just not valuable in my mind to talk about it.

“It was Duke's players versus our players, and we did not get the job done.

The next team for the UK meat grinder is Grambling before a relatively light SEC opening at Alabama and home for Florida.

•Tennessee: It used to be UT played the toughest non-conference schedule. This year, only the second ranked team on their schedule was at Stanford.

That showed up when the then-No. 6 Cardinal (they moved to No. 4) pushed out to a halftime lead at home and held on to give UT (10-1) its only loss so far, 76-70.

At 13-0 run early basically won it for Stanford, ahead by seven at the break and outscored by a basket in the second half.

The Lady Vols have lost 13 straight road games against Top 10 teams dating back to 2008. Yet they remain No. 5 in America.

Tara VanDerveer had one simple message for her players before facing Tennessee: "If we rebound, we win."

Chiney Ogwumike and Co. answered that challenge. Ogwumike had 32 points, a season-best 20 rebounds -- 11 offensive -- and three blocks.

It is Ogwumike’s fourth game with 30 points or better already this season. She had 18 points and 11 rebounds at the break.

For the only time all season, Tennessee was outrebounded, 24-19 at the half, 43-40 for the game. They had been winning the backboards by 16 per game.
"I have a great support system," Ogwumike said. "It's just being aggressive. It's those little things."

Freshman Lili Thompson finished with a season-best 14 points. Taylor Greenfield hit a trio of 3-pointers in the first half on the way to 11 points off the bench.

"This game really boiled down to we had Chiney," VanDerveer said. "Chiney had a monster game. She's a warrior for us."

At the very end, Amber Orrange scored on a left-handed layin and was fouled with 25.8 seconds left. She hit the free throw, helping seal the deal. Stanford (10-1) has its first three-game winning streak in the rivalry between perennial national powers.

"We were playing some very young players," VanDerveer said. "I thought they did a really good job, handled the ball and worked hard."

Andraya Carter's baseline 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining cut the Cardinal's lead to 70-68 but Stanford kept possession with 36 seconds to go on a jump ball in a big break, and Orrange came through.

Ariel Massengale scored 17 and Meighan Simmons 15 to lead the Lady Vols (10-1). Stanford forced them into 35.8 percent from the floor.

After Bashaara Graves scored to cut the Cardinal's lead to 38-33 with 18:10 remaining.

Graves, Tennessee’s most athletic player was toast on defending Ogwumike.
Ogwumike drove the lane for easy layins, converted putbacks or simply out-jumped Tennessee to catch high lob passes into the paint before pivoting around to score.

“Everything I tried to do, I tried to box her out, it just didn’t work,” Graves said. “There's no way she should have had that many offensive rebounds.”

"I thought we got good looks," UT coach Warlick said. "You've got to make free throws, layups and free throws. If you don't make those you're not going to win games. At crucial times we didn't make free throws, and at crucial times we gave up the 3-point shot. Little things for us got magnified today."

Warlick, now firmly in charge of all areas of the program, has said they will not interrupt the SEC season any more once they play Notre Dame in the final game of a contract in January.

The next-to-last non-conference game is in state at Lipscomb. The Bisons have already been pounded by UK and Georgia. This will be more of the same.

Then the Lady Vols open the SEC with two ranked opponents, vs. LSU and at Georgia.

•South Carolina: The Gamecocks celebrated their arrival in the Top 10 by topping Winthrop, 69-61, then South Carolina State, 70-26. Then they fell to No. 13.

Tiffany Mitchell led the Winthrop game, with 20 points. 4 3s and 7-of-9 overall from the field. On one of the 3s, she was fouled and made the free throw for a four-point play.

"She would want to take those shots and more if it was up to her," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said.

Her biggest basket came after Winthrop cut a 19-point lead down to 61-57 in the final four minutes. A jumper pushed the lead back to eight and Winthrop was out of comebacks.

"I think (Staley) is most comfortable, when we need big shots, to put the ball in my hands," said Mitchell, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard. "Not necessarily to have me shooting the ball, but to get people open as well."

Mitchell said the other go-to player is senior Aleighsa Welch, who added 14 points.

The Gamecocks started strong,14-0.

"I actually think we relaxed a little bit on them and they came and slapped us in the face," Tiffany Davis said. "Kind of unexpected."

Winthrop forced the Gamecocks into a season-high 20 turnovers.

Against State, SC scored enough in either half to still win by double-digits.

The Lady Bulldogs (1-8) didn't have many answers for the faster, taller, stronger Gamecocks (11-1). Freshman Alaina Coates had her best effort, 23 points on perfect shooting (7-of-7 from the field, 9-of-9 from the free throw line) as South Carolina eventually built a 52-point lead against a conference championship team which went 20-9 last season.

Staley was naturally happy to see Coates put a full game together.

"I guess she straightened some things out," Staley said. "She's in control of the effort she puts out on the floor. Alaina just has to understand the talent and ability that she has."

Coates realized as the second half wore on she hadn't missed, but said that gave her more confidence to continue her run.

"It felt good out there," she said.

Coates finished with five rebounds and three of the team's five blocked shots. The Gamecocks went on a 19-0 run in the first half and a 24-2 run to start the second.

"I think we're in a good place right now heading into the hardest part of the year," Welch said.

South Carolina State was held to under 25 percent shooting (12 of 49), which included a 2-of-19 on 3s. Leading scorer Kourtney Williams, averaging18.8 points coming, scored six on 3-of-14 from the field.

The Gamecocks played without starting point guard Khadijah Sessions, who injured her left ankle in the North Carolina loss. Sessions was on crutches on the bench. SC has Savannah left in the year then has a relatively soft SEC opening at still-unbeaten Arkansas and at Vanderbilt.

•Georgia: The No. 19 Lady ’Dawgs found out legendary Rutgers leader C. Vivian Stringer can still coach ‘em up for at least one night. They slipped three spots in the poll.

The Scarlet Knights blew most of a lead before hanging on when the final 3 clanked off the rim, 61-58.

"We needed to have our confidence as this is a young group," Stringer said. "This is a major game to find out how well we're going to play at that level."

Rutgers (9-2) lost its only other game against a ranked SEC opponent this season, falling to LSU. The Scarlet Knights also had added incentive after losing at Georgia last year.

The Scarlet Knights scored six straight to make it 51-46 with 5 minutes left, then 59-52 with 21 seconds to go.

Shacobia Barbee hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game. After a missed free throw Barbee did it again, and it was 59-58 with seven seconds left. Two free throws later, it was up to Khaalidah Miller's try for a 3 from 35-feet at the buzzer. It hit the front of the rim.

Barbee finished with a season-high 18 -- 17 of them in the second half -- to lead 11-1 Georgia.

The 24 turnovers forced by Rutgers was the difference. The Lady ‘Dawgs turned it over on their first six possessions. They didn't score for nearly 6 minutes.

“We weren't executing and something we learned was that we need to take care of the ball every possession," Barbee said.

This was only the second trip out of the state of Georgia for the Lady Bulldogs, who played at Belmont earlier this month.

"I'm proud of the fact that we didn't fold," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "They handed it to us the first five or six minutes and we got our balance and fought back. From that point on really played pretty decent."

"As everyone knows the SEC is a tough league," Miller said. "We knew it would be a really good game against a really good team and it's what we'll see in the SEC as well."

Georgia plays Illinois to close the year before starting the SEC with the Tennessee two-step, at Vanderbilt and then Tennessee at home.

•LSU: The 16th-ranked Tigers had the seven-game win streak mangled on the road by unranked North Carolina State, 89-79. They fell four places in the poll.

State (11-1) won both halves. Markeisha Gatling and Kody Burke each scored 25. Gatling hit 11-of-13 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds.

Burke drilled three straight jumpers to help NC State to a 12-6 lead to start the game, but the Lady Tigers clawed their way back in, taking a lead on a Theresa Plaisance 3 with 9:44 left.

Gatling's layup with 8:01 left sparked an 11-1 run that put the Wolfpack back in the lead for good.

Plaisance finished with 18 points off the bench to lead LSU (9-2). Jeanne Kenney added 17 points. Freshman Rina Hill had her best showing with 15, 7-of-8 from the floor.

“We did not have our best night defensively,” said LSU coach Nikki Caldwell. “Gatling and Burke really exploited us and were dominant in the paint. We had an opportunity to cut into the lead but we kept swapping baskets. We had to get stops. We couldn’t get anything working in our favor defensively.

“We have to be better defensively. “We can’t go on the road and give up that many points because of our lack of intensity. We are going to take ownership of it. We are going to have to dial up our intensity in defensive drills.”

LSU has Jackson State left to close the year before the SEC opens for them at Tennessee on Jan. 2.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cal's Brittany Boyd Made 2013 Full of Memorable Moments for Golden Bears and Herself

By Rob Knox

Not many people enjoyed a better year than California junior guard Brittany Boyd.

She got an opportunity to share her basketball gifts with the world from the comforts of home while simultaneously helping lift the 21st-ranked California women’s program into the national spotlight.

In the past 12 months, Boyd helped Cal end Stanford’s 81-game conference winning streak by scoring 19 points, advance to its first Final Four in school history, earned all Pac-12 team honors and made two trips across the country to Washington, D.C. and New York City. Not bad for somebody, who at one point thought about playing college basketball on the East Coast.

The Berkeley native and her teammates got a chance to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and other attractions in the nation’s capital last month. Then, the Golden Bears, who got into town late Friday night because of final exams, experienced the city that never sleeps by visiting the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, seeing the Christmas Musical spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, meeting rapper 50 Cent, shopping in Times Square and eating some great food.

For Boyd, the best moment may have been taking a picture while wearing pink headphones with a Cappie Pondexter lifesize poster at Madison Square Garden.

Pondexter, the former Rutgers all-American and WNBA All-Star who plays for the New York Liberty, is Boyd’s favorite basketball player.

Boyd’s hoop dreams have become reality.

“I never imagined in a million years that I’d be playing in Madison Square Garden or in the Final Four,” Boyd said. “It was a blessing to play here and to support Maggie Dixon. It was a good feeling and come to New York around the Christmas holidays. To be able to spend this time with my team was truly amazing, so I am really thankful for the experience.”

Not even a tough performance in her Madison Square Garden debut against top-ranked Connecticut during an 80-47 loss Sunday afternoon in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic was enough to wipe the smile off of the face of the affable Boyd, who finished with nine points. Just having the opportunity to play in the same arena as her favorite basketball player against the reigning national champions was an experience to cherish.

Boyd, who perfectly blends California cool with East Coast grit and toughness, should have future opportunities to enjoy better performances on Broadway if she is fortunate enough to reach the WNBA as her game continues to evolve.

As she exited Madison Square Garden Sunday and headed out into an unusually warm New York December afternoon wearing a pair of gray sweatpants, a gray and gold Cal basketball hoodie and black flip flops, Boyd must have felt like she was back home in Berkeley instead of in the shadow of the Empire State Building. She signed basketballs, photos and game programs for a gaggle of excited girls and then hugged family members and supporters. Boyd then crossed 33rd street as the Cal team bus headed for the airport with friends to enjoy some more time in Gotham.

For the Berkley born and bred Boyd, there truly isn’t any place in the world like home.

A satisfying package of electricity, excitement and elusiveness, Boyd is delighted that she made the decision to attend Cal with its beautiful Berkeley campus. She has her own cheering section at Haas Pavilion and No. 15 jerseys are as common in Northern California as fog and traffic. Fans, teammates and supporters of women’s basketball are thrilled Boyd took her talents across town.

Although Boyd is still dynamic and capable of breaking ankles at any given moment, she has tempered those parts of her game this season while adjusting to the new challenge of leading a young and talented team. She is still one of the nation’s best players as evidenced by her season averages of 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the 7-3 Golden Bears.

During last year’s run to the Final Four, Boyd didn’t have a worry in the world. She had the luxury of thrilling crowds while playing alongside Laysia Claredon, who did it all for the Golden Bears and was drafted by the Indiana Fever.

“This year has been a challenge for me to be that leader on the floor,” Boyd said. “It’s been two things this year. I have to produce on the floor and communicate to my team. Last year, it wasn’t so much of that because I had Laysia by my side and she was the talker and produced. All I had to do was come to play and give 110 percent. Now the roles are switched where I am that person. I knew coming into the season, that there were going to be some big shoes to fill. I believe I am capable of feeling those shoes. Right now, things haven’t been going in my favor, but I’m not doubting myself.”

Boyd is probably being a little hard on herself because she expects perfection each time she sleeps, practices, watches film, lifts weights, andshoots in the gym by herself and during games.

That intensity is contagious and it has rubbed off on her Cal teammates, who have followed Boyd’s lead.

Her hard work and dedication to her craft has helped Boyd become a household name and one of the most exciting players in the country. She is must-watch television whenever Cal is on the tube.

While Boyd’s pleasant personality endears herself to people, it’s her refreshing honesty and willingness to accept responsibility when things go wrong that have made her a special individual.

As an example, Boyd responded after being held scoreless for the first time in her career against Northwestern on Nov. 25.

Since that game Boyd has been on fire for the Golden Bears. She bounced back by posting near-double-doubles against Idaho (15 points,8 rebounds and 8 assists) and Pacific (16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals) along with a 12-assist outing against Bakersfield.

Though she did plenty of good things against the Huskies like collect six steals, Boyd took accountability and promised to be better following her 3-for-23 shooting performance by saying: “I have to be better than that.” Boyd fearlessly attacked the basket and showed no fear of consistently driving the ball into Connecticut’s tall front line. Shots Boyd normally makes in her sleep rolled off the rim or spun out of the basket.

“She’s a pleasure to coach and have around,” Cal coach Lindsey Gotleib said. “The kid is dynamic. She’s continuing to get better and learn. She’s fun to be around and fun to watch, which is good for women’s basketball. This year, she’s taken on a major leadership role. Even though she started on a Final 4 team, she has had to think about everything that goes into leading a team this year. Even though the numbers don’t show it, I think her shot is better.”

Boyd is quickly establishing her legacy at Cal. Already with 900 career points, Boyd is seventh in program history with 379 assists and sixth with 213 steals. During last year’s NCAA tournament experience, Boyd was at her best by averaging 13.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists, She grabbed a career high 13 rebounds in Cal’s first round game against Fresno State.

Although Boyd had visions of playing college basketball on the East Coast coming out of high school, she still accomplished her goal of shining on the opposite coast.

It’s funny how things have a way of working out. Boyd is not a messiah or anything like that, but she has enjoyed showcasing Cal to the masses east of the Mississippi River used to consistently watching, reading and talking about the likes of Notre Dame, Tennessee, UConn and Duke.

Thanks to Boyd’s electric style of play, Cal women’s basketball is part of the discussion.

“I am honored to be here at Cal playing,” Boyd said. “It’s been cool to bring west coast basketball to the east coast and get people here familiar with our program. This year has been fun because we’ve gotten a chance to play different teams and share many great experiences, especially being able to play here in Madison Square Garden where legends have played.”

Even with a bright future and potentially more magical moments ahead of her, Boyd may not be all the excited to see the calendar turn to 2014 next week. Fortunately thanks to social media, Boyd has many of the highlights from this year saved on her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

“My experience in the Final 4 was my best memory of 2013,” Boyd said. “That whole season last year with that team was so amazing. We had fun and stayed humbled during the entire ride. I feel like at times when I think about everything that happened this year; that it’s too good to be true. This year has been a blessing and I don’t take anything for granted.”

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Handford's Exploits Give St. John's Landmark Triumph

By Rob Knox

Like much of the afternoon -- for that matter, the entire season -- the ball found the hands of St. John’s sophomore guard Aliyyah Handford during the final five seconds of a tied game against 24th-ranked Texas A&M.

Handford took a pass from senior Eugeneia McPherson and took two steps to her right and then raced down the lane for a layup with 2.8 seconds remaining that proved to be the difference as the Red Storm edged the Aggies, 72-70, in a thrilling opening game of the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon. In the second game, top-ranked Connecticut crunched California, 80-47.

Her heroics additionally resulted in Handford being named Big East player of the week on Monday.

The Aggies had an opportunity to send the game into overtime, but the final shot bounced off the backboard and fell to the floor. In a game with more late drama than an episode of “Scandal”, Handford’s basket ended a wild final 45 seconds that featured a pair of ties at 68 and 70. With the win, St. John’s (6-4 overall) ended a three-game losing streak, defeated a SEC school for the first time since beating Kentucky, 74-64, in 1991 and improved its all-time record at MSG to 7-3 overall. It was also the first win for St. John’s in the Maggie Dixon Classic in three tries.

“We worked together as a team at the end of the game,” Handford said of the decisive basket. “Eugeneia did a great job handling the ball and running the clock down. We saw a play that we felt that would work. We tried it and it turned out good for us. We played as a team and once we stopped what they wanted to do, we played aggressively.”

Handford, a 5 foot, 9 inch guard, electrified the Garden with a special 27-point performance that has become the norm during a memorable sophomore season. For Handford this was certainly a Broadway-worth effort that left fans begging for a curtain call. Weaving her slim, athletic and strong frame through the Aggie defense for tough layups, Handford was 11-for-18 from the field. Handford took scoring chores into her hands early and often as she hit for eight of St. John’s first 10 points of the contest to help the Red Storm erase a quick 7-2 deficit.

Ultimately, Handford scored 18 of her points in the opening 20 minutes to help the Red Storm grab a 33-30 halftime lead. It was the fifth time this season Handford finished with at least 20 or more points and eighth time with at least 18 points.

“It feels good to get this win,” Handford said. “It’s a big win against a ranked team and we feel good about it. We just want to build off of this performance, keep growing as a team and get better with each game we play.”

Handford had plenty of help from McPherson, who playing in her third game this year, scored 14 points and registered a career-high seven assists. Twelve of those points were scored in the second half including a big 3-pointer that gave St. John’s a 64-60 advantage with 2:32 remaining as the shot clock buzzer sounded.

Texas A&M was led in scoring by Karla Gilbert’s 15 points. Courtney Williams battled foul trouble to finish with 14 points. Tori Scott also enjoyed an impactful performance for the Aggies with nine points and four steals.

After averaging 9.2 points last year as a freshman and being selected to the Big East All-Freshman team while learning the ropes from a senior-laden team that qualified for the NCAA tournament, Handford knew that she would be counted on entering this year for many things from scoring to leadership. She’s off to a terrific start as she’s an early candidate for the Big East Player of the Year award. Handford is developing into one of the elite guards in America. The scary part is she’s just getting warmed up.

This season, the 20.9 point per game scoring and 7.5 rebound per game average through 10 games has been a pleasant surprise for Handford, who is on pace to break Sue Bretthauer’s 38-year St. John’s school record of most points (510) scored by a sophomore. Handford has 209 points through 10 games. While that is a potentially sweet accomplishment, Handford is more pleased with the other facets of her game that have improved.

“I didn’t expect to score like this,” Handford said. “I am driving to the basket, being more aggressive and smarter this year. I am not doing things that would take me out the game and get me frustrated. This season, I have stayed focused and just continued to play through everything. Also, I have focused on helping my teammates out more.”

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Guru's College Report: UConn's Stewart Towers Over Cal in Maggie Dixon Classic

Guru note: Rob Knox over the next 24 hours will be filling features on St. John's Aliyyah Handford and Cal's Brittany Boyd.

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK -- In a city well known for its tall buildings that scrape the sky, Connecticut sophomore Breanna Stewart continued to establish herself Sunday afternoon as one of the all-time edifices in the women's game.

Stewart, only the second freshman named as the Most Outstanding Player of the Women's Final Four in April when UConn claimed its record-tying eighth NCAA title, scored early and often against No. 21 California and finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds as the unbeaten and top-ranked Huskies rolled to an 80-47 triumph in the second game of the annual Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden.

In the opener, local favorite St. John's, which has struggled this season, grabbed an impressive 72-70 victory over Texas A&M as Aliyyah Handford made the winning shot with two seconds left and collected 27 points to improve the Red Storm record to 6-4.

Eugeneia McPherson also scored in double figures with 14 points,

The Aggies (7-4), who had been ranked early in the season, got 15 points from Karla Gilbert and 13 from Courtney Williams,

But Stewart, as she was during the entire March Madness run last spring, was the story of the day after following up Tuesday night's performance when she scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in UConn's domination of No. 2 Duke 83-61 in Durham, N.C.

Coincidentally the same event earned Stewart and Handford separate player of the week honors on Monday from The American and Big East conferences.

As for the game details against Cal (7-3), which reached its first Women's Final Four last season, the Bears stayed with the Huskies for 10 minutes and then the separation began.

"I thought the first game at The Garden was a lot of fun," said Stewart, participating in UConn's fourth appearance here -- all victories.

"Obviously, the first five-ten minutes were pretty ugly as a team, but once we settled down it made that lot of fun for our team," Stewart said.

"I was trying to be more aggressive to help get the team going, help get some points on the board and eventually the rest of the team followed," she added.

"These are the games you really look forward to playing. Duke and Cal are tough teams and especially when you are playing at The Garden; it's something you don't do very often. If you can't get up for this game, that's a problem," Stewart continued.

"It didn't feel that different, the court is still the same basketball game. Obviously, we're playing at Madison Square Garden, but our fans that were here really helped to make the atmosphere feel just like Gampel," she said of the Huskies' Gampel Pavilion Arena in Storrs, near Hartford.

The crowd was 5,468 for the event named for the late Army coach Maggie Dixon, who died suddenly from a heart problem in March 2006 just several weeks when as a rookie coach the former DePaul assistant had guided the Black Knights to their first Patriot League title and appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Her brother Jamie, who coaches the Pittsburgh men, was here as were several other family members.

The crowd also included former Huskies star guard Caroline Doty, the Germantown Academy graduate from Doylestown, north of Philadelphia, who graduated after last season and now works for Nike in Portland, Ore., but was home over the holidays and came with members of her family.

Morgan Tuck, recently returned from surgery, had 12 points in the Huskies' attack, while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, also recently returned in the Duke game, had 10 points while Stefanie Dolson grabbed 11 rebounds.

No one on the Bears got into double figures as star Brittany Boyd and Hind Ben Abdelkader came the closest with nine points each.

The statistical comparisons in the latest demolition by the Huskies showed 40-28 in the paint, 17-9 in points off turnovers, 10-0 in second chance points, and 27-14 in terms of output from both teams' reserves.

A special highlight happened near the end of the game when Huskies walk-on Tierney Lawlor nailed a three-pointer with 18 seconds left.

A year ago this time Stewart, who hails from upstate in Syracuse, was struggling after arriving at UConn as another in a long list of newcomers who had been the national high school player of the year.

She then blossomed once the lights went on with the NCAA tournament under way.

"Being consistent is one of the things I want to focus this year," Stewart said. "I''m more confident on the court, smarter on the court and really working harder in practice and I think it's paying off in the end."

Considering that six former Connecticut superstars who perform in the WNBA played on their Hall of Fame collegiate coach Geno Auriemma's gold-medal Olympic squad in the London Games in August, 2012, the Huskies mentor made a remarkable comparison in praising Stewart.

"We've never had someone like Breanna Stewart and we've had some of the greatest players to play college basketball," Auriemma said. "Maya Moore was unique. And (Diana) Taurasi was unique. We've had an incredible amount of great players but I don't think we've had anybody ...

"She makes it an impossible matchup for any body, unless you have a 6-4 big kid you can put on her for 40 minutes, you can't stop her from scoring because any big kid is just too big and a guard, she just shoots right over you," Auriemma said.

"We've talked about getting her 20 shots every game -- I've never done that with any other player. That's one she has to get better at -- finding shots. The ball usually finds great players. They always seem to be around the basketball.

"With Stewie, we've sometimes have had to orchestrate things around her to make sure she gets enough shots like we did toward the end of the half."

From the other side, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said, "We have a pretty darn good player in our back yard in (Stanford's) Chiney Ogwumike, but there's nothing Breanna Stewart can't do and I think every team in the WNBA would take her first if she was coming out this year.

"I'm always impressed with how easy she makes it look effortless and her skill set at that size -- if you see it up close it's even more impressive. To do that as a sophomore in college and do that on a big stage as a basketball person you can't take those kind of performances for granted because you don't see them that often," Gottlieb said.

"She played like the superstar college basketball all-American that she is and we're lucky to have someone at that talent level."

Meanwhile, other than Baylor, UConn is done with its non-conference slate and next Sunday opens its first run in the new American Conference hosting Cincinnati and former assistant Jamelle Elliott whom the Huskies played in the old Big East.

Temple visits January 11th in Bridgeport, Conn., aa first in terms of regular season play as a home site in the Webster Bank Arena. UConn returns the Owls' visit January 28th.

-- Mel

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Guru's College Game: Penn Tunes Out Drexel On Baron's Shot

Guru’s note: A roundup of everything else in PhilahoopsW land is directly under this post.

By Mel Greenberg

On a day when her uncle Jeff belted out a stirring operatic rendition of the national anthem at The Palestra, Penn senior Alyssa Baron and the Quakers finished on an equally impressive high note Saturday afternoon when she scored the winning basket with 2.6 seconds left in regulation for a 46-44 triumph over neighborhood rival Drexel.

When Penn (5-2) goes into dramatics, the performance isn’t over till Baron takes the last shot.

It was her three-pointer at the buzzer last March at The Palestra that got Penn past Fairfield 49-48 to move to the semifinals of the postseason Women’s Basketball Invitational.

Two seasons ago, incidentally, Penn topped the Dragons 67-65 in overtime in The Palestra but the Dragons (4-7) avenged that one up the street at home last year with a lopsided 77-50 victory at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Unlike her uncle, Baron had an unusual time trying to find the right chord most of the game and was just 1-for-14 when she went inside for the winner that enabled Penn to take its fifth straight and set a team record by eclipsing a 19-point deficit that existed in the first half in the annual Battle of 33rd Street where the universities are just a few blocks apart.

Freshman Sydney Stipanovich had another outstanding game in tying Delaware’s red-shirt sophomore Joy Caracciolo with a season-high 19 rebounds among players in the 10-team PhilahoopsW group that comprise the Guru’s local Division I coverage.

Stipanovich also had a team-high 14 points while Kathleen Roche had all 11 of her points in the second half and spurred the comeback with 3-for-3 on three-point attempts at critical moments.

Baron still got things done defensively with 10 rebounds.

“I kind of struggled throughout the afternoon but my teammates were there to pick me up and ‘Coach (Mike McLaughlin) trusted me with the last shot,” said Baron, who leads Penn with a 16.2 points per game average and is a two-time Ivy League scoring champion.

“Our defense is what carries us, especially in the second half we picked up the intensity and were able to get stops and get easy baskets and pound it inside to Kara (Bonenberger) and Sydney and Kathleen was able to get some big threes.”

Bragging rights were certainly a motivator for Penn, which has tied a team record for best start in seven games and have won five straight nonconference games for the first time since 2000-01, though that streak will be challenged on New Year’s Day when Baron gets a homecoming visit in Miami when Penn visits the Hurricanes.

But for the moment, the talk of home was about the neighborhood rivalry.

“It’s a big honor to take this one,” Baron said. “All summer it’s all friendly but once you get on the court here in the regular season, not so much.”

For Drexel, it was déjà vu all over again just three days apart when the Dragons squandered a 14-point halftime lead at home on Wednesday losing at the finish to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference power Hampton 50-47 after a costly turnover deprived coach Denise Dillon’s group a chance to extend the game.

Despite all the Penn struggles, Drexel freshman Alexis Smith off the bench was the lone Dragon in double figures with 13 points.

Both teams shot poorly in the first half but several spurts, including a 13-0 run, carried Drexel to a 26-7 lead with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left in the period.

But Penn, which outscored the Dragons 15-2 on second chance points and 12-4 in points off turnovers, was able to finish out with a 10-0 run into the break.

“Going in under 10 “(points) was a big boost for us,” McLaughlin said. “We never got a run out, we never got an easy one. That credit goes to Drexel because they really jammed us inside, forcing us to make a couple of shots from the perimeter. We didn’t make a whole lot, but we did make enough.”

After drawing closer in the second half, Stipanovich’s putback tied the score with 1:31 left. The Quakers then stopped the Dragons, failed to take advantage, and then stopped Drexel again.

McLaughlin then went to his playmaker with 14.0 seconds left and Baron responded by going to her right, seeing an opening near the baseline and taking a running jumper for the winning score.

“The key to the game, (Drexel) is so well schooled, we didn’t want to play in a halfcourt game,” McLaughlin rehashed the chronology of the afternoon.

“That’s what they did in the first half. Their zone was very good. We worked very hard on it. We didn’t make shots and give them credit for that,” McLaughlin said.

“The second half, we were a little more assertive, a little more aggressive with some ball pressure, and we switched to a zone that was a little helpful to us,” he continued.

“Once the ball started going in the basket, it really gave us some more confidence because we couldn’t score for a while. We showed s bit of maturity. We got down five late (in the second half), we knew it was two possessions and we did a good job executing it. This group has played a lot together by now in close games.”

Penn was picked third in the Ivy forecast while Drexel was picked second in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“They took a lot of things away from us,” McLaughlin said. “I have so much respect for what Denise does at Drexel. We have great camaraderie and I pull for her in every game but this. I know this is tough but she does an amazing job.”

It was tough enough that Dillon was on her way home pretty quickly.

However, since the Hampton loss wasn’t reported here Wednesday, what Dillon had to say then would have most likely been repeated Saturday considering the flow of both games were similar.

“We can’t score and pure panic sets in,” Dillon said at the time. “Nobody wants the basketball and then … It’s unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say.

“We have one player, Meg Creighton, who can execute an offense. She’s the only one who can handle pressure in the full court, but then you’re asking her to make a play at the end. That’s a lot to do and that’s not her strength. But unfortunately she’s the one player most often the ball is safe in her hands,” Dillon continued.

“Rachel Pearson is playing well.”

“You would have thought the win at St. John’s (a week ago) would be a confidence booster. But we don’t score and panic. And we don’t have the one person to say, `Hey, I gotcha.’ Put them on your back and go.

“Unfortunately, she (Hollie Mershon) graduated. And the one before that, and the one before that. And they’re all playing professionally for a reason.”

Looking ahead to Penn at that moment, she said, “You shoot that poorly in your place, how poorly are you going to shoot down there?”

After the break, Drexel heads to Ivy member Cornell on Dec. 30 and then hosts Princeton, the four-time defending Ivy champion, on Jan. 4.

Then it’s on to the CAA wars the rest of the way.

-- Mel

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