Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sunday, 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

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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