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 03, 2013

Guru's College Report: Penn's Long Wait Ends With Quick Work of La Salle in Quakers' Big Five Opener

By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA – It may have taken La Salle extra weeks to get the Explorers’ annual Philadelphia Big Five women’s game with Penn into the books in what became the last inserted date into the NCAA Division I schedule but the Quakers needed only a few minutes Monday night to grab control of the action and emerged from the arena with 64-54 triumph and first win-ever at Tom Gola Arena.
It was also the first overall win of the season for coach Mike McLaughlin’s squad (1-2, 1-0 Big Five).

Penn senior Alyssa Baron dominated the night with 23 points while also grabbing seven rebounds as the Quakers built on their competitive showing just over a week ago in a loss to powerful Notre Dame at The Palestra.

“We had a good week of practice, we got a nice little Thanksgiving break, a couple of days to go home, then we came back really to work, ready to get a win and we were able to do so,” Baron said.

The local tilt was the only game on Monday’s slate among the 10-team PhilahoopsW group in the Guru’s local Division I coverage.

The delay in getting the La Salle-Penn game officially scheduled was caused by La Salle being dropped by another school in late summer and the Explorers then needing to work out another date with Penn so they could insert a replacement, which became Central Connecticut, which La Salle beat on Saturday.

It was the first-win ever for Penn at La Salle since the upgrade of Hayman Hall and first road win over the Explorers since the 1973-74 season.

Furthermore, after getting off to a winning Big Five start last season by topping La Salle at The Palestra, it is the first back-to-back triumph since 1973-75, almost four decades ago.

Penn, using several runs built a lead that grew by as many as 17 points, including an 11-2 outburst in the second half that put a bow on the triumph that was Penn’s second largest City Series win in 14 years.

In what is a big week on the Big Five slate, the Quakers are now tied with Temple atop the early local standings at 1-0 and won’t see the other three opponents until January prior to the rest of the slate of Ivy competition following the traditional league opener with four-time defending champion Princeton.

Temple, which beat La Salle (2-4, 0-2) in the overall season opener for both schools last month, will host Saint Joseph’s at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in McGonigle Hall, the earliest ever meeting in some time and caused by the Owls’ move to The American Conference while the Hawks remain in the Atlantic 10 where they are defending champions.

The men’s teams of the two schools will meet later Wednesday next door in the Liacouras Center.

Though the recent narrow loss to then-ranked Michigan State was tough to take, in the overall scheme of things, the Big Five and conference is where meaningful things get achieved, Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said after Saturday’s home win over Oakland (Mich.).

“Definitely, it is bigger than Michigan State,” she said pointing to the showdown with the Hawks, whose only loss to date is to nationally-ranked LSU on the road.

“Michigan State is just an opportunity to beat someone no one expected you to beat,” she explained. “Saint Joseph’s – we’re trying to fight for bragging rights in the city and they are one of our rivals where it’s always a dogfight.

“So yes, it is bigger than Michigan State and we’re going to prepare for them just like we did for Michigan State and hope the outcome is different.”

Former Saint Joseph’s star Katie Kuester, now the video coordinator at nationally-ranked North Carolina, sent a note to the Guru about the Big Five.

“I can just about recall every single game in my career,” Kuester wrote. “But the Big 5 ones are permanently imprinted in me forever.”

It will be Saint Joseph’s first City Series action and then on Saturday the Hawks will travel to unbeaten Villanova for the Wildcats’ first game in the round robin.

Villanova is also the defending champion.

All three schools are off to overall hot starts but Penn can’t be taken lightly as the Quakers have in the past and this season they could see only the second time that they win more than one Big Five game on the schedule.

“Definitely, we’re not underdogs anymore and definitely proved coming from last season into this season that we’re a team to reckon with,” said Baron, a two-time Ivy scoring champion who played on the gold-medal winning United States squad last summer at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Baron also during the contest became the fourth player at Penn to reach 1,400 career points while the Quakers also defended the Explorers into a mediocre 30.3 percent from the field.

Kara Bonenberger also scored in double figures, collecting 10 points, while Katy Allen had eight points and eight rebounds.

Micahya Owens had 16 points as the only La Salle player to score in double figures.

Penn’s schedule has been light at the outset with a tough season-opening upset loss at home against Saint Francis of New York and then a two-week wait until the Notre Dame, which was nine days ago.

The pace now picks up with Long Island of Brooklyn visiting Thursday night at 7 followed by a road trip Saturday to Bucknell. But getting the Big Five win was a priority to get things back on an even keel for Penn, which zoomed to the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational in the postseason in March.

The Quakers were picked third in the Ivies behind Princeton and Harvard.

“It was a Big 5 game for us that is so important to us to compete and not only compete to try to win,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I just thought we played super hard and very efficient on the offensive end, really switched in and out defense was pretty good, and I thought we controlled the tempo throughout.”

  McLaughlin agreed that his team’s performance picked right up from where it was against the Irish, who are fourth in this week’s Associated Press women’s poll.

“I thought we played very similar to the way we played in the Notre Dame game – I thought we played hard, I thought we played effective, I really like what we’ve done the last 80 minutes of basketball,” he added.

“We had a great week of practice – we had nine days to prepare and we utilized our time. I really feel great for them. Big Five wins haven’t come easy for Penn in 10 years – to get one, we’re going to enjoy this one.”

Looking to pick up the pace this week, McLaughlin said, “Now we get in the flow.

“We come into practice tomorrow (Tuesday) to work on a couple of things and prep for Long Island on Wednesday and then turn around and get ready for Bucknell on Saturday.”

The game also completed a more-than-originally-planned 11-game, five-venue, four-day marathon for the Guru that began Friday in Brooklyn, continued Saturday at Temple then back to Brooklyn at night, and then onto to Springfield, Mass., for Sunday’s four-game Naismith Basketball Hall Women’s Challenge where the Hall is located.

As a result the transit (including being on the same Metro North train route several hours before Sunday morning’s derailment) did not provide actually time to re-cap other than to tweet at the games.

So with nothing on the books Tuesday, the Guru will re-cap and update in the next blog.


Temple freshman Feyonda Fitzgerald picked up another rookie of the week from The American and was also named the Big Five women’s player of the week.

Meanwhile, Delaware, even at the outset of the post Elena Delle-Done era, along with Drexel, are adding honors from the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Blue Hens’ only loss to date is at home against Temple and most of the early losses in the PhilahoopsW group are to each other.

Delaware center Kelsey Buchanan was named the CAA player of the week after the Blue Hens won a pair in Florida while Drexel freshman Alexis Smith earned the CAA’s rookie of the week after her showing in Drexel’s narrow loss at No. 8 Mayland a week ago.

That’s it until 24 hours from now.

-- Mel



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