Womhoops Guru

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guru's Musings: Walking in Memphis Has Rutgers Singing the Blues

By Mel Greenberg

Add another excruciating defeat to the collection that exists to be as painful warts in an otherwise exemplary won-loss record of Hall of Fame Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Whether Tuesday night’s 74-73 upset in the American Conference in overtime to Memphis in Tennessee is a simple Ouch! that will be recalled when another milestone approaches that could be already attained or something more will be known soon enough.

Unlike some of those others – that clock that should have been going that stopped to allow Tennessee a win in 2008 or the clock that should have stopped to allow Stringer a win against host Penn State in her final game at Cheyney in the NCAA Sweet 16 of 1983 – this one was self-inflicted.

The Guru cannot discern the nature of the 24 turnovers by the Scarlet Knights (13-3, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) that inspired a little fun creativity in the headline of this post that went along with no point-production from the Rutgers bench, but whatever variety the combination was, the timing of such occurrence was not helpful off a gambled less-challenging schedule to nurture a young roster than had been the norm especially this of all weeks.

Prior to traveling to a first-ever meeting with the host Tigers (9-8, 2-3) Rutgers appeared to have put the early season stunner at lowly Massachusetts behind the Scarlet Knights.

After a tough but not necessarily damaging close loss to nationally-ranked LSU in the opener of the Brooklyn challenge in New York, Rutgers started to roll with its special harvest of talent to win nine straight, including a valued win over then-ranked Georgia, and return to the Associated Press women’s poll for the first time since spending the entire 2011-12 season among the elite.

The ongoing fan debate as to what the university should do in terms of Stringer’s final year of her current contract that should have already been determined was swinging back to the positive in her direction.

True, the scheduling of Memphis was not within Rutgers’ control since the home-and-home set is part of a temporary membership in the new American for one season before bolting for the Big Ten along with Maryland, which is jumping from the tough Atlantic Coast Conference.

But the association allows at least two, if not three, more automatic matchups with undefeated, top-ranked, and NCAA defending champion Connecticut heading into Sunday’s first meeting of the season at home at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center.

Given the nature of the steamroller the Huskies have been, while an ambush would be super, a competitive loss of the nature Baylor suffered at home in a nonconference showdown Monday night would be good enough.

The strength of schedule indicator could be tossed out. On a scale of basketball greatness, Rutgers would be regarded as part of the best-of-the-best no matter what the current ranking said in both the media and coaches’ polls.

It appeared that Rutgers had rescued itself when Betnijah Laney, who had blossomed this season and scored 15 points against Memphis, forced the extra period.

Kahleah Copper, who had been having a superb season, finished with 23 points while rookie sensation Tyler Scaife, the conference’s reigning new face of the week, had a career-high 21 points.

But it all went for naught when the last of the pile of miscues occurred with nine seconds left in overtime and Asianna Fuqua-Bey made the game-winning foul shots.

So it’s back to the drawing board and one in which a quick recovery is needed to cure the bad taste injected in Memphis, though maybe the mere footsteps in a state that are usually trod over in Knoxville were responsible for things going awry.

And besides UConn, two more easier attainable wins could occur playing Louisville to blunt the damage from the Memphis game – and the return visit can also negate the Tigers’ stunner later this season.

Incidentally, while a little ranting is going on here, this signoff till Sunday on the Scarlet Knights is briefly delayed to speak to the passionate participants on the Rutgers message board that have suddenly discovered that media coverage of the team is not what has been the norm.

For one, in case you didn’t get the memo, newspapers have gone to hell and yours have not been spared in terms of staff reductions.

The Guru expressed his shock back in November when he went to the Howard game, thinking the scene might get a little tempestuous because of the UMass loss which had just occurred – remember the loss at Seton Hall a year ago set off fireworks – and discovered the only organization staffing the game was the student newspaper.

He could never, in a long history of chronicling games along the banks, ever remember that kind of wipeout from the pros.

And it just wasn’t one night. No one was on the scene in Brooklyn, either, the following weekend which was the Thanksgiving holiday.

In one case, what staff was left was pre-occupied with football while in another he learned the Newark Star Ledger had bailed except when games involved national rankings.

Quite possibly things might have been on the way to improvement, though Tuesday’s setback was not helpful, because of the return to the poll.

And stop complaining about the appearance of coverage of Princeton at NJ Online.

The internet entity is composed of various news organizations contributing coverage from their own sector in The Garden State, including those in Trenton, which staff all home and some road action of the Tigers, who have become the UConn of the Ivy League winning four straight titles in dominating fashion and are picked to win again.

The reason coverage of Rutgers is lacking at the site begins with the media entity who cover that part of the world beyond just sports.

In fact in recent seasons, the Guru added Princeton to his already loaded plate of existing nine Division I teams because of the Tigers’ geographical proximity and the fact that the program is a lot of fun to be around.

That last sentence allows a segue onto catching up with musings off the weekend’s games through Tuesday and those just ahead.

Penn Begins String of Big Five Competitions with a Shot at the Title

While expressing disappointing with Saturday’s league-opening 84-53 loss to Princeton at home in The Palestra, Quakers’ coach Mike McLaughlin allowed himself to be a little cheerful over how the next few weeks will be spent before returning to league play for the rest of the season.

“It’s fun,” he said while referencing the toughest of three road games beginning Wednesday night at Villanova, continuing at Saint Joseph’s Friday and then next week at Temple.

“The Big 5 is separate from anything that any of the schools in our league experience,” he said, though Princeton has regularly played Saint Joseph’s and honorary member Drexel besides games against Villanova.

“Big competition always makes you better in the end. It’s like a mini-tournament. And we’re not going to change what we do. We practice hard, we play compete hard, we play hard,” he continued.

“The girls are phenomenal in what they do. One game is not going to define us. We’re not going to let that happen. We’ll get back Monday and we’ll prepare but hopefully … we’ll learn a great deal from today.”

Both Penn and Villanova, who meet Wednesday night on the Main Line at the Pavilion, are coming off disappointments.

The host Wildcats had been soaring and competing in the restructured Big East when they were taken down at home Saturday by Seton Hall.

Penn, off its win at La Salle at the start of December, technically has a shot outright at the title at this hour since the Quakers by the math can still finish 4-0.

But so can Saint Joseph’s, which has put away Temple and Villanova, with two games to play with Penn and La Salle.

Only once before has Penn won two games in the Big Five in the same season.

After two opening losses, the last of which was to then-No. 5 Notre Dame at home, the Quakers began breaking standards for the program, which included a New Year’s Day stunner beating Miami on the road for a first-ever win against a school from the ACC.

With the graduation of former Princeton superstar Niveen Rasheed and the play of Penn combined, more intention than usual was paid to Saturday’s game with the likelihood that someone other than Harvard (twice) could break through the Tigers’ ceiling of excellence built by coach Courtney Banghart, a former Ivy star at Dartmouth.

But after an early bolt by Penn, Princeton got itself together with a 16-0 run and was never seriously threatened though to the Quakers’ credit, for a longtime after that burst, they kept the score from getting worse until the latter stages of the game.

“We’ve prepared all year long to go to the NCAA tournament,” Banghart referred to the nonconference slate and also to the younger age of the roster. “We just don’t make excuses.

“I thought or seniors played like seniors. It was amazing to me reading how important this game was but I’ve been in the Ivy League a long time to know how much every game is important.”

Princeton goes on a three-week break for finals and then faces Harvard, the other of the two picked as challengers by the media right behind the Tigers in the preseason poll.”

As for McLaughlin’s reflection, “Disappointed. I was hoping we’d play better. We got beaten in all phases of the game and for that I was disappointed.

“Our expectations, against everyone we play, is to compete for40 minutes, mentally, physically – I don’t think that happened tonight. We practiced very well, we had a good frame of mind for the game and just didn’t happen tonight.”

Of the Princeton 16-0 salvo, he said, “It wasn’t that they made shots and we missed shots, it’s just that we didn’t handle it well. We had done that up to this point.

“We had wanted to play so well today – maybe a little bit too hard. That just happens. But let’s start with, I give Princeton a lot of credit. They have a lot of young talent coming into the league and an excellent team and they just outplayed us.

“For us. this is just one. It doesn’t define us. We missed a ton of layups but we weren’t getting great shots. We were highly contested. They weren’t in areas we score a high percentage of our shots. They beat us in a lot of areas.

“Anyone, who has any many scoring options as they have, is going to make you pay. Good teams make you pay. We made way too many mistakes and everyone one they made us pay tonight.”

Asked to compare last year’s Princeton team with this one, McLaughlin said, “They’re talented top to bottom. They were last year. These kids didn’t get an opportunity to play, I know their talent. I’ve seen these kids play many times. And they have a good system. They didn’t surprise me.”

Temple Ropes SMU

In the only other of two games on the Tuesday’s slate in the Guru’s PhilahoopsW group, the action also involved The American Conference where the Owls bounced off Saturday’s blowout by UConn in Bridgeport to take their annual kids day noon start, beating SMU 80-66 with a strong second half in a first-ever meeting between the two programs.

Temple (9-7, 3-3 American) will travel to Dallas later this season to meet the Mustangs (11-6, 2-4).

The Owls overcame Keena Mays’ 23 points and three others in double figures by getting 16 each from freshman sensation Feyonda Fitzgerald and Tyonna Williams, and 15 from Rateska Brown, and 12 from Shi-Heria Shipp.

Natasha Thames had 12 rebounds for Temple, which was tied 36-36 at the half.

It was the first of only a few games in the Liacouras Center for Temple, which is playing most of the home slate in McGonigle Hall, including the return UConn game.

On Saturday, Temple coach Tonya Cardoza was pleased with the way her squad competed for the first 15 minutes with Temple but unhappy with what they did the rest of the game.

“There are two teams and the one we’d like to eliminate is the one we played the second half against Connecticut,” she said.

“The loss to Connecticut was definitely an eye-opener to our guys on the need to focus on different aspects of the game. One of those was not giving up second-chance points and taking care of the basketball and I thought we did a good job with both today.”

Temple dominated SMU on the offensive glass 19-7.

In an interesting juxtaposition, both coaches played with outstanding point guards in their career.

SMU coach Rhonda Rompola played with Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman at Old Dominion in the late 1970s while a decade later Cardoza played with Hall of Famer Dawn Staley, who preceeded her coaching at Temple through the 2007-08 season.

SMU is in a stretch that involves a visit last Saturday to Rutgers, where they lost, and then next against Louisville, who the Mustangs play after Temple.

“We’re not deep enough right now to match up to them the whole game,” Rompola said of how it went against Temple. “What hurt us the second half was first before the first media timeout, we made some poor decisions in hesitant passing and made some poor decisions in the perimeter and that caused a six-to-eight point turn around.”

Temple, on Saturday, travels to Cincinnati, making it a first time that Cardoza will go against her good friend Jamelle Elliott, the former UConn star who served with her on Geno Auriemma’s staff for a long time with the Huskies before both getting their own programs a year apart.

The Wild Wild Big East

Following the Temple game Tuesday, the Guru used his equal watch conference time to the American and the new Big East by traveling up to South Orange, N.J., for a Big East tilt between host Seton Hall and DePaul.

Both teams met earlier in the old Big East but this was the first since the restructure and the Seton Hall hire of longtime Iona coach Tony Bozzella.

It was a closely-fought game with DePaul breaking away down the stretch for a 75-68 victory.

Jasmine Penny had 21 points and 11 rebounds for DePaul (12-5, 3-2 Big East), which will host Villanova (12-3, 3-2), Sunday in Chicago in a game televised on Fox Sports 1.

Brittany Hrynko, a graduate of Engineering and Science, had 16 points and connected on three of her four 3-pointers in the second half.

Ka-Deidre Simmons had 21 points for the host Pirates (10-5, 1-3), a vastly improved contingent coming off last Saturday’s upset at Villanova.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who assisted UConn’s Auriemma at the last Olympics winning gold at the London Games in 2012, talked about the competitive nature of the Big East since the departure of such heavyweights as UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, Notre Dame, and Syracuse.

“It’s a great league – anybody can win,” said Bruno, whose schools is hosting the conference tournament in suburban Chicago.

“Playing home-and-home is awesome.”

Bozzella got to see his former team break a 29-game hex by Marist in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

“Those were my recruits making those big shots,” he laughed.

As for how things went Tuesday night: “I’m proud of effort but not happy with the loss. We gave it our all and at the end, Hrynko played for the first time like the preseason player of the year she was picked. She just took over the game in the second half.

“At one point they shot 8-for-11 on threes at one stretch. It’s hard. But we’ve come such a long way. Last year’s team lost by 37 points. We’re getting there but we don’t have all the offensive weapons yet.

“If we had another of the offensive weapons that (31-27) lead we would have been up by 14 points. And then exhaustion sets in. We can’t extend our leads.

We don’t have the three-point shooters. And today we just didn’t convert enough shots. We’re picked 10 and they’re picked first and I don’t think there’s not that much of a gap.”

Looking Ahead

On Wednesday night, La Salle is the only other team scheduled, visiting Saint Bonaventure in an Atlantic 10 game.

After struggling early in the season, the Explorers are now 9-7 overall and 4-0in the league, the best start since becoming a member in 1995-96.

The 9-7 overall record matches an equal best start since 2008-09 and last Saturday’s 78-41win at home in Tom Gola Arena over Massachusetts was the widest since beating Rhode Island in 1997-98.

In Saturday’s win Micahya Owens had a career-high 23 points.

That’s it for now. The Guru will be tweeting from Villanova Wednesday night and Laurie Dougherty will be shooting for the next photo gallery.

-- Mel
























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