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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: South Carolina Makes It Over Before It's Over

By Mike Siroky

Just like last season, when Tennessee defused the chase in the regular-season race for the title in Southeastern Conference women’s basketball, it’s over before it’s over.

South Carolina has won its first-ever SEC regular-season title. Yes, they had the trophy on hand Thursday for Senior Night.

The last game of the season, Sunday at Tennessee, is only for mind games and perhaps national seeding for the home team. The Lady Vols are not favored.

Kentucky had its second Big Sunday in row, knocking off a ranked team on the road, this time at Texas A&M. That put the Aggies two back in the conference race. A&M and SC each won on Thursday and that left the Gamecocks two ahead with one to go.

SC won all its home games. A&M lost to Tennessee and Kentucky at theirs and that decided the conference race. Tennessee lost at home to Kentucky and LSU and they are tied for second with one to go.

A&M and South Carolina were picked tied for fifth by the coaches to start the season.

The conference tournament starts March 5 and concludes a week and one day before Selection Monday.

The top four teams get to skip the first two games, so SC, UT and A&M are assured of the break. UK and Florida are tied for fourth. SC has never been the top seed in the tournament. A&M won the tournament last season.

The SEC tournament titlist wins the automatic NCAA bid. If SC also wins the league tournament, the national reverberation will not be as severe.

They will claim a top seed, most likely at Lincoln, Neb., but perhaps at Stanford.

Conference tournament champs have been seeded lower in the NCAAs than regular-season champs in the SEC. And the SEC regularly gets seven or eight teams in the bigger tournament.

It is not like other conferences, where only the conference tournament champ goes, hence the automatic part of the bid.

As an example, the old Big East had two great guaranteed teams in Notre Dame and UConn and both have been regular NCAA participants.

That conference may only have one participant this season as the Irish and the Huskies remain top seeds anyway. Notre Dame even has a final Regional at home. The Big East leader is not even in the Top 25 nationally.

Among other smaller conferences, Delaware is another example.

With Elena Della Donne they were rightfully ranked nationally and a shoo-in for the NCAAs. The Blue Hens are a distant second in a weak Colonial athletic Conference now and not likely in the NCAAs a year later.

Texas A&M, Tennessee. LSU and Kentucky all host NCAA sub-Regionals, so all are already in the NCAA bracket someplace. Three of them plus SC are likely penciled in to the Sweet 16 and, as in seasons past, that is one-fourth of that field.

South Carolina is 9-0 in the Final 10 games, (an NCAA point of emphasis in seeding). They finished the undefeated home season with two wins. Their farewell to Columbia for the season was magical.

UT is 8-1 and exorcised some demons from Holly Warlick’s first “official” season as coach by winning at Missouri and LSU this week. She already has 50 coaching wins in less than two seasons.

Texas A&M is 6-3 in the final 10; Kentucky is also 6-3 which shows how that little litmus test proves out.

Unranked LSU has 18 wins. It closes with Alabama on the road.

Like Kentucky, LSU is likely looking at a middling seed in its own sub-Regional.

Unranked Georgia has 18 wins. Georgia has the added bulk of tradition, having missed just one NCAA tournament. They close with Mississippi State.

Unranked Vanderbilt has 18 wins and closes at UK.

Unranked Arkansas has 18 wins, 13 of those before the league season.

Unranked Florida has 18 wins and closes with A&M.

Unranked Mississippi State has 18 wins.

At least two of the unranked teams will get in, one of them LSU. The first four we listed have all been in the national Top 25 at some point this season, before the league meat grinder. No SEC team with 20 wins has ever missed an NCAA tournament, even when the 20th came in the conference tournament.

That’s life in the toughest league in America, with four teams ranked in the Top 20 of the Associated Press poll.

Here’s how the week went for the Fab Four:

•No. 4 South Carolina: The second-largest home crowd ever at SC, 10,547, came out for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a celebration following the 69-54 win over Florida, coupled with A&M’s loss the same day.

It made SC coach Dawn Staley the first to 26 wins this season; the-now 14 conference wins bests last season’s record. They won at least 25 for three seasons in succession.

“It feels great to do what most people thought we could never get done here at South Carolina,” Staley said.

She allowed her players to enjoy the moment, but is confident they understand there’s more left to achieve over the next few weeks. “We want to be greedy at this point,” she said. “We want to win it all, as much as we can win.”

“This is exciting,” forward Aleighsa Welch said. “Now, we’ve got to take care of business.” Tiffany Mitchell scored 20 with seven rebounds, Alaina Coates 16 – 5-of-5 from the field -- with 12 rebounds.

Mitchell took a knee to the thigh in the opening period and looked barely able to move before trainers helped her off the court. While the injury was not serious, Mitchell clearly looked out of synch early on against Florida’s swarming pressure: She was only 2 of 5 from the floor for six points and had six of the Gamecocks’ 13 turnovers in the first half.

But she turned things around after the break with 14 points.

“Tiff’s a player,” Staley said. “She’s not going to play perfect basketball every time out. When you can handle adversity like she did in the first half and play like she did in the second, that’s when you know she knows how to turn the page and put us on her back.”

“I just tried to settle down. I was playing too fast early on with a lot of unnecessary turnovers,” said Mitchell, who afterwards wore ice bags around both knees. “I just had to stay in it and get myself going.”

The arena was decorated in pink as South Carolina honored those who’ve survived or are batting breast cancer. Gamecock assistant Nikki McCray was diagnosed with the disease in November and the former Tennessee and Olympic star is undergoing treatment. She has not missed a game with the team due to her illness.

SC closed their fabulous home season without a league loss, against unranked Georgia. The 67-56 win was paced by Mitchell, with 25 points (10-of-10 from the line) and Coates off the bench with 18 and eight rebounds.

SC scored a dozen of the game’s first 16 points and the pattern was set, as Georgia basically played them even the rest of the game and never really gained momentum.

The season-high crowd of 12,458 was appreciative.

“Tiffany Mitchell has been a player who, anytime we needed a basket or a stop, she has come through for us,” Staley said.

“I thought she took advantage of what the defense gave her. Her ability to drive to the basket allowed her to get some easy buckets and put Georgia back on their heels a little bit and then kind of gave us a lead in the first half. In the second half, she hit a big three to keep us up by 13 when Georgia was making their run. She’s done it all season long.

“To be able to go undefeated in the league like we have (at home), the best league in the country, for our players to be able to do that is quite amazing,” Staley said. “I think winning the SEC is an amazing thing, but you never think of it taking 14 games to win it and you have an opportunity to do it at home.

“Kudos to them. They worked hard, both on and off the floor. ‘Why not us?’ It is something I said six years ago, ‘Why not South Carolina?’ And we made it happen.”

•No. 12 Kentucky Is anything an upset among the SEC elite?

Technically, Kentucky was ranked a national spot ahead of the Aggies and, realistically, the game was at Aggieland. Plus, Kentucky had lost six times in conference and A&M but twice.

Didn’t matter.

The best sixth man in the league, Jennifer O’Neill scored 17 points and freshman Linnae Harper 16. Kentucky won 83-74 for its fifth 20-win season in a row, a school record.

Kentucky led the entire second half but closed on an 8-2 run at the end anyway. Closing has not been a hallmark of this year’s Wildcats.

The Aggies missed their last five field goals.

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell used his almost-new 2/3 zone.

“The players worked really hard on the 2/3 zone for the past two days,” he said. “We had not played a lot of that and it and it paid off for us today.”

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair took the blame for the loss.

“Throw the errors at me,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job at coaching. We worked hard to set ourselves up to have a chance to win this thing.

"Now what we’ve got to do is throw this game aside, learn from it, try to win our last two, get to the SEC Tournament and hopefully get hot and hopefully get smarter.”

Samarie Walker had 14 rebounds and DeNesha Stallworth had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Kentucky.

Courtney Walker tied her career high with 26 points for A&M. It was her seventh 20-point scoring game of the season and the 11th of her career.

Courtney Williams added 16 points with 14 coming in the second half.

Walker also had 10 rebounds, but was frustrated with the overall effort that led to Texas A&M getting out-rebounded 25-12 in the first half and 47-32 overall.

“They were just a little bit faster out of it,” she said. “They rebounded well out of it.”

The win moved Kentucky up four spots to No. 12 nationally.

At Mississippi State, the Wildcats could only manage a 38-35 halftime edge.

No one hit double figures and even O’Neill, off the bench, had but two free throws. State trimmed six points off he lead in the closing seven minutes before the break.

State kept the edge at just three early in the second half, thanks to five points by Kendra Grant and a Savannah Carter layin in a nice little run at the 7:48 mark.

Kentucky did not score a basket in the final three minutes. They held the lead by one at that point.

SEC Player of the Week Martha Alwal made a layup and Jessica James a 3-pointer and time was running out on the visitors. They missed three shots in the final minutes, but State made a fatal foul with one second left. Walker hit a free throw and it was tied.

At first, it was ruled the game ended with a State win as time had expired. The foul was called after that.

But a tape review showed the horn sounded 1.2 seconds early – imagine that.

It favored the home team -- and Walker was allowed the free throw that tied it.

In overtime, UK won the battle, 15-8, and the game, 81-74. Kentucky scored six of its final eight at the line including another fracturing foul on State, Bria
Goss hitting three straight after a far out foul. She is the league’s best free-throw shooter, at better than 91 percent.

State only managed one basket in the final four minutes.

Goss finished with 20 which more than offset O’Neill’s very subpar six, eight below her average.

This means State can not get to 20 wins in the regular season, if at all, which would open the door for a rare NCAA bid.

“I am disappointed,” State coach Vic Schaefer said. “I am proud of them. We have lost three games in overtime and that is nobody’s fault other than mine. I loved our passion, our heart and our competitiveness. It came down to a rebound there with 1.2 seconds left.

“To play that hard and that long at home against a team that good, it is disappointing. We know how far we have come. We have come a long way since losing by 50-plus points at their place last year. You really wanted to get them back at home.

“We have competed all year in the biggest, baddest conference in the land,” Schaefer said. “Other than a half against Texas A&M, we have played well and it is disappointing that we can’t get these games home. These kids deserve to reap the reward of winning.”

Kentucky closes out its pre-NCAA home season against Vanderbilt, a team that, after all, beat Tennessee this season. If the league is to get seven teams in the NCAA again, Vanderbilt is among those vying for the last spot.

Mitchell had said it is all about consistency now, as they are at the point where “winning one and then losing one” will not cut it any longer.

•No. 10 Tennessee: Suddenly secure in second place in the league (they have the tiebreaker against A&M) the Lady Vols won two Tiger tussles on the road, at Missouri and LSU.

They are using true freshmen point guards Jordan Reynolds and Darius Thompson as they await the return of the injured senior starter, Ariel Massengale, MIA for morre than a month.

When Missouri beat them last season, 80-63, also at Missouri, it was and is the statement game in the league for the Tigers. Why the league had them back to back there is another discussion.

What is not in flux is the way Tennessee took the 56-50 win.

They won each half, the rebounds by 13 and held Missouri to 29 percent from the field. Five more 3s by the home team only kept them close. Against a tough defense, Missouri only got to the line six times. Only four players scored all night for Mizzou. A nice crowd of 5,037 came to see it.

And, down the stretch, the visitors kept calm.

“No, I don’t think we were nervous,” said UT’s Andraya Carter. “We actually just kept telling each other to stay composed. Just play our game, slow down, relax. We were going to be fine.”

A 16-point lead with 11 minutes left was down to three with 1:22 left. It came down to UT hitting free throws after that.

Izzy Harrison hit a pair at :34 to provide a lead of 52-47, then another pair to make the lead 54-47 with nine seconds left. Meighan Simmons added a pair with one second left and that completed scoring.

“We knew it was huge,” Carter said. “We knew it was going to be a long night. It was already a long night in itself.”

“We talked about that before the game, really having an attack mentality,”
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “But you’re not going to get a lot of free throws when you shoot as many 3s as we did tonight.”

“She’s drawing a lot of attention and she’s learning to pass the ball a lot better now as well,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said of Simmons, the Lady Vols’ only regular scoring machine. “I think Meighan is playing a complete game and it’s fun to watch.

“Obviously, I’m proud of our team. Missouri’s team is never out of the game and they’re very well-coached. I’m just glad for the win. It’s a good win for us on the road.”

She said defense is always a point of emphasis at Tennessee.

“We worked a lot on not allowing 3-point looks and they shoot a lot of 3s,” Warlick said.

“But we wanted to make sure that they shot contested 3s. I think, for the most part, we did that and that’s tough for us because we’re a team that gives up a lot of 3s.

"To hold them to seven 3s, for us, is awesome. We worked a lot, over the last two days, on defending their concepts; defending their players. I thought today they carried out our game plan very well.”

In the end, “We got stops. They came down and hit two 3s in a row and then we turned it over twice in a row. It boils down to stops and rebounds. I thought that we came up with some big rebounds toward the end. We came up on the good end of shooting free throws. We made the game interesting.”

The Bayou Ben-Gals won by three at Tennessee to start the league season. but this collapsed team is not the same as then. UT started out 20-6. Burdick had 11 and Simmons eight. LSU was hitting just 25 percent from the floor.

Simmons scored 23 in the second half, for 31, including five 3s. Burdick finished with 22 and UT won, 72-67.

LSU closes its home season with a fifth straight loss. They had the lead down to two with two minutes to go but Tennessee did not wilt, even thought it was outscored by 16 after halftime.

Simmons scored five straight and it was free throws after that as the trailing Tigers fouled. It was a sad Senior Night in Baton Rouge.

“If you said that we were going to play this game of basketball for 30 minutes, we’d probably be undefeated,” said LSU coach Nikki Caldwell of the inability to close.

“We’re going to focus in on that.”

Still, at the end . . .

“I thought we had some good defensive stops, and I thought we had some play calls that could have went our way. You can dissect the game, but it’s tough to come back from 20. We’re going to turn the corner. I saw a different team tonight. Although we were down 20 in the first half, I saw a different team tonight.”

Warlick was glad of the team she saw on her bench.

“I thought everyone came in and contributed,” Warlick said. “We did – we had three of our post players who had two fouls early. I thought everybody came in.

“I just thought we hung tough. I thought our press was very, very good. It slowed them up. They turned it over. We got great looks. We played hard. Our defense was so solid. It was solid, and it was a quality first half for us.

“Then we had some mental breakdowns; I don’t know if we got a little satisfied that we were up. This team is really a tough team to hold a lead. We get a lead, and we get relaxed. I thought we needed to get busy, and we didn’t.”

But she had Simmons and Simmons was up to the challenge.

“The coaches just told us to attack and, really, I wasn’t thinking anything,” Simmons said of all those points.

“I was just thinking about scoring. Our coaches wanted us to score and get a stop. They were big shots, but I thank the coaches for just being confident in me. I just hit those shots.

“She just told us not let up, and keep the intensity going. Cierra, who was leading us the whole game, was just telling us that we need to stick together – to get stops. We knew we needed to get to the free throw line, and we knew we had to make free throws. So, it was really just keeping our intensity up.”

And so it is onto their own Senior Night and closing the home season against the visiting SEC champs.

“It would be huge for us,” Warlick said. “I mean, we’re looking at an NCAA seeding. That’s our goal right now. We didn’t win the regular season so nothing we can do about that.

“I tell you – we talked a lot about that today. It’s all about how you’re going to get seeded in the NCAA, and that’s what we’re playing for. That’s why we came out, and that’s what we’re going to do when we play South Carolina on Sunday. It’s all about seeding, and we have to take care of business.”

•No. 17 Texas A&M: The loss to Kentucky, a team they are well ahead of in conference, dropped the Aggies to No. 17 and, despite being tied for second in conference, they are fourth in the line of ranked conference teams.

Against visiting Arkansas, a 43-32 halftime edge propelled by a 13-0 start was enough to keep Arkansas from 20 wins, despite having 13 before the conference started. For A&M, Courtney Williams already had a dozen points before the break.

But it was Jordan Jones’ night. She scored 19 , with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, giving her the third triple double in A&M history, in the 77-54 win. The points and rebounds are career highs.

The Aggies sprinted away in the second half. A 12-0 run pushed the lead to 61-38 and A&M cruised. Williams finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.

A&M finished the regular season 13-2 at home.

The Aggies can match the best conference record in school history, set in 2006-07 and 2010-11, with a win at Florida on Sunday.

Coach Gary Blair gave all the credit to the game plan.

“ We decided to go with a small line-up and start a 5-8 kid on a 6-3 kid, and it worked,” Blair said.

“They didn’t score on Tori Scott. Sometimes you change things up, you go with a little speed, so give my assistants a lot of credit for going with that strategy.

"I was proud of my seniors. I think they all played well. This game meant a whole lot to them. I hope it meant a lot to the fans to understand what senior year is all about. Whether you’re a student athlete, a high school senior, or an Aggie getting your ring, it’s special being a Senior and playing in front of your family and friends.”

As for Jones…

“We had to have a few meetings with our team this year on getting them up from the Kentucky game, and getting over the drama girls have over the season. We had to do a little bit of soul-searching, but this team goes as Jordan Jones goes.

“She’s your leader, she’s your captain, and she has to be your catalyst. She distributed the ball. She recognized what they were in.

"They kept saying, Jordan looked like she was dead tired, but all of a sudden at half she had seven rebounds.

"I said ‘Hey, we don’t have a chance too many times. You can rest tomorrow.

"So I put her on the free throw line, when she had nine rebounds. They missed the shot, and she got in there to get that rebound. That was just very special for the young lady.”

He knew what Jones was going for, even if she didn’t and he knows the importance of a classy Senior Night

“We had the pictures of the four seniors from last year up on our board today,” he said, “along with our three seniors here.

"Like I said sometimes, you have to have a few heart-to-heart talks. Your leaders, your captains have to take charge of the basketball team. You have to have leadership from within, and I’m not from within. ‘Within’ means the team. We had leadership tonight. “

Jones said it was all for the seniors and the 6,631 in attendance.

”Just before the game, we knew coming into this game, we were playing for our seniors,” she said. “Last year, our four seniors, didn’t go out the way they wanted. We lost to LSU. The look on their faces wasn’t a good feeling for anybody in the locker room. We felt like we let them down.

“Coming into this game, Coach had that ‘Over my dead body’ mentality. I felt like that performance, I owed them. It wasn’t anything special on my part. It was what they deserved. It’s just up to us to give it back to them. I just thank them for everything that they’ve done. I feel like this was a special victory for them and hopefully we can build off of this going into the SEC Tournament and Florida.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Guru Report: Drexel, Delaware and Saint Joseph's Triumph

(Guru note: Beyond Drexel game, information and quotes for other items compiled from team and wire reports. Mike Siroky’s weekly SEC report in post above this one.)

By Mel Greenberg

It was a sweep night for the three teams of the PhilahoopsW group of the Guru’s local Division I coverage that played Thursday with Drexel, Delaware and Saint Joseph’s all getting wins.

Here in West Philadelphia Drexel snapped a three-game losing streak in the Colonial Athletic Association by beating North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) 56-45 at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center and keep alive a shot at both a third-place finish and a potential chance to defend last season’s WNIT title if they don’t win the CAA tournament and NCAA automatic bid.

Delaware defeat host Hofstra 55-50 in Hempstead, N.Y., and moved close to a second-place finish, which, in the year one of the post-Elena Delle Donne era is no small achievement.

Saint Joseph’s had an easy time with Atlantic 10 cellar dweller Massachusetts by beating the host Minutewomen 85-51 on the road in Amherst.

Here in the Drexel game, Denise Dillon shrugged her shoulders over the performance, praising the defense that helped snapped the skid but stayed dismayed over the offense’s inability to put a bunch of points on the board.

“At this point, might as well throw them in all into the pool and see what we get,” Dillon said of the numbers from the roster that got to play. We’re 0-10 giving up 60 points and why is that? We can’t score the basketball.

“But it did help having Sarah (Curran) back,” Dillon said. “She played eight minutes and scored eight points (4-for-4 from the field). She’s somebody who could put the ball in the basket. That makes a world of different and takes the pressure off some of the others.”

Tory Thierolf had 16 points but among the starters, Meghan Creighton shot 1-for-7 from the field, Rachel Pearson shot 2-for-7, and Fiona Flanagan was 1-for-5 for Drexel (13-14, 8-6 CAA).

Kelva Atkins had 13 points as the only player in double figures for UNCW (4-25, 3-12).

Drexel is tied for third with College of Charleston (15-12, 8-6), which stunned James Madison 85-78, stopping the Dukes’ 13-win streak with a triumph at home Thursday morning in South Carolina.

JMU (23-5, 13-1) has already wrapped up the top seed but the loss hurts the Dukes’ shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA field if they fail to win the CAA title. The last two seasons Drexel tripped them up in the CAA semifinals and the two could meet there again if Drexel gets hit with the fifth or fourth seed.

Next up for Drexel in an attempt to get back to .500 overall is a trip Sunday to Hofstra (11-14, 6-8), which beat the Dragons here 68-66 on Feb. 2 at the buzzer, Dillon’s group will then wrap up the regular season Wednesday night hosting Towson when the seniors will be honored ion their last home game.

Of course a year ago, the last home game for Holly Mershon and the other seniors became several extended events on the way to the WNIT title.

Meanwhile, Delaware (18-8, 10-5) just stopped at Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex Thursday and whereas coach Tina Martin might have had plenty to say over how the visit played out instead a tune of relief with a win was sweet enough music.

“I don’t care how ugly tonight’s game was, it was win No. 18, number 10 in the conference and we’re in second place in the CAA,” she said. “I’m just happy to get out of here with a win. That’s all that matters.”

Akeema Richards, one of the few mainstays from last season’s Sweet 16 participants who had been relegated to a substitute’s role in recent games came off the bench to shoot 6-for-8 from the field and finish with 14 points in 25 minutes of play, the most since playing 27 in the home game against Drexel on January 19.

Redshirt sophomore Joy Caracciolo matched Richards’ totals in field goal shooting and points while freshman Erika Brown had 10 points.

“Our young players are really struggling right now and Akeema Richards stepped up big time tonight as a senior,” Martin said. “She played huge – hats off to her. She gets what the word team is all about. Her minutes have gone down in recent weeks, but she kept her head up and is all for the team. Akeema’s decision making tonight was exceptional and she really paid attention to what we talked about all night.”

Richards spoke of having no problem with her new role.

“’Coach told me to be patient and my time would come,” she said. “I’m not going to take it personal or any offense to not playing. When I do play, I’m going to play my heart out.”

Delaware wraps up the regular season hosting Northeastern in the Bob Carpenter Center Sunday and paying tribute to Richards and the other Blue Hens seniors.

Saint Joseph’s Spends Few Seconds to Down Minutewomen

Natasha Cloud had a career night of sorts in the win at Massachusetts (4-25, 1-14 Atlantic 10) in the Mullins Center by the Hawks (21-7, 10-5)

The junior from Cardinal O’Hara, who spent one seasons at nationally-ranked Maryland matched a career high with 13 assists set earlier this season and reached a personal mark in rebounds on game day with 12.

Kelsey Berger scored 14 points, Sarah Fairbanks scored 13, Erin Shields scored 11, and Ciara Andrews scored 10.

In terms of the big picture for the defending conference tournament champions, though the visit to UMass will probably but a ding in Saint Joseph’s RPI, one game doesn’t do total damage and the Hawks came into the game ranked 11th with a strength of schedule at 19 according to the simulation at RealTime RPI, numbers that would be quite strong for at-large invites to teams not winning automatic bids.

The Hawks, who were involved with the only A-10 game on the schedule, are now in a third-place tie with George Washington (19-9, 10-5), whom they split on the season, and Fordham (21-7, 10-5), who they edged last season to win the conference tourney and who they host at 2 p.m.Sunday at Hagan Arena to wrap up the regular season with a salute to the seniors.

St. Bonaventure, which wraps up with a visit to La Salle, Saturday, is a game ahead in second and has the tiebreak though it is not known yet how things would play out in what could be a three-way tie for second if the Bonnies lose and the Hawks win and George Washington beats first-place Dayton at home Saturday.

That’s the report. The Guru will be tweeting @womhoopsguru Saturday night from New Haven, Conn., when Yale hosts Penn in a key Ivy game, though he may also end up there Friday night when Princeton visits.

If not, he is likely to show up at Haverford for the Centennial Conference semifinals in Division III Friday night.

Also, in setting up the small college tourney action in the last blog he forgot to mention that Immaculata, which advanced with an upset, will be at top-seed Cabrini Saturday night in Division III to play for the title of the Colonial States Athletic Conference.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guru Report: Rutgers Fends Off Temple While La Salle Surge Tops Duquesne

By Mel Greenberg

Rutgers moved closer to all the things the 24th-ranked Scarlet Knights have been traditionally accustomed to while Temple drifted closer to an early end game after the Owls lost 67-58 here in an American Athletic Association contest Wednesday night at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center.

In the only other contest involving the 10-team PhilahoopsW group organized by the Guru for his local Division I coverage La Salle shocked Duquesne, 68-63 using a closing 17-5 run in an Atlantic 10 game in Pittsburgh.

Despite the two teams here being in opposite ends of where their fate may lie, the duo were not that far apart most of the night after Temple (12-15, 6-10 AAC) fell behind 8-0 at the outset, dropped another three points in arrears and then closed to a three-point deficit at the half.

Late in the game Temple still had a chance to put a big dent on the outlook for Rutgers (21-6, 12-4) when the Owls pulled within a basket with 5 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game, but again for the fourth straight time in the last two weeks they couldn’t close the deal, much to the chagrin of coach Tonya Cardoza.

They couldn’t close it in the first meeting last month, either, back in Philadelphia when the Scarlet Knights took a 74-68 win at McGonigle Hall.

The loss also gave Rutgers a season-sweep of the Owls as conference opponents for the first time since 1994-95 when the Scarlet Knights made their farewell tour of the Atlantic 10.

Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer’s squad’s introductory debut in the new American out of the wreckage of the former incarnation of the Big East is also a one-year wonder since the Scarlet Knights are heading to the Big Ten next season.

Temple and Rutgers will still attempt to play each other as they did prior to this year as nonconference foes and they could meet one more time within the American in next weekend’s inaugural conference tournament at the Mohegan Sun in New London, Conn., home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun.

“I’m tired of these – this is like a broken record,” Cardoza said after the loss here.

“You just hope you’ve gotten to a point where you learn and do something different,” Cardoza continued. “We’re just getting the same results.

“We fight, fight, fight, we’re in games, then we don’t have anything at the end. We don’t have that killer instinct that we really want to go out and beat people,” she added. “We’re just hoping that other teams lose and it’s not going to win basketball games.

“We need guys that are going to fight that want to win and make sure that we win and we just keep coming up short because of that.”

While Cardoza bemoaned her team’s struggles, the effort drew compliments from Stringer.

“We knew they were good and it was good that they challenged us,” Stringer said. “Most importantly, it was good that we answered the call.”

The game showcased two of the top rookies in the conference from each squad and Temple’s Feyonda had a team-high 17 points ahead of Tyonna Williams’ 15 points.

Rutgers’ newcomer Tyler Scaife had a game-high 21 points while Kahleah Copper had another double double with 17 points and 12 rebounds and Betnijah Laney scored 11 points.

“She’s a great scoring threat,” Stringer said in praising Scaife’s growth during the season. “I’m really impressed with her. She knows we expect her to score in double figures. You can’t say enough about her as a freshman. She’s very consistent.”

The Scarlet Knights ruled the boards with a huge 43-24 advantage, including 17-7 on the offensive end though they only outscored the Owls by two at 8-6 on second chance points.

Temple’s postseason beyond the conference tournament probably was put to pasture in that -- barring a miracle run to the American title and NCAA automatic bid or just advancing to the title game – the Owls won’t qualify for the WNIT because they’ll finish below .500.

So it’s get what you can while you can and Temple’s last two games before the tournament are against teams they handled in UCF, which the Owls visit Saturday, and Houston, which will visit McGonigle Hall at 7 p.m. on senior night Monday.

“You just want to have a good mindset going into the tournament,” Cardoza said of the road immediately ahead. “Again, this is four straight games where we’re right there. So I think the morale for our guys is hard to keep up and let them know everything is OK because they keep falling short.

“It’s four straight games you have a chance to win and you come up on the losing end. We just have to get there and if we go into these last two games and play hard and outrebound them and take care of the basketball (Temple had 20 turnovers against Rutgers, which committed 22 miscues), going into the tournament I think our morale will be high and maybe we can go on a little run.

“But we have to find ways to win basketball games and want to win. We turned the basketball over a lot – careless turnovers. And they didn’t score a lot off of offensive rebounds but it’s demoralizing when they get 17 rebounds.

“We could have gone into the post more, ‘Tasha (Thames) should have gotten more touches. These last two weeks have been tough ones because we’ve come so close and we don’t have enough to get us over the hump and win those games.”

Temple is still sixth despite the loss, which would mean a first-round bye if the Owls hold serve and a quarterfinal date with Rutgers, though the Scarlet Knights next travel to top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut at the defending NCAA’s Gampel Pavilion on campus in Storrs, Saturday.

After that, South Florida, the team in fourth one game behind, visits Monday on what would be senior night if Rutgers had any seniors.

The Scarlet Knights already hold one win over the Bulls in Tampa.

Finishing fourth is big trouble in that it puts Rutgers on a path to meet UConn in the semifinal game and several NCAA women’s forecaster aren’t ready to call the Scarlet Knights a lock for an at-large slot if they don’t win the American title, even though they are one win from matching a high from over the past six seasons.

One reason for the quasi-bubble status is Rutgers’ schedule was scaled back because of the youthful roster unlike Temple’s, which has been in the top 15 a bunch, but, of course the Owls haven’t cashed in off the competition.

Rutgers harvested wins off of its foes but has paid a price in an RPI ranking below the premium positions of the past.

“Our RPI is in the 50s,” said Stringer, who was honored with a bobblehead doll likeness as a giveaway promotion. “Normally, we have RPIs that are 10 or less so how can I be comfortable? It’s important not only that we win but that we have impressive winning margins.”

While Rutgers’ NCAA outlook is still a bit contentious, that no longer seems the case in terms of Stringer’s immediate future.

A year ago at this time while she was gaining her milestone 900th win, Stringer’s contract situation was being scrutinized by the media covering the program because the current deal ends in a few months.

Rutgers missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade but with a return to the polls and a roster of special talent that could thrive in the Big 10, a new deal, maybe a bit less lucrative, is now expected.

La Salle Surges to Win Over Duquesne

After injuries and some defections hampered Jeff Williams since his arrival over the past several seasons, things at La Salle seem to be finally turning around, though it’s still been a roller coaster ride to date.

The Explorers were in the up mode Wednesday, however, with a 17-5 run at the finish that led to a 68-63 win at Duquesne, which has been fading down the stretch of the Atlantic 10 race, which concludes Sunday.

Dayton has already wrapped up the regular season title that the Flyers also won a year ago but after that things are in major gridlock to determine seeding for next weekend’s tournament in Richmond, Va., at the Coliseum.

La Salle (13-14, 8-7 Atlantic 10) was able to overcome the 23-point and game-high 11 rebound performance by Wumi Agunbiade of Duquesne (13-14, 8-7) because freshman Michya Owens matched a career-high with 23 points and newcomer Jasmine Alston matched hers with 16 points.

Alicia Cropper with 13 points and Leeza Burdgess with 12 points also scored in double figures for La Salle, which finishes up hosting second-place St. Bonaventure on Saturday at 1 p.m. on Senior Day at Tom Gola Arena.

The Explorers are in eighth place but mathematically could finish in a four-way tie for fifth heading into the final games as of this posting.

Saint Joseph’s is at Massachusetts in the lone league game Thursday night and finishes up at home celebrating Senior Day Sunday at Hagan Arena when Fordham, the team the Hawks beat for the A-10 tourney title a year ago, visits Hagan Arena at 2 p.m.

A win Thursday night puts Saint Joseph’s in a three-way tie for third with George Washington and Fordham one game behind the Bonnies.

Small Colleges: Tourney Time Begins

Having won its first regular season Centennial Conference title, Haverford will host the Division III league’s tournament Friday and Saturday.

The top-seeded Fords (21-3, 15-3 CC) will host Gettysburg at 6 p.m. Friday followed by third-seeded Johns Hopkins meeting second-seeded McDaniel at Gooding Arena. The Bullets, who were swept by Haverford during the season, eliminated Muhlenberg 66-51 Wednesday night to advance against the Fords.

The title game is 7 p.m. Saturday with the winner getting an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

CACCIn Division II in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC), Philadelphia University is the overall No. 1 seed.

The Rams on Saturday as the No. 1 South Seed will host North No. 4 Dominican College at 4:30 p.m. At the same time, No. 2 South Seed Holy Family, the defending champion, will host No. 3 North Seed Felician.

Meanwhile, No. 3 South Seed University of the Sciences of Philadelphia will travel to No. 2 North Seed Caldwell College, the host of the semifinals and finals next weekend, with this Saturday’s quarterfinals game to be played in Caldwell, N.J., at 2 p.m.

The other game, also set for 4:30 p.m., has No. 4 South Seed Goldey-Beacom traveling to No. 1 North Seed Bloomfield College.

The semifinals at Caldwell will be played at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 7 with the final to be played the next day at 7 p.m.

In Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, West Chester, the No. 2 East Seed, has a bye to the quarterfinals and will host on Tuesday the winner between No. 6 East Kutztown and No. 3 East Shippensburg, who will meet at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

In the Division III Freedom Conference, fifth-ranked FDU-Florham (26-0, 14-0) edged Delaware Valley College 56-49 Wednesday night to advance to Saturday’s game hosting as the defending champion visiting DeSales, which advanced with a 73-54 win over Eastern University.

And that’s the report. The Guru will be at Drexel Thursday night tweeting @womhoopsguru the Dragons’ Colonial Athletic Association game with UNCW, which is a must win to give Drexel a shot at defending its WNIT title if it doesn’t win the CAA tourney.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guru Report: Hrynko Homecoming Peformance Powers DePaul Over Villanova

By Mel Greenberg

When it comes to the old Big East vs. the new Big East, the seven schools from the previous configuration did take along some constants besides the rights to continue the record books that were in play at the close of business almost a year ago.

So while the Villanova women's basketball team may no longer have to deal with the likes of defending NCAA champion Connecticut, NCAA runnerup Louisville, NCAA Women's Final Four participant Notre Dame, and nationally-ranked Rutgers, along with such thorns as Syracuse, South Florida, West Virginia, and at times Pittsburgh, certain tough hurdles to the NCAA tournament still exist.

DePaul has always been one of them and Tuesday night in the only game of the Guru's PhilahoopsW 10-team Division I group for local coverage that was on the schedule, the Blue Demons rode the homecoming exploits of Brittany Hrynko's 25-point and nine-rebound performance to a 71-56 victory at the Wildcats' Pavilion to complete a season-sweep.

For the moment the win moves them into first place with a half-game lead over Saint John's, whom DePaul will visit Saturday night.

DePaul (22-6, 13-3 Big East) has one more game after the Red Storm, which will be at home against Georgetown, before hosting the conference tournament on a neutral court in the suburban Chicago town of Rosemont next weekend.

The Allstate Arena is also the home of the WNBA Chicago Sky.

Villanova (20-7, 10-6) stayed in fourth but is only a half-game ahead of Marquette, which is at St. John's Wednesday night.

Marquette must still host third-place Creighton on Saturday when Villanova will visit Xavier, and then the two will wrap it up here Tuesday on senior night.

In terms of Big East tourney seeding, it is academic where Villanova and Marquette finish -- they both have a cushion over sixth right now -- since 4 vs. 5 is the pairing in the quarterfinals.

However, in the big picture, whereas many have already penciled DePaul into the NCAA field, Villanova has slipped in and out of bubble status so just getting a few more wins is what's the Wildcats' prority right now.

Of course, conquering DePaul might have gone a long way, but while Villanova held the Blue Demons to a season-low on the scoreboard, that defensive feat was moot thanks to Hrynko, the Big East preseason player of the year and graduate of Engineering & Science, who helped the game get decided quickly when DePaul jumped to a 16-3 lead.

"When you play on the road this time of year, it is not about how many points you have, it's about how many more points do you have than the other team," longtime DePaul coach Doug Bruno, an assistant Olympic coach in 2012, said of dealing with the Wildcats.

"Villanova has a great system. I believe our team can play at a slow pace. I don't believe we were ever at a fast pace, but I felt we played pretty deliberate, actually," Bruno said.

"I thought our players had good discipline on both sides of the ball. I thought in the first half we had good discipline offensively and defensively," Bruno said.

"It's always easier when a talented player like Britt is making shots. It's only fitting that she's on the (Dawn) Staley guard watch list."

A year ago the Phoenix Club here established the Dawn Staley Guard Award that went to former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins.

“The Dawn Staley Award will allow for the consistent recognition of athletic achievement tied to one of the most decorated women’s basketball players from the Philadelphia Public League,” Michael G. Horsey, the founder of the award, said a year ago announcing the award's creation.

In 2008, the club was created to recognize outstanding male and female high school and college players from the city's Public League.

Hrynko, however, is not on the Nancy Lieberman point guard list for that award that is now handled by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

"I look at some of the players on that list and she's so much better than some of them," Bruno said."But the Staley list is about overall guard, not just point guard."

Hrynko in the first half tied a DePaul record for perfection in three-point shooting when she made all five of her attempts for the game from beyond the arc.

"It was great seeing all my family members and some of my AAU teammates," Hrynko said. "It's just a great feeling to be home."

Big East commssioner Val Ackerman was in the house and if she was on hand in a previous life as the founding president of the WNBA, she might have salivated a bit at the prospects of Hrynko as a future pro.

When asked what made her choose DePaul while still in high school, Hrynko said, "'Coach always came out to watch (former DePaul star) Keisha (Hampton) in high school and he happened to see me.

"And Chicago is just like Philadelphia and it is close to home."

The Blue Demons are now 9-2 in the series with the only two Wildcats wins coming here in 2009 and last season.

DePaul also got double digit scoring from Megan Podkowa, who collected 13 points, and Jasmine Penny, who got 12.

Devon Kane scored 19 points for Villanova and Taylor Holeman had 10 points. DePaul outrebounded the Wildcats 38-23 including 12-3 on the offensive glass.

"They're a very good team and we're just not ready to play against a team like that," Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. "We're too young and too inexperienced and they take advantage of us.

"They're good and it is what it is, he added. "Plus they have a very good player who can score at will."

Looking Ahead

Temple is at No. 24 Rutgers Thursday night for a key game in the American Athletic Conference with the host Scarlet Knights holding down third place and the Owls trying to finish in the top six and get a first-round bye in next weekend's conference tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.

The Guru will be tweeting @womhoopsguru from the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Rutgers is honoring longtime Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer with a bobblehead giveaway.

La Salle is at Duquesne in Pittsburgh in a key Atlantic 10 game for both.

On Thursday, Drexel will host UNCW is an important game for the Dragons, who need to get back to .500 overall to at least qualify for the WNIT, which they won last year, if they don't capture the Colonial Athletic Association title.

Delaware is at Hofstra in another CAA contest while Saint Joseph's will be looking to pick up a win in the Atlantic 10 when the Hawks travel to Massachusetts.

The 1-2 punch from the southern sector of the Ivy League on Friday are back in New England with Princeton, holding a one-game lead over Penn in first place, visiting Yale while the Quakers are at Brown.

The two travelers will then switch sites for Saturday.

We'll go over the rest of the Saturday slate -- some of which has been mentioned -- in a few days.

That's it for the moment.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guru Report: AP Women's Poll Coaching Appearances Update

By Mel Greenberg

Since it was a quiet Monday night, here is the latest updated file on number of total coaching appearances in the AP Poll showing all-time through a cutoff point for this post and likewise for active coaches. -- Mel

Quick hits on AP poll (week 17 – for coaches’ appearances week No. 17)
(This is 669th poll after week 17 for 2013-14). (Records on pages through week 17)

Coaches With Three Ranked Teams

C. Vivian Stringer (Cheyney-85), (Iowa-155), (Rutgers-170), 410
Jim Foster (St. Joe-35), (Vanderbilt-164), (Ohio St.-171), 370
Gary Blair (Stephen F. Austin-79), (Arkansas-67), (Texas A&M-148), 294
Marianne Stanley (Old Dominion-141), (Southern Cal-24), (Stanford*-18), 183
Lin Dunn (Miami-2), (Mississippi-1), (Purdue-130), 133
Don Perrelli (Northwestern-52), (S. Conn.-20), (St. John’s-1), 73
Tom Collen (Colorado St.-34), (Louisville-17), (Arkansas-9), 60
Sharon Fanning-Otis (Kentucky-4), (Miss. St.-48), (Tenn.-Chattannoga-4), 56
Debbie Yow (Florida-2), (Kentucky-21), (Oral Roberts-1), 24


Kittie Blakemore, Scott Harrelson – West Virginia 8
Sonja Hogg, Leon Barmore – Louisiana Tech 51
Jill Hutchison, Linda Fischer – Illinois St. 3
Jim Jarrett, Joyce Patterson – Georgia St. 1
Marianne Stanley, Amy Tucker – Stanford 18
Jim Bolla, Sheila Strike – UNLV 18

Coaches All Time Ranking Appearances

1.**- Pat Summitt, Tennessee – 618 (missed just 14 polls in entire AP history)
2. Andy Landers, Georgia – 509
3. Tara VanDerveer (2 schools – Ohio St., Stanford) – 463
4. Geno Auriemma, Connecticut – 423
5. C. Vivian Stringer (3 schools – Cheyney, Iowa, Rutgers) – 410
6. **-Jody Conradt, Texas – 395
7. (((-Jim Foster (3 schools – St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio St.) – 370
8. Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina – 361
9. **-Rene Portland (2 schools – St. Joseph, Penn St.) – 336
10. **-Debbie Ryan, Virginia – 328
11. **- Kay Yow, North Caro. St. – 326
12. **-Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech (51-shared with Sonja Hogg) – 325
13. Gary Blair, (3 schools – Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas, Texas A&M) – 295
13.**- Gail Goestenkors (2 schools – Duke, Texas) – 295
15. **-Joe Ciampi, Auburn – 290
16. Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame – 272
17. **-Sue Gunter (2 schools – Stephen F. Austin, LSU) – 270
18. &&-Joan Bonvicini (2 schools – Long Beach, Arizona) - 267
19. **-Marsha Sharp, Texas Tech – 264
20. **-Van Chancellor (2 schools – Mississippi, LSU) – 261
21. **-Chris Weller, Maryland - 227
22. **-Theresa Grentz (2 schools – Rutgers, Illinois) – 225
22. Kim Mulkey, Baylor 225
24. Sherri Coale, Oklahoma 223
25. Joanne P. McCallie (2 schools – Michigan St., Duke) – 202
26. **-Marianne Stanley (3 schools – Old Dominion, Southern Cal, Stanford*) – 183
27. **-Paul Sanderford (2 schools – W. Kentucky, Nebraska) – 182
28. Brenda Frese (2 schools – Minnesota, Maryland) -- 177
28. **-Marian Washington, Kansas – 176
**-Not in college or not in as a head coach or deceased

Active Coaches-All Time AP Ranking Appearances

1. Andy Landers, Georgia – 509
2. Tara VanDerveer (2 schools – Ohio St., Stanford) – 463
3. Geno Auriemma, Connecticut – 423
4. C.Vivian Stringer (3 schools – Cheyney, Iowa, Rutgers) – 410
5. (((-Jim Foster (3 schools – St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio St.) – 370
6. Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina – 361
7. Gary Blair, (3 schools – Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas, Texas A&M) – 295
8. Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame – 272
9.&&--Joan Bonvicini (2 schools – Long Beach, Arizona) - 267
10. Kim Mulkey, Baylor – 225
11. Sherri Coale, Oklahoma – 223
12. Joanne P. McCallie (2 schools - Michigan St., Duke) – 202
13. Brenda Frese (2 schools, Minnesota, Maryland) – 177
14. Melanie Balcomb (2 schools – Xavier, Vanderbilt) – 161
15. Bill Fennelly, (2 schools – Toledo, Iowa St.) – 155
16. Doug Bruno, DePaul – 138
17. @!@!-Kristy Curry (2 schools – Purdue, Texas Tech) – 136
18. %%- Joe McKeown (2 schools – New Mexico St., Geo. Washington) – 116
19. ==== Jim Davis, Clemson, 106
20.)))-Chris Gobrecht (Washington) - 104
21.@@@@- Cathy Inglese (2 school, Vermont, Boston College) – 98
22. !!!- Jane Albright (2 schools – N. Illinois, Wisconsin) – 96
23. Debbie Patterson, Kansas St. – 92
24. Charli Turner Thorne, Arizona St. – 84
25. Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky – 82
26. Jeff Walz, Louisville – 81
27. Sharon Versyp, Purdue – 80
28. Sue Semrau, Florida St. – 79
29. Pam Borton, Minnesota – 75
30. Connie Yori (Creighton, Nebraska) – 67
31. Dawn Staley (Temple, South Carolina) – 63
32. Joanne Boyle, California (2 schools – California, Virginia) – 61
33. Mike Carey, West Virginia – 60
33. Tom Collen, (3 schools, Colorado St., Louisville, Arkansas) – 60
35. Coquese Washington, Penn State – 58
36. Bonnie Henrickson, (2 schools -- Virginia Tech, Kansas) – 54
37. ***-Kathy Olivier, UCLA 52
38. ^^^-Kevin McGuff, Xavier – 50
38. Suzy Merchant, Michigan St. – 50
39. ____Terri Williams-Flournoy, Georgetown – 48
41. Harry Perretta, Villanova – 44
42. Jeff Mittie, TCU – 38
43. Lindsay Gottlieb, California 37
43. Holly Warlick, Tennessee – 37
45. Lisa Bluder (2 schools – Iowa, Drake) – 35
45.%=%= Matt Bollant, Wis.-Green Bay – 35
45. Kelly Graves, Gonzaga – 35
45. Katie Meier, Miami –35
49. Lisa Stockton, Tulane – 34
50. Jim Littell, Oklahoma State – 33
51. $$$- June Daugherty (2 schools – Boise St.,Washington) – 32

Footnotes: &&-Active at Seattle; )))-Active at Yale; $$$-Active at Wash. St.; %%-Active at Northwestern; !!!-Active at Nevada; @@@@-Active at R.I.; ^^^-Active at Ohio State.; ==== Active at Tenn Tech; ____Active at Auburn; %=%= Active at Illinois; (((-Active at Tenn.-Chattanooga; @!@!-Active at Alabama

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Guru Report: Princeton Edges Harvard While Penn Shocked at Dartmouth

(Guru note: Information beyond the Harvard-Princeton game was compiled from team websites and reports. )

By Mel Greenberg

A new pecking order in the red hot Ivy League women's basketball race has taken hold but there's nothing new about the frontrunner following the two days of super clashes here in New England.

Princeton drove from a 61-61 tie here with 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in regulation to down Harvard 69-64 Saturday night in the Crimson's Lavietes Pavilion to avenge last month's loss at Jadwin that had the Tigers trying to get back on top for the past three weeks.

But thanks to Princeton coach Courtney Banghart's alma mater, Dartmouth, the Tigers (17-6, 8-1 Ivy) are all alone in a place they have finished with the Ivy League crown for the past four straight seasons.

After Penn upset Harvard here Friday night to take a piece of first place with Princeton by knocking Harvard off the perch, the Quakers were unable to follow up, losing to the lowly Big Green 53-50 when a thrilling comeback fell short at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H.

It was the first league victory for Dartmouth (4-20, 1-9) while Penn parted with a nine-game win streak, second longest in program history.

Though the Dartmouth win short-circuited Penn's joy from Friday, Harvard (17-7, 7-3)came out in the worst shape of the trio suffering a two-game losing streak here after entering the weekend one triumph short of matching the 22-game record home win streak set in the late 1990s when future WNBA star Allison Feaster was torching opponents.

Longtime coach Kathy Delaney-Smith is still two wins short to match former Princeton coach Pete Carril for most overall wins (514) by a men's or women's coach in the Ivies.

On paper Penn (17-6, 7-2) still has a shot to get to a title by winning out and then beating Princeton at Jadwin the last game of the season to either claim a title outright or force a playoff if the Tigers maintain their pace being one year removed from the Niveen Rasheed era.

And the Quakers still have some margin of error to at least finish second and get an automatic bid as the Ivy runnerup to the WNIT won by Drexel last season.

By sweeping Harvard, Penn has the tie-break if both the Crimson and Quakers finish in the runnersup spot.

The game here was close throughout the night and when Harvard opened with a 7-2 spurt it seemed possible that for the first time in five seasons Princeton would not be ahead of the pack this late in the race.

Senior Kristen Helmstetter led the way with 17 points and six rebounds while Annie Tarakchian came off the bench to score a career-high 15 points,Taylor Williams scored 11 and Michelle Miller had 10 points and was 6-for-6 from the line.

Christine Clark scored a game-high 23 for Harvard while English Olympian Temi Fagbeni, who ultimately fouled out, had 10 points as did Melissa Mullins.

Other than the bench, which Princeton had a 22-14 advantage off Tarakchian's points, Harvard was the better in all the other category comparisons.

"This was a young team that tried to get the better of a really experienced Harvard team and the young guys -- they outlasted them and made really important plays," Banghart said.

"Who would have thought our star (Blake Dietrick) would go 1-for-13 (and 0-for-7 on three-point attempts) and we'd still win," Banghart continued.

"Christine Clark is one of the most relentless guards in our league and we thought we did a good job forcing tough shots and it was a battle from the start," Banghart said. "This young team is growing up and it's a tough place to win and I'm really happy we did."

Penn and Princeton this weekend return to lower New England, playing at Brown in Providence, R.I., and Yale in New Haven, Conn., the latter of which is no piece of cake.

"That's what we want in the league -- we want to be challenged and we are," Banghart said. "It's a good league this year."

She also alluded to the variety each of the Ancient Eight offer.

"Every weekend is different so our game plans are different," Banghart said. "I'm sure people think we change plans every week in terms of playing offensively, but teams' defenses are different."

Meanwhile earlier in the afternoon Penn put out a tweet quoting coach Mike McLaughlin saying "we came up here to play 80 minutes, not 40," looking ahead to Saturday night's trip to Dartmouth.

Unfortunately, after 40 great ones here Friday night, the next 20 for the Quakers were horrendous as they trailed at the half 26-17, shooting 5-for-23 from the field and 2-for-12 on three-point attempts.

The Quakers had yet to make a field goal after seven minutes elapsed before Meghan McCullough naied a three-pointer.

Penn came to life the rest of the way and led twice by a point in the last minute

Alyssa Baron had 12 points for the Quakers, while rookie Sydney Stipanovich had 11 points, 11 rebounds and blocked five shoots.

But she was in foul trouble as was Kara Bonenberger, who fouled out after scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds.

Lakin Roland and Fanni Szabo each scored 12 points for Dartmouth, whose new coach Belle Koclanes is a former Penn assistant.

Dartmouth outscored Penn, 30-10, inside the paint.

In the last minute, after Stipanovich missed the second foul shot, Katy Allen grabbed a loosely bounced rebound and scored for a 50-49 lead with 32 seconds left in regulation.

Dartmouth got the lead back with 21.7 left on a driving layup and then Penn committed a turnover enabling the Big Green to go up three after they scored.

With 3.2 seconds left, the ball was inbounded to midcourt, then Baron went to the top of the key and let loose an attempted trey to tie but the shot was wide right and Penn's two-year win streak at Dartmouth was over.

Temple Upset Bid Over South Florida Falls Short

A 23-point performance by rookie Feyonda Fitzgerald and a 19-point one from Tyonna Williams were wasted as the Owls lost to South Florida 72-69 in American Athletic Conference action in Temple's Liacouras Center.

"There are no moral victories," said Owls coach Tonya Cardoza, whose group next visits on Wednesday against No. 25-ranked Rutgers, which is in a key matchup at No. 5-ranked Louisville Sunday (ESPNU). "We came in and expected to win and we're disappointed in ourselves."

Natasha Thames hasd 10 points and Shi-Heria Shipp grabbed 10 rebounds for the Owls (12-14, 6-9 American Athletic Conference), who still could finish sixth and get a bye in next month's tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., near New London.

Courtney Williams had 35 points for South Florida (15-11, 10-5), falling two points short of the Liacouras arena scoring record by an opponent of the Temple women.

"I felt we gave her easy looks," Cardoza said. "She shot the ball well. We could have defended her better. We lost the game on the defensive end."

Looking Ahead

The Guru will be tweeting from Villanova, whose 1 p.m. start (FoxSports1-TV) at the Pavilion, Sunday, features visiting Georgetown before DePaul comes Tuesday night as part of the next two Big East games.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, Drexel is at Northeastern (the Guru did not plan to stay in Boston considering the Dragons' situation), while Delaware will be hosting William & Mary attempting to finish ahead of the Dragons in second place.

Saint Joseph's will be looking to stay near the top of the Atlantic 10 race when the Hawks visits frontrunner Dayton (ESPNU-TV) at 1 p.m. looking for a sweep on the regular season.

That's the report until Monday AM.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Guru Report: Penn Completes Sweep of Harvard and Heads to Ivy Tie for First

By Mel Greenberg

As the Penn women's basketball team stepped out of its travel bus and into Harvard's Lavietes Pavilion Friday night, Mother Nature and her merry band of Weatherwomen struck up a ferocious roar of thunder and teeming raindrops.

The Quakers gave a brief nod and then spent the next 40 minutes making lightning strike twice on the Crimson in a matter of three weeks on the way to a 63-50 victory that flipped Penn with Princeton into a first-place tie atop the Ivy League standings a half-game ahead of Harvard.

The ninth-straight win, second longest in the history of the Penn women (17-5, 7-1 Ivy), includes the 67-38 wipeout of the Crimson (17-6, 7-2) on Feb. 1 at the Quakers' Palestra in Philadelphia.

"Wer competed for this one," Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said afterwards. "To be able to beat this team twice in the same season, to come up here and win, our kids were tremendous. We had a great composure.

"I didn't like the pace early but in the last 15 minutes the pace of the half was where we needed it to be," he continued. "I thought senior leadership was great. I thought Meghan (McCullough) made a winning play off two missed foul shots and turned it into a three."

The portion of the crowd of 804 that was the Harvard faithful was shocked by Penn's electrifying performance that deprived the Crimson of tying their 22-game home win streak and kept coach Kathy Delaney-Smith two wins short of tying Princeton Hall of Famer Pete Carril for most overall triumphs (514) by an Ivy men's or women's coach.

On the other hand, the Penn fans here in suburban Boston were delighted to see the Quakers dismantle the decade-long curse of Lavietes that included six losses of double digits and three gut wrenchers at the buzzer in 2008, 2010, and the one in 2011 that came at the end of double overtime.

"Three years ago we lost a tough one here and maybe we weren't ready to compete," McLaughlin said. "But we were ready to win tonight."

The sweep is Penn's first over Harvard in 13 years.

Princeton, meanwhile, defending four successive titles, gained its move back to the top north of here as the Tigers romped 87-46 over Dartmouth, the alma mater of Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, in Hanover, N.H.

The Big Green, whom Penn will face Saturday night to complete the road trip, are just 3-20 overall and still winless in the league at 0-9.

Think about where Princeton (16-6, 7-1) has been the last four years and where Penn has come from in the same amount of time plus one additional season since McLaughlin took over the helm.

Across the Ivies the Quakers are getting mentioned with the Tigers in the same breath whereas in the past they weren't close enough to share the Earth's oxygen.

It started with a two-win season that was followed with the arrival of Miami native Alyssa Baron, who had 16 of her 21 points against Harvard Friday in the first half and whose three-pointer with 1:35 left in the game gave the Quakers a 12-point lead.

"I thought that was the dagger," Baron said. "It's been such an imoprovement each year. We've had so many heartbreaking losses here, it's just a great win to be able to come here and beat them on their home floor."

Whie Baron has been the main threat, her rookie of the year honors have also gone successively in the Big Five to Kara Bonenberger and Keiera Ray and likely to also go to Sydney Stipanovich.

"Alyssa just wants to win so bad and I'm glad we've been able to add pieces around her," McLaughlin said.

McCullough had eight points and five rebounds while dealing two assists, blocking a shot and grabbing three steals in 39 minutes..

Not bad for a senior whose day started early Friday morning in Charlotte, N.C., making as presentaation as part of a four-hour job interview and then catching a flight to get here at mid-afternoon where she dined more on the game plan than pre-game meal.

"Playing with Meghan these four years have been amazing," Baaron said. "I've never played with anyone with more heart than her."

In the second half, as Baron cooled off, the inside tandum of Bonenberger and rookie sensartrion Stiphasnovich combined for 17 of the Quakers' 19 points over an 11-minute span.

"They were beasts inside," said Baron, who reached 1,700 career points to become the third Penn star and 11th Ivy League woman to cross 1,700 points.

Bonenberger finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds while Stipanovich had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Christine Clark had 18 points for Harvard while Melissa Mullins and Temi Fagbenle each had 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Jasmine Evans grabbbed 10 rebounds.

Though Harvafrd is second in the Ivies in scoring, Penn held the Crimson about 29 points below their average in the two games combined.

Princeton, in its sixth straight win got 13 points from Kristen Helmstetter, 12 from Blake Dietrick and 10 from Taylor Williams.

The Tigers come here Saturday night for the 6 p.m. tipoff looking to avenge their 78-68 loss at home in Jadwin Gym on Jan. 31 that was Princeton's first following a three-week break for final exams.

Assuming Penn, which seems likely at worst to land in the WNIT, beats Dartmouth Saturday night, the Quakers will either be alone in first or still tied with Princeton depending om the outcome here.

The okty other PhilahoopsW team in action Saturday has Temple hosting South Florida at 2 p.m. in an American Athletic Conference game in the Liacouras Center, not McGonigle Hall.

The Guru will not be on hand to respond to wanting to ask the first question in the postgame press conference since he decided toi remain here and see how things develop.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, February 21, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Final Four Conference Style Comes Thundering Down the Stretch

By Mike Siroky

With three games left in the regular season, the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball race remains undecided. The final four games started with the late-week matchups. Only three teams have a shot at winning it.

The experts that picked the league race at the start – writers and coaches – each subscribed to the Tennessee legend.

One of us picked Kentucky.

We were all wrong . . . probably. OK, our UK pic was all wrong.

The genius conference schedulers put South Carolina at Tennessee to end the season. It still might be the deciding game; the home team would not be favored.

All of it is prelude to the conference tournament champ as the NCAA’s “automatic” bid. Conference tournament champs have been seeded lower in the NCAAs than regular-season champs in the SEC.

Texas A&M, Tennessee. LSU and Kentucky all host NCAA sub-Regionals, so all are already in the NCAA bracket someplace. Three of them plus SC are likely penciled in to the Sweet 16 and, as in seasons past, that is one-fourth of that group.

Of all the SEC teams hosting first-round NCAA sets, Tennessee, as ever, far and away leads the home attendance average, at 11,212. Next is Kentucky, 7,037; Texas A&M, 5,121; and LSU 3,003.

Included in every bid to host an NCAA event is guaranteed ticket sales (meaning the host school buys that many to start).

Incidentally, South Carolina’s attendance is second in the league, with an all-time best 5,638. SC is also in the top four of the natonal rankings, making them a potential No. 1 seed.

Tennessee vs. Kentucky was easily the competitive game of the week.

South Carolina is 7-0 in the Final 10 games, (an NCAA point of emphasis in seeding). Beating two ranked teams in succession this week on the road, at LSU and Kentucky also surely helps.

UT is 6-1 and they still have two tough games left against ranked teams.

Texas A&M exceeded the 20-win plateau, is all alone in second place in conference, 5-2 in the final 10

Kentucky was routed by South Carolina, back in the pattern of winning on Sunday and losing on Thursday, UK has 19 wins but now six conference losses, 4-3 in the rundown and next goes to A&M.

Mississippi State has 18 wins. State’s upset of then-ranked Vanderbilt was special. The final game against Georgia could make or break a 20-win season.

LSU is 3-4 in the Final 10, lost twice and only has Tennessee left among ranked teams. They will get 20 wins before the post-season if they win two of the last three, but six conference losses have them out of the race.

Unranked Florida is 4-3 in the Final 10. It has 17 wins, but now has three ranked teams to close the season; 20 wins will be a dicey proposition. The loss Sunday to Georgia was costly.

Unranked Arkansas has 17 wins, plays two ranked teams next and has eight league losses.

Unranked Georgia has 18 wins, but have seven conference losses and is 4-3 in the closing sprint.

Vanderbilt dropped out of the national poll out entirely – a loss of at least nine positions -- after the loss to State at home. Coach Melanie Balcomb publicly asked if some of her players were “hiding” or afraid to step up.

The Commodores also have 18 wins, but are 2-5 in the Final 10, which shows the value of that computation. If they win their final two homes games, they can get to 20 before the conference tournament.

No SEC team with 20 wins has ever missed an NCAA tournament.

That’s life in the toughest league in America, with five teams ranked in the Top 20 of the Associated Press poll.

Here’s how the week went for the Fab Five:

•No. 4 South Carolina: This was the week for South Carolina to establish itself as the rock-solid best team in the conference, with No. 19 LSU coming in and then a game at No. 18 Kentucky.

It moved them up one spot in the national rankings, to No. 1 NCAA seed territory. It is the headiest time there since the Gamecocks were No. 2 in the country during the 1981 season.

They did the job in workmanlike fashion at LSU, winning each half by eight in a 73-57 final. It is their first win Baton Rouge in 20 years.

The home team scored no points from the final 4:19 until less than a minute was left. SC was continually fouled and continued to make free throws in that span, six straight, the first four by Khadijah Sessions. They had 21-of-28 free throws; LSU, 2-of-4. Junior Aleighsa Welch and sophomore Tiffany Mitchell scored 19 each for the victors.

It made SC coach Dawn Staley the first to 24 wins this season; the-now 13 conference wins bests last season’s record; the seven conference road wins is also is a record. They won 25 each of the past two seasons.

The wins also meant Staley has raised the total number of conference wins in each of her seasons at Columbia, as she has rebuilt a team back to the national prominence it held in the ‘80s when it spent a few weeks at No. 2 in the nation.

Staley said, “At this point, all wins in this league are good. We haven’t been very successful (at LSU). A lot of that has to do with the atmosphere, a lot has to do with the teams they put on the floor. It was the same today, but I think for longer stretches we played a little more disciplined.”

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said, “We’ve got to give a lot of credit to South Carolina. I thought they did a nice job, especially in the second half, of competing on the offensive end.

“When we were trying to cut into their lead, I thought we had some momentum going in our favor. But, with the swing of a couple of calls, the game was shifted. It went from a one-possession game to a three-possession game in a matter of minutes.

“When you’re playing a team like South Carolina, it’s going to be hard to dig yourself out of a hole. They did a nice job today, especially when you look at what Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell brought to the table.”

Welch was happy to accept the win and the comments.

“Getting wins on the road, especially this season, is imperative for us,” she said. “To be able to come down here and handle our business and keep it up for two halves is a huge confidence-builder for us.”

They did that at Kentucky, 81-58, winningt he second half by 15. Almost 6,000 came out, probably in appreciation of South Carolina.

Welch scored 21 as four starters trashed Kentucky’s once-reliable defense with at least a dozen points each. The rebounds difference was an enormous plus-25 for SC. Only reserves hit double figures for the home team which hit 38 percent form the field. Forced to foul, SC took the gifts at the lone, hitting 17-of-20.

UK had shot 30 percent in the first matchup this serason and coach Matthew Mitchell had said beforehand not repeating that would be a key. He lost the key. Instead, the visitors hit 60 percent from the field in the second half.

“It was a) tough game for us tonight,” he said. “We ran into a really, really tough opponent, extremely talented, plays real hard. They were tough defensively, tough offensively, really active on the boards and we got whipped tonight. We didn’t compete nearly as hard as South Carolina and that’s what makes tonight so disappointing.”

Staley said, “I think we gave Kentucky a taste of its own medicine. They like to push the ball and get the ball into the paint. Sometimes when that is your strength, it is also your weakness. We wanted to make sure we were equally as aggressive getting the ball to the paint, whether that was through our post players or through penetration.”

As for all those rebounds . . . “I’m just as surprised as you are. I thought (it was) a great team effort in making sure one shot. The rebound is one of our keys. We want to outrebound them. If we can do that, it puts us in a great position to win.”

Welch said: “We emphasize boxing out. That is one thing that we really knew we had to do and also secure the rebounds. I think we did a great job of taking our defensive assignments, boxing out when the shot went up, we communicated, we were able to secure rebounds and were able to get out in transition.

“So I don’t think we really noticed in the heat of the game that was the rebounding margin. I think it just pays off to us working hard in practice.”

SC closes their fabulous home season, still without a league loss, against unranked Florida and Georgia. Kentucky is at A&M before stumbling to a close against two unranked teams.

•No. 10 Tennessee: The game against visiting Kentucky was the statement game everyone expected. The Kats needs to recover their swagger.

Tennessee wanted to defend its homecourt, already sullied once this season.

The Lady Vols were but a game back in the league race with a showdown left with conference leader South Carolina. Kentucky is way out of the league race but still has pride.

Kentucky’s only basket in the final 2:38 of the half was a 3 by Kastine Evans.

UT’s only scores in the same sequence were a layup and free throw by Bashaara Graves. There had been a similar drought earlier in the half when each side went minutes without scoring. The difference at the break was 38-34, UK.

Each side had turned up the defense.

Kentucky was getting the worst of the calls. Three of four starters had three fouls and two reserves had four. Tennessee had no such worries.

But on rolled the Wildcats.

SEC Player of the Week, junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill was nearly unstoppable. She made three straight jumpers in the final 3:25 and Kentucky ruled, 72-69, with a minute left. She had 24 points, off the bench as per usual.

That’s 11 above her average.

Meighan Simons missed a 3 coming out of a UT timeout with less than a minute to go. Cierra Burdick fouled Kastine Evans who hit one free throw.

Bashaara Graves took a Simons feed to the hoop on the other end and it was 73-71. Another Lady Vol timeout. They fouled on the inbound with 14 seconds left.

There was one last chance. Sophomore guard Janee Thompson missed the free throw. Izzy Harrison got the rebound. UT had a timeout left and used it, six seconds to go. Kentucky also called a timeout.

Evans stole the ball. She was fouled and hit both free throws. It was over, 75-71, each side holding the other at least 10 points below the league-leading scoring averages.

No. 18 had dumped No. 8 on their own homecourt. A six-game conference win streak was ended. Tennessee lost two spots in the national ranking and Kentucky gained three.

The Big Blue swagger was back, if but for one game. UT’s title defense seemed in shambles, with two league losses at home. It’s 15,664 witnesses went home shocked.

It is only the third win in the series at Knoxville, with Tennessee winning the other 21. It is the closest win at Knoxville since 1985.

O’Neill had 24, Thompson 15, 5-of-7 from the line. Graves and Harrison each had 20. UK had four more 3s than the home team. That may have been the difference, 41 percent to 20 percent.

UT had a week to prepare for this. Well, not for the loss, but for the opposition.

“We struggled on the defensive end, had a chance the second half and gave up a three-point shot that O’Neill banked in and we turned the ball over four out of the last six possessions,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “Tough game, but we couldn’t get over the hump.

“I just think we didn’t . . . defense wasn’t important for us today. So, that’s about it.”

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell first paid tribute to the late Betty Jaynes.

The Lady Kats are wearing a patch honoring her for the rest of the season.

Then, about the game: “For our team, we just have great respect for Tennessee and how good they are and the team they have. We had to work hard in preparation to win down here today. I couldn’t be more proud of our players.

“They couldn’t have played any harder. Tennessee played a real tough game, and our team played a tough game. It was a great win.”

As for the first win in Knoxville since 1985: “This something that you look back at after the season when you highlight some things, but this team needed to win today because they could. They needed to believe in themselves, and they did.

“That is the significant thing in my mind. We have a good team, and we knew that. Over the last couple of weeks, we have been focusing on making sure our players know we have a good team. What they did today is something they have already done this year. We beat another Top 10 team away from home on a big stage and environment. I have just been trying to get them to understand that they are a good team and players.”

Auburn stumbled into a meat grinder by being next in line at Knoxville. The Lady Vols won by 30, building a 21-point lead by halftime in front of 10,1111 witnesses.

Simmons was 10-of-22 from the field for 26. She had 25 points in the game’s first 21, Burdick led the other four Lady Vols in double figurers with 17. UT won the rebounds, 47-33.

Warlick celebrated.

“Loved our effort,” Warlick said. “I wasn’t thrilled about the last nine minutes, but we’re still striving to play a perfect game. I guess that’s why I have a job right now. “

One reason might be they are still without starting point guard Ariel Massengale, going on a month since she bonked her head on the home floor.
“It’s still day-to-day,” Warlick said. “I just listen to what the doctors and the trainers say and continue to do what we’ve been doing; just hope that she gets back soon.”

Back to this game, Warlick noted they cut down on turnoevrs from the Kentucky loss and that Simmons was back to being a shooter.

“When the ball was leaving her hand, I thought it was in just about every time,” Warlick said. “I keep saying, ‘Meighan is taking great looks for Meighan;’ she really is. I don’t see her taking a lot of bad shots right now and she had five assists.

“I’m probably more proud of her because she had six rebounds. We’re trying to get her to get on the boards. I think Meighan took good looks for Meighan. If she keeps doing that, she’s going to score a high percentage and she’s going to probably continue to be our leading scorer.”

Simons said it remains all about the team and the support of the faithful Tennessee fans.

“I think it just gives us the mentality that we know what we’re capable of,” Simmons said. “When we lose, we know there are some things we need to change in order to be better the next game.

“In the four years I’ve been here, this team is completely different. When adversity hits, we come together even more. We talk to each other in the locker room, making sure we stay encouraged and don’t get discouraged at any point in time when we do lose. We knew we had to bounce back. We have to take it one game at a time, win or loss.”

The Lady Vols are at Missouri and then the minefield that has been LSU. The Bayou Ben-Gals won by three at Tennessee to start the league season and are the reason UT is not in first place in defense of its conference regular-season title.

•No. 16 Texas A&M: Given the Tennessee loss to start the week, the Aggies took no prisoners at Alabama and wasted the Tide, 71-46.

A&M took a 15-point halftime edge and won the second half by 10
Senior center Karla Gilbert continues to assert herself in her last games. She scored 15. The sophomore Courtneys, Walker and Williams, scored a dozen each. The team only attempted one 3. A guard, Jordan Jones, led them in rebounding, with 10.

A&M has hung the only league loss on South Carolina, by two points in overtime, and are all alone in second place. If the Gamecocks lose the last game of the season, at Tennessee, A&M wins the regular-season title on the margin of those two points.

At Alabama, the 20th A&M win marked the ninth straight for coach Gary Blair, the 24th of his Hall of Fame career.

Blair was quick to praise Alabama.

““We came in with as much respect for Alabama as we do for anyone else in the SEC. When you can do what Kristy (Curry) has done in her first year, you’ve got to give the young lady some kudos. She’s going to get it done on the recruiting trail.

“I thought we did a pretty good job overall. We had shut (Alabama) out on 3s until the last one. That’s why we are in the top 10 in 3-point percentage defense. We do it because we play man-to-man, where we open up in the zone. (Alabama) missed a few, but then got good looks so we switched back to man coverage.”

As always, he made adjustments once he figured out the opponent.

“I thought our shot selection by most of our starters were very good,” Blair said. “It was good for Williams once the second half started. Sometimes she was shooting because she was open, and that’s what the defense wants sometimes, but if you look at the shooting percentage of our first five kids, it was pretty good.

“Gilbert was a load in there. She could have gone for 30 tonight if I kept her in. We don’t see man-for-man; we see zone. This is the most man-for-man we’ve seen. It’s not that Gilbert is Shaquille O’Neal or something, but she takes up three people converging on her and does a pretty good job with dumping the ball out. She only has one turnover in 22 minutes and 15 points. That’s pretty good.

Normally when you triple or double-team them, she travels a lot.

“We are going to take the win. I don’t know how good we are.

“We’ve played Georgia and LSU for the last two games, which both went down to the last second and we were lucky enough to play them both at home and won.

“This is our 20th win. I feel good about basketball team. We keep finding ways. My sophomore guards out there are going to be pretty good by the time they are seniors.”

“I think Jordan Jones is the best defensive point guard in our league. I think she does a great job. The charge that she took and the other things she did against Alabama’s guards early, she did really well.”

Using his entire bench, he had a dozen players score.

“I have balance,” he said “and I have depth. When you win a national championship, people want to come to Alabama football and Texas A&M basketball.

When I signed those six sophomores, and that No. 2 recruiting class, I still got five out of six. They are all perimeter players, and they are all good. That’s what happens. You have to build up depth and find kids who are willing to share.

Kids come to Alabama because of tradition, and they come to A&M because of tradition, too.”

At Ole Miss, it was more of the same, 73-61, A&M winning the first half by 14 and coasting. Williams scored 26. Gilbert had 21, 8-of-10 from the field.

It is the 14th win in the past 16 games. At 11-2 in the league, they have matched their conference win total of a year ago.

“The first half was the difference in the game,” Ole miss coach Matt Insell said.
“We played a little intimidated offensively in the first half. We got the same shots in the second half as the first, but we were intimidated by their size. They were a lot bigger than us.

“In the second half, we had a big run to start and played with a lot of fire. We played one of the better teams in our league that’s ranked in the top 15 in the country. They made more plays than we did, but if we play the first half like the second half, it would have been a different game.”

“We’re preparing for a run in the SEC Tournament.”

Figure this out if you can . . . A&M won twice, took over second in the toughest conference in the land and dropped two spots in the national poll.

Kentucky comes to visit Sunday in what could be the last challenge of the regular season. Arkansas closes the home schedule, the last game at Aggieland before the sub-Regional.

•No. 19 LSU closed out its week at Georgia. Their loss to South Carolina cost them not at all in the national picture. The 71-67 loss to unranked Georgia might knock them out of the rankings.

Theresa Plaisance scored 29 – 21 in the second half -- and Jeanne Kennedy 21.

Guard Erika Ford led Georgia, with 20 – 16 after intermission – and the Lady ‘Dawgs suddenly have 18 wins and history on their side for an NCA bid. A decent crowd of 3,421 came for the upset.

They are only 4-3 in this closing 10. They have yet to go to South Carolina, so need to win the other two on the schedule to get 20 before the post-season.

Three other Georgia players hit double figures.

“I thought early on we got the 3 balls, the shooting, the movement of the ball and getting it to the right person at the right time,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “We ran out to a big lead early and they were shocked. If Kenney doesn’t drop four 3s on us, this thing is ugly at the half.

“Now what you saw late in the game what their guards were doing was what they wanted to do all game . . . and then you go down to the other end and here comes Erika Ford, who made plays tonight off the bounce like it was her job. It was a terrific win for us tonight.”

Both of Georgia’s key post players – Halle Washington and Merritt Hempe – fouled out with plenty of time left, Washington at 6:46 and Hempe at 5:01. Kaelyn Causwell, off the bench for Hempe, made one of the biggest plays of the game with 1:11 left when she used her length to disrupt an LSU dribble and fell to the floor to claim the ball. Her only steal of the game.

“Play of the game,” said Landers.

Ford scored her final four in the closing 63 seconds, two free throws and a jumper to keep SC just out of reach. Sophomore Shacobia Barbee hit the final two of her 13 from the free-throw line with 14 seconds left.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said she continues to stress the positive.

“We’ve talked about how you’ve got to get in the gym and fill that confidence tank back up,” Caldwell said. “We’ve talked about them being OK. It’s not the end of the world. Tomorrow is another day to compete, and we’re OK, reassuring them of that.”

Caldwell said she and her coaches have decided to shelve the bad memories, and focus on the good times. Like their trip in August to play exhibition games in Spain, or their wins in New York over the Thanksgiving holiday to take the title in the Barclays Center tournament.

“I’m just trying not to add any more pressure than what they may be feeling,” Caldwell said, “any more than they can handle right now.”

LSU welcomes Arkansas and Tennessee this week.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guru Report:: Saint Joseph's Shines on Cloud's Game-Winner While Delaware Downs Drexel

By Mel Greenberg

Two halves of beat-the-buzzer by Ciara Andrews at the break and Natasha Cloud at the finish carried Saint Joseph’s over Duquesne 61-59 Tuesday night in a later start on Hawk Hill at Hagan Arena for the purposes of a national telecast as part of the Atlantic 10 package.

The win for the moment snapped a fifth-place tie and sent the Hawks (20-6, 9-4 Atlantic 10) into a third-place tie with George Washington (18-8, 9-4) and Fordham (20-6, 9-4) and a half-game behind second place St. Bonaventure (20-7, 9-3).

However, next up is a trip to first-place Dayton Sunday in Ohio. The Flyers (18-5, 11-1) are here at the moment in a Wednesday visit to La Salle (12-13, 7-6) and their previous visit to the city didn’t go so well late last month with Saint Joseph’s gaining a 75-63 upset in what has been Dayton’s only league loss to date.

Duquesne (16-10, 8-5) fell to sole possession of sixth off a four-game losing streak before which the Dukes held a brief lead at the top.

Earlier in the evening just outside center city downtown, Delaware nipped Drexel 55-50 in the closing minutes at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center to gain a split in the series between the long-time rivals that dates back to the America East and has continued in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The win gives the Blue Hens (17-6, 9-3 CAA) a two-game lead over the Dragons (12-13, 7-5) in second place.

We’ll get to more about the local war in a bit but second things first, which means discussing the Atlantic 10 game.

Early in the contest the Dukes took a five-point lead but after Saint Joseph’s went ahead on Kelsey Berger’s layup with 7 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half and while the Hawks never trailed again the affair had enough drama to keep the TV audience in check.

Ciara Andrews, a sophomore guard from Cheltenham High who had a game and career-high 21 points, scored on a funky layup just before time expired for a 30-24 lead at the half.

“`Coach’ told me the main focus (from other teams) would be ‘Tosh and Erin (Shields) so that when other teams come to them, she said, `There’s not going to be a third one that can guard you so start being aggressive and I came out aggressive and once you get rolling, you feel good and that’s what happened.” today.”

The advantage got to eight several times during the second stanza but after Saint Joseph’s got to the last of those at 53-45 with 7:15 left in the game, Duquesne stirred to go on a 14-6 run and knot the score 59-59 after Raegan Moore hit a pair of foul shots with 17 seconds left. She previously connected from the charity stripe twice with 59 seconds left to personally erase a four-point Hawks lead in the final minute as Moore finished with a team-high 19 points.

So on a night when Shields, the Atlantic 10 player of the week, and Cloud were held to seven points each, the two still stood tall at the finish as Shields slipped a pass inside to Cloud, who scored the game-winner with 3.19 seconds left in regulation.

“What a great game for national TV with two teams going at it at 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night,” Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said of the hard-fought contest.

“Very happy we came out on top because Duquesne is a very good team,” she continued. “We were in control most of the game but they certainly went on a run at the end of the game and our kids held on and certainly had to make plays at the end.

“This time of year, it’s about making plays and pushing forward and we did that today.”

Ashley Robinson had another big post game scoring 13 points and has been relief in that the Hawks have not had to rely on mega numbers every night from Shields and Cloud, who described the winning play.

“We were in a good position, even though it was tied,” Cloud said. ‘Coach’ made a good timeout call and a good end-of-the-game play call on my strong hand and we just executed down the stretch. That’s what wins us games - how we execute and how we execute our offensive sets.”

Over the next two weeks the top of the league will be banging into each other to set up the final standings and seeds for next month’s tournament in Richmond, Va.

“I think the league set it up that way, not just for us, and as they say, it’s going to be a photo finish.”

After Dayton, Saint Joseph’s goes to lowly Massachusetts but returns here on Senior Day March 2 at 2 p.m. to host Fordham, the team the Hawks also beat in a photo finish a year ago in the title game of the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Barclays Arena to return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2000.

Though Cloud’s overall scoring was limited, the Cardinal O’Hara graduate still dealt nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds.

The Hawks also overcame a 38-25 rebounding disadvantage and 17-11 deficit on second-chance points by doubling Duquesne’s production in the paint, 36-18, which was fueled by a 20-7 score off turnovers – 16 by Duquesne – and 10-0 on fast breaks.

Duquesne got good board work from Wumi Agunbiade’s 18 points and 12 rebounds while Orsi Szecsi grabbed 10 rebounds.

“It’s disappointing because we’ve lost four games in a row, which is really not characteristic of our program,” said new coach Dan Burt, who was promoted last April after former Penn State all-American Suzie McConnell-Serio left the renaissance she created in her native city to move a few miles away to attempt to do the same for Pittsburgh, which left the old Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“It’s tough because we lost some really close games where we played pretty well but in some areas we’re deficient,” Burt said. “Tonight, we challenged the kids to rebound and we did but you can’t make that many turnovers.

“The postseason starts now for us and we don’t have any margin of error and we’re going to have to play well.”

Delaware Thrives Off Drexel Drought at the Finish

At one instance Drexel blasting from beyond the arc for an eventual 11 three-pointers and controlling Kelsey Buchanan, the new go-to star following the graduation of Elena Delle Donne, an all-time collegian, seemed to have the Dragons on the way to a sweep of the season series and a great shot at finishing second in the final standings.

Next month’s tournament again returns to the Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., near Annapolis, College Park, and Washington, D.C.

The No. 2 seed now seems likely to go Delaware’s way, without regard to Thursday’s visit in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark from front-runner James Madison, which is unbeaten in the CAA.

That’s a role Delaware held the last two seasons of perfection in the conference before having to lose not only the future WNBA rookie of the year, but six other talented seniors as well.

On the other side from Tuesday night’s game, one can recall Drexel tossing out narrow losses to the Blue Hens a year ago by storming to take the postseason WNIT.

But one cannot recall so many cold spells in the Dragons’ offense and without pattern when they strike. Sunday’s competitive portion of the game against JMU here was eclipsed by a rough start at the outset.

This time the end game was to Drexel coach Denise Dillon’s dismay and Martin’s delight.

Though Buchanan was somewhat held in check with eight points in part due to foul trouble – she still grabbed seven rebounds, Courtni Green had 18 points for the visitors fueled off four three-pointers on the way to tying a career-high in total points.

Joy Caracciolo, a redshirt sophomore, added 10 points and the Blue Hens destroyed Drexel inside 22-2 besides winning the depth category with a 12-2 advantage off the bench.

“I thought that was a key,” Martin said.

Tory Thierolf had a Drexel and career-high 16 points and was 4-for-5 on attempted treys but 1 for 8 on everything else while Meghan Creighton’s 4-for-9 was the same for overall attempts from the field and three-pointers.

Creighton, a sophomore, now has 103 treys, just the ninth Dragon to surpass 100. Thierolf did hit a pair of treys to keep Drexel afloat at the close before sinking altogether.

The Dragons were a perfect 5-for-5 on the line but were still outmatched by Delaware’s 9-for-16 on what was obviously not a good shooting night for shooting free throws.

In the last 3 minutes, 30 seconds of play Drexel connected on just one field goal as Delaware, which has won six straight games, rallied after being down 10 points in the first half, though the Blue Hens hit the break with a one-point lead.

Drexel’s situation long-range is a bit precarious in that while, among the team’s last four opponents, Northeastern, UNCW and Towson, have all been victims of the Dragons and the loss to Hofstra was at the finish here, nothing is guaranteed.

Finishing fourth means a potential semifinal match with James Madison rather meeting the Duchesses in the final. And finishing below .500 overall will kill postseason eligibility in the WNIT.

Meanwhile, maybe some serious thinking needs to be done by the CAA coaches in making their colleague Martin coach of the year if the job she’s done to date keeps up, considering the youth of the roster.

“I don’t know how we won the game, but we came through in the end”, she said after the victory. “We hung in there when we needed to and our kids didn’t hang their heads when I was yelling at them.

“I’m happy to leave here with a win because Drexel is always a tough team, especially on their home court.”

The Return of Delle Donne

Delaware and local women’s basketball fans in general haven’t seen the last of Delle Donne in uniform at the Bob Carpenter Center.

The WNBA rookie of the year will be back with her Chicago Sky teammates, which finished first in the East on the regular season for their first playoff appearance, on Tuesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. to play the Washington Mystics in a preseason game.

The games was officially announced early Tuesday afternoon by Chicago and Washington with Delaware relaying the Sky announcement to its following.

Given the history of Delle Donne’s career in her native state, the game in the 5,000-seat arena is likely to be a quick sellout.

The Mystics in their announcement of the game stated a fan bus will be available to travel north from the nation’s capital. Washington said tickets from them would go on sale March 3, though the Sky announcement the sale would begin March 13.

Besides online and phone sales, they can also be purchased in person at the Delaware ticket office. The release is up at the Delaware athletics website.

If anybody had any doubt on Delle Donne’s financial magnetism, the Sky announced 11 partners primarily out of the state of Delaware for the game, including DuPont, which has an endorsement deal with the native of Wilmington; the local Courtyard hotel, Grotto Pizza, and Delaware Bay and Authority, to name a few of them.

There might be some enhancements surrounding the game to be determined.

Small Colleges: Philadelphia U Stays Perfect with Escape at USP

Well, maybe the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference might have some suspense after all.

The Rams topped the University of the Sciences of Philadelphia with a narrow 80-77 win in overtime to end the Devils’ five-game win streak in a game played at USP’s Bobby Morgan Arena in Southwest Philadelphia.

The victory keeps the Southern Division leaders perfect in the CACC with an 18-5 overall record and 16-0 in the conference and clinches at least a share of the division crown, owned many years in the past by Holy Family.

The Devils are now 17-7 and 12-5.

Mary Newell had 18 points and 15 rebounds for Phila. U., which also got 15 points from Samantha Morris, 13 points from Najah Jacobs, and 11 points from Monica Schacker.

Brianne Traub had 20 points and eight rebounds for USP, while Kaitlyn Schmid scored 13 points and dealt seven assists. Camille McPherson added 13 points and Megan Wolf scored 12.

The score stayed tied 68-68 in the final 1:10 of regulation to send the game into overtime.

The Rams launched 5-0 run after the Devils took a one-point lead in the extended session to make it 79-75, which was enough to stay perfect in the conference.

Haverford Stays in Hunt The Fords host Ursinus Wednesday night at 6 on the Main Line and Saturday’s win at Gettysburg set records for overall triumphs at 19-3 and in the Centennial Conference at 13-3.

The regular season ends Saturday at Swarthmore.

That’s the report for now and the Guru will be tweeting from La Salle @womhoopsguru Wednesday night, which is the only game out of the 10-team PhilahoopsW crowd on the schedule.

Thursday Delaware hosts James Madison, as mentioned, while No. 9 Penn State will host Northwestern.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad