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.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Guru Report: Harvard Stuns Princeton While Penn Tops Dartmouth To Set Palestra Showdown

By Mel Greenberg

It's showdown time down in Philadelphia Saturday night at Penn's Palestra to complete the first full weekend of Ivy competition even though it will take most of February before the effects of the outcome between the host Quakers and Harvard are actually known.

The Penn-Harvard game was always going to be big but it got even bigger as a result of Friday night's action when Harvard brought four-time defending Princeton back to the rest of the crowd here by handing the Tigers their first Ivy loss in Jadwin Gym in five seasons, triumphing 78-68.

Princeton (10-6, 1-1 Ivy) hadn't lost at home since a setback to Yale after Harvard (13-4, 3-0) also won here in the 2008-09 season.

Beginning with the champioship domination in 2009-10, Princeton after Friday night is 55-3 in that span in league play and all three losses have been to Harvard.

"I think my first six years we could never win here -- ever," Harvard longtime coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said after collecting her 298th Ivy victory and the Crimson their 599th triumph overall as a women's basketball program. "Even when we were winning Ivy titles, we had trouble playing here. So that's a monkey off my back."

Delaney-Smith, now in her 32nd season at Harvard, picked up her 500th career win at Colgate on Novemvber 23.

Meanwhile, Penn took care of its business at home beating Dartmouth 71-53.

"We played well," Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. "Dartmouth has a lot of talent and they play hard. We're going to have our hands full when we go up there (Hanover, N.H.). But we didn't let Saturday night distract us from what was in front but now we're ready for the next one."

The nuances of the Ivy schedule this season has the top three teams in the preseason media forecast -- Princeton, Harvard, and Penn (11-5, 1-1)-- all colliding early and each knows the road to the postseason is through each other, be it the NCAA automatic bid that goes to the Ivy champ, the automatic WNIT bid to the runnerup, or perhaps at-large status in the WNIT or a spot in the College Basketball Invitational.

Last season, after Harvard edged the Quakers for the WNIT lot, they got invited to the CBI and advanced to the semifinals, narrowly missing a trip to the title game.

Early last month, Penn got routed by Princeton in the league opener three weeks ago and the winning Tigers were idle since then until Friday night while Harvard completed a season sweep last weekend of its travel partner Dartmouth (3-14, 0-3).

Meanwhile, the Quakers, who have a road win over Miami of the Atlantic Coast Conference on New Year's Day, spent the hiatus playing the emotionally driven Philadelphia Big 5 series and raised eyebrows all over the region in local road games taking Villanova and Saint Joseph's down to the last minute and then winning at Temple to gain two Big Five triumphs in the same season for only the second time in the Quakers hiistory.

So now the stage is set that if Penn is to be a factor in the conference chase or runnerup spot the Quakers will have to establish that notion beating the Crimson.

Even with Penn being successful, when the smoke clears on Sunday morning's standings Yale could be the only team unbeaten in Ivy play.

But the Bulldogs will still have to deal with the three aforementioned programs before Yale can become a fourth school in the hunt.

All that said, the story on the game here was after an early 7-6 Princeton lead, Harvard roared to 31-13 lead near the end of the half before hitting intermission ahead 44-30, having repulsed the Tigers (10-6, 1-1 Ivy) after they ffinally stirred.

Crimson sensation Temi Fagbenli, who finished with a double double of 13 points and 13 rebounds, got four quick points for another 18 point lead before Princeton rallied again and sliced the huge deficit all the way down to a single point twice down the stretch, the second of which was at 66-65 with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left in the game.

But that was as close as it would get when Harvard started making its foul shots.

The last chance came when Harvard's Melissa Mullins missed two free throws with the Crimson ahead 73-68 with 1:06 left in regulaton.

Princeton got the rebound but Amanda Berntsen missed a three-point attempt, Blake Dietrick comitted a foul and Harvard's Jasmine Evans hit two this time and the upset was on its way to the Ivy standings.

"They're a very good team and so are we," Delaney-Smith said. "This game is not surprising but I was surprised we gave up a big lead but one of our best players just had an off-night tonight so I'm happy we can beat a team as good as Princeton with one of your best players off."

Stsrter Erin McDonnell, who is averaging 11.1 points a game for Harvard, scored just two on 1-for-4 shooting from the field.

However, Christine Clark had a game-high 25 points, Elise Gordon off the bench scored 12 and Evans had 10 points.

"They did a nice job coming back," Delaney-Smith said of the Princeton rally. (Tigers coach) Courtney (Banghart) has done a nice job with her young ones."

The Tigers are no longer with the graduated Niveen Rasheed, the Ivy player of the year in 2012-13, who is in Greece playing pro ball and was watching the Ivy Digital broadcast from abroad expressing dismay on her twitter account the way the game flowed for the Tigers.

Rasheed's former coach was philosophical afterwards.

"I just told them as bad as we played, we still had a chance to win," Banghart said.

Alex Wheatley kept the Tigers alive in the first half with 13 of her 6 points while Michelle Miller was the only other Princeton player in double figures with 11 points.

The Tigers dominated the paint 38-24 but the Crimson offset that differential 24-14 in transition. Harvard also connected on 25 of 30 free throws while the Tigers shot 9-13.

Princeton finishes the weekend hosting Dartmouth Saturday night on the switch-off as former Tigers star Addie Micir makes her homecoming as an assistant to new Big Green coach Belle Koclanes.

"In the Ivy League there's such a small pool of smart athletes that we all want," Delaney-Smith said, looking ahead to the rest of the way. "We all know each other. Again, they went undefeated and ran the table a number of years. That generally doesn't happen.

"They may do it. We may do it. We'll see."

Unless the Quakers have something to say in that horserace.

Penn Dominates Dartmouth

The Quakers' offense continued to churn in the win over the Big Green at The Palestra on a night that began during the starting lineups annoucement with a nice applause for new Dartmouth coach Belle Koclanes, a former Penn assistant.

The good will ended there as four Penn players went on to score in double figures in a game in which a 17-point lead in the first half was good enough to spur Penn to its showdown with Harvard.

It's the sixth straight win over Dartmouth and Penn has reached 70 points in three straight games after never having that number reached in succession in the McLaughlin era now in its fifth year.

Alyssa Baron scored a game-high 20 points and dealt her 300th career assist during the game while Kathleen Roche scored 14 points.

Freshman center Sydney Stipanovich had her third straight double double with 12 points and 12 rebounds and also had two blocks, the same total as teammate Kara Bonenberger, who had 10 points, six rebounds and four steals in 29 minutes of playing time.

Dartmouth's Nicola Zimmer and Roland Laikin each scored 10 points.

And that's it until tomorrow when the Guru will be on the scene at Penn and tweeting on @womhoopsguru after doing likewise earlier in the afternoon at either Villanova (vs. Creighton) or Saint Joseph's (vs. VCU) in a game-day decision to be made after sunrise.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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