Womhoops Guru

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

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Guru Report II: Penn Upset of Harvard Makes Quakers For Real in Wild Ivy Race Ahead

(Guru’s note: The Princeton game is at the bottom of this post given both teams are in the Ivies. The other five are in the roundup post below this one.)

By Mel Greenberg

One night after Harvard fired shots heard round the Ivy League by taking down four-time defending champion Princeton in the Tigers’ Jadwin Gym, the Crimson found themselves reduced to smithereens by Penn’s expanded array of defensive weaponry.

By the time the smoke cleared in The Palestra Saturday night the Quakers had claimed a 67-38 wipeout of Harvard that became their most lopsided victory in the series between the two schools.

Penn shut down the second highest scoring team in the league by more than 30 points off Harvard’s average and also held the Crimson under 50 points for the first time ever in the series.

“I think it was the style of play—the way we wanted to play, not what the end of the game score was,” Penn fifth-year coach Mike McLaughlin said.

“We were really good, consistently good throughout,” he continued. “We didn’t deviate from what our game plan was – how we wanted to compete from play to play.

“We kept them out of transition. We kept them from offensive put backs. We limited everything they really do well. We heavily guarded the three. I felt we pushed the ball in transition and got some really good shots at the basket,” McLaughlin said.

“Our zone was really effective. I thought we spaced the floor pretty good and guarded their perimeter players. Overall, I thought it was an excellent, excellent team performance.”

The Quakers likely transformed the Ivy title chase to a major traffic jam all the way to the final day of the league schedule, if not beyond.

Penn (12-5, 2-1), with a weekend sweep that began Friday dominating Dartmouth, made itself a legitimate contender in what could be a lockstep move the next two weekends with the Crimson (12-5, 3-1) and Princeton (11-6, 2-1), which shook off Friday’s agony with Harvard to beat Dartmouth 76-53 Saturday night at home.

Furthermore, if Yale had visions of spending at least one week all alone in first place and unbeaten, Cornell transformed that dream into a nightmare with a 65-56 victory Saturday night in Ithaca, N.Y. that snapped an eight-game losing streak to the visiting Bulldogs (9-9, 3-1) and cleared the standings of perfect records after the first full weekend in the league.

Technically, Harvard and Yale are tied at the top by a half-game over Penn and Princeton but one of those will drop when the Crimson travel to the Bulldogs in New Haven, Conn., Saturday, assuming Harvard gets past Brown while Yale gets past Dartmouth on Friday night in terms of the Saturday game.

Penn and Princeton will be spending the same weekend on the road in New York visiting Cornell and Columbia.

As for the details of the Penn win itself, now that the ramifications of the result are out of the way, the night was highlighted by another impressive display from the Quakers’ new state of the art anti-aircraft defender.

That would be 6-foot-3 freshman Sydney Stipanovich from St. Louis who allowed her recently achieved shot-blocking record to last just seven days before topping it by one in rejecting nine Harvard field goal attempts. Her number was the third highest ever in an Ivy women’s basketball game.

It’s also the fifth highest number of blocks in any game involving an Ivy League member.

“I’m just more excited about winning the game,” Stipanovich said.

As the echoes of Penn’s greatest moments appeared live in person in the stands as part of the annual Alumni Weekend festivities they saw Stipanovich and 6-1 junior forward Kara Bonenberger limit Harvard to one shot down the floor while being key components in a 20-6 advantage scoring inside the paint.

The alumni game finished in a 45-45 tie and among the participants were Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Famers Kirsten Brendel Dineen, Jewel Clark, and Diana Caramanico, who is Penn’s all-time scoring and rebounding leader..

Stipanovich, who was 7-for-12 from the field, was also knocking down shots from outside and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds on a night that she was one rebound and one block from as triple double.

“Sydney’s such a force inside and she makes them change directions a lot and pass the ball back out,” McLaughlin said.

Bonenberger had a double double with 10 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and three steals.

Senior point guard Alyssa Baron’s statistics may look like an off night, shooting 2-for-12 from the field, but she got to the line to shoot 6-for-7, had six rebounds, dealt four assists and finished with 11 points directing the offense.

She also reached her 1,600th career point, just the fourth player at Penn and 21st in Ivy women’s competition to hit the milestone.

Guard Meghan McCullough had 11 points and nine rebounds to help Penn to a 55-45 advantage over a Crimson squad that came into the game with an eight-rebound differential on the season on the plus side.

Renee Busch also had 11 points and nailed two treys back to back in the early going after Penn had trouble getting untracked missing the Quakers first seven shots and making just 1-for-11.

Her longshots came when Penn held a slim 8-6 lead around a Harvard trey to make it 14-9 with 705 left in the half.

“I thought we were going a little too fast,” McLaughlin said of the outset. “We were too excited, too anxious, I didn’t think we got great shots, I thought we were in a rush to do things.

“I give Harvard credit. We were moving fast because they were making us move fast. Their defense was really good in the first half. They sped us up. We sped ourselves up. Our composure wasn’t great. But once we settled into the game after the first eight-nine minutes, I thought from that point on, we got quality shots most of the time.”

The Quakers got to a double digit lead but went to intermission up 21-14, though defensively that was still the least points collected in the first half this year by the opposition.

After the break Penn began to separate itself and with the defense fueling the offense, the Quakers shot 52.2 percent over the second half while Harvard was held to a meager 18.3 percent for the game.

Christine Clark, who blitzed Princeton for 25 points, got just 10, the only Crimson scoring in double figures, while English Olympian Temi Fagbenle was 1-for-8, scored just two points and had six rebounds.

“We team defended them well. We did it individually at times, but we team defended them. Defense is what we pride ourselves. They’re too exceptional players and we did an excellent job guarding them.”

The weekend home sweep of Dartmouth and Harvard for the second straight year marks only the second time Penn handled the upper New Englanders that way with the previous time being in 1984 and 1985 – three decades ago.

It’s also the first back-to-back home wins over Harvard since 1999-2001.

Princeton Gets Back on Track Beating Dartmouth

With one loss early in the Ivy race, the Tigers knew they could not afford another one quickly if they are to fulfill predictions for a fifth straight crown and another trip to the NCAA tournament.

Unfortunately for Dartmouth (3-15, 0-4), the Big Green were the next team in the way of the Tigers following the loss to Harvard.

Michelle Miller scored 16 points and Alex Wheatley scored 11 in the 76-53 victory while Amanda Berntsen had nine points and eight rebounds, which tied her career mark on the backboards, where Princeton dominated with a 44-21 advantage.

Princeton will go to Columbia first Friday night while Penn is at Cornell and then the two visitors will switch sites Saturday night.

Meanwhile the Guru will be at Drexel Sunday for the Dragons’ game with Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic Association.

-- Mel

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