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, March 23, 2014

Cloud Clears Skies for Saint Joseph's NCAA Win Over Georgia

By Rob Knox

STORRS, Conn. – Natasha Cloud smiles so much on the court, one would think she’s attending a Kevin Hart standup show instead of competing in the heat of a basketball game.

That’s just the Broomall (Pa.) native’s high-spirited and energetic personality.

When things are tough or going well, Cloud’s facial façade sports the same beautiful smile.

When her team needed it the most, Saint Joseph’s wonderfully gifted junior guard took control in the final 10 minutes and helped the ninth-seeded Hawks speed past eighth–seeded Georgia, 67-57, at Gampel Pavilion on UConn's campus in the first round of the Lincoln Regional Sunday night.

“I am always that loud and obnoxious person for this team and even when things are going bad for us, I have to always keep us up,” Cloud said. “Even when we were down by one, I had to let everybody know we were alright. We just had to keep working and trusting each other.”

That trust came in handy when Georgia seemingly stole momentum and wrestled control of the game from Saint Joseph’s by taking a 49-48 lead following a Tina Griffin 3-pointer with10:02 remaining. It was Cloud, who came to the rescue after receiving a stern talking to from her coach.

“She’s looking around for somebody to pass to,” Griffin said of Cloud. “I was like what are you doing, ‘shoot the ball.’ She just looked at me, smiled and knew she had to shoot the ball at that point in the game for us especially after Georgia did a good job of making it tough for us to get Erin Shields looks in the second half. Natasha loves the game and likes the big stage. She’s a giver and she likes to give us energy.”

Cloud responded as only she knows how by delivering several haymakers in the form of step-back jumpers, clutch rebounds, tenacious defense, and leadership to ultimately help Saint Joseph’s knock Georgia out of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship tournament.

She answered Griffin’s 3-pointer with a jumper 32 seconds later that put her team ahead for good.

During a magnificent seven-minute stretch of the second half, Cloud scored seven points, grabbed three rebounds and handed out an assist to fuel a 17-5 Saint Joseph’s burst that gave it a date with unbeaten Connecticut (35-0), the defending NCAA champion in Tuesday’s second round.

Cloud’s outburst helped the Hawks turn a slim 49-48 deficit into a 65-54 lead with 3:12 remaining. Cloud punctuated her personal scoring binge with a deep step back jumper that had everybody in the arena mesmerized and left people looking at each other in amazement.

She was one of three Saint Joseph’s players to finish in double figures. Cloud scored 13 points, pulled down seven rebounds and handed out four assists for the Hawks. Senior teammate Erin Shields led the Hawks with 18 points and made four 3-pointers to set a new single-season school record in that category. Senior Ashley Robinson was clutch for Saint Joseph’s finishing with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).

Robinson had a huge play that provided the lighter fuel to the Hawks’ game-altering burst. She rebounded a missed Cloud 3-point attempt, got fouled and sank both foul shots that gave the Hawks a 52-49 edge.

While Cloud was performing an exhibition at one end of the floor, the Hawks’ defense tightened the screws and flustered Georgia. During the final 10 minutes, Saint Joseph’s limited the Bulldogs, an at-large team from the Southeastern Conference, to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. Every shot was contested and the Hawks also rarely allowed the Lady Bulldogs any offensive rebound opportunities.

Saint Joseph’s also limited Georgia’s leading scorer Shacobia Barbee to eight harmless points. Erika Ford led three Bulldogs in double figures with 16 points. Merritt Hempe (13 points) and Krista Donald (10 points, 10 rebounds) also paced Georgia, which had its season end with a 20-12 record.

It means a lot to win our first NCAA game since 2000,” Shields said. “It’s been an unbelievable experience and being here last year and getting a loss, we know how that feels. We were ready to come in here and show what we had. I

"I’ve been a fan of Saint Joseph’s my whole life and nothing feels better representing the program and making the school proud. I know we did that today.”

Saint Joseph’s led for most of the game and opened a pair of 10-point advantages in each half before finding itself in a dogfight for the early part of the second half. The Hawks were the faster, stronger and more experienced team. After Robinson scored a layup 58 seconds into the second half gave the Hawks a 42-32 lead, Georgia used a 19-6 run to grab its only lead of the game.

The Hawks made 50 percent of their shots in the opening half and had assists on seven of their 15 baskets. Cloud showcased outstanding speed in hustling back on a fast break to swat a shot halfway back to Delaware County. Cloud had a pair of rejections in the opening half. Shields scored 14 points in the first half to help Saint Joseph’s carry a 38-30 lead into intermission.

Cloud and the Hawks are pumped for the chance they missed out on by falling in the first round last year. With Georgia in the rearview mirror, the Hawks believe they have what it takes to advance to the Sweet 16.

“We were prepared for this game,” Cloud said. “We know that SEC schools are tough and gritty, but I think today we showed everybody what Philly ball is about today.

"As an athlete, you want to play at the highest level, you want to play the best and UConn is the best and No. 1 team in the nation. We’re blessed and thankful for the opportunity to face a team like that. We want to give our best against the best.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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