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, March 22, 2014

Erin Shields Looks to Lead Saint Joseph's to Women's NCAA Opening Round Redemption Back in Connecticut

By Rob Knox

STORRS, CT. – Erin Shields is excited for her second chance to make a first impression.

The dynamite Saint Joseph’s 5 foot, 5 inch senior guard is looking forward to enjoying a better performance this time around in the NCAA tournament.

Last season in the Hawks’ 60-54 setback to Vanderbilt, Shields had a game to forget as she finished with five points on a 2-for-14 shooting effort.

When asked if she planned to speak with Shields prior to Sunday’s game against Georgia at Gampel Pavilion in an NCAA first round tournament game to provide a pep talk, Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said “no” and offered a short “she’ll be ready” when gametime rolls around.

While mostly everything is the same for Saint Joseph’s, Shields’ mindset is different.

The Hawks (22-9 overall) are a ninth-seed playing an eighth-seeded Southeastern Conference school in the shadow of women’s basketball royalty again. This time it’s Georgia (20-11) that poses the challenge for Shields and the Hawks before tournament favorite Connecticut (34-0) plays 16-seed Prairie View (14-17).

“I am very thankful for the second chance,” Shields said. “When you think back on your college career, you want to be able to remember the good times.

"Looking back, it was a great year because we won the Atlantic-10, but this year we want to have a better showing and show what we have. Last year we were happy to be here.”

The prize for winning for Saint Joseph’s will be most likely an opportunity to meet top-seeded and unbeaten Connecticut in Tuesday’s second round. The Hawks and Bulldogs tangle at 5:30 p.m. while the Huskies meet Prairie View A&M in Sunday’s second game at 8 p.m. Both games can be seen on ESPN.

Of course, as long as the Hawks win, Shields could care less about how many points she scores.

The Broomall (Pa.) native in the western Philadelphia suburbs has always been that way during a basketball experience that’s featured nothing but winning since she started playing for St. Bernadette’s in Drexel Hill and continued at Archbishop Carroll High School.

Shields helped Saint Joseph’s enjoy another terrific season as she helped it earn a rare at-large bid from the Atlantic-10 Conference. She leads the Hawks in scoring (14.9 points per game) and the conference in 3-pointers made with 88.

During her career, Shields has helped the Hawks to four consecutive 20-win seasons and 87 victories.

The next one would mean so much more to Shields and the program.

“It’s been a blessing to represent Saint Joseph’s,” Shields said. “I grew up loving Saint Joseph’s and I think it’s funny because my freshman and sophomore years, we had no chance of making the NCAAs unless we won the Atlantic-10 tournament.

"Getting an at-large bid just shows how far we have come as a program. We had good teams my first two years here, but it just shows how hard it is to get to the NCAA tournament," she said.

"We’re not taking this opportunity for granted. This is the time where we have to play our best basketball and hopefully we can do that Sunday.”

Shields shined at a high level most of the season for the Hawks. She has scored in double figures 26 times this season and hit for at least 20 points seven times.

She scored a career-high 29 points against George Mason. She also tied her career-high by making seven 3-pointers in that contest against the Patriots.

Against LSU this year, Shields was sharp by tallying 23 points and making seven 3-pointers.

Entering Sunday’s game against Georgia, Shields is one of the most decorated players on Hawk Hill, a place where her mom, Renie made her mark for the women’s basketball program between 1978-82.

The elder Shields is a Big Five Hall of Famer and senior women's administrator on Hawk Hill and also is the color analyst on broadcasts of the women's team.

Erin Shields is second all-time in games played (128), career 3-pointers (248) and 10th in points (1,313). Shields and her mom combined to score 2,222 career points and 841 assists.

The Shields’ are second all-time in scoring among mother and daughters to have played at the same school, trailing Pittsburgh’s duo of Jennifer Bruce (Scott) and daughter Shayla (3,291 points).

“She’s meant a lot to our program and brought the level of competitiveness up as soon as she stepped on the court,” Griffin said. “She played on a very good high school team that won a lot of championships and that mentality and culture she brought with her is not really replaceable. Her leadership, ability to get better each year has been terrific. We’re better because Erin is better.”

Shields along with Natasha Cloud headlines one of the best backcourts in the nation.

They have combined to hand out 737 assists. Cloud is ninth all-time in Saint Joseph’s history while Shields is 10th in all-time in assists.

A candidate for the Nancy Lieberman Award, Cloud’s 233 assists was more than three schools: Wofford (220), Morgan State (226) and Alcorn State (192).

She needs nine assists to set the new single season assist mark at Saint Joseph’s. Angela Zampelli holds the current mark of 241.

Though Shields and Cloud battled as rivals at Carroll and Cardinal O’Hara, respectively, they have put that rivalry to the side to help Saint Joseph’s achieve the same goals. They are an inseparable pair of determined guards that think pass first and shot later.

“It’s so much better when you’re on the same team together,” Shields said of playing with Cloud. “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate on or off the court. She would do anything for you. She is so unselfish and cares about the whole team. She’s really taken the team to the next level, which I am so thankful for.”

To get to the next round of the tournament, the Hawks will need to find a way to slow down Georgia’s 5-10 sophomore forward Shacobia Barbee, who averages a team best 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds.

Barbee leads the SEC and is 19th nationally in steals. Overall, she is ranked in seven of 13 SEC statistical categories: steals (first), rebounds (seventh), assist to turnover ratio (seventh), defensive rebounds (seventh), offensive rebounds (13th), assists (13th) and points (22nd).

The Bulldogs, who are in the tournament for the 20th consecutive year, also feature double digit scorers in 5-9 senior guard Khaalidah Miller and 5-9 junior guard Erika Ford, both of whom are averaging 10.7 points per game.

Legendary Georgia coach Andy Landers, a 2007 inductee classmate of the Guru to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., knows his Bulldogs have their work cut out for them against the Hawks.

“You’re talking about a very good basketball team,” Landers said. “This is a basketball team that is driven by two outstanding guards, but is very balanced throughout the lineup, with two capable forwards and excellent wings and depth. They probably employ movement in the half court more than any team we’ve played all year long.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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