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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Guru's Musings: The Fates of Rutgers' Triumph in the WNIT And Seton Hall's Exit Determined at 0.02

By Mel Greenberg

Rutgers' 91-79 doubleovertime victory over neighboring Seton Hall Thursday night in round three of the Women's NIT at the Scarlet Knights' Louis A. Brown Athletic Center is a misread for the way things went most of the evening and beyond.

It's sort of like posting the final score of Mexican general Santa Anna's troops versus the men of the Alamo after Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, et al had extended the siege to 13 days against an opponent of overwhelming numbers in the winter of 1836.

But the difference between agony for Rutgers (25-9) and ecstasy for Seton Hall (20-14) as opposed to the agony felt by the Pirates and relief felt by the Scarlet Knights came down to 0.02 seconds left in regulation.

That moment in a game that had 11 ties and 18 lead chances came right after Rutgers had rallied from a 60-52 deficit with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left before the final buzzer.

Betnijah Laney's jumper with 11 seconds left gave Rutgers a 61-60 lead but Ka-Deidre Simmons got the the advantage back at 62-61 with five seconds left.

Then as Rutgers raced down the court to try to win the game, Simmons was called for a foul on Bryiona Canty with the 0.02 left on the clock.

So here we were like some several times in the past with Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, most notably that famed moment when Dukes' Lindsey Harding went to the line in the Sweet 16 in 2007 with 0.01 left and missed both shots allowing Rutgers to ultimately advance to the national title game won by Tennessee in Cleveland.

But here we also were at the moment that would have been delightful icing on the cake for the magnificent job Tony Bozzella had done his first season with the Pirates after leaving a long stint at Iona.

However, the drama was not about to end when Canty went to the line.

She missed the first attempt but made the second to send the game into the initial overtime.

Rutgers had control with a six-point lead at 72-66 with 1:54 left in the extra period but Seton Hall, which was losing key players down the stretch of the game because of fouls, launched a 6-0 run that got it tied by Tabatha Richardson-Smith on a layup with 15 srconds remaining to force another overtime.

By then it was the Rutgers all-Americans against the Seton Hall reserves and a Scarlet Knights' 13-0 start to the second period sealed Seton Hall's doom.

Thus Rutgers moves on to a quarterfinals game at Bowling Green Monday night still alive with the chance to succeed Drexel as this year's champion.

Three Scarlet Knights scored 20 points in a game for the first time this season with rookie Tyler Scaife setting a career high with 29 points while Kahleah Copper of Philadelphia had 27 points and Betnijah Laney had her 15th double double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Rachel Hollivay grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.

While Rutgers had a slim advantage in the paint 36-34 the Scarlet Knights shot 35-41 at the foul line, including Copoper's 13-for-15 and Laney's 8-for-8.

Seton Hall was 14-for-22.

The home team's bench outscored the Pirates reserves 35-12 though to be fair Scaife, who has been a regular starter, was not in the lineup at the outset.

Richardson-Smith had 28 points for Seton Hall, which brought two busloads of fans, while Simmons had 16, and Alexis Brown scored 11. Ali Bra'Shey grabbed 13 rebounds.

Had the score gone the other way, Rutgers' next stop would be to membership in the Big Ten and the season would be ended in disappointment over not making the NCAA.

Questions would again start to appear on the resolution of Stringer's contract situation, which expires at the end of the season or thereabouts.

Recent reports said negotiations over a renewal were in the final stages.

"I know we have the pieces," Stringer said following the game and speaking of her talent. "It's just mental."

In some instances, the way it played out, perhaps after early struggles in the tournament with wins over Delaware 65-61 and Harvard 63-52 also at home this game might be the spark to launch Rutgers straight to the trophy case.

Meanwhile, for Bozzella there's much to be proud of in terms of the future and competition on a leveling playing field in the reconfigured Big East.

But there will be much to wince over how close this game for a second straight shocker following last season's upset when Anne Donovan was at the helm.

"A year ago today at my (introductory) press conference I don't think anyone thought we would be here playing one of the best college games of the year," he reflected. "That's a lot of credit to the young ladies at Seton Hall."

As for that minute seconds of a difference, though there were missed opportunities to get to a larger lead before the call, Bozzella was quasi-philosophical.

"They're big time officials," he said. "I thought (Canty) lost control of the ball and kind of carried it. But because she had it so high, I think (Simmons) just ran into her a that point.

"At the end of the game, it's hard to tell. They're trying to do their best. We're trying to do our best. But we could have given up at that point.

"But there's many plays we could look back on. But it's tough. You're 0.02 away from advancing to the Elite Eight. It's frustrating."

As for the finish in the final overtime, Bozzella didn't have to teach much math: "We were out of gas. We had no players left. We couldn't be as aggressive as we want. It's hard. They're a good team. It's very difficult."

But in terms of the rivalry, Bozzella wouldn't mind seeing it continue though the two schools are no longer in the same conference.

"We need to get the date. We need to play each other every year. We're two of the top programs in the state along with Princeton.

"This was a great game. This was fun. We need to make this a rivalry. They return their players, we return most of our players. Let's play -- at Seton Hall."

Stringer wasn't opposed to the two meeting but referenced to her scheduling this year that became a factor in Rutgers not being taken as an at-large team by the NCAA committee.

"We just have to be very careful because that's what got us into this situation (not in the NCAAs.)."

The Big Ten competition will solve a large chunk of that problem as opposed to the weakened opposition in the one-year stay in the American Athletic Conference.

But for now, there's still a title to win and as Drexel demonstrated last year, great joy can be had from hosting the trophy.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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