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, December 13, 2014

Guru College Report: Tennessee Test Next in Rutgers' Bid to Return to Elite Status

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA -- Sunday will be one more date to determine how much closer Rutgers is moving or has moved back to the elite level of teams across the country when the Scarlet Knights (8-1) host Tennessee (6-2) at 3 p.m. in the East.

To hear Temple coach Tonya Cardoza tell it, Rutgers might already be there based on the 88-55 wipeout delivered to her Owls Wednesday night in McGonigle Hall.

A year ago prior to Rutgers’ move to the Big 10, Temple (3-6) played competitively in both losses under the American Athletic Conference flag.

But after Tyonna Williams kept the Owls in it Wednesday early in the action on her way to the only double figure performance on the team with 14 points, Rutgers turned on the jets and roared to a 45-27 halftime lead on 60.6 percent from the field and then stayed in front the rest of the way with a 56.1 percent shooting average for the entire game.

Betnijah Laney, whose mother Yolanda played not far from here at University City and later in the western suburbs for Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer at Cheyney, had 20 points, a total matched by teammate and Philadelphia’s Kahleah Copper.

Laney, by the way, is the reigning Big 10 and New York-New Jersey Metropolitan player of the week, and in the wake of Rachel Banham’s season-ending knee injury the other night with Minnesota, she become a prime contender to replace Banham with the postseason award.

Banham was the preseason pick by both the media and coaches in the conference polls.

Rachel Holivay added 14 points to Rutgers’ total while Tyler Scaife scored 10.

“This was a tough game for us,” Cardoza said afterwards. “All their players are back from last season after winning the WNIT and it shows all their players worked hard in the off season and they’re jelling together and just playing really good basketball.

“We went up against a team where we were outmatched at every position. They’re confident and they’re cocky and they just took it right to us. We were playing nervous and scared.”

Cardoza thinks maybe her players saw too much of Rutgers players over the summer since the locals from the Scarlet Knights and others went against the Owls in pickup games.

While still playing their trademark defense, Stringer is doing what many suggest is longtime overdo.”

“I told Vivian to let them loose,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell jested earlier this month after her Tar Heels narrowly escaped the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center with a double overtime 96-93 victory in which Laney scored 24 points and set an arena record with 24 rebounds. “You got thoroughbreds.”

After a lackluster win over Colgate on Black Friday at Rutgers last month, Stringer had concerns whether her group would be ready when the next level of the schedule was due to arrive a week away.

Two days later Rutgers answered the call with a first-ever 100-point performance in the 20-year Stringer era, beating Davidsopn, and has been in high gear since, though she thought the team might have been a little tired in the win at Arkansas.

Stringer noted right now it is not about who the opponent is, but rather to use a self-measuring stick to gauge progress.

“We need to perform at the highest level every night,” Stringer said, especially wincing at wins left on the floor several times last season that cost Rutgers an invite to the NCAA tournament.

Usually besides meeting at key stages in the NCAA tournament when Tennessee and Rutgers have met in the regular season the two were usually ranked in the top 10 and several times both were even in the top five.

This time Tennessee is No. 11 after being as high as No. 4 after suffering losses to Chattanooga and Texas on the road while Rutgers has climbed from the preseason bottom of the rankings to No. 17.

After Sunday, there’s a quick trip across the Hudson River to Iona on Dec. 20 and then its all getting-to-know-you Big 10 the rest of the way in Rutgers’ conference debut.

Temple, meanwhile, hosts Florida State (8-1) of the Atlantic Coast Conference in McGonigle Hall with Cardoza promising the Owls would be a different team.

Florida State coach Sue Semrau has one concern about playing the Owls.

“Our folks are going to a 76ers game Saturday night so I hope they don’t pick up any bad habits.”

Perfect Princeton

The Tigers will be looking to extend their best-ever program and the Ivy’s best-ever start to 10-0 Saturday afternoon when Princeton hosts Binghamton in Jadwin Gym after demolishing host Michigan earlier in the week on the road at Ann Arbor.

“This could be the best team we’ve ever had,” said Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, who commandeered the Tigers to four straight Ivy titles with the sensational Niveen Rasheed until Penn ended the run in Jadwin on the final day of the regular season last March with the two teams tied going into the game.

Next up after Saturday is a trip to Delaware for the annual non-conference meeting on Tuesday night in the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center.

Penn State Seeking to Avoid More Stumbles

It’s not the 2-7 record compiled to date by Penn State in the first months of the post-Maggie Lucas era so much as the who most of the seven setbacks have come against that is raising eyebrows.

After a season-opening win over Towson at home in the first round of the WNIT the Lady Lions’ trail shifted to setbacks at home to Albany, Seton Hall (both in WNIT consolation rounds) and St. Bonaventure, also at home, Liberty and Samford in a tournament in Atlanta, then a home win over Wagner, and then losses at Syracuse and Hartford.

Syracuse is the only member of a Power Five conference in the whole bunch while Seton Hall has quasi status out of the reconfigured Big East.

Now comes Rider (2-6), another mid-major who does have an overtime win at Old Dominion in the Broncos’ resume going to a second-ever meeting with the Lady Lions.

Rider visits the Bryce Jordan Center Sunday and then USF, also with quasi status out of The American, visits on Dec. 21 before it’s all Big 10 the rest of the way.

The Rest of the Look-Ahead

Drexel (4-2) comes off another layoff Sunday when the Dragons visit Pittsburgh, where they won several years ago before the Panthers switched coaches to Suzie McConnell-Serio, nabbing the local basketball star from crosstown rival Duquesne.

Meanwhile Villanova (2-6) is finally getting to play in its own Pavillion Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. against La Salle (6-2) in a Big 5 title.

The Wildcats have been on the road for their first eight games though the most recent one was played a few miles away in a narrow loss at Saint Joseph’s.

But then the Hawks turned around two nights later and lost at Penn so the race is now wide open with most everyone having a shot of at least at a piece of the title, though at the moment Penn at 2-0 is the only team that can win it outright.

La Salle dropped its first two season games, both City Series tilts to Temple and Penn and then has since gone on a six-game win streak, matching the best since 2012.

Villanova is 0-1 in the City while Temple is 1-1 and Saint Joseph’s is 2-1 having been deprived of clinching at least a tie when the Hawks and defending city champs fell at Penn.

That’s the report for now.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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