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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Guru's College Roundup: Home and Healthy Motivates Villanova to Big 5 Rout of La Salle

(Guru’s note: There is a companion musing under this post calling Tennessee escape a missed opportunity for Rutgers.)

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Home, health and Taylor Holeman combined to be key elements in Villanova’s 70-36 win over La Salle that kept the Wildcats in contention for either an outright or piece of the Big Five title Sunday and also offer hope that coach Harry Perretta’s bunch will still be major factors in the Big East wars that will soon get under way.

Home was a place where Villanova (3-6, 1-1 Big 5) played for the first time in the Wildcats’ Pavilion for the first time in a season that began one month old for the nation also on Sunday.

Prior to seeing their arena for the first time for something other than practice, the Wildcats played eight games in that span on the road, though game number eight a week ago was played a few miles down the road in a narrow 58-54 loss at Saint Joseph’s to add to five previous setbacks that all were determined by outcomes less than 10 points.

One of those just before the game with the Hawks was a 51-49 loss at Providence at the buzzer in the Big East opener after Villanova had held a 17-point lead earlier in that game.

Health had been the major contributor to Villanova’s struggles with two key players – Emily Leer and Samantha Wilkes -- missing the first seven games and Katherine Coyer, the twin sister of Caroline, joining them on the disabled list after hurting her knee in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Fla., on Thanksgiving weekend.

Wilkes returned briefly but hurt her shoulder in the Saint Joseph’s game but she came back to play 13 minutes and score two points against La Salle (6-3, 0-3), who had a six-game win streak shattered and became the only Big 5 team that cannot claim anything in the local City Series round-robin.

Leer, a mainstay, had been out with back problems but played 12 minutes off the bench and scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and nailed a 3-pointer in the first half when the home team was putting the Explorers in their rear view mirror.

“It felt good. It felt normal. I was happy to be out there,” Leer beamed afterwards. “I think the biggest factor was we were itching for a win. We knew we needed one to swing the momentum a little bit and get it started at home.

“We definitely stressed the focus on conference this whole season,” Leer said about what was salvageable in a league in which the Wildcats were picked third by the Big East coaches in the preseason poll behind DePaul and Saint John’s.. “We had a bunch of injuries so the goal was to get everybody healthy for conference play. And the Big 5 is always a goal. You know that.”

Holeman was the statistical star for the winners with 16 points, nine rebounds, and an assist and shot 7-for-12 from the field.

“It’s really good to have Emily back,” Holeman said of her teammate. “She just brings a great presence out there on the court. We missed her, to be honest. So it’s great to see her out there and contribute in any way possible.

“We were making a few too many mistakes in those (previous) games and it was heartbreaking, losing by four, one and two and four. So to get this win is a great feeling. We’re just going to keep playing and hopefully still have a chance to win the Big 5.

Two other Villanova players also scored in double figures with Lauren Burford and Caroline Coyer each scoring 11 points and Coyer also grabbed seven rebounds.

Villanova also out-rebounded La Salle 47-32.

Micahya Owens was the only Explorers player in double figures with 14 points.

“We just couldn’t handle the little bit of success we were having,” La Salle coach Jeff Williams said. “We have a lot of things that need fixing.”

La Salle lost at Temple 75-72 a month ago in the overall season opener for both teams and then got routed at Penn 57-29 five days later. Until near the end of the game the Explorers seemed on the way to score less points against the Wildcats than they had against the Quakers.

The only statistic to make Perretta wince was the 15-for-25 production at the foul line, though the misfires were not costly.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit but you play at home and you have your whole team back,” Perretta said. “It makes a big difference. You can substitute more, you can pressure a little more, you can do different things.

“Plus with Leer back, it’s another experienced player in the lineup, we run our offense better. We get better shots. Today Lauren Burford gets 11 points because the kids in the offense are more experienced, they get her the ball.

“We also get to the foul line more, but we didn’t shoot well, it was a disgrace. But things were better in general.”

It is possible based on City Series games left for everyone that Villanova could win the local crown outright at 3-1, a rarity in that most times it takes a 4-0 sweep, which Penn can still achieve after beating La Salle and for the second time ever, Saint Joseph’s last week.

But if Villanova beats Temple next Monday morning here at 11:30 a.m. and then beats Penn, and then Temple beats Penn on January 5 and La Salle beats Saint Joseph’s in the one of their two Atlantic 10 games that also counts in the Big Five, the Wildcats would finish on top.

Of course if Temple beats Villanova and Penn, and Villanova beats Penn, and La Salle gets the win over Saint Joseph’s, the Owls would finish on top outright at 3-1.

Saint Joseph’s, which swept to the Big 5 title last season, can only tie at 3-1 by beating La Salle after narrow wins over Temple in overtime and Villanova and a loss to Penn.

The Wildcats are now off until next Saturday night at home against Sacred Heart while La Salle in the Holiday & Hoops Classic in Atlanta plays Ohio U. on Friday and then host Georgia State on Saturday.

Rutgers Fades at Finish to Tennessee

In a matchup of nationally-ranked teams and revival of a long-running series between the two schools, in a non-conference game in which neither team shot well most of the afternoon, No. 11 Tennessee finished with a 16-2 run in a little over the final seven minutes to rally from a four-point deficit and beat the No.17 Scarlet Knights 55-45 here at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

The Guru has a companion Musings column posted on this site as a companion to the overall report.

Isabelle Harrison, playing her first game since injuring her knee in the season-opening win at home a month ago over Penn in Knoxville, got 10 of her 13 rebounds and all 11 points in the second half for Tennessee (7-2) while Ariel Massengale had a team-high 13 points and Jasmine Jones scored 12.

Tennessee shot 17.9 percent from the field in the first half on 7-for-39 but Rutgers (8-2) could only build a small lead of 23-20 at the break after shooting 9-for-30 in the first half.

Furthermore, Rutgers, whose only other loss here was a thrilling doiuble overtime encounter to then-No. 6 North Carolina, missed a bunch of layups and open shots in addition to going 6-for-11 from the line and was out-rebounded 54-42, including 20-10 on the offensive glass that resulted in a 11-3 advantage for Tennessee in second chance points.

Sophomore sensation Tyler Scaife scored 22 points, while Rachel Holivay was lauded by Stringer for doing her job on the boards with 10 rebounds.

Senior star Betnijah Laney was stymied, in part by Tennessee’s defense and in part because of a left-thumb injury at the very outset when she was kicked on a play.

Laney noted this loss festered more than the North Carolina loss in which “we executed but we just didn’t win while in this one we did not execute.

Stringer agreed when asked about the two losses, saying, “This one is not sitting well with me because of what we didn’t do. There have been factors in other losses (to Tennessee) but not in this one.”

In the last decade, Rutgers had winter weather problems in getting to Knoxville for one game while another notable loss to the Lady Vols occurred in Knoxville when the game clock froze near the end of regulation and a foul was called which should have been after time expired.

But the officials did not look for that, though video was available in the nationally-televised game, and Tennessee scored the decisive free throws. A Rutgers win on the heels of having beaten Connecticut at home the previous week in the previous game would have made it the first time anyone had beaten two No. 1 teams back-to-back (Tennessee replaced Connecticut following the Huskies’ loss) and the Scarlet Knights most likely would have propelled to the top for the first time ever.

In another game in which Rutgers did not shoot well in this series came in a loss to Tennessee in the 2007 NCAA title game in Cleveland.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick credited the win to her philosophy of defense and rebounding gleaned from her mentor and former boss Tennessee emeritus coach Pat Summitt, the Hall of Famer and coaching legend who stepped down after the 2012 season because of her battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

Rutgers traveled to Tennessee in Warlick’s first season but this was Warlick’s first trip to New Jersey since moving up from associate head coach and it was also the first return to the RAC for assistant Jolette Law, a former player of Stringer’s at Iowa and also longtime associate head coach at Rutgers before taking the head coaching job at Illinois.

This was also the first time the Scarlet Knights met the longtime Southeastern Conference power as a member of the Big Ten, where they will begin conference competition later this month after moving over from The American.

Rutgers has one more non-conference tilt traveling to Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference on Saturday.

Penn State Powers Past Rider

The Lady Lions (3-7) pulled out of their recent struggles with an 85-51 non-conference win over the Broncos in the Bryce Jordan Center as freshman Lindsey Spann had a career-high 19 points, while Kaliyeah Mitchell had her first career double double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

Cadice Agee added 19 points to the Penn State offense.

Rider (2-7) got 14 points from Emily Fazzini but was out-rebounded by the Lady Lions 53-35.

Penn State prior to launching the Big Ten portion of the schedule has one more non-conference game, hosting South Florida Sunday afternoon before the holiday break.

Pittsburgh Run Buries Drexel

The Dragons’ visit to the Western part of the state was not as successful as the last one with the Panthers using a 28-3 run to close out the first half and grab a 72-53 non-conference victory in the Panthers’ Petersen Events Center.

It’s the second time this season Drexel (4-3) was overrun following a long break.

Rachel Pearson and Alex Smith each scored 11 points for the Dragons, who next visit Quinnipiac Wednesday night in Connecticut for a first-ever meeting with the Bobcats.

Pittsburgh (6-3), showing improvement under second-year coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, a former Penn State star, got 14 points each from Yacine Diop and Monica Wignot, while Brianna Kiesel scored 12 points, and Stasha Carey grabbed 14 rebounds.

Temple Rally Falls Short to Florida State

In the wake of the Owls’ massacre last Wednesday, coach Tonya Cardoza promised Temple would look like a different team against its next opponent.

However, while playing a competitive game against Florida State, a rally from a not-so-deep deficit died at the finish and Temple dropped the non-conference encounter 66-62 in McGonigle Hall.

Erica Coville had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Owls (3-7), who next visit Howard Thursday in the nation’s capital before traveling to Villanova next Monday morning for their Big 5 clash.

Tanaya Atkinson scored 16 points for the home team while Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 11.z

Ivey Slaughter had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Seminoles (9-1).

Looking Ahead

Of the schools in the Guru’s 10-team PhilahoopsW group that didn’t play Sunday, two collide Tuesday night when unbeaten Princeton (10-0) visits Delaware in the Bob Carpenter Center.

Penn visits Drexel in the annual neighborhood tilt on Saturday while Saint Joseph’s travels to Notre Dame on Sunday as Muffet McGraw of the host Irish goes against her alma mater.

The tilt is part of McGraw’s master plan to keep getting home visits for herself since Notre Dame left the old Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.

A year ago the Irish visited Penn while they could be expected to visit Hawk Hill next season.

And no, former conference rival Villanova is not a desired stop, not because of any acrimony against Perretta, just a distaste of having to deal with his motion offenses from their days in the same league.

That’s it for now. The Guru may appear in Washington Monday night for the George Washington-hosted non-conference game with Memphis before heading to Delaware Tuesday night.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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