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.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Guru's College Report: Penn Edges Temple to Claim First-Ever Share of Big 5 Crown

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Dan Harrell, the now retired longtime protector of every nook and cranny of Penn’s Palestra, beamed Monday night saying, “I always thought winning the Big Five title was better than the Final Four.”

His comment was made after the Quakers women’s team arrived where none of the previous editions ever came close by using a dramatic finish in a tightly-fought contest to beat Temple 52-50 and earn a piece of the Big Five title for the first time in the 36-year history of the local women’s round-robin.

The game-breaker was Renee Busch’s three-pointer with 25 seconds left in regulation to snap a 48-48 tie.

“That was a gutty win,” said Penn coach Mike McLaughlin, who has rebuilt Penn in his six seasons that began with just two wins in the first season but now includes one Ivy title and at least a share of the Big 5 crown in his body of work.

“We left some points out there, we had opportunities to pull away a little bit, but we just didn’t convert. I liked the way we played, I liked the shots we were getting, but we left a few on the foul line but it doesn’t matter now,” he continued.

“We’re not going to win pretty all the time. As long as we battle, we give ourselves a chance. And that’s what we did tonight and we were rewarded for battling for 40 minutes.”

The win completed one of the best 24 hours in Ivy women’s history coming after Princeton jumped back into the Associated Press women’s poll at No. 22 earlier in the day.

Just before the Quakers reached their moment in history the Tigers (16-0) down in Virginia beat Hampton 75-63 Monday night to remain one of four unbeaten squads in left in Division I.

Princeton is the only Ivy team ever to earn an AP ranking, last appearing at No. 24 in the final poll of the 2011-12 season in which the Tigers won the third of four straight league crowns.

The Quakers stopped the run last March on the final day of the Ivy season when they broke a deadlock for first with Princeton in the Tigers’ Jadwin Gym to earn their own third Ivy title.

The two teams will be back in the same place Saturday afternoon to launch this season’s Ivy chase for the trophy and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

But for the immediate moment, a few days of celebration are in order though there is still one more chapter in the City Series to write.

Kathleen Roche, who played in the Philly summer league rather than go home to Illinois, had a game-high 22 points for Penn, while Sydney Stipanovich had a near triple double with 13 points, nine rebounds, and she blocked eight shots.

Kara Bonenberger had eight points and nine rebounds.

“I feel like we did a good job on her but at times we acted like she was around when she wasn’t,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We were rushing shots like the game was about to end when we still had plenty of time and chances.”

Tanaya Atkinson had 12 points and 17 rebounds for Temple while Erica Coville, named American Conference player of the week and Big Five player of the week earlier in the day, had 12 points.

While this is the first time Penn (7-4, 3-0) has ever won three Big Five games in the same season and now has won four in a row beginning with a win at Temple a year ago, the Quakers can claim the whole shebang outright off a 4-0 sweep if they beat Villanova in the Palestra on Jan. 21.

Otherwise, the Quakers and Wildcats share at 3-1 and it could become a threesome if defending champion Saint Joseph’s beats La Salle in the one of two Atlantic 10 games with the Explorers that also counts in the City Series.

The Owls (7-9, 1-3 Big 5) were already out of the race by Monday night but arrived in West Philadelphia looking for revenge off last year’s defeat, a shot at getting to .500 overall on the season and playing well in recent weeks with a 3-0 start in The American Conference.

Both teams struggled throughout the night but with the score tied 48-48 Busch missed a three-point attempt for Penn with 32 seconds left in regulation.

However, Penn junior Bonenberger grabbed the rebound and Stipanovich got the ball back to Busch, who launched another high arcing trey and this time it swished through the net with 25 seconds to go for a 51-48 lead.

Alliya Butts tried to send the game into overtime for the Owls, but her 3-point attempt missed, Atkinson of the Owls got an offensive rebound and then Feyonda Fitzgerald missed on another 3-point attempt with six seconds to go.

Atkinson then grabbed the rebound and scored inside to cut the deficit to a point as Temple then immediately fouled Roche.

Stepping to the line for the Red and Blue, Roche made the first, missed the second and then Tyonna Williams grabbed the rebound and launched a desperation shot the other way that fell short as time expired.

Penn gained six records of its own off the game, including some already mentioned but stating them again here: The first-ever title, three Big 5 wins in the same season, four straight overall, four straight seasons .500 or better in non-conference play, McLaughlin becoming the first Penn coach with seven Big 5 wins, it’s the first 3-0 local start for the Quakers.

It’s also the first back-to-back wins over Temple since 1994-95, and the 12th win in the Palestra in the last 13 games.

“They all understand the Big 5 now,” McLaughlin said. “But they are not all from this area. Penn has never won the Big 5 or shared and I don’t think they understand the magnitude yet but it’s a really big deal and they earned it and as time goes on they are going to remember this because it’s pretty special.”

As for playing Villanova for the outright crown, McLaughlin smiled and said, “Oh gosh, just having (coach) Harry (Perretta) on the other side is worth it.

“The competition with us and Villanova, they’ve gotten us every time, they’ve been battles, but we stayed right there with them. Harrry’s team sets a standard. They play the right way. He coaches them the right way. They play hard and they play in a great system. I’m looking forward to it.”

As for the players on their accomplishment, “I’m still feeling end of the game jitters but it’s sinking in,” Busch said. “But it’s a great feeling, especially coming so far from freshman year.”

“Neither of us are from here, but we just learned from ‘coach and the seniors (after starting Penn), how important the Big 5 is. We really kind of bought into it and every game has meant so much this year.”

When the meeting was held years ago to start a women’s local round robin, Penn was a reluctant participant, stating how the program’s emphasis was basically the Ivy competition.

The past records overall speak for themselves the way the Palestra landlords were actually the official doormat of the other four teams.

A big step was made when Kelly Greenberg became coach in 1999 and at her introductory press conference, coming from local stock as a former La Salle star as was one of her brothers, she spoke of a future of Ivy titles (Penn won two before she left for Boston U.) and Big Five wins, which began to happen.

Then the program regressed but in McLaughlin, Penn got a local person who built Holy Family into a Division II powerhouse in Northeast Philadelphia.

“They played a great game,” Temple’s Cardoza said. “I’m happy for Mike. He’s a really good guy and a really good coach.”

Princeton Stays Unbeaten

Having seen Hampton run circles around Penn here, it was thought Princeton might be challenged when the Tigers went visiting in their final non-conference game of the season and until they finally gained solid control late, they were.

Vanessa Smith had 19 points and 11 rebounds while Michelle Miller had 15 points and five rebonds, and Blake Dietrick, named Ivy co-player of the week earlier Monday, had 12 points and four rebounds.

Dietrick was being considered for the national player of the week by the United States Basketball Writers Association, which makes the announcement on Tuesdays.

She was a winner last season and Penn’s Keiera Ray is the only other Ivy player to gain the honor since the USBWA began weekly women’s awards several seasons ago.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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