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.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Guru's College Report: Princeton Still Perfect While Penn and Drexel Taken Down

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

There’s the reality of the math. And then there’s the reality of the eye test of basketball.

From one standpoint, the Connecticut women and Princeton may be world’s apart in where they ply there trades.

But in becoming excellent, Princeton’s situation in the Ivy League the rest of the way is similar to UConn’s in the American Athletic Conference.

“What matters is how we play, not who we play, but how we play,” Tigers coach Courtney Banghart said here Friday night after 18th-ranked Princeton was back in Jadwin Gym for the first time in a month and made quick work of Columbia 83-44 to stay unbeaten at 20-0 and 4-0 in the conference.

Only one other team has a better overall record of perfection, the second remaining Division I unbeaten in top-ranked South Carolina (22-0) that will get its supreme test of the season Monday night when it visits No. 2 UConn.

“We have no control over who we play,” Banghart said. “It matters how we play. So do we get the stops we want. Do we defend in various ways throughout the game I ask you to.

“Do we share the ball and not worry about what the other team is doing.”

It’s the same lingo Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut has had to keep repeating to his local media since the breakup of the old Big East and the Huskies dealing with a competitive experience the same as the Tigers are in their respective conferences.

And at the same time, understand that in this particular season the Ivies are about the best they have ever been as a group with a conference RPI of 10 right behind the high rent localities after years of being the 28-32 range that doomed the Ivy champ to a No. 15 or No. 16 seed in the NCAA bracket.

And how did Princeton do Friday night?

Well, let’s look at a little thing called defense.

After Columbia’s Tori Oliver made a three-point play with 12 minutes, 21 seconds left in the game to make the score 58-35, the Lions (6-13, 0-5) did not connect on another field goal until the closing countdown blipped at 19 seconds.

Games like this are enabling lots of players deep down the Tigers’ bench to see lots of minutes, which will be useful next month when the NCAA tournament comes rolling around, possibly up close and personal to a Jadwin Gym near you depending how the draw is set by the tournament committee.

Michelle Miller had 16 points and Alex Wheatley scored 10 for the Tigers who dominated the boards, 32-19, and forced 25 turnovers and won the battle of second chance points 19-0.

Camille Zimmerman was the only Columbia player in double figures, scoring 15 points.

The Flying Tigers rolled on a night that immediately to the South defending Ivy League champion Penn saw their chance at repeating virtually extinguished, though at least the Quakers put up a late fight before falling 60-49 at The Palestra.

That puts them two down in the loss column to both Yale, which is 5-0 courtesy of the Ivy schedule makers, and Princeton, who blitzed Penn here a month ago in the Ivy opener.

But the math you say indicates everyone else in the league still has a pulse.


There’s a pulse and then there’s pulsating and the difference between the two in the league race right now is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Fans here worry about Princeton needing to make a necessary massacre every night to maintain the Tigers’ national viability in the polls and eyes of the NCAA when seeding time approaches.

Delaware didn’t exactly blitz everyone every night in the Colonial Athletic Association the two years they made made perfect runs with Elena Delle Donne leading the way and didn’t suffer for it.

And understand these players are still human with the combination of classwork during the week getting Ivy educations and then doing the back-to-back trick on Friday and Saturday nights on the league schedule,. Especially the road trips.

Cornell may be the more difficult of the two games this weekend at home but now the Big Red will arrive here Saturday night (6 p.m.) perhaps a little winded from when Penn rallied from an 18-point deficit before running out of gas.

And motivation exists beyond the league race – to get that elusive first-round NCAA win that got away during the recent four-peat championship era stamped by Niveen Rasheed.

So forgot strength of schedule the rest of the way – Princeton saw enough before opening the Ivy race and navigated with perfection.

If Banghart’s bunch finishes 30-0, which would top the Ivy men’s/women’s 28-0 best start of the 1970-71 Penn men, they could get the highest seed ever in the draw for a team in the conference.

And with that might come the icing. The right seed and placement, if not one of the top 16, might be just enough to land a hosting shot anyhow because two projected of those seeds are already out of the race for hosting because of arena unavailability.

Cornell Makes Pumpkin Out of Penn

The worst dread of Penn coach Mike McLaughlin uttered early last month struck the Quakers in their first Ivy home of the season Friday night at The Palestra.

Soon after the Princeton drubbing last month, noting the improvement of the league overall, he speculated that what would happen was the Tigers were going to be hard to catch, especially because everyone else had become good enough to deliver hits to each other on a given night.

And so it was that Cornell, whose coach Danya Smith was a Penn aide to Kelly Greenberg on the first Quakers’ Ivy winners in 2001, came to town and delivered a 60-49 round house that became the first Palestra setback in Ivy competition in seven games for the Quakers following last year’s Ivy opening-loss to the Tigers.

In the wake of last month’s loss at Princeton, the best scenario for Penn would be to allay McLaughlin’s fears, stay on the Tigers’ heels and draw national focus in the final game for the two as last year but this time at The Palestra next month when the Quakers might pull an upset, end the perfect Princeton season record and force a playoff.

But that is over now, in fact, by McLaughlin’s description of the league growth, Princeton could take a hit and might still win going away.

By the math Cornell (13-6, 4-1 Ivy) will move up the road Saturday night knowing a win draws the Big Red even with Princeton. But with a loss, Cornel will be two down, leaving Yale as the last team left to put up resistance, pending Saturday’s results.

On what was a family night promotion by the Quakers (11-7, 2-2), the only family Cornell was focused was its own, which drove to an early 18-point lead in the second half.

To Penn’s credit, the Quakers put up some fight, closing to within four at the eight minute mark before the opposition stabilized itself.

Freshman Michelle Nowedki had a double double for Penn with 11 points and 13 rebounds in 22 minutes coming off the bench while Kathleen Roche and Kara Bonenberger each scored 10, which for the latter brought her within 10 of career-point 1,000, which could occur Saturday night when Columbia visits at 7 p.m. to complete the weekend.
Nichole Aston had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Cornell, Kerri Morgan scored 15, and Nia Marshall had 13.

With the loss, Penn still has more accomplishments attainable. Already owning a piece of the Big 5 title for the first time in the Quakers’ local competition, there’s the race to finish second and get an automatic bid to the WNIT or finish well enough to merit an at-large invite.

That would make three straight postseason events.

And it all starts right away, which why in the Ivies moving forward is more important than looking back.

Drexel Stunned by William & Mary

Several blocks away from Penn Friday night, Drexel experienced its own nightmare, falling to William & Mary 72-68 in double overtime at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, not the thing to do with first-place James Madison coming to town Sunday still unbeaten in Colonial Athletic Association competition.

The Dukes won at Hofstra to give coach Kenny Brooks his 300th win to move him within three of passing Sheila Moorman to become the all-time triumphs leader in the program.

Fortunately, despite the loss, Drexel (14-8, 8-3 CAA) still has a hold on second place, though somewhat more fragile.

The Dragons, while now three down to JMU virtually puts them out of the regular season chase, can still maintain the No. 2 slot, especially if Elon loses to Charleston on Sunday.

But holding on to anything remained a question for coach Denise Dillon’s squad Friday, committing 26 turnovers that resulted in 24 points by the Tribe (11-11, 5-6).

Remember second place gets a WNIT bid while Drexel, if it can straighten out, can still go the at-large route if the record is good enough.

Overtime has become a strange time for the program, which hasn’t been on the winning side in four seasons, which then was not long removed from the famous six extra-period encounter won over Northeastern.

As for the statistical tale of the tape, Jackie Schluth was Drexel’s top scorer with 14 points, Rachel Pearson got all 11 of hers in the first half, but Alexis Smith got nine of her 11 in the second half.

The final stanza featured long stretches of scoreless minutes and sloppy handling on both sides.

Latrice Hunter’s one of two free throws with 27 seconds left was good enough to stand up for the Tribe and force the first overtime.

Drexel went up six in the extra period but couldn’t sustain and William & Mary forced another extension.

In that period the Tribe found its way to the free throw line and connected with ten charity shots out of 10 attempts to prevail.

Looking Ahead

Besides the two Ivy games, Temple has a key conference game in the AAC, heading to Tulane in New Orleans at noon where a win could get the Owls to .500 and third place overall in the standings.

The only other of the 10 Guru PhilahoopsW teams in action has La Salle hosting Massachusetts at the Tom Gola Center at 1 p.m. in an Atlantic 10 game as the Explorers try to recover from Wednesday’s loss at Saint Joseph’s.

On Sunday, No. 21 Rutgers visits Michigan, looking to move up in the Big Ten standings, while Penn State visits Purdue in a Big Ten battle of two former heavyweights who have struggled this season.

Delaware, seeking to extend the Blue Hens’ three-game win streak, hosts UNCW in a CAA game at 2 p.m. trying to continue to make forward progress, while the Drexel game has been mentioned.

Villanova, after a week off, travels to Georgetown at 5 p.m. for a Big East game trying to collect as many conference wins as possible the rest of the way.

Saint Joseph’s will try to follow up Wednesday’s win over La Salle when the Hawks host Fordham at Hagan Arena at 2 p.m.

An A-10/national game of note is also in Washington when George Washington, unbeaten in the conference and back in the Associated Poll for the first time in a long while, will be going for a sweep at noon when the Colonials host preseason favorite Dayton.

And that’s it till later – using the Guru’s Ivy sharing act, he will be back down the road at Penn handling everything from the Palestra.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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