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, March 20, 2015

Guru's College Report: Penn and Temple Win, Drexel Falls, in WNIT Openers

By Mel Greenberg womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA - Get ready for Big Five Redux – women’s style -- Sunday afternoon.

The venerable Cathedral of Basketball otherwise known as Penn’s Palestra refuses to let go of the 2014-15 season.

Mega-event number three in the last 10 days occurred Thursday night, apparently a day to the liking of Penn’s women’s coach Mike McLaughlin who stayed perfect in his six seasons in charge of the Quakers at 6-0 on the fourth day of the week with a 65-58  victory over Hofstra, the Colonial Athletic Association tournament runners-up, in an opening round game of the WNIT.

Temple, meanwhile, rejuvenated with an extended life to a season that has become more of winning than losing since 2015 arrived on the planet, grabbed a 67-54 triumph at Marist of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to set up a rematch here of last January’s Big Five regular season tilt in the which the Quakers edged the Owls 52-50 on a late three-pointer by Renee Busch.

That win kept Penn (21-8) on  a path to gain a three-way tie with Saint Joseph’s and Villanova for a first-ever Big Five title at 3-1 after losing a chance to win outright when Villanova rolled here to a 70-44 win to deprive the Quakers who with the Temple win had built a first-ever 3-0 start in the City Series competition.

Villanova, incidentally, is also in the WNIT field and the Wildcats, who finished third in the Big East regular season, get their start Friday night at 7 p.m. hosting Maine, which tied for the top of the regular season in the America East with eventual conference tournament champion Albany.

While the action played out here, neighborhood foe Drexel up the street, which beat Penn during the season, fell short to a rally and 45-42 victory  by perennial MEAC champ Hampton, which was upset in its conference tournament.

Drexel (20-11), the 2013 WNIT champs, finished second ahead of Hofstra (20-13) in the regular season CAA race but was cut down by area foe Delaware in last weekend’s conference tourney in which the Pride missed upsetting two-time champion James Madison by six point in Sunday’s title game.

The day before here the Palestra was the neutral site Ivy  men’s playoff host to the showdown won by Harvard over Yale while on March 10 the Princeton women finished unbeaten at an Ivy-record 30-0 and 14-0 in the league beating the previous champion Quakers 55-42.

The game was part of a doubleheader between the two schools with the men’s teams that saw the farewell appearance of former Penn coach and alum Jerome Allen.

His successor, Steve Donahue, who was introduced earlier this week, was in the house to watch his Penn women’s  counterpart at work producing a third post-season victory, including two in the 2013 WBI tournament.

“Mike has done a fantastic  job with this program,” said Donahue at the half. “It’s amazing how the Penn and Princeton women have risen to the top of the league after all those years it belonged to Dartmouth and Harvard.”

Thursday’s action got off on a sour note early in the game when Penn senior Cara Bonenberger was unable to last on a knee brace after suffering an injury in the Princeton game.

Hofstra led 9-4 at the time, a margin that never grew larger for the Pride when ahead the rest of the night.

But Roche then nailed a triple though Hofstra got it back to plus five two more times.

The Quakers then began to rally and took their first lead at 16-15 on two free throws by Katy Allen with 11:44 left in the half,

Penn, fueled by 7-9 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half, surged to a 10-point lead near the end of the period before settling for one less at 38-29 at the half.

“We just left them open to shoot those threes after we did a good job with their posts in the first half,” observed Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky, miffed that for the second straight game Hofstra did not give its best until the opposition had solid control.

In the second half, the frontal attack of super sophomore Sydney Stipanovich and rookie sensation Michelle Nwokedi took care of business, especially Stipanovich, a shot-blocking machine who delivered five of her Ivy postseason record eight rejections in the final 20 minutes.

“We were tired, they were tired but we found a way,” McLaughlin said.

Nwokedi finished with 16 points and eight rebounds while Stipanovich had 12 points, and senior Kathleen Roche had 13 while also shooting 4-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Hofstra’s Kelly Loftus scored 23 while Elo Edeferioka scored 15 but Penn held Pride freshman star Ashunae Durant, the CAA rookie of the year, to five points and a rebound in 14 minutes.

Temple Road Warriors

Meanwhile, the Owls did not hit the postseason with the same disappointment as their men’s counterparts, who were snubbed by the NCAA but eventually shook off the rejection to beat Bucknell in a first-round NIT game.

The Temple women (17-16) had struggled early in the season but in mid-December coach Tonya Cardoza looked to getting things turned around when American Athletic Conference play got under way and hopefully get over .500 to get in position for a WNIT bid to give her young squad some worthwhile postseason experience.

“When the NCAA took Tulane as an at-large team we cheered because we knew we had a chance for the WNIT,” Cardoza said Monday night after receiving the bid following the NCAA picks.

Temple made the most of it Thursday night at at tough place to play in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The win over the Red Foxes (21-12) was the first for the Owls in postseason play in three seasons, though they were idle a year ago.

Erica Covile, a candidate for most improved player in the Big Five, had 19 points and six rebounds, while Tanaya Atkinson, one of several promising newcomers to the Temple fold this season, finished with 18 points and five rebounds.

Sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 14 points while senior Tyonna Williams nine points,including a three-pointer that tied her for the all-time program lead at 162.

Safiya Martin, another sophomore, grabbed 10 rebounds.

Temple jumped to a 14-3 lead but while the advantage would narrow, the Owls’ defense did not yield.

“We knew coming in here, it was going to be a tough environment,” said Cardoza. “..the history of Marist and them being in the NCAA tournament the last 10 years and the great job Brian (Giorgis) does coaching them. We knew the fans were going to be into it and we had to do a good job keeping our composure.

“We have a very young team and I felt we handled ourselves pretty well. They have a lot of guys that can fill up a stat sheet. When they started to get hot near the start of the game, I got a little nervous, but we stuck with our game plan,” Cardoza noted.

“We tried to make it as difficult for them to feel comfortable. And then we had some guys who stepped up and knocked down shots for us.

“Rebounding was big for us. Safiya did a great job on the boards in the first half. We had some extended possessions and we needed that today.”

<b>Drexel Season Ends</b>

If Hampton had not been surprisingly brought down in the MEAC playoffs, Drexel might have seen an opponent who was less quick than the Pirates who ran Penn out of the Palestra here on Dec. 5 with a 58-43 victory.

The Pirates (19-12) were held to 29 percent from the field by the Dragons in their Daskalakis Athletic Center but Drexel has suddenly had its own troubles scoring in recent contests.

Coach Denise Dillon’s squad scored just a point in the final three minutes.

Ryan Jordan had 19 points for Hampton, which moves on to face West Virginia Tuesday night in Morgantown, where the Mountaineers (19-14) of the Big 12 gained a hosting bid by beating Buffalo 84-61 on Thursday.

No one scored in double figures for Drexel, which got eight each from Jackie Schluth and Sarah Curran, who also grabbed 11 rebounds.

Other WNIT Noteworthy Results

Elsewhere, on the Penn-Temple side of the bracket, East Carolina, a rival of the Owls in the AAC, had advanced Wednesday night with as 74-52 win over Radford.

On Thursday night, North Carolina State beat East Tennessee 73-58 on the road as Miah Spencer scored 23 points to allow the Wolfpack (19-14) to travel to ECU for a Sunday second-round game.

The Penn-Temple winner in the third round would get the winner of that game at a site to be determined.

In a key in-state game Old Dominion beat visiting Virginia 69-62 in Norfolk as Destiny Young 
Scored 20 points and Tiffany Minor scored 14 for the Lady Monarchs (21-12), a former longtime CAA champion now competing in Conference USA who will play the winner of the Villanova-Maine game next.

Mikayla Venson got 19 points for Virginia (17-14), which also got 17 points from Breyana Mason.

A battle of New York City heavyweights was set up for the second round with 2014 Atlantic 10 champion Fordham (21-11) gaining a 70-67 win over Central Connecticut (19-13) in the Bronx as the Rams rallied from a six-point halftime deficit while Saint John’s (22-10) at home in Queens topped Army of the Patriot League 64-56.

The Red Storm will stay home to host Fordham Sunday.

Five players scored in double figures for Fordham paced by Tiffany Ruffin’s 18 and Hannah Missry’s 16. 

In St. John’s win Aaliyah Lewis had 20 points for the host Red Storm and was also 12-for-12 from the free throw line.

Forcing 18 turnovers did not get everything done for Army (23-8) of the Patriot League, whose longtime star Kelsey Minato had 19 points, six assists and four steals.

Olivia Schretzman added 19 points.

The St. John’s Fordham winner in the third round will meet the survivor among ODU, Villanova and Maine.

Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 won at Youngstown 72-54 as the Dukes (22-10) committed just five turnovers and got 12 points each from Amadea Szamosi and Jose-Ann Johnson. They could see Atlantic 10 rival Richmond in the second round if the Spiders beat Stetson to advance to Pittsburgh to play the Dukes on Tuesday night.

Kaela Davis, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick, scored 24 points at home in Atlanta to lead Georgia Tech (19-14) to a 69-47 win over CAA newcomer Elon (19-13), which joined conference members Drexel and Hofstra in the dispatched column.

The Yellowjackets move on to a Sunday date with Mississippi, which beat Tenn-Martin on Wednesday night.

Creighton (17-14) of the Big East fell at South Dakota 68-58 despite 23 points from Alexis Akin Otiko.

Kansas State (19-12) of the Big 12 ended Akron’s magical season with an 86-68 win at home in Manhattan as Haley Texada had 30 points spurred by four three-pointers.

Anita Brown had 22 points for the Zips (22-9) of the Mid-American Conference, who also got 20 points and 10 rebounds from Sina King.

Texas Southern (19-11), which got banned from the SWAC tournsment after being involved in a brawl with Southern University at the end of the regular season, was ousted by Southern Mississippi 79-69, which at home in Hattiesburg got 26 points and 11 rebounds from Tamera Jones for the Golden Eagles (23-10) of Conference USA.

Brianna Sidney scored 22 points for Texas Southern.

Southern Miss next meets TCU (18-13), which visits after eliminating regular season Southland champ Stephen F. Austin 85-80 at home in Fort Worth. TCU had been one of the last cuts for consideration for an NCAA at-large bid.

That’s it for the report. The Guru is an audible due to weather and other factors, will wait until late to head to Maryland for Princeton’s Saturday clash with Green Bay and will be at Friday night’s Villanova game against Maine.

-- Mel 




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