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.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Guru's College Report: Penn Clinches WNIT Bid, Princeton Still Perfect, Temple Gets Big Upset

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA --
Penn made it to the postseason through the front door while its Ivy sister 14th-rank Princeton is now within one victory of matching the 1971 Penn men for the best start ever for either gender in league history.

The Tigers’ magic number is also two for claiming Ivy title number five in the last six years.

Meanwhile,. Temple completed a senior day sweep for the three of the Guru’s local Division I PhilahoopsW teams that saws action by gaining a key victory in the American Conference with one game remaining in the regular season for the Owls, who have finally made it back to .500 for the first time since Nov. 18.

Down here at the Palestra, Penn went into its senior night with the magic number of two needed to make to the postseason with a clinching of second place that minimally offers the automatic qualifying slot for the WNIT, which has been won by two PhilahoopsW teams the last successive seasons in Drexel (2013) and Rutgers (2014).

By halftime with Penn well in control of Yale, word came of Dartmouth’s wipeout of Cornell 54-35 at home in Hanover, N.H.

The Quakers then spent the next 20 minutes on a night celebrating the best class in program history snuffing out the Bulldogs on the way to a 59-33 victory that put Penn (18-7, 9-2 Ivy) four games in front of Yale (12-14, 6-6) with three remaining.

The only regret coming off the loss last month here to Cornell before the current seven-game win streak is not being in position to make things really interesting here a week from Tuesday on March 10 when Princeton (27-0, 11-0) visits at 5 p.m. visits probably trying to finish unbeaten going into the NCAA tournament.

But by the math, the NCAA tag can’t be applied yet until next weekend at the earliest since the defending champion Quakers are the last team standing in the way of Princeton’s return to the top.

The only way Penn could catch Princeton however is when the duo makes the New York leg of the Ivy schedule next weekend the Quakers sweep and the Tigers split with Cornell and Columbia and then Penn catches Princeton at the finish to force a playoff.

Otherwise, a Penn loss Friday night at Columbia and a Princeton win at Cornell will end it but the most likely scenario will be the Tigers’ continued dominance and taking care of it all by themselves at Columbia Saturday night.

So much for the math. Let’s look at the Saturday that just occurred.

A video offering from each Penn senior – Kathleen Roche, Kara Bonenberger, Katy Allen, and Renee Busch – was part of the pre-game ceremonial salute to a quartet that now has 71 victories, one Ivy title, a first-ever piece of the Big 5 title, and three straight postseason appearances with two victories in the College Basketball Invitational in 2013, a trip to the NCAA last season and a spot in the WNIT in which Penn likely would have also made it as an at-large pick if not the front entrance the Quakers achieved.

There is practically a half-page program full of achievements that to see them all, head over to the Penn website.

The win tied the Quakers’ all-time series record with Yale at 38-38, getting there on a current four-game series streak matching the previous one if 2006-08.

While the night belonged to the seniors for honors, in each of these under the Mike McLaughlin era a strong accent of the younger part of the roster makes its impact and so it was that freshman sensation Michelle Nwokedi had another double double with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The current win streak, incidentally, occurred when McLaughlin inserted Nwokedi into the lineup the night after the loss to Cornell.

Sophomore Sydney Stipanovich, the top freshman and defensive player in the Ivies last season, had 12 points and nine rebounds to go with three more blocked shots by the native of St. Louis..

Allen had six points and eight rebounds.

Yale was denied anyone scoring in double figures with Katie Werner finishing with a team best six points.

“For what these seniors have done for this program, this was a terrific night,” McLaughlin said. “To play as well as we’ve played, as hard as we played.

“To clinch a WNIT berth is pretty cool. We still have a shot at Princeton. We’re going to need some health. But we have to take care of our business first.”

As for his latest rookie star, McLaughlin said, “Her and Sydney for the next couple of years are going to be a lot of fun for all of us.”

As for getting things done for the upper class, Nwokedi said, “Coming in as a freshman is always hard. These seniors from the get-go have been so welcoming. It’s sad to see them go.”

Princeton Fends Brown to Stay Perfect

About an hour to the north, Princeton did get a challenge from Brown (10-16, 4-8) before subduing the Bears 79-67 in Jadwin Gym.

The triumph gave the Tigers their program season record for wins at 27 while coach Courtney Banghart, who became the winningest coach in program history on Friday night picked up career victory number 165.

The 2009-10 squad went 26-3 which was part of the Niveen Rasheed era on the court.

Michelle Miller had a team-high 20 points for the winners, while Blake Dietrick shot 6-for-10 from the floor and scored 15 points. Alex Wheatley also scored in double figures with 13 points, shooting 6-for-6 from the field.

The Tigers were down by a point in the first 7:41 before launching a 12-2 run.

Brown made it back to within a bucket, but Princeton went to the break ahead 35-30.

The home team extended the differential to double digits at 42-30 off a 7-0 run and the lead eventually grew to 16 at 63-47 with eight minutes left in regulation.

The Brown total was the most allowed by Princeton this season but the Bears were also limited to 38.2 shooting from the floor.

The Tigers class of seniors who were honored pre-game are now 94-21 and 49-4 in Ivy competition.

Temple Rushes to Daylight

The Owls honored senior Tyonna Williams and then stopped East Carolina’s eight-game win streak in an American Athletic Conference game in McGonigle Hall to saw Temple finish on the upside of the scoreboard 79-69.

Temple (15-15, 11-6 AAC) will finish the schedule Monday night at lowly Houston before heading to this week’s conference tournasment back at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

Erica Coville dominated the inside with 22 points and nine rebounds while freshman Alliya Butts scored 16 points and her freshman classmate Tanaya Atkinson scored 13, a total matched by Williams.

That was enough to offset the 22 points from I’Tiana Taylor for the Pirates (19-9, 10-7) and 14 from Jayda Payne.

Temple had to rally from an early double digit deficit of 10 points at 14-4 with 13:44 left in the first half. The Owls made it to just one point down at 31-30 at the half.

A telling statistic was Temple’s massive 29-for-35 at the line while ECU shot 9-for-18 and as timely as the Owls were making key plays, the Pirates did themselves no favor missing foul shots and layups when the outcome was unclear.

The Owls had a lot riding on this game as Temple coach Tonya Cardoza revealed, “I don’t normally tell them what’s at stake but this time I did and I’m glad I did.

“This shows you what can happen when everyone plays for each other.”

At the close of business Saturday top-ranked UConn (27-1, 17-0 AAC) wrapped up the No. 1 seed as predicted long ago while USF (24-5, 15-2), who hosts the Huskies Monday night in Tampa, the city of this year’s NCAA Women’s Final Four, has claimed the No. 2 slot.

Temple is tied with Tulsa (16-12, 11-6) but the Oklahomans hold the third slot off a previous win over the Owls and Saturday’s win over Tulane.

With UConn and USF likely headed to the NCAA, a third-place finish for Temple would mean going the Penn route to the WNIT as an automatic qualifier. But if the Owls can finish .500 or better they could get an at-large invite. To get there, a win over Houston is imperative.

Tulsa finishes playing SMU.

The 4-5 slot means a bye but also sets as path of colliding with UConn in the semifinals, not that going against USF potentially on the other side is that much an easier shot at the title game for the under-seeds.

Looking Ahead

A lot of conference tournaments’ brackets will be determined Sunday, particularly in the Big 10, Atlantic 10, and Big East.

That’s where five of the Guru’s seven PhilahoopsW teams in action fall.

No. 20 Rutgers will host Indiana wrapping up its first Big 10 season and hoping to get to fourth, which will be difficult.

Penn State hosts Wisconsin, trying to beat out Purdue to avoid a last-place finish in one of the worst seasons in the program’s history.

Saint Joseph’s travels to La Salle at 1 p.m. in the Explorer’s Tom Gola Arena.

It’s the second meeting between the two with the visiting Hawks having previously won at their Hagan Arena in a game that also counted in the Big Five and enabled Saint Joseph’s to become the third part of a tie with Penn and Villanova for the Big 5 title.

At stake in this one is seed positions in the Atlantic 10, whose conference tournament begins later this week in Richmond with first-place George Washington and runnerup Dayton the favorites.

Neither Hawks or Explorers have shots at any postseason tourneys unless they shock the world with the A-10 title and automatic qualifier.

Villanova hosts Creighton at 1 p.m. in the Pavilion trying to get to third place in the Big East with some help elsewhere. The Wildcats would have to win this week’s conference tournament in suburban Chicago in Rosemont, Ill. to get to the NCAAs but they most likely will land an at-large invite to the WNIT.

Drexel hosts Towson in a TV game at 3 p.m. in Colonial Athletic Association action at the Daskalakis Athletic Center and holds a one-game lead over Hofstra for second.

The Dragons, who finish up at Northeastern in Boston on Wednesday, can finish no worse than third and will get to the WNIT either as an automatic qualifier in the CAA or at-large invitee.

Delaware, which suffered a damaging loss at UNCW earlier this week, hosts CAA front-runner James Madison and barring a shocking upset, the Blue Hens will have trouble getting to .500 for WNIT consideration.

They finish up Wednesday at Elon, the conference newcomer that plays Hofstra Sunday.

All this to come. The Guru, weather permitting, will start the day at Villanova and then head to Drexel.

-- Mel








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