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, March 30, 2015

Guru's Musings: Staley and Cardoza Coaching Successes Stem From Days as Stars at Virginia

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s Philadelphia’s future Hall of Famer Dawn Staley and Tonya Cardoza of Roxbury, Mass., by Boston, were teammates associated with Virginia’s Final Four super power which did it all three straight times except walk away with a national title though Cardoza was graduated before the last shot at all the glory under future Women’s Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan..

After their playing days, fate kept them together professionally also and now South Carolina’s Staley and Temple’s Cardoza have each coached their teams for the first time in their careers to the two main Final Fours in the NCAA and WNIT tournaments.

That Staley got there and will be part of at least two and most likely three Philly-bred coaches in the NCAA Women’s Final Four this weekend in Tampa when she goes up against Saint Joseph’s grad’s Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame group is no surprise for those who have watched her grow the Gamecocks since arriving in Columbia in the spring of 2008 after her eight-year stint building Temple into a relevant power earning national rankings appearances.

SC was either one or two all season in the Associated Press women’s poll, rising to the top for the first time after Connecticut’s single stumble in the opening week at Stanford and then dropping back to second after being ruled by the Huskies in a 1-2 matchup in Storrs in early February.

That restored UConn’s Geno Auriemma – the third Philly-DNA coach – and his Huskies back to No. 1.

His two-time defending NCAA champions – a women’s record nine overall in the program --  are prohibitive favorites to punch their ticket Monday night here in Albany, N.Y., in the Times Union Center against the Cinderella seventh-seeded and mid-major Dayton Flyers out of the Atlantic 10.

If UConn wins it all again this weekend into next Tuesday, Auriemma will also tie the late men’s legend John Wooden of UCLA for the overall record total of 10 NCAA titles.

Three-time player Olympic Gold Medalist Staley, incidentally, is one of Auriemma’s assistants on the 2016 USA Olympic staff as is WNBA Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, another Philly product who with DePaul’s Doug Bruno of Chicago combined to guide USA to the FIBA World Championship last fall.

That Cardoza’s Owls  made to a national semifinal date Wednesday night in Morgantown at West Virginia of the Big 12 and former old Big East is the bigger surprise after struggling in the early season and then being one of the last picks by the WNIT after barely making the requirement of needing at least to be .500 or better for at-large selection.

It almost was an all-Philly matchup Wednesday except the same Mountaineers managed to catch Owls’ Big Five rival Villanova Sunday afternoon down the stretch and into overtime 75-70  despite Wildcats senior Emily Leer finishing up with a career-high 29 points and gaining her 1,000th at the end with a foul shot with 7.9 seconds remaining in overtime.

The Wildcats run became an antidote of sorts on campus after Villanova’s top seeded men’s team was upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament last weekend.

Temple, which had already won at tough site Marist, at Ivy runnerup Penn, and in overtime at home in the last second over North Carolina State, prevailed with another road ditty beating Middle Tennessee 69-57 Sunday night in Murfreesboro.

That made it three straight Philly associated squads to get this far with Drexel capturing the 2013 WNIT and Rutgers following up last season with a thrilling last-second victory over Texas El-Paso with a sellout crowd out West.

The other semifinalists are Michigan, coached by former St. John’s mentor Kim Barnes Arico, and UCLA, coached by Connie Close who came from the staff of Sue Semrau at Florida State, which just lost out to South Carolina Sunday in Greensboro.

Cardoza, after 15 seasons on the UConn bench as Auriemma’s assistant, succeeded Staley in 2008 at Temple after her friend answered the financially lucrative call from the South to build the Gamecocks into a power in the SEC and national relevancy.

After her move to Philly, Cardoza was able to thrive initially off of Staley’s remaining harvested talent and keep a string of NCAA appearances alive, missing the first time three seasons ago when the Owls were the first out, similar to the Temple men this time, who, ironically, are on the way to the NIT semifinals in New York Tuesday night.

The last three  seasons have been ones of youth as Cardoza  began growing her own entire product during a time of transition in which Temple moved from an annual challenger in the Atlantic 10 to the newly-created American Athletic Conference in which she gets to go against UConn at least twice a season.

Sunday afternoon prior to knowing the outcomes of the two WNIT games on one side of the bracket in the Elite Eight, Auriemma, during his press conference previewing the Monday battle with Dayton, commented on the Wildcats, coached by his longtime boyhood friend Harry Perretta, and Cardoza’s Owls.

“When you play in Philly and you’ve seen everything imaginable, I’n not surprised,” Auriemma said beginning comments on both teams that were each four games under .500 in the early going – Villanova basically because of three starters out with injuries until they got healthy.

“When you get them in a tournament setting, you got no chance unless you played (Villanova) before. And Tonya has a really good team, really good team. They’ve been really good this year and their young guards are pretty special.

“I’n not surprised and I’m happy for both of them, I really am. They represent that area well, those two. And Harry needs to win. He needs to go back to his role on (Netflix series) House of Cards – Doug Stemper,” Auriemma quipped of the role in which that character resembles Perretta’s looks.

In Sunday’s win by Temple (20-16), in which the Owls reached the magic 20 total for the first time since 2012, they held Middle Tennessee (24-10), a power in the Ohio Valley Conference, to just five field goals in the first half and took a 20-point lead into the break.

Then, tightrope artists that the Owls like to be, they yielded a 15-0 run by the home team to slice the advantage to just five points.

But the Owls were able to stabilize in the final six minutes, shooting 16 of 18 on free throw attempts.

Tonya Williams, the lone Temple senior who suddenly has become an encore queen through the WNIT, had a game-high 23 points, while sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 15 points.

Freshman Alliya Butts had nine points and connected on three of four three-point attempts. Sophomore Safiya Martin had 15 rebounds and junior Erica Covile grabbed nine.

Olivia Jones had 24 points for the Blue Raiders.

Temple’s big team stat was 20-9 on second chance points and the bench outscored MTSU reserves 23-5.

The success has turned Cardoza into a prophet from a postgame press conference in mid-December after the Owls at home in McGonigle Hall had been woman-handled by Rutgers, now with the Big Ten.

“You can see how much experience they got winning the WNIT and getting everyone back,” she said of the Scarlet Knights, who fell last week in the second round of the NCAA to UConn in Storrs..

“That’s what we need to do. We have three weeks to get this thing operating right, try to do well in the conference and find a way to get us into the WNIT and get that same kind of experience.”

Meanwhile, in the Villanova game, Averee Fields got the first six points of the extra period for the Mountaineers (22-14) and finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds as West Virginia earned the right to stay home and host Temple in Wednesday night’s contest, which tips at 7 p.m.

Bria Holmes scored 17 while Linda Stepney finished with 11 points.

The Mountaineers made only 1 of 10 three-point attempts but owned the boards 47-34 against the Wildcats (22-14), who held a four-point lead with 45 seconds left in regulation.

Leer had six treys in her final game for Villanova. The Wildcats’ Caroline Coyer, recently announced as the Big 5 women’s player of the year, had 10 points and six assists, but she also missed three foul shots and a layup in the closing minutes of regulation.

She needs just 36 at the start of next season to join Leer as the next member of the 1,000-point club.

Holmes’ layup with 13 seconds left in regulation, tied the score at 62 to force the overtime.

That’s it. The Guru will be tweeting from the UConn/Dayton game Monday night and Mike Siroky will be offering a recap of Tennessee’s challenge to top-seed Maryland of the Big 10 as part of his SEC ongoing coverage here at Guru central.

Stay tuned.




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