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.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guru's NCAA Report: Wheatley's Heroics Help Princeton to First-Ever NCAA Tourney Win

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Princeton saga is still alive in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament with a significant amount of thanks to separate halves of instant relief on the defensive and offensive ends from former suburban Philadelphia high school star Alex Wheatley Saturday afternoon in the eighth-seeded Tigers’ pulsating 80-70 victory in the opening round over ninth-seeded Green Bay at the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center.

Thus, Princeton’s historic season-long unbeaten run is now 31-0 and if the 13th-ranked Tigers want to make a unified statement to the tournament committee that saddled them with a dreaded eighth seed, the opportunity is just ahead Monday night when they face the host Terrapins, who finished fourth in the Associated Press women’s poll and is the top seed over the Spokane (Wash.) Region out west.

Maryland (30-2), which made a run of perfection of its own within the Big Ten in the Terrapins’ first season in their new conference, got to round two in the nightcap with an easy 75-57 win over 16th-seeded New Mexico State ( 22-7).

 Princeton’s victory, a first ever NCAA triumph in five tries over the last six years by the Tigers, and only second all-time by an Ivy school, was  viewed up close and personal by none other than the President of the United States Barack Obama, whose niece freshman Leslie Robinson is on the roster.

He didn’t get to see her play since the veterans were needed all the way in the tightly-fought contest but he did get to see a variety of contributions from coach Courtney Banghart’s troops.

None may have exceeded those from Wheatley, a 6-foot-2 junior from Upper Holland, Pa., in Lower Bucks County who is a graduate of Council Rock South and produced a combined 15 points and 10 rebounds for the game to support the double double 19 points and 17 rebounds from Annie Tarakchian.

In the first half, which saw the Phoenix (28-5) rally to take a slim 35-34 lead at the break, “Wheaties,” as her teammates call her, grabbed six of her rebounds to help keep Green Bay in check while in the second she scored 15 of her points.

Wheatley also played for the Philadelphia Belles’ AAU national power.

Banghart has referred to her Tigers as “America’s team,” in recent days after the critical reaction the tournament committee has drawn giving them such a low seed.

Considering the might of the NFL Dallas Cowboys that existed back in the day when they were the first to gain that nickname, the comparison might have seemed inappropriate until Saturday.

That’s when the Tigers launched a ferocious attack on the boards, out rebounding Green Bay 49-22 and outscoring the Phoenix 19-4 in second chance points.

“I think this has become America’s team because it is made with the right people,” Banghart said.

Of the disparity on the boards, Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth noted, “When I came on the court and looked at them, I just saw the size of ‘em and I knew that we were going to struggle trying to rebound.”

Obama, whose wife, Michelle, the First Lady, is a Princeton grad, showed up just before the opening tip and both coaches tried to keep their teams focused.

“I shook his hand and I got a picture,” Borseth said. “Well, the President came. I’m going to let my guard down for as minute and be excited about that.”.

Mrs. Obama’s brother Craig Robinson is a former two-time Ivy player of the year out of Princeton.

The First Lady appeared at Princeton’s non-conference visit to American U in November near here in Washington and visited the Tigers’ locker room at halftime.

Obama picked Princeton to reach the Final Four on his NCAA women’s bracket presented by ESPN several days ago.

In the early going here, Michelle Miller gave the Tigers their zip from outside and finished with a total of 20 points and was 4-for-4 on three-point attempts.

Blake Dietrick, one of the senior captains who led the team in Ivy player of the week awards, scored 11 points as did Vanessa Smith.

“We came out (in the second half) with an attitude of , ‘OK, we got our feet wet. We know we can win this game, we know we can play a lot better than we did in the first half,’” Detrick said.

“I think our mentality, we were smiling, we were happy, we were good, ready to go, ready to play the game we love and I just think that change really helped us. I think Alex Wheatley was huge in the second half, and I think Annie Tarakchian was, too.”

Menhryn Kraker scored 21 for Green Bay, the perennial champs of the Horizon League, and one of the top mid-majors in Division I. Kaili Lukan scored 17 points and Tesha Buck scored 14.

As Princeton rose to become the new power in the Ivy, Banghart began to focus on bigger things like getting that elusive Ivy win in the NCAAs to match the one gained by Harvard in the famed 16-seed over 1-seed Stanford in 1998.

That Harvard team had a future WNBA star in Allison Feaster but Stanford lost two starters just before the tournament got under way. 

By getting this win, for all this particular Tigers unit has achieved this season likely cements them as the all-time Ivy women’s unit, though the distinction is not much ahead of that Harvard squad.

“Ivy basketball is totally different  now,” said Robin Harris, the head of the league. “Especially with the emergence of Penn and Princeton playing at a higher  level.

“We’ve had good teams in the past such as Harvard and Dartmouth, and several others,” Harris continued. “But Princeton is at a different level. They were incredibly physical today. I don’t think others appreciate the level they are playing, that Penn is playing and it’s really fun to see that and to see that on the national stage.”

Penn, which won the Ivy title and gave Texas a challenge here last season in an NCAA opener, has a repeat Big Five game at home at the Palestra Sunday afternoon playing Temple in the WNIT second round while Villanova will be hosting Old Dominion at the same time of 2 p.m.

As for getting the no-win NCAA monkey off her back, Banghart said, “My NCAA tournament record is atrocious, but tonight it is not atrocious. This means a lot because it is something we will remember forever, those kids in the locker room.

“I have been a fan of the NCAA tournament forever and to bring a team to the second round is a highlight for Princeton, a place that deserves the moment and I am just one speaking on behalf of them.”

Ivy teams were 1-22 until Princeton snapped the futility.

Meanwhile, Maryland won its 25th straight, a school record, carrying a formidable streak of its own and being the first so-called Top 25 team in the RPIs the Tigers have faced this season.

The NCAA Committee has pointed to Princeton’s weaker schedule as a reason for not seeding the Tigers higher.

Brionna Jones had 22 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was like PT boats trying to attack a battleship out there,” New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh said of trying to defend the Maryland post player.

Brianna Freeman had 15 points and Sasha Weber scored 14 for the Aggies.

On Sunday the Guru will be at the Penn/Temple game and also connect to the Villanova/Old Dominion game in the WNIT and then return here for Monday night for the 6:30 p.m. contest.

<b> -- Mel </b>


 Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Princeton saga is still alive in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament with a significant amount of thanks to separate halves of instant relief on the defensive and offensive ends from former suburban Philadelphia high school star Alex Wheatley Saturday afternoon in the eighth-seeded Tigers’ pulsating 80-70 victory in the opening round over ninth-seeded Green Bay at the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center.

Thus, Princeton’s historic season-long unbeaten run is now 31-0 and if the 13th-ranked Tigers want to make a unified statement to the tournament committee that saddled them with a dreaded eighth seed, the opportunity is just ahead Monday night when they face the host Terrapins, who finished fourth in the Associated Press women’s poll and is the top seed over the Spokane (Wash.) Region out west.

Maryland (30-2), which made a run of perfection of its own within the Big Ten in the Terrapins’ first season in their new conference, got to round two in the nightcap with an easy 75-57 win over 16th-seeded New Mexico State ( 22-7).

 Princeton’s victory, a first ever NCAA triumph in five tries over the last six years by the Tigers, and only second all-time by an Ivy school, was  viewed up close and personal by none other than the President of the United States Barack Obama, whose niece freshman Leslie Robinson is on the roster.

He didn’t get to see her play since the veterans were needed all the way in the tightly-fought contest but he did get to see a variety of contributions from coach Courtney Banghart’s troops.

None may have exceeded those from Wheatley, a 6-foot-2 junior from Upper Holland, Pa., in Lower Bucks County who is a graduate of Council Rock South and produced a combined 15 points and 10 rebounds for the game to support the double double 19 points and 17 rebounds from Annie Tarakchian.

In the first half, which saw the Phoenix (28-5) rally to take a slim 35-34 lead at the break, “Wheaties,” as her teammates call her, grabbed six of her rebounds to help keep Green Bay in check while in the second she scored 15 of her points.

Wheatley also played for the Philadelphia Belles’ AAU national power.

Banghart has referred to her Tigers as “America’s team,” in recent days after the critical reaction the tournament committee has drawn giving them such a low seed.

Considering the might of the NFL Dallas Cowboys that existed back in the day when they were the first to gain that nickname, the comparison might have seemed inappropriate until Saturday.

That’s when the Tigers launched a ferocious attack on the boards, out rebounding Green Bay 49-22 and outscoring the Phoenix 19-4 in second chance points.

“I think this has become America’s team because it is made with the right people,” Banghart said.

Of the disparity on the boards, Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth noted, “When I came on the court and looked at them, I just saw the size of ‘em and I knew that we were going to struggle trying to rebound.”

Obama, whose wife, Michelle, the First Lady, is a Princeton grad, showed up just before the opening tip and both coaches tried to keep their teams focused.

“I shook his hand and I got a picture,” Borseth said. “Well, the President came. I’m going to let my guard down for as minute and be excited about that.”.

Mrs. Obama’s brother Craig Robinson is a former two-time Ivy player of the year out of Princeton.

The First Lady appeared at Princeton’s non-conference visit to American U in November near here in Washington and visited the Tigers’ locker room at halftime.

Obama picked Princeton to reach the Final Four on his NCAA women’s bracket presented by ESPN several days ago.

In the early going here, Michelle Miller gave the Tigers their zip from outside and finished with a total of 20 points and was 4-for-4 on three-point attempts.

Blake Dietrick, one of the senior captains who led the team in Ivy player of the week awards, scored 11 points as did Vanessa Smith.

“We came out (in the second half) with an attitude of , ‘OK, we got our feet wet. We know we can win this game, we know we can play a lot better than we did in the first half,’” Detrick said.

“I think our mentality, we were smiling, we were happy, we were good, ready to go, ready to play the game we love and I just think that change really helped us. I think Alex Wheatley was huge in the second half, and I think Annie Tarakchian was, too.”

Menhryn Kraker scored 21 for Green Bay, the perennial champs of the Horizon League, and one of the top mid-majors in Division I. Kaili Lukan scored 17 points and Tesha Buck scored 14.

As Princeton rose to become the new power in the Ivy, Banghart began to focus on bigger things like getting that elusive Ivy win in the NCAAs to match the one gained by Harvard in the famed 16-seed over 1-seed Stanford in 1998.

That Harvard team had a future WNBA star in Allison Feaster but Stanford lost two starters just before the tournament got under way. 

By getting this win, for all this particular Tigers unit has achieved this season likely cements them as the all-time Ivy women’s unit, though the distinction is not much ahead of that Harvard squad.

“Ivy basketball is totally different  now,” said Robin Harris, the head of the league. “Especially with the emergence of Penn and Princeton playing at a higher  level.

“We’ve had good teams in the past such as Harvard and Dartmouth, and several others,” Harris continued. “But Princeton is at a different level. They were incredibly physical today. I don’t think others appreciate the level they are playing, that Penn is playing and it’s really fun to see that and to see that on the national stage.”

Penn, which won the Ivy title and gave Texas a challenge here last season in an NCAA opener, has a repeat Big Five game at home at the Palestra Sunday afternoon playing Temple in the WNIT second round while Villanova will be hosting Old Dominion at the same time of 2 p.m.

As for getting the no-win NCAA monkey off her back, Banghart said, “My NCAA tournament record is atrocious, but tonight it is not atrocious. This means a lot because it is something we will remember forever, those kids in the locker room.

“I have been a fan of the NCAA tournament forever and to bring a team to the second round is a highlight for Princeton, a place that deserves the moment and I am just one speaking on behalf of them.”

Ivy teams were 1-22 until Princeton snapped the futility.

Meanwhile, Maryland won its 25th straight, a school record, carrying a formidable streak of its own and being the first so-called Top 25 team in the RPIs the Tigers have faced this season.

The NCAA Committee has pointed to Princeton’s weaker schedule as a reason for not seeding the Tigers higher.

Brionna Jones had 22 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was like PT boats trying to attack a battleship out there,” New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh said of trying to defend the Maryland post player.

Brianna Freeman had 15 points and Sasha Weber scored 14 for the Aggies.

On Sunday the Guru will be at the Penn/Temple game and also connect to the Villanova/Old Dominion game in the WNIT and then return here for Monday night for the 6:30 p.m. contest.

<b> -- Mel </b>


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