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 23, 2015

Temple Edges Penn While Villanova Tops Old Dominion to gain the Sweet 16 of the WNIT

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA -- Back in November, the idea that Temple and Villanova would be alive at this point in time in the Sweet 16 of the WNIT would have been a bit far fetched.

But Temple, who struggled early and coped with a 4-8 record as late as Dec. 22 after a loss to Villanova, and the Wildcats, who were missing three starters due to injuries and were 3-7 with a bunch of narrow setbacks just before that game with the Owls, are each threatening to be the one to keep a local streak alive in the wake of Drexel (20-13) and Rutgers (20-14) becoming WNIT champs the previous two seasons.

“We’re still going, we’re still going,”smiled Temple coach Tonya Cardoza after the Owls got revenge on Penn from the Big 5 race by rallying to edge the Quakers 61-56 at The Palestra.

An advance to the Sweet 16 by Temple (18-16), however, meant a bittersweet finish for Penn (21-9), the runner up to Ivy champion Princeton, which with the loss meant the grand finale to the most successful senior class in Quakers history.

The quartet of Kara Bonenberger, Katy Allen, Busch, and Kathleen Roche, produced 74 wins, a piece of the Big 5 title, an Ivy title and ensuing NCAA appearance, two wins in the WBI tourney, and then this weekend in the wNIT.

The Owls’ win came a few hours after the Temple men, who had been snubbed by the NCAA committee, beat George Washington at home in the Liacouras Center to get past the second round of the NIT.

Villanova, meanwhile, who had to deal with emotions of having seen their male counterparts, top-seeded in the NCAA tournament, get upset Saturday night in Pittsburgh by North Carolina State, defeated a grand old women’s basketball power of yesteryear in Old Dominion, 71-66, in a second straight home win on the weekend at The Pavilion.

Both games Sunday afternoon took place at the same time and Thursday night the Owls and Wildcats will be home again at the same time with Temple hosting, ironically, North Carolina State, while Villanova (21-will host Big East rival St. John’s.

Temple will play its 7 p.m. game in McGonigle Hall while Vilanova remains in the Pavilion.

Since the Guru was live at the Palestra, having commuted up from Maryland, where NCAA second-round action has the top-seed and fourth-ranked Terrapins Monday night hosting 13th-ranked and eighth seed Princeton, now unbeaten at 31-0, let’s look at the tape of the Temple/Penn battle.

Four of the Philly Six, including Drexel, got into the WNIT action last week but the Dragons fell at home narrowly to MEAC regular-season champion, while Penn beat Hofstra at home for its first-ever WNIT win and Villanova topped Maine. Temple went on the road to a crowded and hostile arena at Marist, a perennial NCAA qualifier out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and won.

When the regular season ended all but Temple knew they were WNIT bound as highest standing teams out of their respective conferences not headed for the NCAA tournament.

The Owls had to wait and was one of the last selectees as an at-large with their rugged schedule helping to beat out other hopeful games on the bubble. 

“The last week after we lost at the conference tournament (quarterfinals to East Carolina at the Mohegan Sun near New London, Conn.,), we practiced to work on concepts for next year and, if we did get to the WNIT, use it to keep playing for Tyonna (Williams, the Owls’ lone senior),” Cardoza said.

“I didn’t want to discuss our chances because I didn’t want them to get their hopes up and then suffer a letdown if we didn’t get picked.”

Temple had lost to Penn 52-50 on January 5 on a late shot by Busch that allowed the Quakers to pick up their third Big 5 win, most ever in a season, and go on to finish in a three-way tie with Saint Joseph’s and Villanova in the local round robin.

The Owls played most of the season with a youthful roster well below the NCAA maximum allowance of 15 players.

Since last meeting the Quakers, coach Mike McLaughlin inserted freshman Michelle Nwokedi into the starting lineup and she went on to make Ivy rookie of the year.

Temple started getting more experience and Alliya Butts went on to make the all-freshman team of the American Athletic Conference.

The duo and Villanova’s Alex Louin are considered front-runners for the Big 5 freshman award. The complete list of Big 5 honors is expected to be announced Monday.

Penn had to play without one of its inside strengths in Bonenberger, who suffered a knee sprain in the season-closer to Princeton and was forced to leave early in the Hofstra game.

She was ruled out for the Temple game, ending a record 117 appearances which were the entire list of games in her collegiate career before Sunday’s matchup.

The game had seven ties and nine lead changes.

Butts nailed the shot to put Temple ahead for good with a three-pointer with 3 minutes, 4 seconds to play. Feyonda Fitzgerald then scored Temple’s last 10 points and shot 8-for-8 in the final minute from the foul line to finish with a team-high 16 points.

Junior Erica Covile had a team-high 13 rebounds and also scored nine points.

Reserve Taylor Robinson making the most of her 10 minutes of action, had nine points, shooting 4-for-4 while Butts had 12 points.

Williams had seven points and made a pair of treys to extend her career mark for the program with 164 from beyond the arc.

On the Penn side, Nwokedi had another strong performance with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks and three assists.

Sydney Stiponovich had 13 points, five boards and five assists, but was limited to just five of her points over the second half. Freshman Anna Ross scored 10 points

“They won a couple of balls late and I thought we had some good opportunities. To their credit they made some very good shots. I thought we defended well but they made some very good shots,” McLaughlin said of the loss by his team..

Meanwhile, with attendance being the driving favor of where games are played as teams advance, Temple understood that if conference rival East Carolina won, the Owls would travel and if North Carolina State became victorious the game would be in Philly.

ECU (22-11), who lost to Temple during the regular season but beat the Owls in the conference tournament, led the Wolfpack (18-14) of the Atlantic Coast Conference by eight with 10:28 left in the game.

But N.C. State rallied and Chelsea Nelson hit a layup with 12 seconds left to give the ACC school the win.

Miah Spencer had five 3-pointers and scored 26 points for the Wolfpack, who also got 11 points from Dominique Wilson and 10 points and 14 rebounds from Jennifer Mathurin.

ECU’s Jayda Payne scored 19 points while Jasmine Phillips scored 14.  

Up at Villanova, the Wildcats (21=7) shook off their dismay over the men’s loss and drove to a 13=point halftime lead before the Lady Monarchs (21-13), the former longtime member of the Colonial Athletic Association now with Conference USA, began to rally.

The Wildcats led 55-40 with 12:12 left to play before ODU stormed back with a 10-4 run to cut the advanced to nine with 7:38 left.

The Monarchs got to within four with 1:31 to go and attempted to get closer when Villanova got a defensive stop on Caroline Coyer’s steal with 47 seconds left to play.

ODU needed to foul and she connected to extend the lead to six.

A three-pointer on the next possession enabled the visitors to cut the advantage in half but the Wildcats ran the shot clock down and with two seconds left to shoot and 5.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Taylor Holeman sealed with with a deep shot inside the arc.

Senior Emily Leer, who was sidelined with back problems and missed the first eight games of the season, had 23 points, shooting 10-for-14 from the field while Katherine Coyer, the twin sister of Caroline, had 13, and Caroline herself scored 11.

Jennie Simms scored 29 points for ODU, paced by her five treys. Villanova went to the line only twice and made both free throws.

After splitting with the Red Storm during the season, including a game in which ‘Nova won at home shooting the eyes out of the ball, the Wildcats got a rematch as Saint John’s put an end to Fordham’s season in a New York City area battle 77-63.

Four players scored in double figures for Saint John’s (23-10) with Aliyyah Handford getting 23 points and 10 rebounds. Jade Walker scored 17 and Danaejah Grant scoring 16.

Emily Tapio scored 10 for Fordham (21-12), the 2014 Atlantic 10 champs whose coach Stephanie V. Gaitley would have faced her alma mater for the first time in a long while and her former coach in ‘Nova’s Harry Perretta if the Rams had won.

Sorry for the delay but that’s the report. Now back to the NCAA channel.

-- Mel       



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