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 19, 2016

Will Washington Plum Up the Works for Penn in the Quakers' NCAA Women's Opener?

(Guru's note: If you thought there must be something more than this when reading the Inquirer, that's a good guess for a trimmed piece advancing the Penn/Washington NCAA opener at Maryland in the Louisville.

So if you have a large cup of coffee, here's the Guru's cut version of the advance.)

By Mel Greenberg

COLLEGE PARK, Md. --  The NCAA women’s basketball tournament committee gave Penn a Plum assignment in the 64-team draw but don’t think it is a makeup for handing the Ivy champions Connecticut in their 2004 opener.

Although coach Mike McLaughlin’s 10th-seeded Quakers (24-4)  will be matching up against the less notorious Huskies of the University of Washington (22-7), seeded seventh, Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., ESPN2) in a Lexington (Ky.) subregional contest, Penn Is faced with stopping one of the top scorers in the nation and leading scorer in the tournament field.

Her name is Kelsey Plum and the 5-8 junior guard from suburban San Diego has already scored 2,296 career  points with a season average of 26.2 per game, which is third in the nation.

Ironically, beyond the collegiate world of Washington’s campus in Seattle, the Emerald City is also home to the WNBA Storm featuring former UConn great Sue Bird and soon to welcome Huskies’ senior Breanna Stewart as the overall top pick in next month’s draft.

Penn will try to succeed in shutting down a prolific scorer such as Plum where the Quakers failed in their worst outing with a zone during the season when Villanova’s Caroline Coyer nailed seven of the team’s 17 treys in a 66-46 victory by the Wildcats on the Main Line.

Just how the Quakers plan to do their business, McLaughlin wasn’t ready to say  much here Friday at Maryland’s Xfinity Center  other than “if we rebound the ball that’s when we’ve been at our best.

“I think we understand we will struggle to stop her, hopefully we can contain her, she’s extremely talented, she can score  in all three facets, she can hit pull up jumpers, she can get fouled, she can shoot the three, she’s an excellent player,” McLaughlin said.  

Penn’s game will be preceded by host Maryland (30-3), the No. 2 seed, playing 15th-seeded Iona (23-11) at 1 p.m.

With Penn’s twin towers and shot blockers in 6-3 juniors Sydney Stipanovich, the Ivy player of the year, and 6-3 sophomore Michelle Nwokedi, the Quakers have plenty to concern Seattle coach Mike Neighbors.

“They’re very good and they can play with a lot of Power 5 people,” he said of Penn after viewing film. “If you took their name off their uniforms you wouldn’t know they’re an Ivy team.”

Penn is the last of the Ivy women in the postseason after Princeton, the first at-large Ivy entry in the women’s tournament history, fell to West Virginia 74-65 Friday in Columbus, Ohio, and Harvard was routed by Hofstra in the WNIT Thursday night.

Hofstra will meet Villanova at 6 p.m. Saturday night at the Pavilion in the second round, while Temple opened at Drexel Friday night and used a late surge to defeat the Dragons and earn a return Sunday trip to Quinnipiac, which earlier this season edged the Owls, one of several costly setbacks that kept them out of the NCAAs.

Meanwhile, Neighbors and McLaughlin have both resurrected their programs with Washington ending a seven-year NCAA drought last season and Penn winning an Ivy title in 2014 for the first time in a decade to earn a trip here to open with Texas. The Quakers led at the half before falling to the talented Big 12 conference power.

Penn has prevailed to become a force by beating Princeton for the title two years ago on the last day of the season on the road and sweeping the Tigers this time around.

“I remember watching that  Texas game on TV and telling all my friends there  I was going to Penn,” Nwokedi said. “I wanted Ivy and Penn was the perfect place for me.”

Stipanovich was a freshman during the last visit here and she spoke of the comfort level of being back in a familiar location.

“It was déjà vu pulling up in the bus,” she said. “Yeah, super excited to be here, the experience last time was amazing, it’s something I will never forget but I’m just as happy to be back here with this team, too.”

-- Mel