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.
By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru @BlueStarMedia1
VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova got off to a solid start in the WNIT at home in the Pavilion Thursday night using a 16-5 fourth quarter to beat Liberty of the Big South Conference 67-51 while Rutgers was up to its old tricks in the early rounds of its 2014 title run winning in the final seconds on Kahleah Copper’s shot to edge Georgetown 57-55.
On Friday night two city squads who rarely meet will square off when Temple, the automatic qualifier out of the American Conference as the third place team, will travel to Drexel, the automatic Colonial Athletic Association qualifier off its second place finish, the play the Dragons in their Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Both Villanova, the second seed of the Big East, and Temple were bubble projections into the NCAA field until the last few days prior to Monday night’s selection announcement. In the Wildcats’ case it was an upset loss to Creighton in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament that ruined their chances.
With the shot at the NCAAs in the rear view mirror, veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta admitted a certain joy at playing in the 64-team.
“I like playing teams we haven’t seen,” he said of the first meeting with the Lady Flames. “So I was looking forward to this game.”
“I thought we panicked against Creighton while today we didn’t panic,” said Perretta, the 38-year veteran of the Villanova program who won his 700th victory last month. “You saw they made a run at us, cut it to four, but we kept shooting and made some shots.
“Against Creighton, we kept missing, and missing, and missing and put our heads down sulking. Well, not sulking, but feeling sorry for ourselves. Today, we just hung in there. That was important.”
Villanova suffered a key personnel loss in the last week of the regular season when senior Caroline Coyer, a potential WNBA draft pick, went down with an ACL injury, essentially finishing her collegiate career.
However, the Wildcats went on to win their next three games, paced by freshman Adrianna Hahn out of Ursuline Academy, the alma mater of WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, in Wilmington, Del.
“The problem was in Miraculously winning the three games after we lost Caroline, the pressure built to win one more,” Perretta noted. “I thought when we got to the Big East we were nervous because we knew we had to win again to make the NCAAs.
“It was all mental. Today, we were more confident. So maybe it’s a learning curve. In women’s basketball, this is such a great tournament because the 64 teams in the tournament have a chance to win,” Perretta said.
“Normally (in the NCAAs), it’s going to be UConn and everybody else and you’re like, `What are we doing here.’ In this tournament, everybody is close to each other so if you play well you can win. You saw Drexel win it a couple of years ago and then Rutgers won it the next.
“We turned the ball over in the last 40 seconds last year or we would have been in the Final Four. So you have a chance to win it. And these kids know it. So it’s a different feeling when you know you have a chance to win.”
Villanova (20-11) relied on its three-point shooting skill that in this game was at its best with a 13-for-26 success paced by Megan Quinn’s 21 points, including five treys, while Hahn had 11 points fueled by 3-for-6 shooting threes, and Kavunaa Edwards’ nine points came off 3-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
Alex Louin had nine points.
Liberty (20-13) got 13 points from Ashley Rininger, and 10 each from Catherine Kearney and Candice Leatherwood each scored 10 points.
The Wildcats, who once again showed solid ball control, committed just seven miscues while forcing Liberty into 18 turnovers, and also rode the 15—11 differential on the offensive boards to a dominating 21-6 off second chance points, while the turnover differential led to a 25-7 total in points.
The game had some surreal karma For veteran local women’s observers in the matchup because Kearney’s mother, Kate (nee) McPeak played for former Saint Joseph’s coach Jim Foster and her father also played for the Hawks men’s team.
The younger Kearney, a 6-6 redshirt senior, is from Monroeville, N.J., a graduate of Gloucester County Christian School.
“It was a fun experience,” she said of the sizable contingent of local fans for the Liberty in the crowd of 305 persons. “A couple of years ago, we played at Saint Joe’s. I have a huge family. Just having that support is a huge bonus for us.
“It was kind of a neat experience going from her to me her daughter years and years later,” she said of both playing against Perretta-coached Villanova teams. “To be able to play in the Philly area was a fun experience.”
Two other Liberty players with near local collections were Jordan Woods, a 6-2 redshirt sophomore from Rancocas High and Mount Holly, N.J., while 5-8 sophomore guard Sheana Vega is from Jackson, near Great Adventure amusement park, in central New Jersey.
Villanova gets to stay home for the next round, hosting CAA member Hofstra, which took out its upset loss in the conference tourney that deprived it of a semifinal meeting against Drexel, by trouncing Harvard 76-50 at home in Hempstead, N .Y.
The loss by the Crimson (14-14) was the first downer breaking a great week for Ivy schools with the Yale men upsetting Baylor for a first-ever NCAA win by this season’s men’s champs, and the Princeton women becoming the first at-large pick from the conference to join champion Penn.
The Tigers open at Columbus, Ohio, Friday afternoon against West Virginia, while Penn will open at College Park, Md., Saturday against Washington.
Darius Faulk had 19 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for Hofstra (23-8), which will tip off Saturday night at 6 p.m against Villanova.
Meanwhile, Rutgers (19-14), which never played in the WNIT until 2014, it’s one season in The American Conference out of the old Big East demise before moving to the Big Ten, is now 7-0 in the tourney, replicating its narrow wins on the win to the 2014 title.
Rachel Hollivay had 22 points for the Scarlet Knights, while Copper of Philadelphia had 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Dorothy Adomake had 18 for Georgetown (16-14).
Rutgers will host Virginia (17-15) Sunday at 2 p.m., its second meeting this season with the Cavaliers, who edged VCU (23-10) in Richmond 52-50 and lost to Rutgers last November.
The Scarlet Knights beat Virginia 60-48 in November in the Paradise Jam Tourney in the Caribbean, which they won.
The Cavaliers’ Faith Randolph hit two foul shots with three seconds left to beat VCU and finished with 21 points.
Elsewhere, the big story of the opening round came out of Minnesota (20-11), which downed UW-Milwaukee 87-80 Wednesday night as scoring sensation Rachel Banham set aWNIT record with 48 points, her third 40 or more points on the season, a school record.
Banham on the all-time NCAA scoring list at sixth for women, passing Cheryl Miller (USC), Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee), Maya Moore (UConn), and Elena Delle Donne (Delaware).
Results from the competition in many places gave proof to Villanova’s Perretta’s assessment of the field, most of which played on St. Patrick’s Day and in the winners’ outcomes showed the need for the Luck of the Irish, as in the nation and not Notre Dame.
UTEP (27-4) edged visiting Abilene Christian 66-62, while Saint Louis (25-7), the regular season co-champion of the Atlantic 10, had a similar survival at home 70-69 as Jackie Kempf scored 20 points for the Billikens.
Northern Iowa (23-10) picked up a 64-62 win at Big Ten power Nebraska 64-62, while Ball State slipped past Iowa 77-72 of the Big Ten for a road win, and San Diego downed another Big Ten team on the road, beating Northwestern 69-65 as Malina Hood scored 20 points, and Ashley Deary scored 23 for the Wildcats, whose rally fell short scoring 35 points in the fourth quarter.
Wake Forest edged host Charlotte 72-69, Bucknell, the Patriot regular season co-champion, got past host Akron 74-70, and UT Martin beat host Memphis 79-73, while Eastern Michigan also won on the road, beating host St. Mary’s in Moraga, California, 74-73.