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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Saint Joeseph's Edges Penn in Big Five Tilt For First Overall Win

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA – Saint Joseph’s veteran women’s basketball coach Cindy Griffin came out of the Hawks’ locker room in Penn’s Palestra Tuesday night, caught sight of athletic director Don DiJulia, broke into a smile and said with an accent of relief, “We needed that.”

Saint Joseph’s may now be 40-2 in the local series between the two schools that is part of the Philadelphia Big Five competition but this night at the outset was a rarity in which the Quakers with their inside tandem of Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi could be considered a slight favorite.

However, the Hawks rode the hot hand early of sophomore guard-forward Sarah Veilleux, an acclaimed high school star, took a nine-point lead with 5 minutes, 44-seconds left in the game and then had to withstand a stirring rally by the home team until senior Jaryn Garner choked it off with a pair of foul shots with 13 seconds for a 57-53 victory.

The result enabled the Hawks (1-3)  to avoid their first-ever 0-4 start with their initial victory of the 2016-17 season. They also evened their City Series mark at 1-1 to avoid an 0-2 start in the round robin for the first time since 2004-05.

For those neutral observers who just enjoy watching the locals battle each other or the fans and those directly involved with each of the five schools, the key in this season’s race now becomes Temple’s visit to Villanova on Dec. 10 since the host Wildcats on that date and the Owls at 2-0 with wins over the Hawks and La Salle are the only two teams with a chance to win outright with a sweep.

But Villanova, which  could get nicked beforehand in the Wildcats’ visit to Saint Joseph’s Dec. 3, managed sole possession of last year’s trophy at 3-1. They have yet to play a game in this year’s series while La Salle and Penn are 0-1 to go with Temple’s 2-0 and Saint Joseph’s 1-1.

Thus with Temple still to also play Penn in January, at the moment every one of the five can still hope for at least a piece of the pie.

So much for the Big Five implications of Tuesday’s result, let’s go to the general details.

The Hawks came into this one having been pounded at home  by Temple on opening night and then squandering a 15-point lead two days later also at home to lose to Patriot League favorite Bucknell 64-61.

Then it was off to Iona last Wednesday, when Saint Joseph’s, like Penn Tuesday night, had to surge from behind. In the Hawks’ situation, they trailed the Gaels by 21 at the outset of the fourth quarter and got to within one when they missed a potential tying foul shot in the closing seconds and fell 58-57.

“You know it was going to be a battle for 40 minutes, Penn never said die, I think our kids played with a lot of confidence today, we went through a stretch of not winning any games, we lost some tight ones, so it was a test for us knowing we can win a close game,” Griffin said in a rapid fire list of particulars.

She spoke of her team's success on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think we may have been small on some matchups but we were scrappy and I felt we fought, I felt that we took away passing angles as much as we could and I felt we did a great job. I felt we won every 50-50 ball.

“We shot the ball well, we moved the ball well, still room for improvement, but I was happy. I said to the kids, we have been in class for the last four days, meaning the gym. And now we have a chance to take the test. And tonight was the test. And we got an A and that was terrific.

“The last four days we showed a lot of character and we want to build from there.”

Not so terrific for the other team here Tuesday night was its continuing struggle that left it at 1-3 overall besides 0-1 in the round robin.

Following a competitive opening loss at Duke, Penn was shocked here a week ago by Binghamton before appearing to right the ship Friday night with a win at Rhode Island.

But the Quakers after staying even early began slipping behind to a 12-point deficit near the end of the half before hitting a spurt to get to within seven at 33-26 at the intermission.

Nwokedi struggled early before finishing with another double double at 11 points and 11 rebounds, though she shot 3-for-15. Stipanovich scored a game-high 16 points, while Anna Ross in the backcourt was 3-for-11 but reached double digits at 14 points.

The Hawks’ bench outscored the Quakers reserves 14-0.

“We’re just really struggling on the offensive end,” said Penn coach Mike McLaughlin, whose team has everyone back of significance from last season’s Ivy champions, a conquest in which the Quakers were an unanimous choice in the league preseason poll to repeat.

“I have to find a solution. We have to find a way to score the ball to win and right now we’re just not getting it done. I have to look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it to make this team better.

“We fought to the end, which is a small prize for what they wanted. If you don’t score, you can’t win this game. We hustled to the end. We worked hard. Got it down to a possession. Executed well down the stretch but again we were chasing our tails because we played so poor on the offense but give Saint Joe’s credit, they defended us really smart but we had some opportunities we just have to capitalize on.”

Saint Joseph’s Veilleux one game after reaching a career high scoring 14 at Iona, topped that mark by one with 15 against Penn.

"My teammates got me the ball, it was just a great team effort, and we needed that win, everyone was there, people diving out of bounds for the ball,” she said. “We’re getting rebounds. My people were getting extra passes. It was just a great team win.”

Veilleux, a Gatorade Connecticut state player of the year, shot 5-for-10 from the field, including connecting on 3-of-5 three-point shots.

She knows a few things about winning, having grown up in Hebron, the same Tolland County locale that houses the powerful four-time defending national champion Connecticut program.

But she also has adjusted to learning the ways of the Big Five wars.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last two-and-a-half years. Coming from Connecticut, it’s not the same environment as it is here. But you learn very quickly. You learn that it’s scrappy and it’s competitive and it’s not always pretty, sometimes it’ pretty ugly out there.

“But you have to be scrappy. And we wanted it more. That’s how we won.”

Adashia Franklyn, the daughter of former Temple great Marilyn Stephens, had 11 points and joined Veilleux with seven rebounds each while Chelsea Woods scored 10 points.

The Hawks head to Albuquerque and host New Mexico’s tournament this weekend, playing BYU Friday night and then either New Mexico or Tulsa the next night.

Then they will be off until hosting the Villanova game.

Penn is off for a week schedule-wise, traveling to Lafayette next Wednesday and then to Wagner, Dec. 3, before returning home for another Big Five tilt, hosting La Salle on Dec. 7.

Princeton Falls at Delaware

These are the times that try past Ivy champions. Besides Penn’s struggles, Princeton has now matched the worst start in coach Courtney Banghart’s 10-year career at 0-4, a mark of dubious distinction which also came in the former Dartmouth star’s first season in 2007-08.

It’s the second straight where a potential victory existed following Saturday’s overtime loss in Jadwin Gym at home to Dayton on Saturday.

This time, the Tigers (0-4), who jumped to a nine-point lead, wasted Leslie Robinson’s career high 19 points and 12 rebounds in a 66-62 loss to undefeated and host Delaware (4-0) in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

Vanessa Smith also had a double double for Princeton with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Thus sets up an improbable matchup record wise Friday when Rutgers (0-4) takes the half-hour journey down U.S. 1 to winless Princeton for a matinee 2 p.m. encounter.

Robinson is the daughter of former Princeton star and former Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, whose sister Michelle Obama is the nation’s First Lady while she is married to President Barack Obama.

The Tigers are two seasons removed from the first unbeaten regular season in Ivy history.

Delaware, meanwhile, got 16 points and eight rebounds from Erika Brown who in a game similar to the finish between Saint Joseph’s and Penn, nailed two foul shots with five seconds remaining and the Blue Hens holding a two-point lead.

Sade Chapman, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, also hit a pair of free throws, coming with two seconds remaining in regulation for the final score.

Freshman Bailey Kargo had a career-high 14 points for the home team, which also got 10 from Nicole Enbosi, while Hannah Jardine had nine points off a trio of three-pointers.

“They are probably the best 0-4 team in the country,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said of Princeton.

“Our team is way different than last year,” said Delaware’s Brown. “We play differently. Our freshmen are a big key. They knock down big shots and that builds their confidence.”

Delaware is 4-0 for the first time since 2011-12, which was the senior season of all-time great Elena Delle Donne, now an All-Star with the WNBA Chicago Sky besides being an Olympic gold medalist.

The Blue Hens now head to northern California and in Cal State’s Northridge’s tournament facing No. 22 Michigan State on Friday.

Lehigh Handles Mount St. Mary’s

The last of four of the Guru’s PhilahoopsW teams in action Tuesday – Princeton and Delaware played each other – before Thanksgiving was Lehigh, which went on the road to down host Mount St. Mary’s 74-57, pulling away at the close of the non-conference game in Emmitsburg,

Quinci Martin scored 23 points for the Mountain Hawks (4-1) in the afternoon game against the Mount (1-4).

Freshman Hannah Hedstrom had a career-high 14 points.

Lehigh after celebrating the holiday will host its annual Christmas City Classic this weekend, playing Norfolk State Saturday and then either Hartford or Monmouth Sunday, two teams that each have Hawks as mascots.



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