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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Guru's Ivy Overniter: Penn and Princeton Complete Weekend Sweep

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – How sweeps it was Saturday night for Princeton here in Columbia’s Levien Gym and defending Ivy champion Penn up at Cornell after the Ancient Eight’s southern duo completed a 2-0 road hurdle over the New York state and city delegates.

For Princeton here, the night was similar to Penn’s visit 24 hours earlier – the Tigers built a commanding lead before the Lions rallied down the stretch to make the 62-52 final score look much more competitive than the differential had been.

Meanwhile, halfway across the state at Newman Arena in Ithaca, Penn fought back Cornell’s challenge as Anna Ross had a happy homecoming and the final 61-55 score enabled the Quakers (14-6, 7-0 Ivy) to complete the first half of the 14-game slate unbeaten and two games ahead of the pack.

New England weather caused a delay to the other half of the Ivy women so Friday became Saturday with a key game in the upper standings having Harvard beat visiting Brown 69-59 while in a game between cellar dwellers of sorts Yale won at Dartmouth 57-50.

On Sunday the weekend slate will conclude with Brown visiting Dartmouth while Harvard visits Yale.

But as a result of the action here Saturday, Princeton has for the moment fought back from last month’s 0-2 start in league play to hold what would be the second seed in the new four-team Ivy tournament at the Palestra next month having won five straight and beaten Harvard to own the tiebreak slot.

Of course the Crimson (17-3, 5-2) and Tigers (11-9, 5-2) must play again and by virtual of completed games, a Harvard win Sunday at Yale would put coach Kathy Delaney-Smith’s group back into second by a half-game.

“Five-and-two certainly sounds a lot better than 0-2,” said Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose Tigers have won five of the last seven league titles – the other two going to Penn.

It almost was 0-3 except Princeton was able to rally on Yale back home in Jadwin Gym last month.

That would have been fatal in terms of reaching the NCAA tournament via the regular season schedule but extended opportunities now exist to make up for early mistakes courtesy of the new league tourneys for men and women.

So Banghart was feeling less stress a month ago preaching forgot about the now and let’s do what we have to do to play our best basketball down the road and just get to the Ivy tourney.

“When we were 0-2 I didn’t think we would get to 5-2 but we got healthier, we got better, and now the team we play (Brown next weekend on the road) is the team that beat us last time and that’s all the fire we need,” Banghart said of next weekend’s trip north by her squad and Penn to play the Bears in Providence, R.I., and Yale in New Haven, Conn.

“I was wondering if we were going to get into the tournament,” Banghart said. “When you’re 0-2, it’s not a given, and it’s still not a given. For the kids to fight back and show how much better we got in the last month – that’s all we need to do, we need to get better one more month and then we have a chance to do something special.”

Camille Zimmerman was still able to do her thing for Columbia (12-8, 2-5), scoring 24 points. But everyone else was in lockdown by Princeton, while the Tigers offered a balanced attack as Leslie Robinson had a double double of 14 points, 11 rebounds; freshman Bella Alarie had 11 points and blocked four shots, Vanessa Smith and Taylor Brown each scored 10 points and Brown had four steals as did Sydney Jordan.

“So many people in our league play six guys,” Banghart said. “We play so hard we need to play more than six guys so we need to be deep.”

The game also was a bit of a reunion since Columbia coach Megan Griffith had been one of Banghart’s assistants before returning to her alma mater and she brought along Tyler Cordell, who also was on Banghart’s staff.

“I hope to have a long tree and Megan’s my first one and I’m proud of her,” Banghart said of the native of King of Prussia in suburban Philadelphia who says she grew up cheering for nearby Villanova, not Penn.

Princeton built a 28-point lead before Columbia rallied to finish respectable.

“The fact that we can battle back and the fight in us is positive to see,” Griffith said. “However, by the time we saved our punch, it was just too late. It makes it really hard and we’ll work on that.”

As for the new tourney, getting there is half the fun.

“The top four teams are really going to be solid, there’s not that one dominate team that’s unbeatable,” Banghart said. “So we’re just trying to get there.”

Penn could clinch a berth to play in its own arena next weekend.

Meanwhile, Penn was in more of a battle on Saturday than the Quakers had to undergo against Columbia.

But their defensive presence was the difference once again, owning the boards with a 40-25 differential.

Ross, in front of her local people, had a team-high 15 points, three assists and three steals, while Sydney Stipanovich had a double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Princess Aghayere came off the bench to score 12.

Stipanovich did not block any shots so she still needs one to tie the league mark and two to break it.

Megan LeDuc had 18 points for Cornell (12-9, 3-5) and Nia Marshall scored 15.

Up north, Brown and Harvard battled for what would be the third and fourth seed and Harvard prevailed at home in Lavietes Pavilion as Destiny Nunley had 17 points and 12 rebounds to help the Crimson cause.

“We tried to get Destiny back on track, and I felt she was back on track tonight,” said Harvard veteran coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, whose group was swept at Penn and Princeton last weekend after winning 16 straight games to tie an overall record for the program. “We were way better overall in our execution.”

Katie Benzan added 19 points to the Harvard total while Jeanine Boehm scored 11 points and blocked three shots, and Madeline Raster scored 10.

Justine Gaziano had 16 points for Brown (13-7, 4-3).

Yale beat Dartmouth 57-50 on the road in Hanover, N.H., as Jen Berkowitz scored 21 points for the Bulldogs (11-9, 2-5 Ivy), who had lost two straight. They will play at Harvard Sunday at 4 p.m. while Brown will visit Dartmouth at 4 p.m. Sunday in Leede Arena.

So here’s the race at the moment with a clear break between the fourth and final qualifying spot and fifth place if the season ended today.

Ivy Standings

Team W-L   W-l.  G.B.
Penn 14-6 7-0 –
Princeton 11-9 5-2 2.0
Harvard 17-3, 5-2 2.0
Brown 13-7 4-3 3.0
Cornell 12-9 3-5 4.5
 Yale 11-9 2-5 5.0
Columbia 12-9 2-6 5.5
Dartmouth 6-14 1-6 6.0

The Also Rans

Team W L  GB
Cornell 3-5 1.5
Yale 2-5 2.0
Columbia 2-6 2.5
Dartmouth 1-6 3.0