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, February 15, 2017

Guru's Overniter: Rider WBB Creating New Memories For Campus Milennials

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – To our young colleague at Rider University, junior journalism major Melissa Willhouse, it is easy for her not to be stunned at the success of the Broncs women’s basketball team this season.

After all, just as she has excelled in the classroom and with her photographic talent, why wouldn’t veteran coach Lynn Milligan’s squad be achieving at their game in Alumni Gymnasium in the same manner Melissa embraces her goals as part of a generation of millennials seeking to enrich the world around her?

However, when those of us who have been around the block and visited these parts through too many arduous times in the program’s past history, inform Melissa, who was born in 1996, that the Broncs women are hitting milestones not approached since well before she and the entire undergraduate Rider student body first crawled onto the planet, she finds that illustration impressive.

On Tuesday night Rider continued to live up to the Guru’s pre-Melissa numbers theme.

After a slow 2-8 start against Marist, the Broncs got hot off Kamila Hoskova on an 11-2 run to the end of the first period and powered their way to a 65-46 victory and sole possession of first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

 Credit that standings slot to a quirk in the conference schedule that had Quinnipiac, which had been in a tie, idle until Friday when the Bobcats will host Iona as the only MAAC game on the slate.

Nevertheless, when was the last time Rider (20-6, 14-3 MAAC) was this high this late? Like never.

Even if it is a tie again after Friday if Quinnipiac wins, Rider, which is off until next Tuesday when Monmouth visits, is minimally on the way to a top three finish, if not higher, before next month’s MAAC tournament in Albany, N.Y.

The Broncs are likely to see postseason action for the first time, if not in the NCAA then either the WNIT or WBI.

Tuesday’s win over the Red Foxes (11-15, 8-8) completed a first-ever season sweep of Marist, which not long ago had a UConn-style hold on the MAAC and whom the Broncs had never beaten in the 10-year Milligan era.

“Yeah I was here for a lot of that,” Milligan said. “This time of year, the MAAC conference, I say it all the time, is really, really good. It’s a terribly underrated conference. The teams and coaches and players in this conference are very good. And Marist is no exception.

“The tradition that Brian (Giorgis) has built there is phenomenal. And for us to be fortunate enough to beat them this year, it’s a big deal for us. It’s a program we haven’t solved. We’re happy with that,” she continued.

“But in February we always say we want to be playing our best basketball. We want to make sure we’re continuing to get better every single day and continue to be that work in progress, continue to keep that chip on our shoulder, continue to work hard on the defensive end so that we’re peaking in that first weekend in March.”

It was also Rider’s seventh straight win and in securing its 20th triumph, it’s only the second time that milestone was achieved, the other being in 1981-82 likely when Melissa’s parents may have been unknown to each other.

True, the Broncs didn’t necessarily beat the Marist of old, the Red Foxes being injury riddled with a return to glory not being attainable until next season.

“I went 10 years without an injury on the team,” Giorgis said. “Still, you have to give them credit. Lynn has done a fabulous job with them this season.”

And in the last three games, the Broncs, who were picked 10th by the MAAC coaches in the pre-season poll, have been without leading scorer Robin Perkins, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury.

“But they have still won three straight games without her,” Giorgis said.

 Milligan is hopeful for Perkins' return at the start of the conference tournament if not a little earlier.

However, with Perkins out, others are stepping out.

On Tuesday night, sophomore guard Lexi Posset of Pittsburgh, who had been on the Rider bench, set career highs with 23 points and seven assists, while Hoskova had a double double with 22 points and 10 rebounds and shot the Broncs out of their early deficit.

“Tonight, it started again with our defense,” Milligan said. “These three games in five days I thought were our best three games defensively all season. For them to be in a five-day stretch says a lot about this team’s resolve.

Lovi Henningsdottir of Marist was the only one of the visitors to score in double figures, collecting 11 points.

Posset is another example of being ready when your time comes even if that moment has been in a long arrival.

“Without having Robin, we find other ways to score, going against a zone for 40 minutes,” Milligan said. “’LP’ makes shots every single day. She’s in the gym every single day. So it was only a matter of time that she got her open looks and had a night like tonight.”

Posset was 8 for 13 from the field, including 5-of-10 three-pointers.

“She ran her team extremely well," Milligan said. Took her open looks when she got them. Seven assists. When she wasn’t getting open she was getting someone else a look so. It was Lexi’s turn to step up tonight against the zone and she certainly did.”

Posset said of her performance, “I definitely started off the season not the way I wanted to but ever since then my teammates have always had confidence in me and it was just a matter when I was going to get confidence in myself.”

 Guru disclaimer: Because of her fine work photographing the USA Olympic women for the blog at the exhibition game in Delaware last summer, Melissa Willhouse will be joining the Guru’s March Madness team photographing and perhaps doing some writing, but still, in terms of his Rider coverage, she has allowed him to refer to her as an excellent perspective example this season of exactly what Rider is achieving.

 Penn State Wins Fourth Straight

The Lady Lions jumped to a 15-0 start and went on to an 80-62 win over host Illinois in a Big Ten win at the State Farm Center in Champaign in the only other game on the Guru’s local list on Valentine’s Day.

Four was the big number in terms of fourth straight in a row and also fourth straight over the Illini (8-18, 3-10) and most importantly Penn State (18-8, 8-6) was guaranteed an opening-round bye in next month’s Big Ten tournament.

Lindsey Spann topped four teammates in double figures with 15 points while Teniya Page and Sierra Moore each scored 14 points and Kaliyah Mitchell scored 11 for the visitors.

The Lady Lions dominated the boards with a rebounding differential of 51-28.

Penn State, a game behind fourth-place Indiana, is one of five teams in the conference standings in the next group, each with five losses in the league.

Temple on the Move

The Owls (19-5, 12-2 AAC) don’t play until Wednesday’s tip at 7 p.m.  at home in McGonigle Hall against SMU (13-11, 4-7) but they made headway Tuesday with a lot of love from other places on Valentines Day.

The USA Coaches Poll made Temple No. 25 in the weekly national rankings, the first such appearance in either that one or the Associated Press media women’s poll, since 2006 at the end of the Candice Dupree era under then-coach Dawn Staley.

The Owls had also been receiving votes in the AP Poll and likely could hit the the list by winning Wednesday and then beating No. 22 South Florida in Tampa on Saturday ahead of the Feb. 22 Wednesday visit to No. 1 Connecticut for the second meeting with the Huskies.

That game in Storrs in Gampel Pavilion, by the way, will be the farewell retirement game by longtime local women’s referee Dennis DeMayo.

Meanwhile, in terms of Temple, which has been projected into the NCAA women’s bracket in this week’s ESPN Charlie Crème forecast, and South Florida, the Owls got a helping hand from UCF Wednesday night, which in an American Athletic Conference meeting in Tampa upset the host Bulls 66-62, holding them off after building a 15-point lead in the second half.

UCF’s Aliyah Gregory scored a career-high 34 points, including her 1000th as the Knights (16-9, 6-6 AAC) snapped a 19-game losing streak to USF, dating back to 1980 while also beating the Bulls (20-5, 9-3) for the first time ever in Tampa.

The result gave Temple a half-game lead on South Florida in second place so if the Owls win Wednesday night and then in Tampa Saturday they will virtually clinch second. USF also must play Connecticut a second time.

Zykira Lewis had 16 points for Central Florida (16-9, 6-6 AAC).

 In some ways, though presenting the math to you all, it is a moot discussion because right now either way from each side the Owls and Bulls are likely to be the second and third teams so the conference tournament path for each would be UConn-free until the title game, whichever each of the two is seeded.

Looking Ahead

Besides the Temple game, there are others Wednesday night with conference implications and the locals.

In the Atlantic 10, Saint Joseph’s will visit VCU trying to hold fourth or move up a spot while La Salle, in that same upper battle, will host Saint Louis at 7 p.m. in Tom Gola Arena.

Rutgers, mired with six wins overall, wii be trying to get to its seventh win, hosting Purdue in the Big Ten.

We’ll give you the rest of the weekend after Wednesday’s games.

And that's the wrap.