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, March 05, 2017

Guru's Ivy Overniter: Penn Whips Harvard for Back-to-Back Crown While Brown Claims 4th Place Berth

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

It’s getting to be like the old days in Division II at Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia where Mike McLaughlin kept racking up women’s basketball league titles in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and whatever its previous incarnation used to be.

Now he’s with Penn in the Ivy League and after taking a bit to mine outstanding talent and rebuild the program he’s doing likewise with the the Quakers.

Another one came down the line Saturday night, the third in four seasons and the first in program history that carried the label “back-to-back” after Penn dominated Harvard 64-46 at the Crimson’s Lavietes Pavilion for a weekend sweep in New England as McLaughlin’s team controlled its  own destiny to clinch first place.

The win came just one night after the victory at Dartmouth made McLaughlin Penn’s all-time coaching winner, now with 130, eclipsing Lois Ashley’s previous mark of 128.

As it played out elsewhere in the Ivies, Penn (19-7, 12-1 Ivy) could have cruised through the back door in the wake of Princeton, it’s local rival and nearest pursuer, having a tremendous rally fall short at Tigers coach Courtney Banghart’s alma mater, Dartmouth, 58-56.

And so with only one game remaining in the Ivy regular season, for a change there will only be ancillary concerns Tuesday night when Princeton (15-11, 9-4) visits the Palestra with a three-game deficit in the standings in second place.

Penn’s two recent crowns in the previous three seasons were claimed on the final day at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym and in each case the outcome deprived the Tigers of continuing their recent dominance though the Tigers did make Ivy history last season when the NCAA took them as an at-large invite, a first for the Ancient Eight.

Speaking of the NCAAs, that’s the one place Penn cannot be readying for in terms of watch parties a week from Monday night because there’s a new wrinkle in the Ivy world as the last of the 32 Division I conferences is entering the tournament business this coming weekend at The Palestra.

The top four finishers in the standings – men and women each – will gather for a pair of semifinals on Saturday and a championship doubleheader Sunday to earn the automatic bids.

It became a total night of celebration at Penn Saturday when the men’s team finished coming out of nowhere to make the tournament field.

And after all the scenarios, especially involving tiebreakers, everything fell neatly into place on the women’s side.

Penn wrapped up top seed, Princeton is second, no matter what happens Tuesday, Harvard (20-7, 8-6) is third and in a winner-take-all duke it out for fourth, Brown (16-11, 7-7) came back from near-elimination in recent weeks to thrash Cornell 67-46 at Newman Arena in Ithaca, N.Y., and finish tied for fourth with the Big Red (16-11, 7-7), which had made a big push the last two weeks.

A Cornell win would have placed the Big Red in the field on overall record but in gaining a tie, the Bears completed a season 2-0 sweep and satisfied tiebreaker option No. 1, head-to-head.

In addition to the games Saturday and Sunday, on Friday the league will have a wire-to-wire televised fan fest open to the public from early in the morning to late afternoon as the men and women go through their preview shoot-arounds.

On the women’s side Penn will open Saturday with Brown while Princeton and Harvard will meet. The Penn game is at 11 a.m, the Harvard game at 6:30 p.m., both on ESPN3 while the two men’s semifinals will be played in between.

As for how Penn got its business done Saturday night, Michelle Nowkedi, a strong candidate for Ivy player of the year, smoked the scoreboard with 22 points and pounded the glass with 10 rebounds while dealing four assists and adding a block and steal to her stat sheet.

Sydney Stipanovich had 10 points and expanded her recently acquired Ivy career block record with two more. Anna Ross, likely to be on the all-Ivy team, also scored in double figures with 13 points.

Harvard, which used to own Penn until recent seasons, got 16 points and 10 rebounds from Destiny Nunley, along with four blocks,  while freshman Katie Benzan scored 11 points.

The home team never led in this one.

Princeton Rally Short Circuits

Meanwhile up at Dartmouth, where Princeton hoped to continue to look sharper than the front end of the Ivy race where the Tigers got off to an 0-2 start, the Big Green thwarted that notion with some heavy decimation to the tune of an 18-point lead.

But Banghart’s teams never give up even if Penn has been able to file new sheriff in town working papers with the league and that large deficit got whittled to just one point in the closing seconds before Dartmouth closed the door at its Leede Arena.

Bella Alarie, a leading Ivy freshman of the year candidate, had her sixth double double for Princeton with 12 points and 12 rebounds while Leslie Robinson scored 11 and Vanessa Smith had 10 points and nine rebounds.

Kate Letkewicz had a game-high 14 points for Dartmouth.

Brown Blasts Cornell to Gain Last Ivy Tourney Spot

After weeks of suspense with teams jockeying for position while games that would have otherwise been ignored deeper into the season all had relevance thanks to one of the tourney’s intentions, drama was eclipsed by a laugher with the 67-46 outcome quickly determined.

It was dramatic for a bit until Brown bolted from a slim 27-15 lead on a 16-2 run in the third period.

Shayna Mehta had 28 points for the Bears on 11-of-16 shooting from the field.

 Brown is the only one of the four teams in the women’s tourney not picked in the preseason media poll in which Penn was made an unanimous choice to repeat.

“This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had as a coach,” Brown’s Sarah Behn said. “To play with as much courage as we did both nights and as young as we are to go out and win by wide margins _ I could not be more proud.”

Freshman Justine Gaziano, another top prospect for the Ivy rookie award, had 13 points and Taylor Will scored 10 points.

“I’m glad we made history for Brown tonight,” Behn said. “I knew what a daunting task it was because this conference – you can beat or lose to anyone. We did it and I’m just so proud of our girls, our leadership, out courage.”

Had not Penn been so dominate across the marathon back-to-back weekend slates, the dynamics in pursuit of the berths would have been more suspenseful because of the way the rest of the teams were bunched together.

A tie did occur at the bottom of the league for seventh between Columbia (13-14, 3-11) and Dartmouth (8-19, 3-11), but if one wanted to break it, the Lions of New York swept the series including winning the historic game at Dartmouth for length going into four overtimes.

Ivy Madness


Team. W. L. W.  L. G.B.  GR
#*Penn 19-7  12-1 --  1
*Pctn. 15-11. 9-4. 3.0 1
*Hrvd. 20-7  8-6  4.5 --
*Brwn 16-11 7-7 5.5 --
Crnll 16-11 7-7  5.5 --
x-Yale 15-12 6-8 6.5 --
x-Colm 13-14 3-11 9.5 1
x-Dtmth 8-19 3-11 9.5 1

#Clinched league championship
*Clinched Berth

Remaining Game

Tuesday, March 7

Princeton at Penn, 7 p.m.


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