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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Guru's Overniter: Drexel Advances While Delaware Falls in CAA Quarters: Ivy Madness Begins

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

The Drexel women’s basketball team had little problem in its first action Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., shaking off a regular-season ending three-game losing streak to oust sixth-seeded Northeastern 68-50.

Day two and the semifinals on Friday may be a different matter when the third-seeded Dragons (21-9) face  the host team in second-seeded and defending champions Dukes, who advanced by smothering No. 7 UNCW 52-27.

The game will be televised at 7 p.m. On Comcast Sports Net.

JMU (23-7), which was the preseason favorite of the CAA coaches, but fell a game off to Elon,  set tournament records for fewest points allowed in a game (27), a half (11), and opponent shooting percentage (20.9%).

The Dukes, who advanced to their 13th straight semifinals, swept Drexel during the season.

Fifth-seeded Delaware, on the other hand, for the first time in eight seasons won’t be in the semifinals after the Blue Hens were sent home by fourth-seeded William & Mary, 59-44, snapping a 13-0 win streak in the quarterfinals.

In Thursday’s opener at the JMU Convocation Center, Elon, the top seed, made ninth-seeded Hofstra’a survival into the round short-lived, beating the Pride 78-50 to end their rebuilding season at 13-18.

“Elon came out and showed what a No. 1 team was about,” said Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn Stevesky.

Elon (25-6), coached by former North Carolina star Charlotte Smith, has only been in the CAA three seasons but finished on top of the standings despite being swept by JMU.

The Dukes fell to second by being swept by Towson and lost a late season contest to William & Mary.

Drexel hasn’t beaten JMU often, especially in in Harrisonburg, but in 2009, the JMU Convocation Center was the scene of the Dragons’ greatest CAA tourney moments as in the semifinals they ended former member Old Dominion’s perfect CAA postseason record and then beat JMU the next day for the championship and only trip to the NCAA tournament.

Elon (25-6) also swept the Dragons this season.

But Drexel didn’t have to worry about what comes next until they got into a position to do so.

Unlike the Dragons’ play down the stretch the last few week, against Northeastern  (12-19), they looked more like the team that early in the year in non-conference play upset Penn State and nationally-ranked Syracuse.

Senior Meghan Creighton had a game-high 18 points and just like UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson in Monday night’s American Conference title game, she took 10 three-point attempts but unlike the native of Southern California she made six and not all of them, but admirable nonetheless.

Drexel trailed Northeastern early 12-9 but then scored the final 14 points of the first quarter for a 23-12 lead and stayed ahead the rest of the way.

“It was offensive boards,” Huskies coach Kelly Cole said of what went against her group. “It was 50-50 balls, it was turnovers that turned into points.

“Yes, they shot the lights out early but that’s what they do.”

Sarah Curran had 17 points for the Dragons, while Sara Woods scored 12 and Jess Pellechio scored 10.

Northeastern’s Claudia Ortiz 19 while Jess Genco had nine points and six assists.

“The way we finished the season we knew we had to regroup and we had that time to do so,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said of the long break after finishing up Wednesday a week ago.

“The team responded led by our seniors.”

As for Friday night’s upcoming action, Dillon observed, “The keys never change when you’re going up against JMU. Limiting the touches of their top player.

“Precious Hall, she can get any look she wants. You have to defend her as as hard as possible,” Dillon said of the CAA player of the year. “On the offensive end, it’s recognizing what’s open.”

Whatever happens, Drexel is a strong favorite to receive a bid to the WNIT, which the Dragons won several years ago, if the path to the title and NCAA automatic bid gets cut off.

JMU has had a new coach but familiar face this season with the promotion of Sean O’Reagan after Kenny Brooks moved down the road to take over Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Was a really special defensive effort tonight,” he said of the stand against UNCW (11-20). “Holding them to single digit quarters was a first for me. I think we can win the championship with a defensive effort like that.”

The defensive work came at the right time considering the offensive struggles.

Amber Porter came off the bench to score 10 points, as did Hall, who has scored in double digits 30 straight games.

Jenny DeGraaf had eight points for UNCW.

Delaware (16-14), meanwhile, ran into a William & Mary squad that started the season strong, struggled in the middle but played well heading into the tournament.

Marlena Tremba had a game-high 23 points, fueled by five treys, and grabbed nine rebounds  for the Tribe (20-10), which set a program record for wins and is in its first semifinal since 2001. The Blue Hens last fell short of the semifinals in 2009.

“We gave a championship effort here,” said Tribe coach Ed Swanson, who previously coached several years ago at Sacred Heart. “Marlena imposed her will on offense and defense. She came down with the same great rebounds down the stretch.”

Erika Brown had 15 points for the Blue Hens while Makeda Lewis had 10 points and Nicole Enabosi had seven points, five rebounds and a career-high five steals.

“Obviously, this is a disappointing loss,” said veteran Delaware coach Tina Martin, whose team would be considered on the bubble for the WNIT. The three teams in the semifinals who don’t win the CAA title are all likely to land in the WNIT.

Elon will play William & Mary in the first semifinals game at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

“I thought our kids really battled, but we really struggled to finish shots. William & Mary did a great job collapsing in their 3-2 zone and we had a hard time entering the ball into our post players,” Martin said.

“Once we got it in there, we did a decent job getting it back out and making the extra pass, but then you have to be able to knock down the jump shot and also get to the rim,” she continued.

“Today was a frustrating day offensively for sure. Defensive has kept us in games all year long, and today was no different.”

Elon (25-6) has been to the semifinals two of the three years it has been in the league.

"It’s me the coach who’s never satisfied,” Elon’s Smith said. “They know me. They know I want them to absolutely be the best. They’v been pushed to strive for excellence and I want the best for them. They did a great job out there defensively.; offensively, we’ve got some kinks to work out.”

Four players from the Phoenix scored in double figures with Essence Baucom scoring 15 points, Jennifer Rhodes had 14, Lauren Brown had 11 and Shay Burnett scored 10 and had a game-high 9 points.

Ivy Madness Begins

With all the Power 5 conferences on the women’s side, where most of the nationally-ranked teams are located, now playing their tournaments the first of the two big weekends, the CAA has been the second weekend highlight most of the time.

This year, the question in the Midwest is whether Drake will finish the Missouri Valley unbeaten.

But there’s a new kid on the block for both mean and women and while new, the tourney is the province of the Ancient Eight know as the Ivy League.

Four teams on each gender – the men and women of host Penn, Princeton, and Harvard made the field alongside the Yale men’s team and Brown women’s squad.

The semifinals are Saturday and the title game Sunday for each group.

But ahead of the action if you are not working Friday and you can ignore the weather, then beginning at 9 a.m. or so till late afternoon each team will go through shoot-arounds and interviews and the Palestra will be open free to the public.

If you can’t get outside, the entire day will air free on the Ivy Digital Network.

And that’s the wrap.




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