Guru's WNIT Report: Villanova Wins at JMU to Advance to the Elite Eight
By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru
If Villanova had been in the at-large pool two weeks ago when WNIT officials began picking the teams to join the designated 32 automatic qualifiers the Wildcats might already be somewhere other than still on the basketball court.
But with Marquette winning the Big East tournament, and regular season champion and nationally ranked DePaul, along with Creighton, headed for the NCAA field, Villanova as the fourth seed in the conference became an automatic entry in the WNIT.
Given a second chance to improve on a season that had been a bit of letdown, Villanova has racked up three straight impressive road wins to make it to the Elite Eight, also known as the quarterfinal round.
The latest came Thursday night where coach Harry Perretta’s group squandered a double digit lead of 13 points held at the half but found a way to win at James Madison 69-67 in overtime and head to the next round Sunday 2 p.m. at Indiana.
It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
The Hoosiers (23-10) advanced to the Villanova game at Assembly Hall by beating SMU, 64-44, as Karlee McBride scored 17 points. Amanda Cahill had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Villanova (19-14) had opened the tourney, beating Princeton, the Ivy runnerup at the Tigers’ Jadwin gym, then won a cross-city game at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center, before moving on to JMU.
Always at tough place to play where the home team at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Va., began the season as defending champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, Villanova withstood a 36-point and nine rebound performance from redshirt senior Precious Hall to become the latest local out of the Philadelphia area in recent seasons to make long runs in the tourney.
Drexel went all the way in 2013, followed by Rutgers winning in 2014, and then Temple made deep runs the last two seasons, including a Final Four appearance a year ago.
Penn State, meanwhile, the other local team that was still alive at nightfall, fell at home in the Bryce Jordan Center in State College to Virginia Tech, 64-55, as the Hokies earned a date with Michigan on Saturday.
Hall, the CAA player of the year, went out in glory, if not continuation, nailing a three-pointer at the buzzer that put the game in overtime for the Dukes (26-9), a collegiate total of 2,347 points, second best at JMU, and a program best 841 points as a senior.
Jannah Tucker, who started the Villanova season in her first eligibility since transferring from Tennessee with great promise, returned to that persona with a career-high 22 points and was 4-for10 on three-point attempts.
Alex Louin added 15 points and scored at the finish in the extra period to rescue the Wildcats. Freshman Kelly Jekot scored nine points, as did Samantha Wilkes, Megan Quinn had eight points.
Behind Hall’s performance, Kamiah Smalls, the freshman out of Philadelphia’s Neumann-Goretti High, scored eight points for JMU, among a group of Dukes who could not reach double digits on the scoreboard.
Villanova’s halftime lead was aided by what the Wildcats do best – shot the trey and a pair of back-to-back shots from beyond the arc created the double digit lead.
When the Dukes gout up in the second half, there were several lead changes before Hall’s shot knotted the differential at the finish of regulation.
Villanova shot 11 treys for the game compared to the Dukes’ six and JMU dominated the boards 50-36.
If the Wildcats win at Indiana, they will play at either Michigan or Virginia Tech in the Final Four.
Virginia Tech, which had a roller-coaster rebuilding year under new coach Kenny Brooks, who had been at James Madison, bolted to a 23-point lead near the end of the first quarter over the Lady Lions (21-11).
Teniya Page had 23 points for PSU, while Amari Carter scored 10 points.
The Hokies (20-13) got double digit scoring from five players, headed by Chanette Hicks’ 13 points, 12 each from Vanessa Panousis and Samantha Hill, and 11 each from Kendyl Brooks and Sidney Cooks.
Wrapping up the season at Happy Valley, Penn State coach Coquese Washington said, “As disappointing as this loss is right now, when you look at the totality of our season, this team accomplished a lot.
“I’m really proud of what this team accomplished this year, especially with this team being so young.”
In another WNIT game, the matchup of Michigan (25-9) and St. John’s (22-12) at Michigan’s Crisler Center in Ann Arbor brought together the Wolverines’ coach in Kim Barnes Arico who previously coached the Red Storm and Joe Tartamella, her former assistant who was promoted when she moved from the Big East to the Big Ten.
The former coach had an easy time of it winning 60-40 to advance against Virginia Tech.
Aaliyah Lewis became the career leader in games played for the Red Storm at 134.
Saint John’s Jade Walker scored 10 points and Hallie Thome had 19 points for Michigan, whose all-America candidate Katelynn Flaherty scored 17 points.
Host Iowa advanced eliminating Colorado 80-62 at home in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City as Haley Smith had 25 points for the visiting Buffs (17-16) and Alexa Kastanek topped the scorers for the Hawkeyes (20-13) with 19 points.
Ally Disterhoft scored 15, Makenzie Meyer scored 13, and Megan Gustafson scored 12. The Hawkeyes on Sunday will host Washington State (16-19), which eliminated UC Davis 71-62 Thursday night at home.
Rachel Nagel had 20 points for UC Davis (26-8) while Alexys Swedlund had 20 points for the Cougars, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou scored 16, and Caila Hailey scored 13.
Alabama beat Tulane 72-64 at home in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa as Hannah Cook had 17 points off 70 percent shooting from the field.
The Crimson Tide (22-13) made it to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history and first since the WNIT expanded to a field of 64. Alabama on Sunday will visit Georgia Tech (20-14), in the Yellow Jackets’ McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta where they beat Middle Tennessee 70-57 Thursday night.
Freshman Francesca Pan had 18 points for the home team and Ty Petty scored 21 for Middle Tennessee (23-11).
In the Alabama game, the program significantly doubled the previous attendance to, 1,054, a season high.
The Crimson Tide do not have any seniors on this year’s team so coach Kristy Curry is enjoying the ride with the 2017-18 edition.
Cook was 4-for-6 on three-point attempts, 7-of-10 overall. Alabama, as a team, hit 48.9 percent from the field and outrebounded the Green Wave of the American Conference 39-27 while having 16 assists on 23 made baskets.
“I appreciate our community,” said Curry. “What a great crowd on a Thursday night. We really appreciate them; so many coaches within the department, athletes and department personnel. It was great to see so many faces in the crowd, and again we really appreciate everyone’s support.
“I’m really proud of our team for finding a way to win. Each one of them.”
Ashley Williams added 15 points to the Alabama attack, while Quantria Bolton and Jordan Lewis each scored 13 points.
The Tide opened a 23-10 lead after the first quarter and increased it to as wide as 17 early in the fourth.
Tulane midway in the fourth used an 11-2 run to to make it an eight point game just under the five minute mark. The teams traded baskets until Alabama hit 9-of-10 foul shots over the final 4:23.
“We talked after the game about what we could take away and continue to learn from tonight, and I thought they had some great points,” observed Curry. “It was composure and little things as we went throughout each one. I thought that down the stretch, we had great composure against a very well-coached Tulane team.
“We were fortunate to have a few more plays we made.”
In other SEC news, South Carolina junior A’Ja Wilson is one of four finalists for the original Player of the Year Award, the Wade Trophy.
The only nominees for the Region II Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America awards are from the SEC.
There are two each from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and one from Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida.
The nominees: A’Ja Wilson and Alaina Coates (South Carolina); Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell (Tennessee); Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator (Kentucky); Victoria Vivians (Mississippi State); Ronnie Williams (Florida), and Sophie Cunningham (Missouri).
This is basically the coaches’ all-conference team. The nominees from five regions are the finalists for the All-American team, announced at the Woman ‘s Final Four.