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 17, 2017

Temple and Oregon Ready to Deal at Duke After Long Droughts Between NCAA Appearances

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

DURHAM, N.C. – Cameron Indoor Stadium may be unknown to the Temple women’s basketball playing contingent since the Owls have not been to the NCAA tournament since 2011 nor played host and No. 2 Bridgeport Regional seed Duke down here.

But the place, which can be referred to as Palestra South, certainly has created a few memories for Temple coach Tonya Cardoza from her 14 years as an assistant coach to Geno Auriemma at UConn., or her days as a star on the Virginia powerhouse program in the early 1990s when the Cavaliers battled the Blue Devils in the Atlantic Coast Conference wars.

Cardoza was asked about any notable reflections at Friday’s press conference setting up Saturday’s doubleheader between the No. 7 Owls (24-7) and 10th seeded Oregon (20-13) at 6:35 p.m. on ESPN2 followed by No. 2 Duke (27-5) and No. 15 Hampton (20-12) at 9 p.m.

“The ones that are the wins are always my favorites,” Cardoza said. “The losses are definitely not. This is just an exciting place to be.

“When we were here the last time, when I was at Connecticut, it was sold out,” Cardoza referenced the 2003 1 vas. 2 game in which the Huskies led by Diana Taurasi were the underdogs and second-ranked team to top-ranked Duke, whose star was Alana Beard.

“It’s loud. It’s just a wonderful place to be. I know my players are excited. They’re snappin’ and super excited about being here because it’s Cameron. But I’m excited to be here as a coach again, as a head coach, and am just trying to find ways to win a basketball game on Saturday.”

Both Cardoza and Oregon coach Kelly Graves have taken their teams here after successful rebuilds.

Cardoza’s three straight NCAA appearances after becoming head coach in 2008-09 at the end of an eight-streak streak occurred with players who were primarily recruited by her predecessor, good friend and Virginia teammate Dawn Staley.

Graves is at the end of his third season and turned the Ducks around after a previous stint at Gonzaga, where he made the Zags a national power.

“It took a phenomenal 2016 class to help us along,” Graves was asked about the turnaround, especially with Oregon ending an NCAA appearance drought extending back to 2005. This year’s freshman class includes Sabrina Ionescu, a strong candidate for national frosh honors.

“I think the fact you are in the Pac-12, where more than half the teams make the field gives you an added benefit. We knew were going to be able to build at Oregon. I think we are well on the way to getting that done.”

In the Pac-12 tournament, Oregon upset Washington, which has national scoring leader Kelsey Plum and rebounding leader Chantel Osahor.

The Ducks have one of the taller rosters in the tournament while the Owls have one of the shorter ones and have several threats headed by senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald and backcourt mate Alliya Butts.

“You can’t stop Fitzgerald with just one player, you just can’t,” Graves said. “She’s a very gifted player and I liken her a lot to someone in our league, (UCLA’s) Jordin Canada, who is going to be a big time pro.

“I just think she is terrific. The fact that she can beat you off the dribble, with the jump shot, her vision is tremendous if you help at all. She makes great decisions. She is a big time player so we are going to have to corral her collectively. It won’t be done individually,” Graves continued.

“I liken their team to jet planes. If you get her and Butts and those guards going, and if they take off, they are going to be difficult to catch. We play more like a jumbo jet, not quite as quick.”

Graves also praised Tanaya Atkinson, calling her, “…one of the best rebounders I’ve seen and we’ve played against some really good ones in (UCLA’s) Monique Billings, and (Stanford’s) Erica McCall and some others. She is just tremendous.

“But I think it is just their consistent effort. They play really, really hard and they can make plays on the glass. That’s obviously one of our keys.”

That the 3-ball is a strength of Oregon and limiting it is a strength of Temple is not a major concern of Ionescu.

“We have come out and played teams that have come out and pressured us and our guards are well prepared for the defensive pressure they’re going to bring. We will be able to cope with whatever they give us and our bigs will be able to drive and score down low.”

One major absence for Temple is double double threat Donnaizha Fountain, still recovering from an ankle injury last month.

“Obviously that’s a major piece when you have one of your top scorers, your top rebounder and the point of your press – that’s a big loss,” Cardoza said. “But we’ve played four, three games without her. We’ve won a couple of those basketball games. At this point, we’re focused only on the guys who are playing. I think our guys are mentally are really getting after it. They’re just really excited about being here at this moment.”

Cardoza praised all parts of Oregon’s attack and pointed out, “We’re just going to have to get into them, get into their body and try to frustrate them as much as possible, try to create as much havoc as we can.

“The thing at this point of the season, we have to do what we do best and that’s get up and pressure. If it works, it works. We’re not going to try to change our game plan because that’s what got us here in the first place.”

Fitzgerald talked about what finally got Temple over the NCAA hump after some previous seasons making long runs in the WNIT.

“I think something that has really helped us win games this year is our defense,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we really thrive off of our defense when we can get out in transition and get easy buckets. Getting stops and gets us all going and gets us hyped and from there it’s only up.

“So we have to make sure we get stops and hopefully it will turn out to be a great night for us.”

The second game features a Duke team that missed the tournament last season for the first time in a long time and whose absence caused a number of the locals here to be calling for longtime coach Joanne P. McCallie to be replaced.

The university did do a review of complaints and charges but McCallie survived and back in the fall at ACC  media day, she noted that down years come with the territory and Duke is not the only one that’s ever had a slump.

Indeed, though still out of the weekly polls in the first month, Duke’s return was highlighted by an upset of South Carolina and the Blue Devils went on to advance to the ACC title game, losing to Notre Dame, which has won all four championships since joining the conference after leaving the old Big East.

The two driving forces have been redshirt junior Rebecca Greenwell and junior Lexi Brown, a transfer from Maryland after an outstanding season with the Terrapins.

McCallie had a conflicted afternoon Friday because following the media session before going out on the floor to practice, her daughter Maddie’s Elon team representing the Colonial Athletic Association as champs, were playing elsewhere against West Virginia in an opening round game.

McCallie had a laptop at the table picking up the stream of the game ultimately won by West Virginia, the upset winner over Baylor in the Big 12 title contest.

Hampton, which beat Temple before the Owls went on a long run through the American Athletic Conference, after the win over Cardoza’s squad struggled with adversity, losing four starters to injuries.

“I think I could sell insurance because I’ve convinced (his players) to change their style of play so many times, but they bought into  it each and every time,” Hampton coach David Six talked about managing his group through all the setbacks.

“We’ve grinded it out when we needed to and it is just remarkable what a resilient team we have.”



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