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.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Guru’s Local Report: Tanaya Atkinson and Board Work Lead Temple to Big 5 Opening Win at La Salle

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Temple opened its defense of last season’s 4-0 sweep to a Big Five title in a Wednesday afternoon pre-Thanksgiving matinee by holding off host La Salle most of the way and then closing out with a 21-9 fourth quarter to defeat the Explorers 69-52 at Tom Gola Arena.

There was much for the Owls (4-1, 1-0 Big Five) to take away from the outcome as they continue to re-tool their attack in the wake of Alliya Butt’s preseason knee injury that will keep her sideline all year.

Tanaya Atkinson, though struggling on the foul line shooting 8-for-16, was on top of her game in every other phase as the reigning American Athletic Conference player of the week scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Coach Tonya Cardoza could also be pleased with contributions from her newcomers, particularly Emani Mayo who also scored in double figures and kept Temple alive to key a spurt in the second half when the Explorers (1-3, 0-1 Big Five) attempted to rally.

 Mayo finished with 10 points and six rebounds while Mia Davis had seven points and nine rebounds.

Desiree Oliver had seven points and dealt five assists off the bench off the bench while Shannen Atkinson off the bench, a player who did not see a lot of minutes as a freshman, had six points and eight rebounds.

Shantay Taylor with four points and five rebounds was another substitute who helped Temple with depth that gave the Owls bench a 24-4 advantage over La Salle reserves in extending the win streak in the series to five games.

Then there was the board work, 48-28 overall and 23-7 on the offensive boards leading to a 16-8 advantage on second-chance points while on the inside the under-sized Owls outscored La Salle 34-22 in the paint.

“If it weren’t for our post players I don’t feel we would be as successful as we are,” said Tanaya Atkinson afterwards. “So today was a good day for us.

“It’s a big step up for me,” she said of having to assume more of a leadership role due to the absence of Butts. “I feel my teammates have my back for anything I do. Even if I take a bad shot, they’re like, ‘That’s ok, you’re going to hit the next one.’ They’re encouraging me to lead on the floor. I feel like that gives me a lot of confidence to do what I do.”

La Salle’s Adreanna Miller had 16 points while Sofilia Ngwafang scored 10 but Amy Griffin, averaging 16 points and last season’s top scorer in the Atlantic 10, was held to eight points and eventually fouled out.

“This is a big win for us to open Big Five on the road,” said Cardoza, though that local road trip is but a few miles away up Broad Street. “Anytime you can win that first Big Five game it means a lot and this was their first game at home.”

La Salle won at Lafayette but then dropped games at American U, across town at Drexel and now to Temple in the Explorers’ home opener.

“I told them (the team) this was the best we’ve played defensively in the sense of paying attention to what was going on,” Cardoza said.

“They started a big lineup, that’s not the lineup they usually start, so we knew we had to do something a little differently on defense with their two bigs out there and I felt we handled ourselves well,” Cardoza said. “And not to give up second chance opportunities, and we did a pretty good job handling the basketball and we were pretty efficient when we got out in transition.

“We just finished a Big Five game – a road game with two freshmen guards — that’s really promising. They’re showing every day they should be out there and this is really encouraging to see them excel in that environment.”

Temple will now be back on campus for the Owls’ next seven games all in McGonigle Hall except the last in the group when former Temple coach Dawn Staley brings her NCAA defending champion South Carolina team to town on Dec. 21 when the contest will be held in the larger Liacouras Center.

After a day off for the holiday, it’s back to practice Friday and a visit from Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference Saturday at 2 p.m.

On Wednesday Saint Joseph’s will visit at 7 for the Hawks’ first City Series game and Temple’s second.

At the same time here La Salle will be hosting Penn in the Quakers’ first Big Five game of the season.

In between, the Explorers head to Lehigh’s tournament Saturday to play New Hampshire and then on Sunday, depending on the outcomes, the winner or loser between the host Mountain Hawks and Fairfield.

Catching Up With The Rest

It’s a lite week ahead of the holiday among the Guru’s locals but to get what’s happened into the roundup, recapping, we went up to Lafayette with Rider on Tuesday in a game between two winless teams and the host Leopards prevailed 60-45 as the visiting Broncs (0-4) struggled from the floor shooting 23.2 percent.

Following Rider’s magical run last season, the Broncs are having to retool with a bunch of newcomers and things don’t get easier this weekend opening with the host Pirates at Seton Hall’s tournament.

Anna Ptasinski had 14 points for Lafayette (1-3), while Bishop Eustace grad Alexis Santarelli had 11 points. She also is a graduate of the powerful Philadelphia Belles AAU program.

The win was the first for new coach Kia Damon, her first-ever running a program after serving previously as an assistant at Cincinnati last season and then a long stint before that as an aide to Penn State coach Coquese Washington.

“I thought we played well at Penn,” said Damon of the Leopards’ previous game, a visit to the Quakers who had their home opener last Saturday at the Palestra. “We just didn’t have the ball go into the basket in the fourth quarter.

“We trying to play man to man against Rider and switch some of the stuff and the guards were attacking and our bigs got into foul trouble and we had to go to a zone.”

Lafayette has a stop early next month at Drexel.

Meanwhile, on Monday Penn State easily handled Central Connecticut 83-66 to stay unbeaten at 5-0 after the non-conference win in the Bryce Jordan Center.

It’s the first 5-0 start in five seasons for Washington.

Alisia Smith had career marks, scoring 14, grabbing six rebounds, dealing a pair of assists and blocking three shots.

Amari Carter had 20 points for PSU while De’Janae Boykin scored 10 and freshman Kamaria McDaniel had 17 points.

Andi Lyon had a game high 25 points for Central Connecticut (0-4), which left still looking for its first win on the season.

Looking Ahead

Penn (1-1) will have a plate full of hoops before dining on any turkey Thursday, playing Georgia Tech at 5:15 p.m. in the opener of the Junkanoo Jam in Bimini in the Bahamas.

A win will likely send the Quakers Friday against No. 8 Baylor, which plays Missouri State in the other game Thursday. Otherwise Penn would probably see Missouri State.

On Friday in other tournaments not mentioned, Rutgers gets its first test of the season meeting South Carolina in a battle of unbeatens in Estero, Fla., in the Gulf South Showcase. The field also has Notre Dame, USF and St. John’s among the eight teams in the three-day matchup.

Villanova, fresh off its upset of then-No. 11 Duke, will be meeting James Madison Friday in Vermont’s tourney and then either the host Catamounts or American U. depending on the outcomes.

Drexel Thursday meets Virginia Tech in the first of three pre-determined games in Florida in a tourney moved out of the Virgin Islands because of damage from last summer’s hurricanes.

On Friday the Dragons meet defending Big 12 champion West Virginia, followed by Butler on Saturday.

Penn State meets Louisiana Tech in Las Vegas on Friday and then Kansas State on Saturday.

Saint Joseph’s opens its Hawk Classic Saturday against Eastern Illinois while Delaware meets St. Peter’s in the first Hawks game of the season at home in Hagan Arena with the winners and losers meeting Sunday. Times are 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day.

Princeton on Saturday is at Davidson in a single game.

After Rider meets Seton Hall Saturday, it will be either East Carolina or Jacksonville State on Sunday.

And that’s the report.