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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Guru Report: Nwokedi 3-Pointer Triggers Rare Penn Big Five Win Over Saint Joseph’s

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — By the math, if nothing else, the Big Five women’s basketball race is still wide open, even if a clear frontrunner exists, though one of the quintet has been vanquished.

A rare three-pointer from Penn’s Michelle Nwokedi late in the game Monday night on Hawk Hill at Hagan Arena triggered an even rarer conquest by the Quakers who beat Saint Joseph’s 57-50 for only the second time here and third time overall in what is now a 43-game series between the two schools, mostly within the annual local round robin.

The last win for Penn (3-4, 1-1 Big Five), which snapped a two-game losing streak on this season, came at home in The Palestra three seasons ago and the previous win here occurred on Dec. 1, 2004.

Saint Joseph’s (5-4, 0-3), in what has been a nearly two-week scoring slump, dropped its fourth straight, a slide that began losing at Temple after an early lead, continued West of here on the Main Line with the worst loss ever at Villanova, then on to an upset setback down at Towson in suburban Baltimore, and now to Penn to be knocked out of Big Five race at 0-3, following the first home loss of the season.

The Hawks’ remaining City Series game is at La Salle, January 28, which is also the first of two with the Explorers in the home-and-home setup within the Atlantic 10.

Penn, which went 0-4 against the locals last season, will visit Villanova, Jan. 17, and Temple a week later.

The Wildcats (9-0, 2-0), who moved up to No. 20 in this week’s Associated Press Poll, will come out of the finals break to visit La Salle Dec. 20, a week from Wednesday, before next month’s game with Penn.

The Quakers arrived here after a 13-point-lead-yielding loss at La Salle and then improving in Saturday’s competitive loss to then-No. 3 Notre Dame at The Palestra.

“I didn’t know that either,” said Penn coach Mike McLaughlin of the lopsided Hawks domination. “This is the ninth time playing them since I’ve been here and only second time we’ve beaten them.”

The triumphed extended McLaughlin’s program record now at 10 Big Five wins in his nine seasons at the helm of the Quakers.

“There were a few we didn’t close and in this one we did close,” he said.

Saint Joseph’s led briefly by three late in the first quarter before Penn took over to build a 10-point lead in the second quarter and still have some comfort at 29-21 at the half.

It got to 12 and stood at 11 at the end of the third before the Hawks stirred with a 9-0 run in the final stanza, moving within a field goal at 45-43 with 6:09 left in regulation.

Then Penn responded as freshman Eleah Parker, who had a career night with 15 points, 4 blocked shots and eight rebounds, went inside and then after Saint Joseph’s failed to score on the next possession, Nowkedi, the reigning Ivy player of the year who had been 0-for-12 from beyond the arc, took a pass from Parker and zipped a triplet to extend the lead to 50-43 with 4:05 left.

“That was a dagger,” said Hawks coach Cindy Griffin. “That really hurt us.”

It got to nine on a layup from Nowkedi after a Saint Joseph’s miss on the ensuing possession and the Quakers were able to manage things so that only 15 seconds remained when the home team got back within six.

“We didn’t play particularly well at La Salle, we started well, but credit to them, but it’s good to get this one, especially going into finals. We’re starting to get better,” McLaughlin said.

“The only way we can make Notre Dame what we did, in terms of competing at a high level, a Top 5 team, is to come out here and make it worthwhile, and come out here and play with confidence and we did that.

“I thought we dictated all night, except maybe early in the first quarter, I liked the way we played.”

Nwokedi had 14 points, three assists, four steals, and a pair of blocks, to go with the three-pointer, making her only long-range attempt in the game for the two-time reigning Ivy League champions.

“She made a bunch last year. I’m glad she was in the gym all day,” McLaughlin said. “That was a good shot for her. But she put a lot of work today, spent an hour in the gym, I’m glad it paid off for her.”

Anna Ross was efficient at the point again, scoring five and dealing five assists.

Penn returns from the break to host Rhode Island Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. at The Palestra, then on Dec. 28-29 the Quakers head up to NJIT’s tournament in Newark to open with VCU and then meeting either the host Highlanders or NCAA participant Long Beach.

“Then we open with Princeton (Jan. 6 at home), and it all begins and we still have those two Big 5 games, so we’re going to embrace this one,” McLauhlin said.

On the Saint Joseph’s side, the Hawks were once again bedeviled on the offensive side, hitting at a 36.1 percent clip from the field, and Penn forced 17 turnovers.

Sarah Veilleux had a game-high 16 points while Adashia Franklyn had 12 points and 13 rebounds. Avery Marz, who has come back this season to finally play after being sidelined the previous two recovering from a stroke, got her first start and got three points in 13 minutes of play.

Chelsea Woods, currently sidelined with some health issues, didn’t play but Griffin got 20 minutes off the bench from Jaryn Garner, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility right before the season began. She grabbed seven rebounds.

“What a great Big Five game, what a great Big Five battle,” Griffin said afterwards. “I was proud of some of our kids who hadn’t been playing well, started playing well. Jaryn did a nice job off the bench. Avery’s start was inspirational, she did a nice job for us as well.

“Penn has been a team trying to find their way. They worked hard and made some key baskets. Proud of the way our kids battled back and put ourselves in position to win the game.

“We have to find ways to win. I told them (her team) I don’t mind 50-point games as long as the other team has 49.”

The Hawks are off the rest of the week and return Sunday to host Drexel, at 1:30 p.m. on the front end of a doubleheader with the men. The tip had originally been set for 1 p.m. depending what schedule you might possess.

Local Honors and Notes

Villanova’s move to No. 20 this week in the AP Poll is the Wildcats’ highest ranking since No. 9 in January, 2004. Junior Adrianna Hahn is the Big East player of the week.

Temple’s Mia Davis picked up another freshman of the week citation from the American Athletic Conference while Princeton’s Bella Alarie took Ivy player of the week honors, and Rider swept the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference awards with Kamila Hoskova being named player of the week and Jaiden Morris taking the rookie award.

It’s a lite week for finals on the schedule but the Guru’s next stop Wednesday night in the battle of U.S. 1 or N.J. 206 — take your traffic poison — or NJT/Cab-or-Uber-or-Lyft as Rutgers hosts Princeton at 6 p.m.

And that’s the Guru’s report.


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