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.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Guru's Overniter: UConn Escapes Upset While Penn Felled, St. Joe's Wins

(Guru note: This report compiled from team, wire, website reports and the Guru on the scene in New Haven)

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

The Green Wave of Tulane nearly became the tsunami that took down Connecticut’s heralded win streak Saturday night less than a week after the Huskies reached the magic number of 100 straight beating then No. 6 South Carolina Monday night back home on campus in Storrs.

Down in New Orleans, it was a league rival, no less, out of the American Athletic Conference in which the UConn women have yet to lose, that suddenly threatened in the final minute to post one of the great upsets in any season before the Huskies held on for a 63-60 triumph that became consecutive number 101 in the NCAA streak that became a new record when they reached 91 several weeks ago.

The Huskies are 76-0 in all conference regular season and tournament games in the league that was configured out of a chunk of the former old Big East.

UConn against Tulane was without Kia Nurse because of a sore ankle suffered in the win against the Gamecocks and she’s likely not to play when Temple visits Wednesday night.

Despite her absence, the other notables on Geno Auriemma’s squad ultimately came through with Napheesa Collier scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, while Katie Lou Samnuelson did her own streak thing, scoring 15 straight in a second-half run before finishing with 17, and Gabby Williams had 14 rebounds.

With NBA All-Star activities going on elsewhere in the area, the UConn developed into the internet center of attention in a tight battle until the Huskies’ seasonal unbeaten marks were able to be updated to 26 overall and 13-0 in the American.

Tulane (16-11, 7-7) got 19 points from Kolby Morgan, while Leslie Vorpahl had 16 points, and Tene Thompson scored 14.

While Tulane among the mortals in the American is considered one of the better ones in the group, consider that Temple beat the Green Wave 86-71 at home last month and 76-50 two weeks ago in New Orleans.

“We played everybody and everybody gave us something, Green Wave coach Lisa Stockton said. “This team was focused and didn’t let anything get them down and they kept battling.”

Tulane got within a basket several times late in the game but couldn’t contain the Huskies but with four seconds left, the Green Wave got possession only for Thompson’s attempted trey to force overtime not go down.

They became the third team in the streak, all this season, to lose within 10 points joining Florida State, who fell at home 78-76 in the season opener and Maryland, whio lost at home 87-81 on Dec. 29.

"What happened today is the wrong team won," Auriemma said. "We had them down 17 and our guys are used to the other team maybe missing shots or struggling and this team decided to fight back. We had no business winning that game.”

Meanwhile, the conference appears to have backloaded its schedule leading up to next month’s tournament continuing at the Mohegan Sun, home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun, near New London, Connecticut.

Temple, in second place and which earned a No. 25 ranking last week in the USA Today Coaches Poll, is at Associated Press Poll No. 22 South Florida on Sunday trying to even the season series before visiting Connecticut on Wednesday night.

Tulane hosts USF Wednesday and UConn visits USF next Monday night.

Lobo, McGraw, Mulkey and Wayland Baptist Team Part of Naismith Hall of Fame Finalists

Besides being able to get out of New Orleans with another win, Auriemma got some good news earlier in the day when former Huskies star Rebecca Lobo was named one of the four women’s subcommittee nominees among the finalists for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Inductees will be announced at the men’s final four in Phoenix, though considering who’s in the mix, some exploring is going as to whether if any of the women’s nominees reach induction, the announcement be made in Dallas as the women’s final four.

Lobo, who has been an ESPN analyst, was the mainstay of the original group of UConn players who were part of their first NCAA title in 1995. The All-American has ok’d being switched to contributor status as a way to have more weight with the honors committee considering her impact on the game off the court as well as on.

Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw, a former St. Joseph’s star, was a finalists last year and thee was much surprise she didn’t past muster with former WNBA, collegiate and Olympic star Sheryl Swoopes.

Kim Mulkey was actually on the list separately as a former star at Louisiana Tech and in the Olympics besides being a coach of Baylor’s national powerhouse for which she was submitted.

Both Notre Dame and Baylor are contenders to reach the Women’s Final Four in Dallas, while Lobo will be doing broadcasting duties for ESPN.

The Wayland Baptist Team that was a finalist a year ago and actually as an AAU competitor won more in a row than UConn was re-submitted again. Last year was the first the women’s subcommittee was allowed to increase entries from two to four, in part, to recognize the growing list of WNBA stars becoming eligible in retirement.

The Ivy Race Takes a Turn

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Well, in the previous Ivy-only post the discussion of suspense that was avoided when Penn began the weekend escaping up at Brown in Providence, R.I., has been injected after what happened here at Yale and over at Cornell.

The defending champion Quakers, still holding first, were upset by Yale 61-48 at the Bulldogs’ John J. Lee Ampitheater while Cornell took down visiting Harvard 57-52 in Ithaca, N.Y.,  snapping a 18-game losing streak to the Crimson, and Princeton won it’s seventh straight in the league, winning at Brown 81-75 to avenge last month’s loss to the Bears in Jadwin Gym that put the Tigers starting out at 0-2 in league play.

In the other game that had little impact, Columbia made it a season sweep of Dartmouth, winning 69-48 at Levien Gym at home in New York after taking the first game in New Hampshire in historic four overtimes.

The outcomes would have a different feel in the former setup where the season champion becomes the NCAA automatic qualifier.

But with the new four-team tourneys for men and women at The Palestra next month on Penn’s campus, the upper teams are still in good shape though the seed race narrowed.

The Quakers (15-7, 8-1 Ivy), becoming the last of the league unbeatens to fall and having an overall 12-game Ivy win streak snapped, are still on top, but Princeton (13-9, 7-2) moved past Harvard (19-4, 7-3) into third place.

Had Penn won, the Quakers would have virtually wrapped up a berth and would be three games ahead of the third-place Crimson and two ahead of the Tigers.

Cornell (14-9, 5-5) with the win got new life moving into a tie with Brown (14-9, 5-5).

As the Ivy schedule closes out Penn must still play Princeton, Harvard and Cornell among its last five while likewise Princeton playing Penn and the other two in the same set.

As for the game here, Yale (12-11, 3-7), which many thought might be one of the tourney contenders, opened a seven-point lead in the first period before the Quakers got to within two at 12-10 after the first 10 minutes elapsed.

The two teams played even into halftime at 30-30. Then Yale built a seven point lead in the third and were never overtaken the rest of the way though Penn was contending until the final minutes.

There were five ties and 14 lead changes in the contest.

In many ways, Penn looked more like the team that struggled early in the season. Princess Aghayere, who had become a factor, was held to two points off the bench.

Sydney Stipanovich provided the one bright note for the visitors, with her one block she became the all time career leader in Ivy history with 306 while she scored 12 points and had six rebounds. Michelle Nwokedi had another double double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Quakers committed 19 turnovers which Yale used to outscore them 18-9 in points off transition.

Jen Berkowitz had 26 points for Yale while Mary Ann Santucci scored 15.

I’m proud of the kids and the way they played tonight,” said Yale coach Allison Guth. “Hopefully, this is the game that turns the corner. Mike (McLaughlin) has done a great job and they’re going to go a long way.”

Last week when the Penn coach was discussing the new tourney when the Quakers were at Columbia and the toughness of the league, it sounded like sooner or later he felt his team might take a hit.

So if it was to be, for the moment, it wasn’t such a terrible thing for it to happen Saturday night.

Meanwhile at Brown, the Tigers of Princeton completed another weekend sweep with the 81-75 win at the Pizzitola Sports Center.

Leslie Robinson scored 17 points, while freshman Bella Alarie had 12 points and 10 rebounds to go with three blocks and two steals. Gabrielle Rush had 15 points, fueled by four three pointers coming off the bench while Taylor Brown had 14 points.

Justine Gaziano had 24 points for Brown and Shayna Mehta scored 21.

Princeton grabbed 13 steals.

The Tigers on Friday host Columbia while Penn hosts Cornell and then the two visitors switch sites on Saturday.

Princeton has swept 43 of the last 47 Ivy two-game weekends.

Cornell got new life and endangered Harvard’s fight for a good seed with the win by the Big Red in Newman Arena.

Samantha Widmann had 15 points and 12 rebounds for Cornell in gaining her first double double. Nicholle Aston had 13 points, of which 10 came in the first half, while Nia Marshall scored 11 and Megan LeDuc scored 10.

Katie Benzan had 16 points for Harvard and Madeline Raster scored 13 while Destiny Nunley scored 12.

Though Cornell got a life out of the weekend, the Big Red now go head-on into Penn and Princeton while Harvard will have Brown in its weekend mix next time around.

The Crimson in the Cornell series were held to their lowest point total since 1982-83.

 The Big Red senior class has 57 triumphs, winningest in program history.

In the Columbia win, the Lions shot a season-high 53 percent while Camille Zimmerman had 20 points and Tori Oliver scored 11.

With the Lions starting next weekend at Princeton, it will be Columbia first-year coach Megan Griffith’s first return to the Tigers campus since returning to her alma mater in New York after a long stint as an assistant on Courtney Banghart’s staff.

Saint Joseph’s Keeps Streaking

The Hawks won their third straight beating Davidson 69-54 at home in Hagan Arena on senior day to gain a key Atlantic 10 victory and clinch fourth place for the tournament, which begins next weekend.

Alyssa Monaghan had 21 points, matching her career for Saint Joseph’s (14-13, 11-4 Atlantic 10) while Adashia Franklyn had 12 points, 10 rebounds, and blocked three shots; Amanda Fioravanti, one of the outgoing seniors along with Jaryn Garner, Mackenzie Rule, and Jazmin Horne, had 10 points while Chelsea Woods scored 11.

Justine Lyon had 23 for Davidson (6-21, 4-11).

The Hawks stay at home to finish up Tuesday night hosting George Mason at 7 p.m. and will be hosting a first-round Atlantic 10 game Saturday or Sunday.

Rutgers Takes Another Loss

The Scarlet Knights fell 53-41 in a Big Ten game at Wisconsin in Madison at the Kohl Center as Avyanna Young scored 14 points and Cayla McMorris had 10 for the winning Badgers (7-20, 2-12).

Shrita Parker had 16 points for Rutgers (6-21, 3-11) and Victoria Harris scored 11.

Rutgers next heads Northwestern Thursday before hosting Ohio State Sunday in the regular season finale.

Texas Upset

In the other national game of note, the No. 8 Longhorns got caught in a trap game of sorts, losing on the road to No. 19 Oklahoma 74-73 in a Big 12 game in Norman with a wild finish.

Peyton Little hit a three-pointer from the corner with two seconds left and Nancy Mulkey, no relation to Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, hit a free throw for the deciding point.

The Longhorns had won 19 straight and now must host No. 4 Baylor Monday night in a tie for the conference lead rather than a game ahead.

Little had 15 points for the Sooners (21-6, 12-3 Big 12) while Vionise Pierre-Louis had 21 points. Gabbi Ortiz scored 14 points and Gioya Carter scored 10.

Texas hit a three at the buzzer for the final points.

Mulkey stole the ball and was fouled.  

Brooke McCarty had 16 points for Texas (21-5, 14-1)  in a game that had 16 lead changes.

Looking Ahead

Repeating from the previous post, the big game among the locals has Temple, as mentioned, at No. 22 South Florida trying to build a two-game lead for second in the American rather than settling for a tie.

Drexel hosts Delaware, two games ahead of the Blue Hens in third place in the Colonial Athletic Association. The game at the Daskalakis Athletic Center is at 3 p.m.

Villanova hosts Butler on senior day at 2 p.m. In a key Big East game for the Wildcats.

La Salle, in sixth place in the Atlantic 10, visits Massachusetts needing to win ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Fordham in the home and season finale.

A bunch of ranked teams within conferences play.

In the Atlantic Coast, No. 14 Louisville hosts North Carolina, while No. 13 Duke hosts No. 16 Miami, No. 15 North Carolina State hosts Wake Forest, and No. 21 Syracuse hosts No. 7 Notre Dame.

In the Big East, a key game in which No. 17 DePaul, the conference leader, visits Marquette.

In the Pac-12, No. 18 UCLA hosts Washington State, No. 11 Oregon State visits Utah, No. 9 Washington visits Southern Cal, and No. 10 Stanford hosts Cal in the Bay Area war, part two for this week.

Other national games of note, have No, 20 Michigan hosting Michigan State in the Big 10, No. 25 Drake visiting Loyola of Illinois in the Missouri Valley, while in the Southeastern Conference, No. 3 Mississippi State visits No. 23 Texas A&M, and No. 6 South Carolina visits Missouri.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Guru's Overniter: Drexel Youth Carries Dragons Over Towson

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

In a switch, the Drexel freshmen sealed the deal Friday night in the Colonial Athletic Association and when the trio of Aubree Brown, Bailey Greenberg and Ana Ferariu finished dominating the last two quarters or second half, take your pick, the Dragons had themselves an 80-65 victory at Towson.

They also had stronger control of third place, courtesy of Delaware losing at Northeastern in Boston, opening up a two-game lead that could grow to three Sunday afternoon since the Blue Hens are heading for part two in the local rivalry, visiting the Dragons at 3 p.m. In the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

James Madison, with a 70-59 win at UNCW moved a half-game in front of idle Elon in terms of first place in the CAA, but the Dukes are already holding a projected number seed in next month’s conference tourney they will host since they swept the season series with the Phoenix.

Drexel (19-6, 10-4 CAA) is two games behind the leaders but having been swept by Elon and already losing one at JMU, third place is the likely seed, though perhaps Elon might be the lesser of two evils in a projected semifinal game in the conference tourney.

As for Friday’s action, the three rookie amigos collectively had 31 of Drexel’s 44 points at SECU Arena in suburban Baltimore as the Dragons have now beaten Towson (11-14, 4-10) for a string of 17 straight times.

Sarah Curran, an elder on the roster as a senior Dragon, had 19 points, but Brown had a career-high 14 for her rookie season, Ferariu scored 15, and Greenberg had seven. Meghan Creighton scored 10 points.

The game was a homecoming for Sarah Woods, who six points, two rebounds, two steals, and a pair of assists.

Kelsi Lidge, who has been on the sidelines with a wrist injury suffered in the James Madison game on Jan. 27, had two points, a rebound and an assist in ten minutes of play returning to active duty.

Meanwhile, Delaware had trouble scoring again, losing to Northeastern 50-41 in Boston.

Makeda Nicholas had a career-high six blocked shots go for naught, all of which were also the Blue Hens’ total. She finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Erika Brown had 11 points for Delaware (14-11, 8-6), which fell two games off the pace from third place Drexel, heading into Sunday’s local visit to the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Claudia Ortiz had 14 points for Northeastern (9-17, 5-9), while Jess Genco had 10 points.

“The decision-making wasn’t at the level that it’s been the last few games and we really made some questionable shot choices,” said veteran Delaware coach Tina Martin. “You have to hand it to Northeastern, they made big shots when they needed to and their guards really hurt us in transition.”

Delaware shot just 7.7 percent off 1-for-13 in the third quarter.

Sunday’s game at Drexel will be on the American Sports Network and in Philaadelphia on Comcast SportsNet.

Meanwhile, as Elon stood at rest, James Madison, the defending champs and preseason favorites, continued to roll, winning 70-59 at UNCW in North Carolina.

The Dukes (19-6, 12-2 CAA) were checked off elected quickly in this one, bursting to an 11-0 lead at the outset.

Precious Hall continued to do her thing, scoring 29 points while Amber Porter and Lexi Barrier each scored 10.

Believe it or not, JMU makes just its first meeting with Charleston, Sunday, playing on the road.

Time Out:  It’s Naismith BHOF’s Turn to Announce Finalists

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., will be making its annual announcement of the induction finalists at NBA All-Star Weekend, of whom the honors committee will decide who earns entry and the winners will be announced at the men’s final four, though there is a movement to have the winners if any out of the women’s committee to be announced a day or two early in Dallas at the women’s final four.

The announcement will be carried at 11 a.m.

Considering who is in the mix among the women’s finalists to the subcommittee, if they are voted out, which will be known Saturday, some may have to be in Dallas anyway.

With Sheryl Swoopes inducted in September off the expanded allowance of four from two candidates, it will be interesting to see who has been moved forward.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw could be expected to be sent up again since there was much surprised she wasn’t elected last time around.

Other people who were under consideration with Guru’s odds in parenthesis

Marianne Stanley as a coach (50-50)
Harley Redin as a coach (30-70) only because has lost out in honors several times
Barbara Stevens as a coach (40-60) – local consideration to Mass. Coaching Bentley
Pearl Moore (55-45) – as a player past great from yesteryear
Jennifer Azzi (50-50) – as a player depends how fares to others and how ABL years factor
Susie McConnell (50-50) – Olympic great and college great out of Penn State
Theresa Grentz (50-50) – as a player only. Was face of the game in her time at Immaculata
Theresa Weatherspoon (60-40) – Was La Tech, Olympic, and WNBA great

Kim Mulkey (70-30) – Didn’t come out last year but with Swoopes elected, chance to be moved into the mix as a coach. Less likely as a Louisiana Tech star.

Leta Andrews (50-50) – Was finalist in 2016  and strong credentials as h.s. coach in Texas.

Rebecca Lobo (65-35) – Just the Guru’s opinion on odds and electability. Could have easier time in honors than did in subcommittee. Depends if total impact on game considered.

Wayland Baptist (55-45) – Was moved last year. Could try again since hold all-time streak and in light of the UConn attention, might get some reflection.

Still Time Out: The MAAC Race

Quinnipiac defeated Iona to get back into a tie for first with Rider in the MAAC race. The Broncs are idle until hosting Monmouth Tuesday night but could clinch at least the two seed with a win, which would put them in good shape for a shot at the WNIT if they don’t win the NCAA automatic qualifier.

Time In: The Wild West Pac-12 Resumes as UCLA Beats Washington

Just three ranked teams played Friday night, two games in the Pac-12 with the big story, No. 18 UCLA upset No. 9 Washington 90-79 at home in Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Jordin Canada, who didn’t practice all week rehabbing an injury and who didn’t start, came off the bench to score 22 points for the Bruins (19-7, 10-5 Pac-12) .

“I thought they were very efficient without her, but then she took it to another level when she came in,” said Washington coach Mike Neighbors. “She was in total command.”

Monique Billings had 19 points and Nicole Kornet scored 15.

Kelsey Plum of the visiting Huskies, who leads the nation in scoring, poured 39 points while Chantel Osahor had another double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Plum is now three points behind all-time NCAA runnerup Brittney Griner, the former Baylor star, who finished with 3,283 points, while Plum has 3, 280.

The all-time NCAA leader is Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Jackie Stiles of Missouri State, who finished with 3,393 points, which is 113, though Kansas’ Lynette Woodard had more playing in the AIAW  just before the onset of the NCAA.

The Bruins’ win stopped a four-game streak by Washington (24-4, 12-3), which advanced to the Women’s Final Four last season.

Meanwhile, No. 11 Oregon State escaped a near-upset from host Colorado in Boulder, hanging on to a 54-49 win as Sydney Wiese scored 14 points and  Kolbie Orum scored 10 for the Beavers (24-3, 13-2 Pac-12).

Colorado fell to 4-12 overall and 4-11 in the conference.

Drake, which is not in the Pac-12, but the Missouri Valley Conference, returned to the AP Poll for the first time since 2001 this week and was the only other ranked team in action Friday.

The Bulldogs won their 14th straight, beating host Indiana State, 64-45, in Terre Haute as Brenni Rose had four three-pointers and scored 14 points.

Back in the Pac-12, Arizona upset in-state rival Arizona State, 62-58, depriving the Sun Devils a chance to return to the rankings after falling out on Monday. Oregon, which has been hot lately, won at Utah 73-61, while Southern Cal won easy over visiting Washington State, 80-64.

Looking Ahead

You got the Ivy lineup for the locals and rest of the conference in the Guru’s separate post, but in the Atlantic 10, one big one Saturday afternoon.

Saint Joseph’s hosts Davidson  at 2 p.m. and the game will air on the A-10 network. It’s senior day for the Hawks (13-13, 10-4) at Hagan Arena but with a win and a Fordham loss at home Sunday to Dayton, they could nail down fourth for this month’s tournament, which starts next weekend on home courts before moving on to Richmond, Va., the following weekend for the quarterfinals thru championships.

Theoretically, they could move into a three-way tie for second if George Washington lost to visiting George Mason and Saint Louis lost to visiting Richmond, but probably couldn’t move up in that mix.

They might, however, if just Saint Loses, which puts them in third on a tie-break.

La Salle goes to Massachusetts Sunday and if Fordham loses to Dayton, the Explorers could be in position to move into fifth.

In the Big Ten Saturday, Rutgers is at Wisconsin, while in the Patriot League, Lafayette travels to Lehigh.

Connecticut, in its first game since winning 100 straight on Monday night, visits Tulane in New Orleans going for win No. 101.

On Sunday, Temple is at nationally-ranked South Florida trying to expand a one-game lead in second to two and virtually clinching second place.

In a big national game Monday night, Baylor goes to Texas in the Big 12 seeking to avenge a recent loss in Waco to the Longhorns.

And that’s the wrap.

Guru's Ivy Overniter-1: Penn Rally Over Brown Keeps Quakers Safe in First

By Mel Greenberg @womhoops

If it was earlier this season, Penn might have gone down for the count at Brown Friday night and new suspense would have been injected into the Ivy League race.

If it was last season, the countdown would be under way with magic numbers on the horizon as the Quakers shoot for another crown to add to their recent collection.

But this is the new world – one of which the Ivies are no different than the other 31 conferences in holding tournaments that send their winners with automatic entries to the NCAA tournament.

 In the instance of the Ancient Eight, however, only four will qualify in the men’s and women’s competition for next month’s inaugural event at Penn’s Palestra.

So dispense with the past and focus on the now and the first order of business – getting to the field.

Thanks to a tremendous comeback from a 16-point deficit in Providence to stay unbeaten in league play with a 71-68 win over the Bears and two games in front in the loss column of Harvard and Princeton, the first order of business can be achieved Saturday night with a win at Yale and if Cornell loses at home to Harvard.

In fact, the Big Red are the only team behind the first four that has a half-decent mathematical shot at forcing its way into the mix but that discussion will clarify more here following the outcome of Saturday’s action.

So for the moment, let’s look at Friday’s results, since Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said last week in New York talking about the new tourney that one thing that doesn’t change is valuing each game for a win.

And actually, the top seed will still be called the Ivy champion.

The outcome, dating to last season, was Penn’s 12th straight in the league and in sending Brown (14-8, 5-4 Ivy) to defeat, it stopped the Bears in fourth place from putting a little more distance from Cornell (13-9, 4-5), which beat Dartmouth 72-57, putting the Big Green on the verge of elimination.

In completing a sweep of Brown, which on the front end was much easier at the Palestra, Penn (15-6, 8-0)  thrived on a 45-33 advantage on the boards and 32-18 in the paint to win the game.

Center Sydney Stipanovich, who needed two blocks to become the all-time Ivy career in that department, picked up one to tie the 305 rejections registered in the Ivy books by Columbia’s Kathy Gilbert in 1991.

Michelle Nwokedi picked up her eighth double double on the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds while Anna Ross had 15 points, four assists, two steals and four rebounds.

That Stipanovich did not play during much of the rally is not a good thing for the league already trying to stop the Quakers from repeating because it means a large chunk of the Penn of the near future triggered the comeback.

Brown had a hot first period from the field, shooting 11-for-15, until things slowed down in the next quarter and Penn grabbed the chisel and began chipping into the deficit.

The Quakers got to within three but settled at six down when halftime arrived.

Nwokedi then scored the first eight points of the third and after a few lead changes Penn’s 20-12 scoring enabled the Quakers to head to the last stanza with a 53-51 lead.

Brown, which meets a Princeton team Saturday night that it upset last month at Jadwin Gym, stayed in contention.

 However, a three-point play, not shot, from Ross gave Penn a 69-68 lead with 1 minute, 27 seconds left in the game.

Then Kasey Chambers controlled the action in the backcourt and hit two foul shots for the final score and on to a happy bus ride down I-95 to New Haven, Conn., and Saturday’s action, tipping at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, on the scene at Yale Friday night, Princeton made it six straight following the Tigers’ 0-2 start in the league, putting a strong fourth quarter on the Bulldogs to post a 69-47 triumph at the John J. Lee Ampitheater.

Taylor Brown and Bella Alarie each scored 13 points for the Tigers (12-9, 6-2 Ivy), who are a half-game behind Harvard (19-3, 7-2), which again had to hold off Columbia (12-10, 2-7), this time 58-55 in the Lion’s Levien Gym in New York.

Princeton took a 49-38 lead on Yale into the final quarter and outscored the Bulldogs 20-9 over the final 10 minutes to put Yale (11-11, 2-7) on the verge of elimination from tournament contention.

Roxy Barahman led Yale with 10 points.

Princeton will try to avenge its loss to Brown when the game tips in Providence at 3:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, it was another thriller with Harvard and Columbia, which may not show in the won-loss record but on the court definite progress under Megan Griffith, the new coach and former Princeton assistant to Courtney Banghart.

Columbia fell behind early by 12 just as the Lions dug a hole up at Harvard last time they met following Columbia’s win at Dartmouth in four overtimes the previous evening.

Against the Crimson, the Lions were down eight with under three minutes in regulation and moved within one with 19 seconds left after a pair of foul shots from Tori Oliver.

Columbia fouled, got possession of the ball, but then traveled and sent the Crimson to the line, with no other option. Harvard misses the second shot, but Camille Zimmerman was unable to connect and force an extra period.

“We have to start the fight, be fighters, and put the gloves on at the beginning of the game,” Columbia’s Griffith said. “Defensively, we’re really focused and engaged. As soon as we can get both sides of the ball working for us, I think we’ll be a fun program to watch.”

Zimmerman, a contender for Ivy player of the year, had 28 points and 12 rebounds for Columbia while Destiny Nunley, another contender, had 20 points off 8-for-16 from the floor for the Crimson and Katie Benzan scored 12.

Ivy Standings

Team   W.L.     W.L.     G.B.

Penn 15-6 8-0 –
Harvard 19-3, 7-2 --  1.5
Princeton 12-9 6-2 – 2.0
Brown 14-8 5-4 – 3.5
Cornell 13-9 4-5 – 4.5
Columbia 12-10 2-7 – 6.5
Yale 11-11 2-7 – 6.5
Dartmouth 6-16 1-8 – 7.5

Tournament Also Rans

Team W-L. G.B.  G.L.
Cornell 4-5 1.0 5
Columbia 2-7 3.0 5
Yale 2-7 3.0. 5
Dartmouth 1-8 4.0 5


Hahn's Career Night Leads Villanova Over Xavier in Double Overtime

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Bowl eligible.

That’s not the terminology used on the women’s collegiate basketball circuit.

However, in a parallel universe similar to their football counterparts, that’s what the Wildcats achieved Friday night here at home in the Pavilion with a gritty, gut-checking Big East 76-71 triumph over Xavier in double overtime as Adrianna Hahn hit a career-high 33 points.

Hahn single-handedly beat the Musketeers in the second period scoring all 11 of Villanova's points.

 The victory clinched a plus .500 won-loss record on the season to be eligible for at-large consideration in the 64-team WNIT, which attempts to take the best of Division I that did not land in the NCAA field.

“I know, that’s why this game was very important,” veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta said after Hahn rescued the Wildcats (15-11, 10-5 Big East).

Winning here on Senior Day, when Butler visits Sunday, is also imperative considering the last two games on the pre-conference tournament schedule are at front-running DePaul and at Marquette, the team Villanova is chasing for third seed with a chance to catch the Warriors.

But Perretta wasn’t about to tell his players the significance beforehand.

Why get them extra jittery?

Furthermore, one had to be confident in the wake of the previous game played against the Musketeers (11-15, 3-12) in Cincinnati and won 72-47 on Jan. 28.

"I don't get too excited over it,” Perretta said of Friday's thriller. “It’s great for the team, it gives them confidence. It was just a great win.”

Furthermore, until eliminated from the hunt to land an NCAA automatic bid or at-large status, that’s where the focus is, according to Hahn.

"It would be cool to go to the WNIT, but we really want to reach for that NCAA because it hadn’t happened in a while and I think with the team we have, with this talent, we can definitely get there.”

Villanova is in fourth place but just a game behind Marquette, which plays front-running DePaul, the only nationally-ranked Big East team, Sunday and, then hosts Villanova in two of the Warriors’ last three games.

But the Wildcats will have to play at DePaul in Chicago next Friday and likely, unless someone helps in the Big East tourney at Marquette, knock out the Blue Demons and win the event to earn an automatic bid as the only path likely to the Big Dance.

Villanova is also only a game in front of St. John’s, but swept the Red Storm during the season and has momentum now winning four straight and 11 of 14 since 2017 arrived.

As for the game, it was a wild one with eight ties and eight lead changes and heroines stepping up on both sides throughout.

Hahn shot 7-for-21 from the field, including 7-for-14 on three-point attempts, and was also 6-for-8 from the line.

Alex Louin, who played all but one of the entire 50 minutes, had a double double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, and connected on three of the Wildcat’s season-high 15 treys, as did Megan Quinn, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Samantha Wilkes grabbed 10 rebounds.

Villanova, known for its ball control, committed just five turnovers.

Raeshaun Gaffney had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Xavier while Kindell Fincher had 14 points, as did Marquia Turner.

  The extra 10 minutes matched a previous double overtime game, also a Wildcats win, as the longest two women’s games ever played at the Pavilion, though Villanova has played in similar games on the road in its history.

“It was one of those games, to be honest with you, we were just lucky,” Perretta said. “We missed four layups, which would have put us down one, instead we get a kick-out three, which tied the game.”

Hahn hit that shot with 15 seconds left in regulation and then took a charge.

“And the next time, we’re down two and run our panic-2 play and Alex gets to the hoop and they don’t want to foul and we get the game in double overtime,” Perretta replayed the action.

“And then Adrianna takes over in the double overtime. She’s been playing phenomenal. She’s been shooting the ball phenomenal. We have to get offense from our other players.”

In the second overtime, Xavier took a two-point lead, then Hahn, a graduate of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del.,, got Villanova ahead with a trey.

Then both sides missed shots until Hahn was fouled and knocked down both free throws to make it 70-67 with 1:31 left in the second overtime.

Gaffney, on the ensuing Xavier possession, missed both foul shots, and then with 59 seconds left Hahn broke the game open with a trey for a six-point Wildcats lead.

Xavier got two back with a basket and then Hahn was fouled and when Musketeers coach Brian Neal had a comment or two to the official, a technical was assessed.

Hahn was 1-for-2 shooting the penalty and then hit the two she was entitled to for a seven-point lead with 19 seconds left.

Turner scored but failed to connect on the and-one for the final scoring for the game.

“It was tough,” Hahn said of the action. “It was very nerve-wracking because we would score, then they would come back, then we were down, so we just really made a lot of clutch shots and it just shows how much we built throughout the season because I bet if it had happened earlier, we probably would have lost the game and not even had overtime chances.

“So we just came together, we didn’t give up, Harry kept us motivated, our whole team, so we just stayed in it.”

As for her own game, Hahn said,

“I just kept shooting the ball, I was confident in my own shot. I missed a couple. I had a space of time where I was missing three or four in a row, so I just had to keep shooting.

“My defense in the beginning was pretty tough, the girl I was guarding was really quick, so I just had to stay low and play tough on her, she was pretty good.”

Hahn liked her trey that forced the overtime. “I thought she was going to tip it. I didn’t know if I was going to get it off in time. It was clutch. But then I turned around the charge on defense, so it was pretty cool.”

As for her own special show in the second overtime, Hahn related, “Once we were up three and I knocked down that three that put us up six, then I was really like, `Ok, we got this. It’s not going to go into a third overtime,’ but it was a pretty good feeling.

“Right now, we put ourselves in a pretty good position. So we need to win on Sunday and at least one more next weekend to get third place. Tonight we played well, we played tough, but we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that situation.”


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guru's Overniter: Opening Burst Sends Temple Past SMU to 20th Win; St. Joe's Stays Hot

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA – Temple took care of business early against SMU Wednesday night and then allowed the Mustangs to do some roaming with their superior height but not run wild the remaining three periods in a 66-52 triumph in the American Athletic Conference.

The outcome made 20 become 7 as Temple (20-5, 10-2AAC) reached a 20-victory or more win total for the seventh time in Owls’ coach Tony Cardoza’s nine seasons running the program.

It was act as a national power night for the home team in McGonigle Hall.

Just 24 hours earlier, Temple was made No. 25 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, the first ranking appearance for the Owls in either the coaches’ or Associated Press weekly media votes since 2006 when Candice Dupree was the headliner under Dawn Staley.

Cardoza, however, has her own marquee performer in senior Feyonda Fitzgerald, who has had a nice supporting cast at the moment living up to the second-place forecast the American Coaches placed on Temple back in the fall.

The point guard product of Norfolk, Va., who is on several national watch lists for player or guard of the year, had 17 points, dealt six assists and grabbed five steals while shooting 7-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-7 on three-point attempts.

Donnaizha Fountain, who hails from Cardoza’s hometown of Roxbury, Mass., did her two-way threat again for the second straight night, this time collecting a game-high 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while blocking two shots and also tossing a trio of 3-pointers.

Alliya Butts, the the all-time Temple leader in treys, only had one and scored just seven points but still dealt five assists and grabbed three steals.

Tanaya Atkinson scored 12 off the bench and Ruth Sherrill had a game-high 13 rebounds while dealing two assists and blocking three shots.

SMU (13-12, 4-8) arrived here fresh off becoming Connecticut consecutive victim number 99 in Storrs on Saturday and in the first 10 minutes, the Mustangs could have felt they were still in Gampel on the Huskies’ campus.

Temple may not have shot very well but the Owls ripped off 12 points before SMU got its first score and basket with 2 minutes, 25 seconds left in the period and then the Mustangs were swamped 7-2 the rest of the quarter to make it 19-4 before the visitors could get their bearings.

In the first period, the Owls did not commit a turnover nor a foul and only had seven turnovers the rest of the way while, defensively, refused to allow an opponent trey for the second time this season with SMU making only two attempts.

“Being able to get out in transition is key for us,” Cardoza said of the explosive start. “Obviously, they’re really big, they can score inside, so they started taking advantage of their low post game and got out in transition, but I just felt we found ways to increase the lead.”

In the first half, Temple threw a shutout in points off turnovers, 7-0, before SMU came back to win the category by one 11-10, though moot by then.

“That was really important,” Cardoza said of the statistic after two periods, “because that’s how we get our energy by getting stops and then getting out in transition, and then everyone is touching the basketball.

“We really do thrive off of that and when we’re not doing it, we’re a little stagnant. So we’re always harping on it, trying to get stops and get out and run and it just so happens, they were scoring and we let them set up in their defense.”

Dai’ja Thomas had 18 points for SMU while Stephanie Collins and McKenzie Adams each scored 10 for the visitors.

As for getting her first ranking with Temple, Fitzgerald said, “This really means a lot. This is what we’ve been waiting for the whole time, but to know the hard work has paid off and being noticed is great but, like coach says, we’re not going to stop here.

“Just because we’re ranked … now we have to make sure we’re going to keep going and do what we have to do each and every day as a team so we can compete.”

Meanwhile, thanks to Central Florida’s road upset of South Florida on Tuesday in Tampa and the Owls’ win here, Temple is a game ahead of the Bulls in second but just ahead is part two of the pseudo Bermuda Triangle the conference set up on the schedule.

The Owls head to USF Sunday at 1 p.m. and then on to Connecticut next Wednesday and Storrs where Temple will likely become UConn consecutive victim No. 102. They then finish up the regular season hosting Cincinnati and visiting UCF.

Obviously, a win at South Florida and then getting Ws out of the last two games and the early rounds of next month’s tournament at Mohegan near New London, Conn., would lock up an at-large bid to end the recent drought of absences from the NCAA tourney.

So what does it take Sunday to get that key win?

“Just making shots,” Cardoza said. “I mean, what did we lose by here last time, four points (55-51)? So just making shots. And obviously we will have to play defense.”

Saint Joseph’s Wins While La Salle Loses in Atlantic 10 Action

The Hawks continued to shine down the stretch in pursuit of a good seed position in the Atlantic 10 tournament next month in Richmond by visiting the city ahead of time Wednesday night, beating Virginia Commonwealth 80-70 while La Salle missed a golden opportunity at home in Tom Gola Arena, losing to St. Louis 79-74.

It was the last time on the road in the regular season for Saint Joseph’s and the Hawks enjoyed the trip by shooting over 70 percent in the third period to put distance between themselves and the host Rams (13-14, 6-8 A-10) in the Siegel Center.

The Hawks had their big quarter coming out of a 33-33 tie at the half and at last reached .500 and a chance to get WNIT eligible for an at-large bid.

 They are also 10-4 in the conference and since the horrendous low point of 2-11 in early January, they have been on an 11-2 run that could be at least one better in that stretch, having lost at first-place Dayton in overtime.

Adashia Franklyn had a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while teammate Sarah Veilleux got her first one, likewise, with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

The Hawks were .500 on three-point attempts, shooting 9-for-18 and also were 15-for-19 on the foul line.

Chelsea Woods was also in double figures with 10 points and Alyssa Monaghan scored 16 while Mackenzie Rule tied her career best with nine points as the visitors gained a sweep in the season series.

Karen Robinson led two other teammates in double figures with 19 points.

Celebrating senior day Saturday, the Hawks will host Davidson at 1 p.m. and then George Mason next Tuesday.

Saint Joseph’s is alone in fourth, two games behind first-place Dayton (18-8, 12-2) and one behind the second place duo of Saint Louis (21-6, 11-3) and George Washington (18-8, 11-3).

The top two teams get byes and the next six will host first-round games the weekend of Feb. 25-26 before the remainder of the tournament moves to the Richmond Coliseum the following weekend.

The Hawks must win one of their last two or Fordham lose one to finish fourth and there is an outside chance they could land in third.

La Salle (15-11, 8-6), meanwhile is alone in sixth, one game ahead of Duquesne (14-13, 7-7) and Richmond (13-14, 7-7) after Wednesday night.

The Explorers, who finish up at Massachusetts Sunday and hosting Fordham next Wednesday, have lost to Duquesne and beaten Richmond in terms of head-to-head tiebreakers in the final standings.

If they finish in a tie with Fordham for a spot, the outcome of their head-to-head will decide the tiebreak while if they were to tie Saint Joseph’s, they would lose on the Hawks’ 2-0 sweep of them..

In Wednesday’s game, two La Salle stars had season highs – Amy Griffin with 26 points and Jasmine Alston had 17 -- while Adreanna Miller had 15, but La Salle was unable to overtake the Billikins down the stretch.

There were five lead changes in the middle of the final period before Jordyn Frantz of the visitors hit a pair of free throws for a 67-66 lead with 4 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game.

Sadie Stipanovich, who is a cousin of Penn senior star Sydney Stipanovich, had 28 points and eight rebounds for Saint Louis, who had been the preseason favorite in the A-10 coaches poll.

Rutgers Topped by Purdue in Big Ten Showdown of Defenses

The host Scarlet Knights lost out in a conference battle at home 55-42 to the visiting Boilermakers (16-11, 7-6 Big Ten), who got 19 points from Ashley Morrissette while Dominique Oden scored 10 points and Ae’Rianna Harris grabbed 14 rebounds.

Shrita Parker got 11 points for Rutgers (6-20, 3-10) while Desiree Keeling had eight points and eight rebounds.

The two teams battled to a 9-9 tie after the opening period and then the Boilermakers at 15-11 over the halfway mark of the next period began to pull away and never trailed though Rutgers was back within one on the next possession off a Aliyah Jeune three-pointer.

The Scarlet Knights head to Wisconsin Saturday for a noon tip, then head to Northwestern Thursday before returning to host Ohio State the following Sunday, Feb. 26.

Purdue is alone in sixth by a half-game at the moment while Rutgers is tied with Illinois for 11th but in 12th off a head-to-head loss.

Looking Ahead

None of the locals are playing Thursday but on Friday and Saturday, Penn and Princeton are back on the road in the Ivy race over the halfway spot as they head to lower New England.

On Friday, the defending champion Quakers of Penn are at Brown with a two-game lead and the only team unbeaten in the league race for the four spots in the new tournament that will be at The Palestra next month.
Brown is holding the fourth spot at the moment with a two-game lead on Cornell, which will need the Bears to get swept and themselves beat visiting Dartmouth and Harvard to get into contention.

Princeton, a half-game behind Harvard, opens at Yale and then Saturday to Brown, which upset the Tigers in Jadwin last month. Penn will close its trip Saturday in New Haven. Both games are on front ends of doubleheaders with the men, a setup caused by rearrangements to accommodate the tournament.

Yale cannot afford to get swept and actually needs to sweep the Ivy southerners and get help to avoid being virtually eliminated after many expected the Bulldogs back in the preseason to be one of the four in the tourney field.

Villanova, trying to enhance its WNIT at-large possibilities as a backup or standings slot in the Big East, on Friday will host Xavier at 7:30 p.m. and then will host Butler Sunday at 1 p.m.

Drexel visits Towson while Delaware visits Northeastern, Friday, both games at 7 p.m., and then Sunday it’s part two of the Colonial Athletic Association border war with the Blue Hens coming to town here at 2 p.m., a game right now behind the third-place Dragons, who will host in their Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Speaking of border wars, on Saturday, Lafayette is at Lehigh at 2 p.m. in the Patriot League.

UConn is a Tulane Saturday night going for win No. 101.

The other games have been mentioned for Saturday.

The Sunday action has also been mentioned in the preceding narrative.

So that’s the wrap.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Guru's Overniter: Rider WBB Creating New Memories For Campus Milennials

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – To our young colleague at Rider University, junior journalism major Melissa Willhouse, it is easy for her not to be stunned at the success of the Broncs women’s basketball team this season.

After all, just as she has excelled in the classroom and with her photographic talent, why wouldn’t veteran coach Lynn Milligan’s squad be achieving at their game in Alumni Gymnasium in the same manner Melissa embraces her goals as part of a generation of millennials seeking to enrich the world around her?

However, when those of us who have been around the block and visited these parts through too many arduous times in the program’s past history, inform Melissa, who was born in 1996, that the Broncs women are hitting milestones not approached since well before she and the entire undergraduate Rider student body first crawled onto the planet, she finds that illustration impressive.

On Tuesday night Rider continued to live up to the Guru’s pre-Melissa numbers theme.

After a slow 2-8 start against Marist, the Broncs got hot off Kamila Hoskova on an 11-2 run to the end of the first period and powered their way to a 65-46 victory and sole possession of first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

 Credit that standings slot to a quirk in the conference schedule that had Quinnipiac, which had been in a tie, idle until Friday when the Bobcats will host Iona as the only MAAC game on the slate.

Nevertheless, when was the last time Rider (20-6, 14-3 MAAC) was this high this late? Like never.

Even if it is a tie again after Friday if Quinnipiac wins, Rider, which is off until next Tuesday when Monmouth visits, is minimally on the way to a top three finish, if not higher, before next month’s MAAC tournament in Albany, N.Y.

The Broncs are likely to see postseason action for the first time, if not in the NCAA then either the WNIT or WBI.

Tuesday’s win over the Red Foxes (11-15, 8-8) completed a first-ever season sweep of Marist, which not long ago had a UConn-style hold on the MAAC and whom the Broncs had never beaten in the 10-year Milligan era.

“Yeah I was here for a lot of that,” Milligan said. “This time of year, the MAAC conference, I say it all the time, is really, really good. It’s a terribly underrated conference. The teams and coaches and players in this conference are very good. And Marist is no exception.

“The tradition that Brian (Giorgis) has built there is phenomenal. And for us to be fortunate enough to beat them this year, it’s a big deal for us. It’s a program we haven’t solved. We’re happy with that,” she continued.

“But in February we always say we want to be playing our best basketball. We want to make sure we’re continuing to get better every single day and continue to be that work in progress, continue to keep that chip on our shoulder, continue to work hard on the defensive end so that we’re peaking in that first weekend in March.”

It was also Rider’s seventh straight win and in securing its 20th triumph, it’s only the second time that milestone was achieved, the other being in 1981-82 likely when Melissa’s parents may have been unknown to each other.

True, the Broncs didn’t necessarily beat the Marist of old, the Red Foxes being injury riddled with a return to glory not being attainable until next season.

“I went 10 years without an injury on the team,” Giorgis said. “Still, you have to give them credit. Lynn has done a fabulous job with them this season.”

And in the last three games, the Broncs, who were picked 10th by the MAAC coaches in the pre-season poll, have been without leading scorer Robin Perkins, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury.

“But they have still won three straight games without her,” Giorgis said.

 Milligan is hopeful for Perkins' return at the start of the conference tournament if not a little earlier.

However, with Perkins out, others are stepping out.

On Tuesday night, sophomore guard Lexi Posset of Pittsburgh, who had been on the Rider bench, set career highs with 23 points and seven assists, while Hoskova had a double double with 22 points and 10 rebounds and shot the Broncs out of their early deficit.

“Tonight, it started again with our defense,” Milligan said. “These three games in five days I thought were our best three games defensively all season. For them to be in a five-day stretch says a lot about this team’s resolve.

Lovi Henningsdottir of Marist was the only one of the visitors to score in double figures, collecting 11 points.

Posset is another example of being ready when your time comes even if that moment has been in a long arrival.

“Without having Robin, we find other ways to score, going against a zone for 40 minutes,” Milligan said. “’LP’ makes shots every single day. She’s in the gym every single day. So it was only a matter of time that she got her open looks and had a night like tonight.”

Posset was 8 for 13 from the field, including 5-of-10 three-pointers.

“She ran her team extremely well," Milligan said. Took her open looks when she got them. Seven assists. When she wasn’t getting open she was getting someone else a look so. It was Lexi’s turn to step up tonight against the zone and she certainly did.”

Posset said of her performance, “I definitely started off the season not the way I wanted to but ever since then my teammates have always had confidence in me and it was just a matter when I was going to get confidence in myself.”

 Guru disclaimer: Because of her fine work photographing the USA Olympic women for the blog at the exhibition game in Delaware last summer, Melissa Willhouse will be joining the Guru’s March Madness team photographing and perhaps doing some writing, but still, in terms of his Rider coverage, she has allowed him to refer to her as an excellent perspective example this season of exactly what Rider is achieving.

 Penn State Wins Fourth Straight

The Lady Lions jumped to a 15-0 start and went on to an 80-62 win over host Illinois in a Big Ten win at the State Farm Center in Champaign in the only other game on the Guru’s local list on Valentine’s Day.

Four was the big number in terms of fourth straight in a row and also fourth straight over the Illini (8-18, 3-10) and most importantly Penn State (18-8, 8-6) was guaranteed an opening-round bye in next month’s Big Ten tournament.

Lindsey Spann topped four teammates in double figures with 15 points while Teniya Page and Sierra Moore each scored 14 points and Kaliyah Mitchell scored 11 for the visitors.

The Lady Lions dominated the boards with a rebounding differential of 51-28.

Penn State, a game behind fourth-place Indiana, is one of five teams in the conference standings in the next group, each with five losses in the league.

Temple on the Move

The Owls (19-5, 12-2 AAC) don’t play until Wednesday’s tip at 7 p.m.  at home in McGonigle Hall against SMU (13-11, 4-7) but they made headway Tuesday with a lot of love from other places on Valentines Day.

The USA Coaches Poll made Temple No. 25 in the weekly national rankings, the first such appearance in either that one or the Associated Press media women’s poll, since 2006 at the end of the Candice Dupree era under then-coach Dawn Staley.

The Owls had also been receiving votes in the AP Poll and likely could hit the the list by winning Wednesday and then beating No. 22 South Florida in Tampa on Saturday ahead of the Feb. 22 Wednesday visit to No. 1 Connecticut for the second meeting with the Huskies.

That game in Storrs in Gampel Pavilion, by the way, will be the farewell retirement game by longtime local women’s referee Dennis DeMayo.

Meanwhile, in terms of Temple, which has been projected into the NCAA women’s bracket in this week’s ESPN Charlie Crème forecast, and South Florida, the Owls got a helping hand from UCF Wednesday night, which in an American Athletic Conference meeting in Tampa upset the host Bulls 66-62, holding them off after building a 15-point lead in the second half.

UCF’s Aliyah Gregory scored a career-high 34 points, including her 1000th as the Knights (16-9, 6-6 AAC) snapped a 19-game losing streak to USF, dating back to 1980 while also beating the Bulls (20-5, 9-3) for the first time ever in Tampa.

The result gave Temple a half-game lead on South Florida in second place so if the Owls win Wednesday night and then in Tampa Saturday they will virtually clinch second. USF also must play Connecticut a second time.

Zykira Lewis had 16 points for Central Florida (16-9, 6-6 AAC).

 In some ways, though presenting the math to you all, it is a moot discussion because right now either way from each side the Owls and Bulls are likely to be the second and third teams so the conference tournament path for each would be UConn-free until the title game, whichever each of the two is seeded.

Looking Ahead

Besides the Temple game, there are others Wednesday night with conference implications and the locals.

In the Atlantic 10, Saint Joseph’s will visit VCU trying to hold fourth or move up a spot while La Salle, in that same upper battle, will host Saint Louis at 7 p.m. in Tom Gola Arena.

Rutgers, mired with six wins overall, wii be trying to get to its seventh win, hosting Purdue in the Big Ten.

We’ll give you the rest of the weekend after Wednesday’s games.

And that's the wrap.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Guru's Take: Geno's Gifts of Gab and Gabby Take UConn Women to a Century of Consecutive Wins

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

STORRS, Conn. – The gift of gab got Hall of Fame Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma quickly established as one of the top personalities in his sport a bit before his Huskies began to hit their stride as a national force.

The gift of Gabby got Auriemma and his storied program their 100th straight win Monday night here before a sellout crowd of 10,167 in their campus arena Gampel Pavilion and another moment that will be talked about for the ages.

Junior 5-11 forward Gabby Williams double doubled her way to a career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds on a stat line that also included four assists, two blocked shots, and four steals to send the top-ranked Huskies to their newest crowning achievement via 66-55 triumph over No. 6 South Carolina.

"She's an extraordinary talent," Auriemma said of Williams. “And you hear that word a lot, `she’s special, or this player’s special,’ there’s nothing special about Gabby.

“The term special gets thrown around like it’s ordinary. She’s not special. What she is is an extraordinary athlete who understands that she is and then tries to live up to it and not everybody does and her basketball skills have caught up and they’re not completely caught up yet to her extraordinary talent.

“When that time comes when her basketball skills completely catch up, then it will be the next wave of women’s basketball players that we see come along. There’s no one else like her in all of college basketball,” Auriemma praised.

“Someone send me a video tomorrow, someone’s like her and I’ll change my mind. But there isn’t. There isn’t now. And that’s the Notre Dame game against Notre Dame and tonight against South Carolina. So it’s not like she’s doing it against teams where she overwhelms them with her ability.

“She’s done it in the biggest games against the best teams.”

As soon as the final buzzer went off to officially put the outcome into the history book, fake $100 bills with Auriemma’s picture began falling from the ceiling.

"You can spend them anywhere but at Geno's at Mohegan," he joked to friends afterwards referring to his dining establish at the entertainment-casino venue an hour from here near New London that is also home to the WNBA Connecticut Sun.

As for what happened here, one must hand it to the basketball gods, who at times set everything up at the right place and the right time.

For example, say the fates would have gotten UConn (25-0) to its moment of new acclaim this past Saturday when the Huskies hosted a much less talented SMU squad as part of the slate in the American Athletic Conference.

The event would have been a coronation proceeding even before both teams took the court.

But, instead, the lopsided triumph was simply win No. 99, setting the stage for the arrival of the Gamecocks (21-3), who have been built by the legendary Dawn Staley into one of the elite at the level just under UConn, which at this point until proven otherwise is in a class by itself.

Thus the looming matchup created some speculation as to the possibility that maybe 99 would be the stopping point, just as it had been five years ago this week when St. John’s Shenneika Smith nailed a three-pointer with eight seconds remaining to end the NCAA record 99-straight home wins held by the Huskies.

That game was also the first time UConn had lost to an unranked opponent in 19 seasons.

With the element of suspense alive and the game already built into ESPN’s Big Monday schedule, the sports TV giant went all out all day with programming around the potential milestone.

Ironically, though, just as Auriemma and his Huskies began in relative obscurity, an outstanding game on the front end of the night's broadcast twin bill between eventual winner Texas over Florida State  spilled into overtime, forcing the UConn/SC game to begin airing on ESPN News until ESPN2’s runway was cleared.

And for the first half, led by all-America A’ja Wilson, it appeared Staley’s Gamecocks might pull off the upset, trailing only 35-29, with Wilson scoring 12 of her 17 points. Alaina Coates had 10 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Williams at the break already had 16 while Napheesa Collier had 13 of her 18 points for the homee team.

“Just being patient, making them play a little longer defensively, taking the air out of the ball,” Staley said of her strategy. “I just thought for 18 minutes of the first half, it favored our game plan. And then we had those turnovers and they went and scored uncontested layups and deflated us.”

From a coaching standpoint, this game between Auriemma and Staley, who served as one of his assistants last summer in Brazil on his second run to Olympic gold, could have been played in the Palestra in Philadelphia.

Auriemma, who grew up in the nearby western suburb of Norristown, spent his early hoops life in the Catholic League, while Staley, who starred at Dobbins Tech, plied her skills in the Public League becoming one of the city’s all-time legends.

But back to the present, if you were here or watched TV and witnessed No. 100 in the ongoing UConn extended NCAA record streak Monday night, you’ve seen them all, or the ones that really mean something.

Every time it looks like the Huskies might be had, as early in the year with Florida State, Baylor, and Maryland, to name a few of the powerful non-conference opponents, UConn would slam the door down the stretch.

This isn’t where nearly everyone thought back in the preseason that UConn would be at this point in time. The star-studded 1-2-3 WNBA draft pick trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck had graduated.

And other schools among the prominent also rans of 2016 had loads of talent returning.

But UConn escaped Florida State at the last second, turned Baylor aside in the season home opener here a few days later and that was enough to send the locomotive engine churning the same way that brought 11 NCAA titles, four of them straight courtesy of Stewart, and a previous record 90 win streak accomplished several seasons ago.

As it is, were not the last loss occurred off a late blown lead and narrow final score at Stanford, Monday night would have been consecutive number 148 into the archives.

That this edition of the UConn dynasty reached the century win number has been especially pleasing to Auriemma.

“There were a lot of good players sitting in the stands tonight,” Auriemma said, with a quip, about many of his all-time greats who returned to their alma mater. “And when I turned around from the bench one time, I almost called a couple of them down.

“And there were a lot of wins up in the stands tonight. And a lot of championships. If this would have been done by last year’s team, I think it would have been less heroic. Because it would have been, `Of course they’re suppose to. Look who they have, the three best players in America.’

“For this team to do it, given where we started and where people projected us to be, who we had coming back and given who everybody else had coming back, for them to do it, is very appropriate.

“And they probably feel better about it than probably last year’s team would have – a big win like this against a really good team in an amazing environment. We had to do it under somewhat difficult circumstances, you know – ‘Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) struggling like she did, Kia (Nurse) not being able to run, and the foul problems we had at the end, but somehow or another we figured out a way to do it.

"You can't describe that Gabby Williams comes here and not has any expectations of being Maya Moore and (then) gives a Maya Moore performance tonight, exactly when she needed it, the way it needed to be done.

“Do we know when it was going to happen? No. We just know when we recruit kids it’s going to happen, we trust it. And they believe it because they expect it. We just don’t know when it’s going to happen. And it has a tendency to happen in the biggest moments. And we can’t explain why, it just is.

“We don’t have a magic formula and go into a lab and conjure up things that  come out like Young Frankenstein. We don’t have that.

“ So unless you are in our locker room every day, and unless you are at our practice every day, and unless you go through what these kids go through every day and put up with what they put up with every day from us as a coaching staff, it is impossible to explain.”

As soon as the game was over, the social universe exploded with tweets and face book posts, among other platforms, offering congratulations and other reactions from notables to just the male and female John and Johanna Q. Fans.

But as for Auriemma and his charges, keeping the win meter running is just fine, and, yeah, it can stop and start again, if it does, as long as it happens before March Madness.

That’s the time when chef Auriemma and his Huskies will be ready to hit the kitchen with their annual fish fry.

"I hope we can focus on the season and what's coming up next and whatever's in store for this team," he said. "Let's get it over with and move onto the next thing which is more important in the big scheme of things for these players anyway. This 100-win streak isn't theirs but if they win a national championship that's all theirs.
"That means a lot more if we're able to do that down the road."


Monday, February 13, 2017

Siroky's SEC Report: Already in the Home Stretch

By Mike Siroky
The focus gets sharper and sharper.

The games of the ratings week started an important NCAA metric.

By now you oughta know who you are.

The final five games of the regular season is the time to prove it. The Selection Committee counts the final five games as a precursor for an NCAA run, as a way to break seeding ties and, occasionally, as a way to earn a seed.

As well as the Southeastern Conference has planned major showdowns, the overall final five as a group is more important. There are three ranked teams in the conference.

Tennessee, for instance, blew any chance to achieve 20 wins, or a Sweet 16 hosting chance, by bottoming out at home to a younger team.

If Mississippi State is the only team to defend the home court, then a string of home undefeateds  automatically winning the league is done.

That one road loss of State at SC breaks the title tie, though they will be co-champs of the regular season. SC will have been the only undefeated road team.

Purists define the regular season as the real champs.

 In deference to money and the NCAA, the conference tournament champ is the recognized champ, as agreed by all conference members.

It says here the top four regular season finishers have a wonderful chance to host Sweet 16 qualifiers.

What the league might also validate is several NCAA entrants without a winning conference season though two of them also lost at home. Texas A&M made a leap towards 20 wins.

No. 4 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs jumped back to their highest ever ranking with two winnable games, Vanderbilt at home and then the state rival rematch with Ole Miss. 

They won them both. 

They have the fourth-best RPI in America, second-best in the league, one spot behind conference leader South Carolina.
Most importantly, a team ahead of them lost to start the week meaning another record ranking – No. 3 – is within their grasp.

It is almost unfair to watch the varsity of Mississippi State against the decidedly junior varsity of Vanderbilt.

 The 23-6 start allowed Vic Schaefer to bring in the three backups early, reserves who would be starters in Nashville.

It is the fewest points allowed in a quarter for State this season and, obviously, the lowest-scoring quarter for Vandy.

The deadly single-digit start for Vandy – no serious team with single digits in a quarter has won a SEC game this season – put away any sense of competition. The Commodores were hitting 14 percent from the field.

State already knew it had its program-record 10th conference win, and a 24-1 start.

The exhibition continued, Victoria Vivians hit back to back 3s and had 17 as the quarter began. 

There was a likely sense of urgency as how much longer would they let her play in the runaway.

Hey, look, Vandy scored 10. Vivians had more than twice that already.

It was 42-15 at the half. State did not let up, which is a credit to the work ethic.

It was 62-25 at the end of three.  The State bench had 15. The reserves are averaging 19. 

Blair Schaefer had six, 2-of-2 on 3s. Roshunda Johnson alone had 17 second-half points.

 The seven reserves who scored combined for 39 in an 86-41 wire-to-wire run.

 They drew 5,052, third-best in the league.

“Well, I just really love our defensive intensity. Our focus. I am just really happy with our work on that end,” said Vic Schaefer. “We need to continue to be aggressive.

“This was a special night by a special bunch of young ladies. They don't like to practice, but when the lights come on, they really like to play.

“Defensively in the first half, we were great. We held them to 15 points on 18 percent shooting. 
When the lights come on, this team has been special this year.

“We give God all the glory for victory No. 24. He has blessed us with a special team.

“The main thing we saw tonight is that we can go two-deep in every position,” Schaefer said. 

“We can substitute without losing the continuity. To be a great team, you really have to have that depth. You have to have that many players who can contribute.”

State remains unbeaten at home with the loss at South Carolina the only road loss. The SEC has never had two teams this dominant in any one season. State can secure another program record by winning the final two home games, including the season-ender with Tennessee.

Ole Miss welcomed them in having already lost the first encounter by 11 and having lost only their second home game a few days earlier. They had 15 wins, 13 at home. Those numbers stayed static as State blasted them, 66-44.

The four-point second quarter for Ole Miss renewed there’s that single-digit thing again. 

Of course, 21 points you own self is another good trend. It was 41-18 at half and, as usual, it was already over, the largest margin in the series.

“Awfully proud of my basketball team today,” Schaefer said. “I was proud of the energy and effort, especially there in the second quarter. We won the hustle points, which we take great pride in. That was the difference in the game. In the second quarter, we hit our second wind. 

“We got every loose ball. We got every denial. We got some fast-break points.”

Sophomore center Teaira McCowan highlighted a dominant afternoon with her second double/double before halftime, finishing with 17 points and 18 rebounds, the season high rebounds for any Bulldog this season. She also had the three State blocked shots.

“This is an emotional game for a lot of people,” Schaefer said. “For this team, at this time, in our program, this was the next one up. I am proud of our business-like approach and our toughness. Really proud of Teaira and of Ketara (Chapel). They came in and gave us some great energy.”

The Bulldogs matched a school record for conference wins in a season, while improving on their school record for road wins with their 11th victory away from home this season. The 25 overall wins are third most in program history.

 The Bulldogs will win an SEC tournament bye on Thursday at home against Georgia.

Mississippi only won 10 last season and less than 15 five of the past six. But they drew a respectable 4,634 for the rivalry game.

No. 6 South Carolina.

The Gamecocks had only to blast Auburn before Monday night’s challenge in Storrs, a preview of two national No. 1 seeds, possibly the NCAA title game.

After this one, the Tigers had lost five of six, stuck on 15 wins with the whisper they’d get a gift back to the NCAAs, if the league gets eight bids. That also shows the magnificent difference between the top teams and all the rest.

The usual understanding of a South Carolina game was there from the start: Stop A’ja Wilson and   Alaina Coates or you’re gonna die.

Auburn didn’t and they did.

Coates had half of the first dozen points, the Gamecocks were hitting 55 percent from the floor and holding the Tigers to 28 percent. Auburn scored in single digits for the quarter and there was that deadly marker of non-survival.

Well into the second quarter, the shooting percentages remained static and there seemed to be no reason for SC to worry.

It was 29-16 at half, Auburn was down to 21 percent from the floor.

It grew to a 20-point lead as Kayla Davis scored 11 when guard play rotated to the fore. Wilson crept towards double figures as well. SC was hitting 64 percent from the floor.

It ended a 19-point blowout.

Wilson had 17 and Coates 16. Auburn hit less than 30 percent from the field and was outrebounded by nine. They drew a world-best for college women, 13,360.

SC has one loss at home and is unbeaten on the road in conference. It is unlikely to lose again in the league.

“We just wanted to see how they came out and played it today,” said coach Dawn Staley
“They actually packed it in. I thought they would play it a little bit more aggressive, and at times they did do that. We just wanted to be patient and reverse the ball a few times and find where we could get ahead of the possession and get easier shots.”

“It was the same offensive game plan we have every game, start inside,” said Wilson.
As for UConn, Wilson said, “We could be pretty excited but we have to take it as another game, because that is what it is.”

No. 24 Tennessee 

It makes as much sense as anything in Tennessee’s rollercoaster ride that the Lady Vols hit the national rankings after a loss to a .500 team. Still, they have the 14th best RPI in America, third in the conference, with only UConn having a tougher schedule.

They beat a poor team and naturally crumbled against a good team to fall out of the rankings again.

 These 1-1 weeks defines a team with no heart. Let’s stop thinking of Diamond DeShields as All-American. She is barely All-SEC and only that because the league all-conference team has too many members.

So they did get ranked somehow, if only for a week. They carried that compliment back home to welcome Missouri, which had more overall wins but a far weaker non-conference schedule.

The back and forth start satisfied no one. DeShields was shackled early with two fouls.  Mercedes Russell scored eight of the 14-11 lead at the first stop.

Without DeShields’ decisiveness, especially on defense, Missouri stayed in it.

Coach Holly Warlick encouraged the Lady Vols to spread the defense and drive on in. They never did.

Missouri went on an 8-0 run. DeShields is fully a third of the offense. Someone else needed to step up and no one seemed willing.

Russell couldn’t beg an inlet pass. They had to put DeShields back in and did.

Tennessee considered a zone defense. Warlick had to call time out down by six.

Uh oh, Missouri was cursed by the TV commentator saying they never give up. Cliché city. 

Please, just once, someone point out a team that does give up.

Mizzou maintained its lead to halftime.

Cierra Porter had surpassed her season average with 15 for the visitors and UT had no answer yet.

At the start of the third, the scoring by committee effort had UT down just one. Then Deshields was left unguarded on back-to-back 3s and they were on top to stay.

Each side hit 45 percent from the field at that point.

UT owned the fourth, extending the lead to a dozen. 
“Here’s the deal, we need stops,” Warlick said. “You gotta hunker down. All they are doing is putting their heads down.”

UT hit 14-of-21 from the floor, 60 percent from 3 range and 10-of-12 from the line. They did not falter at all. They are 11-2 at home.

DeShields had 22. They won the half by 16.

Jamie Nared, the league Player of the Week, awoke for 18 and three of the four starters had double figures. Porter got four points in the half.

“Just being here, this is a winning program, I am just doing what I can to get us back where we belong,” said DeShields.

“We’ve seen glimpses of it, of being among the best if not the best in the country; it’s all mental.”

They drew a surprisingly low 8,084. That is second-best in America, but some 2,000 below the average a couple of seasons ago.

Russell only got one shot in the second half, which shows the Lady Vols still need to distribute better. 

“We needed DeShields to be in there,” said Warlick. “She has to be smart enough to not get into foul trouble. But we play better on offense and defense when she is in there.

“I think she got open shots. It separated us.

“Once we settled down we didn’t help them. We even threw a little 32 zone in there. We ended up doing really well. It worked.”

DeShields said, “The first two fouls coulda been avoided so the third was up to me. I thank my coaches for trusting me and putting me back in there.”

Missouri missed 10-of-11 to start the fourth.

“We knew we had to make it tougher for them to score,” said Nared. 

So here came Texas A&M, with one more conference win than Tennessee but not ranked. Maybe they will be now that they knocked off a lowly ranked team on the road, capturing a 19th win, a strong third in conference and likely Sweet 16 host.

A&M started its final five on Sunday after disabling Alabama to start its work week. They drew 4,042. They threw the deadly single-point defensive effort on the Tide in the second quarter. 
They were 18-3 overall. 

A pair of guards, sophomore Danni Williams (37.2) and senior Curtyce Knox (36.6) are 1-2 in the conference in average minutes per game. Williams is one of four in double figures (17.9); Knox is third (10.8) with 228 assists.

Tennessee had been the second-highest scoring team in the league, ahead of South Carolina, A&M and Kentucky. A&M was on a three-game win streak.

Gary Blair outcoached Warlick and his team lost the first three quarters only to win the fourth, 14-5, in a two-point win. Yes the single-digit quarter curse lives.

Khaalia Hillsman converted an offensive rebound for the go-ahead basket with four seconds left. Those were her 10th points with 16 rebounds.

Williams scored 18 and they only needed to go six deep. Three players went 40 minutes, Knox, Williams and Hillsman.

DeShields was 4-of-12 from the field and scored eight with no foul trouble in 32 minutes. 

Russell scored 17 but obviously had little support.

It was Blair’s first ever win in Knoxville. He’s coached 204 SEC games.

He claimed a lucky 1945 half-dollar which he “rubbed hard” the second half provided the luck. 

He was born that year.

He had saved some fouls to give for the endgame and used them.

“Give my team credit because we had some fouls to give,” he said. “But Danni hit some big shots down the stretch and Curtyce Knox, oh my goodness, 10 assists and no turnovers.”

As gracious as always, he praised Tennessee as a “very, very, good basketball team.” In coachspeak, that infers if they are good, then what does it say about your own team for having won at their home.

“Sure DeShields did not have a very good night, but she was guarding Danni, too,” he observed.
“But give my kids credit (assistant coach Bob) Starkey’s defense stiffened up in the second half. 

“We played a little bit of bend don’t break.

“It was huge. It is the first time we’ve seen man in three straight ballgames. Nothing but zone.

“Now it is all about LSU (the next road game). I want to finish in the top four in our league.

“I want to reward our fans with an NCAA game at home. Our fans have no excuse for not being at the Mississippi State game next Sunday.”

There is a coach who does not interrupt the league season for anything.

This season, UT has the marquee win at South Carolina and the other big win against Notre Dame.

But they also lost to Auburn and ND does nothing positive for the conference mindset, as we have written for years.

That is why, even with the big wins, UT has the same number of wins as last season and are but one conference spot better, not exactly a great stride.

They are 2-2 in the most recent games. The next three should be winnable, but who can really say with this group.

They had finished the third quarter on an 8-0 run.

They scored four to open the fourth, DeShields then Russell, for a 12-point edge. Which means they scored one more point after that.

Warlick cannot understand it, which is not a good thing if you are the leader.

“We gave up offensive rebounds, and we jumpshot the basketball and didn’t rebound as well,” she said. “You’re up six with three minutes to go then we gave up. Texas A&M battled and just had a little bit more of a will than we did down the stretch.

“This was a must-win for us, and this was a great opportunity for us. We let it slip away. 

“Down the stretch, they got the loose balls. On the last shot at the end, we gave up two offensive rebounds. I do know that we quick-shot the basketball the fourth quarter. We should have gone inside. We should have penetrated. Diamond got 12 looks at it.

“I think it is more frustrating to me to give up second- and third-chance points. I just don’t think we were disciplined down the stretch. We shot the ball quick early in the clock.

“Down the stretch, it was grit. It’s rebounding. It’s not about the talent; it's just grit. You got to box out and get loose balls.

“Again, I’m not going to concede to and we’re just tired. You got to suck it up and go get the ball and be as physical. Basketball is a game of runs, and you can control any run that happens.”

The 10,032 in attendance must have wondered as well. They drew that many to see a home flop.
Other Winners

Vivians, Makayla Epps of Kentucky, Coates and Wilson are among the 20 finalists for the John Wooden Award, emblematic of the best player in women’s hoops. There is no favorite.
Knox, Gray, Morgan William of Mississippi State and Epps are among finalists for the national Dawn Staley Guard Award, administered in Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia. The winner should be Kelsey Plum of last season’s Washington Final Four team. 
After the loss to A&M, Alabama had muffed a fourth straight try at 16. Even with a WNIT opportunity, they won 15 last season. The program hasn’t been there in this century, three coaches ago. So, at home against a team that was 3-4 in conference, Florida, they naturally blew another chance and, with it, a chance at the NCAAs.
Auburn also lost at home, also stuck on 15 wins. They only way they get into the NCAAs is as an absolute gift recipient and UT might just claim that golden ticket.
Kentucky improved to 5-5 on the road at Georgia and Arkansas and, more importantly,  right now the fourth-place team in conference, even if they are three back with four to go. They drew 3,234.

They have 17 overall wins. They will have to beat one of the top two in the final games of the season to hit 20, however.
LSU also won its 17h and climbed above .500 in the league at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, assuring a return to the NCAAs.
Missouri rebounded after Tennessee to win its 17th, 7-5 in conference, at home against just-awful Arkansas, 2-10 in conference.