Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Guru Report: The Butler(s) Take Villanova and La Salle While Rutgers Rolls and Saint Joeseph’s and Penn State Escape

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — For the most part, the Guru’s local teams were pretty successful the last two nights on Tuesday and Wednesday except for two Big Five teams that got handled by Butler.

On Tuesday out on the Main Line, Butler, the Bulldogs of Indianapolis who call Hinkle Fieldhouse home, shocked No. 21 Villanova 76-53 at the Wildcats’ Jake Nevin Field House in a Big East matchup that saw the visitors beat an Associated Press ranked women’s team for the first time in 19 seasons.

The previous time was a victory over then-No. 25 Illinois during the poll week of Nov. 23, 1998, that knocked the Illini out of the rankings for the rest of the season.

Then Wednesday night George Mason visited La Salle here at the Tom Gola Arena at Trumark Center in the second Atlantic Ten contest for both and the Explorers fell victim to a new Patriots star who was a one-Butler show no matter how you look at it.

That would be Natalie Butler, the 6-foot-5 graduate center formerly with top-ranked Connecticut and previously Georgetown who demolished La Salle in the second half, particularly the third quarter, to finish with all but two of her 17 points and 10 of her 17 rebounds in a 69-56 victory.

The outcome brought George Mason to a 13-3 record and a 2-0 mark in the early-going in the conference.

The win total matches the overall number of last season and one previous season in the five since Nyla Milleson arrived from Missouri State in 2013-14, the same season George Mason moved out of the Colonial Athletic Association in the Atlantic 10.

“Yes, we got our inauguration into the conference together,” Milleson joked Wednesday night afterwards of an initial 8-23 overall record and 1-15 in the conference.

“Since the day we first stepped on Mason’s campus, it’s been a daily process and we felt really good about this team. We made strides and growth last year and since March it’s been about daily preparation and daily preparation,” she continued, “and this team has really been bodying.

“I wasn’t here for the CAA but it was a very big jump. We only won one game but we battled but just it’s just been a process every day.

“Obviously, the addition of Natalie and our freshmen have been big and I’m just proud of this team and where we’re at.”

Milleson said the first half shortage of points having occurred against the Explorers is nothing new for Butler, who for the moment leads the nation with 15 double doubles and a 14.9 rebounding average (stats are pre-La Salle game) to go with her 18.7 scoring average.

“Nat’s a special person. She works very hard, she’s very humble, she’s very appreciative of the opportunity she’s been given. She’s kind of gotten off to some slow starts but you have to credit other teams, what they’re trying to do to her, they’re being very physical, but it’s just about us and staying true to what we do and continue to mature and take that physical beating,” Milleson said.

“It’s a 40-minute game and at this point in time nobody’s been able to clamp her down.”

Nicole Cardano-Hillary, a freshman guard from Madrid, Spain, was the overall scoring star with 24 points and Tayler Dodson scored 15 for the Patriots, who next visit George Washington Sunday in a neighborhood war at 6 p.m. televised on CBSSN.

George Mason is also back in town on Feb. 4, Super Bowl Sunday, when the city’s attention might be on Minneapolis. The Patriots play Saint Joseph’s at 4 p.m. also on CBSSN.

For your oldtimers, one of the assistant coaches is Tajama Abraham Ngongba, a former George Washington sensation who played when Father Judge grad Joe McKeown, now at Northwestern, coached the Colonials and one of his assistants was La Salle grad Cheryl Reeve, known to many of you as the coach of the four-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, who claimed title No. 4 last season.

“I think of Coach McKeown and his Philly mafia when I come into this place,” said Ngongba, who added, “Coach Reeve just sent me a note the other day against about players and who she needed to keep an eye on.”

Meanwhile on the other side, the loss by La Salle (5-9, 0-2) ruined the return of Amy Griffin, the reigning Atlantic 10 top scorer of 2017, who had been sidelined since getting injured during the Villanova game on Dec. 20 with a bone bruise and sprain.

However, because of the schedule break, Griffin, who had 14 points Wednesday night, only missed Sunday’s loss here to preseason conference favorite Dayton.

La Salle was outscored 52-26 in the paint, helped by a 14-6 advantage on points in transition.

Sofilia Nwg Ngwafang had 11 points and Ashanti Freeland grabbed 11 rebounds.

The Explorers next hit the road for two games — an A-10 stop at Richmond Saturday at 6 p.m. and then a non-conference visit to Harvard Jan. 10 before returning here to host St. Bonaventure on Jan. 13 at 1 p.m.

Villanova Stunned by Butler

Meanwhile, as for Butler, the actual team, not the person, after Villanova took an early nine-point lead, the Bulldogs came back for a 31-29 halftime lead and then rode a 27-11 third quarter on to victory.

Tori Shickel shot 10-of-11 from the field and 6-of-9 from the line to finish with 26 points for the Bulldogs (9-5, 1-1 Big East), who also got 16 points from Whitney Jennings and 11 from Michelle Weaver.

Villanova (11-2, 1-2), whose six-week return to the AP rankings is in jeopardy heading into Friday night’s 7 p.m. home game against Xavier at Jake Nevin Field House, got 16 points and 10 rebounds from Alex Louin, and 10 points from Jannah Tucker.

“We’re the most inconsistent shooting team I’ve ever seen,” said Villanova coach Harry Perretta, who is in his 40th season with the Wildcats. “I thought last year we were very inconsistent, but this team is as inconsistent but the difference is we’ve shot it well in spurts and our defense was better.

“Our defense has collapsed and we coudn’t guard them at all. When we doubled down, the kid made the right pass and the kid made the shots. Butler just played a great game.

“Every mistake we made, they took advantage of. For the first three quarters I was satisfied with the slot selection because that’s how we win, we shoot the three. That’s what we do,” Perretta said.

“When we beat Duke, nobody complained about shooting 43 threes because we made 15 of them. But tonight (4-for-27), we go out and don’t make them, then suddenly you’re settling for them. They’re shots we take in the offense. But we didn’t make them. Our defense was poor. But our offense was poor.”

Saint Joseph’s Slides But Recovers in Win at St. Bonaventure

The Hawks blew an 18-point lead and trailed 60-57 with less than three minutes to play before recovering to go ahead on the rescue work of Kristalyn Baisden, whose back-to-back layups put Saint Joseph’s back in front 61-60 with 1:40 left in regulation in the Atlantic 10 game in Olean, N.Y.

Baiden then hit a three-pointer behind a foul shot from Chelsea Woods to make it 65-60 with 35 seconds left and the total stood for a second straight win by the Hawks (7-7, 2-0 Atlantic 10), who had lost seven straight after getting off to a 5-0 season start.

Amanda Fioravanti, who is playing with a fifth-year of granted NCAA eligibility and was the MVP of the Philly summer league, had her first double double of the season for Saint Joseph’s with 16 points and 13 rebounds against the Bonnies (5-10, 0-2).

Baisden had 15 points, while Woods double doubled with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Alyssa Monaghan scored 13 points and matched her career high with eight rebounds.

Mariah Ruff had a game-high 31 points for Saint Bonaventure and was 11-for-22 attempting the three-ball.

On Sunday the Hawks will host preseason favorite Dayton at 2 p.m. at Tom Hagan Arena.

Big Ten: Rutgers Blasts Illinois While Penn State Holds Off Indiana

The Scarlet Knights, who returned after a long absence to the coaches’ poll this week at No. 25 and are likely to soon be returned to the Associated Press (media) rankings, made it 10 straight and 3-0 in the Big Ten by beating Illinois 76-37 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

The three wins in conference match their entire Big Ten total of last season while the overall mark of 15-2 is now nine better than the paltry six at the close of business for 2016-17.

It’s the first time since leaving the Big East to go to the Big Ten that the Rutgers women are 3-0 after beginning league play in 2014-15.

For Hall of Fame Coach C. Vivian Stringer, her career win total is now 992, including previous stops at Cheyney and Iowa, just eight short of becoming the third coach this season on the women’s side to reach 1,000 career victories following UConn’s Geno Auriemma and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell, who reached the milestone on Dec. 19.

Stringer has some of her wins from her previous stops at Cheyney and Iowa.

The first to cross 1,000 was the late and legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt followed by Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer.

In Wednesday’s game against the Illini (9-8, 0-3), graduate guard Nigia Greene had career and game bests of 18 points while Tyler Scaife had 13 points and Caitlin Jennings grabbed 10 rebounds. It’s only the second time this season Scaife was not the leading scorer after being sidelined all last year with a heart defect.

Alex Wittinger scored 16 points and had eight rebounds for Illinois.

The last long win streak for Rutgers was 12 across two seasons winning the last six to take the 2015 WNIT title and then opening the next with six straight.

Next up is the old-time in-conference revival of the former A-10 wars as Penn State comes calling Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Shot Near Finish Carries Penn State Over Indiana

The Lady Lions had their hands full Wednesday night at home in the Bryce Jordan Center before beating Indiana 77-74 on Siyeh Frazier’s basket with 15 seconds lefgt in regulation.

Penn State (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten) was aided by a first half sizzling percentage of 55 percent against the Hoosiers (7-9, 0-3).

Sophomore Amari Carter had a career high 26 points, two better than in a win over Louisiana Tech earlier this season.

Jaida Travascio-Green had 11 points, while Frazier, Tinya Page and Alisia Smith each scored 10.

Re-capping Tuesday Action: Rider Gets First Conference Win

Stella Johnson had a career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds to lead Rider to a 57-52 win over host Saint Peter’s in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game at the Yanitelli Center in Jersey City.

The Broncs (4-10, 1-2 MAAC) snapped a two-game losing streak while the Peahens (3-10, 0-2) dropped their eighth straight.

Four fouls shots at the finish helped seal the win for Rider, which also got a season-best 15 points from Lexi Posset, fueled by five made foul shots.

“This is always a tough place to play,” said Rider coach Lynn Milligan. “It was a well fought game by both teams and we were fortunate enough to come out on the right side.

“To come out of this tough stretch of three games in six days after the Holiday break with a win was big. I think we battled really well,” she continued.

“Every MAAC game is tough. Records can be thrown aside for a lot of teams in the league right now. It’s a league in which teams that are ready to put 40 good minutes can win. If you take a night off in this conference you lose.”

Rider next hosts a MAAC game with Canisius Sunday at 2 p.m. at Alumni Gym.

Navy Blank Enables Lehigh to Escape 66-63

A three-point attempt by the Midshipmen to tie the game at the end of regulation went in and out and the Mountain Hawks prevailed at home in Stabler Arena with a Patriot League win in Bethlehem, Pa.

Quinci Mann scored 21 points for Lehigh (8-25, 2-0 Patriot League) while Camryn Burr had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Additionally, Gena Grundhoffer scored 14 and Hannah Hedstrom had a career-high 11 rebounds.

Navy fell to 11-2 overall and 1-1 in the league.

“Early in the season, this is an important win for us,” said Lehigh coach Sue Troyan. “We talk about protecting our home court, and in this league that is going to be really important.

“This game tonight is probably going to be indicative of a lot of games in this league because I don’t think there is a big difference between the top and bottom. It was good being in a close game like this, having to execute down the stretch and pulling out is probably a sign of things we’ll see in the rest of the year. It certainly is a big confidence booster coming in and getting a win over a good Navy team.”

The Mountain Hawks next travel Friday for a Patriot League encounter at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., at 6 p.m. on PatriotLeague.TV.

And that is the report


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