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 18, 2018

The Guru Report: Five Seconds to Victory Enables Penn to End Villanova’s 16-Season Domination

Guru’s Note: This post also contains Bentley’s Barb Stevens gets her 1000th victory and below it Postgame Scout has returned with strategy analysis of the big five showdown.
By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

VILLANOVA — On the women’s side, Big Five games have had their share of great confrontations just as there have been for the local male counterparts in the City Series round-robin.

But of course some of have been pretty special. And some have been really really special.

Even above all that, the confrontation here Wednesday night between Villanova and Penn at the Wildcats’ Jake Nevin Field House can be labelled an instant classic.

In a game full of clutch shots and intense drama all the way, the regulation action came down to five seconds with a tie score 77-77 and time out and Penn in possession.

A Quakers failure and Villanova would have survived to get to overtime and still have a chance to emerge with a win and a 4-0 sweep for the Big Five outright.

But a Penn score before time expired and Mike McLaughlin’s squad would end a program 14-game, 16-season losing streak that began after the 2001 triumph that was just Penn’s second over Villanova in a series record that now stands at 42-3.

Not only that, but suddenly next Wednesday’s game against Temple at the Owls’ McGonigle Hall (7 p.m.) becomes a virtual championship contest because the winner will share the local glory with Villanova at 3-1 and for Penn it would be a second 3-win campaign and shared crown (the other, a three-way tie, in 2015) in the nine-year McLaughlin era when nothing close existed previous in the Quakers’ Big Five resume.

With all that riding on the remaining precious few ticks of time, Penn (9-5, 2-1 Big Five) went to the Quakers’ floor leader, senior Anna Ross, who took the pass from the sideline to the right of the key and then drove partially around Villanova defenders and launched the shot with a jumper that looped  into the hoop for sudden life and a 79-77 victory that headed for the books one second before the game became official.

“They called a timeout we couldn’t change the play, but they changed their defense,” said Ross said recalling her winning play as it developed.  “And right then I knew — I got the ball, I got the ball and I’m going to go.
As the game progressed I got confident that I could make the layups, which made me able to make the shot.

There was a hint that this might be the year to end the ‘Nova hex just off the way freshman Eleah Parker has been developing in recent weeks.

Wednesday night was no different as the reigning co-Ivy player and freshman of the week poured down a game-high 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked three shots and grabbed three steals.

Senior Michelle Nwokedi, the inside co-post presence with Parker, had 17 points and eight rebounds while Ross scored 11 and dealt eight assists, and Lauren Whitlatch provided counter-balance to Villanova’s three-point marksmanship by connecting on four attempts and scoring 16 points.

“I just said to the team, that was really, really cool,” McLaughlin said afterwards. “The way we played from the beginning, the way we came out, the way we finished, awesome atmosphere, it was just rewarding for the four seniors to see them win a Big Five game, a win against Villanova, against a great team, and to get contributions from everyone.

“(Villanova) made two really tough shots at the end to tie it up and we showed tremendous poise. Anna with the ball. Five seconds what she could do, she knew where to get to, she got to her comfort spot, she got rewarded,” he continued.

“Obviously, Leah being here was phenomenal. She played one of the best second-halves of college basketball I’ve seen and was (the most) dominant in the post that I’ve seen in a really long time and it was a great win. I’m so proud of our group.

“It really was a good night for us.”

As for the next game against Temple, “the fact we can play our last Big Five game for a championship is special but I want them to just embrace this right now. I want them to really enjoy this and embrace it, have fun with it, respect the game, tomorrow is another day.

“I think that it’s cool now that we get to play for the Big Five title,” McLaughlin said.  “I think having a chance to win the Big Five is special. Winning the Big Five would be special for this group because our four seniors would get to experience the incredible moment of winning such an important title.

“But I want them to walk out of here feeling that they did something special because I feel they really did. But winning the Big Five would be pretty special for this group. We won in 2015 and to do it again for this group would be really special.”

With an inside attack that saw Penn outscored Villanova 40-18 in the paint, Penn took a nine-point lead in the second quarter and held a 35-29 lead at the break.

Holding the Wildcats (14-4, 3-1) to just three  3-pointers (they were 3-for-16) in the first half was key, but in the second, Villanova clawed back into contention with their long-range attack.

There were nines ties but just two lead changes and Penn did not fade this time as the Quakers have done in recent games when Villanova starts raining threes.

Parker’s layup with 4 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game gave Penn a 68-60 lead but Villanova fired back with Alex Louin hitting five straight foul shots and Jannah Tucker nailing a trey while the ‘Cats defense for the moment stymied the Quakers and the score got tied at 68-68 with 2:47 left in regulation.

Ashley Russell broke Penn’s slump with a layup to put the Quakers in front again and a Whitlatch triplet seemed to offer comfort at 73-68 with 1:32 left but Adrianna Hahn connected long range to get the ‘Cats within a bucket.

Penn found Nwokedi inside and then Tucker threw a bomb to make it 75-74 with 28 seconds left.

Whitlatch scored from outside, barely inside the three-point line, but it was 77-74 with 18 seconds left.

Then Louin made a dynamite 3-ball and it was tied with five seconds left.

Penn took a timeout and got to advance the ball and set the stage for Ross’ game-winner.

Louin and reserve Mary Gedaka each scored 19 points for Villanova while Louin also had seven rebounds and dealt six assists while Gedaka grabbed 10 for a double double and Jekot had 10 points, eight rebounds, and dealt five assists.

Most of the Penn roster, all of which is trying to win a third straight Ivy title and second straight Ivy tourney crown, is from outside the area, though McLaughlin is certainly steeped in Big Five lore having gone to Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia and later coached the Tigers women into a national force in NCAA Division II.

Parker, for example, is a 6-4 center from Charlotte, N.C.

Asked about understanding the meaning of Big Five competition, she responded, “I knew from the beginning how big Big Five play is. I knew the history behind it for Penn. And I knew for the seniors, especially, we just had to come out and get this one.”

McLaughlin talked about having to educate recruits to the local action but said of Parker, “she sees this is a very special environment to play college basketball, especially in the Big Five.”

Penn is in a three-week hiatus from the weekend back-to-back regular season Ivy chase to be one of the four teams in the field for the tourney, which again returns to The Palestra, the Quakers’ home in mid-March, in its second year of serving as the path to the NCAA automatic bid.

The Quakers used to have most of their Big Five business done by December but the move to fill the Ivy schedule gap in January with games that have their own meaning allows Penn to stay competitively sharp.

McLaughlin thanked longtime Villanova coach Harry Perretta for agreeing to play now rather than earlier, though the Wildcats are in a tough spot, schedule-wise, right now after an early start through December that saw them get into the Associated Press women’s poll for six weeks, appearing for the first time since 2004.

But there have been some setbacks of late due to the rugged Big East, which had Nova on a three-game road trip last week at Georgetown, Seton Hall and St. John’s, the last of which edged ‘Nova Sunday.

Now in a 48-hour turnaround, Big East frontrunners DePaul and Marquette are coming to visit Friday night at 7 and Sunday at noon, respectfully.

DePaul is 6-1 in the Big East while Marquette at 7-0 is unbeaten. The Wildcats are in a virtual tie with Creighton and St. John’s, each with three conference losses.

Perretta talked about the impact of the schedule on his team. “It’s affecting them a lot. I think we’re tired. The problem is we’re not getting much from our bench and you have to play six players so it’s taking a toll on us,” he explained. “It took a toll on us in the first half. We looked tired out there.

“But that’s not an excuse. You have to show up and play.”

As for how the game went from the Wildcats’ viewpoint, Perretta observed, “We lost the game in the first half. We shot the ball horrendously and got behind. We kept battling back but we couldn’t stop their inside game.

“We had to shoot threes to get a two. In the second half, we started making some threes and that got us back into the game. But everytime we tied it, they would make a play or throw the ball inside or get an offensive rebound and put it back up. They just out hustled us,” Perretta continued.

“And then at the end the kid made a great shot to win the game. We ran a nice play to get a three. We made it and then the kid made a great shot to win.”

As for Penn’s inside force, he pointed out, “We were concerned about their big kids coming into the game. It’s not only their size — it’s their skill level. Size is size but skill level is skill level. They make shots. They don’t miss layups. And when they got the ball in relatively good position they made shots.

“Look at the field goals — (Penn)  made 31, we only made 25. If we don’t make threes, we don’t have a chance.”

Duquesne Dominates La Salle

The Explorers fell to Duquesne 78-50 in an Atlantic 10 game at the A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh. 

Adreanna Miller had 25 points for La Salle (6-12, 1-4 Atlantic 10), the only player to score in double figures for the visitors.

The Dukes (15-3, 5-0) have yet to lose in conference action. Chassidy Omogrosso had 23 points, shooting 9-for-14 from the field, including 4-of-5 three-pointers. Julijana Vojinovic had 21 points, shooting 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-6 long range.

The home team reserves out scored La Salle’s 19-1 and also picked up 25 points off Explorers’ turnovers.

Next up is another road stop Saturday at Rhode Island, an A-10 game tipping at 11 a.m. and being televised on CBSSN.

Nationally Noteworthy: The 1000-Victory Club Gets Another Member

Bentley’s Barb Stevens, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, became the fifth women’s coach and first in Division II to pick up her 1000th career victory after her squad topped Adelphi 78-66 in a Northeast-10 game at home in Waltham, Mass.

The Falcons are 17-1 this season but Adelphi (9-10) had four straight wins over Bentley coming in attempting to halt Stevens for the moment from reaching the total on her first try.

Adelphi took an early 22-13 lead before Bentley responded with a 27-9 counter attack highlighted by a 14-0 run that closed out the first half. 

Her overall 1000-275 record includes a short stint at Clark and in Division I at the University of Massachusetts. Bentley went unbeaten in 2014 with a 35-0 record to win the Division II national championship.

Stevens is the third women’s coach to reach the prestigious milestone this season behind North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, both Naismith Hall of Famers who earned their 1,000th wins ironically on the same day last month, Dec. 19.

Previously the late legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was the first to gain 1,000 wins and she was followed by Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer who is still very much active with the Cardinal.

A sixth women’s coach and fourth this season can also get to 1,000 wins in Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer, who is six victories away and the 25th-ranked Scarlet Knights will resume the countdown as well as the chase for postseason participation in the NCAA tournament after a long gap when Rutgers visits Penn State at 7 p.m. Thursday night to complete their home-and-home in the Big Ten.

On the men’s side, Philadelphia’s High School legend Speedy Morris recently got his 1000th that also includes coaching the La Salle men and women at the collegiate level.

Meanwhile, the only other game on the Guru local schedule Thursday is a MAAC contest at Rider hosting Niagara in the Broncs’ annual school day promotion at Alumni Gym and at this hour the Guru plans to be there.

And that’s the report.