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 25, 2018

The Guru Report: Penn Women Make Good on Win at ‘Nova By Topping Temple to Share Big 5 Crown With Wildcats

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Most years when the Penn women list winning the Big Five title on the blackboard containing goals for the season, the City Series crown is usually the extra credit behind the Ivy regular season and, starting a year ago, the Ivy tournament championship leading to the NCAAs.

Heck, winning two Big Five games would be big enough considering all the years before Mike McLaughlin moved over from Division II powerhouse Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia nine seasons ago.

In those days the La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and, especially, Villanova fans could pencil in a “W” ahead the actual games with the landladies of The Palestra. 

But Wednesday night the Quakers got the Big Five icing ahead of another serving of the Ivy League cake which still has cooking time remaining from next weekend through mid-March.

Making good on last Wednesday’s last-second win at Villanova, the first over the Wildcats since 2001, Penn owned Super Big 5 night here in McGonigle Hall with a 74-59 wire-to-wire victory at Temple to earn a share of the City crown with the Wildcats at 3-1.

It is fitting because the two programs are probably the best women’s teams in the city right now and if you expand to local D-1s to the Philly Six, then add Drexel to the mix.

It is the second Big Five title for McLaughlin’s group, both shared, since 2015, both at 3-1, although this one is perhaps sweeter than the Quakers’ first-ever involvement.

On this go-round which culminated on McLaughlin’s birthday all three wins were on the road and had not Penn been ragged at La Salle in early December, it would have been an outright 4-0. The 2015 title was shared with Saint Joseph’s and Villanova.

Last week emerging from the excitement on the Main Line, McLaughlin talked about doing something really cool, but on Wednesday as the players here could be heard shouting for joy behind the locker room door, the Penn coach said, “It is so satisfying. We lost our first Big Five game at La Salle, didn’t play well, they outplayed us, and then come back and win all three, I want these guys to enjoy it.

“Some of these guys (most all) are not from the area so they don’t get the Big Five as much as I try to tell them about. I went them to celebrate it. Everytime we do something great, I want them to celebrate and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud, a Cardinal O’Hara grad now a standout with the WNBA Washington Mystics, was in the crowd with a special attachment to a member of McLaughlin’s staff. 

“Had to come and see ‘Ash, my former teammate, win it,” Cloud smiled referring to Ashley Robinson, a recent Hawks mainstay.

Against the Owls (9-10, 2-2 Big Five), another Ash, Ashley Russell, was the star of the night, sending Penn to a 7-0 start with all seven of those points and the Quakers (10-5, 3-1)  never looked back and neither did Russell, who finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

She shot 8-for-13, and made three of her four attempts from long range.

“Ashley’s been great, she’s starting to come in her own comfort zone, she can score the ball when she wants to, she can shoot the three, she started us off tonight,” McLaughlin said.

  “She’s getting what she deserves. She’s getting an opportunity. She’s a really good role player, she’s a good teammate.”

Russell is from Braintree, Mass.

“It’s hugh for us,” Russell said of the win. “For us, my class, it’s our first and for hers, it’s her second,” alluding to Lauren Whitlatch, who had 11 points and also three of the 9 three-pointers completed by Penn.

“Every year, every Big Five game has always been hyped up and it’s always competitive,” Russell said. “It’s definitely different. And it’s so exciting to win, especially not on your home floor when you don’t have your crowd behind you.”

Whitlatch is well aware of the area lore having also played against local stars in the Philly Women’s Summer League in Hatboro, Pa., outside the city.

“The end result is what we wanted so we’re happy about that,” Whitlatch said. “It’s special. I’m from Bloomington, Ind., so I understand how special basketball is in the community.

“But coming here as a senior and understanding how special basketball is to the city of Philadelphia and what they mean to us and the support they’ve given us over the years, being able to win a Big 5 for them and the community is very special.

“We’ll take a couple more from them,” Whitlatch nudged toward her younger teammates. “Raising the bar.”

Penn forced Temple into 16 turnovers and outscored the Owls 40-28 inside the paint.

The inside force put Temple in a pick-your-poison mode on defense with senior Michelle Nwokedi, the reigning Ivy player of the year, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds, and dealing three assists and blocking a shot.

Then there’s the newbie, Eleah Parker, the 6-4 freshman center from Charlotte, who had 16 points, eight rebounds, blocked three shots and grabbed two steals.

Parker has been named Ivy co-player of the week and freshman of the week two straight times after Monday’s league release and has picked up five rookie awards in her first season. 

On Tuesday, she became only the second player to earn national freshman of the week twice in the same season from the United States Basketball Writers Association, who began handing out the newcomer award in 2014-15 when Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner was a multi-winner.

Temple coach Tonya Cardoza praised the Penn rookie in terms of players she’s seen spending 15 seasons as a UConn assistant and also in the city in what is now a decade here on North Broad Street.

“No disrespect to Sydney Stipanovich, no disrespect to Michelle Nwokedi, she’s really, really good,” Cardoza said. “I think she’s going to be a force for them. She’s a freshman and she can really do a lot.

“She’s really good at just jumping over people and she can change the game on the defensive side because she’s a great shot blocker as well. But she’s going to be a force for the next couple of years.”

The Quakers have had their best Big Five record against Temple, although way behind also in that series, which now stands at 15-35.

Penn is off until Sunday, hosting Division III Gwynedd Mercy at 1 p.m. in The Palestra and then resumes defense of its two-time Ivy titles the following weekend traveling to Brown and Yale.

Meanwhile, for Temple, playing just three days after hosting the first of its two American Conference games against top-ranked Connecticut, the loss to the Quakers extend the Owls’ slide to five straight and seven of eight.

And the next game Sunday doesn’t offer a lot of hope for victory considering it’s in the Sunshine State in Tampa at South Florida (12 p.m., ESPNU-TV), though things alleviate schedule-wise the rest of the way.

One could blame recovering from the UConn experience, one could look at the injury situation, though there’s some improvement with the return of freshman Desiree Oliver, who in her second game back had 14 points and five assists while also shooting 4-of-7 three balls.

But Cardoza wasn’t having any of it not wanting to look at the easy available set of excuses, especially since a Temple win would have enabled the Owls to do the Big Five sharing at 3-1 on the heels of last season’s 4-0 outright title.

She talked about not getting stops, failing to chase shooters, and the way the posts needed to be defended.

It was the second missed opportunity since all seemed loss when the Owls fell to Villanova, then nationally ranked, last month 69-65, a score close enough that Temple would have had three wins in the Big Five bank before Penn arrived Wednesday night on the short trip from West Philadelphia.

“Hats off to Penn. They came in here and with a championship on the line, on our home court, they just took it right to us,” Cardoza said. “By beating Villanova, it opened up a door for us but it also opened up a door for them and they took advantage of it.

“It’s just disappointing that we let that opportunity slip away. Mike’s done a really good job with them and they took advantage of us not being able to sit down and defend and guard them the way they needed to be guarded.

“It was just lack of concentration and focus on how to defend them.”

Tanaya Atkinson did her thing for Temple with 19 points and 11 rebounds while Mia Davis had 11 points and eight rebounds.

Duquesne Dusts Saint Joseph’s

Over on Hawk Hill, given a chance to regain influence in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Saint Joseph’s, which became shorthanded with a one game absence of Chelsea Woods and Alyssa Monaghan, fell to Duquesne 61-42 at Hagan Arena.

The Dukes, which along with Dayton are the remaining unbeaten teams in conference play, used a 15-0 run in the second quarter to dominate the Hawks (9-10, 4-3 A-10), which shot a season low 25.4 percent from the field.

It was the first-win ever at Saint Joseph’s for Duquesne (17-3, 7-0).

Sarah Veilleux was the sole player in double figures for the Hawks with 12 points.

Duquesne’s Julijana Vojinovic had a game-high 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Paige Cannon scored 13 and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Saint Joseph’s next goes to La Salle Sunday at 1 p.m. at Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center in what will be the first of two A-10 games in the home-and-home series and last overall Big Five game.

After Wednesday night’s game at Temple, the Big Five standings are Penn 3-1 tied; Villanova 3-1 tied; Temple 2-2, La Salle 1-2, Saint Joseph’s 0-3.

Looking Ahead

La Salle has a noon game Thursday hosting VCU in the Atlantic 10 while Thursday night Rider travels to Iona at 7 in New Rochelle, N.Y., for a game in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

On Friday, Drexel, alone in second in the Colonial Athletic Association, hosts defending conference tournament champion Elon at 7 while Delaware, which slipped to third, hosts Northeastern at 7 in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

Villanova begins second-half schedule play in the Big East visiting Xavier in Cincinnati at 7.

On Saturday, Rider hosts Fairfield at 2 p.m. in Alumni Gym for a MAAC matchup in Lawrenceville, N.J., while Rutgers tries to get back on track visiting Indiana at Bloomington at 2 p.m. in the Big 10.

For Sunday, we’ll wait until we get to Friday’s roundup to go over the details.

And that’s the report.


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