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.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Guru Report: George Washington Tops Saint Joseph’s in a Thriller

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Most times whenever Saint Joseph’s and George Washington hook up in the Atlantic 10 wars, the games go tightly fought wire-to-wire and something is usually at stake.

In many years what has been on the line involved the top seed going into the conference tournament and once the playoffs began the Hawks and Colonials went the distance to determine the Atlantic 10 automatic entry into the NCAAs.

Tuesday night, here at Saint Joseph’s the two teams took the floor nose-to-nose in Hagan Arena with a bit of a different profile deadlocked in a lower neighbor in the standings tied for fifth with identical 9-5 conference records with one more game each to play this Saturday when the regular season will come to a close.

Fans on each side had their moments to feel good in the contest that was the only one on the Guru D-1 local schedule - Saint Joseph’s built a seven-point lead late in the first quarter before the Colonials went on to lead by as much as 11 with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left in the third.

And then it was business as usual in this series that is more accented on the defensive side the rest of the way.

The Hawks rallied to twice tie in the fourth and final quarter, the second time at 44-44 with 4:19 left in regulation.

Brianna Cummings then made a three-point play with the and-one for a 47-44 GWU lead that would not be reversed.

However, the Hawks still had their chances.

Amanda Fioravanti’s layup with 1:03 got Saint Joseph’s within one. 

Then a Colonials turnover put the home team back in position to go ahead but Chelsea Woods drove inside and missed a layup in a crowd with 10 seconds left as GWU’s Kelli Prange grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Woods.

But the Hawks did not yet have enough penalties to put the Colonials on the line so Sarah Veilleux committed two quick fouls.

Mei-Lyn Bautista nailed both free throws to ensure at least overtime with a 49-46 lead that would register as the final score, though four seconds remained.

Veilleux, the Hawks’ best long distance shooter, went for the tie from the side but the shot was no good and the Colonials (15-12, 10-5 Atlantic 10) headed back to the nation’s capital with several conference goodies.

For one, George Washington clinched an overall .500 or better record, which likely will land a WNIT bid unless the Colonials pull an upset and gain the automatic NCAA bid with an A-10 championship.

For two, being favored over Richmond at home Saturday in the Smith Center, a win over the Spiders could land a four-seed since George Mason, a team the Colonials’ swept, on Wednesday has to visit Dayton (21-4, 14-0), which has already wrapped up the top seed.

The Patriots (21-7, 10-4) host La Salle on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Fairfax, Va., as a strong favorite, but a tie for fourth with GWU gives the Colonials the advantage.

Saint Louis (14-13, 8-6) visits VCU Wednesday at 6 but then hosts Dayton Saturday at 3 p.m.

“It’s always like this up here,” smiled George Washington coach Jen Rizzotti, the former University of Connecticut star who is also the current president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

“At this point, they’re all hard fought because we’re fighting for where we finish, where our seed is. We’re in a year where we lost four starters, we were picked to finish sixth, anyway, so we’ve already kind of overachieved and we’re playing well in February, so that’s kind of the dream,” she continued.

“Feel good about winning the tough games, having the mental toughness to make plays. I think any of the top seven teams in our league could win the championship. It will be a fun run so I’m just proud of the girls and the way they fought today.”

Cummings and Camila Tapias each scored 11 points for George Washington, which had nine steals on the defensive end.

“We’ll be in one tournament or the other so it’s a great thing for these guys. Our seniors to have four straight postseasons is hard to do.”

Incidentally, her winning success with several USA Basketball younger squads in recent seasons and past work helping the national team has Rizzotti strongly speculated as a potential member of Dawn Staley’s staff for the FIBA World Championship this fall and the Olympics in 2020.

Meanwhile, Saint Joseph’s fate going forward took a setback considering the Hawks (14-13, 9-6) have to finish up at Fordham (20-7, 11-3) at Rose Hill Gym Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Bronx, N.Y.

The Rams, in third, are at Duquesne (22-5, 12-2) Wednesday in Pittsburgh and a win puts them in position to finish second over the Dukes, who are holding the runnerup spot.

Duquesne can’t finish worse than third.

Saint Joseph’s loses a tie-break with Saint Louis so while in sixth at the moment, the Hawks could fall to seventh, but no worse since they own a tie-break with Richmond.

That’s a blessing of sorts since they couldn’t face Dayton, a team they lost to 65-59 here in early January, until the title game.

But to get WNIT consideration, coach Cindy Griffin’s squad must be .500 or better, meaning the A-10 tournament home opener here next Tuesday at 7 against an opponent to be determined is a must-win situation.

The opening round survivors and bye teams than move to Richmond, Va., to complete the tourney with quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship play next Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There were some pluses but negatives also here for the home team, which got 11 points from Fioravanti and 10 from Veilleux — Adashia Franklyn scored eight, Alyssa Monaghan scored seven, and Woods off the bench had eight points.

Troubling to veteran Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin was the 21-8 disadvantage given up to the Colonials in points off turnovers, virtually cancelling the 24-10 advantage of points in the paint.

But she also welcomes the schedule at this point in which tougher league opponents are involved, putting each outing already in tournament testing mode before the arrival of March Madness.

“It was what we expected as far as being a defensive battle,” Griffin said. “We certainly had some opportunities down the stretch, there, and we just didn’t convert.

“When a team scores 21 points off your turnovers, you’re basically limiting your possessions and not getting great shots every time. That big three Tapias made after we fought all the way back to 41-41, that was a big play.

“I don’t think we played extremely smart today,” Griffin said. “I think we did some things that were out of character for us. And credit (GWU’s) defense. They certainly did a good job making us uncomfortable with shooting low and just not getting the looks we generally get.”

As for the shot Veilleux took to try to force overtime, “I thought she had a nice look. She’s one of our better three-point shooters. She’s a big target and all you want is a chance and she gave us a chance.”

Discussing the finishing schedule with the likes of George Washington and Fordham, Griffin said, “I think these are all great games going into playoffs. I mentioned this before, that’s what you want.

“You really want competitive games going into playoffs so when you’re in these situations that you can grow and you can learn from them. So I think it’s great we’ll be able to go up to Fordham and it will be a battle as well.”

Looking Ahead

On Wednesday, on the Guru D-1 local schedule, a noon matinee has Temple hosting Cincinnati in an American Athletic Conference game in the larger Liacouras Center because of the event being the annual school day game.

The matchup features Temple coach Tonya Cardoza on one side and former UConn star Jamelle Elliott on the other and both good friends from their long stints as aides to UConn’s Geno Auriemma before they landed their current jobs.

Davidson is at La Salle at 7 p.m. in an Atlantic 10 game at the Explorers’ Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center. 

In a major one up the road Rutgers is hosting Iowa in a Big Ten game, the final home game of the season in the Rutgers Athletic Center before the Scarlet Knights finish up this Sunday at Northwestern prior to the conference tourney next week in Indianapolis.

Hall of Fame Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer is at 996-399 for her career that includes previous stops at Cheyney and Iowa as she is on a trail to try to become the third Division I coach and fourth overall this season to reach 1,000 wins.

Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell both reached the milestone on Dec. 19 while Division II coach Barb Stevens recently reached the total with Bentley.

Previously, the late Tennessee legend Pat Summitt and current Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer have gained the total.

Also, Rutgers needs to keep winning to solidify an NCAA at-large bid if the Scarlet Knights fall short in the conference tournament, though if they get to the very Big Dance they as of now would be on the road at the outset in the opening weekend.

On the other hand, if Stringer still needs to get her big achievement, if Rutgers lands in the WNIT, she would get a chance to achieve the distinction at home.

Friday Fun

On Thursday, the only local involved is Penn State visiting Nebraska in a Big Ten clash as the Lady Lions try to get some traction heading into the conference tournament. Nationally-ranked Ohio State will visit Sunday.

As for Friday, it is a big night.

In the Ivy League, Princeton and Penn, the 1-2 punch, are on the road trying to wrap up two of the four spots in the second annual conference tournament that has the same field size for the men when it returns to The Palestra in two weeks.

Penn is at Harvard at 8 and Princeton is at Dartmouth at 7 and then the two visitors switch on Saturday. A sweep puts Princeton’s magic number at one to get the top seed while Penn has several things in play.

The Quakers in second, which means a guaranteed WNIT slot if they don’t win the tourney, are two ahead of Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale, which are tied for third fighting for the other two slots.

If Yale wins its games against Columbia and Cornell, the Bulldogs are still in the hunt for second even if Penn sweeps. But a Penn sweep and Yale’s next loss clinches second.

Princeton owning a sweep of Penn gets the No. 1 seed if the two finish first, though the schools would be considered regular season co-champions.

The two will finish the following weekend in pairs of games each hosting Yale and Brown.

Meanwhile, Drexel in second has a showdown with No. 1 James Madison at 7 at home in the Daskalakis Athletic Center. The Dragons already have a loss to the Dukes in Harrisonburg, Va., but a win Friday could help get the top seed in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tourney, which will be at Drexel the same weekend the Ivies will be down the street at The Palestra.

Delaware, fighting for third right now, visits William & Mary.

On Sunday, Delaware is at James Madison after nearly upsetting the Dukes at home last weekend. Drexel will be at Towson.

Also on Friday, Villanova finishing its Big East slate, hosts Providence at 7 Jake Nevin Fieldhouse trying to finish third. On Sunday, it’s senior day with Creighton, a team that has bedeviled the Wildcats, visiting at 2 p.m.

Rider will be hosting Quinnipiac at 7 at Alumni Gymnasium in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Bobcats, in the MAAC, are unbeaten and have already clinched the regular season title and are also the defending conference tourney champs who captured headlines last season when they advanced to the Sweet 16.

On Sunday, Rider finishes up at Manhattan.

On Saturday, the only two games not mentioned out of everything ahead through the weekend is Temple will be at East Carolina in the AAC while in the Patriot League Lehigh visits local rival Lafayette,

And Monday night Temple finishes at home ahead of the AAC tourney hosting Memphis in McGonigle Hall atd 7.

There’s big national games ahead in the major conferences, particularly the Pac-12, which we’ll discuss Thursday while Bob Heller will be on top of local D2 and D3 teams the rest of the week involved in playoffs.

And that’s the rather sizable report, especially considering we only had one live game.


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