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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Guru Report, Part 1: Villanova Finishes Third in Big East Ending Creighton Hex While Drexel Avoids CAA Upset

Guru note: So much from Sunday assembled in two parts. Rutgers and Penn State bottoms up in Big Ten is part 2.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

VILLANOVA, Pa. — A year ago Villanova capped a strong finish from an ugly start to get to the Women’s NIT semifinals winning four games all on the road.

This time around it seems the Wildcats will get a chance to work their magic in the NCAA after celebrating Senior Day Sunday afternoon with a 55-48 win over Creighton in Jake Nevin Field House to snap a six-game losing streak in the series and claim third place in the Big East behind co-champions Marquette and DePaul.

The visiting Bluejays (17-11, 11-7 Big East), who were tied with the Wildcats (22-7, 12-6), prior to the game, finished fourth. Back in the preseason the two teams were picked third and fourth, their exact place in the final standings, by the conference coaches.

Marquette, the defending tourney champions, who will be the top seed, and second-seeded DePaul were also picked that way.

But in spite of all the accuracy in forecasts at the top of the 10-team league, veteran coach Harry Perretta, now in his 40th season here on the Main Line, said his team’s performance still surprised him.

“They exceeded my expectations. I didn’t think we could win 22 regular season games,” he said.

Villanova also shared the Big Five title with Penn, which upset the Wildcats here scoring just before regulation time expired.

“I think we played a very good game today, defensively,” Perretta said of the win. “We haven’t beaten them in a very long time and they hurt us, offensively. But our defense stepped up today and held them under fifty.

“We didn’t score a lot so if we didn’t play good defense, we wouldn’t have won the game.”

Now it’s on to the conference tournament that opens Saturday at DePaul’s new Wintrust Arena in Chicago where in quarterfinal play Sunday night at 9:30 Eastern time, Villanova will meet sixth seeded Georgetown, which the Wildcats swept in a pair of very closely-fought contests.

“If we had lost (to Creighton), I would have felt it’s a must-win game,” said Perretta in terms of NCAA projections.

The prize for winning the event is an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament but Perretta’s squad, which was ranked for six weeks in the front part of the season, seems destined to land an at-large bid that would end a drought since Villanova’s last appearance in 2012-13.

“Wherever we wind up, we wind up,” Perretta said of this weekend’s action. “We had the best season we could have had. We had a complete team, we had six, seven, eight players we could use in a game.”

Playing likely in their final home game were seniors Alex Louin, Megan Quinn, and Nicolette Juliana, all local products.

“I have no regrets, I’ve enjoyed my time here, I’ve made the best decision in my life,” said Louin, who had 10 points, dealt three assists and grabbed nine rebounds.

“It is super emotional,” Louin said of the special occasion.  “There were about 40 people here to watch me play from high school (Mount St. Joseph Academy).  

“It was really cool to see that.  I took one last look as I was walking off the court today because it will be the last time I see that.  It was an incredible environment to play in, and it gave us the energy to sustain our defense the entire game.”

Mary Gedaka, whose mother Lisa Angelotti is a former Villanova star and just won her 600th game coaching Gloucester Catholic High in South Jersey, came off the bench to score 21 points. Her mother was the Big East player of the year in 1988.

“They isolated me with one player,” said Gedaka of her ability to score. Perretta likes to use her to create mismatch situations.

“My teammates found me really well.  Usually I get isolated on the perimeter so I can go off the dribble, but today O got to work inside a little bit.  That helped us.”

Jannah Tucker also scored in double figures for Villanova collecting 10 points.

Sydney Lamberty was the one Creighton player to break loose, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

In terms of the entire conference and the pairings, the co-championship for the regular season gives DePaul its fifth consecutive title outright or shared while it’s the first for Marquette.

Villanova became the deal breaker for the top seeds because since DePaul and Marquette split their two games, the difference became Marquette’s sweep of the Wildcats while DePaul, getting trounced here, had a split.

The opening round Saturday has No. 9 Providence meeting No. 8 Butler before No. 7 Seton Hall meets 10th-seeded Xavier. 

Marquette opens quarterfinal play Sunday hosting the winner of the Providence-Butler game before DePaul plays the Seton Hall-Xavier winner. 

Creighton will then meet fifth-seeded St. John’s, which won a tiebreaker with Georgetown by beating Villanova once.

That left the Hoyas and Villanova to meet each other.

If the Wildcats get to the semifinals on Monday they would see the winner of the DePaul quarterfinal game. The championship would be Tuesday and six days later the annual Selection Monday show on ESPN at night would reveal the NCAA 64-team field with the at-large squads being made known as well as the pairings.

Drexel Rally at Towson Keeps Dragons Tied With JMU at Top of CAA

The prosperity Drexel achieved Friday night at home with a double overtime upset of James Madison got soaked with a long spell of perspiration down at Towson Sunday afternoon until the Dragons turned on the heat and rallied to a 62-54 win over the Tigers at SECU Arena in a Colonial Athletic Association game in suburban Baltimore.

Since area rival Delaware was unable to provide help, falling to James Madison 67-56 on the road at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Va., Drexel’s triumph kept veteran coach Denise Dillon’s team in a virtual tie with the Dukes over the rest of the CAA even up in the loss column and one win short.

Drexel (22-6, 14-2 CAA) will get a chance to get dead even Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Dragons visit Delaware at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark an hour south of home but it is another danger stop because the Blue Hens have vastly improved since Drexel blasted them in Philadelphia back in late December to start the conference schedule.

A Dragons survival in that one leads to the regular season finish on Saturday when they host Charleston 1 p.m. at the Daskalakis Athletic Center while James Madison hosts William & Mary.

Since JMU and Drexel split their season series and each split with third-place Elon, RPI average will be the tiebreaker, a statistic that currently favors the Dragons for the top seed in the CAA tourney, March 7-10.

They already have one perk for the annual postseason extravaganza since it is being held at the DAC, the first time Drexel has hosted the tourney and also Philadelphia being the furthest north the event has occurred.

Getting to 22 regular season wins is a record for the Drexel eclipsing the 21 achieved in 2009 when the Dragons took the regular season and tournament title to their only NCAA appearance.

Should Drexel not emerge as champs next month, the Dragons are still on track for another bid to the Women’s NIT.

Aubree Brown, the Archbishop Wood grad and heroine of Friday night’s win, was the star in this one, also, scoring 16 points and dealing five assists.

Bailey Greenberg had 12 points and 11 rebounds while Hannah Nihill had eight points, the same total as Kayla Bacon, who gained all her scores in the decisive fourth quarter.

Towson (9-18, 4-12) quickly made the outlook for a long afternoon, slowly building a 13-4 lead from the outset.

Things were not much better at the break with Drexel shooting 6-for-30 in the first half but finishing with a lesser deficit at 23-18.

The Dragons finally got uncorked when action resumed, making their first six shots in the third quarter but still trying to fend off Towson on the way to finishing the period 38-37.

But Brown helped the cause again the fourth quarter when Bacon was inspired by the crowd of friends and family from her hometown in nearby Owings Mills, Md.

Up four with less than four minutes left in regulation, Bacon keyed a 6-0 Drexel run to finally provide enough separation to avoid an upset.

Drexel also made a program mark with a 7-1 December, 6-1 January, and 6-1 February making it the first time the Dragons dropped just one game in three calendar months of the season.

Meanwhile, Delaware, which nearly forced JMU into overtime back home at the finish earlier this month, made it close early before the Dukes in a game of eight ties and six lead changes forced a 14-4 run across the middle of the second half to gain a 67-56 victory.

James Madison (19-9, 15-2) has now won 12 straight games over Delaware (17-10, 10-6), which is in fourth trailing Elon by two games and holds its current position by a half-game over Northeastern.

Kelly Koshuta had 16 points for the Dukes, Lexi Barrier scored 14, and Neumann-Goretti grad Kamiah Smalls had all 13 of hers in the second half.

Delaware’s Nicole Enabosi had her 21st double double with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Reserve Kiersten West had 10 points.

“My hat goes off to (JMU coach) Sean (O’Regan) and what he’s continued to do with this program,” said Delaware first-year coach Natasha Adair who previously coached at Georgetown and prior to that was in the CAA at Charleston.

O’Reagan was promoted two seasons ago after longtime coach Kenny Brooks moved down the road to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We put a lot on Nicole and she doesn’t disappoint,” said Adair. “Her supporting cast was a little down today but it wasn’t for lack of will or effort.”

After Drexel’s visit Thursday, the Blue Hens will finish Saturday at Towson at 2 p.m.

Rider Takes Manhattan

The Broncs concluded regular season play rallying to beat host Manhattan 53-50 in overtime at Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale, N.Y., to sweep the Jaspers and take fifth place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourney, which begins later this week in Albany, N.Y., at the Times Union Center, the site of one of the four NCAA women’s regionals.

This season in Lawrenceville, N.J., it was the Broncs men’s team getting all the attention at Alumni Gymnasium earning the top seed in the MAAC as opposed to 12 months ago when the women’s magical ride saw a tie for first, the No. 2 seed, runner up in the tournament, and a first-ever postseason appearance by the Broncs in the Women’s NIT.

Hit by graduation losses and an influx of newcomers who needed to be involved in the mix, the Rider women (13-16, 10-8 MAAC) fought all the way from a deep deficit in the won-loss record to near .500 and there were a few narrow setbacks that if reversed would have contributed to another winning record.

Manhattan (12-17, 9-9) will be the seventh seed.

The Broncs outscored the Jaspers 9-6 in the extra period.

Rider claimed this one late in the extra period when Kamila Hoskova drove for two and a one-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in the extra period. 

The Broncs got a defensive stop and then Lexi Posset hit two foul shots for a three-point lead with four seconds left and the 53-50 advantage held when Lea Favre knocked a shot out of bounds by Rider. 

Johnson grabbed a defensive rebound to end the home team threat.

She finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and a blocked shot. Hoskova had 12 points and eight rebounds while Posset had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Rider will open quarterfinal play in the MAAC tourney Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against fourth-seeded Fairfield. The Broncs and Stags split their two games.

The winner, in the semifinals, would likely face top-seeded Quinnipiac, the defending tourney champion which went unbeaten through the conference and last season in the NCAA tourney advanced to the Sweet 16.

“Stella is one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached,” said Rider’s Lynn Milligan. “She refuses to lose. She does whatever it takes to help the team win. She just made plays today and that’s what great players do on the road.

“I thought defensively we executed our game plan really well. It was a grind it out win between two teams with a lot on the line. Both teams really got after it today.

“A huge step for us as a team to win a game like this that has a lot of meaning on the road. I’m extremely happy with our grit and determination.”

And that’s this report.