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 14, 2018

The Guru Report: Princeton Thumps Penn And Regains Command of the Ivy Regular Season Race

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PRINCETON, N.J. — Two months ago during the non-conference phase of Princeton’s season the Tigers got smacked up the road 70-50 by state rival Rutgers, a team that down here in Jadwin Gym 12 months earlier Princeton had delivered one of the most dreadful setbacks in the Scarlet Knights’ history.

If anything in the era of excellence under coach Courtney Banghart that is at the start of her second decade here this season the Tigers have learned to get off the mat whenever they have been knocked down.

And so it was that in a game most thought might yet be another thriller between Princeton and Penn, who started Tuesday night tied for first in the Ivy League, all the thrills belonged to the home team who trounced the Quakers 60-40 and had Tigers fans chanting on Valentine’s eve: How Sweep It Is.

The triumph followed up the traditional Ivy opener early last month at Penn’s Palestra when Princeton (17-4, 7-1 Ivy) smacked the Quakers with a 70-55 pounding that ended a five-game win streak in the series for Penn that had intensified since Mike McLaughlin took the reins two years after Banghart arrived here and performed a similar reclamation achievement.

In fact, on Penn’s side since that meeting last month, the Quakers (15-6, 6-2 Ivy) had won nine straight, including non-conference wins at Temple and  at Villanova, the first victory over the Wildcats in 17 seasons that led to becoming Philadelphia Big 5 co-champions with ‘Nova.

And freshman Eleah Parker had developed into an impact performer.

Princeton, meanwhile, stumbled out of the annual three-week exam break and was upset at Yale to fall back to the tie with the Quakers in what has become a two-team domination among the Ancient Eight.

“There was a time when the most feared road trip for everyone in the Ivies was the trip up north on the Dartmouth-Harvard weekend, said former Dartmouth coach Chris Wielgus, who, by the way coached Banghart and will be honored next month as an Ivy legend at the second annual conference tournament which will return to The Palestra.

“But it is all turned around now. It’s when teams have to come down this way to play at Penn and Princeton.”

For the last eight seasons Penn and Princeton have been the class of the league and the matchups have had storylines with Penn twice winning here on the final day of the regular season to claim the NCAA automatic bid before last year’s introduction of the four-team-each men’s and women’s combined tourney won by the Quakers women over the Tigers.

But in the same Palestra in 2015 — the last sweep of Penn by Princeton — the Tigers wrapped up the season with the completion of the first-ever perfect record in the league on the entire schedule.

As for the action on Tuesday, though sophomore 6-4 center Bella Alarie, the reigning Ivy rookie of the year, has become a Princeton staple and one who could become a future marketing face of the WNBA when her time arrives to enter the pros when many of today’s vets will be leaving, another freshman Abby Meyers out of Potomac, Md., did much of the damage.

The rookie had 17 points, echoing another rookie job performed by Carlie Littlefield in the victory in Philadelphia.

“It looks like Abby’s shooting well — she’s just better,” Banghart said. “She’s worked really hard on her vision, she’s worked really hard on her defense, she’s just doing more on the court than she’s done, which adds to her confidence.

“We’re better, the better she gets. She could have been happy to just help out and wait till next year but she wants to be involved.”

Alarie, whose second half at the Palestra finished the job on Penn the first time, this go-round had 18 points and 15 rebounds along with three blocked shots and a pair of steals.

“She’s just special. She’s learning to be a star,” said Banghart, who along in Alarie in separate events, was involved with USA Basketball competition last summer. “Plus she did a tremendous job against one of the best players in the league.”

Michelle Nwokerdi, the reigning Ivy player and defensive player of the year who had 30 points Saturday against Harvard in The Palestra, had 12 off 5-for-18 from the field and nine rebounds, while Anna Ross scored 14, but did not add one more assist to her ongoing all-time Quakers’ career total.

Rookie Parker was held to four points off 2-for-10 from the field and eight rebounds.

After a slim 18-15 Princeton lead at the end of the first quarter, the evens the rest of the way prevented Penn from closing the gap as the Tigers had a 16-5 advantage in the second quarter and 14-3 in the fourth and final period.

Princeton closed on an 11-1 run and the Tigers did not allow another field goal off the final 6:53 as Penn was held to its lowest scoring total not only of this season but in six overall seasons back to 2012.

The three points in the final quarter was the lowest by Penn since the women’s game changed three seasons ago from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters.

Princeton’s Leslie Robinson, a niece of former President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama, dealt 10 assists, the highest Tiger total since Blake Dietrick dealt that total in December, 2014.

In the old days of two seasons ago and before, next up after the second meeting between the two — the final game on the overall Ivy composite schedule — would be the wait for NCAA and WNIT selections and brackets.

But while Tuesday’s result was Game, Set, with Princeton snapping the tie and taking a one-game lead in the standings and holding a tie-breaker, the Match which leads to the NCAA field automatically won’t come until the middle of next month.

Ahead are three more back-to-back weekends and then the Ivy tourney at Penn.

“We’re going to focus on sweeps,” Banghart said. “We have a cushion. We do that and we’re (regular season) Ivy champs. And then there’s the tournament.”

For all the carping on Penn nation’s side about the tourney when the Quakers were on the high side and an upset costing an NCAA bid, now at least the world did not end here for the Philly folks, who can live to fight another day. The critics are not alone among fans bases of all the men and women in the conference.

Penn certainly has a reason to keep pushing beyond just clinching a berth.

For one, while finishing second or third is academic in terms of the Ivy semifinals, finishing second guarantees a WNIT bid, minimally, though if Penn does not achieve that, surely the Quakers would be an at-large pick.

If both teams win out from now till the championship, the loser would at least have to be discussed by the NCAA committee for an at-large bid, though Princeton as of this result would be in better shape, as Penn would have been with a victory.

By the way, following Louisville’s loss to Connecticut Monday night and with the Cardinals hanging in the Northeast until Thursday when they resume their Atlantic Coast schedule visiting Boston College, coach Jeff Walz and his staff came down here for the game.

Walz coached with Banghart in USA Basketball last summer and wanted to visit.

Next up for each is the New York Ivy swing with Penn visiting Columbia Friday at 4 p.m. on the front end of a doubleheader with the men while Princeton visits Cornell.

On Saturday, Penn heads to Cornell and Princeton has a 4 p.m. visit to Columbia.

La Salle Falls at Fordham

Penn wasn’t the only team from the Big 5 with offensive woes.

In the only other local on the Guru card, La Salle travelled to Fordham in the Bronx outside New York City for an Atlantic 10 encounter and fell to the Rams 66-45 at Rose Hill Gym.

The Explorers (8-13, 3-10 Atlantic 10) against one of the better defensive programs in the nation shot just 17-for-52 for 32.7 percent from the field and just 3-for-12 from beyond the arc.

Freshman Rayshel Brown scored 12 points, her most coming off her most minutes, playing 23, while Adreana Miller also scored 12 points.

G’mrice Davis, one of the top A-10 players, had a game-high 18 points for Fordham (20-6, 11-2), which is fighting for a bye in the first round of the conference tourney, which will be played later this month before the remaining teams in the field move on to Richmond.

Lauren Holden had 16 points and Bre Cavanaugh scored 15 while Davis and Cavanaugh combined for 17 rebounds.

Next up for La Salle is a return for the second game with Saint Joseph’s, which doesn’t count as the Big 5 matchup, which occurred and was won by the Hawks at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center. Tipoff at Hagan Arena on Hawki Hill is set for 1 p.m.

Looking Ahead

Of the teams in the immediate area, everyone is out on the road Wednesday night with Saint Joseph’s playing in the A-10 at Davidson at 7 in North Carolina trying to clinch a first-round home site in the conference while Rutgers is at Wisconsin at 8 in a sort-of-must-win in the Big 10 because a loss would not be good.

Temple makes it first-ever visit to Wichita State at 8 with the Shockers being a new member of the American Athletic Conference this season.

Northwestern visits Penn State at 7 in the Big 10, the closest Wildcats coach Joe McKeown gets to a homecoming for the former George Washington coach who is a native of Northeast Philadelphia and a Father Judge graduate.

Further north outside the immediate area in the Patriot League, Lehigh is hosting Colgate at 6 while Lafayette is hosting Navy at 7.

None of the locals play Thursday but Purdue is at Maryland at 6 if you haven’t yet seen the No. 10 Terrapins in person.

We have a couple of days to talk about the weekend, some of which has already been addressed in this post and previous posts.

And that’s the report.

Bob Heller’s D2 and D3 Editions of the Small College Roundup will post sometime Wednesday.