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.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bob Heller’s Philly WBB Small College Report: USciences Upsets Bentley To Advance to D-2 NCAA Sweet 16

By Bob Heller (@Bob_Heller1)


 Saturday’s NCAA division II East Region semi-final was as exciting as it was hyped up to be as the #3 seed University of the Sciences  defeated  the #2 seed Bentley University 61-54 at Merkert Gymnasium on the campus of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.


The win, one of the biggest in program history for the Devils,was the 30th of the season and extends their record to 30-3 as they advance to the Regional championship for the first time.


USciences will face top seed and host Stonehill College on Monday at 7:00 p.m. for the East Region Championship and a chance to advance to the Elite 8 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota starting on March 19.


Saturday’s win marks the second straight year the devils sent the Falcons home with a season ending loss in the NCAA Tournament. 

 Bentley’s loss was also just their second in 23 regional semi-final appearances dating back to 1988 as the Falcons finish their season at 28-4.


“We just beat a great team, “said Devils Head Coach Jackie Hartzell.  “Bentley is really really good. And I’m so proud of our team. It’s really special especially with the group of players that we have.  I know our seniors didn’t want their careers to end tonight.”


“We’re excited to play another game – but to beat Bentley, who is such a great team, two years in a row is really amazing! “

Bentley is coached by Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Barb Stevens, who recently followed Division I level UConn coach Geno Aurienna and Norfth Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell by posting her 1,000th victory. That Hall of Fame duo reached the milestone on the same day December 19 of this baskedtball season. The late Tennessee legend Pat Summitt and current Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer were the first two to win 1,000 on the women’s side and there’s a chance of Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer also reaching the number if her Scarlet Knights can win their first three games in either the D-1 NCAA tourney or the Women’s NIT, depending where they land when the fields are announced Monday night.


Meanwhile, whereas two USciences all conference players struggled in Friday’s win over LIU-Post, CACC Player of the Year Sarah Abbonizio and First Team All-CACC honoree Alex Thomas were key to the Devils’ success against the Falcons.  

Abbonizio led all players with 20 points while Thomas added 16.  Colleen Walsh and Jordan Vitelli had nine points apiece and Laura Trisch led all players with ten rebounds.


Also similar to Friday’s game the Devils got off to a rough start as Bentley jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 1:40, forcing the Devils to play from behind for the second day in a row.  ‘Sciences again showed their resiliency with a 14-6 run over the next five minutes to tie the game at 14-14.


“We tend to get out to these rough starts, “said Abbonizio.  “Sometimes our shots aren’t falling or we have a couple of lapses on defense but I think the fact that we’re so close to each other – it kind of gets that run going and it could be any of us making that run.”


A three-pointer by Trevena Bennett put the Falcons back on top but the Devils answered with consecutive three-balls from Vitelli and Walsh to take their first lead of the game at 20-17.  

Two Vitelli free throws pushed the lead to 22-17 before a Bentley basket at the buzzer closed out the high scoring quarter with the devils on top by three 22-19.


The two teams exchanged baskets in the early part of the second quarter until a 7-2 run by the Falcons tied the game at 29-29. 

 Bentley later took a 33-32 on two free throws by Division I transfer Becca Musgrave  before it was the Devils turn to produce a run, this one an 8-1 flourish to give the team a 40-34 lead at the half.


After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Abbonizio was on fire in the second scoring 14 of the Devils 18 points in the period with two three-point field goals and a 5-7 effort from the field.


The Devils continued their run over the first five minutes of the third quarter, outscoring the Falcons 6-2 to take their biggest lead of the game at 46-36.  

Bentley’s defense would then come alive , not allowing the Devils to score the rest of the period while cutting the lead in half with five straight points making the score 46-41.   


Bentley’s run continued into the fourth quarter, scoring the first five points to tie the game at 46-46.  Thomas then scored USciences’ first points in nearly nine minutes to give the Devils a 48-46 lead with 5:59 left. 

 Musgrove’s trey at the 5:03 mark gave the Falcons a 49-48lead, capping the 13-2 run that started back in the third quarter.  USciences however had at least one more run left in them.


“We were taking on water there when they took the lead, “adds Hartzell.  “Our kids never panicked and we made big plays down the stretch when big plays needed to be made.”


Big plays indeed as Irisa Ye started a 7-0 run  with a baseline layup, followed by a Thomas three-ball and a driving layup by Abbonizio to give the Devils a 55-49 lead with 2:51 left. 

 Victoria Lux, the Falcons leading scorer on the season broke the string with a layup with 2:05 left and Macchi Smith added a free throw at the 1:06 mark to make it a one-possession game, 55-52. 

 On the Devils next possession, Walsh fed Thomas who made a perfect backdoor cut for a layup as the shot clock was expiring to give USciences a 57-52 lead with 36.2 seconds left.  

Bentley had three chances to close the gap on their next possession but was unable to find the bottom of the net thanks to some solid defense by the Devils and taking the clock down to 15.7 seconds when Vitelli grabbed a defensive rebound.


The Falcons had only one team foul up to this point and had to foul repeatedly to put the Devils on the line. 

 Vitelli made two free throws with 12.2 seconds left.  BU’s Megan Lewis added a basket with seven ticks on the clock to pull the Falcons within five before Thomas sealed the deal with two free throws a second later. Bentley's final shot was off the mark and the Devils had the seven-point win.


The Devils held Lux, their leading scorer and a first team All-NE10 honoree to just eight points on the afternoon.  Musgrove led the team with 11 points while Smith and Lewis added ten.


“She (Lux) is a very good player and she’s really skilled so we just tried to play good defense on her, “said Thomas.  “It was a whole team effort to try and stop her.”


I’m so happy and everyone on the team is happy (about reaching the Sweet 16)”, Abbonizio added. Every year we accomplish something new.  In one word, it’s awesome!”