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 18, 2018

Muffet Gets The One Philly Reunion From ‘Nova She’s Been Able to Dodge

Guru’s note  - Public service for those who run into access problems - The Guru Inky advance of Sunday night’s Notre Dame/Villanova Game. Also way down below and marked at the end a comment from Harry how to defend UConn 

By Mel Greenberg


SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Back in 2013 when Notre Dame announced it was moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw was not going to let the breakup of the old Big East deprive her of one of the perks that came with the league schedule.

“I’m not going to lose my Philadelphia homecomings that’s for sure,” the former Saint Joseph’s star confided. “I’m going to call everyone. I’ll call Penn. I’ll call my alma mater. Maybe Temple.”

One school not on her list, however, was the one she played annually: Villanova.

However, courtesy of the NCAA draw and the the ninth-seeded Wildcats’ thrilling 81-74 overtime victory Friday night under 40-year veteran Harry Perretta against eighth-seeded South Dakota State, the top-seeded Irish (30-3) and ‘Nova (23-8) will reunite Sunday night (7 p.m.) here in the Irish’s Purcell Pavilion for the first time since their former Big East rivalry.

The winner in the second round of the Spokane Regional moves to the Sweet 16 next weekend against Sunday’s winner between No. 5 DePaul (27-7) and No. 4 Texas A&M (25-9).

“It’s so tough to play a big lineup against Villanova, because they’re so oriented,” McGraw said. “They’re going to play five out and to have our bigs chasing people around the 3-point line is not the ideal defense for us.

“Anytime you play Villanova for the first time it’s a huge challenge. We don’t play anybody like them. There are no teams in the ACC like them, nobody on our schedule like them, we have no film to go back and say this is how we did it before,” she continued.

“In the Big East, we knew what to expect, for this team it’s a very, very different approach. The preparation time that you need, there’s just never enough time.

“They’re smart. They’re very good three-point shooters, so everybody on the floor is a dangerous three-point shooter. They continually move without the ball. They use the entire shot clock,” McGraw explained.

“Normally, teams want to play defense for 15-20 seconds, they’re going to make you play for 30 seconds. They can lull you into their pace. It will probably take a long to time to adjust. One year we beat them 38-36.”

South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston expressed similar frustrations after the Wildcats peppered his squad with 16 three-pointers, including two from Jannah Tucker and one from Adrianna Hahn in overtime to allow Villanova its first NCAA win in 14 years.

“Against them, a double digit deficit feels like 30 against other teams because they’re so difficult to overcome,” Johnston said.

Despite Perretta’s team facing one loaded with all-Americans in a program that’s one of the elite in the sport and McGraw’s dislike to deal with Villanova’s methodical attack, the two are longtime friends off their Philly upbringing and connections.

“I can’t think of any pleasant experiences playing Villanova,” McGraw said. “But he’s a great guy. We’ve been friends a long time. He’s somebody I can call to talk about another team. Just get other ideas. How would you guard this. What would you do. He’s really a great X and O mind.”

Likewise, Perretta was full of praise of his coaching colleague at Saturday’s media session.

“Obviously, I’ve known Muffet for a long time. It goes back to Saint Joe’s days, to Lehigh days (when she coached there), and we’re very good friends,” he said. “I’ve called to wish her good luck in certain games. Just have that Philadelphia tie that keeps us together.

“She’s turned this program into one of the best in the country. I used to kid her about her leather skirts. I don’t know if she still wears them.”

Perretta said he didn’t try to recruit McGraw. “She was before me — something was before me.”

As for attempting to add another big upset to the Wildcats’ collection built over the years, Perretta said, “Obviously, we’re going to try to slow the game down, keep it low scoring, it’s obvious we can’t play toe-to-toe with them. Offensively, they’re just too skilled.

“Just try to make it as ugly a game as possible, try to generate 3-point shots if we can, and we’re going to have to try to make them. If we don’t shoot the three well, we can get beat by 30,” he continued.

“The skill of their big kids is just amazing to me. To see it live, to watch it on tape, you don’t realize the skill of their bigger kids. They very seldom miss shots around the baskets,” he said in praising the addition of Jessica Shepard as a transfer from Nebraska. (Marina) Mabrey can shoot the ball from anywhere.

“Each and every one of them have skills and multiple skills. The higher level teams have eight or nine kids that have multiple skills.”

There’s also another standout all-American in Arike Ogunbowale.

However, it may be Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, but luck of the Irish has not been an appropriate phrase to label Notre Dame this season in which McGraw has had to use a seven-player rotation with the loss of four prominent stars to injuries, particularly Brianna Turner and point guard Lili Thompson, a transfer from Stanford.

And one more could be on the list with Kathryn Westbeld being a game-time decision after suffering an ankle injury in Friday’s 99-81 victory over No. 16 CSUN.

Many believe this has been McGraw’s best coaching job in her 31 seasons here.

Villanova has only won at Purcell twice, though once was a 48-45 victory in 2002 that snapped the Irish’s 51-home court victory streak.

The Wildcats began to work their way back to better times building a roster that began with current senior Alex Louin, the gaining Tucker and Hahn, and also the additions of Kelly Jekot, Mary Gedaka, and the sister combination of Bridget and Brianna Herlihy.

Defending Strategy Playing UConn: Speaking of Philly connections, Perretta took time to note the 140 points scored by the Geno Auriemma-coached UConn squad against St. Francis, Pa., Saturday.

“One time I was going to just put the ball down for 30 seconds and then pick it up again against them and put it down,” he quipped. “We’d get shut out but I wanted to see how low scoring we could defend them.”


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