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.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Guru Report: CAA Tourney Begins As Drexel and Delaware Earn Key Awards

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — After collecting their share of postseason honors from the Colonial Athletic Association Wednesday along with learning the identity of their first opponent, it’s time for the Drexel women to get back to work, but in the luxury of their own venue, when the quarterfinals of the annual conference tournament gets under way Thursday at noon with the top-seeded Dragons opening quarterfinals play with the first of four games against eighth-seeded UNCW.

The Seahawks advanced in Wednesday’s two-game first round by beating ninth-seeded Towson 58-47 in a matchup of first year coaches here at the Daslakakis Athletic Center.

Towson (9-21), which had its season ended, is headed by Diane Richardson, who had been on the staffs of West Virginia, George Washington, and Maryland.

“These kids have done so much, because we had a totally different game plan coming in (to start the season),” Richardson said. “Totally different style for them. They had a new coach, a new system, new defenses, new everything, and when we got there, we had a new plan after the scorers had left.

“And so when I said, We’re all going to score,’ they were surprised, like, ‘Coach they never let me score before.’ So they changed their mentality the entire season. We talked about playing team basketball and what I think my staff and I accomplished this year is giving them confidence.

“They’ll use that confidence on court and more important, they’ll use that confidence in life.”

For Drexel (24-6), there is some symbolism when taking the court Thursday  because in playing UNCW (12-18), the Dragons will face a team coached by Karen Barefoot, who previously coached Old Dominion, a program that dominated the CAA until Drexel ended the Lady Monarchs’ string of 17 conference crowns from their entry as a member until 2009 when the Dragons finished first in the regular season and captured the tournament.

Old Dominion has since moved on to C-USA.

Furthermore, Barefoot hired longtime Delaware coach Tina Martin, a good friend of Drexel’s Denise Dillon who had left the Blue Hens several weeks earlier.

The two area rivals in the CAA have played a slew of games going down to the wire, though Drexel won both games this season by double digits.

In the UNCW Wednesday win, Jenny DeGraaf scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Lacey Suggs scored 14 points for the Seahawks.

On Towson’s side, Danielle Durjan came off the bench to score 15 points, matching UNCW’s DeGraaf for game honors, and Mary Cuevas had a double double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“I’m really happy with the leadership, more important we got some key defensive rebounds down the stretch,” Barefoot said. “And that was big. It was a great win for us. It’s tournament time.

“We just tried to focus on the little things. It was a team effort because everybody had to step up. And I think the leadership got us through.”

As for playing Drexel, Barefoot said, “It’s a new season. We had a great game against Drexel at our place. You have to make shots. For us, we have to have the same identity. I really like how we’ve been playing basketball the last couple of weeks.

“I really like how we’ve been playing team ball, moving around, getting the best shot possible on offense. We’ve really improved the last couple of weeks. And we’re ready to go.”

In Thursday’s second game at 2:30 p.m., fifth-seeded Delaware ((18-11) will play fourth-seeded Northeastern (16-13), and the winner of that game plays the Drexel winner in Friday’s first semifinal at 3 p.m. Both teams were 11-7 in conference competition.

Meanwhile, in Wednesday’s other first round opener, 10th-seeded College of Charleston scored a season high in upsetting seventh-seeded Hofstra 88-72 to advance to Thursday’s third quarter-round contest at 5 p.m. against second-seeded James Madison (20-9), the preseason favorite of the CAA coaches.

The Dukes tied Drexel atop the standings with identical 16-2 CAA records but after a split against each other, dropped to the second seed because Drexel’s RPI ranking was higher.

In the College of Charleston game, Darien Huff had a career-high 22 points for the winning Cougars (7-23) and had a team record of four three-balls in conference tournament competition.

Huff was 8-for-9 with her lone missed shot coming in the fourth quarter and was a perfect 4-for-4 on shooting from beyond the arc.

Tanisha Brown had a double double for the Cougars with 19 points and a game-high 15 rebounds while Deja Ford had 17 points and 10 rebounds, her first double double, and she also dealt six assists.

Cailin Dorsey also scored in double figures with 12 points for Charleston. 

“I’m so proud of the team, we were aggressive defensively, we were aggressive offensively,” said Charleston coach Candice Jackson, who is now in her fourth season after coming from Duke, where she had been recruiting coordinator.

“It was just a performance you want to see in March. We couldn’t ask for a better game. We shot the ball very, very well. The girls executed the game plan very, very well.”

Hofstra (11-19) had five players score in double figures led by E’Lexus Davis, who had 16 points and six assists.

The Tide trailed by as many as 25 points in the first half before closing the gap in the third and fourth quarters. But after coming within 11 points late in the game, Charleston put a stop to any further advance.

“Unfortunately very disappointing as a program for us,” said longtime Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky. 

In Thursday’s last quarterfinal of the day, third-seeded Elon (22-7), the defending CAA tourney champion under former North Carolina star Charlotte Smith, will meet sixth-seeded William & Mary (16-13) at 7:30.

The winners of the James Madison and Elon games will meet in Friday’s second semifinal at 5:30 p.m. with the championship on Saturday at 1 p.m. leading to an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Later this week, the second annual Ivy tournament of four-teams each among the men and women will return to Penn’s Palestra a few blocks away to the south.

However, the women’s semifinals are at 6 involving top-seeded Princeton and fourth-seeded Yale and at 8:30 involving second-seeded Penn and third-seeded Harvard, so the games here and there are out of conflict on the women’s side.

The title game for the women is Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.

Penn’s public shoot-around Friday will be at 3, the same time Drexel plays here if the Dragons advance.

Postseason Awards

Meanwhile, both the CAA and Ivy announced their postseason awards on Wednesday.

Drexel gained several of the top individual honors with Denise Dillon, a former Villanova star, an unanimous pick from her colleagues for coach of the year after her Dragons, a preseason pick for fourth, gained the top seed and had their best-ever in-season win total at 24, while they are 13-0 at home.

Dillon, now in her 15th season, also won the honor in 2005 and 2009.

Hannah Nihill out of Cardinal O’Hara was named the rookie of the year, an honor that a Drexel player picked up twice previously.

Senior Kelsi Lidge became the sixth Dragon and fifth under Dillon, both CAA marks, to win the Dean Ehlers Leadership Award after raising nearly $4,000 in charitable causes.

Lidge is also the first Drexel player to make the all-defensive team while she and sophomore Bailey Greenberg were named to the all-CAA second five.

Delaware’s Nicole Enabosi was named the player of the year after the junior had 22 double doubles. The previous Blue Hens star to gain that honor was three-time winner Elena Delle Donne, now a star with the Washington Mystics in the WNBA.

Incidentally, on Wednesday it was announced that Washington will play a preseason game against the Indiana Fever on Saturday, May 12 at 7 p.m. at Delaware, where the Olympic gold medalists appeared as a pro several times when she played with the Washington Mystics.

Indiana features, among others, former Temple star Candice Dupree, who had her number retired with the Owls in late December. Dupree was a first-round draft pick when Chicago was an expansion team and she later played on a WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury.

Back in the CAA and Ivy awards, Elon captured the two other individual honors with Jada Graves named defensive player of the year and Ra’Shika White named sixth player of the year.

Delaware’s Enabosi was on the first five as was James Madison sophomore Kamiah Smalls, a former star with Neumann-Goretti High.

Lizzie O’Leary of Delaware and Drexel’s Nihill were part of the all-rookie team.

In the Ivy League, Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose squad won the regular season, was named coach of the year by her colleagues, her second honor in her 11 seasons, the first being the league’s inaugural ward in 2015.

Tigers sophomore Bella Alarie was named the player of the year while Penn’s Eleah Parker was an easy pick for rookie of the year, the fourth Quakers newcomer in the last nine years under Mike McLaughlin to win the award.

The other Quakers rookies who won the award were Alyssa Baron, Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi, who a year ago was the Ivy player and defensive player of the year.

This year’s defensive award went to Yale’s Tamara Simpson.

Nwokedi, Alarie, and Princeton’s Leslie Robinson, the niece of former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle O’Bama, made all-Ivy first team  along with Columbia scorer Camille Zimmerman, Harvard’s Katie Benzen, and Yale’s Jen Berkowitz.

Penn’s Parker and Anna Ross were named to the second team.

Postgame Scout On CAA Opener UNCW-Towson

Postgame Scout, who has been doing analysis all season at games as a companion report with the Guru, was at the CAA opener for the first game Wednesday but had to head home early due to diminishing weather conditions at the time.

Here is the write-up on the first game:

Towson started its game against UNCW with a disruptive, quick, trapping  half court zone defense.  Once out of the trap the Seahawks converted on their good looks at the basket.
The Tigers rushed, off balance shots would not fall and UNCW took an early lead, which it did not relinquish.
UNCW 2-3’s zone defense quickly shut down all avenues into the paint.  Towson kept the ball strong side and usually to the right as they tried to split the zone seams with the dribble.  
The Seahawks shut the lanes down.  As a result, the Tigers forced too many shots and never made the zone shift.
UNCW handled Towson’s screening with ease forcing the Tigers out of their rhythm.
Towson tried to penetrate the zone by passing into the post, but the Seahawks doubled and at times triple teamed the post.  

UNCW got their hands on lots of passes and made it very difficult for the Tigers inside players to even pivot.
Towson’ s ball pressure was disruptive to UNCW.  Ball movement and improved shot selection helped the Tigers to muster several rallies.
But shooting woes kept the Tigers from closing the gap. 

 Meanwhile, the Seahawks hit key shots or scored from the line to keep the game out of Towson’s reach.

And that’s the report. The Guru will be on the scene all day at the CAA tourney.




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