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, March 05, 2018

The Guru Report: Sunday Not Sunny For Most Guru Locals in Conference Tournaments

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Sunday was not as sunny as Saturday for the Guru’s local Division I mix of women’s teams as seasons came to an end and several others had their routes to NCAA automatic bids short circuited but are hopeful for either at-large bids to the Big Dance or at least to the Women’s NIT.

We start up here at the American Athletic Conference tournament, continuing to be held at the Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun, where the ongoing and annual coronation of the top ranked and unbeaten Connecticut Huskies is anticipated to occur Tuesday night.

The semifinals begin Monday at 4:30 p.m. with a state of Florida affair while the nightcap at 7 will be an all in the UConn family gathering with the first game aired on ESPNU and the second on ESPN2.

The day here began Sunday with Temple being eliminated by UCF 77-70 and with a 12-19 final record nowhere else to go.

But the Owls’ heads were high, though it became the final game for one of the all-time greats in Tanaya Atkinson, who had one last double double with 20 points and 17 rebounds, the rebounds an AAC tourney mark while also finishing with a record Temple in-season total of 654 points.

Overall, the native of New Haven, Conn., an hour south of here, leaves with 1,890 points and 1,053 rebounds, both second-best program records to all-timer Marilyn Stephens.

The game with the third-seeded Knights (21-9) here kind of went the way of the Owls’ season with some promise at the outset, though already with a major loss caused by Alliya Butt’s knee injury, and then a plunge the rest of the way.

Spurred by the timely three-point shooting from grad student Mykia Jones, who had 17 points off of  5-for-9 three-point marksmanship, Temple roared to a 15-point lead only to be overcome by a big 22-12 second quarter rally from the Floridians.

The Owls as an 11th seed had already gained some respect on Saturday in the first round upsetting sixth-seeded Wichita State.

Freshman Mia Davis was also in double figures for Temple in this one with 10 points.

Zakiya Saunders led four UCF players in double figures with 22 points.

The winners picked up 14 steals and 25 points off Temple turnovers to post a three-game sweep of the Owls on the season.

“I am really proud of the fight we had coming into the tournament,” said Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, a former longtime UConn assistant to Geno Auriemma, who picked up her 200th win in Saturday’s triumph. This is her 10th season.

“Only winning three games in the conference, but you would never be able to tell that by the way we played this weekend.”

Praising Atkinson, the Temple coach said, “From the day she stepped on our campus, our program got better. Our youth hurt us a little bit today because we allowed the pressure to get to us but our future is bright.”

Following Central Florida’s win another Sunshine State power made its usual advance as second-seeded USF made its five straight quarterfinal wins beating East Carolina 80-44.

The Bulls (25-6) got 23 points from Maria Jespersen, 21 from Kitija Laksas, and a double double of 10 points and 11 rebounds from Laura Ferreira.

Lashonda Monk was the only player to score in double figures, collecting 11 points for seventh seed East Carolina (16-15).

Next up were the Huskies, who stayed perfect and made it 99 straight wins in regular season and postseason play through the history of The American in beating ninth seed Tulane 82-56.

Now 30-0, UConn got 21 points from Katie Lou Samuelson, 19 from Napheesa Collier, 15 from reserve Azura Stevens, the transfer from Duke; 14 from Crystal Dangerfield and 11 from Kia Nurse.

Kolby Morgan had 21 points for Tulane (14-17), while Cayla Cruickshank scored 10.

UConn has won 30 straight conference tournament quarterfinals dating to 1989 including time in the old Big East.

There was some concern about Gabby Williams dealing with an injury.

Auriemma said she had a nagging hip problem for a long time and could have played, if the Huskies were going to be off for a week, but with the nature of how Sunday was going and with an eye to a quick turnaround there was no reason to aggravate the situation.

Then came the highlight game of the night, making four-seed Cincinnati’s 66-65 win over No. 12 Tulsa being the best coming last.

Bearcats coach Jamelle Elliott is a former UConn star who also served a long time with Temple’s Cardoza on Auriemma’s staff with this season being a breakthrough for Cincinnati (19-11), which won after a furious lead-changing finish as Ana Owens nailed the game-winning layup with five seconds left.

Tulane’s shot in the ensuing last seconds went off the rim.

Shanice Johnson had 17 points, Angel Rizor scored 15, Nikira Goings had 10 and so did IImar’I Thomas.

Shug Dickson had 17 points for Tulsa (10-21) and three other players scored in double figures.

Cincinnati hadn’t won a game in the conference tourney since 2015.

“We got the W. We found a way to win,” said Elliott. “Our mantra for a long time has been refuse to lose. We could have easily given up down seven inside five minutes to play.

“We made enough plays to win the game. Hopefully, this gives us an opportunity to make postseason but first things first. We need to get through the juggernaut of  women’s basketball tomorrow. If nothing else, this will help us be better for our next endeavor after this tournament,” Elliott continued.

“Going on to the semifinals and we are making history. I haven’t been to the semifinals as a head coach.”

Saint Joseph’s NCAA Dream Stopped by George Washington in A-10 Championship

The magical run that salvaged a season going nowhere until February came to an end in a quest for a trip to the Big Dance when George Washington, the fifth seed, beat sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s 65-49 to earn the Atlantic 10 championship and NCAA automatic bid.

But the Hawks’ late season charge has them hopeful for a call from the Women’s NIT, where they have made some extended runs in the past.

George Washington (19-13), coached by former UConn star Jen Rizzotti, made it a battle of Cinderella type teams this weekend at the Richmond Coliseum in this one in Virginia after upsetting top-seed Dayton on Saturday.

She is in her second season after previously coaching at Hartford.

An early 10-0 run spurred the Colonials to take command of a game they never relinquished.

Amanda Fioravanti had 12 points for Saint Joseph’s (18-14).

Brianna Cummings had 17 points for the Colonials and Kelsi Mahoney scored 12 and Neila Luma had 10.

Saint Joseph’s was hampered in the third period when sharp-shooting Sarah Veilleux had to leave with an injury. She lifted the Hawks to their first upset on Friday, beating Fordham with a three-pointer just before time expired.

“Not only does she make shots for us, but she spaces the floor for our bigs,” said Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin. “It was very crowded down there today, so they double teamed (Chelsea) Woods everytime she caught the ball.

“That impacted what we did defensively and when you’re not scoring on one end, your defense tends to suffer on the other.”

Villanova Upset By Georgetown in Big East Quarterfinals

For the second straight year, the Wildcats have lasted one round short of where they would like to have minimally reached in the Big East tournament.

After two narrow wins during the season over Georgetown by third-seeded Villanova, the sixth-seeded Hoyas rallied late to a 63-58 victory and advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since 1999.

Georgetown (15-14), though, will have to face second-seeded DePaul on the Blue Demons’ floor in their new Wintrust Arena in downtown Chicago, though most of their in-season games are played in their campus venue.

Creighton, the fourth seed, and Marquette, the defending champion and top seed, will meet in the other semifinal.

This is Georgetown coach James Howard’s first season in charge of the Hoyas after being on the previous staff. Ironicall, veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta, who is in his 40th season, got his 700th win against Georgetown.

The Hoyas got 24 points, 13 in the second half, from Cynthia Petke along with 11 rebounds, while Dionna White scored 20.

Alex Louin had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats (22-8), and Adrianna Hahn and Mary Gedaka each scored 12.

Despite the ouster, most people focused on the potential NCAA field still believe Villanova should get an at-large bid.

DePaul beat Seton Hall to advance while Marquette beat Butler, and Creighton beat St. John’s.

Rider Season Ends With Loss to Quinnipiac in MAAC Tourney

A 21-0 Run by top seeded Quinnipiac over the Broncs on the way to an 82-62 victory sent the defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champs back to the title game, where the Bobcats (26-5) topped Rider (14-17) last season at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., the site of one of this season’s NCAA Women’s Tournament Regional Rounds.

Quinnipiac at 2:30 p.m. will meet second-seed Marist (20-12), which turned aside third-seeded Siena 67-52 in the other semifinal.

Stella Johnson came up big again for Rider with 24 points and Lexi Posset scored 18 in what became the Broncs’ final game of the season. Kamila Hoskova in what became her final game in a Rider uniform scored 12.

Early in the semifinals, however, Rider seemed ready to create a shocker in opening up with a 9-0 run before Quinnipiac fought back with a 14-0 run to close out the first quarter.

The run was extended into the second quarter, reaching 21 before the Broncs could score.

Quinnipiac, which caught national attention last season reaching the Sweet 16, has won all 12 meetings with Rider since joining the conference after belonging to the Northeast Conference.

Across the two memberships Quinnipiac has been in five straight conference title games.

Aryn McClure had 24 points for the Bobcats while Jay Fen scored 17, and Paula Strautmane scored 12.

"I thought today was a solid effort by us,” said Rider coach Lynn Milligan, who had to manage what was essentially a rebuilding season following the historic performances of 12 months ago before graduation took its toll on the roster.

“ We fought for 40 minutes, we played hard and represented Rider and our uniform extremely well. Quinnipiac was better than us today we need to use that to process our season and look to the future."

Paying tribute to Hoskova, the Rider coach said of her departing senior, "Kamila came in four years ago and has just developed her game the way you're supposed to. She's done things on and off the court that you're supposed to. She worked hard every day for four years and she was the heart and soul of our team." 

And that’s the report. The Guru remains on the scene here through the title game then back to Philly for the CAA and Ivy tourneys.