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.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Villanova’s Overtime Thriller Leads to First NCAA WBB Triumph in 14 Seasons

Because the Guru as of 530 am hadn't seen the Inquirer version post yet and because there was a combination length/time consideration, the Guru presents it also here and enhances with extra quotes and details.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru — the Guru’s cut

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — On a campus known for athletic tradition, the ninth-seeded Villanova women’s basketball team woke up the echoes of its own past program greatest Friday night, beating eighth-seeded South Dakota State 81-74 in an overtime thriller for the Wildcats’ first NCAA tournament win in 14 seasons.

The first-round triumph in the Spokane Regional sets up a matchup Sunday (7 p.m.)  of Philadelphia-bred coaches with Villanova’s Harry Perretta going against Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw here in the Irish’s Purcell Pavilion.

In the opener, Notre Dame (30-3) as the top seed had an easy time dispatching 16th-seeded CSUN 99-81 to finish the Matadors’ season at 19-16.

Perretta’s favorite weapon — the three ball — carried the Wildcats (23-8) with an explosive start and a sizzling finish but it almost destroyed them when the Jackrabbits (26-7) hit a long one of their own as time expired to extend the game another five minutes.

“I just thought it was a great game,” Perretta said. “If you were watching, it was entertaining, both teams made tough shots, both teams made runs, it was a fun game to play in, and for an 8-9 seed, it was a perfect game.”

Perretta said in last year’s Women’s NIT, his team ran into a similar situation from James Madison, a game the Wildcats won on the road. He noted their success getting to the Final Four in that tournament carried over to their play this season that enabled them to get here with a third place finish in the Big East.

Villanova, in its first NCAA appearance in five seasons, put up 38 attempts from beyond the arc, connecting with 16, the bulk of them coming from Jannah Tucker and Adrianna Hahn with six each.

Hahn, out of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., had a team-high 24 points while Tucker, a transfer from Tennessee, scored 20 and Alex Louin had a double double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Macy Miller had a game-high 25 points for South Dakota State.

The Wildcats came out blazing from the opening tip with Hahn nailing three bombs as they built a 26-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Then it was a matter of holding off the opposition who spent the rest of the game shaving the advantage until Madison Guebert, who had 21 points, fired one from deep to leave the outcome in doubt for another five minutes.

But where that could be a crusher, Villanova was able to shake it off.

“I think we were very shocked at first,” Tucker said. “But then we said, it’s another five minutes, we have to buckle down, play another five, and give it our best shot.”

Hahn added, “When I saw that shot go in, my heart sunk and I just couldn’t believe we were going to continue playing the game but like ‘Tuck said, we just have to keep playing like we did in the beginning when we got a big run on them, that’s exactly what we have to do in the overtime.”

After both teams exchanged baskets in the overtime, Tucker with a pair of 3-pointers and Hahn with another sent the Wildcats on a 9-0 run to take control and clinch the win.

“Congratulations to Villanova, they played really well today,” said South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnson. “They really had bookends. They started out really well, they finished really well.

“They hit some big threes early in the game, and obviously the threes late in the game were difficult to overcome. They made a lot of shots.

“I thought we did a good job getting back into it. A double digit lead to Villanova is like a 30-point deficit to a lot of teams because they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t hurry up, they just take time, and we did a really good job to give ourselves a chance to go into overtime.”

Villanova never trailed but was tied three times after its big early lead.

While the contingent of followers here were delighted to see the women at the half doing their part for Villanova while the men had gotten off to a winning start as a No. 1 seed, Perretta did not feel comfortable with a 38-27 lead at the half.

“We can’t post, we don’t have post players, so we have to shoot perimeter shots,” Perretta said. “So if I’m going to shoot a 15-footer, I might as well shoot a three. That’s the way I look at it.

“If we can make like we did today — I felt we needed 12 or more to win. And we made 13 in regulation. We have to make 12 to win. We don’t have people who can take you off the dribble very well, Mary Gedaka today did not do a good job of mismatching their post players so we had to make threes to win the game,” he continued.

“That was the big talk at halftime. We had to continue to shoot the three and that was the talk before the game. We made 10 the first half and the thing I was never about was we had made 10 and we weren’t up a lot and the second thing is we only had 38 points.

“If you make 10 threes and only have 38 points that’s not real good. But if the game is under control and you can make some threes, it’s devastating to the other team.”

Recalling their days of the old Big East and the annual matchups between the Irish and Wildcats, McGraw has joked about rather playing UConn than Villanova because back then it was the one game all year that her players had to alter their style and push to avoid an upset.

But for day one there was nothing to make the home crowd of 4431 in Purcell Pavilion squirm during Notre Dame’s opener.

Arike Ogunbowale, an all-American candidate, had a game-high 30 points for the Irish.

Jessica Shepard, the high profile transfer from Nebraska, added 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while dealing seven assists and taking a pair of steals for the Irish. Marina Marbrey scored scored 23 and Jackie Young scored 10.

CSUN, coached by former UCLA men’s player Jason Flowers, got 25 points and 11 rebounds from Channon Fluker while Destiny Brooks scored 24 and Tessa Boagni had 23 points and 13 rebounds.

A key statistic is Notre Dame forced 16 turnovers while only committing eight, which resulted in a 23-12 advantage in transition.

But Villanova, which is up next, does not give up the ball easily, so the Wildcats on this St. Patty’s Day weekend at Notre Dame head into the next game trying to make the luck of the Irish not a positive.

That will be a tough chore considering McGraw already had her share of despair losing four players to injuries while still managing to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title, earn another No. 1 seed, and stay in the top five of the Associated Press women’s rankings most of the season.