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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Banghart Heading to Tobacco Road to Make UNC Smoking Again

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

After making Princeton the hottest Ivy women’s basketball team for the past decade, as well as one that at times became nationally regarded, Tigers coach Courtney Banghart, a former Dartmouth star, apparently is heading for Tobacco Road to attempt to get North Carolina’s Tar Heels smoking again.

UNC announced hire Tuesday morning following reports Monday night.

Banghart, who normally quickly returns texts and phone calls, did not do so after reports from Raleigh and elsewhere as well as the Associated Press, a sign that the deal will be done pending a trustees meeting Tuesday which obviously went well  at the Atlantic Coast Conference athletics powerhouse in all sports but whose women’s hoops program had gone into decline in recent seasons before showing a rebound this past one.

Were not the reports credible, Banghart would have quickly shot it down to media representatives with she has ongoing contacts, including yours truly.

The news of her move came on an offseason day rather active several weeks after Baylor held off defending Notre Dame to win its first title.

On Monday the Bears became the first women’s basketball champion, pro or collegiate, as well as any individual women’s sports contingent to receive and attend a visit to the White House since Donald J. Trump became president.

Also, the NCAA announced a five-year strategic plan for all three Divisions in the sport, the first ever for any of its competitive team championships.

 Thrown in the middle of all this was a $5 million donation announced in Des Moines, Iowa, at Drake for its women’s basketball team.

More about all that later in the day.

While a bit off the mark, the 40-year-old Banghart will realize two expectations that were made as Princeton set such milestones as the Ivy’s first nationally-ranked women’s basketball team, a season that lasted unbeaten until losing at Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and the first Ivy team to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney.

One expectation was that eventually she would land at a Power Five institution to see what she could do with a program free of the rules of recruiting and such that are a bit more restrictive in the Ivies and the other that she would likely next head to the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

But many believed that Duke would eventually come calling after Banghart rejected bids from other Power Five schools as the Tigers rose to prominence.

And at Rutgers just a half-hour away up the road in New Brunswick, there had been hopes in some quarters that Banghart would be available when the time came for longtime Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer to call it a career.

Another on the wish list for that eventual succession in Scarlet Knights country is Michigan’s Kim Barnes Arico, who previously coached at St. John’s.

As prominent programs became open at the end of this past season at such places as Penn State and Tennessee, few felt that Banghart would leave prior to the final year of her latest star, two-time Ivy player of the year Bella Alarie, who is one of the few Ivy players to be considered WNBA stock in history.

Former Princeton standout Blake Dietrick is currently a member of the Atlanta Dream while former Tigers member Leslie Robinson, a niece of former President Obama, on Monday was announced signed to a Chicago Sky training camp deal after being drafted a year ago but cut by the New York Liberty before last season got under way.

But North Carolina became open several weeks ago following the resignation of longtime Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell in the wake of an internal investigation of her practices that were protested by several players and was reported in the Washington Post.

This past season was one especially notable in Banghart’s 12-year career in enduring a seven-game losing streak early due to injuries to Alarie and several others before coming back to edge Penn for the top-seed in the Ivy tourney and then repeating its league tourney crown in a tightly-fought championship with the Quakers at Yale. 

The Tigers finished 22-10 following a narrow first-round loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tourney.

The two schools were co-champs and in all Banghart’s teams (254-103, 0.711) (137-31 Ivy, 0.816) have won seven titles in the past decade, while Penn has won the other three.

Prior to her arrival from where she had been an assistant at her alma mater, Princeton had never been to the NCAA tourney.

Asked what he saw in Banghart one time in the many chats your Guru had on press row with former Tigers athletics director Gary Walters, who hired her, he said, “I look for those with championship experience or other distinguishing features. 

“It’s amazing how many players develop and improve under her after their freshmen seasons but considering the number, it really isn’t.”

An active social media participant, Banghart should be popular in the ACC, considering her honed media skills, especially her wit. 

The league previously saw the return to coaching by Nell Fortner at Georgia Tech, replacing MaChelle Joseph.

Asked once after reading a remark she made upon playing her alma mater at Dartmouth, and asked about it in jest, she replied, “I paid to go to Dartmouth but Princeton is paying me to coach these guys.”

At a party at the NCAA tourney after enduring a rugged first year, upon leaving Banghart said to yours truly, who has Princeton in his local Division I fold, “You come see us more next year because we’re really going to be good.”

With the addition of then freshman Niveen Rasheed from Standford’s back yard, Banghart made good and blitzed the Ivies as Princeton continued to go unchallenged until Mike McLaughlin came to Penn shortly thereafter to build the Quakers fortunes and give the Tigers a fight and one of the more anticipated rivalries besides Harvard.

So, if Banghart is departing, who succeeds her with the Tigers?

There doesn’t seem to be an in-house candidate though former Princeton star Addie Micir from Bucks County who joined the staff last season after serving at Dartmouth has upside.

Credit the Guru’s colleague Kyle Franco from the Trentonian in shaking the cobwebs loose in mentioning former assistant Chessie Jackson, who has done fine at Division III College of New Jersey, though Banghart might tap her to join the Tar Heels.

Former Stanford star Milena Flores, who had been with Banghart the whole time prior to last season when she left the profession, might be coaxed back, but, again, perhaps if so it would be to head to Chapel Hill.

Division III USciences coach Jackie Hartzell was runnerup at La Salle last year and might be worth a look.

Depending on her interest in Princeton, Melanie Balcomb, a Trenton native who had success at Xavier and Vanderbilt, is looking to get back into coaching. She also served as a consultant on Dawn Staley’s 2017 championship at South Carolina.

However strike that one since several hours later Tuesday Balcomb was announced as senior associate coach at Purdue.

Depending on how the move is perceived because Princeton certainly has the dollars, Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri could be looking at a change of scenery after dominating the Metro Atlantic Conference.

However, on Tuesday Fabbri said she is happy with the Bobcats after reports recently surfaced having her under consideration at Penn State before the Lady Lions hired former Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger.

American’s Megan Gebbia, a former longtime Marist associate head coach, is another prospect.

Salaries might be comparable at Drexel to not be a lure for Denise Dillon and then there’s the Ivy way of life to consider in terms of recruiting.

Of course, once the job is officially open, the rumor mill might bring candidates of interest.

For the moment your  Guru will hold off on commentary on other news mentioned above until later in the day.

And that’s the report.   

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

WF4 - A Reflection: At Least We Know You’re Watching

Guru’s Note: Recent Saint Joseph’s WBB grad as well as 2018 USBWA Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award recipient Avery Marz was part of Team Guru for the recently completed Women’s Final Four won by Baylor over defending champion Notre Dame

 By Avery Marz
Special to Womhoops Guru

TAMPA — Taking time to reflect on the Women’s final four I struggled with what my major takeaway was from such an eventful weekend. 

This year was my second trip to the final four and it was up against high standards of last year’s trip in Columbus.

 To remind you, or for those who do not know, there were two buzzer beaters in that one. 

Yet, I write this piece because of how easily my expectations were not only met but elevated. 

The final four is the summation of a tournament that is unlike any other, even that of the men’s final four.

 Our final four is different.
With such a huge event, focus and attention are scarce commodities which are tempted to be swallowed up by press conferences, media engagements and interviews. 

Making the game so polarized and analyzed before the ball even tips is a result. 

With so much noise around our game at this final four, I want to highlight how powerful the women’s basketball community has become. 

More clearly, I’m here to argue that all this noise is a good thing, maybe even great. 

Because regardless of the noise, the games spoke for themselves, even if you tuned in to see something else.
It’s simple. The women’s game won’t be ignored. Our fans won’t allow it. 

Every Uber I took, and I took a lot this weekend due to my hotel being outside of the city, each driver knew about the tournament and was amazed with the traffic that came with it. 

They all raved about how many fans they’ve seen in town. That there was no comparison to any hockey game or event that had taken place prior. 

This was no surprise to me. 

We show up, because our game is worth it. 

And here goes my elevator pitch. 

You love drama? Watch our game. 

What’s a bigger plot twist then Arike Ogunbowale hitting a game winner one year and then missing a crucial foul shot the next year? 

You love dancing? Tune in to watch Muffet McGraw doing the jig after winning the semifinal game. 

You love fashion? Kim Mulkey came ready with vibrant game day suits. 

This is who we are as women.

 Being women is our greatest challenge and our greatest gift. We are emotional. We are fighters. We are talented. Point me to a Netflix show with these things. I’ll wait.
Women’s basketball is special because our storylines are much bigger than the game. 

Take a moment to reflect on Lauren Cox’s finale this season.

 How humbling and inspiring to see her make her way back on the bench from an apparently severe knee injury to support her team.

 To be rewarded with not only a Championship, that she helped bring to Baylor, but the embrace and love from her teammates.

 I point out love, because that’s what was shown when Kalani Brown hustled over to her teammate. And this goes for women’s basketball period.

Happily, we learned she won’t require surgery.
We have some amazing players’ playing the game we love. 

Mature young ladies that can not only hoop, but act as role models. 

Women’s basketball is truly passionate about the success of others. 

When you dream of covering women’s basketball, you live for a moment that I had this final four. 

A security guard watching the game, “These girls can really hoop.” 

Yes, they can. 

How many times do we need to say it? 

I guarantee those who stumble across our game won’t ever go back. 

So, forget the comments on Instagram like “get in the kitchen” and remember the women’s basketball community is stronger than any troll. 

We got each other’s back. 

We know what we have, and with a 11% rise in viewership I think other people are starting to see it too. 
There isn’t one thing I would take away from our game. 

We are women, this is true. Since when was this a bad thing? 

Despite outsiders wanting to comment on our looks or where we should be instead of on the court, I  enjoy watching the battles, the rivalries, the hairstyles, the lashes. 

Did you see the Baylor players had their earrings in before one single pic was taken, that’s talent! 

The whole atmosphere here in Tampa was thrilling. 

The National Anthem was astonishing, which was sung by a 10-year-old, Liamani Segura, a poised child destined for something great. 

A prime example of whom we as women can empower through our actions and friendship. 

The sea of the different color greens, and some UConn blue, still in attendance for the final because at the end of the day they just love the game. 

At the convention center, coaches like Nadine Domond making dribbling “fun” again, by highlighting its undeniable partnership with rhythm. 

You either have it or you don’t. 

In doing so, they share their own tapped knowledge solely because they want others to benefit off their prior successes. 

LaChina Robinson’s ESPNW live show and podcast with greats like Sue bird and Cheryl Miller. 

To the next generation in Asia Durr and Megan Gustafson. 

Speaking of what’s next, the draft. 

Let’s tune in, let’s tweet about it, let’s embrace the next generation who have made the final four so competitive. 

We can’t wait until the next final four in New Orleans to promote the growth of our game. 

If we invest in them now, their games will continue to shine a light on how great our sport is. 

They are deserving of a draft night like the men. Let’s make it happen.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

WF4: Notre Dame Denies UConn While Baylor Tops Oregon

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

TAMPA BAY, FLA. – Like old times Connecticut greats Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi were back in the house Friday night here at Amalie Arena but their return could not snap the Huskies out of their recent streak of NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinal misfortunes.

For one, the acclaimed duo now perform their trades in the pro world of the WNBA where Bird is a member of the reigning champion Seattle Storm while Taurasi has won past titles with the Phoenix Mercury.

For two, defending champion Notre Dame has Arike Ogunbowale and a solid core of Irish teammates, enough that the talent on UConn may also have luster but it is far less plentiful.

And so after the Huskies thrilled their fan portion of the near sellout crowd of 20,062 with a 64-55 nine-point lead Friday night within 7 minutes, 52 seconds of advancing to their 12th national title game where they’ve never lost, Ogunbowale lowered the boom again in yet another classic matchup of Philly-bred women’s basketball coaches in the top rivalry of the sport.

However, unlike last year when the Notre Dame senior zipped a long three-pointer in overtime as the regulation clock expired causing the Huskies to relive the exact same nightmare as they were dealt by Mississippi State 12 months previously, UConn seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson had some moments to contemplate the end of their outstanding collegiate careers on to first-round draft status Wednesday night as the Irish emerged with an 81-76 victory and a spot in Sunday night’s championship (ESPN-TV, 6 p.m.) against overall number one seeded Baylor, which advanced in the semifinals opener with a last minute 72-67 victory over Oregon.

Thus instead of Geno Auriemma’s bunch (35-3) having a chance Sunday night to erase their only other regular season setback, this one dealt at the hands of top-ranked Baylor, it will be Muffet McGraw’s defending champs and preseason favorites (35-3) facing the Bears (35-1), blemished by just a loss to Stanford since opening night last November.

The matchup involves two female coaches in the title round for the first time since 2012 when both met with Baylor winning 80-61 in Denver, Colo.

From the impending doom of ending their current one-year reign just short of having the chance to extend it, Ogumbowale led Notre Dame back with a 14-point fourth period to finish with 21 in the half and an overall game-high 23.

The Irish got it done with a 13-4 run for a 68-66 lead and shortly thereafter following Samuelson’s shot for the Huskies’ last advantage at 73-72, Jackie Shephard returned the lead for good at 74-73 in the last minute and Ogunbowale put the lock on the outcome with four foul shots and Brianna Turner, sidelined last season, got three more from the line in a 9-0 run before UConn frosh Christyn Williams scored a meaningless three-pointer as time expired.

 The victory avenged the Irish’s surprising 89-71 upset at the hands of the Huskies to fall from the unbeaten column on Dec. 2.

Auriemma explained it without the deep pain suffered in last year’s defeat brought when the then injured and short-roster Irish became the second  straight lightning strike to befall his heavily favored squad.

“Obviously, we’re incredibly disappointed we didn’t win the game,” he said afterwards.
“But we played a great team. They played really, really, well when they had to.

“They were better than us when the season started and h were better than us tonight. They had more good players play better and contribute more than we did. 

“That’s just the way the world is. They deserved to win, and we didn’t do quite enough to win. That’s it.”

If you want to find the beginning of the third straight failure to add to the record 11-championship collection, trace it to Duke transfer Azure Stevens catching Auriemma by surprise  last April with her decision to forego her final year of eligibility to join the WNBA.

Following Ogunbowale, Jessica Shephard helped the Irish cause with 20 points and 13 rebounds. A year ago she was the key to the Notre Dame season following her transfer from Nebraska and gaining immediate eligibility.

Turner had 15 points and 15 rebounds while Jackie Young scored 10. 

“That was an amazing second half,” McGraw said. “First half, I thought we really struggled to score. The second half we really caught fire. I think we played our normal game in the third quarter.

“I thought Brianna Turner was outstanding on defense. She now has the blocked shot record at Notre Dame, beating Ruth Riley. So proud of her. She really kept us in the game in the first half. She had so many blocked shots.”

Turner blocked five for the game.

There were 26 lead changes and six ties.  

The Irish outrebounded Connecticut 54-37, including 22-11 on the offensive glass to give them an overwhelming 22-9 on second chance points.

Samuelson scored 20 points, Williams had 19, Collier had 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Megan Walker scored 14 points for the Huskies.

   “Arike in the second half, did what Arike does,” McGraw said. “She had some huge screens, made some great plays, and then free throws down the stretch.”

Ogunbowale on the comeback said, “We were scoring but we weren’t giving stops. Once we started getting stops, started getting scores, that’s when we went on a run.”

On the difference from a year ago, McGraw noted, “Well, I think Brianna gives us just a different look. What she can do offensively, she can switch out and guard the point, she can certainly guard the post. She’s a shot blocking presence inside. I think it makes us a little more dominant inside, which we won’t be so dominant against Baylor because they’re equally talented in the post.”

In  the Baylor win in a game with 12 ties and 12 changes in the opener against Oregon (33-5), the Bears trailed by three at 64-61 with 6:12 left before Lauren Cox scored inside and then Kalani Brown gave Baylor the lead following Ruthie Hebard’s steal that came up empty when Sabrina Ionescu, who has yet to decide to go pro since she turns 22 this year, missed a three for the Ducks.

Satou Sabally tied it for Oregon at 67-67 with 1:40 left giving the look that the night could be equally competitive if not quite the same as last year when shots at the finish decided both the Notre Dame outcome and also the Mississippi State win over Louisville in Columbus, Ohio.

Chloe Jackson put the Bears ahead with 41 seconds left in regulation, then Sabally missed inside, denying a chance for another tie, Cox then nailed two from the line with 18 seconds left before Ionescu and Sabally missed three-pointers to get closer with seven seconds left.

Brown finished the scoring in the game with a shot from the line.

The two All-American post players for Baylor combined for 43 points with Brown scoring 22 and Cox getting 21 and 11 rebounds. Didi Richards added 15.

Ionescu, holding the triple double record in the NCAA, had 18 points for Oregon while Sabally scored 16 and Erin Boley scored 14.

Baylor outscored Oregon 48-20 in the paint.

“We tried our best,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “We worked hard. In the end, they made plays and we diudn’t.”

On the Notre Dame win, Auriemma said of dealing with Ogunbowale, “She’s an almost impossible matchup one-on-one, you know. We knew they were going to score X-number of points. We knew we had to make shots and we didn’t.

“I thought we did everything else right, but shots we’ve been making all year long, we didn’t make them. Like I said, that happens at the Final Four. 

“Everything changes, you know. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough. They had so many layups that we can’t get. 

“A bunch of layups we did get, we didn’t make. They’re able to get layups almost anytime they want. We just don’t have the ability to do that.”