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, December 21, 2014

Guru's College Report: Villanova Shocked By Sacred Heart While Drexel Beats Penn

By Mel Greenberg

VILLANOVA, Pa. –
Sacred Heart’s Hannah Kimmel found her own way to ensure an enjoyable family dinner over Christmas highlighting the Pioneers blazing their way out of a four-game losing streak to a first-ever win over Villanova, 72-49, at the Wildcats’ Pavilion Saturday night.

Kimmel, a redshirt junior who missed successive seasons with injuries and whose sister Lindsey graduated from Villanova and began her collegiate participation at Temple, set a career mark – this is her first season – with 33 points, including 6-for-8 from three-point range. She also grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I just didn’t want to her it over Christmas break from my sister how Villanova beat us and I’m glad we finally got a win and got back on track.”

Gabrielle Washington, who also was working back from injury, also produced a doiuble double performance with 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while connecting on 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.

A trey from Adaysha Williams brought the team total of treys to 13 on the night.

“I can never predict the kind of team that is going to show up, but I know the kind of team we can be,” said second-year coach Jessica Mannetti, a former Hofstra assistant after Sacred Heart (5-5) got back to .500.

“Today we had a funny moment on our bench where our point guard said in on our bench in a very direct way she was tried of losing and the whole team kind of rallied with her and we started off the game with this great momentum and this great cohesion and that’s the outcome.”

Using what is usually the Villanova weapon of choice in the 3-point shot, the Pioneers fired away to an 18-0 lead and never were threatened the rest of the way.

Like Villanova (3-7), which finally had everyone in uniform for the first time this season in what was the second straight of only two team home games to date – the first Pavilion appearance was a week ago Sunday in what became a 70-36 Big Five wipeout of La Salle – Sacred Heart is also finally healthy.

“What happened is we had Hannah at the beginning of the season and Gabby has been working her way back in and you have to find a chemistry where you have two very dynamic scorers on the floor and today was the day that happened.”

Villanova’s senior Emily Leer, who played her first game in the La Salle win after being out with back problems, had 12 points off the bench in 13 minutes while Caroline Coyer also scored in double figures with 10 points and Kendall Burton grabbed 10 rebounds.

Caroline’s twin sister Katherine played her first game in several weeks after being sidelined with a knee injury and had two points off her only shooting attempt in 12 minutes, and Samantha Wilkes, who returned for the first time earlier this month in the narrow low at Saint Joseph’s, had three points off a shot triplet connection.

Villanova shot 25.7 percent from the field in the first half during which the Pioneers drove to a 45-22 lead and shot 30.6 percent for the entire event.

“We should have stayed with eight instead of playing with 11,” veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta jested. “I told you before, playing with more players isn’t necessarily better. Now you have to play them all.”

Villanova had won all three previous games with Sacred Heart by close scores, including an overtime triumph in Fairfield, Conn., last season.

“That’s like last week when we played La Salle,” Perretta said of a similar lopsided score in which Villanova was on the high end of the outcome. “Did you think La Salle was that bad?

“It is what it is. How many times have shot over 32 percent in a basketball game this year – once (last week). So now we were back shooting 30 percent right back to normal and we get killed.

“But we would have lost if we shot 50 percent because the difference is when you shoot 30 percent you can’t beat anybody.”

After getting schooled ahead of Monday’s education day the Wildcats will return to the Pavilion for an 11:30 a.m. tip against Temple with both teams alive at 1-1 for at least a piece of the Big Five title courtesy of Saint Joseph’s recent rate loss to Penn, which is unbeaten in City Series play at 2-0 but not unbeaten in the city following Saturday afternoon’s loss up the street at Drexel.

The winner of Monday’s game can win the Big 5 outright at 3-1 – usually a 4-0 sweep is necessary – if both teams beat Penn and La Salle later on in the Atlantic 10 schedule beats Saint Joseph’s.

Drexel Rallies to Beat Penn

PHILADELPHIA – Earlier in the day the Guru was in West Philadelphia not far from Villanova for the neighbor hood battle between Drexel and Penn, who are only several blocks apart in terms of their campus activities.

Penn walked up 33rd street for their trip to the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center and in a season nationally in which many teams are doing things for the first time in years – good and bad per team – it looked like Penn might end a 39-year drought in Drexel’s building where they last won in 1977 and that game had to go into overtime.

The Quakers built s 36-26 lead with 17 minutes and 14 seconds left in the game and then went into a drought, being outscored on a 17-0 run until Kara Bonenberger’s layup finally got the Penn side of the scoreboard moving.

Penn got back within two points twice but Drexel pulled away for good after the second of the two narrow differentials and the Quakers next shot to win at the DAC won’t be until the 2016-17 season, though players individually have won games in pick-up action in the summer when the two teams get together on their own in Penn’s fabled Palestra and Drexel’s venue.

“The last 16 minutes were the difference,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said.

“When we don’t score, we show vulnerability on defense. When we score we are good on both ends, obviously. “We got up 10 and didn’t score for five or six minutes and got out of the flow. I give (Drexel) credit, they made some really good shots.

“We could never but together a stop with a shot and I thought they really outplayed us those 16 minutes.”

Jackie Schluth, whose collegiate career got off to a late start after missing successive seasons with ACL knee injuries, had 18 points for Drexel (5-4), who recently lost junior point guard Meghan Creighton to a season-ending knee injury.

Sarah Curran scored 16 points, while Carrie Alexander scored 15.

Kathleen Roche scored 17 points for Penn (4-4) and Bonenberger had 10 points but ultimately fouled out while Sydney Stipanovich was in foul trouble and limited to eight points as both had to contend with Drexel post player Jamila Thompson, who had seven points and seven rebounds.

Drexel reserve Kelsi Lidge had eight points.

The Dragons shot 59.1 percent in the second half and 52.3 percent for the game.

“Obviously they had to play more zone because they wanted to and because of fouls and thankfully we stayed composed and moved to the ball and found some open spots and knocked down some shots,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said.

Drexel was 20-for-26 from the line while Penn was 6-for-10.
“The difference with Jackie is it has to be a mentality playing aggressively. It’s not just going to happen. People aren’t going to disappear,” Dillon referred to defenders. “I got on her a little bit at halftime and she came out in the second half, wanted the basketball, didn’t think about it and shot it aggressively.

“the other thing is she’s a worker and she works in the weight room and with her conditionally level (being healthy again, also) she’s stronger and her legs are behind her to make those shots.

“One thing Carrie can do is she’s a scoring guard so she can create her own shot. So it’s just her understanding of when we need her to execute our offense and when we need her to create her own.”

After the holiday break, Drexel will be at Virginia playing Miami (Ohio) December 28 and the host Cavaliers the next day before beginning play in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Penn returns to two home games in the Palestra, playing UMBC December 29 at 7 p.m. and King’s College on New Year’s Eve in a 1 p.m. matinee game.

On Jan. 5 the Quakers will host Temple with a chance to clinch at least a tie for the Big 5, which would be an all-time City Series victory total in a Penn season. Then on Jan. 10 the defending Ivy champions will oven defense of their crown at dangerous Princeton, scene of last March’s dramatic upset by the Quakers to land their third-ever league title.

Princeton Wallops Portland State

The red-hot Tigers (12-0) may have lost some RPI value in beating Portland State 104-33 Friday night at home in Jadwin Gym to get coach Courtney Banghart her 150th victory but they stayed unbeaten, continuing the best start ever for the men or women of Princeton and second best overall among league members in either gender to the Penn men’s 28-0 mark.

It’s the first-ever 100-point plus performance in Princeton women’s history, topping the 99 points at Yale 2013 on the way to a fourth-straight Ivy crown.

The Portland State 1-9 record is the cause of Princeton going from 11th to 20th overnight in the NCAA daily RPI report.

“Far and away Princeton belongs in the Top 25,” Penn coach McLaughlin said Saturday before the Drexel game.

Annie Tarakchian had 16 points and 11 rebounds Friday night while Blake Dietrick, the reigning Ivy player of the week, and Amanda Berntsen each scored 14 points, and Michelle Miller scored 12.

On Sunday Princeton will make the short trip in central New Jersey to visit in-state rival Monmouth.

Two other of the Guru’s 10-team PhilahoopsW group of local schools also play Sunday with Saint Joseph’s visiting No. 21 Notre Dame – Hawks are the alma mater of Irish Women’s Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw.

Penn State will host USF of The American Conference.

Rutgers Tops Iona

The No. 17 Scarlet Knights (9-2) finished their non-conference portion of the schedule with a 66-58 win against the Gaels (4-6) across the Hudson River in New Rochelle, N.Y.

The two losses were at home in double overtime to then-No. 6 North Carolina in a thriller and to then-No. 11 Tennessee.

While Betnijah Laney spends a brief time on the sidelines with a sprained thumb, Syeesence Davis took advantage of being the replacement by scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dealing 9 assists in a near triple double performance.

Kahleah Copper had a team high 19 points while Tyler Scaife scored 11 all for Rutgers.

Iona’s Damika Martinez, the nation’s second leading scorer, had a game-high 22 points, most coming in the second half.

Rutgers is now off until making its Big Ten debut next Sunday at Indiana.

La Salle Snaps Skid

The Explorers earned a split in the GSU Holiday @ Hoops Classic in Atlanta Saturday to end a brief two-game losing streak by beating host Georgia State 76-68 Saturday evening.

The two-day event format involved predetermined games rather than the normal winners bracket advance structure and on Friday La Salle dropped a 74-63 result to Ohio U, which improved to 7-2.

In the opener freshman Amy Griffin scored a career-high 20 points and Khristin Lee from nearby Birmingham, Ala., had 11 points.

In Sunday’s game, La Salle (7-4) gained its win over Georgia State (5-4) by closing out with a 13-5 finish.

Michaya Owens had 20 points to earn all-tournament honors with Griffin.

Indigo Dickens had a career-high 12 points against the tournament hosts.

Next up for the Explorers is a visit from Fairfield to the Tom Gola Arena next Sunday.

Delaware Swept in Ohio

The Blue Hens fell to host Cincinnati 67-59 Saturday night in a first-ever meeting with the Bearcats (2-8) to extend Delaware’s losing streak to three games – a run that began at home Tuesday with Princeton and then continued on Friday in Cincinnati with a 63-58 setback to Northern Kentucky (7-5).

In the Cincinnati game Erika Brown and Hannah Jardine each scored 13 points and Courtni Green scored 11 points.

On Friday when a rally fell short, Jardine had a career-high 18 points while Green scored 12 points.

“You can make as many excuses as you want, but the bottom line is we lost a basketball game,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said after the setback to the Bearcats of The American Conference.

“ It’s tough because with a young team things can turn quickly,” she continued.

“We have to get to the point for this young group that it tastes really bad for them to lose. We want to win these games, but you have to hate losing. It’s frustrating. I feel this team is getting there, but we haven’t gotten over the hump yet.”

Delaware will finish its non-conference play at home on Dec. 29 against Rider of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Nationally Noted

No. 11 Tennessee beat No.7 Stanford in Knoxville, Saturday, making it two straight losses for the Cardinal in the Volunteer State this week following Chattanooga’s win over Stanford earlier this week.

Chattanooga has a prior win over Tennessee to add to it s win this week over Stanford giving UTC a chance to get ranked.

If that happens, coach Jim Foster will be the first team to have four different teams in the AP Poll joining Saint Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, and Ohio State.

And added to a setback to Texas, if Stanford falls out of the Top 10 then Connecticut will be the only one to be in the Top 10 every week this decade.

Duke had been with the other two until falling out last week.

Lehigh fell to Arizona State as the list of unbeaten teams starts to dwindle and could fall further today if Lehigh beats Northwestern in Las Vegas, though it will fall when No. 3 Texas meets No. 4 Texas A&M in College Station since the Aggies and Longhorns both have perfect records at the moment.

-- Mel



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Friday, December 19, 2014

Guru Special Report: The Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach Race Has Surprises

By Mel Greenberg

With the annual Maggie Dixon doubleheader in Madison Square Garden in New York City only weeks away, its time to look at another entity that bears the name of the late young Army coach who made news when in her first season she guided the Knights to their first Patriot League title and ensuing NCAA tournament appearance only to die suddenly several weeks later of an undetected heart ailment.

The Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) in her memory created an award every year to go to the top rookie coach in Division I as determined by a select panel.

Over the summer when jobs are changing and the Guru, among others, compile the list and also break out the hires who are first-time head coaches in Division I and thus become listees on those eligible for the award.

Going into this season, the count of candidates was 23, lower than recent years but the overall hires, including existing head coaches making the switch, were also much lower than the 73 or so individuals involved in switches two three seasons ago.

Technically, everyone is still alive since conference play will allow for those whose teams have losing records to make up for lost ground.

But for now here's a list of those who have compiled the best records through Wednesday games -- the Thursday updates weren't published yet when putting this post together -- with a few extras who might be .500 or better with the change of one or two wins.

Also listed is the Wednesday ranking from the Jeff Sagarin Ratings because the NCAA RPI, which now appears daily, doesn't show strength of schedule, while the RPIRatings.com goes public only once a week.

Besides, retired Princeton athletic director Gary Walters, a former chair of the NCAA men's basketball tournament committee, once told the Guru, the Sagarin system is a better predictor than the RPI.

Amazingly, in the slim group of frontrunners for the Maggie Dixon award, right now only three of their teams are withint the top 100.

OK, with that said, here's a look but remember we'll revisit this after the first go-round of the conference schedules that get played full-tilt beginning next month.

The list is going to go by won-loss records because it is not that large that you can't determine what it would look like if Sagarin would be the way to show the order.

1. Joey Wells, Indiana State, 8-1, 69. He was a promotion from the staff when the hiring took place for this Missouri Valley school.

2. Chris Boettcher, Southern Utah, 6-1, 208. A 2013 assistant at BYU, who was in Japan last season before taking the helm at the Big Sky institution.

3. Jimmie Dykes, Arkansas, 8-2, 40. Lot of controversy when hired st this Southeastern Conference school, his alma mater, with no prior coaching experience though he did broadcast the sport on ESPN. He did get the Razorbacks briefly ranked and is one of the few with a low or high Sagarin, depending how you list the number The SEC competition will determine whether he stays in the mix.

4. (tie). Lisa Fortier, Gonzaga, 6-4, 74. She was promoted when Kelly Graves left for the Oregon job from the one in which he claimed a slew of West Coast crowns.

4. (tie.) Kamie Etheridge, Northern Colorado, 6-4, 158 Former Texas All-American who was an assistant at Kansas State, whose former head coach is now Etheridge's assistant.

6. Jenerrie Harris, Mass.-Lowell, 5-4, 229. A former Navy assistant joins a school in the America East relatively new to Division I.

7. (tie) Tyler Summitt, Louisiana Tech, 4-4, 150. The son of legendary Tennessee coach emeritus Pat Summitt moves from an assistant at Marquette to his first head coaching job at the Conference-USA school that was a longtime rival of the Lady Vols.

7. (tie) Angel Elderkin, Appalachian State, 4-4, 234. Prim and trim from her last job as an assistant at LSU.

Honorable Mention

1. Carolyn McCombs, Stony Brook, 4-5, 212. Former Auburn assistant moves to the America East.

2. Ron Hughley, Houston, 3-5, 294. Former Florida State and Rutgers assistant moving to the American Athletic Conference.

3. Mauren Walseth, North Dakota State,, 4-6. Former Penn State assistant and star moving from her alma mater to the Summit Conference.

. 4. Kelly Cole, Northeastern, 2-4, 234. Former Harvard assistant moves to the Colonial Athletic Association.

Special Commendation

Daynia La-Force is not a rookie but moves from Northeastern in the CAA to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 and the Rams go to 7-3.

And that is the way it looks for now.

-- Mel


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Guru College Report: Temple Wins in a Landslide Over Howard in D.C.

By Mel Greenberg

As the annual slowdown due to finals in the classroom and the approaching Christmas break continues, only one of the Guru's PhilhoopsW Division I teams saw action Thursday and it was a good outing for Temple that could at least measure its performance against itself as opposed to host Howard, whom the Owls deciminated 78-48 in the nation's capital.

Just a week ago Temple was trying to get out from under the dusting handed by visiting Rutgers, the 17th-ranked team in the nation.

Despite the way it went down in McGonigle Hall, coach Tonya Cardoza thought things would begin to get better, hopefully in time for the arriving play in the American Athletic Conference.

For the moment, Cardoza is on track.

After Sunday's near upset of Florida State, still in McGonigle, Temple had four players score in double figures to improve to 4-7 and drop Howard to 1-10.

Tanaya Atkinson scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Taylor Robinson had 15 points, Erica Coville had 14 points, nine rebounds, and four steals, and Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 13 points.

Now comes a big opportunity on Monday morning when Temple travels across town to play Villanova at the Pavilion11:30 a.m. in a Big Five game that has renewed meaning.

Courtesy of Penn knocking down defending Big 5 champion Saint Joseph's last week at The Palestra, both the Owls (1-1) and Wildcats (1-1), who are healthy again, have a chance to win the Big Five even at 3-1 considering both must still play 2-0 Penn and if La Salle were to beat Saint Joseph's later on as part of the Atlantic 10 pairings between the two.

Otherwise, the team that is 3-1 would be tied for the crown with Saint Joseph's if the Hawks beat the Explorers, who are 0-3 to date in the City Series.

Of Couirse, Penn still has its own destiny to win outright at 4-0, or 3-1 with help or tie at 3-1, which in any event would be the first time the Quakers ever won at least three Big 5 games in the same season.

Meanwhile Drexel fell big at Quinnipiac in their first-ever meeting Wednesday in Connecticut, and the Guru will catch up in Saturday morning's blog advancing the annual neighborhood showdown aka known as the Battle of 33rd Street on Saturday when Penn goes up the street to play at Drexel.

Only one game on the schedule Friday night when Princeton attempts to improve to 12-0 when Portland State visits.

USP Bedevils Holy Family

In Division II Thursday night, the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia continued its hot hand as the Devils won their third straight in four days, knocking off frontrunning Holy Family 65-52 at home in Southwest Philadelphia in a Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference game at the Bobby Morgan Arena.

On a recent trip to Florida, USP upset nationally-ranked Tampa 66-65.

It's only the second time in the last 19 games that the Devils (5-4, 3-1 CACC) beat the Tigers (6-5, 4-1).

Brianne Traub had 21 points and 14 rebounds for USP, which meets Holy Family in the offseason in the Philadelphia/Suburban NCAA Women's Summer League since Division II and III schools are allowed to fied their rosters in tact, as opposed the limitations on Division I.

Reserve Sarah Abbonizio had a career high 16 points while Colleen Welsh had 11 points and Laura Trish scored 10.

Kasey Woetzel scored 11 points for Holy Family.

USP had a 44-33 rebounding advantage making it the first time the Devils ever topped the Tigers by double figures in rebounds.

That's it for the moment.

-- Mel




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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Guru's College Report: Princeton Needs More Eyes on the Tigers to Get Ranked

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEWARK, Del. –
Not even a minor ankle injury sidelining lower Bucks County’s Alex Wheatley for a short while until after the holidays can derail the Princeton express these days as the Tigers stayed perfect, now at 11-0, Tuesday night with an 87-59 non-conference victory over Delaware at the Bob Carpenter Center.

The host Blue Hens (4-4), who had a three-game win streak snapped, stayed competitive for a while until Princeton, which got here late due to traffic but finished early, began separation with a 45-33 halftime lead.

In the second half the only suspense was among some media types, including your Guru, impersonating the games UConn writers play, in this case waiting to see if Princeton would make it six straight games getting to a lead of 30 or more points.

It got to 29 late in the game but several chances to extend the streak didn’t succeed but nevertheless Princeton completed its day trip to return to central New Jersey and await a visit from Portland State at 5:30 p.m. Friday night in Jadwin Gym.

More and more it is beginning to look like unless Penn has something to say about it, the Tigers could eventually join the Courtney Banghart-coached edition of two seasons ago that became the first Ivy school to land in the Associated Press women’s poll, getting ranked in the final vote of the season.

Princeton is already receiving votes as was the case several times during the four-peat run to Ivy titles and creating curiosity as to how the Tigers have not managed to collect the miminum value of one vote so far in the coaches poll.

Perhaps it’s the Ivy mid-major image with some or Princeton’s schedule strength indicator not up to anyone’s liking, though compared to some of the national powers’ slates, it’s right there.

There was a time when the phrase “Eye Test” was common in terms of the NCAA tournament committee making judgements beyond the numbers of RPI and such on paper.

Well, Delaware coach Tina Martin is not any voting committee, but when it comes to the Eye Test, what she saw preparing to face Tuesday’s opponent and then dealing with them up close and personal was enough to impress the veteran who had her own prized talent not too long ago in Elena Delle Donne.

“They’re definitely a team that should be getting votes in the polls,” Martin said. “They play like juniors and seniors. They share the ball very well. They do a great job with ball screens and reading.

“They’re smacking people. They took it to us tonight on our home floor. And there are a lot of things we can get better at.”

With Princeton dominating Ivy player of the week awards this season, Annie Tarakchian became the frontrunner this week with 22 points, one short of her career-high, and 16 in the first half.

Michelle Miller scored 16, including naIling 4-of-6 three-pointers, while Blake Dietrick, the reigning Ivy player of the week, scored 12, and Vanessa Smith scored 10.

Delaware’s Courtni Green had 18 points, while Joy Caracciolo scored 14, and Hannah Jardine scored 12.

“We’re a young team and we’re having trouble communicating,” Martin said.

As much as Princeton’s four-peat Ivy run, broken up by Penn last season, was stamped by the presence of Niveen Rasheed, more and more these Tigers may achieve greatness with their variety.

“Two years ago, we had trouble scoring. Last year it was our defense. But nothing deters this group,” Banghart said.

Princeton shot 50 percent for the game.

“I love this environment,” Banghart of Delaware’s digs. “It’s always a hard place to win. It’s always loud. We’ve always had battles with them, even before Delle Donne. It’s always a good win on the road to win at Delaware.”

As the streak has the potential to keep going, perhaps eventually the eyes will have it to give Princeton its due.

Banghart, however, has bigger fish to fry, looking ultimately at getting to the postseason and getting that first NCAA win.

“Everyone is talking about 11-0. We just want to get better.”

Eye Test II: The Return of GW

WASHINGTON --
Speaking of eye tests, Memphis coach Melissa McFerrrin, returning to the city she once coached American and the WNBA Washington Mystics, was impressed by George Washington, which handled her Tigers 63-44 here Monday night in a non-conference game at the Colonials’ Smith Center.

“That is going to be a very good basketball team,” she said of the past Atlantic 10 power that has gotten back on track under former Notre Dame assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis in the three years he has returned to the nation’s capital.

Jonquel Jones had 15 points and 14 rebounds for GW (8-2) while Hannah Schaible scored 12 points.

Ariel Hearn was the lone Tiger in double figures with 19 points. Memphis (4-4) will host Temple in an American Conference schedule opener on December 28 that will air on ESPNU-TV.

“We’re still finishing exams but I thought defensively there were a couple of things that stood out to me,” Tsipis said. “We kept people off the free throw line with a season low (4-for-5). We also kept them from getting easy baskets.

“It’s a great example of when your offensive isn’t full tilt and executing as I know we’re capable of, that we could really put a great effort, 1 through 15 on the defensive side and limit a very talented Memphis team that was playing great basketball coming into the game.”

Looking Ahead

Drexel will be trying to get back on the winning side ahead of Saturday’s neighborhood visit from Penn when the Dragons visit Quinnipiac Wednesday night for a first-ever mseeting with the Bobcats.

The Dragons revealed bad news on Tuesday with the announcement that Meghan Creighton suffered a knee injury and will be sidelined indefinitely but definitely not on the short term.

Temple travels to the nation’s capital on Thursday for a 5 p.m. non-conference meeting with Howard.

Delaware will try to recover from the Princeton loss on Friday when the Blue Hens spend a weekend in Cincinnati meeting Northern Kentucky and then play the host Bearcats the next night.

The visit initially involved a tournament format until one team pulled out and left Delaware just playing two games straight up.

La Salle meets Ohio U. Friday in Atlanta and then plays host Georgia State on Saturday.

Rutgers visits nearby Iona on Saturday in terms of teams in the Guru’s PhilahoopsW group while Villanova will host Sacred Heart.

On Sunday, Penn State hosts USF, picked second behind UConn in The American, Princeton visits nearby Monmouth, and Saint Joseph’s will be at No. 5 Notre Dame.

Ranking the Guru’s PhilahoopsW Group

1. Rutgers – Two losses to teams of prominence in UNC and Tenneessee mar the season to date.
2. Princeton – Perfection says it all for now.
3. Penn – Right now the most upside among the rest of the group.
4. La Salle – Basically, the 6-3 record gives the Explorers a slight now to land here.
5. Drexel – By default but imperiled from gaining traction.
6. Delaware – Being at .500 worth something for now.
7. Saint Joseph’s – Should be higher but have already been victimized by two teams above.
8. Temple – Need to get better real fast.
9. Villanova – Could soon start shooting up this list now that health has gotten better on the roster.
10. Penn State – The slew of losses to mid-majors and lack of quality wins sink the Lady Lions for now.

AP Poll Trivia

Since it took an extra day to update the Associated Press women’s poll database due to travel, here’s what we got out of a list that was stagnant due to games limited by finals:

The conference breakdown remained the same led by six from the Southeastern Conference, five each from the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten, four from the Big 12, three from the Pac-12, and one each from the Big East and American.

North Carolina became the ninth team with 400 appearances in the 39-year history of the poll. Maryland snapped a tie with Penn State and is seventh with 407 all-time appearances.

Sylvia Hatchell, coach of UNC, moved into a tie with Chattanooga’s Jim Foster in seventh all-time with 370 appearances, while they are tied for fifth on the active list.

And that is the outlook for now. The Guru may make an appearance 50-50 at Wagner for the Yale game Wednesday night.

Either way, look for more by the next sunrise barring breaking news to cause any posting sooner.

-- Mel







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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Perfection Comes in Bunches

By Mike Siroky

Success is not new to the Southeastern Conference of women's basketball, of course. But yet another underlying mark this season is they have three of the four only undefeated teams in the country with at least 10 wins and are the only conference with four teams in the Top 11.

A fourth, top-ranked South Carolina is right behind at 9-0 and Ivy League power Princeton is at 10-0 going into Tuesday night's game at Delaware.

•Texas A&M is No. 4 in the nation and undefeated.

And coach Gary Blair is not satisfied with that.

"We might be the most overrated No. 4 team in the nation," Blair said. "But we're going to go back to work, and we will get it right."

In the latest road win, Courtney Williams scored 21.

"She's carried us. She's due to have an off night," Blair said. "She's not due to have an off night defensively at the same time, which she had."

Jordan Jones scored 16 and the Aggies won a rivalry game at Southern Methodist University.

Jones hit her first three 3s and scored A&M's first 10 points. "We just did what they wanted us to do, which was force the outside shot," said Jones, who is from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto. "Once we started penetrating, then we were more efficient in scoring."

Blair's concern: They shot 38.5 percent from the field and were outrebounded 49-42 . They blew a 15-point led down to six with 80 seconds left.

Courtney Walker scored 17 of her 19 points in the first half and A&M rolled Houston, 94-55.

Jada Terry added 11 for A&M. The Aggies led by at least 30 points over most of the second half. Blair said, despite Walker's strong first half, she needed to clean up her game after committing four turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Walker didn't commit a turnover in the second half.

"We talk about being a complete player, and she played better in the second half, even though she only scored one basket," Blair said.

The taller Aggies dominated the Cougars 54-12 in points in the paint, and capitalized on 15 Houston turnovers by holding a 29-11 advantage in points off turnovers.

"The one thing we can't simulate is their pressure in practice," the Houston coach said.

•No. 15 Georgia is 10-0 but they did not have a game this week.

So them Dawgs had a "Tuesday Ticket Deal of the Week" - a discount offered every Tuesday for tickets to an upcoming home event.

So, fans had a chance to buy a ticket for a buck for the Dec. 20 home game
vs. Furman.

In the holiday sprit, Georgia took a turn as an assembly line for the eighth annual "Holiday Bike Build."

The Lady Bulldog team has raised funds to purchase and assemble bikes, which are then given to deserving children. All told, the team has provided nearly 450 bicycles over the past eight years.

"I remember when we started with 20 bikes in the old weight room in 2007," Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach Andy Landers said. "The whole idea was developed by that team. We had a long break while we were in Athens before the holidays. They wanted to do something for local children. So many people remember getting a bike for Christmas.

"I remember getting a bike for Christmas. I wore that thing out. I'm pleased that we'll be able to make this holiday a little more special and more memorable for children who deserve that."

In 2008, Academy Sports + Outdoor joined the program and donates bicycles and helmets to match the number purchased by the team. The staff at Academy also was on hand to assist with the bike assembly as does the Fastbreak Club, the Lady Bulldogs' official booster organization.

"Academy has been a great partner with us," Landers said. "They double our efforts and results."

"Some of our players have gotten pretty good at bike assembly," Landers said.

"I think that's an important ingredient to this program. Actually putting the bike together provides a different level of ownership in the effort. We've got some players who didn't know a wrench from a screwdriver as a freshmen who can now put together a bike with only a couple of quick references to the instructions."

This year, bikes were to be distributed through schools in Athens/Clarke County, the Boys & Girls Club of Athens, Jackson County Family Connections and the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.

•No. 21 Mississippi State welcomed Louisiana Tech to SEC play.

Not only did the Techsters once dominate the women's game in the transition years from the AIAW to the NCAA, but they pounded the best of the league — Tennessee and Auburn as national powers then — regularly.

In the workload of women's basketball, they would have been a welcome addition to the league if such ala carte ordering was possible for one sport.

Now, if they are to resurge, it will be under the director of Tyler Summitt, yes that summit, the son of Lady Vol legend Pat Head Summitt.

It is his first coaching assignment. He is assisted by Micki DeMoss, one of the original Florida coaches, a former coach at Kentucky, an on-and-off assistant to Pat Head Summitt for many seasons as well as an assistant at Auburn.

So, for Mississippi State, this was a nice rally win, 81-77, as they hit 9-0.

State made four consecutive defensive stops when it needed it the most Thursday night.

Victoria Vivians continued her stellar pre-conference play with 20 points.

“Louisiana Tech took the fight to us and played awfully well,” coach Vic Schaefer said. “We couldn’t press them. It was a frustrating night for the most part for the Bulldogs. Ketara (Chapel) makes a big shot there at the end. We didn’t shoot it well. We didn’t play well.”

The 'Dogs struggled, hitting 25.7 percent from the field in the opening half and trailing by seven at the break., They were still down by six with 7:10 left.
Then they rallied to tie it. A Kendra Grant free throw broke a 77-all tie with 65 seconds left.

Dominique Dillingham had the play of the night on the defensive end, a steal with 20 seconds left and the shot clock winding down. Ketara Chapel hit a basket off her steal. The Bulldogs have now scored 80 or more points eight times this season.

The 33 free throws were three of the school record. The 46 attempts finished one short of the program best, back in 1992.

“Going to the free throw line 46 times is a plus,” Schaefer said. “Our goal is to make more free throws (33) than the other team takes (23) and we did that again tonight. Twenty offensive rebounds is a plus. We lead the Southeastern Conference in offensive rebounds so we had another good night there.”

The 'Dogs also earned a 46-42 rebounding advantage.

Chinwe Okorie posted her first double-double for MSU with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Chapel had 13 points, while William added 10 points.

State blasted longtime rival Southern Mississippi to close their playing week.

•No. 8 Kentucky won two at home, for 49 straight regular-season non-conference wins at Memorial Coliseum. The nine straight at home is a Top 10 program mark.

Azia Bishop scored a season-high 15 (10 in the first half) and had 12 rebounds in Kentucky's 71-55 victory over Belmont, their sixth straight win.

Janee Thompson and Linnae Harper each added 12 points, and Alexis Jennings had 10.

Coach Matt Mitchell started with who was missing. "We were missing Bria Goss today. We are not quite sure – we don’t know if it is a sprained thumb or a ligament problem. It happened this morning in our game day practice, so a ball hit her and hyperextension," he said.

"I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was very painful for her today. She tried to give it a go and we were just concerned about her health so decided to sit her the rest of the game. You can see she is a big part of what we do defensively.

Late Monday it was announced that Goss would be sidelined for six weeks but Mitchell was feeling fortunate that she wouldn't be lost for the rest of the season.

“I thought Belmont was really tough today. Their guards were able to keep their dribbles alive and they were very aggressive and really did a great job. I thought they had a great game plan and competed extremely hard and they certainly earned our respect today."

The Kats started their week with a 78-62 win over visiting Middle Tennessee State, . Kentucky is 66-0 under Mitchell when leading by at least 11 points at halftime.

Senior Jennifer O’Neill scored 22, 18 after intermission. Sophomore Makayla Epps came off the bench for 12 points on a 6-of-6 shooting night and started the second half. She has hit double figures in seven straight games, nine of 10 overall. Freshman Alexis Jennings had her best scoring night with 11.

Mitchell said: “We practiced really hard this week. We’re still a work in progress and we need to get better. There are some areas that we need to sharpen up, but what I was happy about was we started with some energy.

“I thought we were competitive tonight. I thought we competed. We should try to deflect the ball and just not let them get into a rhythm defensively. If we could have taken a little better care of the basketball I thought we could have held them to fewer than 62.

"I thought our defense was active tonight, and that is something that is going to be key. We’re working on the press, and the press helped us tonight to cause some disruption. We were really able to deny their point guard so that was good. Hopefully you will see us evolve into a full-court defensive team.”

The next assignment is Sunday at Duke.

• No.1 South Carolina topped 100 for the first time this season, in fact topped it big enough to be the most Gamecock points since 2006, beating traditional rival Savannah State, 111-49.

They were 1-of-8 from 3s, but the inside game negated any worries.

Coach Dawn said the 70 points in the paint meant to her message of pounding it inside was heard.

"If we can take it to somebody and get the win without relying on the 3, that's impressive," Staley said. "But when it is time to knock those shots down, I have confidence in our team to do so."

Freshman A'ja Wilson scored 23 and senior Elem Ibiam 21. The Gamecocks had 56 rebounds to 21 for Savannah State.

Sophomore center Alaina Coates added 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, while junior Tina Roy's 10 assists were a career high and the most by a player since Staley arrived in 2008.

It was SC's only game of the week. "Practice was just kind of a study break for everybody," Ibiam said.

•No. 11 Tennessee won a traditional rivalry game against Rutgers, 55-45, but only one Hall-of-Fame coach is present these days. C. Vivian Stringer for Rutgers.

Still, the Lady Vols won on the road in a meaningful game since the previous two competitive away games ended as losses.

These UT seniors now have 90 career wins which puts 100 within their range. That seemed unusual only few seasons ago.

A 10-0 run late in the second half led to this one landing in the victory column on a day Tennessee had trouble making shots.

Three Lady Vols finished in double figures as UT claimed its 10th consecutive victory over the Scarlet Knights.

Ariel Massengale scored 13 to lead UT (7-2), eight of which came in the second half, while Jasmine Jones finished with 12. Izzy Harrison notched her second double-double of the season behind 11 points — all in the second half — and a game-high 13 boards. Behind Massengale's team-high 13, the Tennessee bench outscored the Rutgers subs, 21-3.

With the win, UT has its first road victory over a program ranked inside the Associated Press Top 25 in a little over a year.

A defensive battle throughout, Tennessee finished the game at 27.5 percent shooting while Rutgers mustered only a 31.1 percent clip. In allowing only 45 points on the day, UT handed Rutgers its lowest-scoring performance of the season.

"You're going to have some nights, you won't shoot the ball very well," UT coach Holly Warlick said. "If you're solid on the defensive end and a great rebounding team you got a chance to win the game. That's what happened for us."

The Lady Vols shot 28 percent from the field, but outrebounded Rutgers 54-42 and held the 17th-ranked team to just one field goal over the game's final 7:14.

"The main thing we wanted to focus on was the defensive end, we knew our shots weren't falling," said Harrison. "We got to get a stop, play defense, that's what carried us through the game."

Mike Siroky has been covering women's college basketball since an undergraduate at Indiana in 1975. He was covering the SEC when the NCAA took over the women's game from the AIAW. He and Mel Greenberg have been friends since Mel started the Associated Press poll and there were few writers interested enough in the women's game to help. Yes, they are old.




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Monday, December 15, 2014

Guru's College Roundup: Home and Healthy Motivates Villanova to Big 5 Rout of La Salle

(Guru’s note: There is a companion musing under this post calling Tennessee escape a missed opportunity for Rutgers.)

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

VILLANOVA --
Home, health and Taylor Holeman combined to be key elements in Villanova’s 70-36 win over La Salle that kept the Wildcats in contention for either an outright or piece of the Big Five title Sunday and also offer hope that coach Harry Perretta’s bunch will still be major factors in the Big East wars that will soon get under way.

Home was a place where Villanova (3-6, 1-1 Big 5) played for the first time in the Wildcats’ Pavilion for the first time in a season that began one month old for the nation also on Sunday.

Prior to seeing their arena for the first time for something other than practice, the Wildcats played eight games in that span on the road, though game number eight a week ago was played a few miles down the road in a narrow 58-54 loss at Saint Joseph’s to add to five previous setbacks that all were determined by outcomes less than 10 points.

One of those just before the game with the Hawks was a 51-49 loss at Providence at the buzzer in the Big East opener after Villanova had held a 17-point lead earlier in that game.

Health had been the major contributor to Villanova’s struggles with two key players – Emily Leer and Samantha Wilkes -- missing the first seven games and Katherine Coyer, the twin sister of Caroline, joining them on the disabled list after hurting her knee in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Fla., on Thanksgiving weekend.

Wilkes returned briefly but hurt her shoulder in the Saint Joseph’s game but she came back to play 13 minutes and score two points against La Salle (6-3, 0-3), who had a six-game win streak shattered and became the only Big 5 team that cannot claim anything in the local City Series round-robin.

Leer, a mainstay, had been out with back problems but played 12 minutes off the bench and scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and nailed a 3-pointer in the first half when the home team was putting the Explorers in their rear view mirror.

“It felt good. It felt normal. I was happy to be out there,” Leer beamed afterwards. “I think the biggest factor was we were itching for a win. We knew we needed one to swing the momentum a little bit and get it started at home.

“We definitely stressed the focus on conference this whole season,” Leer said about what was salvageable in a league in which the Wildcats were picked third by the Big East coaches in the preseason poll behind DePaul and Saint John’s.. “We had a bunch of injuries so the goal was to get everybody healthy for conference play. And the Big 5 is always a goal. You know that.”

Holeman was the statistical star for the winners with 16 points, nine rebounds, and an assist and shot 7-for-12 from the field.

“It’s really good to have Emily back,” Holeman said of her teammate. “She just brings a great presence out there on the court. We missed her, to be honest. So it’s great to see her out there and contribute in any way possible.

“We were making a few too many mistakes in those (previous) games and it was heartbreaking, losing by four, one and two and four. So to get this win is a great feeling. We’re just going to keep playing and hopefully still have a chance to win the Big 5.

Two other Villanova players also scored in double figures with Lauren Burford and Caroline Coyer each scoring 11 points and Coyer also grabbed seven rebounds.

Villanova also out-rebounded La Salle 47-32.

Micahya Owens was the only Explorers player in double figures with 14 points.

“We just couldn’t handle the little bit of success we were having,” La Salle coach Jeff Williams said. “We have a lot of things that need fixing.”

La Salle lost at Temple 75-72 a month ago in the overall season opener for both teams and then got routed at Penn 57-29 five days later. Until near the end of the game the Explorers seemed on the way to score less points against the Wildcats than they had against the Quakers.

The only statistic to make Perretta wince was the 15-for-25 production at the foul line, though the misfires were not costly.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit but you play at home and you have your whole team back,” Perretta said. “It makes a big difference. You can substitute more, you can pressure a little more, you can do different things.

“Plus with Leer back, it’s another experienced player in the lineup, we run our offense better. We get better shots. Today Lauren Burford gets 11 points because the kids in the offense are more experienced, they get her the ball.

“We also get to the foul line more, but we didn’t shoot well, it was a disgrace. But things were better in general.”

It is possible based on City Series games left for everyone that Villanova could win the local crown outright at 3-1, a rarity in that most times it takes a 4-0 sweep, which Penn can still achieve after beating La Salle and for the second time ever, Saint Joseph’s last week.

But if Villanova beats Temple next Monday morning here at 11:30 a.m. and then beats Penn, and then Temple beats Penn on January 5 and La Salle beats Saint Joseph’s in the one of their two Atlantic 10 games that also counts in the Big Five, the Wildcats would finish on top.

Of course if Temple beats Villanova and Penn, and Villanova beats Penn, and La Salle gets the win over Saint Joseph’s, the Owls would finish on top outright at 3-1.

Saint Joseph’s, which swept to the Big 5 title last season, can only tie at 3-1 by beating La Salle after narrow wins over Temple in overtime and Villanova and a loss to Penn.


The Wildcats are now off until next Saturday night at home against Sacred Heart while La Salle in the Holiday & Hoops Classic in Atlanta plays Ohio U. on Friday and then host Georgia State on Saturday.

Rutgers Fades at Finish to Tennessee

PISCATAWAY, N.J. –
In a matchup of nationally-ranked teams and revival of a long-running series between the two schools, in a non-conference game in which neither team shot well most of the afternoon, No. 11 Tennessee finished with a 16-2 run in a little over the final seven minutes to rally from a four-point deficit and beat the No.17 Scarlet Knights 55-45 here at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

The Guru has a companion Musings column posted on this site as a companion to the overall report.

Isabelle Harrison, playing her first game since injuring her knee in the season-opening win at home a month ago over Penn in Knoxville, got 10 of her 13 rebounds and all 11 points in the second half for Tennessee (7-2) while Ariel Massengale had a team-high 13 points and Jasmine Jones scored 12.

Tennessee shot 17.9 percent from the field in the first half on 7-for-39 but Rutgers (8-2) could only build a small lead of 23-20 at the break after shooting 9-for-30 in the first half.

Furthermore, Rutgers, whose only other loss here was a thrilling doiuble overtime encounter to then-No. 6 North Carolina, missed a bunch of layups and open shots in addition to going 6-for-11 from the line and was out-rebounded 54-42, including 20-10 on the offensive glass that resulted in a 11-3 advantage for Tennessee in second chance points.

Sophomore sensation Tyler Scaife scored 22 points, while Rachel Holivay was lauded by Stringer for doing her job on the boards with 10 rebounds.

Senior star Betnijah Laney was stymied, in part by Tennessee’s defense and in part because of a left-thumb injury at the very outset when she was kicked on a play.

Laney noted this loss festered more than the North Carolina loss in which “we executed but we just didn’t win while in this one we did not execute.

Stringer agreed when asked about the two losses, saying, “This one is not sitting well with me because of what we didn’t do. There have been factors in other losses (to Tennessee) but not in this one.”

In the last decade, Rutgers had winter weather problems in getting to Knoxville for one game while another notable loss to the Lady Vols occurred in Knoxville when the game clock froze near the end of regulation and a foul was called which should have been after time expired.

But the officials did not look for that, though video was available in the nationally-televised game, and Tennessee scored the decisive free throws. A Rutgers win on the heels of having beaten Connecticut at home the previous week in the previous game would have made it the first time anyone had beaten two No. 1 teams back-to-back (Tennessee replaced Connecticut following the Huskies’ loss) and the Scarlet Knights most likely would have propelled to the top for the first time ever.

In another game in which Rutgers did not shoot well in this series came in a loss to Tennessee in the 2007 NCAA title game in Cleveland.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick credited the win to her philosophy of defense and rebounding gleaned from her mentor and former boss Tennessee emeritus coach Pat Summitt, the Hall of Famer and coaching legend who stepped down after the 2012 season because of her battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

Rutgers traveled to Tennessee in Warlick’s first season but this was Warlick’s first trip to New Jersey since moving up from associate head coach and it was also the first return to the RAC for assistant Jolette Law, a former player of Stringer’s at Iowa and also longtime associate head coach at Rutgers before taking the head coaching job at Illinois.

This was also the first time the Scarlet Knights met the longtime Southeastern Conference power as a member of the Big Ten, where they will begin conference competition later this month after moving over from The American.

Rutgers has one more non-conference tilt traveling to Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference on Saturday.

Penn State Powers Past Rider

The Lady Lions (3-7) pulled out of their recent struggles with an 85-51 non-conference win over the Broncos in the Bryce Jordan Center as freshman Lindsey Spann had a career-high 19 points, while Kaliyeah Mitchell had her first career double double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

Cadice Agee added 19 points to the Penn State offense.

Rider (2-7) got 14 points from Emily Fazzini but was out-rebounded by the Lady Lions 53-35.

Penn State prior to launching the Big Ten portion of the schedule has one more non-conference game, hosting South Florida Sunday afternoon before the holiday break.

Pittsburgh Run Buries Drexel

The Dragons’ visit to the Western part of the state was not as successful as the last one with the Panthers using a 28-3 run to close out the first half and grab a 72-53 non-conference victory in the Panthers’ Petersen Events Center.

It’s the second time this season Drexel (4-3) was overrun following a long break.

Rachel Pearson and Alex Smith each scored 11 points for the Dragons, who next visit Quinnipiac Wednesday night in Connecticut for a first-ever meeting with the Bobcats.

Pittsburgh (6-3), showing improvement under second-year coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, a former Penn State star, got 14 points each from Yacine Diop and Monica Wignot, while Brianna Kiesel scored 12 points, and Stasha Carey grabbed 14 rebounds.

Temple Rally Falls Short to Florida State

In the wake of the Owls’ massacre last Wednesday, coach Tonya Cardoza promised Temple would look like a different team against its next opponent.

However, while playing a competitive game against Florida State, a rally from a not-so-deep deficit died at the finish and Temple dropped the non-conference encounter 66-62 in McGonigle Hall.

Erica Coville had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Owls (3-7), who next visit Howard Thursday in the nation’s capital before traveling to Villanova next Monday morning for their Big 5 clash.

Tanaya Atkinson scored 16 points for the home team while Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 11.z

Ivey Slaughter had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Seminoles (9-1).

Looking Ahead

Of the schools in the Guru’s 10-team PhilahoopsW group that didn’t play Sunday, two collide Tuesday night when unbeaten Princeton (10-0) visits Delaware in the Bob Carpenter Center.

Penn visits Drexel in the annual neighborhood tilt on Saturday while Saint Joseph’s travels to Notre Dame on Sunday as Muffet McGraw of the host Irish goes against her alma mater.

The tilt is part of McGraw’s master plan to keep getting home visits for herself since Notre Dame left the old Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.

A year ago the Irish visited Penn while they could be expected to visit Hawk Hill next season.

And no, former conference rival Villanova is not a desired stop, not because of any acrimony against Perretta, just a distaste of having to deal with his motion offenses from their days in the same league.

That’s it for now. The Guru may appear in Washington Monday night for the George Washington-hosted non-conference game with Memphis before heading to Delaware Tuesday night.

-- Mel




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Guru's Musings: Tennessee's Escape Act Dealt Rutgers a Missed Opportunity

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PISCATAWAY, N.J. –
Call Sunday’s loss to Tennessee a missed opportunity for Rutgers to finally reach a return to the power status enjoyed especially through the middle of the last decade when such current WNBA stars as Cappie Pondexter, Kia Vaughn, Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson were part of the roster and the Scarlet Knights regularly reached the Sweet 16 and even advanced to the NCAA title game against Tennessee in 2007.

The talent is certainly there at the moment in the likes of Tyler Scaife, Betnijah Laney, Briyona Canty and several others.

The fact that WNBA coach Mike Thibault was in the house to check out the seniors as well as those on Tennessee gives credence to the local worthiness.

Winning a postseason WNIT title last April in thrilling fashion, having the entire squad return from that triumph without losses to graduation, and the ability to get out from under a UConn-dominated conference to move to the Big Ten – not that women’s basketball was the driving force – provided much momentum heading into this season.

Add all that to the fact that Rutgers landed near the bottom of the preseason Associated Press women’s poll to return to the rankings and then begin a climb toward the top 10.

There’s also Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer’s move on the offensive end to finally let her thoroughbreds, as North Carolina coach Sylvia Fowles calls them, speed up the action.

A nice crowd and a national telecast courtesy of the Big Ten/ACC challenge gave Rutgers its first chance to make some noise earlier this month and the Scarlet Knights made plenty, shaking off an early 11-0 deficit to take control only to fall at the finish 96-93 in double overtime.

Some uncanny three-point shooting helped the Tar Heels’ cause in that one and afterwards there was no super disappointment on Rutgers’ side, though obviously a W could have gained mored traction.

But Tennessee was coming and even though the Lady Vols had dropped from fourth and then crept back to their current status in 11th, which might change when the new weekly poll is announced Monday, a chance to gain a rare win in the series with the program that became a national brand under Tennessee coach emritus Pat Siummitt, who stepped down after 2012 caused by her battle against early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

A larger crowd than in recent teams appeared with 4,345 in the seats, though a vocal portion of that contingent were in the house to root for Tennessee.

Incidentally, ABC news personality Robin Roberts was behind Tennessee’s bench several rows, being there to watch Cierra Burdick, who was an intern at Roberts’ network last summer.
Also the largest media turnout of the season was on press row that goes empty many nights except for the student journalistic corps and the New York Times was also represented with a sense of the implication of a Rutgers win.

More questions were about Rutgers’ standing in the world these days.

Well, following Sunday’s failures to do things not all caused by Tennessee like making shots, the standing is holding in a crouching position.

“I think Vivian just does a solid job,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said when asked about Rutgers’ position in the women’s basketball world right off the bat from the Times correspondent.

“Every year she produces solid teams and I think this is one of her best teams,” Warlick said after getting a win on her first visit to Rutgers as the head coach as opposed to the many trips that occurred as an associate head coach under Summittt.

“They always play extremely hard. They’ve always been a solid defensive team. We were really concerned about coming in to play here. She’s got athletes. She’s got competitors.”

But on Sunday Stringer had many people who missed layups and foul shots that were more about their undoing than anything Tennessee affected, though the Lady Vols’ attack on the boards and using a zone to close out a 16-2 run helped secure the win.

Stringer is no dummy. She understood in answering the same questions of relevance and what went wrong how much quicker a win would have put her Scarlet Knights back in the local buzz beyond the ongoing loyalists who have maintained their seats in both good times and bads, though there appears to be less of them in recent years.

“This one is going to sit with me,” Stringer said of the loss.

“We didn’t lock down. We just lost focus. We just lost focus,” she said of the second half flameout. “I think we know what we needed to do. Tennessee made a commitment. We knew what that commitment had to be.

Rachel Holivay, who had 10 rebounds escaped criticism due to her double digit performance on the boards and though not apparent to all during the game, Laney, her rebounding monster who set a building record with 24 during the North Carolina game, had to be shifted differently due to an injured left thumb on an opening play of the game.

“We needed more rebounds coming from everyone. It looked like times we were standing around and just backing off. They were beasts. They were fierce. But I guarantee you the next time we play, we’re going to be rebounding.”

Of course, the opponent Saturday will be Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a match in which Rutgers will be an overwhelming favorite for just walking into the gym, even if the game is set for the gym in New Rochelle outside New York City.

“This personally hurt more. This one is not sitting well. Because of the range they were shooting the ball. We’ve been spending more time on the offensive side which is one reason we did not use the 55 (defensive press).

“We should have executed better. But offensive rebounds are killers – they’re scoring off of that. On the execution side – we weren’t even clicking on two cylinders and that’s disappointing that would happen in this game on this particularly stage and hopefully it won’t happen again.

“We’ve had too many great games that have been decided by what we will call unusual circumstances but this was a circumstance we could have controlled though Tennessee will continue to get better.”

As for the relevancy of Rutgers in the national discussion, “The best way you present a case is wins and losses, end of discussion. Like I said to the team, `You either win or lose. Period.’

“You know I think you guys make judgements (in polls and analysis) and I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all. There has been serious mistakes made last year and that has been the case.

“We were far better than what it looks like. And I’m bothered about that.”

The case against Rutgers last season was the lack of quality non-conference schedule as opposed to who Stringer has normally signed up, though considering the youth of the team, was not so terrible a thing to do.

But the strength of schedule component dragged down the RPI and then came upset setbacks at Massachusetts and a few other places that on the mathematical evaluation by the NCAA tournament committee cost Rutgers an at-large bid.

Reversing a traditional dislike to play in the WNIT, Stringer reversed herself allowing the team to go and the move paid off and her talent proved itself in several gritty wins that set the stage for this season.

“We have to win,” Stringer said. “That’s the end of it. We could have. We should have. And we didn’t. I’m thinking when we some of these people again it will be different. I hope so.”

Scaife observed, “I think we do a variety of things that national teams are doing as well. Though we lost, I think we’re still up there.”

There’s no question that Rutgers can still get to their place in the sun. With the Big Ten regulars involved in preseason rankings and honors vastly undersold Rutgers’ potential.

So while a flick of the switch to the next level has been put aside for the moment, by the end of the first half of the Big Ten schedule with a potential upset of league-favorite Maryland, the other conference newcomer, which visits on January 15, and a likely win over Penn State which has gone into a rebuilding mode, the chance to make the RAC electric is still there.

It’s just Sunday was that missed opportunity you kick yourself for letting that deprive the return of the glory days with all the trappings from arriving sooner.

-- Mel



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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Guru's College Report: Princeton Dominates Again to Stay Perfect at 10-0

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

It is getting to the point that only competition at Princeton is determining which Tigers star is going to be the Ivy player of the week.

Blake Dietrick is the league designated this week – the fourth straight that a Princeton star was named.

Following Saturday’s 96-58 wipeout of Binghamton at home Saturday afternoon in Jadwin Gym to run the opening unbeaten streak to 10-0 either Dietrick or Michelle Miller could likely be named again considering the two victories the Tigers had this week, the other being a road romp at Michigan, though Penn’s sole game – a second-ever triumph of Saint Joseph’s to move in sole possession of first in the Big 5 is worthy of some attention.

Dietrick ans Miller each had 19 points with Miller depositing all of hers in the first half before coach Courtney Banghart resorted to a mercy killing in the wake of a 55-32 lead built in the first 20 minutes.

Mariah Smith also scored in double digits for Princeton with a career-high 11 points.

Binghamton’s Sherae Swinson had 14 points, Jasmine Sina scored 15, and Imani Watkins scored 11.

The only dent the visitors applied to Princeton’s shield is the nasty 1-9 record which will lower the Tigers’ RPI, perhaps out of Top 10 status.

Princeton’s action, by the way, was the only one of the docket of the Guru’s 10-team PilahoopsW crowd though as finals in the classroom are concluding the competition heats up considerably Sunday with No. 17 Rutgers hosting No. 11 Tennessee, Temple hosting Florida State, Drexel visiting Pittsburgh, Penn State hosting Rider, and at nighttime because of the men’s game at the Pavilion in the afternoon La Salle will visit Villanova in City Series action that also marks the first time this season over a beginning total of nine games that Villanova will be in it ‘s own venue.

Believe it or not, Binghamton actually got off to a good start in Central New Jersey, taking it off to a 10-5 lead in the first fiur minutes before Princeton lowered the boom with a 20-4 run.

The 96 points fell three short of the team record carnage heaped on Ivy rival Yale in New Haven on Feb. 10, 2013, the weekend of the monster snowstorm in New England in the season that the Tigers were on their way to their fourth straight Ivy title.

The new measuring sticks for Princeton after 9-0 had been the best team and any Ivy women’s start in history is that 10-0 is the best for combined genders of Tigers following the men’s kickoff mark of 9-0 set in 1914-15 when some Princeton grad named Woodrow Wilson was being White House presidential and also 9-0 in 1919-20.

League wise in terms of both genders, the Penn men of 1970-71 went 28-o before tripping up.

Next up is a visit to Delaware on Tuesday night in what is Year No. 2 of the post-Elena Delle Donne era for the host Blue Hens.

At this rate Princeton could be the first Ivy team to be given an at-large bid by the NCAA tournament committee if the Tigers fail to regain the league crowned that Penn snatched away in Jadwin on the final day of the Ivy schedule.

Anyhow, there’s not much more to say off the information out there of the Princeton demolition but the Guru will cover two live and tweet from Sunday starting the day at Rutgers and then scurrying down south near home over to Villanova.

Stay tuned.

-- Mel





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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guru College Report: Tennessee Test Next in Rutgers' Bid to Return to Elite Status

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA -- Sunday will be one more date to determine how much closer Rutgers is moving or has moved back to the elite level of teams across the country when the Scarlet Knights (8-1) host Tennessee (6-2) at 3 p.m. in the East.

To hear Temple coach Tonya Cardoza tell it, Rutgers might already be there based on the 88-55 wipeout delivered to her Owls Wednesday night in McGonigle Hall.

A year ago prior to Rutgers’ move to the Big 10, Temple (3-6) played competitively in both losses under the American Athletic Conference flag.

But after Tyonna Williams kept the Owls in it Wednesday early in the action on her way to the only double figure performance on the team with 14 points, Rutgers turned on the jets and roared to a 45-27 halftime lead on 60.6 percent from the field and then stayed in front the rest of the way with a 56.1 percent shooting average for the entire game.

Betnijah Laney, whose mother Yolanda played not far from here at University City and later in the western suburbs for Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer at Cheyney, had 20 points, a total matched by teammate and Philadelphia’s Kahleah Copper.

Laney, by the way, is the reigning Big 10 and New York-New Jersey Metropolitan player of the week, and in the wake of Rachel Banham’s season-ending knee injury the other night with Minnesota, she become a prime contender to replace Banham with the postseason award.

Banham was the preseason pick by both the media and coaches in the conference polls.

Rachel Holivay added 14 points to Rutgers’ total while Tyler Scaife scored 10.

“This was a tough game for us,” Cardoza said afterwards. “All their players are back from last season after winning the WNIT and it shows all their players worked hard in the off season and they’re jelling together and just playing really good basketball.

“We went up against a team where we were outmatched at every position. They’re confident and they’re cocky and they just took it right to us. We were playing nervous and scared.”

Cardoza thinks maybe her players saw too much of Rutgers players over the summer since the locals from the Scarlet Knights and others went against the Owls in pickup games.

While still playing their trademark defense, Stringer is doing what many suggest is longtime overdo.”

“I told Vivian to let them loose,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell jested earlier this month after her Tar Heels narrowly escaped the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center with a double overtime 96-93 victory in which Laney scored 24 points and set an arena record with 24 rebounds. “You got thoroughbreds.”

After a lackluster win over Colgate on Black Friday at Rutgers last month, Stringer had concerns whether her group would be ready when the next level of the schedule was due to arrive a week away.

Two days later Rutgers answered the call with a first-ever 100-point performance in the 20-year Stringer era, beating Davidsopn, and has been in high gear since, though she thought the team might have been a little tired in the win at Arkansas.

Stringer noted right now it is not about who the opponent is, but rather to use a self-measuring stick to gauge progress.

“We need to perform at the highest level every night,” Stringer said, especially wincing at wins left on the floor several times last season that cost Rutgers an invite to the NCAA tournament.

Usually besides meeting at key stages in the NCAA tournament when Tennessee and Rutgers have met in the regular season the two were usually ranked in the top 10 and several times both were even in the top five.

This time Tennessee is No. 11 after being as high as No. 4 after suffering losses to Chattanooga and Texas on the road while Rutgers has climbed from the preseason bottom of the rankings to No. 17.

After Sunday, there’s a quick trip across the Hudson River to Iona on Dec. 20 and then its all getting-to-know-you Big 10 the rest of the way in Rutgers’ conference debut.

Temple, meanwhile, hosts Florida State (8-1) of the Atlantic Coast Conference in McGonigle Hall with Cardoza promising the Owls would be a different team.

Florida State coach Sue Semrau has one concern about playing the Owls.

“Our folks are going to a 76ers game Saturday night so I hope they don’t pick up any bad habits.”

Perfect Princeton

The Tigers will be looking to extend their best-ever program and the Ivy’s best-ever start to 10-0 Saturday afternoon when Princeton hosts Binghamton in Jadwin Gym after demolishing host Michigan earlier in the week on the road at Ann Arbor.

“This could be the best team we’ve ever had,” said Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, who commandeered the Tigers to four straight Ivy titles with the sensational Niveen Rasheed until Penn ended the run in Jadwin on the final day of the regular season last March with the two teams tied going into the game.

Next up after Saturday is a trip to Delaware for the annual non-conference meeting on Tuesday night in the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center.

Penn State Seeking to Avoid More Stumbles

It’s not the 2-7 record compiled to date by Penn State in the first months of the post-Maggie Lucas era so much as the who most of the seven setbacks have come against that is raising eyebrows.

After a season-opening win over Towson at home in the first round of the WNIT the Lady Lions’ trail shifted to setbacks at home to Albany, Seton Hall (both in WNIT consolation rounds) and St. Bonaventure, also at home, Liberty and Samford in a tournament in Atlanta, then a home win over Wagner, and then losses at Syracuse and Hartford.

Syracuse is the only member of a Power Five conference in the whole bunch while Seton Hall has quasi status out of the reconfigured Big East.

Now comes Rider (2-6), another mid-major who does have an overtime win at Old Dominion in the Broncos’ resume going to a second-ever meeting with the Lady Lions.

Rider visits the Bryce Jordan Center Sunday and then USF, also with quasi status out of The American, visits on Dec. 21 before it’s all Big 10 the rest of the way.

The Rest of the Look-Ahead

Drexel (4-2) comes off another layoff Sunday when the Dragons visit Pittsburgh, where they won several years ago before the Panthers switched coaches to Suzie McConnell-Serio, nabbing the local basketball star from crosstown rival Duquesne.

Meanwhile Villanova (2-6) is finally getting to play in its own Pavillion Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. against La Salle (6-2) in a Big 5 title.

The Wildcats have been on the road for their first eight games though the most recent one was played a few miles away in a narrow loss at Saint Joseph’s.

But then the Hawks turned around two nights later and lost at Penn so the race is now wide open with most everyone having a shot of at least at a piece of the title, though at the moment Penn at 2-0 is the only team that can win it outright.

La Salle dropped its first two season games, both City Series tilts to Temple and Penn and then has since gone on a six-game win streak, matching the best since 2012.

Villanova is 0-1 in the City while Temple is 1-1 and Saint Joseph’s is 2-1 having been deprived of clinching at least a tie when the Hawks and defending city champs fell at Penn.

That’s the report for now.

-- Mel







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