Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Rutgers and Drexel Win Big While No. 1 UConn Clinches Big East Tie

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Rutgers made it five straight Saturday since returning from the long 35-day layoff caused by COVID-19 protocols, while Drexel showed there’s still life in the Dragons, who got a key win in the first of two at Towson in which the Tigers’ Kionna Jeter, the CAA’s leading scorer, did not start, played just 20 minutes across the four quarters, took just three shots and missed them all. 

Delaware continued to dominate in the Colonial Athletic Association winning the first of two at preseason favorite James Madison.

Nationally, No. 1 Connecticut with help from a Creighton upset of No. 19 DePaul on the road, clinched a tie for the Big East title with an easy win at Xavier, which has had its games limited coping with the coronavirus. The same disease had No. 12 South Florida in a long pause but the Bulls have now won three straight after beating visiting Tulane un the American Athletic Conference and head Wednesday for a matinee at Temple, whose visit to Memphis was called off by the Tigers.

Elsewhere, in the Big Ten, No. 9 Maryland stayed in front with a lopsided 94-62 victory over visiting Minnesota, while No. 24 Northwestern recovered from its last loss to beat Wisconsin.

In the Big 12, No. 19 West Virginia dodged an upset from TCU, while in the West Coast Conference No. 16 Gonzaga won easily at San Diego, in the Missouri Valley Conference, No. 25 Missouri State completed a sweep of Bradley, and in the Summit League, No. 23 South Dakota  State completed a sweep of host North Dakota State.

In the Atlantic 10 both locals Saint Joseph’s and La Salle fell on the road while a big conference upset saw frontrunner Dayton lose its first league game by getting edged at home by Saint Louis.

The Flyers, however, are still in safe mode while Fordham behind them is in a pause due to a spike of COVID-19 cases on the campus in the Bronx.

Rutgers Streak at Five: March Madness is on the horizon but this month has turned into Fabulous February for the Scarlet Knights since their return from a 35-day pause that began after Jan. 3 under COVID-19 protocols. 

Illinois, which was Rutgers’ second victim back home in Champaign earlier this month, became the object of a series sweeping broom in the RAC, losing 65-46 in the Big Ten as the Scarlet Knights (10-3, 6-3 Big Ten) continue their new-found explosive offense to add to their trademark pressure defense, long ago honed under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Just as important, the win over the Illini (3-15, 1-24) completed game No. 13, allowing the minimal requirement to allow scrutinization by the NCAA tournament committee, though there were loopholes in place.

In fact, Rutgers, perhaps, is showing enough stuff to merit inclusion in the next Associated Press women’s poll that will be released Monday afternoon. If the national media panel wants to see a little more meat on the bone in terms of the schedule, though the new .Net ranking system replacing the RPI used by the NCAA committee seems ok with the profile, that opportunity will come Wednesday visiting Michigan State in East Lansing before stopping by long-time region rival Penn State next Sunday.

As for the work-over given Illinois, Stringer’s group showed its defense to the tune of 26 forced turnovers snd 18 steals. On the offensive side the 19 assists were the most dealt on a Big Ten opponent in two seasons led by Tekia Mack’s personal best of eight dimes.

Sharpshooter Arella Guirantes was 11-for-17 from the field for a game-high 24 points, while Diamond Johnson’s 4-of-8 long rangers fueled the way to 20 points. Her .533 percentage on made 3-point shots remains second, nationally.’’’

“It is all about the hard work this time of year,” Stringer said. “The press takes a lot of energy, the practice in the gym takes dedication. The defense is key for us, and we’ve been known for that and it’s paying dividends right now.”

Drexel Takes Key CAA Win On Towson: After suffering a sweep last weekend by Delaware at home, Drexel was scheduled by the Colonial Athletic Association to spend another short weekend of travel, but another dangerous one for back-to-back overnight games at Towson, which had become the Blue Hens leading challenger.

Furthermore, it was the Tigers who broke Drexel’s heart in the CAA championship at Delaware two seasons ago rallying to win the NCAA bid in the closing minutes.

The Dragons overcame that disappoint last spring claiming the top seed in the tournament but unfortunately before they could take the floor in the quarterfinals, the event at Elon in North Carolina was wiped out with the virtually the rest of the sports world by the outbreak of the pandemic.

Now, it’s one-game-at-a-time marching ahead and Drexel was back taking positive steps in cruising over Towson 71-55 in the host Tigers’ SECU Arena near Baltimore.

The Dragons (10-6, 7-4 CAA) monopolized the game of runs concept to themselves in their 71-55 victory, 16-0 in the first quarter, 8-0 in the second, and 11-0 in the third accounting for what became a 30-point lead and eventually 31 until the Tigers (11-5, 6-3) reduced the differential but never threatened the rest of the way 

The Dragons also hit their conference-leading low-point scoring yield in limiting Towson to 55 points.

Keishana Washington had a game-high 19 points, shooting 6-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-5 from deep. Kate Connolly was also on target scoring 12 points as did Mariah Leonard, now a grad student. Hetta Saatman had a career-best eight points off 4-of-5 from the field. Hannah Nihill had a rounded game with six points, five assists, four steals, and four rebounds.

Towson’s Shavonne Smith had 15 points and 11 rebounds, the only Tiger scoring in double figures.

And for those of you raising the question, the late hour writing the report made later by a Guru investigation,  so couldn’t be totally thorough, notes Kionna Jeter, the CAA leading scorer by 0.2 over Delaware’s Jasmine Dickey (23.4-23.2), did not start, played 20 minutes, was 0-for-3 from the field, including two deep, had no rebounds and committed three fouls.

She entered with 3:44 left in the first quarter and Drexel leading 12-7. The Dragons continued 9-0 from that point and Jeter took her first shot, a three-ball, with 14 seconds remaining in the period.

Jeter stayed in the game the next period, took no shots until she was subbed out with 6:39 left in the half and Drexel up 29-20.

She was subbed back in at the 3:36 mark, the Dragons up by 20, quickly missed her other trey and then had a steal and turnover near the end with Drexel then heading to the break ahead 36-20.

Jeter did not start the second half, came into the game at the 7:56 mark of the third, missed a jumper and committed a foul but stayed the rest of the quarter with an assist and a foul in a game that the networks had already long before projected Drexel elected ahead of its 62-31 lead with one quarter remaining.

She continued to remain a few minutes more, removed with 8:13 left in regulation and did not return the rest of the way.

“We did not play Towson women’s basketball today,” said Tigers coach Diane Richardson in a quote in the Towson email game report. “They came in here energized and ready to play but we have to be able to do that as well.”

Drexel is now in third and if the Dragons sweep by taking Sunday’s 2 p.m. contest in the SECU Arena on the Flohoops streaming apps, they move into second.

It is not known what CAA games will be made up that were postponed on the Dragons’ slate but they missed a series with Hofstra and a game with Charleston.

Delaware Bests JMU in OT as Smalls Tops Delle-Donne Mark: The Blue Hens, meanwhile, had things tougher at James Madison but came out smiling after a 94-88 win in overtime to beat the Dukes (11-8, 7-5 CAA) in the first of two in the Atlantic Union Bank Center in Harrisonburg, Va., as Delaware (17-2, 14-1) snapped a 16-game losing streak in the series one week after an 11-game loss streak was dispatched in the Drexel series.

No one has used the word clinch in terms of Delaware grabbing the top seed but the standings point that way, though the Blue Hens are ahead in total games played in the CAA by much of the rest behind them. The league office noted Towson has two make-up games to play with UNCW, March 4-5, after the regular season ends next weekend.  While the Blue Hens, up two on the Tigers in the loss column could clinch beforehand, those two teams would still need to play for conference tournament seeding.

By chance Towson visits the Bob Carpenter Center next weekend in Newark with 1 p.m. tips on Saturday and Sunday.

“We’ll just keep trying to win and let the rest take care of itself,” Delaware coach Natasha Adair said.

That’s what the Blue Hens’ Jasmine Dickey seems to be doing in a CAA player-of-the-year race with the only other likely candidate being Towson’s Jeter, though Dickey is also among the league’s top five rebounders and it also helps when that kind of player is on the regular season champions.

As Delaware continues its greatest season to date outside the Elena Delle Donne era - especially the junior and senior seasons - Dickey scored 30 while, speaking of the WNBA superstar - her 3-point game record was busted by Jewel Smalls coming up big with 8-of-9 beyond the arc including one of them forcing the overtime and finishing with 24 points.

Ironically JMU was also the victim when Delle Donne set the previous mark with seven treys on Feb. 18, 2010.

Delawarei knew  seemed to have control with a 72-62 lead with 7:27 left in the fourth quarter but the often resilient Dukes took off on a 17-4 seven-minute run, using Madison Green’s two foul shots for a 79-76 lead with 23 seconds left.

But The Hens also have resiliency this season and Smalls tied it from the top of the key with 17.4 left and neither team scored again before the overtime began.

When it did they took a 5-0 lead and outscored the Dukes 15-9 over the five minutes for the win and gain position for a seventh weekend sweep when they return to play JMU again Sunday night at 6 on the Flohoops streaming service. 

Dickey had her fourth 30-point game on the season, tying her best on swipes with five steals, and had nine rebounds. Ty Battle, the reigning CAA player of the week, increased her league-leading double double count to 13 with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Ty Skinner set a career high with five assists.

A ket to the win defensively was forcing 14 turnovers out of 12 steals for a 17-6 advantage in points off turners and  Delaware also had a lopsided advantage on fast break points 19-8.

Back in the late stages of the offseason when the CAA trotted out the conference schedule plan to help dodge the virus some Delaware fans perhaps worried about getting a double dose of JMU within 24 hours on the road but Adair welcomed it.

“I knew back-to-back games would require focus, toughness, and grit,” she said in a text to Guru central when asked about her reaction at that time. “When I saw that we’d be at JMU I was excited to get a great opportunity on the road in February to compete against one of the league’s top teams. 

“We want to be playing our best and most competitive basketball heading into March snd going against JMU on the road required that. I’m so proud of the fight in our team.”which 

Local A-10 Duo Endures Another Weekend Sweep: Unlike the success of  General Grant near the end of the Civil War to take the seat of the Confederacy, the Atlantic 10’s Philly duo of Saint Joseph’s and La Salle finished their weekend road trip with nothing to show in the win column for their three-day march on Richmond in Virginia.

La Salle was unable to take advantage of the back-to-back situation the snowy weather placed on Richmond, the university, which was forced to delay a date by one day in the Robins Center with Saint Joseph’s.before topping the visitors on Friday as the Explorers fell 67-61.

 Likewise, the Hawks were placed in the same situation as the Spiders, and they fell worse than the Explorers, losing to VCU 64-49 in the Stuart C. Siegel Center. 

In Saturday’s game played by La Salle ( 10-12, 6-9 A-10), the Explorers trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter, then mounted a rally twice coming with three of the Spiders (12-6, 9-4) but couldn’t flip the looming outcome.

Claire Jacobs scored 21 points for La Salle, while grabbing seven rebounds. Deja King and Molly Masciantonio each scored 11 points while Kayla Spruill scored nine points.

In the game by Saint Joseph’s (5-9, 3-9 A-10), which became their eighth straight loss, the damage was done by the Rams (11-9, 9-4) with a 17-6 third quarter that was topped by an additional six points to the differential in the fourth.

Katie Mayock scored 12 for the Hawks as did Kaliah Henderson, while freshman guard Olivia Mullins had a career best nine points.

On Friday, St. Bonaventure will visit Hagan Arena on Hawk Hill at 6 p.m. and then on Sunday wrap up the regular season at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena at 2 p.m. while on Friday Duquesne will visit La Salle at 6 p.m. and then on Sunday head To Hawk Hill at 2 p.m. All four games will air on ESPN+

No. 1 UConn Clinches Big East Tie: Many teams on the way to claiming conference titles in the regular season clinch ties one step ahead of their claim at the top.

And so it was that No. 1 Connecticut back in the revamped Big East made that first step with help from Creighton’s 83-72 upset at No. 19 DePaul in Chicago after winning at coronavirus-riddled Xavier 83-32. That was just game number 11 for the Musketeers (4-7, 1-6 Big East).

It’s a stop with unbeaten conference play (18-1, 15-0) that the Huskies made for all seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference where they never lost.

The win was the third stop on a five game road swing that began Friday a week ago at Georgetown in the nation’s capital, continued at St. John’s Wednesday that followed two needed days of rest and two normal days of practice. It continues Thursday at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., and concludes Saturday at Butler in iconic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Huskies then finish at home next Monday with Marquette, which after DePaul’s loss to Creighton, is tied with the Blue Demons for second with three losses each, thus three behind UConn.

Though once March arrives the Huskies usually take up residence in the big fish dept. with a record 11 NCAA titles - men or women.

But the Big East regular season crown can always make its way to the heart of Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, whose 1,109th victory is second among Division I women’s head coaches to the record 1,114 by Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, whose No. 6 Cardinal hosts No. 10 Arizona Monday night with the regular season PAC-12 trophy at stake.

Though his team has fared better than others in the conference and elsewhere, the uneven number of games caused Auriemma to question the normally routine process of the regular season crown this time around.

However achieved, it still has meaning.

“Always, always, that’s the first order of business,” Auriemma said. “Whatever league you’re in, you want to win the regular season crown.

“For us, our goal is to win the conference. Our goal is to win every game in the conference. So far we’ve done that and we’ve got three more to go. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we win all three and go into the Big East tournament undefeated.”

The tournament March 5-8, will be at the Mohegan Sun, site of the American Athletic Conference tourney the previous seven years heading with Temple as a member to Fort Worth, Texas now that the Huskies have departed.
“I enjoy playing in this conference,” Auriemma said. “I always have. I missed it when we were gone. It’s obviously a little bit different but I enjoy where we play. I enjoy going to these places where basketball is really, really important, do I’m glad to be back.”

Also back is Christyn Williams from her recent, but short, scoring funk, putting 22 points on Xavier while freshman Aaliyah Edwards double doubled for the first time with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Freshman sensation Paige Bueckers had 11 points and seven assists, while Olivia Nelson-Ododa had 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and two blocked shots. Evina Westbrook had eight points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals, while Nika Muhl had eight rebounds and five steals.

Xavier’s Carrie Gross scored 10 in a game the Musketeers had outside futulity going 0-for-16 from deep.

Though UConn had been to Cincinnati many times in the past due to the common affiliation with the old Big East, this was the Huskies first visit to the Cintas Center.

“I like it,” Auriemma said. “It’s just the right size, not too big, not too small.’’

DePaul Four-Game Streak Snapped: Meanwhile in the Creighton upset of No. 19 DePaul, the Bluejays (7-8, 6-5 Big East), also tuning up for Thursday’s UConn visit, got hot in the fourth quarter shooting 7-for-11 from the field and all three attempts from deep connected.

Emma Ronsiek scored 27 for Creighton shooting 9-for-12, including a perfect 3-for-3 from deep in Wintrust Arena in Chicago, while Temi Carda had 18 points and eight assists, Carly Bachelor had 13 points, reserve Payton Brotski scored 11, and reserve Morgan Maly scored 10.

The Demons (13-5, 10-3) got 17 points and seven steals from Lexi Held, while Sonya Morris also scored 17, and Jorie Allen scored 16, and Dee Bekelja scored 10.

DePaul hosts Marquette Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Wintrust Arena to likely decide second and third.

South Florida Takes Third Since Return: After the frustration of a long pause under COVID-19 protocols, the Bulls made it three straight, all at home in the Yuengling Center, the latest target being Tulane in a 78-69 win in Tampa to stay unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference, now that UConn is departed.

The Bulls (13-1, 11-0 AAC), who have a forfeit win the AAC that doesn’t affect the overall, have now matched their best overall start, set twice previously, and the current 12-game win streak is a record ahead of a visit Temple  Wednesday afternoon at McGonigle Hall.

USF’s Bethy Mununga had 17 points and 17 rebounds - her eighth double double on the season and 18th of her career.

Sydni Harvey scored 16, and Elena Tsineke had 13 points.

Jerkaila Jordan scored 29 points for the Green Wave (14-7, 10-6 AAC).

And that’s the report. 



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