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 27, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Saint Joseph’s Rally Snaps Eight-Game Losing Streak While La Salle Comeback Falls Short

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

In what was a lite night Friday of local action, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle started their regular season weekend finish at home in the Atlantic 10 with the Hawks launching  several second half comebacks to down St. Bonaventure 66-63 at Hagan Arena and snap an eight-game losing streak.

La Salle, meanwhile, erased a 14-point deficit from early in the game to take a lead in the fourth quarter but couldn’t sustain it and fell to Duquesne 74-70.

On Sunday the two visiting teams will switch arenas with La Salle hosting St. Bonaventure while Saint Joseph’s hosts Duquesne, both at 2 p.m. on ESPN+ with both local teams paying tributes to their outgoing seniors, who may not all be departing since the NCAA has allowed an extra year of eligibility as part of dealing with the coronavirus.

In the Saint Joseph’s game, the Hawks (6-9, 4-9 A-10) trailed by six at the half and fought the Bonnies (6-13, 5-11) to a three-point lead at the end of the third. 

But in the roller-coaster game of swings, the visitors seemed headed to the victory column with a 61-54 lead with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left in regulation when the never-say-die Hawks ripped off a 10-0 run to return to winning ways.

“We came back and showed a lot of grit, poise, and composure down the stretch,” said veteran coach Cindy Griffin, soon to complete her 20th season at her alma mater. “I see that we’ve grown. We’ve grown from previous games, and that’s the most important thing.

“Getting the win is icing on the cake. I’m really proud of our team coming together ... We made plays when we needed to make plays, and for that, I’m proud.”

In the penultimate rally, Alayna Gribble, a graduate student guard, and Katie Jakot nailed a pair of three-pointers before Kaliah Henderson fought to grab an offensive rebound and got the second-chance putback to put the home team ahead by one 62-61 with 1:29 left.

Gabby Smalls then forced a Bonnies turnover with 1:06 left and after chewing up some clock time Gribble scored on a jumper with 18 seconds left and a three-point advantage.

Asiane Johnson, who had 18 points and six assists forf the Bonnies got the opposition within a point scoring inside when the outside was cut off but then Gribble hit two foul shots for the final points in the game. Tori Harris, the sister of 76ers standout Tobias Harris, who was in the building, had 13 points and eight rebounds, while Olivia Brown scored 11.

“Our team has been battling,” Griffin said. “We have just lost eight in a row. We came in here and refused to lose, and we could have felt sorry four ourselves, we could have gone down the same path. The resilience of this team and wanting to win so bad for each other, you saw that tonight.”

Jekot had 16 points fueled by four from deep and also dealt six assists while Smalls was hot from the field, shooting 5-of-7 for 15 points, and Henderson scored 10, grabbed seven rebounds, and dealt five assists.

By roster, Alexis Santarelli, a Bishop Eustace graduate from South Jersey and Lafayette transfer; Spaniard Lula Roig, Mary Sheehan from Cardinal O’Hara, and Olivia Ramil, who previously played at Binghamton and Georgetown, are Sunday’s honorees, though as noted all have the option to return next season. Gribble has already committed to return.

Should Saint Joseph’s win Sunday, despite the record, considering how close some games were in the recent losing streak, the two games at the finish and the Atlantic 10 switch from the end of this week to the following, beginning Wednesday, March 10 through March 14, in Richmond at VCU’s Siegel Center., offers a fresh start.

 The only format change is to cut down on travel the entire tournament will be in Richmond instead of opening rounds of the lower seeded teams being played at four campus sites.

“If you at look at scores across the league you say, `Oh wow, they beat so-and-so,” Griffin noted on the season, where even Dayton’s domination was recently punctured at home by Saint Louis. “We’ve played the top half of the league and we know what it’s going to take to beat those teams. We know they’re very, very good, but I also think we were within three points, five points, seven points, so I feel really good about the experience we’ve had, obviously we’ve been having a little bit of bumps and bruises here.

“But we’re all the same in a lot of ways so I think it makes for an exciting finish in the Atlantic 10 and everybody being able to use that extra week to staying health, practice and prepare is going to be really, really healthy going into the week.”

La Salle Comes Up Short: The good and bad with rebuilding when you’re starting from the bottom is the scores and efforts during a game get much better, but many times the losses are now more of heartbreaking finishes as opposed to being crushed by opponents.

Such was the situation for the Explorers (10-13, 6-10 A-10) against Duquesne (5-9, 4-6), who were playing in Tom Gola Arena at the same time Saint Joseph’s was competing, making for some exciting back-and-forth viewing from afar to watch both games.

Early on, it didn’t seem dangerous to spend more time away from La Salle when the Explorers quickly dropped to a 14-point and then trailed 23-11 at the end of the opening period.

The 12-point margin remained through much of the second period before the Explorers suddenly exploded with a 9-1 run to move within four at 32-28 at the break.

Both teams took turns staying close to each other through the third resulting in a 49-49 tie heading into the final 10 minutes of fourth quarter action.

The Dukes had control in the first part of the quarter leading slightly until La Salle grabbed the momentum and tied it with 69-69 on an 11-5 run with 1:26 remaining.

But Duquesne then spoiled the Explorers’ hopes with a 5-1 finish.

La Salle’s Kayla Spruill had a game-high 24 points, shooting 7-of-12 from the field and 9-of-11 on the line. Claire Jacobs, though, was a bit below where she’s been but was still productive with nine points, three assists, and two steals, while her twin sister Amy had eight points and three assists.

Deja King and Haleigh Hill each had seven points, while Hill also had six rebounds and a personal best three bloked shots, while Kate Hill dished five assists. 

All three are seniors for the Blue and Gold.

Easy Wins for No. 10 UCLA and No. 22 South Dakota State: Only two ranked teams played Friday night and had little trouble getting to the winning side with No. 10 UCLA topping Southern Cal at home in Pauley Pavilion 93-51 on the Bruins’ senior night in Los Angeles while South Dakota State won the first of two hosting UM Kansas City 73-53.

In what is rivalry weekend in the PAC-12, all but UCLA and Southern Cal are meeting their travel partners on Sunday completing two-game series that began early on the conference slate.

In the UCLA game, the Bruins ((14-4, 12-4 PAC-12) did it all against their crosstown rivals, as Charisma Osborne registered the ninth triple double in the program’s history, all-American candidate and senior played her final Pauley Pavilion game scoring 30 points, and the home team set a record with 16 connected 3-pointers.

Osborne had 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists, playing 34 minutes. 

Seven players have had nine triple doubles, the most recent last season in November by Japreece Dean.

The Bruins had been upset by Oregon State at home on Sunday prior to playing the Trojans (10-11, 8-10), whom they swept for the first time in three seasons and won this one by the widest margin since 1999, or 22 seasons ago.

“Our ability to consistently shoot 3-pointers has been pretty amazing this season,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “It is one of the best 3-point teams I have had.” That gives me a lot of confidence going into the tournament.

The PAC-12 begins with lower seeded teams opening Wednesday with UCLA one of four including regular season champion No. 4 Stanford, No. 9 Arizona, and No. 14 Oregon getting byes into Thursday’s quarterfinals in Las Vegas. After Friday’s semifinals, the conference added a rest day so the championship is now next Sunday.

UCLA senior Lindsey Corsaro joined Onyenwere in a farewell appearance scoring 14 points and shooting 4-of-5 in the long distance barrage.

“I’m not really an emotional person, but there were a couple of times that almost got me,” Onyenwere said. “We didn’t start playing well, but the defense was able to get some stops and we were able to have a lot of uncontested three pointers.”

Alissa Pili had 18 points for USC, while Jordyn Jenkins scored 14.

“They have a great team and had a great Senior Night,” said Trojans coach Mark Trakh. “We have to get back to work and get ready for the conference tournament.”

In the other game, No. 22 South Dakota State at home in Brookings beat UMKC 73-53 to clinch the regular season Summit League crown as Palton Burckhard and Tylee Irwin each scored 19 points for the Jackrabbits (20-2, 13-0 Summit League), who have won 17 straight games.

RaVon Nero and Mandy Wilems each scored 11 points for UMKC (10-10, 7-7), which returns to play South Dakota State again on Saturday.

The Jackrabbits are seeking to finish perfect at home for the first time in seven season since 2013-14.

In another game of note, beyond the ranked teams, Old Dominion on the road upset C-USA leader Middle Tennessee 74-57 in Murfreesboro in the Murphy Center.

Ajah Wayne had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Amari Young had 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Maggie Robinson had 14 points for the Lady Monarchs (8-9, 5-9 C-USA), who surged with 50 points in the second half.

Anastasia Hayes had 32 points and six rebounds for MTSU (12-6, 10-3), who host ODU again on Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN+.

“We felt like this was our game for the taking based off the matchups, who we are defensively and offensively,” said first-year coach DeLisa Milton-Jones, and former WNBA All-Star who had been a Syracuse assistant. “Our girls came out a little slow in the beginning, but once we got our momentum, there was no looking back.”

Milton-Jones replaced Nikki McCray-Penson, who left in the offseason for the Mississippi State, which became vacant when Vic Schaefer was lured to his home state to rebuild Texas.

“The month of February has been the kindest to us in terms of the amount of practices we’ve had,” Milton-Jones said. “We have found our rhythm, our identity and now we know what we can hang our hats on at the beginning and end of every day.”

Looking Ahead: Maddie Siegrist, the reigning national co-player of the week from the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), is on the verge of program history when Villanova hosts Seton Hall at 8 p.m. in Finneran Pavilion Saturday night on. FS1 looking to clinch the fourth seed in next weekend’s Big East tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.

The sophomore is two points short of reaching her 1,000th career point, which would make her the third player to do it in two seasons and fastest ever in what will be her 50th game. Shelly Pennefather, who played before the three-point addition to the women’s game, did it in 52 games, while Laura Kurz, now a Drexel assistant, did it in 60 games.

Siegrist also leading the Big East in scoring and rebounding heading into her final regular season game for 2020-21 ahead of the tournament. She would become just the third Big East player to get the double, the others being longtime WNBA star Rebekkah Brunson at Georgetown in 2003-04 and WNBA All-Star Angel McCoughtry, who did it three times playing for former member Louisville in 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09.

In other games, barring an add-on makeup game, Drexel and Delaware finish the regular season of competition in the Colonial Athletic Association, with Delaware looking to clinch the tournament top seed when the Blue Hens host second-place Towson at 1 p.m. each day in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

Fourth-place Drexel, meanwhile, hosts third-place James Madison, so if Delaware sweeps, and Drexel sweeps, it looks like the Dragons could finish second but maybe third in that Towson next week will make up two games with UNCW Thursday and Friday. The Delaware and Drexel games will be on the Flohoops streaming service.

The tournament, returning to Elon, where it was cancelled at the start of quarterfinals in North Carolina last season at the outbreak of the pandemic, begins in two weeks.

Temple will be down at UCF at noon in Orlando, Fla., looking to bounce back from the one that got away in No. 13 USF on Wednesday, and then return to finish up the American Athletic Conference at home Tuesday hosting Memphis at 3:30 p.m. in McGonigle Hall and hosting the Tigers again Thursday at noon. All Owls games will televised on ESPN+. The AAC tournament will be in Fort Worth, Texas.

No. 25 Rutgers will be at Penn State at noon Sunday in the Bryce Jordan Center in State College in the Big Ten, and then in a makeup game originally postponed on the Rutgers side, the two teams will go to the RAC in Piscataway, N.J., on Tuesday.

Rider, having finished early, remains idle waiting for the MAAC tourney in two weeks in Atlantic City.

Saturday’s nationally-ranked teams in action have No. 1 UConn making its first-ever appearance in Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis finishing the five-game road trip in the Big East and looking for another perfect conference run when the Huskies host Marquette, Monday night. In another Big East game, No. 24 DePaul, which has lost two straight, is at Providence at 1 p.m.

No. 13 South Florida in the AAC is at Houston at 3 p.m., while in the Big 12, No. 7 Baylor hosts Kansas State at noon in Waco, Texas, while No. 18 West Virginia is at Kansas in Lawrence.

A key Big Ten game has second place and No. 11 Indiana at No. 15 Ohio State at 3 p.m.

No. 23 Missouri State hosts Loyola Chicago in the Missouri Valley at 6 p.m., while No. 21 Gonzaga looks to wrap up the West Coast Conference hosting Loyola Marymount at 4 p.m.

Since Sunday is also loaded, we’ll hold off with all that on the national front until the next overniter.

And that’s the report.



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