Womhoops Guru

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Stanford Returns to Top 5 and Beats Arizona for Pac-12 Title While Marquette Tops Creighton for Showdown With DePaul

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Appropriately, the road warriors that have been No. 4 Stanford for most of the season to date, it is fitting that the Cardinal were in their own Maples Pavilion Monday night to clinch their first PAC-12 title in seven years with a 62-48 win over No. 9 Arizona.

In another non-COVID-19 world the response from anyone who didn’t watch the game would be, what’s news about that. They were called a top contender for the NCAA title back in the fall.

And Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer would appreciate the triumph but keep a firm hand of the seat belts, noting the bigger goals are just ahead in the PAC-12 tournament in Las Vegas and the soon thereafter the NCAA tournament and quest for a national title to go with the pair attained in 1990 and 1992.

But unfortunately, this became a COVID-19 world, though when it came about with the cancellation of the NCAA tournaments last spring, initially looking long range the thought was everything might be ok by the fall.

Except, it wasn’t. 

The overall shape of the season was transformed to an unknown daily future plagued by coronavirus-caused cancellations, postponements, insertions and re-shufflements, sometimes caused internally, other times due to problems with the upcoming opponent.

When the men’s and women’s tournaments and virtually everything in the sports world shut down, it was in an internal act for safety and to limit the pandemic spread as much as possible.

By the time mid-fall arrived, though, the ability to navigate the ensuing five months to qualify for the NCAA 64-team field was impacted by governmental directives.

For the most part, the electrically-charged arenas from fans were transformed to an atmosphere equal to the ones that exist when private scrimmages are held in the preseason.

The NCAA announced the entire tournament, like the men headed for Indianapolis, is going to be held in the San Antonio area of Texas, where the Women’s Final Four had been scheduled. Fans will be limited in the early rounds but then capacity will be increased for the Sweet 16 and championship weekend.

And so it was that VanDerveer, then approaching and since quickly attained a new record for most wins by a coach in Division I women’s basketball, learned that due to a strict shutdown mandated by officials in Santa Clara County in Northern California, if there was going to be a season, it was going to be away from Maples for an unknown amount of time beginning Nov. 29.

Thus began around the games an almost three-month adventure of planes and buses, adopted home courts, long periods of being sequestered together when games weren’t being played over the holidays, until the governmental rules alleviated to allow a return to the home gym two weeks ago.

In that span, Stanford (21-2, 18-2 PAC-12) rose to number one in the nation, then got taken down from within the conference, becoming the seventh No. 1 ever upset by an unranked team in Colorado, and then followed with a loss to UCLA.

But when the horn sounded Monday night ending the game and making the PAC-12 regular season crown official, the Cardinal, unlike the rest of the conference, had played its complete schedule to date except for the return game with Oregon State, and also posted their 10th straight triumph with the win over Arizona (15-3, 13-3).

Earlier in the day, Stanford moved back into the top five at fourth in the Associated Press women’s poll and VanDerveer reached a combined poll appearance total of 590, counting her previous time at Ohio State, second only to the late and legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who reached 618 appearances, all with the Lady Vols, when she retired in April 2012 with a then-record 1098 victories due to her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

VanDerveer said after the game an open invitation was out to Oregon State, since there’s room on the calendar, to play the game ahead of the conference tournament but she didn’t think it was going to happen.

The Beavers have had their own dealings with shutdowns, though this past weekend they had a new life sweeping the Los Angeles road trip over Southern Cal and then-No. 8 UCLA, who slipped to 10th in Monday’s poll.

So, yes, though there’s work to be done, VanDerveer spoke of the emotions running through her afterwards.

“I’m glad I was wearing my mask,”she said on the zoom postgame press conference. “I have to say I get a little emotional because it’s such a great thing that this team has accomplished.

“But not only that, it’s how they have been as teammates, how they have been mature. It’s been amazing, so you want good things for people who are like that. I’m really proud of the sisterhood. They really care about each other, the unselfishness,” she continued.

“And I told our team that. There’s not a team I’ve wanted it so badly for with this team.”

In many ways, the match Monday night was not a case going in of your grandmother’s PAC-12, when Stanford owned the conference year after year.

Of course, VanDerveer, who has been around longer than the rest of her colleagues, will lift her mitts in a heartbeat to defend the realm as always been tough even if ruling it was easy in the eyes of the rest of the word.

But on the other side, Monday night, was a new blood player in Arizona coached by an old blood player in Adia Barnes, a star for the Wildcats in an earlier era.

And this game, unlike the Stanford rout in Tucson, was not resolved until late in the fourth quarter.

Aari McDonald collected 20 points for Arizona but was not effective in the first half that ended with a 31-25 lead.

“They made Aari really work to take pull-up jumpers, which is a really hard shot with congestion,” Barnes said. “We need some other productivity. They made us pay for the little mistakes. We didn’t think we played our best game. They make you do that. They make you play ugly.”

Stanford’s side was no thing of beauty, however, except once the title was clinched, because turnovers continue to be a problem and Haley Jones, who had 13 points and eight rebounds and two steals, committed seven of Cardinal 16 turnovers.

The last time Arizona won at Maples was two decades ago on Jan. 6, 2001.

Kiana Williams had 15 points for the home team, while Lexi Hull scored 16 with nine rebounds as the Cardinal snapped a string of three straight crowns by Oregon, which then had triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu, who became the overall No. 1 pick last April in the WNBA draft by the New York Liberty.

VanDerveer’s record win total since establishing it in early December ahead of this weekend’s game with Bay Area rival California is now at 1,115. Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma also passed Summitt last month and is in second at 1,109 ahead of Thursday’s game at Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska, in the Big East.

“I think for all of us, it means so much,” Hull said. “The two months we were on the road we were around each other and that was it. We really grew closer and we were a family and we still are,” Hull said. “We care for each other so much that winning something like this means a lot to us.”

Marquette Downs Creighton: On what was a lite but still very important night, the other game of note was Marquette beating Creighton 65-41 in the Big East after the visiting Bluejays had just upset DePaul on the road at Wintrust Arena in Chicago in the Golden Eagles’ final home game.

Thus a battle for second is set up Wednesday night when Marquette (16-4, 13-3 Big East) travels to DePaul (13-5, 10-3), which fell from 19th to 24th in Monday’s new AP Poll.

The win also set up a top three seed, likely second or third for the Golden Eagles depending how they finish out.

Marquette will also finish Monday night at Connecticut ahead of the following weekend’s Big East tournament at the Mohegan Sun.

In the Marquette win, Lauren Van Kleunen had 20 points for the winning Golden Eagles, while Camryn Taylor had 14 points and nine rebounds, and Selena Lott had 10 points and 11 assists.

Meanwhile in Villanova news ahead of the Wildcats’ Wednesday afternoon visit to Providence, Maddy Siegrist, who had 31 points in Sunday’s win over Georgetown on the road, was named the Big East player of the week and the Big Five player of the week, the latter honors still being given even though there’s been no formal round robin this season due to Penn being part of the Ivy League shutdown of winter sports among its eight schools, that also includes Princeton.

Yes There Will Be A WNIT - For Now: With all the attention on the NCAA set up, there hadn’t been any public talk about the WNIT, which Drexel won back in 2013.

Well, as of now, it’s still set to be held, but will be different this year. 

Instead of a 64-team field with automatic qualifiers for every conference for the highest team not in the NCAA field, there will be a bubble type 32-team field in four neutral regions of eight teams each and then the four region champs advancing to a Final Four site to complete the event.

Plus all teams are guaranteed two games with consolation rounds in the early events. And a team doesn’t need a .500 or more record to be selected.

Officials are right now canvasing the country to gauge interest, especially on teams who may be on the NCAA bubble but could be available if they don’t survive the tournament committee’s deliberations.

As in the past, the field will be set after the NCAA announces its field on Selection Monday Night, March 15, which will air at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Looking Ahead: Tuesday is dead quiet on all fronts in terms of who is on the slate but Wednesday, locally, Rutgers, which crashed the AP Poll at No. 25 for the first time in two seasons, is visiting Michigan State on the Big Ten Network and carrying a five-game win streak, Villanova, as mentioned, is at Providence at 1 p.m., in the Big East, Temple is hosting No. 13 South Florida at 3:30 p.m. in McGonigle Hall in the American Athletic Conference on ESPN+, and Penn State is hosting No. 15 Ohio State at 5 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center in State College on the Big Ten Network.

No. 18 West Virginia is at Iowa State at 7:30 p.m., while No. 7 Baylor is hosting Oklahoma State in the Big 12 at 8 p.m., both on ESPN+, as is the Big 12 game at 8 p.m. featuring Texas at Kansas.

And that’s the report.


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