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, March 13, 2021

Guru WBB Report: Drexel and Delaware Reach CAA Title Game; Stony Brook Edges Maine in America East For First NCAA Berth

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Second-seeded Drexel survived one of those old fashioned James Madison showdowns, rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit Friday night and beating the second-seeded Dukes 79-76 in overtime, while top-seeded Delaware had it easy with fifth-seeded Hofstra, gaining a 60-39 win to place the two longtime Philadelphia-area rivals in the Colonial Athletic Association championship at Elon University in North Carolina Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. on the Flohoops streaming service.

“I’m just proud of this team,” said Drexel first-year coach Amy Mallon. “I think to come back against a team like James Madison with a 10-point deficit, I think, we obviously did it earlier down by 17, but to do it twice against a team like JMU just says a lot about our team.

“Our leader from the beginning of the season, Hannah Nihill, she’s relentless. I’ve said from the beginning. She’s small, but deadly. She sets the tone for everybody.” 

Mallon, who played for a CAA champion at Richmond her one year before transferring to Saint Joseph’s with her coach Stephanie Gaitley, becomes the first to play and coach in a CAA title games. This will also be conference coach-of-the-year Natasha Adair’s first appearance in the championship contest.

If you’re going to play for an NCAA automatic bid out of the Colonial, why not have Washington and Jefferson involved in the fight and that was certainly the combined poetic attachments from both squads in their semifinal meeting in the nightcap following the victory by the Blue Hens.

JMU (14-10) offered Kiki Jefferson, who had a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds,  24 of them in the second half to keep Drexel’s final result from happening before the exciting finish. Jaylin Carodine and reserve Brianna Tinsley each scored scored 10 points with Carodine also grabbing eight boards.

However, as a Washington of an earlier Colonial era was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of  his countrymen, Drexel’s Keishana Washington on Friday was first in personal achievement with 35 points, first in program achievement for Dragons’ individual all-time performance in the CAA tournament, but shared along with the rest of her teammates by Drexel fandom, one win away from seeing both men’s and women’s squads ending NCAA participation droughts.

“It’s a big win for us, something we’ve been talking about since we started coming here,” Washington said. “To play in a championship game. It’s something everybody wanted. We just came out ... I just fed off my teammates. So you can credit this off a whole team effort.”

Washington also put the finishing touches with three foul shots in the closing 3.2 seconds of overtime.

“She knows she has it in her and I’ve been waiting for her, this is the time you have to do it — CAA tournament time is when your best players have to step up and play your best games, and I’m just proud of them overall and how they played today,” Mallon said.

Additionally, senior Nihill contributed to the cause at Elon’s Schar Center with 16 points, while Kate Connolly had 11 points and eight rebounds.

Overall, the action where also things possible turned back in Drexel’s occurred with an explosive 26-7 third-quarter eruption.

“We came out pretty strong, but we didn’t play a full 40 minutes,” Jefferson said. “There were some possessions when we needed it, but we didn’t get it.”

Comebacks are nothing new when these teams meet. 

Just two-weeks ago in the season-ending back-to-back Saturday-Sunday games at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center, the Dragons took the opener in the split series, rallying from 17 points behind.

“This is a heartbreaker for me, personally,” said JMU coach Season O’Regan. “I know our team feels the same. It’s a tough one for me to swallow. I felt we gave our whole heart there. Obviously, not the most technically beautiful game, letting Keishana Washington score a 100 points but I thought we gave our whole heart. Amy Mallon’s a good friend of mine. I think she does a good job. She deserves to go to the championship, so I wish them the best of luck.

“I thought that was the story of the game,” O’Regan. “They got the50-50 balls. They made the tougher plays overall. And we out-rebounded them. But by nine? I told (his players) before the game, it needs to be 15 to get what we went. I know I went small, which didn’t work out. I won’t say they out-hustled us, because it wasn’t by a huge margin. But inches is all it takes. I give them a lot of credit. They earned that victory. We did not back into that one. They out-fought us.”

In this game, both teams wore the rally label.

In the third period, the 11-0 outburst to start the half put Drexel ahead 42-41 as Jasmine Valentine showed the love with at the end of the run with a pair of ensuing layups. The Dragons broke lose again from a 46-46 tie over the final 2:59 with a 9-0 run to lead 55-46 as Connolly’s trey from the wing beat the period-ending buzzer.

But with 1:28 left in regulation, the Dukes rallied from a 65-60 deficit to knot the score on Jefferson’s old-fashioned three-point play and a layup but neither team could score in the final 10 seconds of regulation.

Washington then fired a three-pointer that gave the Dragons what became the lead keep at the start of the overtime but not the overall insurance.

Not to worry. Down the stretch she grabbed a huge rebound and then made 1-of-2 from the line to make it 77-74 with 3.2 seconds left. Not to want to chance heartbreak, Mallon ordered a foul on the Dukes’  possession and Carodine canned both with 2.3 ticks left.

However, with no timeouts were left in JMU’s arsenal and thus Washington went back to the line and made both and her defenders deterred a long JMU pass as time expired.

Though the Dukes had a 42-33 advantage on the boards, Drexel used the Villanova alum tenets of previous coach Denise Dillon, ball control with just nine turnovers and defense forcing 20 by JMU.

“One of the things we’ve always said because we’re smaller than most teams, is we have to be the aggressor,” Mallon said, “in terms of making them doing something they don’t want to do. So it comes down to trapping, our doubling the post, we just want to make them think a little more, what they’re doing and I think that with our group, you said that with the turnovers, with our guards and with their touches, that ... then somebody else always comes up with it.”

Mallon, incidentally, with the fourth best win percentages for rookie coaches prior to the tournament, is a candidate for the WBCA’s Maggie Dixon Award to rookie coach of the year.

Her former boss in Denise Dillon  sent an endorsement late Friday night.

“I said it from day one, Amy Mallon is special,”Dillon, who is not on the committee, texted. “She wins at everything — not changing now. I can’t wait for tomorrow. She has my vote.”

Drexel is an old hand in the championship game, losing a heartbreak in the closing minutes at Delaware to Towson two seasons ago before being unable to play at Elon last year as the top seed when the event was part of the total sports shutdown due to the outbreak of the pandemic.

Drexel and Delaware, which snapped an 11-game Dragons win streak in the series this season with a weekend sweep in Philadelphia, met in the 2013 title game. 

That was when the Blue Hens, in the final year of the Elena Delle Donne era, completed a perfect CAA season record and avoided a Drexel upset, winning 59-56 when Mallon was on the bench as Dillon’s associate head coach.

Now Drexel must contend with a new post-Delle Donne era Delaware star in CAA player of the year Jasmine Dickey.

“We have a big job with Jasmine Dickey, she’s an amazing player, as a coach in the league, I enjoy watching her play, but coming against her, we obviously have to come up with something to limit what she does and what she wants to do,” Mallon said. “Delaware as a team, there’s a reason why they finished where they did in the league, so we know it’s going to be a tough battle.”

It was certainly too tough for Hofstra in Friday’s first semifinal game of the tourney playing the Blue Hens (21-3).

Dickey had 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Lizzie Oleary had 12 points and nine rebounds, while Ty Battle, her ninth straight double double, and league-leading 18th overall, had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

“Defense wins championships. Defense wins games,” Dickey said. “So that was our mindset coming into here.”

JaKayla Brown had 10 points for the Pride (8-12).

Taking a narrow 19-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, Delaware began to cause separation, heading to the break with a 32-21 advantage, and then an opening 13-2 opening run to start the third.

In this one, the Hens owned the boards 57-42, including 25 on the offensive glass.

“It means everything (to play for a championship),” said Delaware coach Natasha Adair, whose alma mater South Florida on Thursday won the first American Athletic Conference title in the post-UConn era, beating nearby rival UCF. “When you look back to how we started and just under the circumstances from which we started. And to see the growth, the consistency to this group. We talked about this, this, this summer. We talked about this in September, when we got back on the court.

“And we said, in order to get to this point, we had to have consistency, we had to have trust in each other. And we said the road to get her wasn’t going to be straight. There was going to be adversity, there were going to be road bumps, and we have to stay the course. And I have to say this is the one thing this team has done, everyone who makes it possible to be here, it’s just been a good group effort. It just lets you know hard work pays off.”

The Blue Hens were the only CAA team to have a full league 18-game results, others going the way of postponements and cancellations due to positive coronavirus results on either part of a hosting team or the opposition as the schedules moved along.

With the reduced field of 32 teams of field of the WNIT, Delaware is assured of a postseason, a WNIT official a week ago telling Guru Central the Blue Hens, if upset, would have a spot, but the other two likely on the bubble, though it could change.

“I know it’s different this year with the bubble, and I don’t quite understand the new system the way I understood the RPI, but I’m going to be on the phone after this lobbying for my team,” JMU’s O’Regan said.

La Salle and Rider Eliminated: As for the two other locals, left playing Friday, in the Atlantic 10, eighth-seeded La Salle opened the quarterfinal round at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond, Va., and fell short to top-seeded Dayton, 85-70.

Kayla Spruill had 17 points for the Explorers with seven rebounds, while Molly Masciantonio had 15 points, Haleigh Hill scored 11, and Amy Jacobs scored 10.

“We came here with a game plan that we thought was going to be able to come away with a win,” said La Salle coach Mountain McGillivray, whose triumph over Duquesne was his first postseason one with the program. “They countered it. They did a good job of passing out of the double teams and making some plays.

“We needed to shoot well from beyond the arc and we struggled today. A lot of that credit goes to them.”

The Explorers in the third quarter twice got within four executing a rally, but the Flyers had answers after La Salle  (12-14) closed in on the early 12-point differential at the end of the first quarter.

Dayton owned the boards 52-35, including 19 on the offensive end. 

“The fact that our whole team had fight and we were still going at them as if they were the same size as us, we did all we could do,” the La Salle coach said.

Kayla Whitehead had 11 rebounds for Dayton (14-2), while Araion Bradshaw and Tenin Magassa each pulled down 10. The Flyers’ Jenna Giacone scored 17, while Magassa had 16 points and Whitehead scored 14.

But there were few tears at season’s end for signs of progressed.

“Last night when we were doing our film session seeing our team dialed in, taking notes, asking questions, it was a total different feel than in preparing for games before,” MacGillivray noted. “Because they had the taste of that playoff victory. They really wanted to go out there and make it happen. I think they know they are capable of greater things. And I hope there is a carryover.”

In the other three A-10 quarterfinal games, fourth-seeded Rhode Island was upset by VCU, 64-57, while second-seeded Fordham, which had recently gone through a shutdown prior to arriving in Richmond, fell to UMass 80-70 after the Minutewomen had rallied on Thursday to oust Saint Joseph’s in overtime.

And in this overtime-happy tournament, third-seeded Saint Louis escaped Richmond 59-58.

In Saturday’s semifinals, VCU will play Dayton at 11 a.m. before UMass meets Saint Louis at 2 p.m., both games are on CBSSN.

Meanwhile, down in Atlantic City, N.J., at James Whelan Boardwalk Hall, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) semifinals, seventh-seeded Rider fell one short as to what the Broncs’ optimistic prospects could be, losing to Saint Peter’s in a competitive 72-67 setback.

But Rider (8-18)  got this far off a 1-12 start on a roster devoid of the strength of the number one seeded operation of a year ago that contained WNBA draft pick Stella Johnson  but was short-circuited by the sports shutdown.

The equivalent of the Gettysburg battle Pickett’s charge, the high watermark of the confederacy, came with a 64-63 lead with 2:23 left in regulation, But then the Peacocks (13-14) scored five straight and held to ensure a spot in Saturday’s title game against top-seeded Marist.

The ultimate end came with Daija Moses couldn’t hit with a launching game-tying three-ball and the Peacocks grabbed the rebound.

Victoria Toomey scored 17, freshman Makayla Firebaugh scored 16, and Maya Hyacienth scored 10.

“Obviously, a really tough loss,” said veteran Rider coach Lynn Milligan. “I thought it was a really good, solid game. I thought Saint Pete’s has had a really outstanding year. 

“Between us and Saint Pete’s, I think we played the most games and I thought it was fitting that we were both sitting here in the semi’s.

“They did a great job. They just made a couple more buckets than we did today. We had a couple too many mistakes early. I think the last five minutes of the first quarter — you take that away, and it’s a pretty even ballgame beyond that.

“We’ll learn from it, remember this feeling and learn from it, and keep moving forward.”

In the other game, top-seeded Marist put aside fourth-seeded Fairfield 66-50 to advance to the title game at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPNews.

Willow Duffell had 17 points, starting with the winning Red Foxes’ first eight, and grabbed nine rebounds and dealt six assists. Trinasia Kennedy also scored 17 points, while Sarah Barcello scored 12 with four rebounds, and three steals. Caitlin Weimar had 11 points with nine rebounds for Marist (17-3).

Fairfield (11-5) got a season-high 16 points from Callie Cavanaugh.

It’s not necessarily a given Marist has this one in the bag on Saturday, considering after the Red Foxes won the first game 71-55, Saint Peter’s came back with a 58-51 victory.

Stony Brook Earns First NCAA Appearance: Cut short a year ago by the pandemic’s outbreak on the way to making history, in a battle between the two America East heavyweights, on the road, no less, Stony Brook topped Maine 64-60 as Anastasia Warren had a career-high 31 points, two of those the clinching foul shots with 0.7 seconds left in regulation.

In an exciting finish the host Black Bears moved within two of the Seawolves 62-60 with 29.3 seconds left in regulation.

Stony Brook then turned it over, but almost got it back except Maine had possession rights with 16.3 left.

The hosts went long, missed, got the offensive rebound and missed again, putting Warren on the line to gamble on a miss and getting the ball.

Warren shook off the pressure and canned the two shots.

Asiah Dingle added 20 points for the visitors (15-5), who had a huge 42-22 rebounding advantage.

Blanca Millan had 20 points for Maine (17-3), which seems likely to land a WNIT berth if desired.

Maeve Carroll added 13 to the attack from the Black Bears, who had their chances early, building an 11-point lead.

While Stony Brook will be making its debut, with the entire NCAA women’s field playing in the San Antonio region of Texas as the men are doing likewise in Indianapolis, Seawolves coach Caroline McComb, a person likely to be a target at places with openings, has been to the big dance prior, playing for Youngstown State and twice on the staffs of Valparaiso and Pittsburgh.

Explosive Duo Meet Again for Big Ten Title: In Friday’s semifinals of the Big Ten at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, while it was no surprise to see seventh-ranked and top-seeded Maryland belt a Northwestern squad 85-52 after the fifth-seeded Wildcats had been ranked all season until several weeks ago, sixth-seeded Iowa, which upset third-seeded Rutgers in the quarterfinals, rode over 7th-seeded Michigan State 87-72.

It’s not the seed number suggesting the suprise but the size of the outcome.

The two squads in Saturday’s championship at 2 p.m. on ESPNU had met recently at the Terrapins’ XFINITY Center in College Park in a wild 111-93 shootout won by Maryland (23-2).

 In Friday’s Maryland win, Alaysia Styles off the bench scored 15 points as the Terrapins showed their depth over the Wildcats (15-8) with a 36-14 differential.

Diamond Miller had 13 points, Ashley Owusu scored 12, Faith Masonius scored 11, and Mimi Collins and Angel Reese scored 10 each, with Reese getting 11 rebounds.

“What a fun way to play,” said Brenda Frese, ESPN’s coach for coach of the year for rebuilding a shattered roster from the previous season. :We knew Northwestern was going to come in after yesterday’s game, very inspired, and motivated. 

“I thought our group was just as motivated. We knew the last time we played Northwestern it probably wasn’t our best game, so you saw a team that had punched first and they never looked back.

“We had a little adversity there in the first quarter with Ashley getting in foul trouble. We were able to go to our bench and I thought we got stronger and better and we’ve got to be able to have that depth/“

Northwestern’s Veronica Burton had 14 points and six assists while Jordan Hamilton scored 10.

“We just ran into a buzz saw today,” said Northwestern coach Joe McKeown. “They played great and came out on fire. Just give them credit. And us, three games in three days. 

“I’m really proud of what we did this weekend and all year. I brought these guys here (seniors) to play in the NCAA tournament and by what they did this weekend and all year, that’s going to happen next week.”

In Friday’s win by Iowa (18-8), Monika Czinano had 27 points, shooting 12-for-16 from the field, while freshman Caitlin Clark scored 20, and McKenna Warnock had 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Nia Clouden scored 24 for Michigan State (15-8), while Kendall Bostic scored 13, and Moira Joiner scored 10.

Speaking of playing her third game in three days, as did Michigan State, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder marveled at her team’s ability to come from one-down at halftime to a 16-point differential over the third and fourth quarters.

“Maybe I should give a shoutout to our strength coach,” Bluder said. “This is the rewarded for all the incredible work you do in the offseason.”

Speaking of the Hawkeyes chemistry, Bluder said, “I think you know, we’ve been together a long time and in a pandemic, you don’t hang out with anybody but your teammates and so it’s kind of been forced, and I guess that wouldn’t be so good if you didn’t like each other, but luckily we like each other.”

Last of the Unbeatens: With Bucknell having been knocked out in the Patriot League playoffs by Lehigh and losing its unbeaten record, attention turns to Cal Baptist, still in transition to Division I but competing in the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN+ after winning their semifinal over New Mexico State 79-54 in The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

A win Saturday enables the Lancers to finish the regular season and WAC tourney with a perfect record, the first since UConn three-peated the feat in 2015-16 thru 2017-18, while Baylor achieved the run in 2012 and in between Notre Dame got the job of perfection done prior to the NCAA tournament in 2014.
While CBU is not eligible for the NCAA tourney, the squad can play in the WNIT, officials pointing out to several other schools that did likewise on the way to full NCAA Division I membership.

Prior to that you would have to go to the 1998 Tennessee NCAA champion team of perfection.

Lancers coach Jarrod Olson praised his squad for shrugging off a slow start Friday.

“You see it all the time this time of year when the top seeded team or favorite gets off to a slow start,” he said. “It was a real credit to our girls and the confidence that they have that that wasn’t going to phase them.”

Grand Canyon (18-6) edged Utah Valley 57-54 to play Cal Baptist (23-0) in the championship.

NCAA Bid Claims:  Other games, besides those mentioned above, that are in conference champion, automatic bid qualifying, ticket punching, to Texas on Saturday include:

MAC: Central Michigan vs. Bowling Green at 11 a.m. on CBSSN
SWAC: Alabama State vs. Jackson State at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN3
MEAC: Howard vs. North Carolina A&T at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN3 
C-USA: Middle Tennessee vs. Rice at 6 p.m. on CBSSN
Big West:UC Irvine vs. UC Davis at 8 p.m. on ESPN3.

Coincidentally, both the alma maters of President Biden (Delaware) Vice President Harris (Howard) are in title games Saturday.

Back in 2013 when he was the vice president, Biden attended Delaware’s second round NCAA hosting North Carolina at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark and also attended a sold-out Drexel-Delaware game previously.

And that’s the report.






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