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.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Drexel and Delaware Move to CAA Semifinals; La Salle Advances in A-10 But St. Joe’s Loses; Rutgers Upset in Big Ten

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Considering the late 9:30 start as the last game in the quarterfinals Thursday night of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament in North Carolina, Drexel was close to making it to the next round without even making it to the court to get there the normal way.

Nevertheless, the third-seeded Dragons, who had a long layoff after their last regular season game on Feb. 28, had drawn the sixth-seeded host school Elon and made first-year head coach Amy Mallon one-for-one in playoff competition with a 65-59 victory. In some ways it was a payback to the Phoenix for several years ago when the Drexel hosted the tourney, made it to the title round but fell to Elon.

Though it got closer, Drexel jumped out to a 19-7 lead showing the day’s long wait did not cause any weariness.

Nevertheless, the Phoenix fought back to within a basket in the second quarter before the Dragons’ three-point success took them to a 39-33 lead at the half.

Earlier, top-seeded Delaware cruised over UNCW 70-52, second-seeded James Madison ousted seventh-seeded Northeastern 81-65, but fifth-seeded Hofstra upset fourth-seeded Towson 77-67 in overtime, a tough-ended finish for the Tigers, who were headed for a second seed before fading in the final game.

Friday’s semifinals have Delaware playing Hofstra at at 2:30 p.m. before Drexel and James Madison meet at 6 p.m.

The championship on Saturday leading to an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament, being played in its entirety in the San Antonio area of Texas, will tip off at 5 p.m.

The entire event is being aired on the Flohoops streaming service.

The heroine in the Drexel game making sure her collegiate career could be extended for another day was Hannah Nihill, who connected on 5-of-7 from deep and finished with 24 points at the Schar Center.

Elon (7-8) due to dealing with the COVID-19 protocols had not played since since Feb. 7 just over a month ago.

Nihill played the entire game and also had five rebounds, five assists, and four steals, while Keishana Washington and Kate Connolly each scored 13 points.

Of the fast opening, Nihill said, “It’s really important, especially playing the 9:30 game, you’re waiting around all day, so getting a quick start from the jump is important.

Elon’s Evonna McGill scored 18 points, shooting 8-for-12 from the field while grabbing nine rebounds, and Ariana Nance scored 13 points.

The Phoenix got within three at 57-54 in the fourth quarter but Drexel would not wilt and Nihill’s shot with just under a minute left made it a seven-point lead.

In all, the Dragons connected with 10 three-pointers, shot 13-for-17 from the line, and forced 19 turnovers.

“I’m so excited about this win for this team,” Mallon said. “We’ve proven we could play on the road.

“That definitely set the tone,” Mallon said of the shots connecting from deep at the outset. It was nice to see Kate Connolly come out and hit a couple right from the beginning. Those were good shots and doing that set the tone for others. And then everybody contributed.

Mallon credited Nihill, the CAA defensive player of the year, for helping answer every thrust Elon tossed. “I told her she could get a break when the season’s over. I don’t know how she does it (acquiring huge amount of minutes each game), I get tired of watching her. If there was a stat for turnovers caused besides steals, she would lead the league in that, too. And the team follows her. This was a year cut out for her with all we’ve dealt with covid.

Drexel hosted James Madison the final weekend and split, winning the first and losing the second. At the time, the loss put the Dragons into the fourth slot until Towson lost its second makeup game with UNCW.

“James Madison always seemed a team we play in this tournament,” Mallon said. “I know it’s going to be a battle, it’s going to come down to controlling the little things on the court. I know they’ll be ready for us and we’ll be ready for them. I know it’s going to be a game of runs. I hope we can contain some of their runs. I’m really excited to play them. They’re well coached and it’s going to be a good game.”

In the Delaware game,  the Blue Hens (20-3) surged in the final quarter on the way to their win over 9th-seeded UNCW (7-14), which had beat 8th-seeded Charleston 60-47 in Wednesday’s opening round to advance.

Reserve Jewel Smalls fired five from deep and scored 19 points, while Jasmine Dickey, the CAA player of the year, had 19 points and 13 rebounds, being guided by Natasha Adair, the CAA coach of the year. Ty Battle’s league leading double double count increased to 17 with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Carol-Anne Obusek had 18 points for the Seahawks.

UNCW, which cost Towson a No. 2 seed in their final game, threatened an upset in this one, trailing 49-46 with one quarter remaining before the Blue Hens erupted over the final ten minutes for a 21-6 advantage.

“‘Coach said, `Everybody calm down. We just need to play Delaware basketball.’ And from there we just took off,” Smalls said. “Whatever my teammates want, I just want to be the best I can be.

“My coaching staff and teammates really have confidence in me. When it goes in, it’s really exciting. Everybody’s really gunning for us, but we can handle it as long as we can play our game.”

Delaware leads the nation in offensive rebounds and overall dominated the boards 48-29, including 24 on the offensive glass.

“First, my hat goes off to Karen Barefoot. They had been playing really well and they’re different than when we last played them,” Adair said. “I think early it was jitters. It’s the CAA tournament. This time of the year, you’re going to get everybody’s best. This group wants it and they’re checking off boxes.”

The Blue Hens dominated Hofstra on the weekend road trip during the season, winning 76-55 on Saturday and 65-46 on Sunday.

The Pride (8-11)  on Thursday got a career high-tying 26 points from JaKayla Brown, who scored eight of them in the bonus period. Jayla Hines had 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Towson (13-9) got 11 points and a career tying-best 11 assists from Aleah Nelson. 

The Pride started hot with a 12-3 explosion and led 18-7 at the end of the first period.

Neither team was able to score over the final two minutes of what became a 60-60 tie to take the win in regulation.

Hofstra jumped to a 64-60 lead in the overtime and never yielded the rest of the way.

In the remaining game, James Madison (14-9) led from start to finish, completing 15 shots from deep to eliminate the seventh-seeded Huskies (7-13).

The Dukes’ Kiki Jefferson scored 23 points, while Peyton McDaniel scored 22, and Mide Oriyomi and Kendall Curence each scored 16, with the latter player scoring all her points in the second half.

A-10 Overtime Helps La Salle and Fails Saint Joe’s: For the first time in four seasons, La Salle has won a game in the Atlantic 10 tournament, the eighth-seeded Explorers going into overtime to eliminate ninth-seeded Duquesne 72-68 in a closely-fought contest at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond, Va..

La Salle (12-13), however, will be a decided underdog facing top-seeded Dayton at 11 a.m. in the Friday quarterfinal opener.

But the game against the Dukes (5-11) was still a good build moving forward.

Both teams rallied, though the Explorers had to do the first climb, falling behind 11-2 at the outset.

That they did, using a 15-7 advantage at the close of the second quarter to lead 30-24 at the break.

It grew to a 10-point lead in the third but Duquesne fought back and then leads were exchanged in the final period of regulation until landing in a tie with the Explorers’ Clair Jacobs just missing a game-winner at the end of regulation.

The front half of overtime was close but following a 62-62 tie on a Duquesne shot, the Explorers then broke away on a 10-6 run to take the victory.

Jacobs finished with 27 points and tied a personal best with nine rebounds, shooting 10-of-28, including 3-of-8 from deep, and 4-of-7 on the foul line. Kayla Spruills double doubled her way with 16 points and10 rebounds and shot 5-of-10 from the field for 50 percent. Haleigh Hill hit a career-high 14 points.

Meanwhile, in a later game in Thursday’s round, Katie Jekot hit a dramatic three-pointer from deep as time was expiring to force another period, but 10th-seeded Saint Joseph’s couldn’t sustain the move and fell to seventh-seeded UMass 79-69, fading in the closing overtime minutes.

Kaliah Henderson had 20 points and 10 rebounds  in the season-ending loss for the Hawks (7-10, 5-9 A-10 regular season). Jekot had 11 of her 13 points in the second half, while Alayna Gribble scored 12, Alex Santarelli scored 11, and Gabby Smalls grabbed nine rebounds.

UMass (12-6, 7-5) used an 8-0 third quarter run to go ahead with a minute left in regulation and then the Hawks closed it to a one-point deficit. 

The Minutewomen’s Destiny Philoxey converted two foul shots for a three-point lead setting up Jekot’s shot.

Saint Joseph’s committed five turnovers in the overtime, good for seven points by the opposition.

UMass in the quarterfinals meets second-seeded Fordham.

In the other two games, VCU, the host school, defeated Davidson 69-52, while in yet another overtime game, Richmond ousted George Washington 58-54.

In Friday’s quarterfinals, after La Salle’s game, fourth-seeded Rhode Island meets VCU at 2 p.m., UMass and Fordham meet at 5 p.m., and Richmond meets third-seeded Saint Louis at 8 p.m., all games on ESPN+

Saturday’s semifinals are at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on CBSSN, while the title game is Sunday.

MAAC Semifinals - Rider to Face Saint Peter’s: After getting a game-day break following it’s historic-making upset of Quinnipiac in the start of quarterfinals Tuesday at James Whalen Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., Rider learned it will meet third-seed Saint Peter’s (12-14) in one of the two Friday semifinals at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN+

The Peahens advanced by eliminating sixth-seeded Iona 61-50 in the second-half of the quarterfinal round, ending the Gaels’ season at 6-9 overall.

It’s Saint Peter’s first semifinals appearance in 13 seasons, dating to 2008.

Aija James had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the win. Rookie Sky Castro had a season-high 17 rebounds for the entire Saint Peter’s squad. Binta Salawu had 14 points and Taiah Thornton scored 11.

Rider and Saint Peter’s split their weekend series at the Broncs’ Alumni Gym in Lawrenceville, N.J.

The Peahens swept Iona in all three games.

In the other game, 4th-seeded Fairfield eliminated fifth-seeded Manhattan, 51-40, and will face top-seeded Marist Friday at 11 a.m., both games are on ESPN+

Fairfield (11-4) got 21 points from Lou Lopez-Senechal in the win over the Jaspers (10-7), who got 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks from Courtney Warley.

Saturday’s championship will tip at 11 a.m. on ESPNews.

Lehigh Ends Bucknell Unbeaten Run: And now there is only one unbeaten team and Cal-Baptist, playing for the Western Athletic Conference title Friday isn’t even a full member.

In a Patriot League semifinal on Thursday, fourth-seeded Lehigh eliminated top-seeded Bucknell 63-54 in the Bisons’ Sojka Pavilion on the road in Lewisburg, Pa.

The Mountain Hawks head to Sunday’s championship (4 p.m.) at second-seeded Boston U., ironically about a year since the same game was cancelled a year ago as the shutdown to the coronavirus was getting under way.

Bucknell’s season ends at 9-1. The squad only played league contests.

“Tonight definitely reiterated the fact that we’ve been playing this season with unfinished business,” said Mary Clougherty to the Allentown Morning Call after scoring 13 points. “We’ll be finishing our Patriot League season in Boston where we wanted to play last year.

Bucknell overall had won 18 straight dating back to last February and 16 at home dating to November, 2019.

“Bucknell has had our number for a number of years and four games this year,” said Lehigh coach Sue Troyan. “We talked a lot about tonight being more of a mental game than physical game. 

“We talked about the importance of playing together and playing with toughness, especially on the defensive end.”

Bucknell was held to a season-low 54 points.

Besides Clougherty, Emma Grothaus was in double figures with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Additionally, Frannie Hottinger scored 12, Mackenzie Kramer scored 10, and Claire Steele scored 10.

It’s the first title game for Lehigh in six seasons, the Mountain Hawks were also last Patriot League champs in 2010.

“We’ve proven we’re a pretty good offensive team, Troyan told the Morning Call. “If we want a championship, we’ve got to put the offense and defense together.

“I thought we did that tonight.”

Rutgers Upset By Iowa: A nine-game win streak, a third-seed in the Big Ten tournament, and it still was a one-and-done affair in the quarterfinals for the Scarlet Knights (14-4) executed by Iowa 73-62 built off a 39-25 halftime lead at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Gabbie Marshall had 27 points for the Hawkeyes (17-8), while freshman sensation Caitlyn Clark scored 21 points, and Monika Czinano scored 20.

Rutgers’ Diamond Johnson scored 26 points and Arella Guiranrtes scored 20.

“Diamond did a great job,” said Hall of Fame Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. “But she knows she’s needed to do more. I don’t hold anything against her. We’re fortunate to have her. The truth is she probably took on too much responsibility executing the offense.”

The Knights will now have to wait until Monday night to learn their seed as an at-large squad in the NCAA tournament field.

And thar’s the report.







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