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, March 02, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: No. 24 Rutgers Wins 8th Straight While Temple Claims Win and South Florida Takes AAC Regular Season

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

How sweep it was early Tuesday evening as No. 24 Rutgers completed a 48-hour back-to-back sweep of longtime geographic rival Penn State 74-56 at home in the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J., to enter the top four of the Big Ten and be in position for a double bye at next week’s conference tournament in Indianapolis.

Unlike the previous encounter in the Bryce Jordan Center Sunday in State College, which became the narrowest differential in the 8-0 attack since returning from a five-week pause under COVID-19 protocols, this one became decided well in advance of the stretch in what was a re-inserted game that had been postponed during the shutdown.

This is now the first 8-0 conference run for the Scarlet Knights (13-3, 9-3 Big Ten) since a matching dash in 2004-05 in what was both the Cappie Pondexter era on the Rutgers roster and days of membership in the old and mighty pre-adjusted Big East before the great conference musical chairs moves across the nation.

Technically, with one game left on the existing schedule, a visit from No. 22 Ohio State on Friday night (8 p.m.) on ESPN, Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer’s group has clinched the finish, except that at this hour, there still looms a possibility of another make up game, which then removes the lock until the calendar resume for the league gets further along in the week.

Rutgers has already gotten further along but not far enough to to remove players memories of three early but narrow league losses before the team was placed on the sidelines.

“We’re not going to forget those games, it’s what’s driving us,” said an energetic Tekia Mack, who had a double double of 12 points and 12 rebounds to go with four assists, three steals and three blocked shots. WNBA prospect Arella Guirantes had a game-high 21 points with sevcn assists, while Mael Gilles scored 15, and Diamond Johnson scored 14.

While veteran observers of the longtime Rutgers program have marveled over the explosive offense the Knights have shown this season, the trademark Stringer defense reputation is still making its mark.

Seven straight foes have been held under 60 points each.

Rutgers was a perfect 12-for-12 from the line in this one, while grabbing 12 steals off the Lady Lions (9-13, 6-12) and blocking nine shots with a 38-28 rebounding advantage.

“We’re excited, happy and proud with how our team responded, including the bench with how they were cheering us on,” Stringer said. “We could count on every one to contribute. We have a cautious optimism and a great belief in ourselves. We are in condition. Whatever we ask of this team, they will do it.”

With all that, the first quarter belonged to the revenge-seeking opposition, which fired 5-of-7 from deep and roared to a 16-2 lead.

As Mack told it though, ticking off other situations, no deficit is insurmountable for the Scarlet Knights, who then outscored the Lady Lions 72-40 the rest of the way, quickly erasing the deficit with a 14-0 burst to start the next quarter.

Niya Beverly scored 20 for Penn State and dealt seven assists, avoiding any turnovers, while Anna Camden scored 14, fed off four from beyond the arc for a personal best.

While as of now Rutgers closes things out with the senior night visit Friday from Ohio State, Penn State visits No. 8 Maryland Saturday at 3 p.m. in the XFINITY Center in College Park, where by then the Terrapins could already be hanging another regular season Big Ten championship banner.

Temple Tops Memphis in First of Two: Following consecutive losses to then-No. 13 South Florida and on the road at UCF in Orlando, the top two teams in the American Athletic Conference, the Owls were back in McGonigle Hall and snapped the slide with an 89-66 win over Memphis in the first of  two over the visiting Tigers (4-13, 2-10 AAC) to be played in a 48-hour period.

Recently, the league announced a re-schedule of a game here in McGonigle Hall on Thursday at noon that had been cancelled in Tennessee because of bad weather.

It may have been Senior Day but a junior stole the show in Alexa Williamson, who scored a career-high 29 points for Temple (10-10, 10-7), which got back to .500 overall ahead of next week’s tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Owls were also even on the afternoon with a 50 percent shooting percentage from the field, and an efficient 41.2 on 3-point attempts. They also moved the ball well with a season-high 26 assists.

Williamson was 11-for-16 from the field and had as career-best four steals.

Rookie Jasha Clinton continued to bold well for the future with 21 points and her best in 11 assists. Senior Emani Mayo scored 14 points, while dealing 4 assists, grabbing three steals and pulling two rebounds.

Grad student Jada Graves got into the game and joined Asonah Alexander and Williamson with five rebounds each.

“(Memphis) has guys that can get inside and they do a really good job finding guys around them that can shoot down threes,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I thought we did a really good job defensively and pressuring the ball so it didn’t get inside,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “To be able to score in the 80s is a big deal because we don’t often score like that. I thought we did a really good job. Jasha played a remarkable game.

“She pushed the ball when she was able to. She slowed it down. She was able to use ball screens and dish to her teammates. I thought Emani played a solid game just as well. 

“‘Lex, when she’s playing like that, you, have to take advantage. And with her playing against two bigs like that, being able to get a career high says a lot. And just the back that Mia (Davis) struggled showed there’s a bright spot in that other guys can step up. We had three guys score in double figures outside of her. I don’t think we’ve ever done that so I thought it was just a really good team effort and it started on the defensive end.”

The added game on Thursday, especially being at home, gives Temple a chance for some momentum going into the American tournament. 

“Just playing a game, we’re playing on Tuesday, so it helps,” Cardoza said. “In the past, we would always have a game on Monday and the tournament would start (at the Mohegan Sun) at the end of the week, so this basically, helps, we’re staying home.

“But just because we’re home and playing the same team, nothing is guaranteed. We have to come out Thursday, or watching film tomorrow, correcting some things, knowing they’re going to come out doing something different. So we just want to make sure we’re rested, ready for the tournament.”

South Florida Holds Off UCF To Claim American Crown: Speaking of the American Conference, though it almost got away in the first of two with the same teams, No. 15 South Florida held off UCF 65-62 at home in the Yuengling Arena in Tampa in a 1-2 showdown.

The win enables the host Bulls (15-2, 12-1 AAC)  to look up for the first time in the eight-year history of the American at this point in the season and not see departed UConn hovering above as the league unbeaten champ. UCF (13-3, 11-2) trailed by 11 in the closing seconds and came within a three-pointer of forcing overtime.

Until Saturday’s upset loss to Houston, ending a record 13-game win streak, the Bulls’ only setback was a narrow one to Baylor.

 That set up Tuesday to determine the No. 1 seed next week in Fort Worth, Texas, at Dickies Arena, where the tournament for an NCAA automatic qualifier run March 8-Monday through March 11-Thursday.

For standings purposes, the league had given South Florida a forfeit win over Memphis that does not affect the Bulls’ overall record.

So Thursday’s game between the two in Orlando is only for pride, according to a league spokesperson. UCF had to sweep.

Elisa Pinzan had 18 points and dealt eight assists for the home team, while Bethy Mununga had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Elena Tsineke had 12 points, while Shae Leverett grabbed 11 rebounds.

Trailing by 10 with 57 seconds remaining, the Golden Knights kept applying virtual water torture to the Bulls’ contingent moving within a point at 63-62 on Alisha Lewis’ 3-pointer within 1.6 left. 

Pinzan, however, was fouled and made both from the line for the final score.

Lewis finished with 27 points, while Brittney Smith scored 10 for UCF besides nine rebounds.

In what is known down in the Sunshine State as the War on.I-4, the Interstate 4 highway, the two teams will move to Orlando on Thursday to play for just pride at 5 p.m. in Addition Financial Arena on ESPNU.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Horizon League, in quarterfinals, Wright State beat Northern Kentucky, 74-56; IUPUI beat Oakland, 86-64, Cleveland State beat Green Bay, a past multi champion, 69-63, and Milwaukee beat Youngstown State 77-68.

Looking Ahead: On Wednesday in single games, No. 10 Indiana, in second place, is hosting Iowa in the Big Ten at 4:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network while No. 20 West Virginia is at Kansas State in the Big 12 at 7:30 p.m. on the ESPN+ network.

Some of the Power 5 begin playing their conference tournaments.

In the PAC-12, all on the conference network, California plays Oregon State at 2 p.m.;  while Arizona State meets Southern Cal at 5 p.m. and Utah plays Washington State at 8 p.m.and Wasington meets Colorado at 11.

In the SEC, Auburn meets Florida at 4 p.m., while in the ACC, Boston College meets Pittsburgh at 2 p.m.

In the Ohio Valley Conference, a first round game has Eastern Illinois meeting Tennessee-Martin at 2 p.m. on ESPN+, Austin Peay plays Belmont at 4:30 p.m..

On Thursday, in the SEC 2nd round, Mississippi State plays LSU at 11 a.m.; No. 17 Kentucky awaits a Wednesday winner at 1:30 p.m., Missouri meets Alabama at 6 p.m., and No. 13 Arkansas plays Mississippi at 8 p.m. For now, these numbers with conference tourney teams are ranked, not seed, numbers.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest plays North Carolina at noon; Syracuse awaits a Wednesday winner; Miami plays Virginia Tech at 6 p.m.; and Notre Dame, a past champion, plays Clemson at 8:30 p.m.

In the PAC-12 quarterfinals, No. 19 Oregon plays a Wednesday winner at 2 p.m. in Las Vegas; likewise No. 4 Stanford at 5 p.m.; likewise No. 11 Arizona at 8 p.m.; and No. 9 UCLA plays at 11 p.m.

In other tournaments, Fordham opens against George Washington in a single game day in the Atlantic 10 at 5 p.m. on ESPN +

In the Ohio Valley, Tennessee Tech plays Jacksonville State at 2 p.m. on ESPN+ and Murray State plays SE Missouri State at 4:30 p.m. on the same network.

In the Southern Conference quarterfinals, ETSU plays Samford at noon; UNC Greensboro meets Wofford at 2:15 p.m.; Western Carolina meets Mercer at 5 p.m.; and Furman meets Chattanooga at 7:15 p.m., all four games on ESPN+

And that’s the report for now.







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