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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Guru's WNBA Musings: Breaking Down the Gridlock Finish in the East

(Guru's note: Don't fret Rob Knox fans. He's cooking up more stuff to come this way, including the final regular season notebook, which will post anytime in the next 24 hours.

Also, on Sunday at the New York final the Guru collected quotes from individuals, including league president Laurel Richie, reacting to Philadelphia Little League pitching sensation Mo'ne Davis of the Taney Dragons and her desire to eventually play in the WNBA.

Those comments were given to the alma mater local major metro here on Monday, which have been held for other great stuff being written by the 13-year-old hurler, who also would like to go to UConn.

If that submission ultimately giets shelved -- it could be at philly.com now, haven't checked the overnight posts yet -- they'll appear here soon.
)

By Mel Greenberg (@womhoopsguru)

Looking at the final standings and the fact there were only three winning teams among the entire 12 squads in the WNBA appears to be the worst finish in the history of the league since growth beyond the original eight franchises.

Well, what about 2010, when the Seattle Storm won it all and topped the West with the only winning record at 28-6.

Actually, that was closer to a true appearance of parity them this time around, though one could call this a parity of medocrity from a standpoint of the win-loss records.

This is what the finish was four years ago going into the playoffs:

2010 Final Standings
East
Washington 22-12
New York 22-12
Indiana 21-13
Atlanta 19-15
Connecticut 17-17

West
Seattle 28-6
Phoenix 15-19
San Antonio 14-20
Los Angeles 13-21
Minnesota 13-21 -- a losing tiebreak that begat Maya Moore
Tulsa 6-28

What happened then was after years of being pushed around from the left coast, the East dominated the West in their two-game home-and-home crossovers per team.

Understand, while the records with only three winning teams this time look bizarre, remove them from the books, and focus on each team which had great moments in 2014.

Tulsa continued to show growth and if a bunch of those narrow setbacks could be reversed, it might have some impact on the entire slate.

As was mentioned on the teleconference Tuesday afternoon as part of the preview for the playoffs, many teams dealt with injuries and missing key personnel, a la Chicago, during large chunks of the season.

The very bottom is always going to lag benhind the rest.

But while you can still see the 2010 finish above, here's the 2014 ending for comparison.

2014 Final Standings
East
Atlanta 19-15
Indiana 16-18
Washington 16-18
Chicago 15-19
New York 15-19
Connecticut 13-21

West
Phoenix 29-5 -- WNBA record
Minnesota 25-9
San Antonio 16-18
Los Angeles 16-18
Seattle 12-22
Tulsa 12-22

Beyond the injuries and, of course, beyond that teams in both conferences play some intra-rivals five teams and others four, here are some other quick looks.

The West, obviously, saw the two frontrunners more times than the East, so that conference isn't worth examining much, though the West did outduel the East 44-28 in composite crossover results.

But here are some other facets on what helped teams in the East, not counting Connecticut, which pretty much struggled again but does have an upside for the future that gets enhanced Thursday night at the lottery but how much won't be known until the ping pong balls drop.

Team W-L CFWL NCFWL Home Road
Atlanta 19-15, 11-11, 8-4, 13-4, 6-11
Indiana 16-18, 12-10, 4-8, 7-10, 9-8
Washngtn 16-18, 11-11, 5-7, 10-7, 5-12
Chicago 15-19, 14-8, 1-11, 9-8, 6-11
New York 15-19, 10-12, 5-7, 10-7, 5-12
Connect. 13-21, 8-14, 5-7, 9-8, 4-13

Though Atlanta struggled down the stretch, the Dream played .500 in the conference and went 8-4 against the West and that was enough to to finish on top for the first time.

It will be interesting to see how Atlanta fares as the top dog considering its past trips to the finals came as an underseed.

Indiana was on a roller coaster but could be playing its best ball.

Throw out the Sunday game and the Fever got fat on New York down the stretch instead of vice versa and went a pedestrian 12-10 in conference play.

Washington won at the right place at the right time, albeit being inconsistent.

In the short run looking back at the stretch, the magic bullet was a big win over New York, which the Guru picked the other way, and a win at Indiana.

In the body of work department, 11-11 in the conference and 5-7 against the West, which, in a logjam, was help enough.

Chicago was interesting. Despite the injuries, the Sky dominated the East at 14-8, which could be an omen to perform better as an underdog going into the postseason instead of top dog 12 months ago.

But the West, don't ask. The mark was 1-12.

For New York, the reverse short-run look back was the telling because that rout at Washington two weeks ago might, as mentioned, been the deal maker for both teams.

Of course, the other key stat was Chicago's 4-0 wipeout, which, while being the element to break a tie, that deadlock might be an illusion, considering what teams were doing across the board pulling onto the docks for the wrap up.

Connecticut's 5-7 against the West, including a narrow win at Phoenix before the Mercury soared on the 16-game win streak.

So, those are some of the components produced by the flesh and blood, whose job it is now to fight, especially for Los Angeles and San Antonio, which must face the dynamos of the West and entire league at the outset, beginning Thursday.

Locally Noted

For the regional audience here near Philadelphia in the East, here's who you have to cheer for, geographically speaking, in the postseason.

Three members of the Rutgers 2007 NCAA finalist are alive with Kia Vaughn on Washington, Epiphanny Prince on Chicago, and Matee Ajavon on Atlanta.

Chicago also has in addition to Prince former Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne, the reigning rookie of the year.

Blue Hens fans have two potential options to see her either if Chicago and Washington are in the East final and there's the quick trip to the nation's capital or if Washington is eliminated before the league finals Delle Donne will make a second encore appearance at the Bob Carpenter Fieldhouse as part of the WNBA superstar group meeting in an intrasquad psuedo all-star game attempting to land spots on the USA Basketball Squad that will compete in the World Championship run by FIBA next month in Turkey.

The other encore occured at the beginning of the year when Chicago played Washington in a preseason game at Delaware to a sellout, which could happen again next May.

Temple's all-timer Candice Dupree plays for Phoenix, while Penn State is represented by Nikki Greene on Los Angeles and rookie star Maggie Lucas, a Narberth native and Germantown Academy graduate, from suburban Philadelphia.

On Sunday Lucas helped fill the void while the Fever rested people for the playoffs and her performance was such that coach Lin Dunn suggested it might harder her on out to keep her on the bench from increased minutes.

On the sidelines, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve is a former La Salle star who, if the Lynx don't get to the finals to defend their title, will be with the USA Contingent as an asssistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma.

So will Dawn Staley, now at South Carolina,who is one of the other assistants to Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown.

And the other playoff sideline individual is former Immaculata star Marianne Stanley, who is an assistant to Washington coach Mike Thibault.














- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WNBA Feature: Young Has Been a Rock of Excellence Aiding Chicago's Return to the Playoffs

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON –
With Chicago Sky players coming and going from its lineup like commuters at Union Station during rush hour this season, forward Tamera Young has been an anchor.

Despite all the adversity and ailments that forced Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman to spend more time looking at medical reports instead of scouting reports, Young has performed at a consistently high level all summer.

Her reliability, rebounding and leadership have helped the Sky navigate a circuitous route into the playoffs for a second straight season.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity this season,” Young said Wednesday morning at the Verizon Center before the Sky defeated the Mystics 72-69. “This became an opportunity for others to step up. People have had to play multiple positions, stick together and be mentally tougher.”

Young is one of those players who’ve bounced around the basketball court like a ping-pong ball, playing out of her comfort zone in the post.

Even though the Sky are the youngest team in the WNBA with an average age of 23.3 years old, the 27-year old Scorpio has enjoyed a breakout season for the Sky out of necessity and by returning to her roots when she was a dominating force for James Madison.

Young, a 2008 draft pick by the Atlanta Dream, was one of the all-time scorers in the Colonial Athletic Association behind Sky teammate and former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne.

This season, Young is averaging 27.7 minutes per game, six minutes more than her career average. She’s started 31 of the Sky’s 32 games.

She’s one of five Chicago players to appear in every game this season. Despite shooting a nearly identical field goal percentage (42.9 percent) to last year, Young is averaging 6.7 points per game, 1.1 more than last year, while averaging 10 more minutes than 2013.

“I’ve had to be more vocal and play different positions from the post to the guard spot this season,” Young said. “I don’t mind because having more time on the floor helps you get more experience and knowledge of the game.

"That’s been able to help me this year especially with me playing more minutes. I’ve just play wherever the team needs me to be or whatever coach asks of me is what I am trying to do.”

Her experience, dynamite defense and passionate rebounding have been a guiding light for the Sky throughout the season.

Young has scored in double figures nine times this season and posted one double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) against New York.

“She’s a fighter,” Chatman said. “I like the fact that she’s revved up all the time. She has had to play positions two, three and four for us.

"While doing that, she’s maintained a high level of plus-minus rating, knocked down shots and she’s always guarding the opposing teams’ best offensive player," Chatman continued.

"You don’t get on SportsCenter highlights or are talked about on the outside. It doesn’t matter to her because she understands how important it is to us and she relishes that role," Chatman noted.

“Even though we struggled, I think some people grew and gained confidence. This group deserves to all play together. We’re getting stronger at a good time, which is exciting for us.”

The Sky has been forced to battle through a fluctuating roster after beginning the season without Epiphany Prince (seven games for personal reasons) and Olympian Sylvia Fowles (13 games with hip issues).

All-Star Jessica Breland missed two games with a lower leg injury in mid-June, the same time the Sky lost Delle Donne, their top scorer and the reigning Rookie of the Year, for 17 games due to a Lyme disease flair-up. The Sky was without point guard Courtney Vandersloot for 15 games due to a sprained MCL.

Wednesday’s game against the Mystics was the second time all-season, the Sky enjoyed the luxury of having all 12 players available.

With two games remaining at Indiana Saturday night and home against San Antonio on Sunday, the Sky have an opportunity to finish as high as No. 2 in the Eastern Conference if they win out after taking the top spot in the East a year ago in their first appearance since the franchise debuted in 2006.

One of Young’s biggest improvements this season was spending time of watching some film of herself when she was at James Madison.

She was a scorer and rebounder, so she went back to the rudiments of what made her special coming out of JMU and Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, the same high school as one Michael Jordan attended.

“I was a big rebounder from the guard spot in college,” Young said. “I was athletic, running in and seeing where the ball goes.

"I think all of that is part of being aggressive and something I’ve always done so I had to get back to it. This year I put more emphasis on going to the boards instead of ball watching. I started crashing more and running in to get rebounds.”

With her black ponytail flapping in the wind, Young soars and snatches rebounds with authority.

She enjoys the tough contact and grabbing rebounds in traffic.

While she usually sports a white headband and a black sleeve on one of her arms, Young could easily just wear a hard-hat, construction vest and bring a lunch pail to the gym because she’s doing all the little things teams need to be successful.

“She’s such a gritty player,” Delle Donne said. “She doesn’t get enough credit. We ask her to do all the intangibles and she does them. She always gives us a ton of energy because of how hard she works every single play.”

Young takes a well-deserved break from helping the Sky by buying lots of sneakers.

She also listens to music and watches plenty of movies.

Sometimes she’ll go the movie theater or she’ll slip in a DVD.

However, for the next month, Young will focus on leading Chicago to the WNBA title.

With a full roster, the Sky is more than capable of representing the East in the WNBA Finals.

That they have an opportunity for postseason success despite enduring plenty of change and a rough stretch of where they lost 13 of 16 games is attributed to Young, who helped steadied the Sky ship during the stormy seas.

With Fowles and Delle Donne, who are part of the 2016 USA Women’s Basketball Olympic team pool, Breland, and possible sixth-woman of the year Allison Quigley, it’s easy to overlook Young’s contributions.

Young has earned the respect of opposing coaches and players.

“When she was younger and first came into the league, she wanted to be a go-to scorer and do more things,” second year Washington coach Mike Thibault said.

“However, Chicago needs her to be what she is now, which is to be a great defender, rebound and make open shots in the mid-range game," he added.

“She understands and accepts her role, which is important role for them. When young players figure that out that’s how they get better. She fits their team.

"She can guard many positions and she’s learned how to play off Sylvia, Elena and Epiphany. The biggest breakthrough for her was accepting that.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Friday, August 15, 2014

WNBA Feature: Phoenix Enjoying the View From the Top

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

NEW YORK –
The Phoenix Mercury are so versatile, deep, talented, driven, good, hilarious and focused that sometimes head coach Sandy Brondello has been known to get players confused during time out huddles.

Hey, with so many interchangeable pieces, it’s easy to scramble players at times.

“Sandy gets us the most confused between myself, BG (Brittney Grinner) and DB (DeWanna Bonner) when she draws up plays,” former Temple standout and Mercury forward Candice Dupree said Tuesday morning following the teams’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “You’ll see your initials on the board (in different positions from what Brondello is saying) and we’re like wait, ‘I am over here.’ We have to correct her every now and then because she’ll get our initials mixed up.”

Who could blame Brondello when the Mercury are functioning as a machine on most nights.

Dupree and Bonner can both stick jumpers, drive to the basket and finish strong around.

Griner, a force of nature in the paint, is a combination and bigger version of both Dupree and Bonner. All three players are lithe, nimble, quick and can do things at their size that many other players can only dream about.

Despite the occasional mix-up, the Mercury have been a juggernaut during a memorable 2014 season that has included the most wins in franchise history, a 16-game winning streak over a 45-day period and a current 14-game homecourt winning streak.

At 27-5 overall, Phoenix has an opportunity to set the WNBA record for most single-season wins by a team in league history if it can win its final two games Saturday against Los Angeles and Sunday against Seattle. The current mark is 28 wins set by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 during a 32-game schedule and tied by the Seattle Storm in 2010.

“There’s something to be said about special teams, chemistry and a connection that teams have and we seem to have that right now,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said. “That translates into winning games. We have to keep the momentum going and stay focused on every single detail and each game to reach our ultimate goal.”

Phoenix has all the pieces in place to finish the season with a purple-and-orange confetti shower next month.

All five of the Mercury’s starters rank in the top 25 in the league in field goal percentage, something that’s genuinely unheard of in basketball.

Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Dupree are three of top scorers all-time in WNBA history.

Griner has set a single-season record for blocked shots, dunked four times and has helped the Mercury allow a league-best 74.2 points per game.

Brondello has had her team prepared all season for nearly every situation. Erin Phillips, Shay Murphy, and Mistie Bass provide energy, experience and instant scoring off the bench.

While on the surface the season may have been appeared to be a smooth ride highlighted by their 18-double digit victories including Tuesday’s 76-64 triumph over the Liberty, the purplish-red beauty wound underneath of Bonner’s right eye told a different story.

Bonner caught an elbow playing defense during the Mercury’s 82-80 victory over the Lynx last Saturday.

“That was a tough game and whatever it took to win that one,” Bonner said. “It was a huge game for both teams because we know who won would have an inside track to home court advantage. It was definitely a mental thing for us (to win that game).”

The Mercury have had to fight for everything they have achieved this season which includes home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Many players agreed that defeating defending league champion Minnesota was a nice late season test to ace.

“It was a good test and we needed to get ready for the playoffs,” Dupree said. “We were more focused on winning because we wanted home court advantage. So we weren’t thinking about if they were in our heads or not. We just wanted to win whether it was by two or 20 points.”

Yet, through it all this season, the Mercury have thrived because they are a tight-knit group with tremendous chemistry who keep each other entertained.

Sometimes they’ll even make faces at players who are being interviewed like Bonner did to Dupree.

With Dupree trying to focus and answer questions, Bonner kept interrupting forcing Dupree to crack a smile and lose her train of thought. Bonner eventually walked over and started answering questions.

“We have so many people who are funny on this team,” Bonner said.

Phoenix cracks more jokes than a Kevin Hart standup concert when they are around each other.

Surprisingly to fans who just see Taurasi’s intense and fiery demeanor, she is the chief comedian of the Mercury according to several players.

When asked about that, Taurasi answered as only she can.

“On the court you got to have that killer mentality,” she said. “Off the court, you have to find a way to stay loose and make sure people are feeling good.

"I’ve learned that from being around some of the great players and coaches in this game.”

In college, her by-play with USA National Team coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut, where she won three straight NCAA titles, were memorable.

For a team that loves being around one another and like to have fun, the Mercury locker room following their win over the Liberty was silent aside from the occasional pinging of text message and social media alerts being sent to their phones and reporters asking questions as players responded in low voices.

There was no wild celebration or champagne pouring after securing the best regular season record in the league.

Phoenix is focused on the ultimate prize.

It has had fun along the journey that starts for real next week.

Brondello has the luxury of resting players as she did when Taurasi and Taylor, the Mercury’s starting backcourt, sat out of Wednesday’s 96-82 setback to Atlanta, which could be the matchup for the finals if both teams advance through their conference semifinals and championships.

“I want to keep people in rhythm, Brondello said. “I want to be going into the playoffs in good form. Our goal for the rest of the season is to stay healthy, finish well and go into the playoffs in top shape."

When asked to describe her team, Brondello smiled.

“I would say they are focused and determined,” Brondello said. “Their will to win goes to another level when they step onto the court.

"They have a lot of fun together. You have the goofy players and the ones they make fun of. They have great chemistry." she added.

"They all have different personalities but they all mesh together so well. It’s been a special season and hopefully it continues.”
















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Philly Summer League: Crisler Leads Gold to Championship Over Maroon

By Mel Greenberg

HATBORO, Pa. --
Call the 2014 season the Summer of Gold in the Philadelphia/Suburban Women's NCAA Summer Basketball League.

Keith Wood's top-seeded Gold squad rallied from a three-point deficit at the half and went on to a 66-57 victory over sixth-seeded Maroon Thursday night at Kelly Bolish Gym, home of the AAU Renegades in lower Bucks County.

Gold went nearly unblemished the entire way through the 12-game schedule in the 13-team league that got under way in late June before going 3-0 with some challenges in the playoffs that began in the quarterfinals a week ago.

Pink, which was the Division II University of the Sciences of Philadelphia squad, dealt Gold its lone setback, though the frontrunners were never out of first place the entire way.

The Pink squad was one of six teams finishing in a tie for fifth with a 6-6 record and lost out in the systematic tiebreakers to determine the eight teams in the postseason.

"If we had Natasha Cloud here, who I think was the best player in the league, we might have won the playoffs easy," Wood said afterwards.

"But Maroon was a good team. You could see them start to get real good last year."

Gold beat Maroon 85-68 on the regular schedule last time around, so Thursday's challenge could be seen as an improvement.

Cloud, who will be an incoming senior at Saint Joseph's this fall and is a graduate of Cardinal O'Hara, had to take an already scheduled vacation as did many other players who come almost right out of the previous collegiate season into league play.

This season, the league had to start a week later because of a red tape issue with the NCAA, pushing the finish into mid-August.

"Currently, the NCAA doesn't allow any league play before June 15," longtime commissioner David B. Kessler said of the normal start date.

"It would be great if we could start earlier and end earlier," he continued. "We lose too many players in August due to vacations, etc.

"The Penn players had a trip to Italy with their team that began Monday and the Saint Joe players went home after finishing summer school to see their families before beginning their fall semester."

The Penn players, though, were eliminated a week ago when Orange lost in the opening round.

In terms of performance, Lauren Crisler, an American University sophomore out of North Penn High, topped all scorers on both teams, scoring 17 points for Gold.

If we were picking an all-league squad, which would be dominated by Saint Joseph's players, Crisler would certainly be on it off her consistency along the way.

Alex Smith, a recent graduate of Holy Cross out of the Peddie School, was also in double figures for Gold with 12 points.

"I think Alex could play somewhere, if not in the WNBA," Wood said. "She's a good shooter and teams certainly could use that skill."

The Maroon squad was mostly composed of the Division II East Stroudsburg team of players who are from this area.

Rachel Falkowski, a sophomore out of Central Bucks South, led the way for the second straight night, scoring 11 points fueled by three 3-pointers.

Molly Rubin, a Kenyon College junior out of the Princeton Day School, was one of three players adding nine points to the Maroon attack.

Ryann Fiascki, an East Stroudsburg senior out of Archbishop Carroll, and Courtney Brown, an East Stroudsburg sophomore out of Council Rock South, were the other two and all of Brown's points came off of three treys.

As always, the commissioner concludes with hopes that everyone had fun and got something out of their experience to help them when they return to college for the 2014-15 season.

Certainly, the Guru has seen that trend occur over the years and it will be interesting to see what happens this time around.

Saint Joseph's has been to the NCAA tournament for the past two seasons with many players in the league, including an Atlantic 10 title in 2013 that broke a 12-year drought.

Speaking of the Hawks, with former star Katie Kuester moving on to North Carolina as a video coordinator last season, and now as a new assistant coach at Loyola of Maryland, this was the first time in five years the winning roster did not contain Kuester's name.

Playoffs Schedule

Thursday's (Aug. 14) Result

Championship

(1) Gold 66, (6) Maroon 57

Tuesday's (Aug. 12) Results

Semifinals

(1) Gold 75, (7) Kelly Green 68
(6) Maroon 48, (5) Black 42

Thursday's (Aug. 7) Results

Quarterfinals

(1) Gold 81, (8)Orange 69
(5) Black 58, (4) Hunter Green 54
(7) Kelly Green 60, (2) White 43
(6) Maroon 69, (3) Sky Blue 59

Top Playoffs Scorers

31 pts. -- Ashley Wood, Gold (W) vs. Kelly Green, Aug. 12
26 pts. -- Amanda Fioravanti, Orange (L) vs. Gold, Aug. 7
24 pts. -- Najah Jacobs, Black (W), vs. White, Aug. 7
21 pts. -- Sarah Fairbanks, Hunter Grn (L) vs. Black, Aug. 7
20 pts. -- Alex Louin, Kelly Green (L) vs. Gold, Aug. 13
19 pts. -- Alex Smith, Gold (W) vs. Orange, Aug. 7
19 pts. -- Maureen Leahy, Hunter Green (w) vs. White. Aug. 7
19 pts. -- Alex Smith, Gold (W) vs. Black, Aug. 12

Final Regular Season Standings

Team, W-L, Pct., G.B., Pts., Opp Pts.

+%@*^-Gold, 11-1, .917, --, 914 696
*-fw-White, 10-2, .833, 1.0, 803 583
*-Sky Blue, 7-5, .583, 4.0, 639 559
*-fw-Hunter Green, 7-5, .583, 4.0, 650 706
@*-fw-Black, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 573 594
%@*-fw, fl-Maroon, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 715 597
@*-fw,fl(2)-Kelly Green, 6-6,.500, 5.0, 497 555
*-fw-Orange, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 695 700
fw-Pink, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 562 544
fl(2)-Purple, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 570 525
Navy Blue, 5-7, .417, 6.0, 709 696
Red, 2-10, .167, 9.0, 589 834
fl(2)-Royal Blue, 0-12,.000, 11.0, 574 789

* -- Clinched playoff slot
@ -- Semifinalsts
% -- Finalists
+ -- Playoff champion
^ -- Clinched top seed
fw -- includes forfeit win, fl - includes forfeit loss

IMPORTANT DATES IN 2015`

Wednesday April 1, 2015 – application for NCAA certification
Thursday April 2, 2015 - league applications e-mailed to players
Thursday April 30, 2015 - deadline for registration
Thursday May 21, 2015 - player draft (coaches only) 7:30 at Renegades’ gym
Monday June 1, 2015 - shirts ordered
Tuesday June 16, 2015 - shirts distributed, league begins

That's it for now and for the entire Guru league coverage this summer on the blog.

For regular season finish stats scroll to the blog of Aug. 6. All of the league coverage begins with a Philly Summer League if you are scrolling through this blog.

Thanks to the Commissioner David B. Kessler, Deputy Commissioner Steve Michielli, and Tom Utescher for supplying the Guru with info when he was out of pocket on his WNBA coverage schedule as well as for other times to enhance these reports.



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

WNBA Report: Washington Playoff Bid Temporarily Foiled Again

By Megan Nipe

WASHINGTON --
The Chicago Sky, involved in their own pursuits for the postseason, became the latest obstacle to the Washington Mystics wrapping up a second straight playoff berth Wednesday afternoon as the visitors ruined a comeback effort at the Verizon Center and held on for a 72-69 victory.

It's the second straight game in which Washington (15-17) failed to take care of business following Sunday's one that got away 89-81 in double overtime on the road against the Connecticut Sun.

And that loss had ramifications leading into the Chicago game because Washington center Kia Vaughn was on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension for elbowing to the head of Sun rookie sensation Chiney Oguwmike, the overall No. 1 pick in April's draft out of Stanford.

The Mystics also lost Kara Lawson to an sprained ankle injury in the fourth quarter and she will be out of action until at least the playoffs.

The Sky (15-17), on the other hand, keep getting stronger with former Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne, the reigning rookie of the year, playing the most minutes yet since returning from a 17-game absence due to the recurring effects of Lyme disease.

She finished with 18 points. Sylvia Fowles, who missed a large portion of thje front end of the season, had 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

Also back for the first time since the end of June was starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who suffered a knee injury in the final moments of a game in New York.

While both teams now have the same record with two left to play in the regular season, Chicago moved into second place under tiebreaking procedures.

The Sky finish up with the Indiana Fever (14-17), who could make it a three-way tie recordwise for second place by beating the fifth-place New York Liberty (13-18) in Indianapolis on Thursday night, before hosting the San Antonio Silver Stars on Sunday.

Washington can still control its own destiny, needing just one win out of two different scenarios. The first can come with a return trip to Connecticut, which has been eliminated, Friday night, having lost to the Sun just once last Sunday.

The other is New York visits here Saturday night in the season final for both teams.

Chicago coach Pokey Chatman spoke after Wednesday's game on the pressures in the East where everyone has been jam packed together behind the Atlanta Dream, which clinched first in the East Wednesday night, beating the Phoenix Mercury, which had wrapped up first in the West and overall homecourt advantage in the playoffs Tuesday night with a win in New York.

"It's huge," she said. "There's so many adjectives every coach in the Eastern Conference can use right now.

"You don't have to motivate anybody -- I can tell you that. The season and the grind, and not just our ends but everyone. We've been through so much. Everyone's going to go through a little bit of adversity. But the fact that we still maintained being relevant this time of year is a positive and that group deserves to all play together.

"So it's a nice time for them to all come together and gain some momentum going into these last two games."

It was no coincidence a year ago that Delle Donne's arrival as the No. 2 overall draft pick enabled Chicago to make the playoffs for the first time in eight tries, let alone win the East outright before losing to Indiana in the first round.

And it is no coincidence this time around that Delle Donne back on the court has changed Chicago's destiny from a draft lottery-bound team to one who could make some noise when the conference playoff semifinals begin next week.

Washington was a recent victim of the Sky's revival and was looking for revenge along with playoff glory before Delle Donne put an end to those thoughts of delivering a payback.

"In terms of Elena, I'm only playing her at the four right now because her conditioning is not near where it needs to be," Chatman said of getting the most out of Delle Donne without causing any setbacks.

"But she's a spacer, even if she is not getting buckets, she creates space for other people, and at the end of the day she is an excellent offensively skilled person.

"And it just helps everyone's confidence on the offensive end of the floor."

Among the able bodies for the Mystics, which included rookie Stefanie Dolson, one of two UConn All-Americans on the squad, making her first start,
Monique Currie,scored 18 points, while Dolson had 12 points and 10 rebounds,

Kids Day in the Verizon Center started off with a bang when Dolson served up a monster block, but the Mystics found themselves with multiple team fouls quick in the first quarter, mostly because of the work inside by Chicago's Fowles.

At the seven-minute mark, the Sky were up 3-0 with a bucket and free throw by Fowles. The Mystics first point came at 5:24 in the first quarter on a free throw by Tianna Hawkins (3 pts), the same time Delle Donne subbed into the game.

After the first media timeout, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (7 points, 3 assists) and Tayler Hill (2 pts.) had joined the lineup on the floor and Pratt gave the Mystics a quick bucket bringing them within two, at 7-5.

Two free throws by Dolson soon after tied the game at seven. With over two minutes left in the first, Fowles connected on both ends of a oneand-one to put the Sky back up by four.

With the Mystics shooting only 17.6% from the field, the Sky began to pull away and the first quarter ended with a score of 19-10.

Washington had open looks that weren’t rolling their way, but they saw the opportunities and kept attacking the basket.

Emma Meesseman (6 pts, 5 rebs) scored her first points of the day just above the six minute mark in the second quarter, and the next possession after that, Currie earned herself an and-one, bringing the deficit to six at 21-15.

The Mystics first thee-pointer of the game by Currie brought them within three but this was quickly answered by a long jumper from Delle Done and another bucket from Allie Quigley (11 pts, 6 ast), the former DePaul star.

With one minute left in the half, Bria Hartley (9 pts), the other rookie and UConn all-American, and Dolson scored back-to-back points, bringing Washington within four. Pratt scored a last second jumper and going into halftime Washington had hopes trailing just 31-29.

There were no players on either team who finished the first half in double digit scoring, but shortly into the third quarter, Fowles led all scorers with 15 points on the day, and on a pair of free throws, Washington’s Currie led her team with 10 points.

Points in the paint seemed to be the deciding factor for the game and with Fowles doing her thing, the differential was a whopping 16 points favoring the Sky

A three pointer by Currie, who scored the team's only two three-pointers, put Washington within four.

Unfortunately, a foul by Currie on the other end gave Delle Donne an and-one and sent Currie to the bench with four fouls.

Not long after, Dolson found herself with four fouls and joined Currie on the bench. The third quarter came to a close with the Mystics trailing the Sky, 52-45.

A pair of free throws by Hill to start the fourth quarter brought the Mystics back within five, and later another pair by Ivory Latta (12 pts, 5 rebs) brought the team within two, 52-54.

Latta was the only other Mystics player in double figures with 12 points.

Coming out of the media timeout, both seems started trading baskets with Washington always seemingly two points behind.

Four free throws by Dolson kept the Mystics within four points with 1:24 to go in the game and an offensive foul by Quigley gave Washington the ball back with 1:14 left.

A jumper by Currie brought it to a two-point difference with one minute remaining but double free throws by Delle Donne kept the lead at four.

With crucial free throws attempted by Currie with 35 seconds to go, she went 1-2.

Another timeout was called and the score was 68-65 Chicago.

With her fifth and final foul, Dolson headed to the bench and Fowles made two free throws to put the lead back to five.

The next possession, Meesseman scored a quick layup, and soon after, Hartley stole the inbounds pass and finished the layup.

With 7.8 seconds left, the Mystics were back within one.

Chicago’s Epiphany Prince (10 pts) put in two free throws to put the Sky up by three, and a last second three-pointer attempt by Meesseman was no good.

As a result, Chicago left a step closer to the playoffs while Washington remained on idle with a great chance to step on the gas Friday night in Connecticut.


- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WNBA Feature: As Delle Donne Gets Healthier So Does Chicago

( Guru note: This is a companion to Megan Nipe's game story that will post later Wednesday. )

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON –
With a large bottle of orange-flavored Pedialyte resting comfortably on a black chair on the Chicago Sky bench about 90 minutes before tip-off against the Washington Mystics at the Verizon Center Wednesday morning, Elena Delle Donne buried shot after shot during her usual pre-game shooting routine.

The former Delaware star and last year’s WNBA Rookie of the Year was home in her sanctuary and enjoying herself.

She wants everybody to know she is getting her groove back, one possession at a time. Delle Donne missed 17 games this season after a serious flare-up of her Lyme disease.

“It’s been a tough journey especially the month I had to spend away from the team,” Delle Donne said while sitting on the bench and clutching her Pedialyte with both hands prior to the game. “Now that I am back, I have a message with (Chicago head coach and general manager) Pokey Chatman where some games I will feel great and other games I won’t.

“I’ll kind of give her the eye where she’ll either take me out or leave me in so it’s kind of something we are still working on. My playing time varies and I am OK with that. I am definitely doing much better and obviously being on the court is a huge improvement for me.”

Delle Donne’s presence has also lifted the Sky’s spirits and sent them soaring up in the Eastern Conference standings.

Wednesday’s game against the Mystics was Delle Donne’s sixth since her return against New York on July 31.

The Sky improved to 5-1 overall since Delle Donne’s return following their 72-69 victory over the Mystics in a key Eastern Conference clash.

Both teams have identical 15-17 records and are tied for second place. In the 15 games that Delle Donne has played this season, Chicago is 9-2 against Eastern Conference opponents and 10-5 overall.

A mark like that makes the Sky a serious contender for the Eastern Conference crown.

“I am extremely confident in our ability to do some good things if we’re able to make the playoffs this season,” Delle Donne said. “We have faced so much adversity this season. Adversity is something that you’ll face in the playoffs so I know we’re used to it so that’s a great thing. Finally, I think we’ll have all 12 players on the court and that’s exciting too.”

It’s also nice seeing Delle Donne on the court.

She made her first appearance in Wednesday’s game with 5 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the opening quarter and was her usual impactful self throughout the contest.

Overall, she finished with 18 points on an efficient 7-for-9 shooting in a season-high 23 minutes. Delle Donne has scored in double figures in five of the six games since her return.

Afterwards, sitting in the locker room, Delle Donne looked like she could play some more minutes.

“I feel really good,” Delle Donne said. “I started off slow and I was able to play into it and feel a lot better as the game went on. So today was a good one.

"This is probably the best I’ve felt following a game so that’s encouraging.”

She made both of her baskets – a jumper and a short floater – to stake the Sky to a 19-10 lead after the first quarter.

She quelled a potential Mystic uprising by draining a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter after Washington scored eight straight points to pull to within 21-18.

That basket started a quick 5-0 burst for the Sky.

After the Mystics took their only lead of the game, Delle Donne scored five points to help Chicago gain a 52-45 edge entering the fourth quarter. She closed the game by scoring six critical points in the fourth quarter.

“The best way I can describe what I am dealing with is it’s like playing with the flu,” Delle Donne said. "It’s really a lot of bad achiness. My muscles would be really sore during the game and definitely afterwards.

"It’s just a lot of inflammation. That’s really the only way I can describe it.

"Imagine playing with severe fever-like symptoms. I drink an entire bottle of
Pedialyte throughout the whole game and it helps me with my shakiness that I have during the game. The electrolytes really help me.”

The Sky are beginning to get used to life with Delle Donne again.

“Elena’s still not 100 percent in terms of conditioning,” Chatman said. “We have to be really careful with her in the minutes we pick with her.

"She’s an incredible piece for us because she changes the defensive scheme of our opponents because her presence also allows us to do more things offensively.”

Some of those things include playing Sylvia Fowles in the post and Delle Donne up on the perimeter. They combined for 39 points against the Mystics.

Fowles has more space to operate while Delle Donne’s presence also allows players like Allie Quigley, Tamera Young and Epiphanny Prince better shot attempts.

“The hardest thing for me was getting my timing back, spacing, having an awareness of where the rest of the team was and getting into the flow of things,” Delle Donne said. “It’s different not being able to play for a month. I had to take my time and also at the same time listen to my body so I don’t have a relapse.”

For an elite-level athlete like Delle Donne, knowing when to say enough and rest has been challenging.

“It’s really hard because I am a player who likes to play 40 minutes and if it’s a close game, I want to be in there,” Delle Donne said. “Unfortunately if I push too much, it could send me back out of games. I have to be really smart with everything and Pokey helps me out a lot.”

Her preparation starts before she arrives to the arena especially on the road.

Since air travel presents some unique challenges for Delle Donne, she has to spend additional time taking additional precautions such as wearing a NormaTec device when she’s resting at the hotel.

“Flying is really bad for me and it makes the inflammation rise up so I drink a lot of water to flush it out of my system,” Delle Donne said. “I have a norm-a-tech device and it goes from my waist all the way down to my leg. It kind of pushes pressure into my legs to get try and get some of the inflammation out.”

Following games, Delle Donne gets massages and repeats the same pre-game process of drinking Pedialyte, wearing the NormaTec device and relaxing.

Delle Donne can get a little extra rest the rest of the week because the Sky don’t play until Saturday when they visit Indiana.

Then they will wrap up the regular season at home Sunday against the San Antonio Silver Stars -- a game in which they hope will be reduced to a tuneup for the playoffs and a chance to advance beyond their first-round knockout a year ago after winning the top seed in the East.





- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

WNBA Report: Former Temple Star Candice Dupree Helps Phoenix Topple New York and Earn Top Playoff Seed

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

NEW YORK –
Even though Candice Dupree has been an elite performer for nine years, she still pinches herself each time she takes the floor.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d be playing college basketball, let alone at the professional level,” Dupree said. “I’ve been able to do a lot, see a lot and make a lot of money while doing it.

"It doesn’t get any better than that. I didn’t play AAU until my junior year of high school. I wasn’t highly recruited, but to play for Dawn Staley (her coach at Temple) and then to play here is crazy.”

Those watching the 6 foot, 2 inch Phoenix Mercury forward drain baseline jumpers, ferociously corral rebounds, play stifling defense and lead her team may be surprised that sometimes Dupree still thinks she’s dreaming even though her steady numbers say otherwise.

With a game as smooth and easy as a Wynton Marsalis jazz tune, Dupree floated through refurbished Madison Square Garden like a butterfly and stung the New York Liberty like a bee in scoring a team-high 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead Phoenix to a 76-64 victory Tuesday night before 9,617 fans.

The win clinched home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs for the Mercury, who are an amazing 27-4 overall in what is turning into a season for the ages.

With one more win, the Mercury will tie the Los Angeles Sparks’ single-season record for regular season victories of 28 set in 2001 during a 32-game schedule and matched by Seattle in 2010.

Dupree had help as Diana Taurasi (14 points), Brittney Griner (14, 11 rebounds), Penny Taylor (11) and Erin Phillips (11) also reached double digits for the Mercury, who shot 50 percent from the 3-point line and 51 percent overall while finishing with 19 assists on their 31 made baskets.

The balance was needed to combat Tina Charles’ sensational one-woman show.

In recording her 16th double-double of the season, Charles led the Liberty (13-18 overall) with 26 points and 12 rebounds. She scored 16 of the Liberty’s 20 points in the opening 10 minutes. Charles also tallied New York’s first 12 points of the night. Cappie Pondexter added 12 points for the Liberty, who dropped their second straight game.

Her production against the Liberty moved Dupree into the top-20 all-time in league history in scoring with 4,247 career points.

She is 20th all-time after moving past greats Yolanda Griffith (4,238 points), now an assistant coach at Lafayette University, and Vickie Johnson (4,243) following a deep deuce from just inside of the 3-point arc with 5 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

That basket also gave Phoenix its largest lead of the game, 72-54.

“It means a lot to me,” Dupree said when asked about the significance of being one of the top 20 scorers in WNBA history. “It’s not something I necessarily keep up with. I just try to go out, play the game consistently and try to help my team win. To be in the top 20 is a pretty big deal.”

She recently became the 22nd player in WNBA history to score 4,000 career points (12th active player and 3rd on Mercury) on June 2. Dupree has also posted her eighth double-double this season, which extended her franchise record to 32 overall.

Another example of her consistency is Dupree has scored in double-figures 23 of the Mercury’s last 24 games. She averages 15.0 points this season and 15.3 points for her sterling career.

Dupree has been one of many key ingredients of Phoenix’s championship machine that has devoured nearly everything in its path this season like a Category Four hurricane on the way to their finest year in franchise history.

“She’s had a beautiful season,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of Dupree. “She’s been a key component of what we’re doing. The team really matches each other. We have shooters, we have Brittney inside, we have big three’s, Penny Taylor, versatile players.

"There’s no smarter player than Candice Dupree. She can score in different ways for us. We’re built on sharing the ball, but we always put her in the pick-and-roll because she always makes good decisions for us.”

The theme of the Mercury’s website is “Chasing Glory," which is accurate but unbeknownst to many of the players, including Dupree, something else is within their reach if they win their remaining three games at Atlanta (Wednesday), home against Los Angeles (Saturday) and at Seattle (Sunday).

Phoenix has an opportunity to become the first franchise to win 30 regular season games in the 18-year history of the WNBA, a fact that startled Dupree.

“Wow, I didn’t know that until you just told me that,” Dupree said incrediously following the Mercury shootaround Tuesday morning. “It’s always been one game at a time for us.

"Our goal is to never try and lose games so I know we’re going to go out and try to win every game even with home court advantage secured. This year has been the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been in Phoenix, but I guess it’s always fun when you’re winning games.”

Phoenix was challenged for much of the first half and held a slim 33-30 lead with three minutes remaining until the break before finishing strong.

The Mercury scored 10 straight points to open a 43-30 halftime bulge. When the Liberty opened the second half by scoring the first four points, Dupree answered with a pair of baskets of her own.

Dupree, who will turn 30 on Saturday, credits Staley for helping her with her immediate transition into the WNBA.

Under Staley, Dupree learned how to be a professional and prepared for the speed and physicality of the WNBA.

Away from the court, Dupree spends more time watching HGTV than ESPN.

“I enjoy rehabbing homes,” Dupree said. “My family helps me out there. I put in the money and they do the work.

"After I am done playing, I want to do something in real estate. Also, I am in the works of trying to opening a clothing boutique in the Tampa area. After that we’ll see if that does well, we’ll open multiple stores.”

Meanwhile, the Liberty remained in fifth place and dropped a game behind both Chicago and Indiana for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. New York plays two of its final three games against the Fever beginning Thursday in Indianapolis.

“We have to win in Indiana, that’s pretty much the only solution moving forward,” Pondexter said. “Tonight we played against the best team in the league in my opinion. It was a measuring stick; if we were able to get the win it obviously would have been great for us. We put ourselves in this position; the only positive thing that I can take is getting a win in Indiana on Thursday.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

WNBA Feature: Bias View of Phoenix is Educational

By Rob Knox (@KNOXROB1)

NEW YORK –
Rookie point guard Tiffany Bias enjoys a front-row seat to the greatest show in the WNBA every time the Phoenix Mercury takes the court to entertain crowds and devour another opponent.

Bias, a former Oklahoma State standout who was a second round draft pick of the Mercury in April’s draft, is enjoying the best education any basketball player could ever imagine receiving during the Mercury’s enchanted season.

On a team full of some of the WNBA’s most iconic names and top players, Bias is learning the point guard position from legends Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, two of the top 20 scorers all-time in league history. Taurasi is second all-time with 6,716 points and Taylor is 19th with 4,279 points.

For Bias, it’s like chilling in the studio with Jay-Z during the recording of his “Reasonable Doubt” album or being taught how to paint by Michelangelo and dance by Michael Jackson.

“It’s a big change from college,” Bias said Tuesday morning following the Mercury’s shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “It’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot from all these great players. Who wouldn’t want to play for the Phoenix Mercury and learn from the best? I am enjoying the ride and taking everything in now.”

With three games remaining including Wednesday night’s clash with the Atlanta Dream at the Phillips Arena in Georgia, Bias and the Mercury (27-4 overall) have already checked one goal off of their to-do list: The best record in the league and homecourt advantage throughout the entire playoffs thanks to their 76-64 victory over the New York Liberty Tuesday night.

However, the Mercury also have an opportunity to make history by becoming the first WNBA team to win 30 games in a regular season during the 18-year history of the league.

With one more win, the Mercury will tie the Los Angeles Sparks’ single-season record for regular season victories set in 2001 during a 32-game schedule.

Despite averaging 3.2 minutes and 0.8 points in 14 games, Bias is having a blast being a member of what could go down as one of the best teams in the WNBA history when the playoffs conclude next month

For 45 days (June 15-July 29), the Mercury enthralled and captivated the entire league with their 16-game winning streak, the second longest in WNBA history.

The Mercury are having their best year in franchise history, easily surpassing the previous record of 23 victories achieved in their 2007 and 2009 title seasons.

“It was a great streak,” Bias said. “We played hard and its one of those things that you made history with the second longest streak and it’s great to be a part of something like that.

"We learned a lot from the long streak. We knew we had to be mentally focused every night because we had a big target on our backs.”

Aside from the physicality of the game, living on her own and dealing with the dry heat of the desert, Bias’ biggest adjustment has been getting used to reduced playing time.

In a society marked by instant gratification and wanting to play every possible minute, Bias’ approach is refreshing.

She knows, understands, accepts and cherishes her role as a valuable contributor to the Mercury’s success this season.

Bias pushes players during practices and is lightning fast. In addition, she has a magnetic and vibrant personality that lights up a room.

As a rookie on a veteran team, Bias has the luxury of not being rushed into critical game action although she’s more than capable of performing if she had to. With home court advantage wrapped up, She could see more time over Phoenix’s final three games as it rests some players in preparation for the playoffs.

“We’ve always liked Tiffany,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “She’s on a team that’s quite stacked and her opportunities have been quite limited, but when she goes and plays over in Europe after this season, she’ll gain more experience, which will help her.

"What we like about her is her athleticism and her defensive ability in which she can push people down the floor. She just hasn’t had an opportunity yet, but that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in her.”

No matter how big or small her role, Bias is blessed to live her hoop dreams on women’s basketball’s biggest stage. She even saw 80 seconds of action on the sacred Madison Sqaure Garden court late in the Mercury’s win.

Bias was the centerpiece of many memorable Oklahoma State moments during an exceptional career in the orange-and-black.

She helped the Cowgirls win a WNIT title as a sophomore and helped them make consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, including the programs’ third trip to the Sweet 16 in history.

Bias departed Stillwater as one of the greatest players in Oklahoma State history.

She amassed a school-record 791 assists, which stands as the third-best total in Big 12 history. Bias also set school standards for games played (133), games started (132) and minutes played (4,670).

Her 295 career steals rank second in OSU history and ninth on the Big 12 charts. Her 1,623 points rank eighth all time in Cowgirl history as well.

“Some of the things I have learned here from the older players is having good poise and learning this league,” Bias said. “Also, how the offenses are run and different little things that go together.

"I think its learning more of the player you’re supposed to be on this level. In college you see glimpses of the player you want to be but here you have to be more consistent when you get to this level and bring what you can bring every night to the table is really what you have to do for the team.”

Bias stays sharp by picking Taurasi’s brain and staying after practice to launch as many shots as possible. Even though she knows she may not get in the game, Bias continues to stay ready by focusing on every detail while cheering on her teammates.

When asked what it was like to compete against Bias in practice, Taurasi was candid in her response.

“It’s hell,” Taurasi said. “She’s one of the quickest players I’ve ever played against. She has that on me one hundred times over. She’s made me better over the year, which is hard to do. Tiff has great potential with her speed and ball-handling. On a team like ours, she doesn’t really get the opportunity to show it. She’s going to be a great pro in this league for a long, long time.”

Bias adds energy to practice sessions and plays with the confidence that belies her petite 5 foot, 6 inch frame.

“Tiff is tough, quick and can guard a lot of people,” Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner said. “She’s learning a lot this year and I think that’s important because a lot of point guards come into the league and don’t have an opportunity to learn from experienced players.

"She listens and is a good fit for our team. I am sure it’s tough for her as a star coming from college where you play all the time and now you don’t play a lot.”

Bias has found a big sister in nine-year veteran Candice Dupree, who has helped her navigate the WNBA life on and off the court.

“She took me under her wing especially when I got here,” Bias said. “Now, if I don’t know something, I’ll ask her. She’s a leader.

" The good thing about her is she can catch any ball you throw to her so you can’t really throw a bad ball to her. She’s taught me a lot.

"Candice is very poised and stays under control. She leads by example so for me, it’s good to have somebody like her to watch and follow in their footsteps.

"Being able to be around these great players on a daily basis has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.”


- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Philly Summer League: Father-Daughter Act Carries Gold to Title Game Against Maroon

( Guru's note: Enhanced information to original post and team rosters for title game added.)

By Mel Greenberg

The Philadelphia/Suburban Women's NCAA Summer Basketball League had its own special kind of father-daughter night Tuesday in the semifinals at Kelly Bolish Gym, home of the AAU Renegades in Hatboro, Pa., in Lower Bucks County.

Coach Keith Wood's Gold squad, the top seed which stayed in first place since the June opener, turned back the challenge from seventh-seeded Kelly Green to gain a 75-68 victory and advance to Thursday's championship on Court 1 at 7 p.m.

Helping Gold, which lost just one game the past three months, was Wood's daughter Ashley, a recent Kutztown graduate out of Spring-Ford High, who bombed the baskets for a playoff-best 31 points.

Now just sixth-seeded Maroon stands in the way of the title after Maroon, a squad of predominately Division II East Stroudsburg players, edged Black, which is also Division II Philadelphia University, 48-42.

When the two met early in the 12-game schedule Gold rolled to an 85-68 win.

Gold reigned 3-pointers on Kelly Green, which rallied from a tough summer start to get to the semifinals.

Wood tossed four treys from beyond the arc while Alex Smith, a recent Holy Cross graduate out of the Peddie School, scored 19 points and also connected on four 3-pointers.

Jasmine Elum, a 2012 Bethune-Cookman graduate out of the Peddie School, scored 17 points and nailed a trio of treys.

Kelly Green's Alex Louin, an incoming freshman to Villanova out of Mount St. Joseph's, scored 20 points, while Bryant junior Maureen Leahy out of Cardinal O'Hara scored 19 points and Megan Quinn, a Villanova sophomore out of Episcopal Academy, scored 16 points.

The other game was a low-scoring affair and no one on the winning Maroon squad was able to reach double figures.

Rachel Falkowski, an East Stroudsburg sophomore out of Central Bucks South, scored nine points for Maroon, which finished 6-6 and upset third-seed Sky Blue 69-59 in the quarterfinals last Thursday.

Courtney Brown, whose class and high school affiliations are the same as Falkowski's, also scored nine points, while Melissa Poderis, an East Stroudsburg junior out of Vila Jos. Marie, scored eight points.

Black was hurt by the absence of senior Najah Jacobs out of Central High, who had been one of the league's top scorers, though her situation was similar to many others in the league once the schedule dips into mid-August.

Gold, for example, went the whole way with just five players and were missing Saint Joseph's senior Natasha Cloud and Delaware sophomore Stephanie Leon.

Kelly Green went with just eight players, missing Saint Joseph's sophomore Mackenzie Rule and recent acquisition Vicky Tumasz, who just graduated North Penn High.

Gold held leads of 56-49 but then reduced to just 67-64 with three minutes left in regulation.

The llast eight points for Gold came from a pair of field goals from Wood, while Elum and Shira Newman, a Millersville 2013 graduate out of North Penn High, converted 1-and-1 off the line.

Louin and Quinn scored the final four points for Kelly Green with baskets.

Senior Monica Shacker out of Germantown Academy scored 15 points for Black, while junior Mary Newell out of Villa Joseph Marie scored 10 points.

Maroon used a 19-0 run from which Black could not recover.

Michelle Boggs, an East Stroudsburg junior, scored seven points and was a defensive presence for Maroon.

Oddly, Maroon almost met with disaster down the stretch of the regular season when it used an ineligible player in a win over White, forcing longtime Commissioner David B. Kessler to issue a forfeit, which preserved White's No. 2 position.

But Maroon landed in the six-team tie for fifth and was able to survive the series of tiebreakers to determine who would move into the eight-team field out of the original 13 squads and what the 5-8 seeds would be.

Your Traveling Guru

The Guru will be on the scene Thursday after missing the first two rounds due to conflicts with games required to attend in the WNBA.

In the last 24 hours starting Tuesday afternoon, the Guru shot up to New York on Jersey Transit to substitute for vacationing Associated Press national women's writer Doug Feinberg for the showdown with Phoenix, then headed back to central Jersey and stopped for a late night snack in a diner at the end of Roosevelt Blvd. while edited Rob Knox's sidebar and main game story for this site, which is posted above this report.

Then it was off to Perryville, Md., just above the Susquehanna River, to jump on a cheap MARC commuterr line to get down here to Washington for the tipoff at 11:30 a.m. against Elena Delle Donne's Chicago Sky in a key game with playoff implications in the East.

But since he arrived early, he spent the last 45 minutes in Union Station alongside a creperie stand writing this report and now it's off to jump on the Metro to get over to the Verizon Center.

Sleep is not an option, except on trains.

Noted

Sarah Veillux, who played for Hunter Green, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals after being the fourth seed, is an incoming freshman for Saint Joseph's and had a productive summer in the league.

The Guru mentions here because he discovered that back in early July the Hartford Courant, which covers the powerful UConn women's squad and the WNBA Connecticut Sun along with other sports made Veillux the area high school athlete of the year.

You will see a spot below that says roster, but doesn't have anyone listed. That will be updated later today for the championship game squad but it takes a bit of manipulation and the Guru needs to get over to the arena.

Playoffs Schedule

Tuesday's (Aug. 12) Results

Semifinals

(1) Gold 75, (7) Kelly Green 68
(6) Maroon 48, (5) Black 42

Thursday's (Aug. 7) Results

Quarterfinals

(1) Gold 81, (8)Orange 69
(5) Black 58, (4) Hunter Green 54
(7) Kelly Green 60, (2) White 43
(6) Maroon 69, (3) Sky Blue 59

Thursday's Championship

7 p.m.

(6) Maroon vs. (1) Gold, Court 1
Gold beat Maroon 85-68 in last meeting

Top Playoffs Scorers

31 pts. -- Ashley Wood, Gold (W) vs. Kelly Green, Aug. 12
26 pts. -- Amanda Fioravanti, Orange (L) vs. Gold, Aug. 7
24 pts. -- Najah Jacobs, Black (W), vs. White, Aug. 7
21 pts. -- Sarah Fairbanks, Hunter Grn (L) vs. Black, Aug. 7
20 pts. -- Alex Louin, Kelly Green (L) vs. Gold, Aug. 13
19 pts. -- Alex Smith, Gold (W) vs. Orange, Aug. 7
19 pts. -- Maureen Leahy, Hunter Green (w) vs. White. Aug. 7
19 pts. -- Alex Smith, Gold (W) vs. Black, Aug. 12

Final Regular Season Standings

Team, W-L, Pct., G.B., Pts., Opp Pts.

%@*^-Gold, 11-1, .917, --, 914 696
*-fw-White, 10-2, .833, 1.0, 803 583
*-Sky Blue, 7-5, .583, 4.0, 639 559
*-fw-Hunter Green, 7-5, .583, 4.0, 650 706
@*-fw-Black, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 573 594
%@*-fw, fl-Maroon, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 715 597
@*-fw,fl(2)-Kelly Green, 6-6,.500, 5.0, 497 555
*-fw-Orange, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 695 700
fw-Pink, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 562 544
fl(2)-Purple, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 570 525
Navy Blue, 5-7, .417, 6.0, 709 696
Red, 2-10, .167, 9.0, 589 834
fl(2)-Royal Blue, 0-12,.000, 11.0, 574 789

* -- Clinched playoff slot
@ -- Semifinalsts
-- Finalists
^ -- Clinched top seed
fw -- includes forfeit win, fl - includes forfeit loss

Finalists Season Tracker

Placements reflect seeds (in front of team name) at the end of the regular season.

1-Gold (11-1): H.G. (W), Orange (W), Maroon (W), Purple (W), White (W), R.B. (W), N.B.(W), S.B. (W). K.G. (W), Pink (L), vs. Black (W), vs. Red (W)

6-Maroon (6-6): Red (W), K.G. (W-F), Gold (L), R.B. (W), S.B. (L), Orange (W), N.B. (W), Pink (W), H.G. (L), Black (L), White (L-F), Purple (L), Bye

TEAM GOLD

4 SHIRA NEWMAN, 5’7, UPPER DUBLIN/MILLERSVILLE ‘13
5 ELIZABETH JORDAN, 5’10, HONONEGAH HS/LEHIGH ‘16
10 LAUREN CRISLER, 6’2, NORTH PENN/AMERICAN ‘17
11 TAYLOR CAMPBELL, 5’8, MARQUETTE HS/LEHIGH ‘18
12 NATASHA CLOUD, 5’11, CARD. O’HARA/ST JOS. ‘15
14 ASHLEY WOOD, 5’6, SPRING-FORD/KUTZTOWN ‘14
15 JASMINE ELUM, 5’6, BODINE/BETHUNE-COOKMAN ‘12
20 MEGHAN GIBSON, 5’9, ARCH RYAN/HOLY FAMILY ‘11
21 NINA BRASCETTA, 5’5, ARCH RYAN/PHILA U. ‘10
22 ALEX SMITH, 5’8, PEDDIE SCHOOL/HOLY CROSS ‘14
24 DARBY FESTA 5’10, CHERRY HILL EAST/HAVERFORD ‘17
32 PALLAVI JUNEJA, 5’5, PEDDIE SCHOOL/HAVERFORD ‘15
40 STEPHANIE LEON, 6’4, U. DEL ‘17
42 CANDACE RITA BELVEDERE,6’3, KELLENBERG MEMORIAL/ST. JOS. ‘18
COACH: KEITH WOODS

TEAM MAROON

2 MOLLY RUBIN, 5’7, PRINCETON DAY SCHOOL/KENYON COLL. ‘16
4 RYANN FIASCKI, 5’8, ARCH CARROLL/E. STROUDSBURG ‘15
5 TAYLOR BRYANT, 5’5, UPPER DUBLIN/U. OF PA.
11 COURTNEY BROWN, 5’7, COUNCIL ROCK SOUTH/E. STROUD. ‘17
13 DANIELLE DERR, 5’10, UPPER DUBLIN/BLOOMSBURG ‘13
14 RACHEL FALKOWSKI, 5’9, CENTRAL BUCKS SOUTH/E. STROUD. ‘17
15 MELISSA PODERIS, 5’6, VILLA JOS. MARIE/E. STROUDSBURG ‘16
20 ELANA ROADCLOUD, 5’11, SPRINGSIDE/URSINUS ‘16
22 SHANNON BARLOW, 6’1, NESHAMINY/DEL VAL ‘15
24 MADDIE WALLACE, 6’2, ARCH CARROLL/E. STROUDSBURG ‘18
40 BRITTANY WOOD, 5’11, ARCH. RYAN/DEL VAL ‘16
50 MICHELLE BOGGS, 6’1, SPRINGSIDE/E. STROUDSBURG ‘16

That's it for now.

Thanks to the Commissioner David B. Kessler, Deputy Commissioner Steve Michielli, and Tom Utescher for supplying the Guru with info to enhance this report.



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Monday, August 11, 2014

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Tamika Catchings Reflects and Looks to the Future

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

NEW YORK –
A monument of excellence, Tamika Catchings reflected on her remarkable career and legacy while looking ahead to the future.

Catchings, now in her 14th year in the WNBA, knows the time is coming soon to hang up the high-tops, kick her feet back up on the sofa and watch the new generation take the league to new heights during the next decade.

Even though Catchings hasn’t publicly mentioned retiring and is not planning to do so anytime soon, the affable 35-year old Indiana Fever forward has started thinking about a life that doesn’t involve playing hoops.

“I have my own (Catch The Stars) foundation and I am very passionate about working with kids and in the community,” Catchings said. “That’s something I know I’ll do. I also want to be a general manager of a team whether it’s here in the WNBA or in the NBA. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.”

With retiring San Antonio guard Becky Hammon being named an assistant coach for the Spurs last week, Catchings knows that her goal of becoming a general manager is possible.

“It’s so awesome,” Catchings said of Hammon’s hiring. “It’s funny because I’ve talked to her and some other players.

"Of all the players picking players to move into that next step and be a positive role model who could do it and allow for other players to expand and go down that road, she’s the one. She’s such a great person and I am happy for her and she’ll do great. What an amazing opportunity for her.”

Catchings also has something else she wants to accomplish.

“I want to get married have kids and do what normal people do,” Catchings said with a laugh Sunday afternoon in the Indiana Fever locker room prior to its game against New York. “I don’t want to have to feel like I have to wake up and work out.

"If I want to lay in bed all day, I can lay in bed all day. I just want to enjoy life. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I love playing basketball.”

The current players in the league enjoy a luxury that Catchings didn’t have when she was growing up.

There was no WNBA until Catchings’ freshman year at the University of Tennessee.

Since she idolized her father, Harvey, a 12-year NBA veteran who spent part of his career with the Philadelphia 76ers, Catchings’ goal growing up was to play in the NBA.

While that goal didn’t materialize, Catchings has made the dreams of thousands of wide-eyed girls come true by playing with grace, elegance and class on the court as well as being a tremendous ambassador off of it.

“I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be like him,” Catchings said. “Even though I had a couple of things going against me, I was like if you work hard; anything can happen.

"The WNBA came around and this was an opportunity for me to do something that I love in front of my family and friends here. Now, that I am towards the end of my career; it’s been an amazing run," she said.

“Look at the caliber of players that came through this league and continue to come through this league. They grew up watching the WNBA.

"It’s funny because when I talk to our younger players, they’ll say to me, ‘I remember watching you play and now I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe that I am playing with you.’ It’s been a great journey.”

One that Catchings wants to continue for another few weeks.

While the past and future are nice, Catchings is focused on the present and trying to lead the Fever into the playoffs for a 10th straight season.

Indiana is currently tied for third place with Chicago in the spandex-tight Eastern Conference. The Fever (14-17 overall) has three games remaining in the regular season. Two against New York and one against Chicago.

During her time in the league, Catchings has been involved in nearly every type of playoff scenario.

There’s been times when the Fever were the big dog and had a playoff berth locked up with games to spare and then there’s been other times when the Fever had to win a lot of games late in order to earn a postseason berth.

But this year has been different even for Catchings, who missed the first 15 games of the season with back issues.

“Preferably, I liked to have a playoff spot wrapped up by now and not be in this position,” Catchings said. “I think the battle is good. It’s something that’s different down the stretch and fun for the fans.

"Having to work hard like this is good though and puts us in a position to make the playoffs. Who knows, it could possibly give us momentum to get to the WNBA Finals.

"It does bring an excitement level and they know they’re going to get a game. The parity will help the league as well.”

Catchings’ name is all over the WNBA record books.

Already the WNBA’s all-time leader in steals and free throws, Catchings is the only player in the entire history of the league to rank among the top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

In addition, she’s been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year five times (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011). She’s an eight-time All-Star, three-time Olympic gold medalist, 2012 WNBA Finals MVP after leading the Fever to the title and 2011 league MVP.

While all of the accomplishments are awesome, Catchings biggest impact has been on the lives of others with her Catch The Stars program that serves underprivileged kids ages 7 through 16.

Celebrating its 10th Anniversary, her foundation offers a dozen programs including basketball camps, fitness clinics and mentoring and literacy programs.

A fearless competitor, Catchings may be a role model to thousands of little girls who aspire to one day wear her No. 24 jersey, but she’s a champion where it matters most in life where she’s hurdled her share of obstacles such as being hearing impaired as a little girl and tearing her anterior cruciate ligament prior to her rookie season.

Yet through it all, Catchings has remained true to her purpose of lifting others up and making a difference. She will be missed once she leaves the game, but fortunately her spirit and sterling smile will live on as the league continues to move forward.

“I want to be remembered for the passion I played with,” Catchings said. “I also people to remember that I always played on both ends of the floor and that every day I went out and I gave 100 percent. I smile while I am playing because I love what I do.”

QUIGLEY COMES THROUGH: Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley was named the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time in her career.

Quigley, a former DePaul star in Chicago, earned the recognition based on her performance throughout the week of August 4-10 where she scored at least 17 points in each of the team's three games.

On August 5th, Quigley shot 7-for-10 from the field and scored 17 points to help the Sky beat Connecticut 82-66.

Quigley followed up that performance two days later against the defending WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx when she led the Sky in scoring with 20 points. She shot a team-best 64.3% field-goal percentage. On Sunday, Quigley again led the Sky in scoring with 17 points in an 80-69 victory over the Atlanta Dream.

Following a 2-1 week, the Sky moved into third place in the East and one step closer to securing a second consecutive post-season berth.

Since Elena Delle Donne’s return, the Sky are a perfect 4-0 overall against Eastern Conference opponents. The Sky visit the Mystics in a key clash Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m.

“It’s a well-deserved honor for a player that has stayed the course throughout her career,” said head coach & general manager Pokey Chatman. “More importantly she stayed the course this year for us transitioning from a two guard to a point guard, back and forth, and she's still been able to maintain a high level of consistency. That's been the big reason we have been able to win some games lately so I am happy for her.”

Quigley is averaging 10.8 points per game and 24.4 minutes per game this season.

GRINER LARGE AND IN CHARGE: Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was named the WNBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week for games played August 4-10. For Griner, it is the second Player of the Week honor of her career, both this season (June 23), and the fourth overall by a Mercury player in 2014 (Diana Taurasi – June 9, July 7).

Griner helped to lead the Mercury to a 3-0 record during the week, averaging 15.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and a league-best 5.33 blocked shots. Griner

The former Baylor star who already owns the WNBA record for blocks in a single game and is on pace to establish a new league mark for blocks-per-game average in a season, set the WNBA single-season record for total blocked shots on Thursday at San Antonio.

Her 115th block of the season, which broke a 16-year-old WNBA record, came at the 7:03 mark of the third quarter. Griner moved past the late Margo Dydek, who had held the record since 1998.

On Saturday against second-place Minnesota, Griner secured a two-point win, blocking a game-tying lay-up attempt in the final seconds in a thrilling 82-80 victory over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx.

In addition to her two blocks on Saturday, Griner scored 19 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the year.

On Tuesday against Atlanta, Griner started the week with one of the more complete games of her career, tallying 14 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots in a win over the Dream.

For the season, the second-year pro is averaging a career-high 15.7 points, a career-high and team-leading 7.9 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.97 blocks per game. She also ranks third in the WNBA in field goal percentage (.581).

MERCURY CHASING HISTORY: Owners of the best record in the league (26-4) and a franchise-record 26 victories, Phoenix has won four consecutive games following a franchise-record 16-game win streak, the second-longest in WNBA history.

The team opens the final week of the regular season in New York Tuesday night.

If the Mercury win out they will be the first team in league history to win 30 regular season games. Phoenix is two wins away from tying Houston’s all-time single season record for wins with 28.

TAURASI RETURNS: The most decorated player in team history and one of the best players in women’s basketball history, Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi signed a multi-year contract extension, the team announced Friday.

Taurasi is in the 11th year of her storied WNBA career that has been spent entirely with the Mercury.

“Why would I ever want to play anywhere else?” said Taurasi. “As a person and a professional, I have a deep connection to this city and this organization. I am happy and feel really good about staying.

"At All-Star this year, everyone got to see what I see every day: Phoenix is a great basketball community, the Mercury is a first-class organization, and this a family that I’m proud to be a part of. There is no better place to play.”

A two-time WNBA Champion with the Mercury (2007, 2009), former league MVP (2009) and WNBA Finals MVP (2009), Taurasi has played 325 career games, all with the Mercury, since originally being selected first overall by Phoenix in the 2004 WNBA Draft.

The second-leading scorer in league history is a five-time league scoring champion, who also owns the second-highest scoring average in WNBA history. Named one of the WNBA’s 15 greatest players of all-time, Taurasi is a seven-time All-Star and an eight-time All-WNBA First Team selection.

The longest-tenured player in Mercury history, Taurasi has played more games in a Mercury uniform than anyone else, and leads the franchise in 15 other career statistical categories.

The league’s 2004 Rookie of the Year, Taurasi is one of the sport’s most decorated athletes, whose non-WNBA accolades include three Olympic Gold Medals, six Euroleague titles, three USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year awards, and three NCAA Championships while at the University of Connecticut.

STORM STAYING ALIVE: Seattle rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat Tulsa, 74-68, Sunday night to extend its winning streak to three games and keep alive its slim playoff hopes. The Storm must win their final two games (on the road against Los Angeles and home against Phoenix) and the Silver Stars have to lose both of their remaining games (home against Minnesota and on the road against Chicago).

Penn State’s Tanisha Wright became the eighth player in WNBA history to record 1,000 assists with the same team (Sue Bird, Catchings, Hammon, Ticha Penicheiro, Dawn Staley, Taurasi and Teresa Weatherspoon) in the Storm’s win over Tulsa.

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