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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

WNBA Playoffs: Offseason Washington Wheeling and Dealing Leads to Rally and Upset of New York

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – The electoral votes for the inaugural WNBA Basketball Executive Year, determined by one front office executive from each of the 12 league franchises, went to the Connecticut Sun’s Curt Miller, who also took coach of the year Sunday afternoon in two of several postseason honors announced by the league.

But by the time nightfall arrived here outside Madison Square Garden, there were two human statistics seated alongside Washington Mystics coach-general manager Mike Thibault, the runner up in the league vote, to indicate what the popular vote might be if the fanbase were allowed their say.

Thibault nodded in the direction of former Maryland star Kristi Toliver, who helped the Los Angeles Sparks snap a WNBA title drought last year, and to former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne, who had turned the Chicago Sky into a perennial playoff team.

“I think to win at this level, to win big games, you have to have several players – we’ve got two of them right here – who don’t mind taking pressure shots.

“You can’t be shy about the situation and I think that speaks to their level of play, and is certainly why I spent most of the winter trying to figure a way to get them. The credit is all theirs for coming out and believing what we’re doing.”

 Toliver has a place in collegiate lore for hitting the three-ball at the buzzer in regulation that sent Maryland to their only NCAA women’s crown in 2006 in Boston when the Terrapins prevailed in overtime against Duke in what was at the time an all-Atlantic Coast Conference title.

On Sunday, she had a legendary pro game hitting a playoffs record nine treys and finishing with 32 points to fuel a rally from an early 14-point deficit to a 20-point lead by the sixth-seeded Mystics before settling at 82-68 over the third-seeded New York Liberty in round two of the postseason.

Delle Donne finished with 18 points, switching roles and becoming the second banana to Toliver in Sunday’s off-Broadway production.

The upset earlier in the day in terms of seed when No. 5 Phoenix ended No. 4 Connecticut’s Cinderella season coupled with Washington’s upset of New York caused a re-seed flip into the semifinals so No. 1 Minnesota, which had a double bye, will open a best-of-five semifinals Tuesday night hosting the Mystics while second-seeded Los Angeles, also coming off a double bye, will host Phoenix.  

Thibault just shrugged his shoulders and smiled when the irony of the outcome of the new WNBA executive award was noted to him knowing he couldn’t call on his Congressional neighbors in Washington for a federal investigation since they already have their hands full dealing with another election of note.

New York, which had a first-round bye, came into the game as the third seed for the second straight year under the revised playoff format begun in 2016 allowing the best eight teams without regard to division conference affiliation to compete in the postseason.

But with the first two rounds being one-and-done affairs, once again Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer and his players also had to re-discuss what happened, not to be confused with a book coming out Tuesday with the same words, “What Happened,” by the runnerup in that other election.

Besides admitting Toliver made Laimbeer’s worst nightmare come true, he explained, “The biggest component of this game was the rebounding. They dominated the rebounding against us, 14-3, on the offensive boards, but another big, glaring statistic that no one pays attention to was team rebounds was 14-2.

“Which means all of the loose balls that went out of bounds are a rebound went their way. They took it to us on the rebounding. We knew that was as big key and we didn’t get it done. So when we shoot 45- to 39 against their team, we should be right there to win a game but the rebounding and the turnovers (15-6) were the big disparity and they got 20 more shots against us.

“That was the really the deciding factor. That’s not us. That’s not who we are. That’s not how we hang our hat and when that happens to us we deserve to get spanked and that’s what happened.”

Krystal Thomas also scored in double figures for Washington with 11 points, Delle Donne also had 10 rebounds, and Thibault saluted the work of starter Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Tianna Hawkins. Former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud was also her usual defensive self.

 Tina Charles, one of the superstars of the league who played for Thibault when both were with the Connecticut Sun, had 18 points, while Bria Hartley had 15 points and Epiphanny Prince scored 12.

“You don’t get lucky around this time,” Charles said, taking her turn explaining what happened after the Liberty came up short again. “You want to have the defensive rebounds – that’s usually our staple. I believe we’re #1 in the WNBA for that. But, come playoffs, it’s a different ball game. Krystal Thomas – they did great on the rebounding end.”

In Washington’s opener last Wednesday at home the Mystics had 20 offensive rebounds in the win over the Dallas Wings, formerly the Tulsa franchise and before that the three-time WNBA champion Detroit Shock, which was coached by Laimbeer.

Comparing last year’s exit. Charles said of this year’s season-ender, “These past 10 games, we were on a rise. We were feeling very confident in our play, feeling very good going into today’s game, know that the last time we played against Washington, we played against them really well.

“What makes them great because they’re focusing on the detail of what it really takes to win.”

Playoff Schedule

The semifinals will open Tuesday, with Washington at Minnesota, 8 p.m., EST, while Phoenix is at Los Angeles, 10 p.m., EST, both games on ESPN2.

Game two in each series is Thursday with the game From Minneapolis at 8 p.m.and the game from Los Angeles at 10 p.m., also on ESPN 2.

On Sunday, the Minnesota-Washington series moves to the nation’s capital in the renamed Capitol One Arena at 3 p.m., EST on ESPN while the Los Angeles-Phoenix series moves to the desert in Arizona at 5 p.m. EST on ESPN.

The sites stay the same for potential Games No. 4 on Tuesday, Sept. 19, times to be determined, but games to be played will air on ESPN 2. 

Decisive Games No. 5, if necessary, will air on ESPN2, times to be determined and played back in Minnesota and Los Angeles.


 

WNBA Playoff Notes: Getting a Schooling From New York Helped Educate Washington

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – When New York and Washington last met in the regular season here on August 25, the Liberty fell 74-66, Elena Delle Donne’s first night back from being sidelined for several weeks with a broken hand, the next night they returned home to host the Dallas Wings.

Another loss occurred then also and in all Washington won only two of its last eight. The loss here sent Washington behind New York in the fight for third seed and ultimately the Mystics fell to sixth, still good enough to to be a host, though the first-round bye became a casualty.

Nevertheless while Washington seemed on the way to an early exit, the Mystics had already clinched a playoff berth and the night after the loss here, down in D.C., assistant coach Marianne Stanley, a former Immaculata star, seemed upbeat.

“We learned a lot last night,” she said of the loss to New York, also knowing Delle Donne wasn’t ready to play 100 percent. “Look once you’re in the playoffs, it’s all about where are you and who are you playing and let’s get ready because it’s one-and-done in the first couple of rounds.

So Sunday night, Stanley was asked about what was in her head that night and what was the effect on the win over New York.

“After every game you look at film and how you performed and we knew we weren’t at our best last time up here. Elena was just back. You learn in this game to not let stuff linger. You learn from it and you move on,” Stanley said.

“You move on to the next game. And I give our players a lot of credit because they focused on the things we asked them to focus on, the things they needed to improve, and to put their attention on. You can’t pay attention to 30 different things.

“You figure out the things you need to do in order to win and our guys did a great job following that game plan and just sticking to it. It’s clear and obvious, some of the things we were concerned about from before were necessary to change and we did and the result was way different,” she said.

“We didn’t expect that (the 34-point turnaround during Sunday's game), I don’t think, but the result was way different. It’s a lot like the NCAA tournament. Even if you have ten losses. If you’re playing well at the time, and you got good chemistry and playing hard, that’s all you care about.”

 Stanley and the Mystics’ Natasha Cloud out of Saint Joseph's give Washington two individuals with Philadelphia ties, while Minnesota features coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star out of South Jersey who has won three WNBA titles the past six years and nearly made it a fourth.

Reeve was an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma on the USA World Champion and 2016 Olympic squads and is a strong favorite to be an aide to Dawn Staley, who she coached as an assistant with the former Charlotte Sting.

Early Knockouts

With the quick demise of Dallas, which has former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins-Smith, in the first round, and Phoenix dispatching Seattle, and then in round two the departures of Connecticut and New York have fans and media bemoaning the lack of best-of-three formats like the old days.

The previous format, in which the top four in each division made the field, the first and second round, both within the division, were best-of-three and then on to the best-of-five finals.

One reason for short openers that has been given comes from agents who worry about too long a postseason holding up players from their offseason overseas commitments, where they make the big bucks.

Some people like the drama of the new setup in the early rounds while others are not happy with the quick exit.

Laimbeer, whose team has been sent packing two straight years cancelling what had been excellent regular season play, said after Sunday’s game:

“That’s the nature of this format. You can have one bad game, or you can have a player like Toliver go off and shoot you out of it or some bad calls and you’re out,” he said. “But everybody has the same situation.

“It’s not just unique to the New York Liberty. That’s the way the format is and we have to take advantage of it and today we just didn’t do that.”

Charles doesn’t ascribe to the concept that Washington got its juices flowing against Dallas while the Liberty sat around all week with the bye.

“Look at Minnesota and Los Angeles, who had the double bye and a lot of rest last year and they got to the finals so they certainly weren’t affected by it,” she said.

Feeling a Lucky Draft

The pecking order for the lottery picks in next April’s draft will be announced at halftime of Semifinals Game 2 of the Minnesota-Washington series on Thursday.

The four teams who did not make the playoffs are San Antonio, which had the worst record and last April took Washington’s Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick, the Chicago Sky, the Atlanta Dream, and, for the first time in 13 seasons, the Indiana Fever.

But in a recent trade, Chicago got Atlanta’s first round pick, which became part of the deal and in it becoming a lottery selection, the Sky have two early picks.

 

  

WNBA Viewpoint:Toliver's One-Woman Show Fuels Washington Rally Over New York To The Semifinals

By ROB KNOX
@knoxrob1
 
OMG. Kristi Toliver. Wow. 
 
Toliver found the zone, never left it, and because of it the Washington Mystic’s magical playoff ride continues following an 82-68 victory over the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon.
 
Toliver’s ridiculous 32-point performance and WNBA-playoff record nine 3-pointers were a spectacle that reduced the Liberty to unwilling spectators. She went berserk on Broadway. It was epic, ridiculous, amazing, special, and left everybody in awe. 
 
“I’ve never witnessed something like that, but to be on court and be on the right side of it was unreal,” Washington’s Elena Delle Donne said. “We just rode her weight today. She was unconscious. But that’s her - I grew up watching her. 

“That was her in the national championship game,” Delle Donne said of the former Maryland star whose three-pointer in regulation at the buzzer in Boston sent the Terrapins into overtime against then-arch-rival Duke when the Terrapins prevailed in the all-Atlantic Coast Conference final for their first NCAA title in 2006. 

“When she’s going off like that, we just do all the little things and let her go...offensively, she took over. We have such great players - we have two dogs in Krystal (Thomas) and Tierra (Ruffin-Pratt). We even said, ‘We follow your lead and your grit’, so they absolutely changed the tone of the game in that way, and she took over the rest.”
 
The sixth-seeded Mystics (20-16 overall) begin the best-of-five semifinals Tuesday against the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx (27-7). That contest along with Thursday’s second one will be played at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena. The Mystics will host the third game at the Capital One Arena Sunday at 3 p.m.
 
The fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury (20-16) and second-seeded Los Angeles Sparks (26-8) will meet in the other semifinal series. In winning Sunday, the Mercury and Mystics overcame first-half double-digit deficits.
 
Prior to her Fourth-of-July-like fireworks explosion, Toliver had made 10 3-pointers over the Mystics last six games. She was 1-for-9 from 3-point distance in the Mystics’ first round win over the Dallas Wings last Wednesday. 
 
The basket looked as big as the Hudson River especially in the third quarter when Toliver outscored the Liberty, 15-10. She made five 3-pointers in the decisive period.
 
“That was my biggest fear going into this game, (Kristi) Toliver making the ungodly shots that she does every now-and- then,” New York head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We were in her space for a vast majority of those. She played great. She made all the big shots. 

“Any opening that she had, she released it quickly before we can get a hand on the ball and they went in. Great players do that and she was one of the big differences in the game but not the only one.”
 
Toliver’s effort resembled Reggie Miller’s fourth quarter in the game five of the 1994 Eastern Finals when he detonated for 25 points. Only people missing were Spike Lee and Marv Albert.
 
The Mystics’ offseason moves have paid dividends in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Delle Donne scored 24 points in the win over the Wings. Toliver, who helped the Sparks win the WNBA title last season, was the difference as her unconscious shooting ended the Liberty’s 10-game winning streak.
 
Delle Donne and Toliver are reasons why the Mystics can win a championship. 

They are game-changing talents who play with tremendous heart, tenacity and poise. It will be a challenge to face the Lynx and deal with their multitude of weapons in MVP candidate Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and the list goes on.
 
“The greatest thing about Kristi is that, as a general rule, you can miss shots early and that doesn’t change her mindset,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “I think that to win at this level, to win big games, you have to have several players – we’ve got two of them right here - who don’t mind taking pressure shots. 

“You can’t be shy about the situation and I think that speaks to their level of play, and is certainly why I spent most of the winter trying to figure out a way to get them. The credit is all theirs for coming out and believing in what we’re doing.”
 
The Mystics have also benefitted from the return of guard Natasha Cloud. The Saint Joseph’s graduate has solidified the Mystics defense and against the Liberty, she was a major nuisance. 

Teaming with Ruffin-Pratt, who had nine rebounds and made some big shots in the win over the Wings, and Thomas, the Mystics are formidable.
 
Washington has faced its share of adversity this season.
 
I was there in Indiana when Tayler Hill’s season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Mystics’ locker room postgame resembled a morgue as players spoke in hushed tones despite a blowout victory. 

They absorbed a 30-point beating at Madison Square Garden in July, lost Delle Donne for most of August, and dropped four of their last five games entering the playoffs.
 
Yet, the Mystics are still playing and one of four teams with an opportunity to win a championship.  
 
The regular season means nothing. Washington lost all three games against the Lynx this season, but many games have been competitive throughout.
 
For example, this was the first time Minnesota swept a season series with Washington since 2014.

 Minnesota won the three games the season by an average of 18.6 points per game. The Lynx outscored Washington 48-16 in the paint in the last matchup on Sept. 3. Minnesota has now outscored its opponents in the paint in 17 out of its last 19 contests.
 
In averaging 13.6 points per game against the Lynx this season, Toliver had 20 points in last week’s regular season finale against the Lynx.
 
“For us, it’s been crazy because the second we started getting momentum together, I hurt my thumb,” Delle Donne said. “But she’s such a knowledgeable player - and at times she’s quiet - but this is a whole new her. This is playoffs her. We call her ‘panda’, so this is ‘Playoff Panda.’ She’s such a great leader and such a knowledgeable player that I feel like just being on the court with her, I’ve learned so much. 

“We’re still learning one another games. I’m starting to know what she likes, she knows what I like and we get each other in those right spots.

“We just have fun playing together. It’s a blast. She’s unreal. To be on court with someone of that caliber but also with that leadership and that knowledge - it makes things easy for us.”
 
Especially when she’s shooting lights out like Sunday.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hall of Fame Weekend: Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw Enhanced Thru the Guru's Cut

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Having been re-called to active duty on behalf of the employee alma mater Philadelphia Inquirer for coverage of philly’s Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, who starred at Saint Joseph’s in the mid-1970s, into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, your Guru began collecting information thru an advance jump start with interviews, etc., to save time and the process was initiated prior to knowing what the assigned size specs would be.

Once known, the Guru then had to write from what he had collected to comply with the terms.

But through the wonders of the internet and technology, beyond the finished product which you were given a link into philly.com, the umbrella website, some nice things were said that did not make the cut.

Rather at this late hour than craft a whole new version, as an extra treat, since they were transcribed in advance to become hard copy, here are more quotes and remarks celebrating Muffet’s induction.

While in New York last weekend for the Liberty’s final WNBA game of the regular season, facing the San Antonio Silver Stars, first here is what former Irish stars Kayla McBride, who plays for the Texans, and Ruth Riley, now the San Antonio general manager, had to say.

By the way, as part two of the Inky detail, the Guru will be covering Muffet’s speech Friday night.

Kayla McBride --  Notre Dame wasn’t on my radar at all. They sent me a letter and my parents said, “You should go. I actually fell in love with Digger. Then I fell in love with Coach McGraw. She didn’t ask me about basketball.

She asked me about me. She’s probably top two, top three most important people in my life at this point. She has always instilled so much confidence in me, no matter how immature I was (laugh), no matter, anything, I give her so much credit for me being the person and player I am today.

Her honesty is No. 1. She expects and demands a lot from her players and she’s not afraid to let you know good or bad. Her compassion off the court is amazing. Just her competitiveness. I think she’s our leader for a reason.

She’s a great leader. It’s easy to follow her and its easy to play hard for her just the way she coaches.

* * *

Ruth Riley -- Coach McGraw instantly made me feel welcome, make me feel it was going to be a place that I was cared for as an individual but was going to reach my potential as a young woman and as a basketball player and I think she’s very authentic, she’s very honest, in games and recruiting you can get that but I really feel appreciate just the way she approaches life. What you see is what you get.

We’re looking forward to the weekend. She doesn’t allow us to celebrate her much so this is going to be special.

*  *  *
The fuller quotes from Jim Foster, now at Tennessee-Chattanooga, who hired Muffet to be an assistant after Geno Auriemma had moved on to another slot from Saint Josephs.

Competitive. Driven. Had a real understanding at an early age a lot of what makes a successful coach and the experiences she had turned her into a better coach. She learned how to grow with the game and wasn’t status quo and didn’t stay satisfied with what was and was always looking to what else do we do. Who else can I be. 

She had that at the beginning. I think to sustain this thing for a long period of time you have to have that mentality and then you continue with that mentality. A lot of people get to a point where they think know enough and are just satisfied with where they are and she just always was looking for something else.

Theresa Grentz, who was McGraw’s second coach at St. Joseph's following Ellen Ryan and before Rene Portland: 

It was a great time. Muffet and her teammates were young and a joy to be around.
Muffet was very competitive as were her teammates. 

Muff wore number 10 and played with super passion for a game she loved.

It is so wonderful to see her success and all she has done for so many young women that have come under her tutorage.

Congratulations Muffet, you deserve this and you have earned this great honor. So proud of you!!

And from Muffet herself in a call a few days ahead to avoid the crush that was going to occur at the media availability session Thursday afternoon at the Hall.

McGraw: Just after graduating and knowing that I loved the game and I was a sociology major and a job opened at Archbishop Carroll and I thought what a great way to see if I like it or not. 

In terms of taking the job at Notre Dame, she said, “Back then you actually sent your resume in and waited to hear from them. When they called, I was really excited to take a trip out there. Matt always went recruiting with me and I said, ‘Hey we have to take another trip’ and he probably thought we were going to North Jersey to go recruiting and found out we were going to South Bend.

We were both very excited trying to find information. It wasn’t easy back then because you didn’t go online. You actually had to know somebody or look it up in a different way. We were a little unprepared going in. But we got there. David Rivers, I think was the first guy I ran into on campus.

Karen Robinson was already there. She was a great player. I didn’t recruit her but she was a freshman when I got there. (Robinson and her husband were later to endow the Notre Dame women’s coaching position, donating over $1 million.)

 Then Beth Morgan (now on her staff after having been the head coach of VCU), and Katrina Gaither were the two that elevated the program to a Final Four level. Joining the Big East conference was a part of that too.

Best part was playing Villanova to get homecoming trips. (After Notre Dame's leaving the old Big East, she has arranged games with St. Joes and Penn to get trips. This year will play Quakers at Palestra on Dec. 9.)

Got to get back to palestra. That was a hell of game. They played us tough. (About the first meeting with Penn several years ago.)

Beth’s senior year. She got us there. Sellouts. Skylar Diggins-Smith in back yard.

In an ironic twist, in late December, 1990 McGraw brought her Irish to her alma mater in a holiday tournament where they upset Louisiana Tech and the Hawks. 

The success brought Notre Dame’s first ranking in the AP poll and from there the Irish are now one of the all-time teams in terms of appearances overall, besides in the Top 10 and Top 5 categories, as well as consecutive rankings.

That’s it. 








WNBA Playoffs: Round Two Storylines Feature Cinderellas and Heavies

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
 
The postseason fun continues for the Washington Mystics and battled-tested Phoenix Mercury. 
 
After winning elimination games at home Wednesday night, the Mystics and Mercury hit the road looking to extend their respective seasons. 
 
The Mystics beat the Dallas Wings, 86-76 and the Mercury clipped the Seattle Storm, 79-69 in the first round. 

Phoenix has enjoyed the new playoff format the WNBA implemented last season. The Mercury are 3-0 in single-elimination games and knocked out New York, also the third seed, a year ago in the second round.
 
The fifth-seeded Mercury (19-16) travel to the fourth-seeded Connecticut Sun (21-13) in the opener of a semifinal doubleheader on ESPN2 starting at 3 p.m. 

The Sun won both games against the Mercury played at the Mohegan Sun Arena. 
 
However, the Mercury won the latest matchup last Friday, 86-66 behind 31 points from Brittney Griner. This will be the first all-time playoff meeting between the Mercury and Sun.
 
The nightcap features familiar foes in the sixth-seeded Mystics (19-16) and the third-seeded New York Liberty (22-12) at 5 p.m.

The Mystics lost both games at Madison Square Garden this season. New York is 6-2 all-time against Washington in the WNBA Playoffs.
 
In the first game, an 85-55 beatdown on July 16, the Mystics played without Elena Delle Donne and Tayler Hill. In the second game, a 74-66 Liberty win on Aug. 25, Delle Donne played her first game after missing close to four weeks with a thumb injury.
 
The winners advance to the WNBA semifinals that begin Tuesday in Los Angeles and Minnesota. 
 
The Liberty-Mystics game features former MVP winners in Delle Donne (2015) and Liberty center Tina Charles (2012). 

New York won its last 10 games of the regular season as Charles earned Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors and Bill Laimbeer was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for Aug. 1-Sept. 3.
 
The Liberty are in the midst of one of the most successful stretches in franchise history, having clinched a third-straight postseason berth. 

New York’s franchise record tying 10-game winning streak is the most consecutive victories a team has ever had to conclude a WNBA regular season.
 
Having won at least 20 regular season games in 3-consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, New York has won 66 games and compiled a .647 winning percentage over that span. 

Charles posted another MVP caliber season, ranking third in the WNBA averaging 19.7 points per game. 
 
New York once again led the league in defensive field goal percentage, becoming the first franchise in league history to do so in 3-consecutive campaigns (2015-17). 

The Liberty will be trying to purge memories of last season’s setback to Phoenix in this round of the playoffs.
 
In advancing in a playoff round for the first time since 2002, Washington tied an all-time franchise record and set a team playoff record with 52 rebounds in its win over Dallas. 

The Mystics’ 20 offensive rebounds set a new franchise playoff high. The Mystics capitalized on those rebounds, outscoring the Wings 25-15 on second-chance points.
 
The Mystics also established a new franchise playoff record with eight blocked shots.
 
Delle Donne scored a team-high 25 points, one shy of the franchise playoff record, and tied a playoff-career-high with 11 rebounds. The former Delaware star has scored at least 24 points in four of her last five games. 
 
Center Krystal Thomas set a new Mystics playoff record with 17 total rebounds. 

Forward Emma Meesseman notched her second double-double of the season (16 points, 10 rebounds). The Mystics also received a boost from guard Natasha Cloud returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a hip injury against Phoenix on Aug. 18, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot in 11 minutes.
 
“I want this team to have fun and know what it feels like to make a run and play as hard as you can and see what happens,” Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said following the win over the Wings. “Because when it’s playoff time anything can happen. Anybody can beat anyone in this league on any given day and I think we proved that today and I don’t think very many people chose us to win but I think that we’re coming along and that we’re believing in the system  and we’re believing in one another and if we keep doing that anything is possible.”
 
Meanwhile, the Mercury-Sun game will be highlighted by a frontcourt matchup between Griner and Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones – the WNBA’s 2017 Peak Performer Award winners for scoring and rebounding, respectively. 
 
Alyssa Thomas and Candace Parker are the only two players in the WNBA who average over 14 points, four assists and six rebounds: Parker (17.1, 4.3, 8.4) and Thomas (14.9, 4.7, 6.8). Connecticut’s other all-star Jasmine Thomas was strong this season as she averaged 14.2 points per game. Courtney Williams is also a double-digit scorer for the Sun, chipping in 12.3 points per contest.
 
For the Mercury, Griner averaged a career-high 21.9 points to earn her first scoring title, while Jones set WNBA single-season records with 11.9 rebounds per game and 403 total boards. 
 
She was large and in charge against the Storm, scoring 23 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking three shots in 40 entertaining minutes. It was Griner’s fifth career double-double. The Mercury are perfect when Griner records a postseason double-double.
 
Also in the win over Seattle, guard Leilani Mitchell was phenomenal as she scored a career best 17 points on 4-of- 9 shooting. In addition to making 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, Mitchell also added four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shots.
 
Sunday’s game also features Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, who surpassed 1,000 career playoff points against the Storm after scoring 14 including a dagger 3-pointer late in the game. The former UConn great with 1,009 points in the playoffs ranks second all-time in postseason scoring behind Tamika Catchings (1,141).
 
The Mercury won their 17th postseason series in their 21-year history. 


This moves them ahead of the Los Angeles Sparks (16) for the most series wins in WNBA history. It was also the Mercury’s 35th playoff victory in franchise history.
 
The Mercury played its opening playoff game at Arizona State University. Though Taurasi was in foul trouble during the first half of that contest, she was her usual diplomatic self on playing at Wells Fargo Arena.
 
“I think we’ve just been in a position that we’ve played so much basketball: the hoop is still 10 feet high, it’s still a basketball,” Taurasi said. “I have to say our fans were pretty incredible today to come out, and it felt like a home court, it did. ASU did a great job of helping us out, our staff does I think the best job of putting people in the stands and making sure they’re out there
supporting us. It felt good actually.”

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

WNBA Playoffs: Dallas Tough Opening Hurdle For Washington Looking to Return to Winning Form

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
 
WASHINGTON - It doesn’t get much better than watching Skylar Diggins-Smith and Elena Delle Donne go head-to-head in a winner-take-all playoff game.
 
The stars will be out in force Wednesday night when the seventh-seeded Dallas Wings (16-18 overall) visit the sixth-seeded Washington Mystics (18-16) in a first-round playoff game at the newly renamed Capital One Arena.

 Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m.and will be the opener of an exciting ESPN2 doubleheader. 
 
The nightcap features the eighth-seeded Seattle Storm (15-19) visiting the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury (18-16) at 10 p.m. That game featuring the league’s top two scorers in Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart will be played at Arizona State University’s Wells Fargo Arena.
 
For Diggins-Smith, this will be the first playoff game of her career. 

She was injured when Tulsa was swept by Phoenix in two games in 2015. The gifted fifth-year guard is fully recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered that season. In helping Dallas reach the playoffs for the first time, Diggins-Smith was an infernal force that relentlessly attacked with merciless fury.
 
It’s always a great day when one of the best players in the world gets an opportunity to showcase her talents under the white-hot postseason lights. 

Diggins-Smith has been consistently brilliant throughout the season while leading a young Dallas Wing squad. For the Wings, this is the second playoff appearance in franchise history since leaving Detroit after the 2009 season.
 
In averaging 18.5 points per game, Diggins-Smith scored at least 20 points 15 times this season. She had a scintillating stretch of six consecutive games in which she scored 20 or more points. She finished the season ranked fourth in assists per game (5.8). 

Late in the season, Diggins-Smith sank seven 3-pointers in a win over San Antonio and dropped 28 last week against Chicago.
 
In three games this season against the Mystics, Diggins-Smith averaged 20.6 points per game. Dallas won both games played in Washington including 83-78 on Aug. 26. Delle Donne had 29 points and 11 rebounds in that setback.
 
Speaking of Delle Donne, this will be her 15th career playoff game. She has averaged 17.4 points in her previous 14 games all with the Chicago Sky. 
 
She also delivered one of the most memorable moments in playoff history in 2014. 

Playing in an elimination game on the road against the Atlanta Dream, Delle Donne scored 17 of her 34 points in the final period, including the winning jumper with 8.4 seconds left, as the Sky rallied from 20 points down to win, 81-80.
 
The Sky advanced to the Finals where they were swept by Phoenix. Delle Donne arrived in Washington for moments like this. Although the Mystics wobbled into the playoffs, losing four of their last five games, Delle Donne, the No. 2 pick in the much hyped 2013 draft class, can carry a franchise.
 
She scored 37 points last week in an exciting overtime win that officially clinched a playoff spot for the Mystics.

 The journey to this point has been bumpy, but it doesn’t matter now. Despite a season ending injury to Tayler Hill along with other key injuries, the Mystics are confident they can continue advancing and play deep into September. 
 
Overall, the Mystics have the edge in playoff experience. 

Guard Kristi Toliver has played in 23 postseason contests and helped the Los Angeles Sparks win a title last season. 

Dallas’ Karima Christmas-Kelly has participated in 14 playoff games where she’s averaged 7.4 points per contest. 
 
The winner of this game will have to wait a couple hours to learn whether they will head to third-seeded New York or fourth-seeded Connecticut Sunday.

 The outcome of the Mercury-Storm will determine the pairings for the second round. Top-seeded Minnesota and second-seeded Los Angeles, the reigning WNBA champions, earned double byes to the best-of-three semifinals.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

WNBA Report: New York Keeps Rolling While Help Elsewhere Sends Seattle to Playoffs After Tough Loss

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – While things continued to rumble along here Friday in the WNBA with the New York Liberty pulling away in the fourth quarter for an 81-69 triumph over the last place San Antonio Silver Stars before a crowd of 10,108 in Madison Square Garden on fan appreciation night, the hottest action on the league’s card occurred 200 miles to the South in the nation’s capitol.

That’s where the the team suffering the toughest loss became evening’s biggest winner with a little help from rivals elsewhere.

That would be the Seattle Storm, a 110-106 victim in an explosive scoring battle in overitme with the host Washington Mystics, became the eighth and final playoff qualifier a few hours later following the 110-187 elimination of the Chicago Sky (12-21) by the overall first place Minnesota Lynx (26-7) in the Target Center in Minneapolis, and the 81-56 knockout of the Atlanta Dream (12-21) by the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks (25-8), who hosted in the Staples Center.

In the other game on the card the Phoenix Mercury (17-16) at home in Arizona defeated the Connecticut Sun 86-66.

Thus the field was set but not most of the seeds heading into the final day of the regular season Sunday when the Sun (21-12) will head to Los Angeles, Washington (17-15) will head to Minnesota, Seattle (14-19) will head to Chicago (12-21) in what almost became a key game, and Atlanta (12-21) will visit Phoenix).

New York (21-12), on a franchise second-best ever nine-game win streak, will head to Dallas (16-17), in a game that will be the league’s first to be streamed on Tidal.

In between on Saturday, San Antonio (7-26), owning the league’s worst record, will head to the Indiana Fever (9-24), which is out of the postseason for the first time after a WNBA playoff record 12-straight appearances.

Minnesota has a one game lead over Los Angeles but if the Lynx lose and the Sparks win, then Los Angeles is entitled to No. 1 overall seed and the Lynx fall to second, with both owning two-round byes into a best-of-five semifinal matchups against the lower teams that advance the best.

New York and Connecticut, the surprise of the league, are tied for third and if that deadlock remains, since the teams split their four-game series 2-2, the tie-break will be the team with the best record against teams .500 or better.

Some of this could be much ado about eventual nothing considered a year ago Los Angeles won Game 5 in a thrilling final at the last seconds carrying the No. 2 seed, while New York as a three-seed at home with a first-round bye was the second straight upset victim by Phoenix.

The first two rounds are one-and-done affairs in the second year of the revamped playoff format in which the eight teams with the best overall records, in part determined by tiebreakers, make the field regardless of geographical East/West Conference affiliation.

Washington currently has a one-game lead over Phoenix for fifth seed, though both are guaranteed first-round home game, but if they tie, Phoenix has the series win over the Mystics.

Dallas is seventh even if they move up and Phoenix drops to a sixth-seed tie since the Mercury won the series.

And Seattle, which made a late rush after a change of coaches, will be eighth.

Thus, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana and San Antonio, which last April in the draft grabbed all-time NCAA scoring great Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick out of the University of Washington, will be heading to the lottery, which is projected to have depth in value players.

Up here in New York, the Liberty at 65-36 are in the middle of the best three-year stretch in the 21-year history that began with the franchise being one of eight charter members in 1997.

The Liberty has proven to be tough at home, going 12-0 when reaching the fourth quarter with a lead, and 18-1 overall holding leads after three quarters.

Against San Antonio, Tina Charles finished with 16 points and eight rebounds while former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince also had 16 points, while Shavonte Zellous and Kia Vaughn each scored 10 points.

Plum led San Antonio with 18 points and was 3-for-4 on 3-point attempts, while Kayla Alexander had 15 points, and former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride had seven points and dealt a career-high eight assists.

Isabelle Harrison Harrison had 10 points and Alex Montgomery grabbed 10 rebounds for the visitors.

New York coach Bill Laimbeer, the former NBA Detroit Piston “Bad Boys” era post player who coached the former Detroit Shock franchise (now Dallas with a short stay in Tulsa) to three WNBA titles, may need a new postgame script writer considering the familiarity with his postgame responses.

“I told them that any win in this league is a good win,” Laimbeer said using a familiar refrain after gritty competition. “It’s very hard to get wins, no matter who you’re playing and I felt San Antonio played very well tonight.”

The Stars were without former UConn star Moriah Jefferson (sore right knee) and former Northwestern star Nia Coffey did not get into the game.

“I don’t think we played our best game by any stretch of the imagination, but we gutted it out and got through it, we got a win and into the next one.”

Said Prince, “I think we’re peaking at the right time. We’re peaking right going into the playoffs so I rather have it this way than have us peaking early and kind of going downhill afterwards.”

San Antonio is now coached by former New York star Vickie Johnson, who played at Louisiana Tech in college, following the retirement of coach/general manager Dan Hughes.

The Stars GM is former Detroit star Ruth Riley, who played for the 2001 Notre Dame NCAA champs and said she plans to be in Springfield, Mass., next Thursday and Friday when Irish coach Muffet McGraw, who starred at Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia, is one of the inductees into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

“It’s going to be great,” Riley said. “Coach doesn’t allow us to celebrate her too often so this will be a lot of fun.”

As for the game, Johnson said, “It’s hard to play without Jefferson and give Plum a break every now and then. Sydney (Colson) did a good job for us. The first three quarters we played very well. The last quarter we didn’t share the basketball, we got one assist.”

As to what caused the Stars to flameout in the final period, “Johnson observed, “It was a little fatigue, but not only that. We didn’t play with the discipline and consistency that we played with in the first three quarters.”

Meanwhile in Washington at the renamed Capitol One Arena, formerly known as the Verizon Center, Washington stopped a three-game slide as former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne poured down 37 points and grabbed a key rebound at the end, her seventh of the game, while she also shot 6-of-9 three pointers.

Emma Meesseman had 27 points, Kristi Toliver scored 12, and Krystal Thomas grabbed 12 rebounds, while Allison Hightower scored 10 points.

During the game Seattle veteran and former Uconn great Sue Bird, who had 19 points and 13 assists, passed former Old Dominion standout Ticha Penincheiro, of the former Sacramento Monarchs, to become the all-time WNBA assists leader with what is now 2,610 and will continue to change until she retires, which may not be too soon.

Former Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd had 19 points for Seattle, while Crystal Langhorne, a former Maryland star who played for the Mystics, had 15 points, Alysha Clark scored 20, former Liberty Carolyn Swords had 10, and former UConn standout Breanna Stewart, the top overall pick in 2016, had 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Minnesota went on another scoring explosion as Sylvia Fowles had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Rene Montgomery had 21 points, Maya Moore scored 20, and Simone Augustus had 11.

Former Rutgers star Kahleah Copper of Philadelphia had 21 points for Chicago, Stef Dolson had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Courtney Vandersloot had 14 points and nine assists, and Allie Quigley scored 11.

In the Phoenix win over Connecticut, the Mercury secured a first-round home game in the 1-0 knockdown as Britney Griner scored 31 points and had eight rebounds, Diana Taurasi scored 15, and Yolanda Turner had 13.

Alyssa Thomas had 19 points for the Sun, and Brionna Jones scored 13.

Out in Los Angeles, the host Sparks sent Atlanta packing for the lottery as Candace Parker had 15 points, Nneka Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims each scored 13, and Jantel Lavender scored 12.

The Dream, who played the whole season with Angel McCoughtry taking a breather, got 19 points from Tiffany Hayes and Brittany Sykes scored 10.






    

 


 




WNBA Feature: League Inclusion in NBA LIVE 18 Is All About Representation

By Lamar Carter (@iamlamarcarter)
 

In August, a hashtag inspired by the Twitter account @BlackGirlNerds asked users to remember when the #FirstTimeISawMe in media was. 


Some of the best answers focused on impactful representation in TV, movies, and music. 

 

For fans of the WNBA and women’s basketball as a whole, the answer to that question in regards to video games will be fully realized on September 15, 2017.

 

That date marks the release of EA Sports’ NBA LIVE 18 and the historic addition of the complete WNBA roster for the first time ever in a basketball game. According to EA’s initial release, the WNBA will be available in the game’s “WNBA Play Now” mode and “teams and player skills have been specifically balanced to reflect the unique playstyle of the league and skills of its players”

 

The league that charges its supporters to “Watch Me Work” in arenas, on television screens, and within mobile apps will now be able to extend that rallying call to next generation gaming consoles.

 

“We are delighted to collaborate and make history with EA as NBA LIVE 18 becomes the first video game to feature the WNBA’s full roster of teams and players. With EA’s expertise and ingenuity, the game will provide a terrific platform to showcase the players and the league, enabling fans to experience the WNBA in a new, exciting way,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said when the announcement was made last month.

 

The distinction of adding the FULL complement of WNBA players and teams is important.


EA has worked with the league in the past, adding six WNBA legends - Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, and Diana Taurasi - to their successful streetball simulation NBA Street: Homecourt back in 2007.


 EA has also had some practice with higher levels of inclusion since Homecourt’s release, adding several women’s national soccer teams to its FIFA soccer series since the release of FIFA 16 in the Fall of 2015.

 

Ten years later, the evolution of EA and the WNBA’s partnership is providing another milestone moment for the world’s longest running women’s professional sports league. 

 

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our league. We’re always looking for ways to improve and to get better so I think this is a huge step, a big step for us,” said the recently retired Catchings.


Within the women's basketball community, the possibility of NBA LIVE’s WNBA integration has been a point for discussion of about a year. 


Two August 2016 Twitter posts from former University of Washington players Talia Walton and Kelsey Plum - the eventual first pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft - started the conversation. 

 

The pair tweeted a photo of themselves in motion capture gear and gave a shout out to EA. At that point, the thought of seeing virtual WNBA players wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. 


“It was a great opportunity,” Plum said as she recalled the process. “It turned out to be a super fun experience. You get to see behind the scenes and learn a lot about how they make the game. I was very humbled to be a part of it.”

 

As amazing as the experience was for Plum and Walton, fans that saw the post could only guess what the ultimate significance of the photo would be as there would be no official follow up or outside lead for months that would help confirm the league’s involvement in the game.

 

That all changed in April after Steve Noah (@Steve_OS), owner of sports video game news site Operation Sports, tweeted a leaked screenshot of an NBA LIVE menu with a WNBA logo on it. 


The two images, considered together, gave a bit more credibility to the notion. When it was made official four months later, a year’s worth of speculation turned into tangible buzz. 

 

The most common feeling among players when asked about their inclusion in the game: excitement.

 

“I’m excited, too excited. I don’t have a gaming system so I’m actually going out to buy a PS4,” Washington Mystics guardIvory Latta said. “I’m going to be in the house all day playing. I hope I score like 60 a game.”

 

Dallas Wings guard Aerial Powers may have a different console than Latta, but her enthusiasm to play the game is just as high.


 “I love video games! I have an Xbox One so I play games all the time. I play basketball games and ‘Call of Duty’ so when I saw that we were going to be on NBA LIVE I was so excited. Growing up, I played the games as other players, players I might have known that made the NBA. Now I can play myself and be myself in the video game? It’s so exciting.”

 

The gratitude for equal representation was as evident in responses as fans’ overall interest in playing the game. The majority of sports games over the years have only allowed gamers to compete with male players - New York Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince would create a male player named “Kobe Prince” to “add her own touch.”

 

In terms of representation, to go from improvisation to actualization has only added to the excitement of the league’s participation in the game.

 

“It’s pretty surreal,” Phoenix Mercury guard Danielle Robinson said of the thought of playing as herself in the game. “[Going from] playing video games with my brother when I was younger to now being able to play as myself is pretty incredible.”

 

Getting the best women’s basketball players in the world into the digital realm is, in the words of Prince, a “blessing and a dream come true.” 


It is also only one part that dream. Realizing the second part will mean keeping them there in future iterations through the commercial success of the game and the continued growth and visibility of the league. 

 

The ideal result of this partnership would be reciprocal in nature: the women’s basketball community comes out in force to bring new fans to the video game industry and the WNBA adds a new way of gaining fans out of casual gamers.

 

Indiana Fever head coach Pokey Chatman believes the league won’t have an issue doing so if interested gamers experience a game - either virtually or, hopefully, in person after playing NBA LIVE. 

 

“I think it’s an opportunity for a totally different demographic to get eyes on players that may pique their interest and then get to a game,” Chatman said. “My motto is, ‘if we get them to a WNBA basketball game, we’ll wrap our arms around them and they’ll thoroughly enjoy it’ because they have an appreciation the athleticism and style of play that these young ladies have.”

 

On August 3, a couple days after the #FirstTimeISawMe hashtag was introduced by BGN and the same day EA confirmed the WNBA’s involvement, Mystics analyst Christy Winters Scott tweeted that she “could never give” her three kids - two boys and a girl - a good answer as to why the WNBA hadn’t had a presence in video games. In a few weeks, her kids - and anyone else that supports the league - won’t have to ever ask that question again. 

 

They can just ask, “who’s got next?”

 


Monday, August 28, 2017

In Search of a New NCAA Women's Basketball Czarina

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

As the 2017-18 collegiate women’s basketball year is fast approaching, and in the more recent world of change already started arriving, what many consider perhaps the most important hire in the entire sport, and, yes, that also includes the WNBA, is up for consideration.

No, it’s not the UConn coaching job, or some other position, either coaching or administratively at the elite level of the Power Five or high Mid-Major schools.

Earlier this month, Anucha Browne, former Northwestern star and all-timer in Big Ten women’s basketball, announced she is leaving her post as the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball for a position with UNICEF near her native Brooklyn in New York.

Incidentally, she led the nation in scoring her senior season with the Wildcats.

An aside: During her NCAA stint she probably produced more selfies -- yes she got yours truly several times -- than her entire photo archive of her fabulous career at Northwestern.

Browne’s announcement came on the fifth anniversary of the announcement of her hire from a position as senior women’s administrator and also senior associate athletic director for marketing at Buffalo.

Before that she held a high marketing position with the NBA New York Knicks, where she made headlines winning a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-general manager Isiah Thomas, now president of the WNBA New York Liberty, and Madison Square Garden, the corporate entity which involves ownership of the Knicks, NHL New York Rangers, the Liberty, and several other sports franchises.

“I feel I’m leaving the NCAA at a time when we’re in a very good place. Things went extremely well in Dallas last April with the sellout and the entire event,” she said after her departure was announced. “At the same time, personally, it will be great to be back on the East Coast but I’ll always be ready to do whatever I can to help the cause of women’s basketball.”

Browne’s title was different and more inclusive of all three divisions than that of her predecessor Sue Donohoe, then Vice President of Division I basketball who went on to head the Kay Yow Foundation for a stint and also serve as president of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., before her retirement to Texas.

Donohoe was also an assistant to Gary Blair at Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas and served with him under Leon Barmore at Louisiana Tech, her native state.

“It’s a biggie, no question,” Donohoe said last weekend of the vacancy. “You’re talking about continuing to oversee the growth of the women’s basketball tournament and many other aspects.”

As of this initial posting from your Guru on the topic, it seems to be still unknown whether the job will open to all applicants or whether a search committee will be formed.

But what is known that things are a little different than last time around with the ultimate decision, pending approval from NCAA President Mark Emmert, will be in the hands of Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, who was hired several months before Browne as men’s vice president of basketball.

Gavitt, the son of Hall of Famer and Big East founder, the late Dave Gavitt, was later promoted to Senior Vice President of Basketball and became Browne’s boss besides being over the two men and women’s basketball oversight committees.

In 2012 there was a search committee and Mark Lewis, no longer with the NCAA, then called the final shot at a time that a lot of viable women’s candidates refrained from pursuit either because of the advertised salary, happiness in their jobs at the time of being contacted, reluctance to live in Indianapolis, or not desired to be employed at the NCAA at a time when the organization was involved in more than its usual share of controversies.

 In some recent off the record talks there is a general consensus of comfort with Gavitt, who certainly knows many women’s basketball notables he could reference, even if he had to do the whole drill himself.

One is his former boss, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, for whom he was in charge of the conference men’s tourney prior to his arrival at the NCAA and at a time after the great schism that saw the other piece of the old Big East become the American Athletic Conference.

Ackerman was pursued by the NCAA outside the search committee in 2012 and gave a polite no thank you but soon after agreed to do a white paper for the organization on the state of the sport and soon after that became the commissioner of the new Big East.

Some with knowledge of the national organization say fit and the being able to work under the NCAA culture will be important components in filling the position. 

And the person shouldn’t be arriving with a needed education in the sport, though if the person was someone outside the sphere as Laurel Richie was in becoming WNBA president, depending what is brought to the table, that kind of hire might be not be objectionable.  

Another individual heavily pursued last time around outside the search committee was ESPN’s Carol Stiff, who was served in various roles as the liason between NCAA women’s basketball and the giant sports TV network.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see her pursued again.

 The 2012 search committee included former WBCA head Beth Bass, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and Penn State coach Coquese Washington, among others.

Browne isn’t leaving until late October with the hire to be on board by November or December.

“It’s a tricky time,” Donohoe said. “I got hired in December and arrived in January and at the time we didn’t even have the hotels designated yet for the 2000 tourney in Philly, which is still one of our biggest all-time in terms of attendance and media credentialing.

“Of course, we had a three-person staff at the NCAA in our area which is much, much larger now.”

Donohoe was also aided in the fact that Cathy Andruzzi, then executive director of the local organization committee, was an expert in raising money – a record at the time for the tourney – and tournament infrastructure so she was able to jump start things like seating charts, etc.

So while names internally haven’t popped yet,  we're at the reason that many of you are reading this, based on text messages as "when’s it coming," this is the Guru’s long list headed by the short list. The reason for the long list is if I don’t mention other names, you’ll ask why not, so you will now see why not.

FRONT OF THE CROWD

Michelle Perry – “You never want to say `never,’” she said recently. She was the former right hand to Donohoe and those of us at the early mock selections knew her as the professor of women’s bracketology in taking us through the procedure.

She went on to consulting and is now the local executive director of the 2018 Women’s Final Four in Columbus. While that might be seen as a problem, considering that job won’t conclude until April, it also calls for synergy with the NCAA and since she knows both sides of the street, the period between December and April could be managed with a little bit of creativity.

And she already comes with a learning curve in terms of the NCAA.

Kelly Krauskopf – Was a finalist last time around and a favorite among the masses with knowledge of the search. As general manager of the WNBA Indiana Fever, moving expenses would be nil. She has past experience in the old Southwest Conference. But she wasn’t ready to change addresses last time and one doesn’t know as the Fever enter a rare rebuilding phase whether she would be this time around.

Leslie Claybrook – A basketball committee member who oversees Southeastern Conference women’s basketball and is a past referee when asked, said, “It’s a good job. I’m sure many will go after it.” Whether she might be one is not known but certainly has a lot of qualifications on the intangibles.

OTHER “A” LIST TO NAME BUT NOT HAPPENING

Danielle Donehew – Head of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Happy where she’s at as a popular hire several years ago to help shore up the existing problems of that organization.

Carol Callan – Head of USA Basketball women’s programs. Not likely to leave where she is at, especially with the state of Colorado a factor.

Chris Polonsky – SWA and other positions at Texas. Wealth of experience but not leaving the Lone Star State

Nora Lynn Finch – Head of ACC women’s basketball and the only time you find her above the Mason-Dixon Line is for required meetings, conference teams in competition or other premium women’s basketball events. Like Plonsky, wealth of experience, though, and served with Kay Yow at N.C. State and later became the SWA with the Wolfpack.

Sandy Barbour – If she was still in a former job at Cal-Berkeley, mark her down. But she’s the Penn State AD. Not happening.

Ceal Barry – Former Colorado coach and now the Buffs’ SWA and senior associate athletic director for internal operations at the school. Would need some real persuading to ply her from the Rockies.

Marsha Sharp – Former Texas Tech coach and now Associate AD for special projects. See Ceal Barry but substitute Texas for Colorado.

Connie Hurlbut – Was a finalist last time. Now is women’s senior administrator for West Coast Conference. A recent hire from the WAC will keep the rest of her body with her heart in San Francisco.

NCAA INSIDE EXPERIENCE

Joni Comstock – A past chair of the women’s basketball committee but not likely since she’s running half the organization that’s not Division I WBB.

Lynn Holzman – Current commissioner of the West Coast Conference. Played basketball at Kansas State and served 16 years in the NCAA with membership and academic activity and in the position women’s basketball ran many things by her. Don’t know interest.

Diane Dickman – Working at NCAA in governance and mentioned by people with organization knowledge as someone who could be a viable candidate from the inside if interested.

WORLD OF THE WNBA

Renee Brown – No longer serving in the women’s pro league but with the NBA. Don’t know interest but you have to at least find out and then take it from there in the vetting process.

Theresa Wentzel – President of the Atlanta Dream. Past experience as the SWA at Georgia Tech. Known to look at jobs for her ability to make an impact as compared to the financial viability against whatever her current position might be.

Amber Cox – Fabulous marketing experience. Worked under Ackerman at Big East as the women’s associate but she’s happy to be in the pros where she is a high executive with the Connecticut Sun and the Black Wolves lacrosse squad owned by the Mohegans.

Kraren Bryant – Past executive with the WNBA Seattle Storm and also the former ABL Seattle Reign. Don’t know what she’s doing now or interested but several types offered her name in the Guru casting call for WNBA crowd candidates.

OTHER NAMES

Jill Bodensteiner – SWA at Notre Dame and member of the WBB committee. Might consider it once all specs are known.

Felicia Hall Allen - President and CEO of Felicia Hall Allen & Associates, a motivational speaking, training, consulting and sports management company.  An attorney also and played for current Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa and was also an executive with the former WNBA Charlotte Sting. Was a finalist in the last search and also in the WBCA search. 

Teri Howes – Oversees WBB and other sports at West Virginia. Don’t know interest if approached.

Theresa Grentz – Besides well liked by longtimers who remember Immaculata playing days and then others in her Saint Joseph’s/Rutgers/Illinois coaching career, it’s her marketing pizzazz and ability to work the boys in the boardrooms that cause her name to be mentioned when these type of jobs open. Don’t know, however, how she and the NCAA culture would mesh.

Linda Bruno – Former Atlantic Ten commissioner and past head of the WBB committee at a time when things really grew and popped. She’s out there. She knows them and they know her. How much traction that’s worth time will tell. Don’t know yet if she is considering getting involved.

Bernadette McGlade – Now Atlantic 10 Commissioner. Was a WBB committee chair, and SWA of the ACC prior to Nora Lynn Finch. Her past jobs would put her on the list. Her current job probably means no thanks.

Sarah Baumgartner – A Guru rising star submission.  Has climbed rapidly in the Rutgers athletic department doing great things in fundraising and other activity. Also has overseen women’s basketball. Don’t know if interested if were approached.

Ok that’s it for starters. Any of you who have others who need to be discussed and want to whisper, you know where to find your Guru. To be continued.

 




  



  



 

 



 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

WNBA: Fourth Quarter Shutdown Carries New York to Seventh Straight With Win Over Washington

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – In the WNBA over the last month or so four teams have had their engines motoring them forward to the playoffs of September and early October, one has kind of idled a bit due to injuries and the other seven have all been in reverse with one exception in the group to the point that the Phoenix Mercury have not lost much ground because the teams behind have not closed the gap.

The exception has been the Seattle Storm, which made a coaching change and has not lost a game yet to move from pending extinction to potential life after Sept. 3.

Meanwhile, up here the island of Manhattan, the New York Liberty, who have been on a roll, hosted a healthier Washington Mystics, the team that has been idling, in Madison Square Garden Friday night with playoffs assured for both but battling the next phase of best seed possible.

After a back-and-forth evening, New York again used a strong fourth quarter defensively outscoring Washington 13-6 with four of the six occurring in the final minute to gain a 74-66 triumph extending the Liberty win streak to seven.

More important, New York (19-12) tightened its grip on fourth seed, which has the perk of a first-round bye, over Washington (17-3) by moving 1.5 games in front of the Mystics with three games remaining, while Washington has four.

The win gives New York the tiebreak in the season series 2-1 should both finish fourth.

Of course, the Liberty have their sights on a little more since they trail third place Connecticut by just one game after the Sun (20-12) got spanked at home earlier 96-83 by Chicago (12-18) allowing the Sky to remain on life support in the race for the last spots.

Chicago visits New York Sunday while Washington will host the Dallas Wings Saturday night with Dallas looking to land a playoff spot.

The Sun loss dropped them three games behind the second-place and defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks.

Minnesota, riding at the top of the league, ran over the San Antonio Silver Stars 89-70 in Texas where the home team has already been living in 2018 draft lottery city for some time.

Washington welcomed the return of former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne, who had been out with a hand injury and for the first time in the New York series the Mystics had both Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman in the game at the same time but it was to no avail.

But it was to no avail, though Delle Donne had 15 points and Meessemann had 12, while Krystal Thomas scored 17 points and Kristi Toliver scored 11.

Though healthier, Washington was still without former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud, who is out with a left hip injury while Tayler Hill was sidelined much earlier for the rest of the way with a torn right ACL.

New York thrived on its defense, out-rebounding Washington 40-32, improved its ball handling by committing just eight turnovers, and got a strong 20-20 basket vision performance by Tina Charles, a former UConn star, and Epiphanny Prince, a former Rutgers star, who each scored 20 points.

Shavonte Zellous, a standout in college at Pitt, scored 18, while the whole group, thanks to Prince, managed to overcome Sugar Rodgers’ 0-for-9 night in which she went scoreless for the game. Bria Hartley was also in double figures, scoring 10 points.

The Liberty win streak Is the longest in seven seasons outperformed by just the 10-0 run during the 2010 season.

Considering that New York had a three seed last season and got bounced after the first-round bye at home by Phoenix in the then-new one-and-one first and second round setups, and that coach Bill Laimbeer had enjoyed greater success winning three titles with the former Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings after a stint as the Tulsa Shock), the former Detroit Piston NBA “Bad Boy” was accepting the Oscar for the win but was not totally enamored of the performance.

So his review of his team’s work was mixed, saying, “I don’t think we played well at all, our defense was lackluster at many times during the game, we didn’t shoot well, obviously,.

“I think we have to play with more intensity and more passion against Chicago on Sunday. They got a nice big win tonight so they are feeling good about themselves. We have to play better than that.”

Yet Laimbeer had some positives, saying, “I told the players that in this league, `Anytime you win a game it’s a great feat.’ This is a tough league to win games in, and we got a win tonight.”

The fact that New York’s record has uplifted since former UConn star Bria Hartley, a new arrival via offseason deal with Washington, moved into the starting lineup, Laimbeer pointed out that she gives the Liberty more speed, rather than having Prince in that spot being a little more stagnant with the offense.

Prince said of her game, “I feel good. I am being more aggressive. .. trying to assert myself more. I am just playing my game and getting everybody else involved when I can and just doing what I know I can do.”

Of course, things were a little more somber on the Washington side of the arena in a season in which promise thrived early when everyone was healthy and now improvement is coming in lesser steps.

“We really struggled,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “We didn’t make a lot of outside shots. Both teams kind of played each other the same way.

“The game comes down to them having ten more field goal attempts than us, our live ball turnovers,and their offensive boards hurt us more than anything. We held them under 40 percent shooting but they got second chance shots and they got some breakouts on our turnovers.”

As for his evaluation of Delle Donne’s return, the Washington coach said, “I thought her legs were good. Her conditioning was good. She shot the ball pretty well but we have to give her better touches in open space. We’ll work on that between now and next week and see if we can get her some easier looks too.”

Delle Donne, herself, responded to her self-evaluation question, saying, “We lost so I didn’t give myself a grade. I’m not giving our team a grade because tomorrow we have Dallas and there’s no time to put your head down.

“Obviously, we wanted to come in here and get a win so definitely not thrilled with that but it’s time to just focus on Dallas tomorrow.”

NCAA champion South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, also the next USA Women’s Olympic coach, will be in Washington Saturday night to give former North Carolina star Ivory Latta of Washington the WNBA Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award, which was announced earlier Friday.

Ironically, with Dallas in town, the Wings have former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was the 2013 Dawn Staley Guard award presented at the Union League in Philadelphia.

 

     

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

WNBA Feature: Former UConn Star Bria Hartley Has Become the X-Factor in the New York Liberty Surge

By ROB KNOX
@knoxrob1
 
NEW YORK – Even as whispers of doubt swirled through her head, Bria Hartley’s faith never wavered.
 
The concerns were valid for the electric New York Liberty guard. Would she return as the best version of herself after giving birth to a boy, adjusting to a new team following a trade, and recovering from nagging foot injuries?
 
“It was an adjustment I had to make personally for me,” Hartley said in June following a Liberty win over Dallas at Madison Square Garden. “I had to understand that things don’t come as quick as you think they’re going to. You go out there sometimes and you get frustrated because things you’re normally able to do, you can’t do. I just had to keep working, trust the process and take it day by day.” 
 
It’s taken some time, but Hartley has found her groove.
 
Hartley’s shimmering streak of excellence has helped the Liberty soar to its current five-game winning streak and into the WNBA playoffs for the third consecutive year. Among the victims during the Liberty’s recent run have been the league’s top three teams in the standings: Minnesota, Los Angeles and Connecticut. In each game, the Liberty rallied from an early double-digit deficit to eventually sprint to victory. 
 
At 17-12 overall and sitting in fourth place overall in the standings, New York is looking to keep the good times rolling when it visits Indiana Wednesday and hosts Washington Friday night.

 Hartley has been the spark plug during New York’s winning ways, guiding the Liberty to a 9-3 record since entering the starting lineup with purpose, poise and passion. 
 
A whippet from Long Island, the former UConn star has performed at a high level since re-joining the starting lineup on July 16. Over the previous 12 games Hartley has scored in double figures eight times, twice matching her season-high of 17 points, averaging 11.5 points per game while shooting .444 from the field and .418 from 3-point range.
 
She led the Liberty in scoring in back-to-back games for the first time this season, posting 17 points at San Antonio on Aug. 1, and following that up with 16 against the Sparks on Aug. 4.

 Hartley scored in double figures in four-straight games from Aug. 1-11, her longest such streak since her rookie season in 2014, when she had a stretch of five-straight games from June 13-22.
 
Since being inserted into the starting lineup as point guard, the move has allowed Epiphanny Prince to play shooting guard and Sugar Rodgers to thrive while providing firepower off the bench. 
 
The Liberty has seen improvement across the board in nearly every offensive category, in some places drastically, particularly with a scoring average jump of nearly four points per game and an opponent points per game that has decreased by nearly five points.

It’s been a lot of work to get back to this point for Hartley, who was determined to showcase her special ability that made her one the WNBA’s most dynamic young players. She worked out while she was pregnant. With her family nearby, she was able to focus on getting back in shape. 
 
“After having the baby, I lost a lot of muscle,” Hartley said. “It’s always been hard for me to build muscle in the first place and building that back was one of the toughest things for me. 

“I made sure I worked out during my pregnancy. Maintaining the muscle I had was the biggest thing for me. I lifted two-to-three times a week while I was pregnant. Six weeks after giving birth, I was able to start on my core workouts. Four weeks after the baby, I was doing basic work like planks, and mat work. The lowest level workouts to build up.
 
“Also, I was going out to White Plains to work out with Teresa Weatherspoon three times a week. I loved working with her and I was glad that I was able to work with her before the season started.

  “It helped build my confidence. When I didn’t go, I worked out on Long Island with my trainers and lifting weights. I was grinding out and doing multiple workouts a day to get myself back to this point. I have a long way to go.”
 
Being traded from Washington proved to be a blessing in disguise for Hartley. 
 
“I was excited especially with the new baby,” Hartley said of the trade. “I am closer to my family so it made this situation a lot easier. Coming here to New York, I got more of an opportunity to play a little bit more and make an impact. I didn’t start the way I wanted to the first few games, but now I am making progress.”
 
Being pregnant also helped Hartley’s ankle heel. During the last two years in Washington, her explosiveness was reduced to a sputter because of injuries. 
 
“I had foot problems and a history with that,” Hartley said. “It helped to take that time off and I haven’t had time like that in a long time.
“Obviously, you’re not resting because you’re pregnant so your body goes through a lot of changes and you have to recover from that as well. It’s good and you don’t have the pounding on your body when you’re playing overseas and in the WNBA. The rest was good for me and came at the perfect time.”
 
Just like Hartley’s gorgeous game returning right on schedule to help the Liberty enjoy a potentially lengthy playoff run.
 
NOTES: New York leads the WNBA in defensive field goal percentage at .409 and has held three of its last four opponents under 40 percent from the field … Over the past five games, New York is limiting its opponents to just 70.6 points per game and .371 shooting from the field and .297 from 3-point range …  The Liberty has held three of its last five opponents under 40 percent from the field, and limited both Los Angeles and Minnesota to fewer than 70 points when they visited New York.