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, May 23, 2005

Shock and Sun Spoil Liberty. Mystics Home Openers

By Mel Greenberg in New York
and Jonathan Tannenwald in Washington

NEW YORK – The Detroit Shock completed a powerful two-game opening weekend sweep at the outset of the WNBA season, Sunday, by building a 15-point first-half lead and holding off the New York Liberty for a 78-71 victory in Madison Square Garden.

The second win in 48 hours for Detroit spoiled New York's season opener and gained a touch of revenge for the Shock's ouster by the Liberty in the playoffs.

It was here last September that a buzzer-beater in the second game of the first round in the playoffs brought Detroit’s defense of the 2003 championship to an official and unhappy conclusion.

“We definitely remember that,” center Ruth Riley recalled the season-ending loss.
“It was a great opportunity for us in that game and we let it go by. Obviously losing on a last-second shot, it’s something you remember in your entire off-season,” she added after scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds against New York.

“Now, we’re a new team, we’re a different team and we’re ready to go.”

The Shock, who got 15 points and 18 rebounds from third-year veteran Cheryl Ford, dominated the boards with a 52-33 advantage, including 17-5 on the offensive end.

The winners’ total off the boards was a team record.

Detroit arrived here fresh off Saturday’s home opener, a 78-67 victory over the defending Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun in Auburn Hills, Mich.

In that game, rookie Kara Braxton, a former Georgia player who was the eighth overall draft pick last April, made her WNBA debut with 18 points. Veteran guard Deanna Nolan, also a Georgia graduate, became the fourth player in league history to score a triple double with 11 points, 11 assists – a team record, and 10 rebounds.

Connecticut recovered to salvage a 69-67 triumph in Washington against the Mystics after Washington had romped over the Charlotte Sting on the road, Saturday, as Katie Douglas scored 16 points, including four foul shots in the final half-minute.

Nolan had 17 points here against the Liberty, Sunday.

Ford said after the Shock triumph over New York that “intensity” is a key to her team becoming successful as it was when the Shock dethroned the Los Angeles Sparks for the 2003 title.

“That’s what coach (Bill) Laimbeer puts on the blackboard before every game,” Ford said. “`Forty minutes of intensity’.

“If we keep that up, and execute our plays and play defense, then nobody can stop us.”
Elaine Powell added 10 points to the Shock attack.

New York launched a second-half rally, erasing the deficit for a short-lived two-point lead at 53-51 with 10 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game.

But the Shock quickly regained the advantage of a three-point play from Nolan and was able
to stay enough ahead of the Liberty in the closing minutes to determine the outcome.

Becky Hammon got 14 of her game-high 24 points in the second half for New York, which shot 31.4 percent for the game.

Veteran Vickie Johnson scored 16 points, and center Ann Wauters scored 14 with a team-high eight rebounds.

“We battled back, but you just can’t shoot the ball like that and win games,” Hammon said of New York’s offensive misery.

Detroit continued to play without Swin Cash, the former Connecticut star who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the playoffs.

Laimbeer has targeted June 3 for her return.

“We’re going to take it slow, because as you see we’re a very deep team. We’re in no hurry and we’re not panicking,” the former Detroit Pistons star said.

“We want her back badly, because she’s a great player.

“This year, we’re very driven, we’re very into each other. The chemistry is outstanding. They cheer for each other. They don’t care who’s doing it out there, as long as somebody is doing it.”

Laimbeer was asked about his interest in the New York Knicks’ NBA vacant coaching job if it becomes vacant, considering his connection to Knicks general manager Isaiah Thomas from their playing days in Detroit.

“I’m having so much fun doing what I’m doing now,” Laimbeer said. “I’m not going to leave Detroit until my daughter graduates high school.

“Then, we’ll see if something comes my way. If something comes my way, then, super, we’ll give it a try,” he continued.

Then asked when his daughter will graduate, Laimbeer smiled and said, “About a week from now.”

Garden Party

The announced crowd of 12,543 persons included former WNBA president Val Ackerman, who resigned in February and was honored by the Liberty.

Former La Salle women’s coach John Miller was seen on press row scouting for the Charlotte Sting.

Former Vanderbilt guard Ashley McElhiney, who will become an assistant women's coach at Alabama, was also seen in the building.
McElhiney coached the Nashville Rhythm, a men’s professional team in the American Basketball Association, last winter until the owner fired her in a dispute over her unwillingness to bench a player.
She was the first woman to coach a men’s professional team.
"It's a good opportunity," McElhiney said of joining the Crimson Tide, a rival of her alma mater in the Southeastern Conference. "I still have a lot to learn."

Sun over Mystics

WASHINGTON _ Greetings from the nation’s capital, where the defending Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun spoiled the Washington Mystics’ home opener Sunday night, 69-67, as both teams finished 1-1 on the opening weekend.

It was a very back-and-forth game, with seven lead changes and a big run for each team in each half. The Mystics raced out to a 11-2 lead in the first five minutes, but the Sun came back slowly and by halftime were up 40-35.

In the second half it was the Mystics’ turn to rally, going from 48-41 down four and half minutes in to as much as 61-56 up with 4:29 to play.

But the home side’s offense fell silent from there, failing to score until a 25-foot bomb of a three-pointer by Laurie Koehn with 11 seconds to play. Koehn hit another long-range three at the buzzer but it was too little, too late.

Adubato At Ease

New Mystics coach Richie Adubato wasn’t too upset after the game, mostly because his team hadn’t really been together until the last few days before the season started.

Ten Mystics played abroad in the offseason, with forward Delisha Milton-Jones – who was acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent Chamique Holdsclaw to Los Angeles – not arriving in Washington until a week ago.

She spent the offseason partly in South Korea and partly in Spain.

Forward Chastity Melvin was another important late arrival, having spent the offseason in Israel where she was named the MVP of that league for the year.

Before the game, Adubato said that “we got through maybe 75 percent of our stuff” in the pre-season and “probably about 50 percent of the playbook.”

“That's all we could do,” he said, “because every time we went in a certain direction we had to re-teach all the new people that came in.”

That philosophy was repeated after the game in Adubato’s press conference, at which there were three TV cameras and a pretty full complement of reporters.

“When the pressure gets on, it’s even harder for the people who are trying to figure out where they are supposed to go,” the former New York Liberty coach said. “The effort was there, but our precision isn’t here yet.”

The punishment for the late-game collapse is not having Monday off, although Adubato said the practice would be late in the day.

“We will go over all of our plays until it becomes second nature to us, and especially in the clutch,” he said.

Size mattered

As for other particulars in the game, the smoke hadn't even cleared yet from the Mystics' flashy player introduction ceremony when it became clear that the home team was at a bit of a size disadvantage against the visiting Sun.

Chastity Melvin, the 6-foot-3, six-year WNBA veteran had to jump the ball against 7-foot-2 Poland native Margo Dydek, in her seventh year in the league.

“There’s no defense for Margo,” said Melvin, who played with Dydek for two seasons in Poland. “It’s all about what Margo wants to do and how she wants to come out and play.”

Neither Dydek nor the rest of her team came out to play early on. The Mystics scored the game's first six points and the Sun missed their first nine goal attempts, managing only two made free throws from Nykesha Sales in the first five minutes. Dydek only took one of those shots.

When the Sun finally scored a field goal, a spinning floater from second-year guard Lindsay Whalen 14:50 into the game, the Mystics led 11-4.

Dydek finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, three assists and four blocks in 20 minutes. She forced the Mystics out to the perimeter more often than they might otherwise have been, as the Sun employed a zone defense when Dydek was on the floor.

“We have a pretty good strategy against her, at least we have had it in the past,” Adubato said referring to when he and assistant Jeff House were with the Liberty in New York. “I can tell you that, but let me put it this way– she has never really burned us and she can have big games.”

At the other end of the height scale, the Mystics’ 5-foot-2 rookie point guard, Temeka Johnson, brought the crowd to its feet on quite a few occasions with fast drives to the basket. The LSU graduate, who took the Lady Tigers to the final four twice, ended the game with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, a game-high seven assists, two rebounds and one steal.

“For her to come in and play the way she played in these two games, right out of college in the pros, was just tremendous,” Adubato said.

Beard still sidelined

Other odds and ends: Mystics guard Alana Beard wore street clothes during the game after warming up in her practice uniform before tipoff. She is still recovering from a sprained ankle, and Adubato said that his best estimate is that she’ll play a week from Wednesday when the Liberty come to town. Beard, on the other hand, said she’s “probable” for Thursday. Believe who you want.

“She’s very optimistic that she can get back, and I’m glad to see that spirit,” Adubato said. “When Kobe turned his ankle [this past season], they said it was going to be two weeks and it was four.”

He added, “I hope she makes a fool out of me.”

Gee Wizards

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Michael Ruffin sat courtside opposite press row and got a loud ovation from the MCI Center fans. Arenas and Ruffin led the Mystics' co-tenants to their first playoff series win since 1982 last month. For many of the 11,155 in attendance tonight, that was the first time in their lives that the Washington NBA franchise made it that far in the postseason.

Sun coach Mike Thibault was assessed a technical foul for arguing with the referees at the 12:47 mark of the first half. He never really quieted down but on more than a few occasions later in the game he pleaded his case to the fans behind the basket instead of to the refs.

Apaprently the so-called 'pocket' motorbikes that caused quite a bit of controversy in Philadelphia last year aren't illegal in Washington. The Mystics mascot, Charm, was seen scooting around the MCI Center floor on one during a second-half timeout.

If you've ever wondered what the black pager-like devices are that the referees wear on their belts, they are used to reset the shot clock.

Holdsclaw, who was in town for an exhibition game several weeks ago will return Thursday night in a game that will count. Milton-Jones, still overseas at the time, did not not play in that contest.

Mel note: Jonathan will be assisting us with reports from D.C. this summer when we are not on the scene due to conflicts in Eastern seaboard games.

-- Later.


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