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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.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sun Home Opener: Connecticut "Paints" Phoenix

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, OR MOHEGAN, OR MONTVILLE, Conn.
– No, I’m not having trouble knowing where I am as I begin this report.

It’s just that depending which local paper you read in these parts concerning the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, any of the previous three datelines have appeared to lead off reports on the professional women’s basketball court action at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment establishment.

A few days ago in the nation’s capitol, we gave you a basic news story in lieu of one that might have appeared in print because of the ongoing, but soon-to-end, mandated hiatus from a certain major metropolitan newspaper.

The fact the Connecticut Sun burned the Phoenix Mercury, 85-68, in the Mohegan Arena Saturday afternoon, in a battle of teams with solar origins, is incidental until more surplus time-off is similarly extinguished.

By the way, anyone reading this who has knowledge and/or expertise in equestrian events, specifically the Devon Horse Show in suburban Philadelphia, please contact this author immediately.

Apparently some people running our sports dept. (you know where) are interested in finding out what happens when a so-called expert writer is switched from covering jump shots to four-legged animals jumping gates.

But back to the narrative.

There’s not much to say about Saturday’s game because unlike a year ago, when Diana Taurasi proved she could be the same Darth Vader for the Mercury as a budding professional as she was as a collegian for the University of Connecticut, the Sun went through a shaky start and then went on to dominate the action the rest of the way.

How does a 42-10 advantage in favor of the Sun in the paint sound?

It sounded pretty good to veteran Connecticut forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and even felt better, as she scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Nykesha Sales, another former UConn star, had a strong second-half to finish with 21 points, and Katie Douglas also scored in double figures for the Sun with 11 points.

Anna DeForge led Phoenix with 20 points, and Taurasi scored 19 on a day in which the sellout crowd of 9,341 cheered her presence, but also jeered her on the foul line, showing newly developed loyalties to its own team.

“Last year, we were just a prop,” recalled Sun coach Mike Tibault.

Of course, Connecticut went on to collect props throughout the WNBA after advancing to the championship round and nearly beating Seattle before falling to the Storm in the deciding third game in the Northwest after each team had taken one of the first two contests.

This time around, the Sun, who raised the Eastern Conference championship banner in a pre-game ceremony, are picked to repeat last year’s achievement.

So for precise details on the game, go to WNBA.Com or your favorite media roundup, although some quotes will surface later in this report.

In the spirit of traveling to the casino, there was a little gambling involved in our trip here, some 200 miles northeast of Philadelphia near New London.

The first decision was which mode of transportation.

Amtrak originally indicated a sellout on all trains heading through New London, but later in the middle of Friday night, had a one seat indication.

Maybe the president of the U.S. has a point about Amtrak needing new management, because it did not clarify that either one seat was left on the entire train or I was entitled to buy one seat in coach.

Coupled with that ambiguity were some other barriers forcing a decision.

Example, when one arrives in New London, the fine folks who run a great operation here, have not figured out how to make transportation less than the $60 round-trip cab fare for the 20 miles each way between Mohegan and the train station.

One could get off in New Haven and rent a car, except it’s a holiday weekend and all categories were sold out in advance.

Unfortunately, the other option was jettisoned hours earlier when I withdrew a bid for celebrity chauffeur services from New Haven Register sportswriter Karen Tucker.

Option two became intriguing when it was determined a really, really cheap flight was available, round-trip, on short notice through Southwest Airlines to either Hartford or Providence, each location an hour away.

Yet another reason why a competitor continues its slide as the Rapidly Diminishing Dominant Airline in Philadelphia.

Of course, there’s also the real ongoing gamble: What are the odds a checked suitcase will arrive the same time I do on either end of the trip?

Also, when the rental car is factored in, although reasonable, the combination is the same as the train trip.

Sooo, we decided to roll the mythical dice, and attempt to drive here.

Well, surprise, surprise. We hit the highway jackpot because we made it here in near-record time, slightly over four hours, even with the usual New Haven tieup on I-95, although we found a nice scenic detour along the waterfront that helped ease the aggravation.

Driving also meant some other critical choices: Ipod or XM radio, which is playing cool programming all over its mega-dials this weekend.

We opted for Ipod with our 250-song 80s play list.

Counting Flowers With the Votes

Soon after our arrival here (yes, we are staying on site tonight, meaning there’s a bunch of restaurants from which the postgame media crowd will choose), we headed to the interview room where new WNBA president Donna Orender kicked off balloting for the All-Star game.

Nykesha Sales was photographed casting a vote, although she pointed out it was “an acting job” because players don’t vote.

Orender announced a new promotional partner for the balloting: 1-800-Flowers.Com.
To which we suggested a theme for the effort: Put your petal to the mettle.

Banner Afternoon

Soon thereafter, the Sun had a pre-game ceremony raising the banner.

Former star backup point guard Debbie Black was in the house for the event. Now an assistant coach for Ohio State, the one-time St. Joseph’s sensation in the late 1980s, was here for the festivities.

McWilliams-Franklin said her focus during the ceremony was for the game at-hand.

“Last year we lost 9 out of our first 11, something like that. You don’t want to start out the season like that, she added.
“I never watched the banner go up. I just focused to the other end of the court. It’s great for our fans. But I really wanted to be into the game. I wanted everybody to be into it and not worry about the hoopla going on, even though it’s our accomplishment.
“That (ceremony) tends to fire the other team up. Because they didn’t get one. And they want one. And they always use that as a starting point.”

Same Time, New Year
Lindsay Whalen was also a bit player in last season’s game, entering as one of the top draft choices but overshadowed by the darling of Connecticut fans. By season’s end, the former Minnesota star was one of the best rookies of the year behind Taurasi.

“Different in the column, different in the feel,” Whalen said of becoming acclimated to the WNBA action and of being on the winning side against Phoenix, Saturday. “It was good.”

A year ago, Taurasi, fresh off winning a third straight NCAA title, being picked for the Olympic team, and becoming the No. 1 pick in the draft, was mobbed on the court by the media for pre-game interviews, and then held a separate interview session after the game to facilitate activities.

On Saturday, she was just one of the team in the Phoenix dressing room.

“Obviously, we just didn’t get the job done. We’re going to have to go to Phoenix and get re-settled and re-focused.”

As for the Sun, Taurasi observed, “They’re the most balanced team in the league. Lindsay is coming into her own right now. You can tell.
There’s no weakness. They had a whole year together and they all came back.”

As for us, we had planned to be in Washington Wednesday for Mystics coach Richie Adubato’s first game against his former New York Liberty team.
But events may dictate otherwise.

Either way,

Until next post:

Mel

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