Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Gang's All Here As New York Tops Washington

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON_ It was reunion time Wednesday night in the MCI Center as New York Liberty coach Patty Coyle made her first appearance against her former boss, Richie Adubato, now coach of the Washington Mystics.

Also on the bill, former Mystics head coach Marianne Stanley was on the Liberty bench as Coyle’s assistant, but that homecoming bit was last season’s top billing.

The homecoming aspect to this coaching matchup, which also included former Liberty assistant Jeff House on the Washington bench, will occur on Sunday when the Mystics visit New York in what will be Adubato’s first appearance in Madison Square Garden since early last summer. That’s when general manager Carol Blazejowski fired Adubato, following a woeful road trip.

Personalities aside, Coyle, the student, won her first encounter with the master, as New York picked up its first win of the season after two losses, 77-68, in a game in which the Liberty finally had rebounding success.

New York had a 28-20 advantage off the backboards and was 9-6 on the offensive boards.

Washington, which was without the injured Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton-Jones, suffered its third straight loss, all at home after an opening triumph at Charlotte.

The Mystics are also 0-2 under new president Sheila Johnson, who is not ready to question her credit card statement on a multi-million dollar purchase to become part of the Washington family ownership.

Veteran Vickie Johnson had a vintage night with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

“If we could get that from her every night it would be wonderful,” Coyle said of Johnson’s double double.

Adubato was equally complimentary about his former player.

“If I was coaching her, I would be happy with her performance. She was incredible. She has a lot of heart and she knew her team needed her.”

Johnson was 9-for-12 from the field, including 4-for-4 on three point attempts.

Shameka Christon (14 points), Becky Hammon (13), and Ann Wauters (11) also scored in double figures for New York.

Rookie Mystics guard Tameka Johnson out of LSU had a double double with 13 points and 11 assists, while Chasity Melvin led Washington with 16 points.

Johnson shrugged off her first double double for the Mystics.

“It doesn’t matter what my individual stats say, we lost. We have some things we need to work onand hopefully, it will get better,” the Washington point guard said.

As for the reunion, Coyle commented, “I learned a lot from Richie. I’ll say this until the day I’m done coaching in this league. He’s a terrific teacher. And he’s a great guy.

“What happened last summer, we all feel bad about, and this is the last time I’m going to talk about it,” Coyle referred to last season’s ouster after which she was made an interim coach until Blazejowski gave her the job outright in the offseason.

“There’s nobody in that locker room that doesn’t feel bad. Richie’s a great coach and I’m glad to see him back in the league,” Coyle said, adding “It’s one game. We have them three more times.”

As for Adubato’s return, Sunday, Coyle said of Liberty fans, “I hope they treat him with respect. He gave New York a lot of good years.”

The most important aspect of the night was the execution down the stretch that produced the victory, Coyle said. “We got ourselves some good looks. When you shoot 55 percent for the game, you’ve done a pretty good job executing. That’s been one of our goals.

“We needed this game. We needed for our own sake,” Coyle added. “She’s a veteran and she understood it.”

Johnson was modest about her performance, the latest from WNBA veterans such as Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes, who is this week’s top player.

“We have a lot of great rookies in this league, but the vets still can play.”

Hammon credited the win because, “We did the little things we talked about, and we came out with the “W”.

She also discussed playing against Adubato for the first time.

“I have a lot of respect for Richie. He was the first one to give me a shot,” Hammon referred to New York signing her as an undrafted free agent. “I have nothing but respect for him and the way he coaches.

“But the game was not about us trying to beat Richie. It was about us trying to get a “W” on the board.

Washington took advantage of some sloppy ball handling by New York in the opening five minutes to zip to a 10-4 lead before the Liberty got untracked.

It was 37-37 at the half and the score was close before Hammon hit a pair of consecutive treys for a 49-45 Liberty lead that was never relinquished the rest of the way.

New York embellished its advantage over the final five minutes, building a margin that reached 11 points at 73-62 with 1 minute, 34 seconds left to play.

Adubato was asked how much difference Milton-Smith would have made in the contest.

"Obviously it would have given us another player up front to rotate, another person with veteran savvy and understanding," he explained. "Maybe she would have grabbed some rebounds for us and scored. Our leading rebounder was "Key" [Nakia Sanford] with five.

"A veteran player certainly would have helped us in our press. Our press works pretty good for us and she may have helped us in a lot of ways," Adubato added.

He said the losses at home have been tough, but optimistically looked ahead to hopefully better days.

"Losing is not easy, at home it's even harder," Adudbato said. "But we've got to persevere, we've got to understand that it's early in the season and we've just got to correct the mistakes that we made, push through them, and each time have a better effort.

" I thought we had a good effort today, I just thought we ran into a team that was red hot and on fire."

Speaking of fire, we're on our way to a horse of a different sort the next several days.

See you next blog.

-- Mel

Jonathan Tannenwald contributed to this report.

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