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.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Knoxville Kudos; Washington Knockout

By Mel Greenberg

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. _ Greetings from the soon-to-not-be-sunny South where Women’s Basketball is front page news this weekend and none of it has to do with a certain national collegiate power who calls this town home and is heavy on the color orange.

Hint: The university band is fond of a particular number known as “Rocky Top.”

When we’re through, Jonathan Tannenwald will be checking in from up North with a report on Friday night’s WNBA game in Washington between the host Mystics and defending champion Seattle Storm.

This also will complete a unique cycle of him now providing reports both North and South of our location on nights two things are worthy of your attention.

We’re down here this weekend for the annual Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which is Saturday night.

Six individuals will bring the overall total of inductees to 85 since the $10 million facility opened its door in 1999 on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River.

The newest honorees are former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, former scoring sensation Lynette Woodard, former NAIA all-American Kelli Litsch, former successful high school coach Edna Tarbutton, former AAU star Dixie Woodall, and former Kodak executive Hunter Low, who helped launch the women’s basketball all-America program in 1975.

The six honorees this weekend took a tour of the Hall on Friday and were available for interviews. Later that night, they returned to the Hall for a dinner reception and a storytelling session held on the ground floor of the facility in an urban playground setting.

A group of country female singers entertained during the dinner hour. The buffet meal included crushed corn, chicken sections, corn bread, salad, and a sundae with a choice of various accompaniments.

The theme of the weekend is “welcome to our family,” and throughout the hall were pictures of the inductees and their individual “trees.”

Saturday night’s ceremony will include video presentations by someone associate with each individual and curiosity is building over what former Philadelphia 76ers and Auburn star Charles Barkley, a longtime friend, will say about Ciampi.

Several former members of the famed Harlem Globetrotters are here to support Woodard, a University of Kansas star who was the first woman to play for the team.

They credited her during the storytelling session for “saving” the Globetrotters at a time interest had dwindled somewhat towards the team’s wild antics.

Woodard was reminded this was her induction was the second in less than a year after being honored last fall in Springfield, Mass., at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

"That's pretty cool, now that I've been reminded of that," Woodard said.

Sue Donohoe, the head of the women’s basketball sector of the NCAA, is among the notables here.

Saturday’s print edition of our coverage, which is also in the sports’ section of Philly.Com provides some more details.

After Friday’s events, we hit one of the local sports bars in the ritzy West End with our colleague Dan Fleser, who is the Tennessee women’s beat writer of the News Sentinel.

It was halfway through some outstanding brisket that we felt a pulse out of our blackberry with Jonathan checking in with coverage of the Mystics game against the storm.

Now that we are back in our hotel room with the ability to pull all the information together, here’s Jonathan from D.C. and we’ll be back both in print and here in the next 24 hours to wrap up the weekend’s events here.

Incidentally, for those of you keeping track of tales of the Rapidly Dominishing Dominant Airline in Philadelphia, even though we flew out of D.C. to save a few dollars, guess who's luggage still managed to not arrive on the same trip until later in the day?

Mystics Erase Storm: 64-52

WASHINGTON – It is the time of year in Washington where severe storms in the early evening are an almost daily occurrence. A different brand of Storm came into D.C. on Friday, as the defending WNBA champions played the third of four straight road games at the MCI Center.

Seattle out-rebounded the Mystics, 34-26, had more points in the paint by a 24-22 margin, and also had more second chance and fast break points than the home team.

So naturally the Mystics won, 64-52.

What, I forgot to tell you about the Storm’s 21 turnovers? Oh. Sorry.

“The turnovers hurt a lot,” Storm coach Anne Donovan said. “I think it broke our spirit more than anything.”

The Mystics’ spirit was quite different.

“We needed this win desperately,” Mystics coach Adubato said, not least because the Mystics have to head almost straight to the airport for a Saturday night game at Minnesota.

Washington’s last win came against the Lynx exactly a week ago, also at the MCI Center.

That game ended 74-71, and although this game had a much wider margin of victory it was not so for much of the time. After the Mystics raced out to a 13-point lead midway through the second half, the Storm rallied to make it 51-48 with six minutes to play. But Washington put the defensive clamps on from there, and Seattle only made one field goal– a Betty Lennox three-pointer with 2:01 remaining– for the rest of the game.

“Psychologically that’s very, very important for us,” Adubato said. “To know that we’ve had two close games and we’ve been able to execute and pull them out in the end. So now I’m hoping that we turn that thought process the other way, where they think okay, late in games, we execute, we understand we can win.”

The crowd of 10,024 celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Night by honoring those in attendance who had survived the disease. Many fans sported the pink Mystics caps that were handed out at the door, and the coaches and team staffs wore pink ribbons on their lapels.

Aussie– Oy

One of the biggest factors in Washington’s victory was its ability to shut down the Storm’s Australian frontcourt tandem of Lauren Jackson and Suzy Batkovic. Although Jackson had a game-high nine rebounds and tied with Lennox with a game-high 18 points, she did so on only 7-of-17 shooting from the field.

Granted, those are good numbers, but Jackson scored only one point in the final 6:43 of the game. That might have something to do with the fact that she played all 40 minutes, and Donovan admitted afterwards that Jackson “looked fatigued, there’s no doubt.”

Mystics forward Charlotte Smith-Taylor, one of many players who guarded the 6-foot-5 center, was proud that Jackson “had to work hard for those 18 points.”

Batkovic came off the bench and was held scoreless, and had only two rebounds.

The rest of the Storm’s bench scored a combined four points.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other

That happened in large part because the Mystics turned in their best defensive performance since their first game of the season at Charlotte. Seattle shot only 37 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range. But the more impressive statistics were further to the right in the box score. The Mystics recorded six blocked shots in the first half, with two each for DeLisha Milton-Jones and Nakia Sanford and one each for Charlotte Smith-Taylor and Chastity Melvin. Another Smith-Taylor block in the second half brought the total for the game to seven.

In the second half, the Mystics turned from obstruction to theft, stealing the ball six times. Milton-Jones and Temeka Johnson had two steals each after halftime, and three each for the game. Alana Beard had one in each half, and one more by Chastity Melvin brought the team’s total to nine.

Add to that the seven jump balls in the game not including the opening tipoff, and the Mystics had more than enough to counter the Storm’s considerable rebounding advantage.

“They out-rebounded us, but we tied them up for jump balls,” Adubato said. “They out-rebounded us but we blocked shots. They out-rebounded us, but we stripped them.”

Rough house

There was plenty of jostling in the post and for the ball throughout the night, and the two teams committed a combined 38 fouls. Quite a few provoked the ire of one team or the other, to say the least. In particular, the reach-in fouls and the multiple interpretations of what constitutes a charge instead of a block made for some interesting discussion along press row and in its immediate vicinity.

But for anyone who has spent a mid-winter Friday evening in the Palestra, the refereeing would have seemed oddly familiar.

Not that it makes the aforementioned calls correct, as they were certainly questionable. But none of the parties involved were surprised at how much contact there was.

Smith-Taylor said that she didn’t “even know how to begin to describe how physical this game is this year– it’s more physical than ever.
“They’ve tried to eliminate a lot of the hand-checking out in the front court,” she said, but down in the paint, it seems like it’s more physical than it’s ever been.”

Donovan concurred.

“The nature of the league, it’s like the rules now are to back off a little in the perimeter, but in the post it’s as much contact as players can stand,” she said. “I don’t think we can stand any more than that.”

But Beard took a more practical view of things.

“Seattle wouldn’t be champs if it wasn’t a physical team,” Beard said. “It’s not anything you can complain about– you’ve just got to put your head in and take it hard.”

It is certainly fair to say that the NBA teams which share arenas with the Shock and Silver Stars would concur with that philosophy.

Bird grounded

Sue Bird did not make the trip to Washington as she began her recovery from the broken nose she suffered against Connecticut. According to Donovan, Bird might not be out as long this time as she was when she last suffered the same injury.

“They were thinking initially that they might have to have some surgery on the cheek but at this point we’re thinking no surgery,” she said.

Donovan described the difference between the Storm with Bird and the Storm without Bird as “night and day– we’re just a completely different team.”

The former Connecticut star’s absence has certainly made Seattle’s road trip harder than it would have been were she playing.

“This is a brutal trip– four games in six days coming from Seattle is a brutal trip, and it’s a test of what we’re made of,” Donovan said. “We passed it in Detroit and we failed it tonight, and we have one more opportunity to prove ourselves.”

That opportunity will come Sunday at Charlotte.

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