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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

WNBA Playoffs: Making a Difference, etc.

By Mel Greenberg

The way the WNBA playoff race came down to determining the final positions last weekend, one can look back and focus on certain moments down the stretch and earlier in the season that made the difference.

The Washington Mystics and Detroit Shock finished in a tie for fourth in the East and Detroit won the tie-breaker because of a better conference record than that owned by the Mystics.

Coach Bill Laimbeer’s team was also able to make the difference for themselves in three games of note.

On June 26, the Shock, playing at home, executed the biggest comeback in WNBA history by overcoming a 25-point deficit to the Los Angeles Sparks and winning, 79-73.

Earlier this month, in consecutive games, Detroit came up with a 72-66 victory at home against the Minnesota Lynx and two days later rode a Ruth Riley shot at the buzzer to win at San Antonio, 60-59.

As for Washington’s situation, coach Richie Adubato looks back to a poor start early in the season when several players who had been in Europe were late joining the team and Alana Beard was still rehabbing from an injury.

But that could have been overcome were it not for the work of Adubato’s former club – the New York Liberty _ who beat the Mystics, 61-58, a second time within a week in June.

Extra excruciating from Washington’s side, on Aug. 16, the Mystics held a double digit lead in New York, but made two costly turnovers when the advantage could have been extended, and went on to lose down the stretch, 72-66.

As for the Phoenix Mercury, a win over Seattle, which was without MVP-candidate Lauren Jackson most of the game, would have done the trick on Saturday night to finish in a tie with Los Angeles and gain the deadlock-breaker on season series.

In the end, for whatever the immense value of second-year pro Diana Taurasi, the arrival of Maria Stepanova brought the Mercury back to life, and her return to Russia sucked it out.

And so Taurasi, who went to four straight Final Fours, winning three of them at the University of Connecticut, will again be a playoff spectator despite her efforts.

It didn’t help the Mercury's cause when Los Angeles, drifting into never-playoff land, decided to make a coaching change and popped Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the former La Salle star and father of Kobe Bryant, into the mix in place of Henry Bibby, causing the Sparks to ride a small win streak into the fourth spot.

As it evolves, Chamique Holdsclaw, who was traded in March from Washington, made the playoffs with Los Angeles and her former team did not.

A year ago, however, the Mystics rallied to reach the postseason after Holdsclaw had left the team and later in the fall revealed she had been suffering from depression.

Bad News, Good News

New York’s playoff situation might be better had not All-Star center Ann Waulters suffered a broken hand at the start of the stretch drive. In several of the Liberty’s losses, the opposition dominated inside the post.

On the other hand, late addition Catherine Kraayeveld, the former Oregon star, gave the Liberty valuable minutes and perhaps helped rescue the team from becoming an also-ran.

In several games, veteran guard Becky Hammon carried the Liberty single-handedly with performances worthy to consider her name on the five-player WMVP ballot, if not for the overall winner.

Big Deals

This is spoken to in the print story in Tuesday’s edition at Philly.com, but All-Star Katie Smith’s move from Minnesota to Detroit in a trade ,and Dawn Staley’s move from lowly Charlotte to Houston, saved their seasons as well as helping the teams that acquired them.

Philly Playoff Connection

Besides Staley, who also coaches Temple, here are other people in the playoffs with roots or past affiliations with this area.

As mentioned, Los Angeles coach Joe Bryant is a former La Salle star.

New York coach Patty Coyle starred at West Catholic and Rutgers with her twin sister Mary. Assistant coach Marianne Stanley starred at Arcbhishop Prendergast and Immaculata, besides once coaching at Penn in addition to her national title days at Old Dominion. Nick DiPillo, Coyle’s other assistant, once was an assistant at Rowan.

Sacramento Monarchs star DeMya Walker is a graduate of Rancocas High.

Seattle’s Tanisha Wright is a recent graduate of Penn State, and Sacramento rookie Chelsea Newton starred at Rutgers.

Connecticut’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, New York’s La’Keshia Frett, and Staley played for the former Philadelphia Rage in the defunct American Basketball League, which had the Seattle Storm’s Anne Donovan as one of their two head coaches in their short history.

Donovan, who signed a contract extension, Saturday, led the Storm to the WNBA title last year, becoming the first female coach in the league to win the crown.

Gold Medal Reunion

Most of the members of the winning U.S. Olympic team a year ago in Athens, Greece, are together again, and also separated, in the playoffs.

Olympic coach Van Chancellor is with Houston, and Seattle’s Donovan was one of his assistants.

Olympian performers in the playoffs are Smith and Staley, along with Detroit’s Swin Cash and Ruth Riley, Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, Los Angeles’ Lisa Leslie, Sacramento’s Yolanda Griffth, and Seattle's Sue Bird.

San Antonio’s Shannon Johnson and Taurasi are the only two missing from the contingent, not counting assistant coach C. Vivian Stringer, who is at Rutgers, and Gail Goestenkoers, who is at Duke.

To The Apple

I’ll be on the scene tonight at Madison Square Garden and checking in here afterwards and through the playoffs, now that my blog energy has returned, and also not to mention, the print edition Tuesday told you all to stop by here.

-- Mel

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