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.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

WNBA Playoffs: Dawn Looks for Daylight

By Mel Greenberg

Houston Comets All-Star point guard Dawn Staley has been in this spot before.

In 2001, her former Charlotte Sting team was down 0-1 in the Eastern best-of-three semifinals after surrendering a lead late in the game to the New York Liberty.

But the Sting found a way to prevail in the next two games in New York and went on to become the only team in the history of the WNBA playoffs, now in year No. 9, to drop a home game and then recover to win the next two on the road.

Ironically, the coach of Charlotte that year was Anne Donovan, who will be on the opposing side Thursday night with the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm trying to prevent Staley and her new Houston teammates from staying alive to go after that achievement.

A win for the Comets extends the series into Saturday. A loss in the best-of-three matchups advances the Storm one level closer to returning to the finals.

In the world of Dawn Staley, life is an ongoing light switch that quickly flips her from one stage to the next.

Shortly after Charlotte fell to the Los Angeles Sparks at the Staples Center on the West Coast in the championship finals in 2001, Staley responded to a complex question from one reporter by saying:

“Right now, I’m the coach of Temple. I changed hats when the final buzzer sounded.”

That’s what will happen again Thursday night or Saturday if Houston is eliminated.

Staley will quickly transform from her summer emphasis, much of which was spent with the lowly Charlotte squad prior to last month’s trade, to grabbing the reins at Temple, where her Owls will looking for an encore performance to a season that saw them earn their first-ever national ranking and set a ton of program records that included a 25-game win streak.

Life was a little calmer in the home office this summer in Philadelphia, while Staley has been performing her WNBA role, which will probably come to an end after next season.

For the first time since she joined the coaching ranks in the spring of 2000, Staley did not have to issue a "help wanted ad" to fill vacancies on her staff when an assistant had departed for opportunities elsewhere.

Among Staley's veterans who will welcome her back to North Broad Street to greet her sooner or later will be senior center Candice Dupree, who was on the gold-medal winning United States squad at the World University Games in Turkey last month.

Although having been with Houston a few weeks, Staley was able to help the Comets return to the playoffs after the team was on the postseason sidelines last summer for the first time.

Houston, of course, won the first four WNBA titles and challenged for the next two until being eliminated in the West.

Fighting the Fever.

The New York Liberty are not sick, but coach Pat Coyle needs to find a way to avoid being overcome by Fever a second time, Thursday night.

Specifically, it’s the Indiana Fever who will be out to eliminate the Liberty and win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.

New York has had a history of comebacks in the playoffs after dropping series openers, but in all those situations the Liberty has had the comforts of Madison Square Garden and its huge fan base to get the job done.

It doesn’t help the Liberty that the taller and more athletic Fever has dominated regular season play with 3-1 records the last three summers after New York, one of the eight original WNBA squads in 1997. Indiana lost to New York the first three seasons after the Fever joined the league in 2000.

The Liberty have found ways to stay alive before, the most dramatic of which was when former all-star guard Teresa Weatherspoon’s mid-court shot at the buzzer against Houston won the second game of the 1999 finals before the Comets claimed the series the next day.

Shock Absorbers

The Connecticut Sun helped make the second set of conference semifinals the night of the heavweights by capturing a road win over the Detroit Shock that had mastered the WNBA’s top team, 3-1, in their Eastern Conference regular season series.

The Sun ran on high octane all night in the Motor City on the way to a 73-62 victory.

The Western Conference champion Sacramento Monarchs escaped danger in Los Angeles by outlasting the Sparks, 75-72.

The winners return home now, each having two chance to close out their respective series, beginning Friday night.

In the Connecticut game, the Sun opened a 16-point lead in the first half, only to have Detroit erase the deficit.

Had Detroit prevailed, it would have been the second biggest comeback in playoff history after Minnesota’s rally from a 17-point deficit against Los Angeles in the opening game of the 2003 Western semifinals.

Midwest observers

Watching the playoffs with special interest are coach Dave Cowens and other officials of the Chicago nickname-to-come franchise, which will begin play next summer.

After existing teams protect five or six players on their rosters, not counting free agents who won’t be part of the mix, the new Chicago team sometime this winter will make its first personnel acquisitions off those other rosters.

And that’s it from here until the results from Thursday night are in. We’ll be on the scene in casino-land, Friday night.

-- Mel


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