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 17, 2006

WNBA: Comets Sear Liberty

By Mel Greenberg

_ Dawn Staley made her final team stop in the Big Apple Friday night and concluded business along with the Houston Comets on a winning note via 72-58 victory that was even more decisive than the final score over the New York Liberty indicates.

A closely fought first-half turned in the Comets direction in the closing minutes as Houston broke from a 31-31 deadlock on a 6-0 run to a 37-31 advantage.

The final two points in that sequence were obtained with a lay-up by Sheryl Swoopes a mini-second before time expired enabled the veteran superstar to cross the 4,000-point career plateau.

Swoopes, earlier this week, was named to the all-decade team in the WNBA along with Staley and the Comets’ Tina Thompson and former Houston great Cynthia Cooper.

Thompson finished with 22 points, and Dominique Canty, a strong candidate for most-improved-player in the WNBA, scored 16 points. Michelle Snow added 15 to the Houston total and Staley, who also coaches Temple in Philadelphia, dealt nine assists.

Rookie Sherrill Baker led the Liberty with 12 points, and Shameka Christon and Becky Hammon each scored 11 points.

Considering Houston’s 8-3 record against New York’s 2-8 mark, the game completed a 2-0 sweep for the Comets, who probably won’t see the Liberty if they gain the playoffs and advance to the championship round.

Staley will be back here, however, to be honored along with her two current Comets teammates of equal stature in early July as part of the official tribute to the all-decade squad during the all-star festivities.

Conceivably all three will be part of the Western Conference lineup in the actual game itself on July 12 in Madison Square Garden.

Staley talked about her New York experience prior to Friday night’s tip-off.

“The Garden is probably one of the gyms that I’ll probably miss the most playing, just the atmosphere, just the historical moments that have happened here for me as a player, as well as NBA players – (Michael) Jordan scoring 55 points in his comeback.

“I’m sad this is probably my last moment to come here and play.”

Staley did not need more than a split second to name her favorite moment in the years she visited New York.

“2001!” she said of the Eastern Conference championship when Staley, then with the Charlotte Sting, was part of a comeback from an 0-1 start in the best-of-three series that produced two road wins over the Liberty and a spot in the WNBA championship eventually won by the Los Angeles Sparks.

“That is by far the most --- it was unheard of at that time because they (New York) played so well in front of their home crowds. But we were destined to win it,” Staley said of a season that began with a 1-10 start.

“The strange thing about the Garden is it can be good or bad for you as a visiting team,” Staley said. “Sometimes you could get on a roll, and get wins as we did that year.”

She also recalled her rivalry with former New York point guard Teresa Weatherspoon, who spent most of her career with the Liberty before moving to the Los Angeles Sparks for the 2004 season.

“She’s a pioneer in this league and we don’t want to forget about what her contributions are to this league and this organization,” Staley said of the former Olympian and Louisiana Tech star.

“I always anticipated our matchups when I was in Charlotte and she was here. That was just great basketball – two point guards trying to control their teams and get wins.”

Houston is getting wins in bunches this season as the Comets attempt to send Staley out on a championship note.

“We just continue to shoot the ball really well,” Comets coach Van Chancellor said of Friday night’s 52.6 percent effort from the field. New York shot 37.1 percent.

“We had just come off a great big game against Sacramento,” Chancellor, the only WNBA original coach still in the league, said. “I was worried about a letdown. New York was so hot to start the game. I didn’t think they were going to miss a shot.”

Staley echoed Chancellor afterwards.

“We’re playing well,” she said. “We have a lot of firepower, New York’s a young team, they’re taking their hits now, but when they get it together, they’ll put together a couple of wins.”

She also praised Canty’s performance.

“Dominique’s been a key for us during this stretch. She’s another point guard on the floor. She does things that no one else on our team can do like create her own shot.

“To me she’s our unsung hero,” Staley said. “I’m always talking about her everytime we play because she brings a different dimension.”

Staley said New York’s biggest problem is a lack of chemistry caused by the loss of four starters through free agency from last season’s roster.

“You took away the core of a team that was used to playing with one another and knowing their tendencies. You’re going to miss that,” Staley said. “They chose to go in this direction. You pretty much have to let it work its way through.”

Hammon, however, isn’t looking for excuses and was visibly quite distressed at the Liberty’s performance.

“Not a lot of good things happened out there,” Hammon said of the collapse in the third and fourth quarters. “We started breaking down offensively and defensively. We’ve been talking about this snowball effect – It’s just started snowing.

“You just can’t have that kind of effort at home,” she added. “You can’t make excuses. You gotta go out there and win. You gotta go out there and compete. And we’re not competing. We’re not competing.

“It’s that simple. We have to find a way within this locker room to figure this out,” Hammon said. “We have a great crowd on a Friday night. You’re playing the frigging Houston Comets. You get a chance to play against three of the best players in the world. It’s got to get your engine going.

“We just got to pick each other up. We just got to pick each other up and pick each other up until we stand on our two feet.”

However, looking to keep New York under wraps Saturday night are the hot Washington Mystics, who will be a little rested after a season-first road win Thursday night in Charlotte.

The Mystics will be looking for a 1-2 punch for future tie-breaking advantages, if necessary, after a win earlier this season over the Liberty. The two teams will meet again here Wednesday night.

-- Mel


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