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 21, 2006

WNBA: Liberty Turn Mystics Aside

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK
_ For the New York Liberty, Wednesday night’s encounter with the Washington Mystics in Madison Square Garden was not the usual business it has been to date for the revamped charter franchise during the current WNBA season.

New York quickly jumped to a nine-point lead in the early action in the opening quarter, which was not the first time the Liberty had moved to a commanding lead.

The differential expanded by as many as 16 points at 29-13 with 7 minutes, 1 second left in the second period before the Mystics rallied with a ferocious 19-5 run that got Washington to within a basket at 34-32as the half ended.

Blowing sizable leads is not new either these days with the Liberty.

However, what was different Wednesday was New York found a way to prevail in the closing minutes and emerged with a 72-66 victory to improve the Liberty’s woeful record at 3-9.

The Mystics fell to 7-4 and were denied a chance to move into a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference with idle Connecticut, which will host Minnesota Thursday night.

Becky Hammon led New York with 23 points, and Shameka Christon, who made some clutch shots with the outcome undetermined, scored 21 points and Barbara Farris scored 11.

The explosiveness on offense of Washington’s “Score Sisters” in the backcourt was reduced to a half by the Liberty defense. Alana Beard scored 20 points, but Nikki Teasley got a mere two points and was 0-for-7 from the field.

However Chasity Melvin managed to match Beard’s total on the inside with 20 points.

Washington played its first game without DeLisha Milton-Jones in the starting lineup since suffering a left knee injury that will keep the international star idle for a period of 6-to-8 weeks, according to team doctors.

“We were running in mud for whatever reason,” Washington coach Richie Adubato, a former head coach of the Liberty, said of the Mystics’ performance in the first quarter.

“Now you fight back, but you have to get out early, which we didn’t do,” Adubato said. “They made some tough shots. Shameka Christon made about four. She makes those when you leave your feet (defensively). We were supposed to stay down. Becky made a couple of tough runners.

“And then we had some chances down the other end, but we didn’t convert,” the Washington coach said. “We had a lot of stuff close to the basket, which we didn’t knock in.”

Of Milton’s absence, he observed,” A lot of things might happen differently with her in the game, but she wasn’t in the game, and we had our chances, but we got off to a bad start.”

Both teams shot 39 percent from the field and each committed just 10 turnovers.

The game also marked the first return to the Garden for Washington’s Crystal Robinson who signed as a free agent in the offseason after being a core player for the Liberty since the 2000 season.

Teasley said of the Mystics, “You could see what DeLisha brings to the table in another outside shooter and other rebounder. But we’re going to go back and watch the film.

“I know, I didn’t play well myself, personally. If we had one or two more players step up in DeLisha’s absence. We would have been all right.”

Beard added of the flat start, “You can’t do that on the road. It doesn’t matter which team it is. Every team in the WNBA is a prominent team and you can win in any given night. But the intensity effort and then, look at our free throws. We were 13 for 21 (New York was 18 for 21). If we could have made a few of those, we would have won the game.

“That’s where focus comes in,” Beard said. “And we didn’t have that.”

New York coach Pat Coyle was a little more upbeat than in recent Liberty postgame sessions.

“For about 33 minutes,” it was a pretty good game,” Coyle said. “We had some pretty good schemes and we executed a lot better tonight. We had a couple of mental breakdowns, but, fortunately, it wasn’t at the end of the game.”

Noting Washington’s burst toward the end of the first half, Coyle said, “They’re going to make runs. We never really relinquished the lead. Down the stretch (in the fourth quarter) we executed better. We got a couple of stops tonight, and that was the difference. We made two big stops at the end of the game.”

Christon beat the shot clock several times in the game from the outside.

“I see her do it in practice,” Hammon said. “I am not surprised. She had some buzzer beaters tonight. We really need that offense from here.”

Hammon, who called her team out after Friday night’s loss here to Houston in the fourth quarter, was able to speak in a more positive manner about beating the Mystics.

“We did a better job taking care of the ball,” Hammon said.”We stuck together. There were some times where we could have folded it in, but we did what we had to do to get that win.”

-- Mel

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