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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.

Friday, June 09, 2006

WNBA: Sun Weathers Storm

By Mel Greenberg

A wrapped up game kept threatening to get unwrapped again at home for the Connecticut Sun Friday night, but this time coach Mike Thibault’s bunch managed to hold firm at the finish and the result was an impressive 85-81 triumph against the Seattle Storm in a WNBA game between cross-conference rivals.

With memories of a recent 77-73 overtime debacle in the Mohegan Sun Arena against the Detroit Shock, Sun fans had reasons to squirm when Seattle kept threatening in the closing minute to force an extension.

That setback has been the Sun’s only loss in seven games this season.

This time, however, Connecticut made good on fouls shots, courtesy of point guard Lindsay Whalen, who made 7 of 8 in the final minute to hold Seattle off, while Katie Douglas connected on both her attempts.

“I had two coaching friends die in the last 48 hours,” Thibault said afterwards. “It must have been from watching games like this.”

For the most part, however, Thibault was pleased with the performance of his defending Eastern Conference champions, especially with the absence of starting forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin who is in Italy for the high school graduation of her daughter Michele. She’ll also miss Sunday’s key match here against the vastly improved Washington Mystics.

“Considering we shot 41 percent, pretty good win,” Thibault said. “No Taj. Our bench struggled scoring, although I thought they played well defensively.

“Up until the end of the game, I thought we did a pretty good job on their scorers (Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson). It’s a great win.”

The Storm, who fell to 4-4, were without former Sun player Wendy Palmer, who is sidelined with a partial tear of a left Achilles.

Jackson, a former league MVP, had been averaging 22 points per game, but scored 17 and was 6 for 17 from the field. Sue Bird, one of several former University of Connecticut stars in the contest, had been averaging 10.9 points, but scored just four and was 1 for 9 from the field. She did deal 10 assists, however.

Janell Burse, left open at times while the Sun concentrated on the other scorers, had 23 points and 14 rebounds. Betty Lennox added 12 points and rookie Barbara Turner, another former UConn star, scored 13 points starting in place of Palmer.

The former Tulane star had to battle Connecticut’s 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek.

Connecticut had a balanced attack with all five starters scoring in double figures.

Dydek, who struggled in the first half with three personal fouls, had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Katie Douglas had a team-high 18 points, while Nykesha Sales and Whalen each scored 17 points, and Whalen also dished nine assists. Asjha Jones contributed 14 points.

Thibault, specifically praised the work of Douglas, who also was a key factor in defending the Storm most of the night.

“She’s an all-star,” Thibault said of the former Purdue all-American. “I want someone to tell me who in the East is playing better than her.”

Douglas credited the entire squad for the win.

“We’re a very solid team and tonight we had a lot of different people in double figures,” Douglas said. “We kept them at bay for a very long time, especially at the end. If Seattle had more time, you never know what could have happen.”

Throughout the night the Connecticut faithful in the seats among the crowd of 8,138 fretted at times over what dismal thing might occur.

The Sun surged to a 14-4 lead in the first quarter and increased it to 14 points just before Seattle scored on Turner’s 12-footer to make it 25-13 at the end of the quarter.

Seattle coach Anne Donovan, who will also coach the U.S. Olympic team in 2008 in Beijing, China, cited that deficit as the cause of her team’s demise.

“We stayed behind for so long that when we really tried to get after it and get a win, it was too late,” Donovan said.

“Connecticut’s too good to just fold. It took us too long to find a rhythm, a groove and the fight.”

Burse said there was nothing mysterious about the Sun’s defense. “We just didn’t do a good job of handling it tonight.”

Her lay-up with 6 minutes, 51 seconds left in the second quarter, closed the gap to six points at 29-23. But the Sun recovered to go ahead by as many as 11 points before holding a 38-29 lead at the half.

In the third quarter, Sales hit a trey and Connecticut was in solid control at 50-35 with 6:18 left in the period.

However, in the closing minute, Lennox hit a three-foot shot to finish a 5-0 run and the Storm trailed by a mere six points at 61-55 at the end of the period.

In the fourth quarter, Dydek helped Connecticut gain another solid advantage with a layup that made it 70-57 with 5:06 left.

But then, just as Detroit had done here on Memorial Day weekend, Seattle began to slice into Connecticut’s differential and with 3:11 left in the game Jackson nailed a trey to make it 72-67.

The Sun then twice stretched its lead to seven points, but a Burse three-pointer with 19 seconds left in the game had the Storm very much alive, trailing 81-78.

“When that bank three went in, I was beginning to wonder,” Thibault said of which way the game would play out. “I know Burse had been working on her jump shot, but I know she doesn’t practice a lot of those.”

The game was then put in the hands of Douglas on the foul line.

Unlike the Detroit loss in which she missed a foul shot in the last minute, Douglas made both that gave Sun enough points to prevail in regulation.

“We came together at the end,” Whalen said. “Everyone who went out there played hard.

“It’s a big win for us. We knew that at each end we had to set a pace,” Whalen added. “When you’re down by eight or nine with two minutes to go, teams know that’s their last push. So they come out and start shooting threes and crashing the boards.

“That’s something we’ll focus on tomorrow (Sunday) and for the rest of the season. We have to know we’ll be able to close games like that. So that’s going to be a key for us,” Whalen said.

“To come in here and do that against players that they have and the team they have, it’s a huge win for us.”

-- Mel


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