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.

Friday, July 28, 2006

WNBA: Sun's Whalen Stops Monarchs

By Mel Greenberg

_ Heart-stopping moments were plentiful Friday night for the local populace here at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment complex.

About an hour before the WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and Sacramento Monarchs, players on a win streak at the slots got a scare when the screens suddenly went dark during a brief power outage caused by area thunderstorms.

Fans inside the Mohegan Sun Arena began to get the same queasy feeling as the nearby gamblers when Connecticut’s offense also went dark late in the game after the home team had built a 16-point lead.

However, some energy still existed to Connecticut’s attack.

Lindsay Whalen hit a 25-foot three-pointer, beating the shot clock, to give the Sun a 74-65 lead with 1 minute, 5 seconds left to play. The play became even bigger seconds later when Sacramento’s Nicole Powell countered with a trey of her own.

But that was all the defending WNBA champions would get as Connecticut held firm to claim a 75-68 triumph. The victory extended the Suns’ win streak to six games _ they’re 20-6 overall _ and held their first-place lead to 1 1/2 games over the Detroit Shock in the Eastern Conference.

The Shock beat the Seattle Storm, 77-67, in a late Friday night game in Seattle.

Although the Sun locker room was filled with focus statements of “just another game to keep ahead of Detroit,” the crowd of 7,558 felt the joy of some revenge against the Monarchs, which ousted Connecticut, 3-1, in last season’s best-of-five championship series and also beat the Sun in Sacramento, 69-63, on July 15th.

The Monarchs (16-11) suffered their third straight loss, the longest series of setbacks since the 2004 season, and dropped their second-place lead in the Western Conference over Houston to just a game. They also fell 5 ½ games behind the idle Los Angeles Sparks (22-6).

“Obviously, it’s a great win beating a good team and making up for our game a couple of weeks ago,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. “I know they scored 21 in the fourth quarter (21-12), but Powell had about half of them with a hand in her face.

“She made good shots to keep them in it and our defense kept us in it because our offense started to struggle,” Thibault said.

Connecticut led the entire first quarter to take a 23-21 lead at the end of the period. After trailing briefly early in the second, the Sun began to surge near the end of the half and went to the break with a 44-36 lead.

An 8-0 run midway through the third quarter enabled the Sun to mount a 55-42 lead that widened further to 17 points late in the period before the finished the period ahead, 63-47.

Powell, a former Stanford star, got hot in the final period, scoring 11 points, and she was 3 for 3 on three-point attempts. The performance enabled the Monarchs to reduce the Sun advantage to four points, twice, the last at 65-61 with 3:41 to play.

But Taj McWilliams-Franklin countered with a pair of lay-ups around Powell jump shot to keep Connecticut ahead.

She finished with a double double at 15 points and 14 rebounds.

“It’s the same story (every game),” McWilliams-Franklin said of the Sun effort. “That’s how our system works. Anyone of us could hit a million shots. KT (Katie Douglas)’s getting the passes, she’s getting the shots and she’s making the plays right now.”

The former Purdue sensation who was the MVP of the All-Star upset by the East in New York earlier this month had a game-high 19 points, and Whalen finished with 17 points.

Powell had 17 points for Sacramento, and Erin Buescher, who was tough in the paint early in the game, scored 13 points. DeMya Walker added 15 points, and Rebekkah Brunson scored 10.

“We hoped to get one of these three and we didn’t get any of them,” Monarchs coach John Whisenant said of the losing streak. This is a good basketball team that we played. We’ve got seven games left and we’ve just got to tend to our own business and wish these guys (Connecticut) good luck.”

Here is casino-land, that’s a commodity that the Sun has held in bunches since 2003 when they were transformed under the Mohegans from existence as the former Orlando Miracle in Florida.

- Mel

Thursday, July 27, 2006

WNBA: Mystics Tune Out Chicago Sky

By Mel Greenberg

_ On a night that began with Washington owner Sheila Johnson offering a fine rendition of the national anthem, her Mystics came out humming in the first quarter and finished on a high note in the fourth to subdue the expansion Chicago Sky, 92-74, at the Verizon Center.

The music didn’t end with the final buzzer, however.

The Mystics were in concert with each other much of Thursday night to the tune of six players scoring in double figures. Afterwards, however, the crowd of 9,290 was treated to a real concert by country singing star Wynnona Judd. Her sister, actress-singer Ashley Judd, was among the audience.

Alana Beard had the spotlight during the game for the Mystics with a game-high 26 points, just four short of her career high set her Sunday night in a loss to the Seattle Storm. Chasity Melvin, who was 8-for-8 from the field, offered 16 points inside the paint. DeLisha Milton-Jones, apparently fully recovered from the MCL sprain that caused her to miss 11 games, added 13 points to the Washington total, Crystal Robinson and Nikki Teasley each scored 11 points, and Coco Miller scored 10 points off the bench.

Bernadette Ngoyisa and Stacey Dales each scored 18 points for the Sky.

Washington’s triumph got the Mystics back to .500 at 13-13 and officially eliminated last-place Chicago (3-22) from the playoffs.

Coach Richie Adubato’s squad is holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, five games ahead of the Charlotte Sting, which also won Thursday night and has eight games remaining in the regular season.

Washington shot 58.3 percent from the field and sizzled from the perimeter, making 8 of 16 three-point attempts for an effort of 50 percent.

“We're surging towards the playoffs and we just have to take them one at a time, especially on our home court. We have five more (here) and we hope we start a run,” Adubato said.

Washington heads to Indiana, Saturday night, to play the third-place Fever, and then returns here Sunday to host Charlotte.

“It’s going to be almost every game when you’re playing rivalries in the East, it will be an indication of what’s going to happen when the playoffs come around. We have one with Indiana and one with Detroit left,” Adubato added.

“We’re healthy,” the Washington coach said. “Even though Beard isn’t practicing because of her (sprained right )ankle, she’s playing terrific her last two out of three games.

“We got our press back which was good to us early – we forced a lot of turnovers,” Adubato continued. “We also kept them out of their rhythm of their offense.”

He praised Miller’s performance off the bench. “She has so much energy she plays with, if you watch her sister (Kelly Miller of the Phoenix Mercury), you can tell their twins. They play the same way. They play with reckless abandon. They have so much energy that they’re getting loose ball, they’re getting steals.

“She did the best job tonight of doubling down on Bernie (Ngoysia) in the post,” he said. “Bernie has become a force inside. I found her in Belgium five years ago, brought her to New York (when he coached the Liberty) when she was 18 years old.

“I said it was going to take about four years for her to get good. And then two years she went from Belgium to France, she’s played there for three years. She went from the Belgium League to the French League which is an upgrade. And she’s a nice person. I’m glad to see her successful, but not against us. But she still doesn’t speak English.”

Melvin spoke of the need to play the same way on the road, particularly Saturday night in Indianapolis.

“It's good but we need to try to make that effort and play like this on the road,” Melvin said.

“As far as just moving the ball, taking good shots, playing defense and getting steals.

“Hopefully we can take this on the road -- we'd really like to get this win at Indiana but we've just got to focus on one game at a time,” she added. “I think tonight we stayed consistent throughout the game, we didn't have any letdowns. We pushed the ball, we played defense and we finished the game.”

New York jumped to a 27-17 lead in the first quarter and pushed the advantage to 16 before Chicago came back to slice it to 12 at 49-37 at the half.

Chicago rallied toward the end of the third quarter, pulling within six at 65-59.

Washington got back to a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter at 73-63 and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way.

“I thought there were spurts that we played pretty good,” Chicago coach Dave Cowens, the former Boston Celtics star, said. “I thought we were every energetic. I’m glad that Stacey and Bernadette woke up early and started battling, but we just gave up too many lay-ups early in the game. They ran out on us. We can’t let a team shoot 58 percent.”

Chicago rookie Candice Dupree, the former Temple star, had eight points.

“As far as defense goes, it seems that when we are not scoring, we cannot stop them from scoring. If we got some stops, and got some buckets at our end, it would change the lead a little bit.”

Dales, a former Washington star who had been injured during her previous visit, played in her first game here since she went into a one-year retirement after the 2004 season.

“I love Washington,” Dales, a former Oklahoma sensation, said. “I love the fans. I’ve always said that the fans here are the best in the WNBA, and I believe it _ win or lose. I’ve always liked the arena. I have some friends on the opposition, but I just try to come in and play hard every game, regardless of where it is.

“Tonight was another game for me and this team,” Dales added. “And I am disappointed with the loss and the deficit of the loss.”

Washington started the season hot, especially at home, but went into a tailspin of sorts when Milton-Jones got hurt.

“We have to prepare ourselves now so that when the playoffs do come, we won’t miss a beat. I think that is the reason why people are so hungry and so passionate while they’re out there on the court,” Milton-Jones said.

“My second or third game back, I really didn’t think I had my muscular endurance as far as basketball is concerned. Now, things I do go a lot stronger. I’ve caught up with the game and able to be myself.”

Beard struck a similar chord: “It felt good, it feels good,” the former Duke star said of the Mystics’ performance. “You can see the difference in everyone’s actions and emotions in the locker room. We look like the team were in June.

“They've lost games by 5 or 6 points, they've been in games until the end and they just haven't been able to finish because there's a new team,” Beard said of the Sky. “But it feels good to get this win even though it's against Chicago, because it's a good time to get our confidence up.

“We moved the ball tonight, we had 23 assists tonight and there have been games in the past where we wouldn’t have more than 15 assists. When you get in the twenties in assists, then you know you have a good defense.”

Milton-Jones also discounted the fact that the performance was tough to evaluate because of the opponent.

“I think the running game is definitely the best thing for us,” Milton-Jones added. “When we're running, everyone is at their best ... Then it makes it difficult for other teams to guard us because they don't know where the next shot is coming from.
“90 points is 90 points. It's like if Kobe scored his 81 on the Atlanta Hawks, 81 points is 81 points no matter who you're facing. It's a job well done, youv'e got to give credit where credit is due and we'll take it at this point considering we've just lost three games in a row. We'll take this 90 point game and let it build our morale into this big matchup we have at Indiana.”

Guru’s note: Jonanthan Tannenwald contributed to this report.

-- Mel

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WNBA: Sun Rally Stamps Mystics

By Mel Greenberg

_ If the Washington Mystics wanted to send the Connecticut Sun a message Tuesday night in the Mohegan Sun Arena, the visitors used the wrong delivery system to reach their potential first-round opponent in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs next month.

Indeed, the Sun rallied with a "return-to-sender" effort in the third quarter to make their own statement in terms of postseason desires.

The Sun used a 15-0 run early in the quarter to surge from a 44-39 deficit to a 54-44 lead and eventual 86-73 triumph.

Connecticut wrapped up a playoff berth outright on Monday night with a win in New York against the Liberty. However, despite a 19-6 record that matches last season’s output at 25 games, the Sun are in a tighter race to defend their regular season conference crown.

The victory pushed Connecticut two games ahead of the Detroit Shock at the top of the East. Washington (12-13) has yet to clinch the fourth and final conference slot but is likely to do so, considering the Mystics hold a five-game lead over the fifth place Charlotte Sting, which lost to Minnesota Tuesday night. Both teams have nine games left to play.

The setback also hampered Washington’s attempt to move to a third place seed. The Mystics are four games behind the Indiana Fever, which beat the defending WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs Tuesday night.

For a few moments here Tuesday night, it appeared the Mystics could be troublesome for Connecticut when they zipped past the Sun with a 25-13 advantage in the second quarter to a 40-36 halftime lead.

“At halftime, I wondered who kidnapped my team in the second quarter,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault quipped. “I didn’t recognize the team that was out there. We didn’t play anywhere like we did in the first quarter.

“We lost our pace of the game, we lost our focus for a bit, but we got it back. We got it back in the third quarter with our defensive energy, and we outscored them 33-15 in the second half (into the fourth quarter), and that’s a good half of basketball.”

Thibault discounted the fatigue factor involving the second game of back-to-back nights on the schedule as having an effect on his team in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the nagging hip and Achilles tendon injuries that have kept All-Star Nykesha Sales sidelined has led to multiple facets on the Sun, which had four other starters play on the winning East squad in the All-Star game in New York earlier this month.

Australian Erin Phillips, who started at point guard in place of Sales and might be a future All-Star, had a career night with 19 points.

“(Erin) Phillips hurt us bad,” Washington coach Richie Adubato said. “She really shot it well. We went into the zone three times and she made a couple of threes and Douglas made another three. Our first team did not shoot it well tonight (15-for-49).”

For those who remember Debbie Black, the feisty backup point guard on the Sun several years ago, Phillips could be likened to the former St. Joseph’s star, but as a much more offensive threat.

Katie Douglas, the All-Star most valuable player, had a game-high 28 points for the Sun. Margo Dydek, the 7-foot-2 center from Poland, had 11 points and blocked four Mystics shots. Linday Whalen added 10 points. Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

DeLisha Milton-Jones had 17 points for the Mystics, but was held to eight of those points in the second half. Rookie Tamara James had 13 points and Coco Miller scored 10 points. All-Star Alana Beard, who was coming off a career-high 30 points in Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Storm in Washington, was held to nine points.

“The same shots she made the other night, she missed tonight,” Adubato said of Beard’s performance. “Not taking anything away from Connecticut’s defense. They are solid. They put a lot of pressure on the ball. They have a lot of quickness and they have some good individual defenders.”

The Mystics also have a slew of candidates contending for MVP league honors, such as Douglas, McWilliams-Franklin, and Sales, although veteran Los Angeles Sparks All-Star Lisa Leslie is probably the frontrunner.

McWilliams-Franklin, however, believes someone else needs to be mentioned when it comes to MVP of the Sun.

“I think Asjha (Jones), definitely for us, because you’re only as good as your sixth man,” McWilliams-Franklin said of the former University of Connecticut star. “She can play the three now with Nykesha out. She goes to work at the four or the five. Whatever she’s asked to do.

“Without Asjha, I don’t know where we’d be. Some nights we just go to sleep and she comes in. She’s always high energy. Her and Erin need to run miles before the game. Whether it’s out of control or not, she just comes in and brings high energy and what we need,” McWilliams-Franklin added.

“Now we need someone to play the three, she does it. She never complains whether she starts or not, who’s she’s guarding, she works hard and gets that open jumper.”

“How many teams can say that?” McWilliams-Franklin said of Jones’ ability to provide instant offense off the bench.

Connecticut’s idea is to be as deep as possible for the playoffs and avoid the problems of a year ago when the Sun fell to Sacramento in the WNBA championship when Whalen got hurt.

The Monarchs will visit here Friday night, while Washington will host Chicago Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

-- Mel

Monday, July 24, 2006

WNBA: Curse of the No. 1 Draft Pick

By Mel Greenberg

The news of Suzie McConnell Serio's resignation as coach of the Minnesota Lynx Sunday night sent us to the WNBA annual guide to research a curious statistic.

In the ten-year history of the women's pro basketball league, with one exception, the coach and, in two instances, franchise, that has held ownership of the overall No. 1 draft pick has been doomed.

"You know, I was just thinking about that while driving tonight," San Antonio Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes, one of the past victims, said with a slight laugh from his car. "I feel bad for her, but that thought did cross my mind.

"In fact, that could be a good reason for trading the No. 1 pick to somebody else."

McConnell Serio became the latest victim of the curse, failing to get through the season after holding an overall No. 1 pick. In April, the Lynx chose former Louisiana State star Seimone Augustus, who has lived up to her value as the as grand prize.

In fact, most of the top choices have delivered, although some have had a wrinkle or two along the way. The people on the clock at the time of the pick, however, have met with a different fate.

Let us look at the history, which begins with the only individual who has dodged the spell.

1997 -- That would be Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor, who took Tina Thompson and both have survived and are still in place. In fact, they even managed to win the first four WNBA titles and picked up a gold medal together as part of the 2004 Olympic contingent in Athens, Greece.

1998 -- The Utah Starzz selected Margo Dydek, the 7-foot-2 center from Poland. Denise Taylor began the season and was replaced along the way by Frank Layden, who the following season was replaced along the way by Fred Williams. In the winter of the 2002, the Starzz moved to San Antonio and became the Silver Stars. Ironically, Hughes is now employed by the neighbors of the Alamo. As for Dydek, she was traded on draft day, 2005, to Connecticut, where she continues with the Sun as one of the league's top players and is having her best season.

1999 -- The Washington Mystics cashed in a 3-27 expansion team record from the previous season to choose Chamique Holdsclaw out of Tennessee. Although the native New Yorker has become one of the league's all-time statistical leaders, she battled a slew of injuries and was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks prior to the 2005 season. The coaching victim of note was Nancy Darsch, who had joined the Mystics after being dropped by the New York Liberty. She made it through her first season in the nation's capital, but didn't survive much of the following summer when she was replaced along the way by Darrell Walker, who didn't return the following summer.

2000 -- Dan Hughes, formerly head of the Charlotte Sting, became the coach of the Cleveland Rockers and chose center Ann Wauters out of Belgium. For a while, it seemed he might beat the curse, but stayed tuned, because he met his demise along Lake Erie after going to the well again in 2003 with another No. 1 pick.

2001 -- Lin Dunn of the Seattle Storm became the only coach to have back-to-back No. 1 picks. In her first shot, she took then-teenage sensation Lauren Jackson from Australia.

2002 -- Winning the lottery, Dunn was up first again the following April and took Sue Bird from Connecticut. The two picks became the foundation for Seattle's 2004 WNBA championship but Dunn was no longer on the scene, having left after Bird's first season. Jackson and Bird continue to be at the top of the league, but a bit of the curse just struck again when the ownership of the Storm passed to a businessman from Oklahoma City.

2003 -- We told you Hughes was playing against the fates, which occurred after the Rockers coach selected another No. 1 in LaToya Thomas from Mississippi State. The team made the playoffs but then folded soon after the season when the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers gave up ownership of the franchise. Thomas went to San Antonio in the expansion draft and was re-united with Hughes when he became the Silver Stars coach in 2005.

2004 -- Diana Taurasi out of Connecticut was the No. 1 pick and Carrie Graf became the new coach. She did better than most, lasting two seasons before Paul Westhead replaced her last winter.

2005 -- Trudi Lacey of the Charlotte Sting took center Janel McCarville out of Minnesota and then gave up her coaching job near the end of last season. She remains as general manager.

2006 -- As noted, the Minnesota Lynx took Seimone Augustus in April and now Suzie McConnell Serio has become the ninth victim of the curse of the No. 1 pick.

Quick chatter

Another Minnesota transaction has taken place with Angela Taylor being named the Lynx director of vice president of business development, a newly created position.

The native of Mountain Home, Idaho, had been in the WNBA home office in New York since the league's inception, most recently as senior director of player personnel. She has also been an assistant women's basketball coach at Stanford, Texas A&M and Arizona. Her replacement in New York is Carla McGhee a former Tennessee star who played for the former Orlando Miracle and has been an assistant coach to Dawn Staley at Temple and Nell Fortner at Auburn.

Also, in our recent musings about All-Star site possibilities next season, we mentioned Connecticut as a most likely choice. However, another Eastern team, if they desire to bid, would be the Washington Mystics who hosted a successful event in 2002.

Also, in the shout-out division, some thanks not given earlier go to Tyson Hartnett, the intern at Philly.com who is building the Dawn Staley pages; Kris Gardner who has been collecting quotes for us in Houston involving Dawn, as well as the team-level public relations crew across the country along with those in the league office.
Speaking of the league office, Karen Kase, who had done an excellent job with the Charlotte Sting, is now on board in the WNBA office as the replacement for Jay Moore who left early in the season for romance and another business opportunity in Baltimore.

-- Mel

Sunday, July 23, 2006

WNBA: Technical Score Aids Storm Victory

By Jonathan Tannenwald

WASHINGTON _ At halftime of the Washington Mystics’ game against the Seattle Storm, there were some fairly easy conclusions to draw about Seattle’s 36-22 lead Sunday night in the Verizon Center.

First, Mystics point guard Nikki Teasley’s injured fingers were clearly causing her some pain, as evidenced by her 0-for-5 shooting, no assists and three turnovers.

Second, the deficit wasn’t all Teasley’s fault, given that her team had committed 13 turnovers and converted only nine of its 31 field goal attempts.

And third, given the nature of basketball, and the streaky nature of the Mystics this season, there wasn’t any way the remaining 20 minutes would be that bad, was there?

Indeed, the Mystics roared back in the second half, scoring 27 points in the third quarter and 22 points in the fourth quarter. But Seattle was consistent through all four quarters, and was rewarded with a 73-71 win.

“It’s a hard loss for us to take,” Mystics coach Richie Adubato said. “It would have been a great comeback for us.”

Seattle’s last high-water mark on the scoreboard came with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter, when a three-pointer by Barbara Turner gave the Storm a 52-39 lead. The Mystics cut the lead down to five with a buzzer-beating jumper by Alana Beard, capping off a 10-2 run to end the quarter.

Washington scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, then took its first and only lead of the game, 60-59, on a pair of free throws by forward Chasity Melvin.

Seattle responded immediately, however, with a three-pointer from Iziane Castro Marquez, and the Mystics were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the game.

That Washington was even in such a situation was due almost entirely to Alana Beard. The star guard scored 21 of her career-high 30 points in the second half, including 15 in the third quarter.

But she did not want to take the credit for the comeback.

“I think the team did a great job of coming in and getting the job done in the second half, it wasn’t just me,” she said.

Seattle’s Lauren Jackson, who scored a team-high 18 points for the Storm, was nonetheless impressed. “There was nothing anybody could have done to stop her,” Jackson said of Beard.

But just when the crowd of 7,911 was at its loudest, things unraveled for the home team.

Down by three points with a minute remaining, Washington took the ball into Seattle’s half of the court, but DeLisha Milton-Jones was called for traveling.

On the ensuing Storm possession, Milton-Jones was called for her sixth foul. Adubato protested vehemently, arguing that the foul was actually committed by Melvin. He was assessed a technical foul, his second of the night, and was duly ejected.

Sue Bird hit two of three free throws, extending Seattle’s lead to five points, and the Mystics came no closer than two points for the rest of the game.

“We fought back gallantly,” Adubato said. “The people on the floor hustled and played as hard as we could.”

Adubato has often said that he tries to get technical fouls sometimes in order to fire up his team and the fans. He admitted, though, that his second technical was a mistake on his part.

“It’s absolutely unforgivable – I tell my players not to get them and I can’t get them in those situations,” he said. “It’s an emotion that I let get out of hand. I never have done that before, I’ve never gotten a technical foul inside two minutes.”

Indeed, like their coach’s emotions, the Mystics seemed to let this game get out of hand – at the beginning and at the end.

Guru's Note: When we last saw Barbara Turner on Saturday night in New York, she had suffered an undetermined knee injury in the third quarter against the Liberty and left Madison Square Garden on crutches.

Happily for the Storm, ensuing X-Rays were negative, she had suffered some sort of muscle injury, and was cleared to play if she felt well enough, which she did. - Mel

Saturday, July 22, 2006

WNBA: Storm Deals Liberty "Perfect" Loss

By Mel Greenberg

_ Erin Thorn’s shooting was the only positive in a sea of three all-time negatives for the New York Liberty in a WNBA game Saturday night in Madison Square Garden.

The Liberty (4-19) were ripped 91-54 by the Seattle Storm, making it the worst loss in the franchise’s 10-year history. Speaking of the number of 10, that’s the total of consecutive setbacks New York has reached, also a record. The 19th loss on the season also set a futility mark as the squad fell to 4-19 overall.

New York, mired in sixth place in the East a game ahead of last-place Chicago, an expansion team, now trails fourth place Washington by eight games with 11 remaining for the fourth and final playoff spot. The tragic number for elimination is four.

Thorn, whose 19 points were one below her career high set Thursday night in Sacramento, made 6 of 9 field goal attempts, including 4 of 5 on three-point launches.

However, by the time the former Brigham Young star made her first shot, the Storm (12-12) had solid control of the game at 23-8 with 1 minute, 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

“They didn’t get to see us healthy, but they did get to see us play and execute well,” Storm coach Anne Donovan said of her family and friends from northern New Jersey as Seattle stayed in playoff contention in the Western Conference.

“We play back-to-back. We’re at Washington tomorrow (Sunday), so this was a great way to get out in front and stay out in front. It was important so we could rest people,” Donovan said. “We definitely were not out to embarrass anybody, but we shot the ball well early (62 percent at one moment), and it enabled us to get out in front and rest people we needed to rest.”

Iziana Castro Marquez, a native of Brazil, scored 26 points off the bench for Seattle.

Lauren Jackson added 18 points to the Storm total, Betty Lennox added 14 points, most of which occurred early in the game, and Sue Bird scored 10 points.

“Some times teams just have those games and tonight was one of those games (for us),” Bird said. “We got some stops and were able to run and when we are in transition, that is when we are at our best.”

New York was again without All-Star point guard Becky Hammond, who is recovering from an ankle injury suffered in the Phoenix game here just before the All-Star break.

Kelly Schumacher was lost for the season with an ankle injury in the loss at Sacramento.

Meanwhile, rookie Barbara Turner, a former University of Connecticut star, went to the bench for Seattle with an undetermined injury to her right knee with 4:19 left in the third quarter.

The knee will be evaluated in the next two days but Donovan commented afterwards, “It doesn’t look good.”

It hasn’t looked for the Liberty for a long time after the WNBA charter franchise underwent a major roster change last winter when four starters left the squad. Crystal Robinson signed as a free agent in Washington, Vicky Johnson signed a deal as a free agent with San Antonio, and Elena Baranova and Ann Wauters remained in Europe.

“We just came out slow, we let them hit shots early and they got on a run,” Thorn said about the loss to Seattle.

“They’re a great shooting team and if you let them hit shots early, it’s hard to come back.”

Asked about a common theme in the 10-game losing streak, Thorn responded, “It’s the little things. I don’t think it’s something huge. It’s little things that we don’t take care of, whether it’s doing the scheme that our coaches gave us, whether its’s playing hard all 40 minutes, whether it’s taking care of the ball (New York had 21 turnovers to Seattle’s 11). It’s little things. It’s not any one big thing.”

The Liberty have a big thing next on the schedule when first-place Connecticut visits Monday night.

-- Mel

Thursday, July 20, 2006

WNBA: Sun All-Stars Light Up Chicago Sky

By Mel Greenberg

_ It was midway through the third quarter in Thursday night’s WNBA Eastern Conference matchup between the first-place Connecticut Sun and the expansion Chicago Sky in the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun advantage on the way to its ultimate 86-72 conquest had reached 27 points when someone approached the Connecticut management team which also operates the vast casino-entertainment complex here.

“What’s the difference between one of your big-time fight attractions in this arena and this game in progress?”

As the officials shrugged their shoulders, the person asking the question also provided the answer as Connecticut (16-6) increased its first-place lead over the Detroit Shock to 1-1/2 games.

“This difference is, if this were a bout, the doctor would have stopped this thing 20 minutes ago.”

Chicago coach Dave Cowens, the former Boston Celtics star, said as much of the disparity between the two teams.

“They are a better team than we are, it’s like an `A’ team against a`B’ team,” Cowens said alluding to a Connecticut squad containing five All-Stars. “We have been a lot better effort wise coming out of the gate, lately, but tonight we just didn’t have it.

“They shot the ball pretty well (52.4 percent) and it seems like a lot of people have been shooting the ball well against us lately,” Cowens continued after Chicago fell to 3-19.

The score narrowed when substitutes of both squads were in the game in the fourth quarter. However, on a night attached to a “Christmas in July” promotion, Connecticut coach Mike Tibault quickly put compassion aside and re-inserted some starters to preserve the victory.

Cowens was realistic about the way his Sky squad closed the gap.

“We won the second half, but they started playing their bench players. It’s no contest when they put their bench in, we always win those matchups. Their starting five is a little better than ours. We need to overachieve to win, that is just the nature of an expansion team,” Cowens said.

With all-star Nykesha Sales sidelined by hip and leg injuries, Thibault has been experimenting with different combinations and increasing scoring productivity among several players to make up for the absence of the former University of Connecticut star.

Katie Douglas, who was the All-Star MVP last week in Madison Square Garden when the East upset the West, led Connecticut with 19 points, and was 3 for 6 on three-point attempts.

“This game has turned into a three-point show and I’m not a big fan of that,” Cowens said. “It’s obvious she (Douglas) is just gonna pull up and shoot threes, she’s a hell of a stroker and she’s been working on her game and developing. Tonight, she was taking it to the basket, trying to draw fouls and all that stuff.”

But the Sun also dominated inside the paint, outscoring the Sky, 36-28.

“They have some big presence down low, so I know she is getting open, quite a bit, that’s kinda of what happens,” Cowens continued discussing Douglas’ performance. “It’s nice for her to be able to play with people that get her open like that.”

Veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin added 17 points for the Sun, Asjha Jones scored 15 points, and 7-foot center Margo Dydek had 12 points.

Jia Perkins led Chicago with 21 points, Bernadette Ngoyisa scored 14 points, and first-round draft pick Candice Dupree out of Temple scored 12 points.

The two teams played a more competitive game in Chicago earlier that the Sun won in the closing minutes, so McWilliams-Franklin said Connecticut could not go into the game thinking it had already been wrapped up.

“We didn’t look at this like it was an easy game or when we were in Chicago,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “I think that’s what’s happening to people playing Charlotte. People are saying, `Oh, look at their record (7-16),’ and they’re getting beat.

“So, at no point did we think this was going to be an easy game. And because they (Chicago) play so hard, you never know what’s going to happen.”

NO DEALS: Unlike a year ago, the trading deadline came and went Thursday night without any deals, the WNBA announced.

Two major moves approaching the deadline last season saw All-Star Katie Smith move from Minnesota to Detroit, while All-Star Dawn Staley was dealt from Charlotte to Houston.

NEXT ALL-STAR SITE: WNBA officials have yet to begin planning for the next All-Star game but it would not be surprising to see the game return here after its success last season.

“We’d certainly love to host again,” Mitchell Etess, the Sun’s Chief Executive Officer, said. “If the game is going to be during the week, hotel rooms wouldn’t be a problem.”

If the old sharing format still existed, alternating East and West cities, it would be the West’s turn. But one general manager of a Western Conference team said he didn’t think the West would get the game next season and that it wouldn’t be surprising to see it just begin to go back and forth between Connecticut and New York because of logistics.

Houston, a charter WNBA which has never hosted, would seem a prime candidate but the Comets don’t seem eager at this time to land the game.

Seattle just under went an ownership change. Los Angeles provides Hollywood glitz but terrible local time starts.

Of course, if some non-WNBA venue would make an attractive offer, perhaps that could occur after the precedent in the NBA that has been set with Las Vegas hosting the 2007 All-Star game.

CHELSEA ON CAPPIE: Before Chicago met Connecticut here, the Sun’s Chelsea Newton talked about the success of Phoenix rookie Cappie Pondexter, her former Rutgers teammate until Newton was drafted by the WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs last season.

“I’m not surprised,” Newton said of Pondexter’s play thus far. “You have to understand the tough defensive system we had under (Rutgers) coach (C. Vivian) Stringer.

“She prepared us for this. I don’t think people thought I was going to do as well as I did, but she prepared us. Right now for Cappie, I’m not saying it’s a breeze, she’s just so prepared, it’s easy right now.”

Newton agreed with earlier comments by Pondexter that one of the adjustments that need to be made in the pros is not to take every loss as hard as they’re taken in college.

“I think it’s like that in every system (in the WNBA). When I was in Sacramento and we lost a game, I was like, `Oh my gosh.’ But after the game you find out, `It’s all right. You’re going to win some. You’re going to lose some.’

“I know she’s having a really good time, though,” Newton added.

-- Mel

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

WNBA: Mercury Cancels "DeLisha" Factor

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ It seemed like old times in the Verizon Center Wednesday when a summer campers-driven crowd of 15,103 provided an electric home crowd effect for the Washington Mystics not seen in the building formerly known as the MCI Center for quite a while.

Until baseball came on the scene in the nation's capital, this used to be a regular occurence. Unfortunately, the vocal support of the past did not translate into victories and in that sense the result was the same Wednesday when the Phoenix Mercury shut down the Mystics in the fourth quarter with a 27-12 effort on the way to a 96-83 victory.

The triumph was a needed one for Phoenix in its drive to land a playoff berth in the Western Conference, while the defeat did little to halt Washington's solid hold on fourth place and the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

For Mystics fans, the best news was the return of DeLisha Milton-Jones, the 6-foot-1 forward who had been sidelined for 11 games since suffering an MCL sprain in her left knee against the New York Liberty on June 17.

Milton-Jones' return was also good news for the USA Basketball folks who are counting on her to be part of the roster in the FIBA World Championship after the season ends.

The former Florida star played 17 minutes, 48 seconds, and scored nine points, shooting 4 of 8 from the field, grabbing three rebounds and dealing three assists. She also had three turnovers.

Milton-Jones had been a key factor in Washington's improve play over a year ago at the start of the season.

"I'm happy to be back on the court, but sad because we lost the game," Milton-Jones said afterwards. "If I were really 100 percent then there are other things I could have done on the court; things that my old self normally does, like being more aggressive defensively, even attacking more offensively. But I had to play a really composed game because it's my first time back."

Milton-Jones added she felt her rhythm returned "after the first five minutes (she was in the game)."

"She played very hard, she did a good job," Mystics coach Richie Adubato critiqued Milton-Jones' performance. "She rebounded, she shot the ball pretty well, she hustled. For the first time back, that was a terrific performance. Hopefully now she's ready to move on."

The news that Milton-Jones was in uniform just added to the imposing situation Phoenix faced on a back-to-back schedule that began with a loss in Indiana to the Fever on Tuesday in a game that began at 1 p.m., and then continued here with a games that began at 11:30 a.m.

"I said to one of my assistants, that if she is in uniform, that means she could play," Phoenix first-year coach Paul Westhead said. "I'm glad to see her back. She is a very good player. She's going to help them in the playoffs."

Phoenix was helped immensely Wednesday by the play of Kelly Miller, the twin sister of Washington's Coco Miller, who scored a team-high 22 points, a total matched by the Mercury's Penny Taylor.

Former Connecticut star Diana Taurasi came on in the second half and had 18 points, and Kristen Rasmussen scored 10 points.

Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, the overall No. 2 pick in April's draft, is struggling with tendinitis in her left knee, but still scored eight points.

"Cappie played today, but the real Cappie Pondexter is kind of half-injured," Westhead said. "She played hard, though."

Pondexter shrugged off the injury. "I'm getting there," the Chicago native said. "But I'm just trying to help this team and show I'm great in other ways (besides scoring)."

Although Westhead is known for his high scoring offensive schemes, the former La Salle coach who's uptempo style became the hallmark of Loyola Marymount College and the 1980 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, spoke about reaching back to his Philly roots on defense.

"We're kind of playing the `Temple' defense," Westhead said of the matchup zone that caused Washington problems, especially when Phoenix broke the game open.

Taurasi endorsed the defense.

“I think it’s super,” Taurasi said. “We’re not the quickest team. We’re not the biggest team. So we have to make up for it in other ways and I think the zone helps us. It keeps us in games."

"We’ve been getting more comfortable in it.”Pondexter added, “It’s a very good defense. It’s very active and everybody is involved.”

Phoenix forced 11 turnovers in the second half and 17 overall, although Washington All-Star Alana Beard scored a game-high 23 points.

“He played it against us last time,” Adubato said of Westhead’s defense. “And we did a very good job. Today, they did a very good job with the matchup zone. They gave Indiana a very tough time (on Tuesday), with it. We didn’t get the tape until this morning and didn’t get enough time to make some adjustments.”

Westhead was delighted with Phoenix's ability to shake off the loss to Indiana.

“I said to our team I’m kind of happy to be around them because of their incredible resilence,” Westhead said.

“We’ve done this back-to-back, tough loss, come back and get a win, at least five or six times this season," he continued.

“So I don’t know where this team is going to wind up. It’s been a real happy experience to be around a group of players like this, whatever happens.”

-- Mel (with some on-the-scene assistance from Jonathan Tannenwald)

Staley Farewell Site Launched at Philly.Com


Guru'sNote: The Guru, who is on a back-to-back-to-back travel schedule, didn't get the day of the week right in the earlier post here. Also, as life evolved, a print feature will appear off the Washington game and on Philly.com, but we'll still come back in the next several hours with another aspect off the game.

The main purpose of this post was shameless promotion for the people I work for so you are aware of the Staley site at Philly.com

By Mel Greenberg

Greetings All:

We'll be back later today (Wednesday) from the nation's capital with coverage of the Washington Mystics-Phoenix Mercury contest in the WNBA.

But as a public service to avoid you hunting around, Philly.com, the hometown web site of The Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News where Dawn Staley was born ,has begun rolling out its farewell tribute to her storied career.

Hopefully, your friendly Guru has just provided the link to get you there quick.

But if he didn't, you go to the philly.com home page, then click on the sports option, then click on the WNBA page in the left column and the door to the site will be available.

This is a work in progress with much to be added during the next several weeks, including multi-media, as Dawn's final says as a prolific point guard with the Houston Comets come to a close.


-- Mel

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Kate Burkholder Retrospective

By Mel Greenberg

When rock stars produce enough hit recordings, eventually the compilation album appears.

Well, in a parlance of WNBA rookies, you can talk about Cappie, you can talk about Seimone, you can talk about Sophia, and you can talk about Candice, but none came close to the week that our WNBA rookie correspondent Kate Burkholder had at the blog had this week.

Maybe it's because she hadn't written here in over a month while enjoying her summer vacation, maybe it's the Rutgers' crowd's lust for anything about Cappie, but this week KB caught your fancy in record numbers.

Since our report from Connecticut for the Phoenix game, Kate had two contributions here -- one on Cappie Pondexter's Madison Square Garden appearance against the Liberty, which several of you at other sites established links, and an excellent column on the all-star game that many of you may have missed while reading other reports.

All told, however, Kate went platinum this week and we're not talking about a trip to the hairdresser.

Two months ago, a colleague here at the Inquirer showed us how to install a statcounter to report numbers of visit. It's quite possible Kate's earlier work also caught major attention, but we had no way of knowing at the time.

But in the last week through late last Sunday, over 600 hits have been recorded here, raising the daily average way above the 25 or 30 visits.

By comparison, the Guru drew two flies to his salad during the media feed at the All-Star practice session on Tuesday. Some editor here noted: "Well you can't say you don't draw flies."

The Guru is also pleased to have landed Kate her first paid gig for a magazine piece soon to appear and we'll tell you when that happens.

Hold it! Before you think it, of course she has previously received a meaningful expense value and several gifts to enhance her coverage from the Guru foundation, but that goes with the territory.

As a public service for those of you who recently discovered her work (and remember, she had not set foot on the WNBA scene until the draft), here's our chance to show off her past efforts here so you don't have to go through an adventure finding her contributions. Hopefully, the Guru's recently learned tricks on linking will work, so here goes.

Those of you who follow her work covering the Rutgers women in the Daily Targum know of her excellent work there. Over here, of course, Kate has had to write for a much larger audience and one beyond the realm of her daily work during school. She has made that transformation seamlessly as you will see.


Kate opened with a blog diary upon our arrival.

Then it was a preview of the national semifinals.

Then it was time for another behind-the-scenes blog.

The Guru managed to also land Kate a gig filing for what was known at the time as the KRT (Knight Ridder-Tribune) campus wire going to some 300 high school and college campuses. The wire now lives as the MCT campus wire after the sale of the holding to the McClatchy chain and they have already sent the Guru the word that she is welcome to continue her work in the near future.

Her first piece and exposure to the WNBA/USA Baseball crowd occured at a practice at Boston College and the Guru copied her work into our site here.

Next came a story about Maryland, the eventual NCAA champion.

In Kate's first introduction to the WNBA world, she wrote a draft day story the morning after the national championship.

Then came an NCAA wrap up for the campus wire that we hijacked with permission to our site.


Deciding to tell an out-of-school tale while still in school, Kate decided to notify Guru-nation of a certain birthday.

An impressive interview with Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer in the Daily Targum forced us to add to the readership by also running Kate's chat at this site.

A class assignment transformed Kate into a self-appointed official biographer of the life of the Guru, which she also posted here as a surprise. (Yes, she got an "A").

She quickly relished her new role by announcing the ECAC-SIDA media award that went to the Guru in June. (Guru is finding it tough to write refer to himself to make this all work :) )


Kate got her first taste of a WNBA game, an exhibition encounter, and wrote about the roster changes of the New York Liberty.

Then came this special Kate's Take column on the WNBA entering its 10th season.


No this is not a mistake. June was for working on the magazine piece on the rules changes and vacationing in Florida.

A week ago, Kate confirmed the Guru's announcement with a personality greeting that she was back on the scene.

Then came the well-written Cappie story and the All-Star column.

And that's where we are. If these links don't work, the Guru will try to make fixes later Sunday when he is working on the desk in the sports dept.

If you want to tell Kate how much you enjoy here work, as well as Jonathan Tannenweld's coverage from the Mystics when we're not in D.C., feel free to do so in the apporpriate place below.

In other news, the Dawn Staley page at Philly.com is expected to roll out this week, we'll let you all know as we prepare for her final weeks of her storied playing career.

Until next time.

-- Mel

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The best of the best

By Kate Burkholder

After getting home late last night from the Garden and waking up early today to go to my other job, I just had the energy to blog about the All-Star game now. One of the most interesting things I noticed, though, in addition to also seeing this in Boston at USA Basketball practice, is the wide variation in age that you see competing. I guess it's like that in every league but for some reason it stands out to me here and that's why I keep writing about it. I also was extremely impressed with the environment last night, both from the outpouring of fan support and the way the players interacted with each other and seemed to just be having a good time on the floor. It was nice to see a competitive basketball game that was also just enjoyable to watch. I think the fans of the WNBA -- while they may still be trying to get more people interested -- seem so dedicated to this sport and it shows. I know fans of baseball or men's basketball who don't care to watch those all-star games, but the atmosphere last night was just a lot of people truly passionate about this thing and happy to be there to help the league grow and flourish for another ten years and more. And where else can you see Lisa Leslie doing the cha-cha-slide, really? That alone made my 2 1/2 hour train ride worth it.

NEW YORK -- Just three months separated the NCAA women’s Final Four this past April from the WNBA All-Star game Wednesday night -- both of which were stops for standout guard Seimone Augustus.

But in that short time, the LSU product and reigning Player of the Year’s emotions have run the gamut as she went from star of the collegiate show to rookie all over again.

“Before we came out here tonight, I was so nervous,” Augustus said after her Western Conference squad fell 98-82 to the East at Madison Square Garden. “But after things got going I calmed down and it was fun, to get to be out on the floor with some of the best players. I’ve never been to anything like this so it was just a great atmosphere.”

That atmosphere and not the score -- although there was a refreshing competitiveness to the game -- is likely what Augustus and the others will remember, because it cast this women’s professional basketball league in a positive and exciting light moving forward from the ten-year mark.

“Any time you get to interact with the fans, it’s always great,” Augustus said. “They show us a lot of love, went out to the Summer Jam, were there at the autograph session, and that always makes me feel good that people are really interested and buying into women’s basketball.”

Augustus’ 16 points led the West and tied her with MVP Katie Douglas for the game high.

The other three rookies combined for 14 among them, and it was undoubtedly a similar kind of experience for Augustus’ first-year counterparts Sophia Young, Cappie Pondexter, and Candice Dupree.

“It was great, being able to bond with all the great players in this league,” Pondexter said. “It was definitely a fun experience to be a part of, but of course you always have that competitive side, too.”

Dupree -- the 2006 Temple grad and the lone representative of the Eastern Conference’s expansion Chicago Sky -- learned of her all-star selection at the last minute when she was picked as a replacement, resulting in some chaos that ultimately turned out OK.

“It was a shock because it was so last minute,” Dupree (8 points) said of her selection. “I only got up here [Tuesday morning] and my bags got lost, my flight was delayed and everything else, but it was worth it. I had a lot of fun and we got a win out of it.”

Like Augustus, Dupree’s favorite moments seemed to be those that transpired off the court.

“There was a lot of goofing around,” she said. “We did some photo shoots and commercial shoots, and just a lot of laughing at each other.”

Before the game started, hometown favorite and New York Liberty point guard Becky Hammon addressed the Big Apple crowd of 12,998, welcoming them to the world’s most famous arena and inciting them to enjoy the evening.

Hammon suffered an ankle sprain in last Sunday’s game against the visiting Phoenix Mercury and had to sit out the contest after being voted a starter.

The teams battled each other evenly at the start, but all it took was a 28-16 third-quarter run by the East to lock up its first-ever all-star victory, slowly pulling away from that point on.

The night also featured a little razzle-dazzle in addition to the seriousness, as center Margo Dydek of the East came up with four huge blocks – two of which came at the expense of the 5-foot-9 inch Pondexter, while the final seconds of the game saw players taking turns attempting fancy dunks.

Western Conference point guard Dawn Staley of the Houston Comets dished her share of behind-the-back passes and gave the crowd a chance to “ooh” and “aah,” in addition to the hot three-point shooting of Douglas and the entertainment of seeing the players joke with each other between plays.

Staley – who also coaches the Temple Owls during the college season – will retire after this year, but knows that she is leaving the league in worthy hands.

“I’m just thrilled at the opportunity [the WNBA] gives women,” Staley said after the game. “I look at Cappie Pondexter, who has ‘Future WNBA’ tattooed on her arm, and ten years ago she was just dreaming, dreaming… I think this really shows women’s basketball, the WNBA, providing opportunities for women and having them realize their dreams. It’s a beautiful thing to see unfold.”

And Pondexter is just as quick to use an experience like her first All-Star game (of which will certainly be many) to appreciate the veterans who she got to play with but also who have paved the way for her.

“Those players mean so much, they’re the pioneers of women’s basketball,” Pondexter said of the Rebecca Lobos, Lisa Leslies, and Dawn Staleys that preceded her. “They got us the attention we have now and they’re the faces you’ve been seeing the last 10 or however many years. They got a lot of exposure for us and we watched them when we were growing up.”

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sweet homecoming for Rutgers' Pondexter

By Kate Burkholder

NEW YORK -- Maybe it was the sea of red Rutgers t-shirts that washed over the Madison Square Garden crowd, or the sprinkling of the No. 23 orange jerseys.

Maybe it was the signs or the chants.

But whatever hint was needed to realize it, it became evident that the biggest story coming out of the world’s most famous arena earlier this afternoon was the East Coast homecoming of Phoenix Mercury rookie Cappie Pondexter.

In support of the rookie – making her return to the tri-state area for the first time since being selected second overall by Phoenix in the April WNBA draft and graduating from the State University of New Jersey in May -- the local fans showed up in large numbers to welcome home the girl they followed like their own for the last four years.

“A bunch of us had lunch before [the game], and I think when the schedule came out and this was a weekend game, it was a given that we all would come to see her,” said Diana Dloughy, a long-time Rutgers season ticket holder and member of the Cagers booster club. “Somebody took a picture last night [in Connecticut] when we told her how many people would be coming to see her, and she just had this big smile.”

Dloughy and the throng of Pondexter’s RU supporters were never far when the Scarlet Knights traveled in seasons past, and it was no different this time around, as handfuls of Cager members, Rutgers students, and Pondexter’s former coaches, teammates, and staff members comprised a sizeable portion of the crowd – even as they rooted for the visitors in Phoenix’s 94-88 overtime win at the Garden.

“Cappie loves the game, she’s an entertainer, and she loves going out there and putting on a show,” Dloughy said. “Some of these people have been watching her for four years, five years really (Pondexter redshirted her freshman season) and so it’s good to see her succeed. For some of us it’s almost like watching our own daughter out there.

“We’re really proud of her.”

Dealing with some tendonitis in her knee and the task of playing in three cities in four days, the recently-named member of the Western Conference All-Star team started off slow in her homecoming game and was, by her own admission, not feeling 100-percent.

Pondexter was kept in single-digits until the final minutes of the third quarter, but came alive down the stretch to finish with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting and added six rebounds.

The Mercury had trailed New York for much of the game until coming back to force overtime and then pulling away in the extra period.

“I wasn’t at my best at all, but all that matters is who wins and who loses at the end of the day, and today we were able to win,” Pondexter said as she iced her knees in the locker room after the game. “I’m glad we were able to get this win, we gutted it out and made the weekend road trip worth it.”

Asked if she heard the chaotic chanting of her name that met her at pre-game introductions, all Pondexter could do was smile.

“Oh, I heard them, I definitely heard them,” she said, adding that she planned to have dinner with her old Rutgers teammates and coaches later on in the evening.

After battling through her early struggles, it was Pondexter’s second-effort lay-up with 1:20 to go in regulation that cut the Liberty lead to just one, before the rookie attempted a three-point shot the next time down the floor.

Her shot rimmed out, but the miss was put back up by teammate Diana Taurasi to again trim the New York edge to one. The game was tied at 80 with 56 seconds to play, and in a late timeout, Pondexter held up one finger and told her teammates “one shot,” acting more like the leader she carved herself into at RU instead of a first year player on a talented team.

Pondexter finally climbed over the 20-point mark in the overtime period, as the Mercury were finally able to take over the game at the same time that New York’s standout point guard Becky Hammon left with a leg injury.

With Pondexter at the line with 15 seconds left in overtime, she nailed both to lock up the victory for the now 8-10 Mercury, also ending Phoenix’s 0-10 dry spell when playing in the Empire State.

Pondexter’s 22 points was good for second best on the squad, as Taurasi was unstoppable with her career-high 36-point effort.

After the game, the former Connecticut star spoke highly of her young backcourt companion.

“Cappie’s great,” Taurasi said. “We’ve known each other for five or six years and played on the Junior National Team together, so when she came to Phoenix I was very excited. I’m just so excited because to have someone like that on the court with me who just wants to win, it’s incredible.”

Pondexter’s 21.9 points-per-game average is now good for third in the league, behind only fellow rookie Seimone Augustus’ 22.7 and Taurasi’s 22.4, as Pondexter is still getting used to the more offensive-geared approach of first-year Mercury head coach Paul Westhead.

“I really didn’t observe any transition period with Cappie,” Westhead said. “She was new to the team, I was new to the team. I think she had maybe 10 days of transition in training camp, and there it became evident that she was going to be a key player for us. It’s like she’s been doing this for a long time.”

Westhead’s up-tempo, run-and-gun offense is also light years away from that of the defensive mastermind she played under for the last four seasons.

“Coach [C. Vivian] Stringer always emphasized defense, and out here it’s definitely a different coaching style,” Pondexter said. “We make sure to get those quick transition baskets and after a team scores we come back at you offensively, so that kind of coexists with my game because I love to play offense.

“It’s what I’m talented in and it’s my main job now so that’s kind of exciting.”

And how about finding time to chat with her old coach?

“Once a week,” Pondexter said. Often enough for Stringer to do some of the nit-picking she did while Pondexter was her player.

“She’s always going to be Coach,” Pondexter said. “But that’s the good thing about her.”

The guard will now stay in New York until All-Star festivities begin mid-week, with Pondexter set to compete in the skills challenge and suit up as a reserve for the game Wednesday evening at 7:30 at MSG.

“I’m not the least bit surprised at how Cappie’s doing,” added Richard Kent, Rutgers alum and publisher of the Big East Women’s Basketball Report. “I think right now she’s a Top-10 WNBA player, and Rookie of the Year honors will be between her and Augustus.

“If you look at the top five scorers around the league, four of them, Taurasi, Cappie, Lauren Jackson, and Augustus are all under the age of 25, so it shows that the league is young and vibrant going forward. I’m happy for Cappie but not so happy for the loss that Rutgers is going to take.”

With a few days rest hopefully in her future before gearing up for the second half of her first season, Pondexter was still her same old self -- just appreciating the chance she gets to play basketball every day.

“You work so hard all your life for this one moment, so it’s something that I cherish,” she said. “I’m not content with where I’m at, I’m just going to keep working hard.”

Nor is she satisfied with the progress so far of her sixth-place team.

“I’m not content at all,” she said. “We’re trying to get back to .500, and there are a couple games that we definitely could have pulled out so we’re not content at all. We’re here trying to make a playoff run and taking it one game at a time.”

Now there’s one homecoming down, and one big one still to go.

That one will come August 1, when Pondexter makes her return to her hometown of Chicago, for the Mercury’s first road game against the expansion Sky.

“Haven’t been there yet,” Pondexter said. “But, yeah, I’m from Chicago. I’m a Bulls fan – for life.”

Saturday, July 08, 2006

WNBA: Sun Streak Past Fading Mercury

By Mel Greenberg

._ Billed as a WNBA basketball game between the Connecticut Sun and Phoenix Mercury, the event in the Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday afternoon could have easily been listed instead as a track meet.

With Phoenix using new coach Paul Westhead’s high octane offensive style and coming off an impressive Thursday night win at Detroit, the Mercury dashed to a 19-point lead late in the second quarter before settling for a 46-29 halftime advantage.

However, if Phoenix was a quick starter, Connecticut was an even faster finisher as the Sun slipped by the Mercury in the closing minutes for an 82-77 victory.

The win assured the Sun to go into the All-Star break in first place in the East at 14-5. Phoenix fell to 7-10.

“It’s exciting and I think we gave them a pretty good show today,” said Connecticut’s Asjha Jones, who helped fuel the Connecticut comeback with 12 of her 18 points in the second half and all 11 of her rebounds.

“In the first half game they played great and the second half we played great. And I think it was a pretty good game to watch and I think it was a pretty good game for TV,” Jones said.

A sellout crowd of 9,341 cheered the news before the game that all five Connecticut starters had made the East squad for the WNBA’s All-Star game in New York at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

There might be a technical quibble with that after the league announced Saturday the WNBA coaches’ picks to fill the squad. The fans’ selection of the starters was announced earlier in the week.

Connecticut point guard Lindsay Whalen, center Margo Dydek, and forward Nykesha Sales were named as starters and Saturday forward Katie Douglas was added by the coaches. However, Sales began a stint out of uniform Saturday because of nagging problems with her left Achilles and right hip. Sun forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin was named to replace her teammate.

Sun coach Mike Thibault will coach the East as a reward for Connecticut’s earning another conference crown last season. Defending WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs coach John Whisenant will handle the West squad.

“Saying things about the All-Star game before the game kind of amps up other teams, too,” McWilliams-Franklin tried to explain the contrast in starts Saturday between the Sun and Mercury. “I don’t know teams would be happy to hear, `Oh yeah, they’ve got five starters.’ I know Diana (Taurasi) said something about it a few times in the huddle.”

The former University of Connecticut star torched the nets for 13 of her game-high 25 points in the first half for Phoenix. But rookie Cappie Pondexter, the No. 2 overall pick out of Rutgers who set a WNBA rookie record with 35 points Thursday night against Detroit, was held to just 10 points Saturday and was 0 for 7 in the second half.

“They were more aggressive,” said Pondexter, who was also named Saturday as a substitute on the West squad with Phoenix teammate Taurasi for the All-Star game. “I don’t wanna say we were not as aggressive, but shots were just not falling. I think it was a great effort on our part, we just didn’t close it at the end. We didn’t get the stops that we needed.”

Pondexter’s miss occurred when the native of Chicago came down uncontested and launched a shot that went astray with 22.9 seconds left in the game and Connecticut leading, 78-77.

McWilliams-Franklin then shot two fouls for on the ensuing possession for an 80-77 lead. Then Kristen Rassmussen and Taurasi each missed trey attempts to tie the game.

Connecticut got possession and Jones finished off the scoring to seal the game with two foul shots.

“I can’t ever remember being part of that kind of comeback,” said Whalen, who had 13 points. The comeback from a 17-point halftime deficit was the largest in franchise history dating back to when the team was the Orlando Miracle before moving to Connecticut prior to the 2003 season.

After a Taurasi shot at the start of the third quarter gave Phoenix another 19-point lead, Connecticut began to make its move and an 8-0 run near the end of the period cut the deficit to a mere three points at 59-56. It got even lower on Jones’ hook shot to make it 61-60 with 1:20 left before Phoenix extended its advantage to five at 65-60 to end the quarter.

“We were rocked, we were on our heels,” McWilliams-Franklin said of the early action in Phoenix’s favor. “Every loose ball they were after. A step faster on everything, offensive rebounds, execution.

“Maybe it just took those 15 minutes for us to settle down instead of what a timeout allotted. Some teams you can run sets against. Some teams you just have to play,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “And I think when we came out in the third quarter, coach was like `Oh just play. Don’t draw up nothing unless it’s needed. Just play ball.’ And when we did that, I think we got back in the flow.”

McWilliams-Franklin fnished with 21 points and 12 rebounds and Douglas had a team-high 22 points to go with Whalen’s 13 points.

Kelly Miller scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds, and Penny Taylor also scored in double figures for Phoenix with 10 points.

In the fourth quarter, Connecticut finally got the lead at 67-65 on Douglas’ trey with 7 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game.

Although missing shots most of the period, Phoenix hung tough and went ahead again at 70-73 on successive layups by Miller and Taurasi.

Douglas than cut it to 73-72 on a layup under the three-minute mark and McWilliams-Franklin returned the lead to the Sun at 74-73 on a 14-foot jumper with 2:17 left.

Although Connecticut had been in a similar down-to-the-wire game against Charlotte here Thursday, this one carried much more energy in the arena.

Kamila Vodichkova scored inside to put Phoenix ahead at 75-74 but Douglas hit two foul shots to put the Sun ahead for good at 76-75 with 1:37 left.

Jamie Carey, an unsung hero in the second half off the bench for the Sun, grabbed a rebound off a Miller miss and then Whalen beat the shot clock inside to give Connecticut some slight breathing room at 78-75 with 53.8 seconds left.

Taurasi made it closer with a lay-up at 78-77 with 43.8 seconds left but that became the last that Phoenix could score.

“We played overall a very good basketball,” Westhead said. “It kind of broke down giving up second shots in the third quarter. They started making shots in the fourth quarter, we couldn’t make shots.

“It was like role reversals. What happened to Connecticut in the first half, happened to us in the second half,” Westhead added.

Phoenix will finish the road trip Sunday in New York against the Liberty.

Westhead had no problem with Pondexter’s shot attempt in the closing seconds.

“When you have a very good player like Cappie, she’s instructed and she’s good at `do what advantage you can garnish.’ So if she’s coming down and she can split the defense and force a foul or get an open shot, she’s been told to do that.

“She thought she had an opening, her feet went under her and she didn’t get through.’”

Taurasi contrasted the two halves. “Everytime the shot went up in the first half, we had five people in the lane rebounding and in the second half it was a complete opposite, that’s just on us.”

All-Stars Set

The coaches’ picks were announced Saturday to fill the East and West rosters.

The East substitutes will be Washington Mystics’ guard-forward Alana Beard, Connecticut’s Douglas, Detroit Shock center Cheryl Ford and Shock teammates Katie Smith, a guard; and guard-forward Deanna Nolan, and Indiana Fever forward Tamika Whitmore, a former New York and Los Angeles Sparks player.

The West subs include Phoenix’s Pondexter and Taurasi, Minnesota Lynx forward Seimone Augustus, Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie, Houston Comets forward Tina Thompson, and San Antonio Silver Stars forward Sophia Young.

Previously announced as starters on the East are Indiana forward Tamika Catchings, the three Connecticut players, and New York guard Becky Hammon.

The West starters are Sacramento Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith, Houston Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes and guard Dawn Staley; and Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson and guard Sue Bird.

Augustus was the first overall pick in the WNBA draft in April, Pondexter was second, and Young was fourth. It’s the first time three true rookies right out of college have made the list.

Not every team was required to have a representative, leaving the expansion Chicago Sky with rookie Candice Dupree from Temple, and the Charlotte Sting unrepresented in the East. Every team in the West had at least one player on that squad.

- Mel

As advertised...

Hi everyone, this is Kate Burkholder again after my early-summer absence. As Mel said earlier I'm making a return to the blog and the WNBA scene tomorrow, when the New York Liberty host the Phoenix Mercury and my former Rutgers classmate, Cappie Pondexter, at Madison Square Garden.

It will be my second trip to MSG this summer and, more importantly, Pondexter's second stop on her first real East Coast trip since graduation in May.

That will take place tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon at 4 p.m., and the game plan as of now is for me to report the Rutgers-fan reaction from the game, which, if you know the Scarlet Knight supporters like I do, is expected to be significant.

I'll also be back at the Garden next Wednesday for the all-star game, which I am really looking forward to experiencing. (It also means I can sneak out early from my day job, a secretary at a certain Philadelphia hospital not too far from Mel's home base at the Inquirer).

Briefly just to touch on some other Rutgers news while we're on the topic (and because, honestly, having been on summer break for 2 months, I'm missing the Banks of the Old Raritan a little), it was announced this week that Charese "Tudy" Reed, a two-year member of the Knights and a rising junior, has announced her transfer to Oklahoma State.

It was no secret that Reed, a Chicago native, experienced some homesickness and adjustment problems as a freshman in 2004-05, but last year I had a sizeable interview with her one afternoon after practice in order to compile a feature, and she told me then that she was having a much better time as a sophomore and was really enjoying herself.

Coach C. Vivian Stringer pointed to Reed as one of the possible role-players she wanted to have step up as the "missing piece" that team really needed, and still does. That's why the transfer kind of came as a surprise to me, even though there have certainly been enough rumors for the last two years. So, hopefully, she'll get good playing time there and get to enjoy being a little closer to home. I know everyone at Rutgers and everyone who dealt with her media-wise wishes Tudy well.

On that note, I'm signing out for now. Will check back tomorrow with my Cappie report and whatever kind of gamestory I get go-ahead for. Have a great weekend!

--Kate Burkholder

WNBA: Monarchs Run Down Mystics

Guru's Note: We finally have a double-dip report, with yours truly in Connecticut for the Phoenix Mercury game on Satuday while Jonathan Tannenwald delivers another report from Washington, this time on the Mystics-Sacramento game.

In terms of chronologically order, this occurred before we hit the keyboard, although it's probably not the right order in terms of the read -- whatever.

Additionally, not to be outdone by The Return of Superman, KB will take a break from summer fun and handle Cappie Pondexter's trip to New York to play the Liberty Sunday when Madison Square Garden expects to have a strong Rutgers presence in the crowd. KB may even weigh in herself in the next 24 hours to say hello.

Now, on to Jonathan.

By Jonathan Tannenwald

WASHINGTON _ Although it is generally considered poor journalistic form to start off a story with a cliché, the idea that basketball is a game of runs was on full display in Washington on Friday night.

Specifically, there were three: One for the Mystics and two for the visiting Sacramento Monarchs, the defending WNBA champions.

Not surprisingly, the Monarchs energed victorious.

With a fast start and a big finish, Sacramento dealt the Mystics their second home loss of the season, 73-60.The result put the Mystics under .500 for the first time this season at 9-10, while the Monarchs improved to 11-8.

There was a buzz in the building early on – or at least whatever kind of buzz an announced Verizon Center crowd of 7,847 can create – when Mystics guard Alana Beard was cleared to play just minutes before tipoff.

Beard had missed Washington’s last two games at Phoenix and Minnesota with an ankle injury.

The Mystics came out sluggish, though. They trailed 14-5 midway through the first quarter and 22-12 at the half.

Sacramento scored seven points on the fast break to Washington’s none in that span, and the Mystics shot only 1-of-5 from three-point range against the Monarchs’ zone defense.

With 4:30 to go in the second quarter, Sacramento had pushed its lead to 33-19.

At that point, though, the Mystics clicked all of a sudden and launched a 17-2 run. Nikki Teasley’s layup with 3.4 seconds remaining in the half made the score 36-35 in Washington’s favor, the home team’s first lead of the night.

Teasley scored five points in the run, accompanied by six points from Chasity Melvin and four Sacramento turnovers.

Mystics coach Richie Adubato blamed the slow start on fatigue from his team’s four-game road trip through the Western Conference, which started in Houston on June 29 and ended Wednesday in Minneapolis.

“No matter what you try to do after you’ve been on a West Coast trip, you come back and you play the day after, for some reason you’re always sluggish to start the game,” Adubato said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to be sluggish against Sacramento, but we were.”

The third quarter was generally even, if defensive, with the Monarchs outscoring the Mystics 16-14 to take a 51-50 lead.

Mystics guard Coco Miller drove to the basket for a layup at the buzzer, but the light on the backboard came on before she released the shot and the basket was disallowed.

That decision, while correct, proved somewhat influential.

Sacramento began the fourth quarter with a 12-0 run, part of a 16-0 run that began with a layup by Kara Lawson with 1:06 remaining in the third quarter.

Washington did not score in the fourth quarter until Nakia Sanford hit a layup with 4:13 remaining, breaking a scoreless span of nine minutes and one second.

Lawson – playing not far from her hometown of Alexandria, Va. – scored 10 points in the run, which gave Sacramento a 62-50 lead that it never came close to relinquishing.

In the context of these runs, perhaps the most significant statistic of the game deals with Washington’s lack of running.

The Mystics scored only three points on the fast break in the game, while Sacramento scored 11.

There was a healthy debate after the game as to whether Beard’s lack of full health had something to do with this.

The former Duke star admitted after the game that she did not play with her usual intensity, but she stressed the defensive aspect of her game over her scoring.“I couldn’t get up and pressure the point guard like I love to do, I couldn’t get in the passing lanes because I didn’t feel comfortable with overplaying plays,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was quick enough.”

Beard didn’t have to analyze her offense much, as she scored a game-high 15 points – although only 6-of-16 shooting from the field, including an 0-for-4 night from beyond the arc.

“Alana played like you would think she was going to play – she hustled, she played hard,” Adubato said. “When I watched her at the beginning of the game, I didn’t see where she was limping, I didn’t see where she couldn’t run, I didn’t see anything notable that would warrant me to say that she wouldn’t play.”

Mystics forward Crystal Robinson also stood up for Beard’s effort.

“Alana’s a great player, but we can’t expect her to be Superwoman,” she said. “She did the best we could – we’ve got to take our hats off to her for that. Everybody puts way too much expectations on her.”

WNBA: Mercury Rising?

By Mel Greenberg

_ It will be a homecoming show for four players Saturday afternoon in the Mohegan Sun Arena when the Phoenix Mercury meets the Connecticut Sun in WNBA cross-sectional game.

Diana Taurasi, the most notable of the quartet, has done this act several times already after graduating after the 2004 season as arguably the University of Connecticut’s best all-time player

However, the native Californian has had to share headlines recently with Mercury rookie, Cappie Pondexter, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s WNBA draft who is already known as an enemy opponent in her days at Rutgers.

Pondexter, in her first visit East, which will also include a Sunday stop in Madison Square Garden against the New York Liberty, set the stage for her arrival on Thursday by scoring a WNBA rookie record 35 points as Phoenix upset the Detroit Shock, 92-80, in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Joining Taurasi in the UConn alumni association portion of the Phoenix lineup is Mercury rookie Ann Strother.

The fourth of the group knows much about the Connecticut pro team because until the season got under way, Jen Derevianik, a former George Mason star, had been a member of the Sun the last three seasons after making the team as an undrafted free agent.

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said at Friday’s practice cutting Derevianik might have been his most difficult player personnel move since joining the franchise after it arrived from Orlando.

“But she wasn’t going to be able to grow here,” Thibault said of his guard-loaded lineup and Derevianik’s ability to help kick-start the Mercury under new coach Paul Westhead after Phoenix struggled in the early going.

The Mercury did not practice Friday upon arrival so we decided we could wait for Saturday’s action, but I’m sure our friends running the Women’s Basketball site will have quotes in whatever publications were successful in getting Mercury players on the phone Friday afternoon.

Thibault had things to say about Phoenix, most of which was complimentary, especially after the Sun lost the first encounter on the road this season.

“Nobody has stopped them from scoring because they’re all averaging 27 points,” Thibault said. “What you have to do is make them work for what they get and do a good job of making their shots contested.

“We can’t do what we did in the last game, Taurasi had three uncontested threes in transition. That’s just bad communication.”

Thibault was with Westhead on the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers in 1980 and 1981 when they were a high-scoring operation.

“That era may have been the best NBA teams ever. They had everything,” Thibault.

Speaking of Westhead’s style, the Connecticut coach noted, “You can wear people down with the tempo. If you give players the freedom to shoot without them looking over their shoulders, they tend to be better shooters.”

He said Phoenix is loaded beyond Taurasi and Pondexter. “They have a lot of good players. I think they’re a contender, I really do. Theoretically, if you looked at the rosters and got a chance to coach any team in the West, would you choose very many more teams than them to coach in this league _ talent wise?

“You can’t say (who’s best) in the West right now, that those teams (except Minnesota) are beating each every night. What San Antonio did in L.A. the other night, that was a butt-kicker. And they all do that to each other. Whichever of those teams becomes the most consistent road team will probably be the best team in the West.”

There was major Sun news of note Friday even though we’re just discussing it at this point in our report.

All-star starter Nykesha Sales, a former University of Connecticut star, beat the Sun coaching staff by minutes in deciding to shut herself down for several weeks to heal a series of nagging injuries, including her left Achilles and right hip.

“I think obviously I don’t feel good,” Sales said. “My output is not helping the team. I don’t want anything to get worse to something that’s not fixable, so my body’s telling me to strengthen it and take some time off before I start having a major injury.

“It was really tough,” Sales said of her decision. “I thought about last night (after the close win over Charlotte here) and coach called me about it. I just got to know when to say when. Usually I’m not in this position, but you got to know.

“My body’s trying to tell me to chill out. If I want to be healthy for the playoffs, which is most important, I have to go ahead and do what I need to do now to get that way.”

Sales said there’s no timetable for her return. “The only way to really let it heal is to rest. I can’t compensate at all because it’s on both sides of my body. I just have to rest.”

As for playing in the All-Star game on Wednesday in New York, Sales said, “I haven’t made that decision yet. We’ll probably make that decision in the next couple of days, but it doesn’t look good.”

Sales said staying off her feet and not pounding the floor was the only way to go.

“We were both at that crossroad,” Sales said of herself and coaching staff knowing she needed to be sidelined for a while.

“It’s obvious out there, I can’t do what I want to do. I look like I’m in pain running up and down the floor.”

Nothing is broken or torn Sales said of the medical evaluation of her condition.

“Yeah, it’s kind of frustrating, because it’s just little issues that just piled up and it’s to the point now, where there’s just too much going on.”

-- Mel

Thursday, July 06, 2006

WNBA: Sun Slips by Sting

By Mel Greenberg

_ There are nights the pre-game banter in the media work room sometimes creates a sense that what will soon follow out on the basketball court may not necessarily be what everyone is discussing at the moment.

There was that time in Greensboro, N.C., back before the start of the 1999 NCAA women’s basketball tournament East regional final that friendly bets were being made over how quickly Tennessee was going to chew up Duke and move on to another Final Four.

What did occur was the Blue Devils pulling one of the shocking upsets in tournament history and the anticipated glorious finish of the career of Tennessee senior superstar Chamique Holdsclaw short-circuiting instead into a sea of tears.

Thursday night’s WNBA game here between lowly Charlotte, now 3-14, and the Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun, now 13-5, although not as significant in the scheme of things, lent to similar talk among the media in the Mohegan Sun Arena.

And why not, actually?

Connecticut had won the three previous meetings, 89-65, 89-71, and 90-66, so talk centered on whether the game would be over at the end of the first quarter or somewhere in the second period.

As it evolved, neither was true. The Sun let the Sting hang around all night until finally doing what good teams do down the stretch of a 40-minute struggle – Connecticut once again found a way to win.

In a closing span that swayed between tie and plus-two for the Sun, Katie Douglas got a key steal off a bad pass from former Penn State star Helen Darling in a crowd under the Charlotte basket and held on to emerge with a 76-71 victory.

The contest, in which Connecticut never trailed, featured eight ties. The Sun lead was no more than six points most of the way, except for a 62-55 advantage on Nykesha Sales’ basket with 6 minutes, 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It could have been a tough night to lose for Connecticut, but it became a great night for a victory because elsewhere the Phoenix Mercury beat the Detroit Shock, 91-76, in Auburn Hills, Mich., as former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter poured a WNBA rookie record 35 points.

The differential gives Connecticut a 1 1/2-game lead over Detroit.

Pondexter, making her first return to the East Coast since being picked overall No. 2 in the WNBA draft in April, will be here Friday afternoon with teammate Diana Taurasi, the former UConn star, along with the rest of the Mercury to practice for Saturday’s sold-out extravaganza.

In Thursday’s game here, another former Rutgers star in center Tammy Sutton-Brown figured in Connecticut’s victory when the veteran Charlotte player fouled Margo Dydek with the outcome undetermined.

The 7-foot-2 native of Poland sank both shots to snap a 70-70 tie with 23.8 seconds to play.

Sheri Sam got fouled on the ensuing possession for the Sting but sank only one of two attempted free throws. Connecticut point guard Lindsay Whalen, a recently announced starter for the East in Wednesday’s All-Star game in New York along with Dydek and Sun teammate Nykesha Sales, then sank two more foul shots to make herself a perfect 12-for-12 on the night from the line.

“I tried to get myself off the pick and roll,” Whalen said. “It was almost like whatever happened I was either going to get fouled or something good was going to happen. I don’t think I made a shot during that time but I just kept getting to the line.”

Next came the Douglas steal, followed by a pair of free throws from former Kansas State star Megan Mahoney to lock the win for the Sun.

“It’s a win,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault, who will handle the East squad Wednesday night, shrugged. “I don’t think we played great in some stretches. You’ve got to give Charlotte credit. They played very well in some areas.”

Whalen had a season-high 20 points, and her 12-for-12 from the line tied her franchise record set against Phoenix on June 25 of last season.

Dydek had 13 points for Connecticut, Taj McWilliams-Franklin scored 12, and Douglas had 11.

Tangela Smith led Charlotte with 17 points, Sutton-Brown scored 13, Sam scored 12 points, and former Penn State star Kelly Mazzante scored 10 points and tied a career high with four steals.

Connecticut turnovers _ the Sun had 17 miscues _ helped keep Charlotte competitive, although the Sting, themselves, lost the handle 14 times.

“The turnovers we had were just awful,” Thibault said. “The turnovers and bad decisions. Our turnovers kept them (Charlotte) in the game, I thought. And they made some good shots.”

McWilliams-Franklin didn’t ascribe totally to the good teams find ways to win theory in terms of Thursday night’s triumph.

“They (Charlotte) played well,” she said. “Just a few more hard plays and they would have been ahead and we would have been behind. We had some things we had to take advantage of.”

As for Douglas’ play, the Sun forward said it was just typical of her teammates’ game.

“KT is always in there somewhere, so it’s the same.”

Now the Sun move on to a Saturday clash with Phoenix after losing to the Mercury in a high-scoring 91-86 battle in Phoenix on June 16.

“We’ve got to come with a better effort than we did, both offensively and defensively and try to make some adjustments from last time,” Douglas said.

“Diana had a career high, so that didn’t go very well for us defensively,” Douglas added. “They’re coming in, expecting to win. They should. They’re an up and coming team and we have to do a better job of not expecting to win at home and playing hard the entire 40 minutes.”

Of course the media has expectations about this game. Unlike Thursday night, the predictions might be more accurate on Saturday.

-- Mel

WNBA: Staley Earns An All-Star Double

By Mel Greenberg

Add another notable item next to Dawn Staley’s remarkable career achievements in her final season of active competition.

On Wednesday, the three-time Olympic gold medallist and women’s basketball coach of Temple was named one of five starters on the Western Conference squad that will meet the Eastern Conference next Wednesday in the All-Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York.

When the prolific point guard’s name is announced, she will become the only player to have started for both squads in the WNBA’s All-Star history.

Her previous four starts, including last summer, were as a member of the East’s Charlotte Sting before being traded late in the season to the Houston Comets.

Staley, who will also be honored as a member of the WNBA’s All-Decade squad, received 70,801 votes, which in the balloting for West point guards placed her right behind West overall vote-getter Sue Bird, the former Connecticut star with the Seattle Storm who collected 99,258 votes.

The native of North Philadelphia, who played at Dobbins Tech and then went on to lead the University of Virginia to three straight Women’s Final Fours in the early 1990s, was also an all-star in the former American Basketball League.

When Staley’s Charlotte team reached the 2001 WNBA finals, she became the only player to have competed in championship rounds of the Olympics, ABL, WNBA, and the NCAA

Other players who have been on both rosters in the past are Chamique Holdsclaw, who was on the West for the first time last season as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks after being with the Washington Mystics in the East; and Natalie Williams, who was on the West as a member of the former Utah Starzz and in 2003 was on the East as a member of the Indiana Fever.

Margo Dydek joins the “double club” this season as one of three Connecticut Sun starters on the East after being on the West with the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2003. If the Detroit Shock’s Katie Smith gets named with the other reserves Saturday, considered a strong possibility, she, too, will earn a “double club” membership after previously playing for the West as a member of the Minnesota Lynx.

The other West starters named Wednesday were Houston Comets’ 10-year veteran Sheryl Swoopes, Seattle forward Lauren Jackson, who may miss the game to rest nagging injuries, and defending WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith.

On the East, Dydek was joined by Sun teammates Nykesha Sales, another former UConn star; and point guard Lindsay Whalen. New York Liberty point guard Becky Hammon earned a starting nod, while the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings was the overall all-starter vote collector with 115,286 ballots.

Meanwhile, if each franchise must have at least one representative, it’s possible that Chicago Sky rookie Candice Dupree, who played for Staley at Temple, might be picked by the WNBA's coaches. She was the expansion team’s best vote getter with 30,688 ballots, ahead of former Rutgers star Chelsea Newton and Stacey Dales, who came out of retirement this season.

- Mel