Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

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


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