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.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

WNBA: Mystics Tune Out Chicago Sky

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON
_ 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

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