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

Thursday, July 20, 2006

WNBA: Sun All-Stars Light Up Chicago Sky

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn.
_ 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

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