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.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WNBA: Sun Rally Stamps Mystics

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn.
_ 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

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