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 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


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