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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.

Monday, August 21, 2006

WNBA Playoffs: Sun Advance Over Mystics Despite Horror Show on Offense

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn.
_ Lindsay Whalen shrugged off her foul shooting struggles in the fourth quarter with two key free throws with 7.6 seconds left in the game for the Connecticut Sun. Then Asjha Jones stopped the Washington Mystics’ last gasp by rebounding Alana Beard’s errant three-point attempt to tie the score.

The result was a 68-65 victory by Connecticut to move to the Eastern Conference finals for the third straight year after sweeping Washington, 2-0, in the best-of-three semifinals series.

The Sun , which has been to the WNBA finals two straight times, will meet the Detroit Shock, which swept Indiana, 2-0, and also grabbed a 3-0 sweep of Connecticut during the regular season. The series begins Thursday at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“Before that last time I was yelling at myself to make free throws,” Whalen said of what had been a 2-for-8 effort from the line in the final period when the Sun’s tight grip on the outcome was loosened down the stretch. “It’s fun to make those kind of free throws.”

What wasn’t fun, however, was a non-specific injury on the right foot of Sun All-Star guard Katie Douglas in the final minute.

Douglas had stolen the ball from Beard with 57.9 seconds left in the game and Connecticut was holding a 64-58 lead.

But the former Purdue star who averaged a Sun franchise-best 16.4 scoring average during the season missed an attempted layup as Beard knocked the ball away.

Douglas “stepped awkwardly on the play,” according to a statement afterwards by the Sun. She was soon seen struggling to stay on her feet and went to the sidelines.

“Obviously, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions right now,” Douglas said. “I just want to celebrate as much as we can tonight, and say a lot of prayers and see what happens tomorrow.”

Douglas, the MVP of this season’s All-Star game, had a team-high 16 points in what became a rare offensive meltdown by Connecticut on shots from the field. The Sun launched a paltry 20 for 72 for 27.8 percent, not that Washington was able to take advantage off an equally poor 32.4 percent field-goal shooting effort.

“There were a lot of free throws tonight, and obviously a lot of stoppages, and we were never able to get in a rhythm,” Whalen said of 32 assessed fouls to the Mystics and 17 to the Sun. Connecticut was 25 for 38 from the line and Washington shot 15 for 22.

“You might have nights like this on offense, but defensively as long as you have that effort and that intensity and you’re boxing out, you can always count on being close.

“Now, two years ago when we didn’t have the defensive presence we have, we might have gotten beat by 15 points.”

Whalen finished with 15 points, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin scored 12 points for the Sun.

Beard had a game-high 21 points, but shot 7-for-21 from the field after struggling with her shot in Washington during Friday night’s loss. Nikki Teasley added 16 points, and DeLisha Milton-Jones had 13 points.

Douglas’ injury is the second major one to hit the Sun in playoff action in successive seasons after Whalen suffered a fracture in tibial plateau of her left leg in the second game of the Eastern finals last year against Indiana. She then suffered a sprained ankle in the first game of the WNBA finals against the eventual champion Sacramento Monarchs.

“Like a Phoenix, we will rise from the ashes,” McWilliams-Franklin said Connecticut potentially facing Detroit without Douglas. “We’ll be ok. We don’t worry too much until game time.

“That’s a good thing about having a lot of young players,” the veteran post player added. “They’ll worry about two years and then it will slip their mind until they come in and practice again.”

“We’re resilient. We’ll find a way, find a way to put five people on the floor and squeak out some wins. You can’t dwell on it whether it’s major or minor. We will find a way to matchup with Detroit.”

McWilliams-Franklin led a strong post defensive stance that saw her collect 14 rebounds, Margo Dydek 12, and Nykesha Sales, 10. Dydek also blocked three shots.

“I’m glad we won,” the Sun’s Mike Thibault said after being announced as the WNBA coach of the year before Sunday’s opening tip. “I’ve never seen us play that bad, offensively, and win.

“I guess that’s a great thing if you’re going to have some bad game along the way, I guess when you win, you get to win the series and get a couple of days to rest.

“Our defense was good, our offensive was terrible – terrible not only in execution, but we missed more shots than I ever saw us miss, ever.”

Washington coach Richie Adubato spoke of the Mystics’ strategy to disrupt Connecticut’s offensive flow.

“We played four different defenses,” he said. “We just tried to force them into making a lot of adjustments.”
Beard added, “I don’t think I could have asked for anything more from my teammates. We gave it all that we had. The only thing bad part is that we came up on the short end of the stick.

“We played with great intensity. Even when we had a few defensive breakdowns, we still managed to help each other and get back.”

Before the game, the Minnesota Lynx’s Seimone Augustus, the No. 1 overall pick out of LSU in last April’s draft, was named the WNBA rookie of the year. The All-rookie team included the Phoenix Mercury’s Cappie Pondexter, the No. 2 pick out of Rutgers; the expansion Chicago Sky’s Candice Dupree out of Temple; The Charlotte Sting’s Monique Currie out of Duke; and The San Antonio Silver Stars’ Sophia Young out of Baylor.

-- Mel
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