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.

Friday, August 18, 2006

WNBA Playoffs: Sun Eclipse Mystics in Opener

Guru's Note: (Updating to Include More Quotes)

By Mel Greenberg

There’s a lot to be said for experience and togetherness. The Connecticut Sun have plenty of both, which went a long way in subduing the Washington Mystics, 76-61, Friday night in the Verizon Center in the opener of a WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals best-of-three playoff series.

“The team has obviously been to the finals two years in a row,” Connecticut All-Star guard Katie Douglas said after she had another outstanding offense and defensive effort. “We’ve been a core nucleus for a good three years and that kind of veteran experience is huge come playoff time.”

The Sun shook off a slew of assessed fouls in the early action and a Washington rally down the stretch.

“The thing that makes them great is how well they play together,” Washington veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones said of the Sun balance, which resulted in five players scoring in double figures. “The ball doesn’t have a face on that team over there. They move it effortlessly. And maybe that has something to say about our defense.

This is a tough loss for me personally, because in a situation like this, you have to get that first win," Milton-Jones added. "It's a must win. But it didn't happen tonight. We still have a chance. We have two more potential games to play, and I'll be doggoned if the Washington Mystics don't come to play in that next game."

Of equal concern along with defense to the Mystics might be its own offensive performance against the Sun which offered a paltry 35.7 percent shooting effort from the field. It was also a night in which Washington All-Star Alana Beard, the former Duke All-American, scored only nine points off a 3-for-15 effort from the field. She was 0-for-8 in the first half and missed her first nine shots overall.

"You can look back and say we should have done this, we could have done better," Beard said. "There's a lot of things we could have done better. The fact is, we just lost the game.

" We've got to continue to move on, we have another game coming up and hopefully we can push it into three games. Connecticut is a great team so we've just got to bring our "A" game, which we didn't bring tonight."

The defensive effort on Beard added yet another notch to the belt of Douglas, who has short-circuited her share of opposition scorers this season.

“Defense is huge and a definite key to this game,” the former Purdue star said. “I think once we picked it up, defensively, even though they got off to a couple of runs, we sustained them and got stops down the stretch. That’s what won the game for us.”

Beard shrugged off Douglas' effect on her own output even though to most observers the All-Star MVP played the Mystics' goto player so tight one thought she had become an addition to Beard's court wardrobe.

"Katie didn't guard me," Beard explained. "It wasn't a matter of Katie's defense. If anything, it was their team defense. So I wouldn't give all credit to Katie, I'm sorry, it just was me having an off might. I missed shots, rushed shots, and that's what happened."

Beard, who spent nearly 10 minutes on the bench in the second half before returning late in the fourth quarter, entered the game with a 19.2 scoring average.

"She [Alana] didn't have a good game tonight," Washington coach Richie Adubato explained of his decision to keep Beard on the bench. "Sometimes it happens to players, it happens that the best players go. They have bad nights. You can see it with some of the great players in both leagues [i.e. the NBA and WNBA].

"(Sheryl) Swoopes had a bad night last night for the Comets," Adubato continued. She (Beard) just didn't have a good night tonight, she couldn't make her shots. (Nikki) Teasley didn't have a good night. You can't go 1-for-9 and 3-for-15 and have Chas Melvin on the bench (with foul trouble) and think you're going to beat this team. You have to have good performances from everybody, especially your star players. It didn't work that way."

Point guard Lindsay Whalen led the Sun attack with 22 points, shooting 9 of 18 from the field, including 3 of 6 on three-point attempts. Douglas had 17 points, Margo Dydek scored 12 points, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 10 points and 14 rebounds, her eighth playoff double double. Asjha Jones had 11 points off the Connecticut bench.

Milton-Jones had 15 points for the Mystics, who dominated teams at home during much of the regular season and reached the 90s several times. Coco Miller scored 12 points off the bench.

Connecticut will now try to close out the Mystics, Sunday, in the relatively safe confines of the Mohegan Sun Arena. If the Sun get the job done, it’s on to the conference finals against either the Detroit Shock or Indiana Fever, who play Saturday with the Shock ahead, 1-0, in that series. If Washington prevails, the Sun will have another shot at home on Tuesday night.

“Obviously, with the format that we’re in, it’s a great win to win that first one on the road, and come home up 1-0,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. “So, mission accomplished.

“I was particularly proud of our half court defense, I thought we did a terrific job defending them, holding them under 36 percent on the floor, and I thought we did a great job rebounding. The Only disappointing part was our turnovers and I think we can do better than that, come Sunday,” Thibault said.

Connecticut had 17 miscuses, and the Mystics committed only 11.

With Milton-Jones recently returned to the Washington lineup from injuries and Crystal Robinson back in action, the Washington folks felt good about their chances in stealing the opener and forcing Connecticut to play back home wth elimination pressure the rest of the series.

But the Sun is an old hand at coping with playoff openings on the road, even though Friday night’s early action saw an assessed foul discrepancy of 6-0 in favor of the Mystics that disrupted Connecticut’s flow.

“I was getting a little nervous because Washington led the league in fouls for the season, and we have the fewest,” Thibault said. “For a minute I thought they (referees) had the jerseys mixed up. But we kept our poise and kept playing at the pace we wanted.”

Connecticut built a 40-32 lead at the half and then went on to increase the differential by as many as 14 points, including a 56-42 advantage just before the end of the third quarter.

But Whalen lost track of the clock in the closing seconds and Robinson followed Miller’s trey with one of her own to get Washington closer to the Sun at 56-48 as the quarter ended.

The margin was trimmed further to a mere three points at 58-55 with 7:49 left in the game before the Sun shut off the rally and eventually moved to a double-digit lead.

“You can’t shoot 35 percent from the field and 20 percent (on three point attempts) and expect to beat a very good basketball tam,” Washington's Adubato said. “Lindsay Whalen played the best game she has played all year.”

Thibault said the former Minnesota star usually raises her offensive output when the postseason arrives.

“In the playoffs the last two seasons, her scoring has gone up,” Thibault said. “She’s been aggressive about going to the basket, and that has helped her. We are seeing her probably the last three weeks, the healthiest she has been all year. I think that has made a big difference, too. She has that playoff look in her eye.”

“I try to play the same way all the time,” Whalen said, “with intensity and passion.”

Connecticut has added incentive to take the title after narrowly losing to the Seattle Storm in 2004 when the finals were a best-of-three series and a year ago when, despite the best overall record and home-court advantage, the Sun lost to the Sacramento Monarchs, 3-1, in the expanded best-of-five format.

(The Guru's Washington corrrespondent Jonathan Tannenwald contributed to this report and authored the sidebar post on Alana Beard that precedes this main story.)

-- Mel


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