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.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

WNBA Playoffs: Sun Extend Shock As Douglas Returns to Action

Guru’s Note: Due to a staffing situation in the home office of the Guru’s biggest revenue-producer, the Guru had to bypass the near-the-casino action this weekend when the WNBA’s Eastern Conference championship series moved from Detroit to Connecticut.

Fortunately, we are able to introduce the newest member of our team of younger associates, Erin Semagin Damio, who has written for several publications, including the Boston Globe, and who has filed a game report for us from the Sun’s win over the Shock to even the Eastern finals at 1-1.

We’ve asked her to make contributions to our site this winter from New England and this is her first effort for the blog.

Erin is going to make a quick introduction, but what she forgot to mention is that she also is on the rowing team at Northeastern. That makes two athletes in the house with Ms. Burkholder being a former basketball player at Cherokee High near here. We never saw her play, but she demonstrated great driving ability off the court last Sunday in steering through heavy I-95 traffic from Connecticut to help get us back here at a reasonable hour.

Meanwhile, for the geographically challenged, Erin’s hometown of Storrs is also the location of a certain university, whose women’s basketball coach will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in nearby Springfield, Mass., early next month.

Here’s Erin to say a few words, followed by her byline.

-- Mel

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Hello – this is Erin Semagin Damio writing from Connecticut.

I’m a student at Northeastern University, who grew up in Storrs, thus having no choice really but to become addicted to women’s basketball.

By Erin Semagin Damio

UNCASVILLE, Conn.
– After suffering two narrow defeats here to the Detroit Shock during the regular season, the Connecticut Sun came up on the winning side, 77-68, in a similar game, Saturday, but with a result that had much more at stake.

The triumph enabled Connecticut to knot the best-of-three Eastern Conference series at 1-1 and keep the Sun’s hopes alive for a third straight trip to the WNBA best-of-five championship series.

The conference championship will tip off on Sunday night at 8 o’clock and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

The Sacramento Monarchs, which beat Connecticut for the WNBA title last season, earned their second straight trip Saturday night by dominating the Los Angeles Sparks, 72-58, in Anaheim, Calif., to win the Western Conference championship in a 2-0 sweep.

Connecticut’s survival on Saturday was helped by the surprise return of leading scorer Katie Douglas, who suffered a hairline fracture in her right foot a week ago Sunday in the final minute of Connecticut’s semifinal series triumph over the Washington Mystics.

“We decided [she would play] about 45 minutes before game time,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “She came in and worked out this morning for a while, went to the doctor, received treatment and went back into her normal shooting routine.

“ She told me at the end she felt good enough to try it. I was more worried about her speed than anything, and I thought it was pretty good,” Thibault said.

Also effective was Nykesha Sales’ ability to finally snap out of a woeful 2-for-23 shooting slump that began when she returned to the lineup for the Washington series after being sidelined for 12 games, dating to the All-Star break, with a sore Achilles tendon.

“She hit a couple of tough shots, a couple of fadeaways,” Connecticut point guard Lindsay Whalen said of Sales’ performance. “We have a lot of confidence in her and obviously when someone is really hot, you’re going to try and put the ball in their hands.”

Meanwhile, Deanna Nolan once again was an offensive machine for the Shock, scoring 27 points, but unfortunately for Detroit, nobody else on her team was able to be nearly as productive.

Katie Smith, the all-time leading scorer in the WNBA, had been unstoppable against Connecticut this season, averaging over 20 points per game when playing the Sun.

However, on Saturday, Smith was held to two points on 1-for-9 nine shooting from the field, although the former Ohio State star did dish seven assists in her new role this season as a point guard.

Shock center Cheryl Ford joined Nolan in double figures with 15 points, though her eight rebounds were 15 less then she had on Thursday when she set a WNBA playoff record.

To be fair to the former Louisiana Tech star, both teams made a lot more shots on Saturday, especially the Sun, so there were less rebounds available.

The Sun’s offensive thrust was built on several factors along with Sales’ renewed effectiveness.

Margo Dydek, the 7-foot-2 center who seems to be gathering new fans every day as she grows comfortable playing her style within the Sun system, had one of her most aggressive games in the WNBA.

The native of Poland scored 17 points and had five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in just 23 minutes.

Sales said of her return to scoring productivity, “I’m just glad it (her shot) came back at such a crucial time.”

The former University of Connecticut star finished with 15 points, her first game in double-figures in the playoffs.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin was able to maneuver better against Detroit’s strong post players, leading the Sun with 18 points.

Despite all that, the biggest story of the Sun was the emotional and scoring lift provided by the return of Douglas, who was originally declared doubtful for the rest of the playoffs after she had suffered the injury.

Without their captain and All-Star MVP in the lineup on Thursday in Detroit, the Sun played somewhat tentatively.

With her team facing possible elimination on Saturday, Douglas returned to action and helped fuel a 17-5 run in the third quarter with a three-pointer as the Sun gained a 56-43 lead and later withstood an attempted Shock comeback.

“She hit that big three and had a couple of rebounds, where her length allowed her to get them,” Whalen said of Douglas’ spark “It was great to see her out there.”

Douglas minimized the risk of returning to action, although she also noted she didn’t want to be disruptive to her teammates’ effort to even the series against the Shock.

“It’s nothing that I can do any more damage to, from what I’ve been told,” she said.

“First and foremost, I didn’t want to be a distraction to them (the Sun),” Douglas said. “You know, my teammates are unbelievably caring and helpful and everything else that you can expect from teammates. Each and every one of them has supported me and I just didn’t want to distract them, but I wanted to give them something if I could.”

Douglas said she was working with a team of doctors and trainers who helped her find painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication that would allow her to ignore the injury.

She scored just six points in 28 minutes, but, as mentioned, her presence on the court impacted the game a lot more than those six points.

“I would say, yes,” McWilliams-Franklin said of the lift provided by Douglas. “I think it helped Katie a lot more to be part of it. I know she really wanted to be out there. It was quite a blow when she went down. Both sides – it helps us and it helps her.”

Douglas hopes to be able to play in the final game of the series Sunday, and said that the trainers might spend all of Saturday night helping her.

She has said several times throughout the season, most notably when she got MVP honors at the WNBA All-Star game in New York, that all she cares about is getting a WNBA title.

The MVP trophy’s nice, Douglas said, however it really doesn’t mean anything.

Although facing some bad luck now, Douglas is determined not to let anything slip from her fingers, and she will participate in these playoffs as long as she’s benefiting her team.

On the other side, Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer was a bit more subdued than he had been after the Shock’s previous victories over the Sun this season.

“No doubt it’s disappointing that we didn’t close the series out,” the former post presence of the NBA’s Detroit Piston’s “Bad Boy” bunch said afterwards. “ It’s something we wanted to do and talked about.

“We talked about it’s the hardest game we’re going to play, and we didn’t get the job done,” Laimbeer continued. “So we have to ask ourselves why? I don’t think we played nearly as hard as we had to. Our focus wasn’t there. We made some mistakes. We made some coaching blunders over the course of the game.

“The bottom line was our team as a whole did not play hard enough and as well as we have to win a close out game on the road.”

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