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, August 29, 2006

WNBA Playoffs: The Sun Sets Early Again

Guru's Note: Erin Semagin Damio, the Northeastern student-athlete who made her blog debut for us, Saturday night, offers a portrait of team self-reflection and overall disappointment after the Detroit Shock ruined the Connecticut Sun's effort to reach the WNBA Finals a third straight season.

By Erin Semagin Damio

. -- Katie Douglas stayed in the locker room longer than almost anyone else.

After a brutal 24-point loss to the Detroit Shock in the conference finals, the Connecticut Sun players were somber and disappointed at another abridged end to their season.

Douglas, coping on the court for the second straight day with a hairline fracture in her right heel, had played 28 minutes in Sunday’s loss.

Probably, more than anyone, the former Purdue star wanted to leave and go home, ice her foot, and try her best to forget about another disappointing end to what had otherwise been a magnificent summer, especially for her.

But Douglas, whose play was accentuated by becoming the MVP of the All-Star game, stayed and talked patiently with reporters until Sun management closed the locker room.

“It’s numb,” Douglas said when asked about how her foot felt. “But my whole body’s numb right now.”

Most of the Connecticut team was feeling pretty numb after missing out on the chance to compete for a WNBA championship in the title round for a third straight season.

The team went 1-5 against Detroit this year, but none of the losses seemed quite so tough as Sunday’s. The 24-point loss was the worst loss the Sun has suffered on its home court.

Connecticut’s coach, Mike Thibault, said on Saturday night after the Sun tied the series, “It’s do or die time.”

He was right, but somehow the Sun weren’t able to translate that message into the handling the Shock. They had trouble breaking the Detroit defense and getting the ball inside. At times, they also seemed to lack the confidence that produced the best overall record over two regular seasons.

“We were definitely out of sync, and you could see it,” Douglas said. “We’re usually a team that can keep our composure and fight through adversity, but tonight Detroit made all the big plays.”

“I think flustered is the best way to describe how we were playing,” Lindsay Whalen said. “I don’t know what it was.”

That feeling was equal in the stands among the Sun faithful who were focused all season on another shot in the championship series at that elusive WNBA title.

Connecticut’s fans, who were exuberant at the beginning of the game, had that energy slowly drained as the Shock overpowered the Sun.

For most of the first half, they offered their vocal support as loud as they had the past several months. But as the Sun began to slip from contention, the fans gradually switched over to reacting loudly to referee calls, until finally, facing a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter, they began to trickle out of the arena.

It was a late game on a Sunday night, and those Sun fans who stayed until the clock expired were stung further by having to watch the celebratory moment when Detroit donned Eastern Conference champion t-shirts and hats and shouted with joy.

All-Star Nykesha Sales, who has led the Sun in scoring for every season except 2006, reverted to her recent shooting slump. She was 0-for-5 from the field and finished the game with four rebounds, three assists, and no points.

“This year not being able to get to the finals is going to sting a lot more, because we felt that we had the right pieces to the puzzle this year,” Sales said. “It is going to be a little more difficult to get over.”

Sales said that she does not have plans to play internationally during the off-season.

The former University of Connecticut star will have a lot of time this winter to dwell on the loss and get hungry for 2007.

“It’s been kind of a tough year for me personally,” Sales said. “I guess things like that happen. It’s just never happened to me before.”

Taj McWilliams-Franklin has been considering retiring for the past few years and described her plans for next year as being “up in the air.” She plans on playing internationally during the winter in Russia and Korea, and she is also building a house in Texas with her husband, Reggie, whose term in the U.S. Army will be up in January.

When McWilliams-Franklin left the game, she saluted towards the fans, who she said were "amazing."

Douglas plans to try to rest and get healthy, now that she has the time. She’s hoping to avoid surgery, but says she’ll go through with it if that’s what she needs.

“If we had beaten Detroit, it would have been a better ending to the season, but I’m going to get a lot of rest now, so I’m not worried physically about how I feel,” Douglas said.

“I’m just frustrated and disappointed that no matter if I played or not, this team wouldn’t be able to achieve what we worked so hard for. I can’t tell you honestly if it would hurt more if I had to sit there the entire time and watch. I’m not second-guessing what I did to be able to get out there and enjoy my team,” she continued.

Douglas' injury occurred the week before in the last minute of Connecticut's win over the Washington Mystics here that captured the conference seminfinals.

After her situation was made known the following morning, she had been declared doubtful for the rest of the playoffs and her absence certainly was a factor in the Sun's opening loss to the Shock in Detroit.

But she returned to action, Saturday, giving the Sun an emotional lift to tie the best-of-three series.

“I thought that I made the right decision and obviously I’m extremely disappointed to have this kind of end to our season,” Douglas said.

For now, the Sun’s players will go home to their regular off-season lives, but this loss will stay with all of them through the winter. As Douglas put it, “we need to start figuring out what it is we need to do.”


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