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 08, 2006

WNBA: Scoreboard Thrills / Mystics Drill

Guru's Note: (Updating -- yes made it back from DC despite national highway construction night between Washington and here -- to reflect Phoenix win and enhance story and also to provide a link to our Washington correspondent Jonathan Tannenwald's debut on the photo side of the game.)

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ The Washington Mystics shot to thrill Tuesday night in the Verizon Center, nailing 10 of 17 three pointers on the way to a 91-79 victory over the injured San Antonio Silver Stars.

The real excitment was on the scoreboard, however, as positioning for the playoffs continued during the final week of the WNBA's regular season.

Surprise after surprise continued to flash in the early evening. Perhaps the contingent whose heart beat the most among the playoff and seed hunters were the Phoenix Mercury who were at the mercy of some of action elsewhere before taking the floor in a later game against the Minnesota Lynx in Phoenix.

The Phoenix needed to win Tuesday night and also needed the Houston Comets and/or Seattle Storm to lose to stay alive for a shot at postseason action.

Meanwhile, Connecticut was looking to wrap up the Eastern Conference top seed for the third straight season as the Sun faced the expansion Chicago Sky in the Windy City.

The other part of that equation to clinch the East Tuesday night was for the Detroit Shock to lose to Seattle at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Storm, of course, came into that contest knowning a win would get themselves into the playoffs in the Western Conference.

And so the fun began.

Connecticut extended its franchise-record win streak to 11 straight, all without All-Star Nykesha Sales, by beating Chicago, 85-59.

Meanwhile, Seattle was rolling over Detroit by as many as 25 points until the Shock came back and took a lead in the closing minutes to stay alive for the moment in preventing Connecticut from taking the East.

However, a few minutes later, Swin Cash missed foul shot with 31 seconds left to keep the game deadlock, 79-79. The Storm got possession and Lauren Jackson's driving layup with 10 seconds remaining put Seattle into the playoffs with an 81-79 victory.

Thus, the Storm triumph provided the Eastern Conference season clincher for Connecticut, which now holds a four-game lead over Detroit and three left to play.

One of the trio completes a back-to-back road trip with a stop Wednesday night at Indiana before the Fever return the visit Friday night in Uncasville.

Connecticut and Indiana still have things to play of value to achieve. The Sun, who will finish Sunday in Detroit, need one more win to claim the best overall WNBA record in the regular season for the second straight year. That prize offers home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs, although the Sacramento Monarchs overcame the Sun's perk a year ago with a 3-1 triumph in the best-of-five series.

Indiana pulled to within a game of second place in the East with an easy 77-44 victory over the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden. If the Fever pull ahead of Detroit, they would get the home court advantage in the Eastern Conference first-round best-of-three with the Shock.

Detroit hosts Chicago Thursday, travels to Washington, Friday, and then hosts Connecticut Sunday. Indiana has the home-and-home with the Sun and then finishes Sunday hosting Chicago. As for tie-breakers if they both are second, toss the first one out the window because the two split their season series at 2-2. Next comes conference record. Detroit is 12-5 with three East games left as mentioned. Indiana is 11-6, needing to make up one in its last three to match the Shock. If things still aren't settled, the third tie-breaker is games against team with .500 or better records. Detroit is 10-5. Indy is 9-8 and cannont catch the Shock in this category.

Now we move to the Wild West and it is that, simply wild.

Despite Seattle's win Tuesday night, Phoenix still had a life because of the Charlotte Sting's 68-57 stunning upset of Houston in North Carolina. The loss put a damper, for the moment, on the close of Comets All-Star Dawn Staley's career.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist would like to at least have a chance in the postseason for that elusive WNBA title. Houston and the WNBA will honor Staley Saturday in Houston's final regular season game, which will be at home against Seattle.

That game now looms with some playoff implication. Seattle, which visits San Antonio, Thursday, needs to stay a game ahead of Houston to take the third seed and open against Western runnerup Sacramento in the playoffs. The fourth seed will open against the Western winning Los Angeles Sparks.

Charlotte, which was Staley's former team until a trade late last season, did her no favors Tuesday night (she was 0-for-7) other than cheers from appreciative fans on her first return to the Sting's home since the swap.

"It was pretty cool," Staley said of the ovation. "I emjoy seeing the fans one more time. I was touched by the reception that I received from everybody. I spent the majority of my career here, and certainly we've had some pretty good times. I knew they would embrace me coming back."

Staley said the Sting knowledge of her play had no effect on her performance. "I just missed open shots that I usually hit. Overall, they played harder than us for longer sections of the basketball game. When you do that in this league, more times than not you're going to come up with a win."

Houston is wracked with injuries _ Tina Thomspon, Tari Phillips, Tamecka Dixon, and Dominque Canty remain sidelined.

Phoenix handled its deal to stay alive for a playoff berth with a 99-68 win over Minnesota as Diana Taurasi broke Katie Smith's single-season scoring record of 739 points set in 2001 when the Detroit Shock All-Star was with the Lynx.

Houston hosts Phoenix Thursday night in what is now a battle of survival for both teams.

Meanwhile, with some of the results in early, Washington quickly learned for sure the Mystics will meet Connecticut here a week from Friday in the first of a best-of-three opening series in the East.

The Mystics had plenty of time to watch the scoreboard because Washington gained control of the Silver Stars early, especially with a red hot 7-of-10 three-point shooting effort in the first half.

"We played a good game," Mystics coach Richie Adubato said afterwards. "We shot the ball well. We'll get a test on Friday -- that'll be our test."

The Mystics host Detroit, which could need the game to stay ahead of Indiana.

"They're a hard team to figure out because they play great, you know, and then they get beaten," Adubato said of the Shock. "They go up and down. You don't know what night you're catching them, what night they're coming."

Alana Beard scored 22 points for the Mystics, who looked close to their early season strength before DeLisha Milton-Jones and Beard were hit by injuries.

Milton-Jones, who has since returned, had 12 points against San Antonio. Coco Miller had 10 points, Chasity Melvin had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Nikki Teasley scored 14 points.

Rookie Sophie Young led four Silver Stars players in double figures with 20 points, including 10 for 10 from the foul line.

Meawhile, as mentioned in my note at the top, Jonathan Tannenwald, our local correspondent here, diversified his game by switching from scribe to photogapher for the night. If you like the photos, encourage him and he'll shoot more.

And having just seen them for the first time in testing the link, we'll say not bad for an initial effort, although Kate, off her shooting at the Final Four parties in Boston, still leads the contest for being the Guru's portrait photographer. :)

-- Mel


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