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 04, 2006

WNBA: Sun Streaming Toward The Finish

By Mel Greenberg

The Connecticut Sun's 72-63 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday night put the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions in position to outrun opponents in two different races to the regular season finish line.

Thanks to the New York Liberty's 75-67 upset of the Detroit Shock at Madison Square Garden, the streaking Sun _ with a franchise record nine straight triumphs _ have a 3 1/2 game lead over their Motown rivals with five games left on their schedule.

It's not entirely over, however, in the East, although it's getting close. Connecticut will play four of its final five games on the road, and a stop at the expansion Chicago Sky is the only assumed victory in the group of remaining opponents.

There's a stop in Houston, Sunday night, where the Comets are trying to wrap up a playoff berth. There's a home-and-home against the Indiana Fever, and then a visit to Detroit on the final day of the season.

The Shock have won their two earlier confrontations with Connecticut, both on the road, although both were narrow wins. On one hand, Detroit's remaining menu includes an easier list of challengers then the Sun to build a streak and make the final day of the regular season worth something.

But after the loss to the Liberty, it's tough to assume how the Shock will do in that run. There's a home-and-home with Chicago and a visit this Sunday from New York. But there's also a visit from the Seattle Storm trying to land a playoff berth and a trip to the playoff bound Washington Mystics besides the closing visit from the Sun.

Connecticut's win Thursday night also put the Sun in position to gain the best overall record for the second straight season, which brings home court advantage for the entire playoffs.

But the Sun wasn't able cash in a title last season over Sacramento with that perk, although the leg injury to Lindsay Whalen was critical. This time, however, Connecticut is a lot deeper to deal with any potential health problems. In fact, the Sun has already dealt with one in making their record run while All-Star Nykesha Sales has been on the bench with nagging hip and Achilles problems. The former University of Connecticut star is expected to rejoin the lineup, soon, however.

Connecticut is two games ahead of Los Angeles in the loss column and the Sparks don't have much left -- only three games -- to make up the difference. One is a visit from Sacramento and one is a trip to Phoenix and although the Sparks have a perfect record against both those teams, nothing is assured.

Indiana does not seem to have a chance to catch Connecticut for the top spot, needing to win all five remaining games to make up a five-game difference. Although the Fever has a shot to catch Detroit to take home court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs _ the two Connecticut games, Chicago, San Antonio and New York remain _ it seems the Fever will fall just short.

Over in the West, Los Angeles is about to nail down the regular season conference title. Second place Sacramento trails by 3 1/2 games with four remaining _ L.A., Washington, Minnesota, and Phoenix.

A Houston win at Minnesota Friday night would virtually clinch a playoff spot because the third-place Comets hold a three-game lead over Phoenix with five remaining, including a visit next Thursday by the Mercury. They also have the tie-breaker against Phoenix. But there's also a threat to slip to the fourth seed, although Houston holds the tie-breaker over Seattle.

The Comets wil meet the Storm in the final regular season game for both on what will be an emotional game for Houston at home next Saturday when retiring All-Star Dawn Staley is honored.

Phoenix' explosive 112-84 win over the Charlotte Sting -- two short of the team scoring record set earlier this season by Minnesota -- gave the sense that the Mercury was very much still in the hunt for a playoff spot.

But then Seattle bypassed Washington in the closing minutes, Thursday night, to put the Mercury in a tough spot. If it's assumed that the Storm will beat Charlotte and San Antonio, then Phoenix would have to win all five remaining games to tie Seattle, which already owns the season series over the Mercury.

The Sunset Looms for Dawn

As mentioned, Houston and the WNBA will pay tribute to Dawn Staley, the three-time Olympic gold medalist who is retiring after a storied career. The Seattle game has a bit of irony in that Storm coach Anne Donovan and Staley, who also coaches Temple in Philadelphia, will be on the sidelines together for USA Basketball trying to win the FIBA World Championship next month in Brazil.

Donovan is the head coach and will remain as such through the Olympics. Besides Staley, the other assistants are Connecticut's Mike Thibault and Duke coach Gail Goestenkors.

The Saturday game will be nationally-televised by ABC and the network will pay tribute at halftime to Staley. The court ceremonies will be after the game and, according to a source involved in the planning, a teammate, to be announced, from each of Staley's different squads will participate _ Dobbins High in Philadelphia, the University of Virginia, USA Basketball, the Richmond Rage of the former American Basketball League, the Charlotte Sting, and the Comets.

Because Staley's actual last game will come somewhere in the playoffs, the Saturday tribute could be equated with "Senior Night" in the collegiate world when outgoing players are honored at their last regular season home game, even though for many, the NCAA tournament and a few more games -- some even at home -- will be still be ahead.

Double Duty

We've been meaning to provide this shoutout for a while, but kudos to John Dolan, also known as Big Red, with the Connecticut Sun, who at several games this season has done double duty as both the public address announcer and as the entertainment emcee during time-out fan-friendly events.

The Fast Lane

The Guru spent part of Thursday afternoon with the area collegiate sports information directors who held a bowling party. No, we did not participate. Someone else who has appeared in this space in recent months has better expertise, but was working elsewhere at the time, and thus we did not mention the event in advance.

Also, the Guru was asked who might play him in the forthcoming movie about Immaculata.

The answer is: No one. The reason is the focus involves the championship run just before his involvement covering the sport.

The guru, however, did not know of his indirect effect on the inspiration for making the move.

According to the report in the entertainment section of the Guru's newspaper, the inspiration came from the thematic coverage emphasis of the Women's Final Four when it was held in 2000 in Philadelphia.

For the record, the Guru offers this printed sound bite from a staff meeting in the highest offices of the newsroom the previous summer when the first planning session was held to set the table for the season ahead.

First Question: "Do we have a chance of teams with local ties?"
Guru: "Well, Connecticut will be very good and the coach -- Geno Auriemma -- is from Norristown. Tennessee, which should make it, has Ace Clement, who starred at Cardinal O'Hara. And this could be the year that Penn State and Rutgers finally figure it out."

Second Question: "So what's our theme?"
Guru: "Well, the whole modern push in the sport started here with West Chester and Immaculata and a ton of coaches out there have Philly ties. So a `Back to the Roots' will work well."

And now you know.

-- Mel


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