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.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

WNBA Finals: Smith's Sweet 16 Helps Shock Even Series

By Mel Greenberg

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. _
The Detroit Shock rallied with 10 minutes of fourth-quarter mayhem against the Sacramento Monarchs at the Palace Friday night to gain a 73-63 victory and tie the WNBA best-of-five championship series at 1-1.

It was an offensive and defensive show at both ends of the court for the home team in running up a 25-9 advantage down the stretch to avoid a 2-0 sweep by the defending champions heading into Sunday’s third game in Sacramento.

The fourth game, now necessary, will be Wednesday night and a fifth and deciding game, if necessary, would return to this area, but downtown in Detroit at the Joe Louis Arena because of a scheduling conflict involving the Palace.

Veteran Katie Smith lit the way for the Shock with all 16 of her points in the second half, but she was just one of a bunch of stories from coach Bill Laimbeer’s squad.

One of them was the return to form of former University of Connecticut star Swin Cash, who was scoreless in the series opener in limited action, but who produced 11 points – nine in the first half, eight rebounds, and five assists in 33 minutes, 35 seconds of action Friday night.

“A lot of contributions happened today,” Laimbeer said of his team’s recovery from a 42-31 deficit in the final minute of the second quarter. “I thought Swin Cash played the way that we want her to play. She came from the start and brought all the energy in the world to our ballclub.

“That’s the stat line I envisioned for her at the start of the season,” Laimbeer continued with praise substituted for the criticism he tossed Cash’s way Wednesday night. “I told her, we have additional scorers in Katie Smith, and every time she walks on the floor I want her to be capable of having a triple-double.

“Her stat line (Friday night) is phenomenal for how the makeup of our team is. That’s what we want from her every game.”

Laimbeer cited the play off the bench of Plenette Pierson, Kara Braxton, and Elaine Powell, even though the “scoresheet” might not reflect their effort.

“The bottom line, we figured it out. Our ballclub figured out how hard they have to play, what they have to do on the basketball court, defensively. And offensively, I think the light bulb came on.”

That was especially true right at the end of the third quarter when Smith nailed a long three-pointer to close the deficit to 54-48.

“When Katie Smith made the 3-ball, we just said, `You have 10 minutes, okay, to protect your home court and put yourself back in the series,’” Laimbeer related.

“And it was great to see the response of the players. They had a bounce in their step. They had a more physical presence.”

Deanna Nolan, who had a game-high 21 points, put the Shock ahead at 56-54 with 7 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game. The Monarchs quickly tied it, but Nolan hit another shot to put Detroit ahead again and the Shock began to roll the rest of the way.

Yolanda Griffith led the Monarchs by scoring 14 points, Kara Lawson and former Michigan State star Kristin Haynie each scored 11 points, and DeMya Walker had 10 points.

A year ago, the Connecticut Sun evened the series against Sacramento in the second game when Brooke Wyckoff’s three-pointer at the end of regulation forced overtime and Connecticut prevailed, 77-70.

That was it, however, as the Monarchs won the next two at home to earn their first WNBA crown.

Laimbeer Friday night spoke of needing to win one of two out West to extend the series.

Unlike a year ago, Monarchs coach John Whisenant did not have to wait until the final seconds here to know his team wasn’t going to head home with a 2-0 road sweep.

In the third quarter, although Sacramento was unable to score much of the way, Haynie got hot with seven straight points and the Monarchs were able to get the advantage to eight points in their favor in the period before Detroit began to rally.

“I thought we acted a little tired,” Whisenant said of his team’s play in the second half when the Monarchs missed 20 of its first 24 shots. “It could have been the coach’s substitution pattern. Maybe I left them, some players, in there too long and they became a little tired in the fourth quarter.

“But needless to say, they (Detroit) played well. They came back, they had to win this game. I think they knew that. They felt going back to our place down 0-2 would have been a very deep hole, but now they are right back where they want to be, right in the thick of things.”

As has been the situation since her late-season trade last summer from the Minnesota Lynx to Detroit, Smith is a primary reason.

“The first half was just weird for me because there wasn’t much of a flow for myself, personally,” Smith said of Friday night’s game. “I thought we had good looks. Tweety (Nolan) was getting bumped a little bit. I didn’t feel like we were in a flow, per se.

“I just have to find my niche and be out there and be aggressive,” the former Ohio State star said. “We have a lot of threats and if we use them all, we can cause some problems.”

Smith has always been a thorn to teams as Whisenant noted.

“Katie’s a handful. She’s always been,” he said. “I call her an Ohio State fullback. She’s strong and powerful -- heavy, powerful legs, can power through most guards.

“It’s very hard for guards to stay with her. And she’s a deadly shooter, always has been.”

Whisenant didn’t feel any imminent danger of defeat when Smith’s shot closed the gap to six points at the end of the third quarter.

“I would have much rather she didn’t make it. But I mean, I still thought we could win the game. I’ve got confidence in our defense, and I thought that we just hit a wall there, physically, that I started seeing my players, they didn’t have any zip,” Whisenant said.

“Detroit was beating us to all loose balls, all deflected rebounds they were getting to. They were just sharper and fresher and you can say, Bill will probably say, they just wanted it more. That’s one expression.”

The Shock outscored the Monarchs, 28-18, in the paint after Sacramento had a 38-28 advantage in the series opener.

Detroit also split Sacramento’s second-half scoring total in two after allowing 42 points Wednesday night and just 21 Friday night.

“We made some adjustments from the last game to this game that seemed to work,” Laimbeer spoke of his defensive strategy. “Today, we played a lot harder than we did in the first game.”

Detroit had allowed 25 points, each, in four of the first five quarters of this series, but reduced Sacramento’s total over the final three quarters Friday night to just 37 points.

Of her own improvement from the opener, Cash said, “I just came in and watched some film about what they took away from me in the first game. I don’t think I came out with a different mindset.

“It’s the Finals. I prepare the same way.”

Griffith described Detroit’s tenacity.

“They just came out (in the second half) and wanted it more,” Griffith said. “They got all the loose balls they didn’t get in the first half, they hit some shots, they attacked our defense and we weren’t able to recover quick enough.

“But we knew it was going to be a dog fight. We aren’t going to hold our heads down. We knew that getting the second game would be tough. It felt like we had it and it just slipped away from us,” Griffith continued.

We are not going to hold our heads down,” Griffith said. “We made a lot of mistakes, the shots didn’t fall like they did the first game. But, we are going home and the crowd is going to be behind us like Detroit was for them.”

-- Mel

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