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, July 17, 2007

The House Wins for a Change

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Unlike the casino operation next door to where the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun does its local business, the house team has not been a big winner this season against visitors from elsewhere in the league.

The three-time regular-season Eastern Conference champs had been a paltry 2-6 in the Mohegan Sun Arena prior to last weekend’s All-Star break.

That mark was not one to inspire confidence in a schedule offering an 8-of-9 home court advantage at the start of the WNBA’s second half featuring the stretch run to four playoff berths in both conferences.

The fans base continues to invest, however, and Tuesday night the Sun rewarded the crowd of 8,253 with a gritty 84-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx.

The victory brought Connecticut back to just below .500 at 10-11 and improved its prospects of perhaps landing a spot in the playoffs, especially if the Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky cannot keep pace.

If the star of Tuesday’s triumph continues as she did Tuesday night, jot down veteran Katie Douglas as a bonafide candidate in what is developing to an open race for league MVP honors.

The former Purdue sensation had 22 points, but it was her performance in the fourth quarter with the outcome in the balance that was particularly impressive.

Douglas had nine points in the period off a 4-of-6 effort from the field, and had a key steal leading to a basket from teammate Lindsay Whalen that helped the Sun finish successfully.

``At the end we started to be more active, got a lot of deflections, I think that was really crucial for us to get that win,’’ Douglas said. ``And Lindsay, you know, we have a pretty good (court) relationship where we don’t have to look (to each other) too much. We’ve been playing together pretty much for a few years.

``It’s nice to play with someone where you don’t have to make too much eye contact.’’

As for the steal of second-year pro Seimone Augustus that helped keep Connecticut ahead, Douglas observed, ``I was just trying to do what the coaches tell me to do, play long defense, and trying to deny her the ball and … fortunate to snag it and get an easy layup to get things going.’’

Whalen fnished with 20 points.

Asjha Jones struggled offensively with 4-of-18 attempts from the field, but, defensively, the former University of Connecticut star had a pair of steals and a pair of blocked shots. Nykesha Sales, another former UConn stalwart, was 2-for-8 from the field, but, like Jones, did make some key plays down the stretch.

``Everybody stepped up near the end, whether it was a deflection, a rebound, or a shot,’’ Douglas said.

Augustus, last season’s rookie of the year, had a game-high 24 points for a young Minnesota squad whose performance belied its WNBA-worst 5-17 record.

The Lynx were also playing their second game without Lindsey Harding, the former Duke star who had a season-ending knee injury a week ago in Washington. The number one overall choice in April’s draft by the Phoenix Mercury, she was traded to Minnesota at the conclusion of the day’s selections.

Svetlana Abrosimova, yet another former Connecticut standout collegian, had 17 points, and Tiffany Stansbury, a rookie out of North Carolina State, had 10 points. Her father Terrence played for John Chaney at Temple.

Connecticut’s win was its fourth straight, a season-high coming off a successful road trip out West. In fact, the Sun’s 7-5 record elsewhere is a reason that coach Mike Thibault’s group is able to keep the local discussion more about the playoffs than speculation over lottery prospects in what will be a lucractive draft next April.

Nevertheless, Thibault’s post-game assessment was not loaded with positives, although gratification with the triumph was definitely prevalent.

``I’m sure it was an entertaining game for most people but me,’’ Thibault said. ``The best thing was we got stops when we needed to late in the game, but we didn’t shoot the ball real well as a group … the bench gave us a great lift in the first half, they gave us energy in the second half, even though they didn’t make shots to at least maintain the lead we had.

``It was an ugly win. We’ve had some ugly losses so I’ll take an ugly win.’’
Connecticut drove from a 45-39 halftime lead to an 80-70 advantage with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the game.

Douglas scored nine straight points to helped build the double-digit lead from a 66-66 tie that had existed with with 5:48 left to play.

But Minnesota was not done, and Connecticut became a little helpful in the other direction when Whalen’s turnover helped reduce the differential to 80-75.

It got to 80-76 when Jones committed a technical foul and Augustus converted the shot.

A Sales jumper pushed it to 82-76 with 20.3 seconds left, but Abrosimova kept the crowd anxious with a trey that cut the margin to 82-79 with 5.4 seconds.

Whalen, however, wrapped it up on the next possession with a pair of foul shots for the final score.

-- Mel

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