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 14, 2007

WNBA: Beard Carries Mystics to Playoffs Doorstep

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ Former Duke star Alana Beard became a human scoreboard Tuesday night in the fourth quarter to carry the Washington Mystics to a comeback 65-64 victory over the Connecticut Sun to strengthen Washington’s quest for the WNBA playoffs.

In the fourth quarter, Beard was the only name that mattered for the crowd in the Verizon Center as the All-Star guard scored all 18 of Washington’s points and finished with a game-high 28 points.

“I just took what they gave me because (Connecticut center Margo) Dydek was guarding inside and she can’t come out and defend, so she started way back at times, when she came up, I just went right by her,” Beard said of her performance.

“The only thing we can control is our destiny,” Beard said. “We don’t talk about what other teams are doing. Or coaches are doing a tremendous job in getting us prepared.

“I would compare this series (with Washington) to our (college) rivalry with Duke and North Carolina. For a long time, Connecticut had our number. And now we’re coming out and we’re matchup well with them.”

The game, in which Washington rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half, was akin to the Mystics season in which Washington has rallied from an early woeful 1-9 record.

Although a rare halftime speech by Washington’s Nikki Teasley to her teammates focused on not worrying about the out of town scores, the Mystics got some extra help elsewhere from a team they eliminated with the win over Connecticut.

The Chicago Sky beat the New York Liberty, 77-65, in the Windy City, a result that opened up a 1 ½ game lead in fourth place for Washington with the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference still up for grabs.

Teasley, a former North Carolina star and a former member of the Los Angeles Sparks WNBA champions in 2002, did not play in Sunday’s loss at Sacramento because of a strained left knee. She was questionable at game time but played all but five minutes.

“I don’t feel, I’m really numb right now,” Teasley said of her physical condition. “I’m really focused on the task ahead and not waiting for someone else to lose and take care of business.

“I normally don’t say much but I feel like having been there to the championship and in the playoffs so many previous times, I have to step up say something because I have experience and I’m also one of the leaders on this team,” Teasley said of her halftime comments.

“I told everybody, we can’t wait for New York to lose, we can’t wait for Chicago to beat somebody, we have to go out and get it done,” Teasley said.

The Mystics don’t have to worry about scoreboard watching at all on Thursday. New York visits here and a win will give Washington the fourth slot. Don’t ask unless that bridge needs to be crossed what happens if the Mystics lose. We’ll deal with it after Thursday’s game.

“You have to forget (the loss),” New York head coach Pat Coyle said in Chicago after falling to the Sky. “We have to win out right now. That’s what it comes down to.”

Precisely.

Back here in the nation's capital, former Georgia star Coco Miller added 15 points for Washington. Dydek led Connecticut with 17 points and 11 turnovers, Lindsay Whalen scored 13 points, Asjha Jones,a former Mystics star, scored 11 points, and Katie Douglas scored 10 points.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s home-court fortunes in the playoffs suffered with Tuesday night’s loss, which enabled the idle Indiana Fever to increase its second-place hold to two games over the Sun.

Indiana can clinch the runnerup slot in the East and first-round home-court advantage on Wednesday night when the Fever hosts Connecticut.

If Connecticut wins, the Sun will still have a shot at second either outright or through a tie-breaker by winning at New York, Friday.

The Sun would also need Indiana to lose at the San Antonio Silver Stars on Friday night. If both win or lose, Connecticut would then need to beat Washington at home Sunday while Indiana would have to lose at home to Detroit.

In another key game Tuesday night, San Antonio enhanced its situation with a gritty 84-77 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Staples Center in California to move within a half-game of the Phoenix Mercury, which will be idle until Friday and Sunday in a pair of home-and-home games against t6he Sacramento Monarchs.

San Antonio, however, gets first crack against the Monarchs in Sacramento, Wednesday night, to complete a road back-to-back.

If San Antonio wins, the Silver Stars will move into a tie for first with Phoenix, but also will clinch second place and, at worst, hold homecourt-advantage in an opening best-of-three series in the West against Sacramento, which would be relegated to third place.

If the Monarchs win, that's another bridge to be crossed and discussed after Wednesday's result, suffice to say Sacramento could slip past San Antonio into second place and also set up a potential first-place showdown in the weekend series.

And for you draft lotto fans, the other game on Tuesday's card did have an implication when the Seattle Storm, which will be the fourth seed in the West, beat the Minnesota Lynx, 81-67, in Seattle.

No, the Storm did get any residuals, but Minnesota maintained its two-game lead over Los Angeles for the worst record in the league, thus clinching at least a tie with the Sparks for the worst record and best opportunity for the No. 1 pick.

Minnesota will finish its two games hosting Detroit, Thursday, and San Antonio, Sunday. The Silver Stars might still have something to play for in Sunday's game.

Los Angeles goes to Seattle Friday and hosts Houston on Sunday.

As for the action here, Connecticut led all the way in the first quarter, finishing with a 17-9 advantage at the end of the period.

That differential went on to widen to 13 points several times before the half, the last being at 34-21 with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in the second quarter.

Washington began to rally and when Beard scored with 19.3 seconds left on a fast-break driving layup, the Mystics went to the break trailing only 36-30.

The Mystics kept Connecticut under control in the third quarter and were down by a mere point at 48-47 when the period ended.

Then it was Beard outscoring the entire Sun team, 18-16, the rest of the way. Her driving layup and ensuing foul shot with 8:07 left in the game gave Washington it’s first lead at 52-49.

Sun point guard Whalen and Beard exchanged a pair of foul shots before Whalen’s three-pointer knotted the score at 54-54. She then gave Connecticut a 56-54 lead on a dirving layup, but Beard countered with a trey and Washington was ahead, 57-56. It got to a three-point advantage again at 59-56 on Beard’s layup with 5:53 left in the game.

Kristen Rasmussen got Connecticut back within a point and then Jones with a pair of foul shots, put the Sun ahead, 60-59, with 2:35 left.

Beard got the lead back with a pair of foul shots, but Douglas’ layup gave Connecticut the advantage at 62-61 with 1:57 left.

Beard then hit two foul shots at 63-62, but when Whalen was called for a questionable disc-dribble turnover, Washington, AKA Beard at that moment, scored on a running jump shot to make it 65-62 with 1:09 left.

Dydek’s shot gave Connecticut the game’s final points with 55:2 seconds left.

The Sun still had some life, however, but Washington got a key offensive rebound in the closing seconds. Connecticut had a chance at the buzzer but the Sun failed to connect and Washington was ready to take it’s next step to lock up a postseason berth.

-- Mel

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