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 17, 2007

WNBA: Liberty Keeps Control of Playoff Destiny

(Guru’s Note: Updated to reflect Phoenix win and Western scenario.)

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK _ What seemed improbable earlier this month has become close to reality for the New York Liberty.

A 74-66 victory over the Connecticut Sun in Madison Square Garden Friday night put New York in control of its destiny for the fourth WNBA playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and last available berth overall for the postseason.

The Liberty can grab that spot over the Washington Mystics by beating the Chicago Sky here on Sunday, the final day of the regular season.

“We need to stay focus and not rely on anybody else for help,” said New York guard Erin Thorn. “Our approach all year has been one game at a time and we’re sticking to it. It’s been working with us these last couple of games and we are going to keep that mentality until our final game.”

The Mystics, who are now tied after a one-point loss to New York in Washington, Thursday, will need to win at Connecticut, Sunday and hope that the Sky can upset the Liberty. Chicago did just that on Tuesday night.

New York owns a 3-1 season series tiebreaker with the Mystics, who, with elimination, would be relegated to the luractive draft lotto, leading to the prized talent that will be coming out of the collegiate ranks.

If both lose, Sunday, New York backs into the postseason.

Chicago has some motivation for Sunday's game. A win over New York and a Washington loss would cause a three-way tie for fourth at 15-19, but the Liberty own the tie breaker in that scenario with the Sky and Mystics.

The three teams would all be 4-4 in total series among themselves. However, New York's conference record would be 9-11, whilethe Sky, in their second year in the WNBA, and Mystics would be 7-13.

“We’re not thinking about what happened (Thursday) night or what can happen Sunday,” New York coach Pat Coyle said of the tight race to the wire. “When you do stuff like that, you don’t take care of your business when you need to, and our focus has been solely what’s in front of us, and it’s that game, that night.”

A seven-game losing streak that began just before the All-Star break seemed to have a return to the playoffs as a quest for next year for New York.

“We just needed to regroup and our focus had to be tighter,” Coyle said of her team at that moment. “We didn’t talk about the winning and losing. We talked about getting better every single day.

“With such a young team, you’re going to have those peaks and valleys. Of course, everyone’s peeking at the standings, but with such a young team, you really have to narrow their focus as a coaching staff,” Coyle added.”

Friday night’s contest here also helped settle one of several remaining issues elsewhere because soon after the New York game ended, the Indiana Fever edged the San Antonio Silver Stars, 59-55, in a cross-conference game in Texas.

That means that Indiana gets the second seed in the East and home-court advantage over Connecticut in the best-of-three series that will open in Uncasville, Sunday, before moving to the Midwest.

Connecticut swept Indiana, which has been missing all-star Tamika Catchings, during the regular season.

The San Antonio loss also helped settle everything in the West, by our calculations. The Silver Stars' defeat automatically gave the No. 1 seed in the West and second-best overall record
to the Phoenix Mercury.

Phoenix, however, took care of its own business on a positive note later in the evening by beating Sacramento, 101-91, at home in the first of a two-game weekend series with the Monarchs that will conclude Sunday night in Sacramento.

The Mercury will open in Seattle against the No. 4 seed Storm, Friday night, before that three-game series returns to the desert.

New York or Washington will open against overall No. 1 seed Detroit on Friday night at home.

San Antonio holds a one-game lead for the No. 2 slot in the West, but we believe the Silver Stars have backed into a clinch for the seed.

A win at the Minnesota Lynx Sunday night automatically gives San Antonio the slot on record. The Silver Stars back in on record if they lose to Minnesota and Sacramento loses to Phoenix.

If Sacramento wins and San Antonio loses, they tie for second, but it appears the Silver Stars have the third tie-breaker.

Besides having the same record, head-to-head would get tossed, because the two teams split.

Conference record, the next tie-breaking item, would also get tossed because they each would finish at 13-9 in Western games.

However, when it comes to games against the seven teams with records of .500 or better (Detroit, Indiana, Connecticut, Phoenix, San Antonio, Sacramento, Seattle), San Antonio is 11-7, with Sunday's game not factored because Minnesota has a losing record.

Sacramento, with a Sunday win against Phoenix factored in, would be, at best, 9-8. The Silver Stars got helped on Friday night in this category when Seattle beat the Los Angeles Sparks to finish the season at 17-17 and become part of the equation.

San Antonio went 4-0 against Seattle, while Sacramento was 3-0.

In Friday night’s game here, New York shook off its physical toll from the rugged win in Washington and jumped to a quick 19-4 lead before the Sun managed to shrink the deficit all the way down to a point in the next period.

“We gave them confidence with the start that we had,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said of his team’s play at the outset of the game. “We made way too many mistakes. The fact is we got it back to a one-point game and then gave them an 8-2 run down to the end of the half.”

But New York never relinquished its lead and went on to take control in the third quarter and stay alive for maybe more than just another day.

The Liberty got 18 points from Catherine Kraayveld, 13 from Thorn, 12 from Janet McCarville, and 11 from Shameka Christon.

Katie Douglas scored 22 for Connecticut, and Lindsay Whalen was also in double figures with 19 points.

“I think we recovered from the bad start, but it is obviously not our strategy to come out and get down to 10-0,” Douglas said of Connecticut’s start. “There are a lot teams fighting to get into the playoffs, so you know they are going to come at you with their best effort.

“Give the Liberty credit. They made big plays throughout the game and never let us get control of the game.”

The Battle for Worst

For the fans of Minnesota and Los Angeles now hoping their team finishes at the very bottom and thus have the best chance for the No. 1 draft pick, here's the situation.

Minnesota is right now one game worst than Los Angeles. Thus, a Lynx loss to San Antonio clinches worst overall record. If Minnesota wins, but the Sparks beat Houston, that still holds.

However, if both teams tie for worst, went it comes to determining most lotto balls to land the No. 1 draft pick, Minnesota and Los Angeles went 2-2 against each other, so toss that tie-breaker. However, Los Angeles' conference record woul be 6-16, while Minnesota would be at 8-14, meaning the Sparks would have the best shot in the process.

"These things never work out the way you think, so it's not worth getting into," New York's Coyle said in Washington Thursday night chatting with reporters who were discussing the potential benefits of a loss before the game against the Mystics.

But if they did this time, imagine a Los Angeles team next season with a return-to-form superstar status for Lisa Leslie, who missed this summer because of the birth of her first child. Then add Tennessee junior Candace Parker to the mix if she decides to leave the Vols after next season, which she is legally entitled to because her original class will be graduating.

Chamique who?

-- Mel


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