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 24, 2007

WNBA Playoffs: Sun Wins Instant Classic

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The WNBA joined professional boxing Thursday night in producing one of the more memorable confrontations staged here at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Connecticut Sun bounced off the floor toward the close of the third overtime to repel the Indiana Fever, 93-88, and claim a hard-fought opening triumph in an Eastern Conference best-of-three semifinals matchup.

The game made WNBA playoff history as the first triple-overtime encounter and only the second in the 11-year history of the playoffs that extended beyond regulation.

The two teams fought in the same locale that hosted the classic 2002 fight of the year when Mickey “Irish” Ward battled back from cut above the eye in the first round and out-pointed
Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, 38-11 to claim the junior lightweight title.

Both teams each had an injured star warrior return to action from foot injuries with Tamika Catchings in the lineup for the first time in 14 games for Indiana. On the other side, Asjha Jones rejoining Connecticut after an injury on the final play of last Tuesday’s game in Washington.

“I just wanted to come out and help my team,” said Catchings, a former Tennessee star who collected 14 points and 20 rebounds. “We just couldn’t get over the hump at the end. The more I played the better I got.”

Jones had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“She did a great job tonight,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said of the former UConn all-American. “Both she and Catchings. You talk about two warriors. They went at each other and played great.”

The Sun, which had led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and 14 at the start of the fourth, was knocked against the ropes late in the game by the deadly three-point shooting of Indiana’s Anna DeForge, who finished with a game-high 31 points.

“My teammates did a really good job,”DeForge said. “I was getting some really good looks. I, unfortunately, missed a lot of open ones in the first half and just had to stick with it.

“They were all designed plays,” she said of scores that transformed the event into a marathon evening.

The Fever’s Tamika Whitemore appeared to have Connecticut finished off when scored seven straight points to give Indiana an 88-83 lead with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third overtime.

But Connecticut suddenly came back to life with a 10-0 run to claim the contest.

Had the Sun lost, they would have faced the potential of being eliminated by Indiana, which will host the remainder of the series, beginning Saturday.

“We’re up 1-0 and the pressure is on them, now,” said Thibault, whose third-seeded team swept the Fever, 4-0, in the regular season.

Going home to the Midwest, however, was reason enough for Indiana coach Brian Winters to not get too dismayed over a missed opportunity to put Connecticut in a desperate situation.

“All we have to do is focus upon the next game, getting a win and it’s back to tied,” Winters said. “Then we have the third game on our home court.”

Nykesha Sales, another former University of Connecticut all-American, began the Sun rally with a pair of foul shots. After Lindsay Whalen got the Connecticut within a point on a layup at 88-87, Sales stole the ball off Indiana and Jones fed Kristen Rasmussen to get the lead back at 89-88 with 59.9 seconds left.

Whitemore was called for traveling to give the Sun possession and Sales nailed a 14-footer from the corner to make it 91-88 with 19.9 seconds left.

Three-point leads, however, were not safe late in the game for the Sun, especially with DeForge nailing a trey with 20.6 seconds to force the first overtime.

The former Nebraska star hit another three-pointer from 22 feet with 10 seconds left to force the second overtime at 75-75.

DeForge, however, missed another attempt to tie with a trey at the close of the third extra period, and Connecticut’s Katie Douglas finally sealed it with a pair of foul shots.

Connecticut set a playoff record with three players in double doubles, while Indiana added two players with similar performances to set a combined record at five.

The Sun’s Margo Dydek had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Whalen had 13 points and 10 assists to join Jones in the Sun’s offensive attack.

Whitemore had 24 points and 11 rebounds to join Catchings’ effort.

-- Mel

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