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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 07, 2007

WNBA: Sun Struck by Former Tennessee Star

(Guru’s note: A sidebar to this story exists in the post above this one)

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Stars of Tennessee past still have a way of haunting the fan base here that’s deeply tied to the University of Connecticut powerhouse and the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

Kara Lawson, who now talks a good game for ESPN during the women’s collegiate season, let her game speak for her on the court Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The former Tennessee guard poured 21 points to lift the Sacramento Monarchs to a gritty 81-79 victory over the Connecticut Sun and a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

The Monarchs (17-11) remained in the hunt in a three-way fight with the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars for first in the West as the WNBA season enters its final weeks.

“We’re a grind-it-out team,” said Monarchs first-year coach Jenny Boucek, who played at Virginia. “The majority of our games have come down to the end, so this is no surprise.”

Connecticut (16-13) lost a chance to move close to wrapping up a playoff spot in the East. The Sun still have a shot at second place in the conference.

The game was yet another notable matchup in a cross-conference rivalry that was highlighted in 2005 when Sacramento beat Connecticut in the WNBA finals.

A bit of WNBA history was made late in the game when the Greek husband of Sun star Katie Douglas was thrown out of the building after running behind the scorer’s table to yell at the game officials, disputing a call made against Connecticut when the outcome was still undetermined.

Former Rutgers star Chelsea Newton of Sacramento injured her left wrist and is listed as day-to-day with X-rays to be taken Wednesday.

The Sun faded from a powerful first quarter in which Connecticut set a franchise record with 13 field goals. But Sacramento made a defensive stand in the next period, holding the Sun to five points most of the quarter before finishing 19-12 and gaining a 39-39 tie at the half.

Sacramento grabbed the momentum to go ahead 48-41 with 6 minutes, 51 seconds left in the third quarter, but Connecticut stormed back for a 59-53 lead with 54 seconds left.

The Monarchs, however, would not be subdued and closed to within a point at 59-58 as the period ended.

Sacramento went on to build a 78-71 lead with just over two minutes left in the game before Connecticut narrowed its deficit the rest of the way with a chance to tie on the Sun’s final position.

Lindsay Whalen, wo tied former Connecticut star Asjha Jones with team highs of 17 points, missed a layup in traffic before time expired.

All-Star Rebekkah Brunson, a former Georgetown star, grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Monarchs’ cause. Adrian Williams added14 points for Sacramento and Yolanda Griffith scored 11 points.

Nykesha Sales, another former UConn star, had 13 points for the Sun.

“This team is built on all pride,” Boucek said of the Monarchs’ perseverance. “A lot of teams work hard to get an offensive rhythm, but we have to work hard to get a defensive rhythm.”

Lawson shot 9 for 17 from the field, while former Stanford star Nicole Powell had nine points, shooting 3 of 4 on three-point efforts.

“Kara’s way overdue, let’s put it that way,” Boucek said of Lawson’s performance off a bench that dealt the Sun 45 points. “She’s one of the top premiere shooters in the league.”

Although the Connecticut-Tennessee series has been discontinued by Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for reasons that have yet to be publicly specified, the rivalry as well as several others can be observed by the crowd reaction here when opening lineups are announced.

A noticeable sprinkling of boos could be heard when Lawson was introduced.

“They’re loyal out here, right?” Lawson smiled. “Great fans. You want to elicit some kind of reaction, whether it’s good or bad.The day I come in here and they’re quiet, I know something’s wrong. It’s a great atmosphere to play. I know a lot of players love to play in this arena because the fans are passionate about the game and really, really get behind their team.”

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault jested a bit afterwards about the crowd’s treatment of Lawson.

“I wish our fans would quit booing Lawson when she comes in because she gets all jacked up every time she plays here,” Thibault said.

Of course, Connecticut-Sacramento now takes its place as one of the WNBA’s more anticipated confrontations.

“It’s a fun rivalry,” Lawson said. “We’ve so much of each other the last few years. We know plays and players so well. And it’s good clean fun. In some rivalries in this league, I’m not sure how the respect goes back and forth.”

Connecticut had won 10 of 11 games, most at home, prior to Tuesday’s loss.

“I don’t know what exactly to say,” Thibault commented afterwards. “I guess it was kind of a physical game. We got beat on the boards. The offensive boards they got killed us, particularly Brunson’s.”

-- Mel


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