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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

WNBA: Thibault's Moves Give Sun Winning Hand in Opener

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. _
When a sports franchise uses a casino as its place of establishment, it is helpful to have a wheeler-dealer coach running the show.

Fortunately for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, Mike Thibault is just such an individual.

Judging by Saturday afternoon's season opener in the WNBA, the Sun management group knew what they were doing this week in giving him another contract extension.

Thibault appears to have made all the right moves in the offseason because each player involved in a the group of transactions came up the equivalent of dropping sevens on the slots as Connecticut topped the Chicago Sky 74-61.

The 13-point spread doesn't tell the real story of the outcome because the Sky were able to close with 16-2 run in the final minutes, an act of carelessness that was the only downer to cause Thibault a bit of unhappiness over Connecticut's performance.

Tina Charles' official rookie debut as the overall official No. 1 pick of the WNBA draft picked up where the former UConn senior left off last month with a second-straight unbeaten NCAA title.

The New York City native of had 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The old 1-2 Husky punch was still in top shape with former UConn star Renee Montgomery reunited with her former teammate post player in Charles.

OK, it was a 1-2-3 punch counting Maya Moore in the Mix.

Montgomery and Charles became Sun acquisitions in the offseason in the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star Lindsay Whalen home to the Twin Cities as a member of the Minnesota Lynx, which held the rights to making the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Minnesota was also part of another Sun transaction in which former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin was picked No. 3 on draft day by the Lynx and then dealt to Connecticut.

Griffin's debut off the bench produced eight points and 10 rebounds, including some spectacular board work that featured her keeping the ball alive with several offensive rebound tips until she kicked the ball to Tan White for an outside shot.

In the free agent department, former Tennessee star Kara Lawson, who had played with the former Sacramento Monarchs, connected for 10 points, including a 49-foot three-pointer at the end of the first quarter as time expired.

Meanwhile, Anete Jekabsone-Zogata, a Latvian spending her second season with the Sun, had a game-high 18 points, connecting on 4-of-6 three pointers to provide torpedo power to an offense that was busy tossing shrapnel at the Sky from the inside.

DeMya Walker, a former Virginia and Sacramento Monarchs standout that the Sun acquired in the Sacramento Monarchs dispersal draft, may not have had stellar statistics on Saturday, but her presence is giving even more toughness to an inside game that is still waiting for the return of Asjha Jones (Achilles injury) and Sandrine Gruda (playing overseas) and will provide even more options for Thibault.

"The opening games can be ugly at times -- we tried not to do that until the last five minutes," Thibault said in his postgame assessment. "I like to feel good about the entire game when I walk out."

However, as the media questions flowed, it was apparent Thibault can save stress medication for another day.

"We did a lot of really good things, being short-handed," he said. "We had a lot of people contributed."

He was delighted with the inside play of Griffin, who showed no fear in throwing her body up on the boards against the likes of former LSU star Sylvia Fowles, who had 16 points and nine rebounds for Chicago.

"She's done it her whole life, she's not going to change," Thibault said. "She just has great timing, great instincts for helping people -- she did it all through college. I think she led the country taking charges this year as a senior.

"Everybody on this team is out there for a reason -- hers is for the extra possessions that she gests you."

Shameka Christon, the former New York Liberty All-Star dealt to the Sky in the three-day mega deal that sent former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter to Manhattan from the WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury and former Temple star Candice Dupree from Chicago to Phoenix, had 11 points as did Jia Perkins.

Rookie Epiphanny Prince, the former Rutgers standout who bypassed the Scarlet Knights her senior season to play in Europe, made her rookie debut with the Sky as the fourth overall pick and had seven points and two rebounds.

Chicago will stay on the road and head just South to help the Liberty start its season Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden.

Sky coach Steven Key credited the Sun for shackling his team from the outset.

"We were out of whack from the beginning," he said. "I give Connecticut credit."

Fowles has played against Charles in college and in intersquad scrimmages with USA Basketball.

"Tina has always been a powerhouse," Fowles said. "She makes you better. You know nothing is going to be easy."

The outcome Saturday was just one game among 34 to determine playoff participants and positions in the seeds.

The road ahead is not going to be easy -- Thibault pointed out that Charles will be facing a superstar every night which certainly was not the case at Connecticut, where the Huskies pulverized their way through most opponents.

However, on this particular afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Arena to the delight of a near-sellout crowd of 8,072, with Thibault dealing the cards, the house ruled big time.

-- Mel

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