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.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

WNBA: Fever Singe Liberty And Ruin Pondexter Effort

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever made it back to first place by percentage points Sunday overcoming a spectacular performance by former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter to edge the New York Liberty 84-81 in overtime in Madison Square Garden.

Pondexter, who won two WNBA titles, including last season, with the Phoenix Mercury before coming to New York in the off-season, set a franchise record with 40 points in front of an announced crowd of 9,508 persons. She shot 14-for-21 from the field, including 5-of-9 three pointers, to pass the previouus New York high of 33 by Janelle McCarville and former Liberty star Becky Hammon, who is now with San Antonio.

Liberty executive head Carol Blazejowski, a former Montclair State star from across the Hudson River in New Jersey, set the building record with 52 points against Queens College in the late 1970s.

WNBA president Donna Orender played for Queens in that game.

As for the great players in today's game, Pondexter, the Chicago native and former Scarlet Knights All-American who was the overall No. 2 pick by Phoenix in 2006, seemed set for instant legend status with a potential game-winning shot with 8.3 seconds left in overtime, but the three-point attempt from 21 feet landed on top of the basket and bounced off.

The outcome in the Eastern Conference put Indiana (13-7, .650) in first, though the Atlanta Dream (14-8, .636) is tied in the games-behind category.

The Fever's rise Sunday was aided by the Chicago Sky's 61-59 road win at the Washington Mystics in another exciting contest.

That game dropped Washington (12-7, .632) a half-game behind, while in the tread mill at the bottom of the conference, Chicago (11-11, .500) moved ahead of the Liberty into fifth place, three games out of first and two behind the Connecticut Sun (1-8, .600), which is holding the potential fourth playoff spot and is just a game out of first.

New York (9-10,.474) is 3.5 games out of first and heads to Connecticut Tuesday night for an 8 p.m. game against the Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

"The East is darn tough and we have two teams like Chicago and New York fighting to move up the ladder," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said afterwards. "New York played a really good game. I felt we were very fortunate in the overtime to get some key stops.

"I thought it was our defense that really won the game for us. We ran at Cappie there at the end when she was going to take that shot with two people on her. If New York was in the West they might be in second place right now."

Phoenix (8-12) is holding the runnerup spot in the West in a revolving door of mediocrity trailing the Seattle Storm (18-2) by 10 games.

The San Antonio Silver Stars Sunday moved into a third place tie with the Minnesota Lynx (7-12, 10.5 games back) after stopping Los Angeles at home 83-73.

The Sparks (5-15) are 13 games behind Seattle and now trail the fourth playoff spot in the conference by 2.5 games. The Tulsa Shock (4-16)is in last place.

Former Tennessee star and Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings had 22 points and 10 rebounds while scoring nine of the Fever's 11 points in the extended period.

Katie Douglas scored 21 points and hit a half-baked scoop shot from medium range early in the overtime that gave the Fever a five-point lead.

"We were due for that," Dunn said of Douglas' bomb. "Katie has been known for crazy shots."

Catchings narrowly stole the game in regulation coming up with the ball at midcourt and missing a shot that just went off the rim as time expired.

"One of the key things for us is we hit nine threes and we had 30 points in the paint," Dunn said. "We held Cappie to 40, what else can I say. I can't say enough about the performance she put on, my gracious.

"We ran at her, we trapped her, we switched her. But the good news is that everybody else (on New York) struggled from the field."

Leilani Mitchell was effective from outside for the Liberty, hitting 5-of-6 three-pointers for 15 points. McCarville scored 12.

Pondexter was more dismayed afterwards about the game getting away then having her own performance wasted.

"It was a regular shot I normally make," Pondexter said of her near-heroics at the finish. "But it happens like that in basketball sometimes. The difficult part is we got a loss. But we have a game in Connecticut and hopefully we'll turn it around."

The Fever struggled early in the season but has won two straight critical games, including one back home Friday night over Atlanta.

"It seems like every single game you play can make or break you. From one, two, three, four (in the East), everybody is tight in that pack," Catchings said.

"Tonight was a huge win for us. Cappie had the game of her life. It was ridiculous the shots she was making."

One was a three late in the game that beat the shot clock by a whisp.

"At this point, you can't really focus on being first, second, third, or fourth," Catchings said. "Every single game you have to focus on that game at that particular time."

Liberty coach Anne Donovan took the loss hard as another wasted shot to make some headway.

"I'm disasppointed, really disappointed," she said. "These are the kind of games
we need to win in the Garden. We were up by three points in regulation."

Donovan praised the work by Pondexter, whom she previously coached on the gold-medal winning Olympic team in 2008 in Beijing, China.

"There are not many players like her in the WNBA," Donovan said. "Not many players can step up in these kind of games.

"Cappie is just a MVP kind of player. The question is whether we are going to win games or get to the playoffs with Cappie scoring half our points. That has happened twice for us."

Meanwhile, Washington rallied at the Verizon Center but couldn't prevail at the finish throwing away a chance to take a half-game lead in first place prior to Wednesday morning's 11:30 home game with Atlanta.

Olympian Sylvia Fowles, the MVP of the recent All-Star game, scored 13 points for Chicago and she hit the go-ahead score late in the game while also grabbing 11 rebounds.

Dominique Canty scored 11 points and Jia Perkins added 10 for the Sky.

Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, scored 12 points for the Mystics while her former Terrapins teammate Marissa Coleman added 11.

In the other WNBA game of the day between teams fighting for a playoff spot, Roneeka Hodges scored 24 points and Becky Hammon had 21 for San Antonio in the win over Los Angeles that dropped the woeful Sparks 2.5 games behind the Silver Stars and Lynx.

Tina Thompson, the last player from the WNBA's inaugural season of 1997, scored 23 for Los Angeles, which has struggled since losing Candace Parker last month with a shoulder injury dating to her senior year at Tennessee in 2008.

While Los Angeles is technically or very much -- fans can dream -- in the playoff hunt, factors are starting to build up against the Sparks' chances for postseason play when tie-breakers are considered.

Los Angeles has already lost the season series with Seattle and Phoenix. Sunday's loss to San Antonio gives the Silver Stars a 2-1 edge with one game remaining.

The Sparks are 1-0 against Minnesota with three games left but if the Lynx get on a roll they may have enough wins to hold Los Angeles off.

Certainly a win streak could change things around in a hurry but Los Angeles' best efforts in most games have been against the equally poor Tulsa Shock, which could do just enough damage on their own to the Sparks' hopes.

But then as everyone will quickly point out -- even when it comes to whoever gets the last two spots in the East except for Connecticut -- the consolation prize for not making the playoffs may be the grand prize for the future.

That would be a shot in the lottery to get in position to grab Connecticut senior Maya Moore, who is entering the final year of her collegiate eligibility.

-- Mel


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