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.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WNBA: Greene Grows In Garden As Liberty Wins

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK --
For a large part of the last collegiate season, former Connecticut senior Kalana Greene stood with Germantown Academy's Caroline Doty as part of the talented others behind the Huskies headliners in Maya Moore and Tina Charles.

But as UConn maintained its second straight march to another unbeaten NCAA title Greene's stock began to emerge in terms of All-American consideration and a potential first-round draft pick in April's WNBA draft.

"Kalana is so much experienced already, so much composure," Liberty coach Anne Donovan praised Greene, who led a productive bench Tuesday night with a team-high 17 points as New York topped the San Antonio Silver Stars 77-72 in a WNBA cross-conference confrontation in Madison Square Garden before an announced crowd of 10,712.

The win came on the WNBA's first six-game special of the season in which all 12 teams played, highlighted late at the end of the night by the front-running Seattle Storm (21-2) again rallying over the defending champion Phoenix Mercury (10-13), this time at home to win 91-85.

The Storm, another team loaded with former University of Connecticut stars, clinched the West title with the win, the earliest ever for a conference champion, making it 12 straight wins for Seattle and an imposing 11-game lead over Phoenix.

It's the first regular season title for Seattle which captured the 2004 WNBA championship when the Liberty's Donovan coached the Storm and went on to coach the USA team to Olympic gold at Beijing, China in 2008.

Technically, the Mercury could tie in the standings at the finsh winning all their last 11 games and Seattle losing all 11 of theirs, but the Storm at 4-0 have also clinched the season series between the two teams. That 4-0 is also a first for the Storm over the Mercury after erasing an 18-point deficit Tuesday night.

Australian superstar Lauren Jackson scored 33 points for Seattle. Former UConn star Sue Bird had 16 points, while former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 14 and Swin Cash, another ex-Huskies star, had 10 points.

Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova is also on Seattle.

Seattle, which has already tied the 1998 former Houston Comets for best record at several stages this season, is now after the 23-2 mark from that season set in Texas.

On the other side of Tuesday's game in the Northwest, the Mercury got 27 points from reigning WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi, yet another former UConn all-timer.

But while Taurasi's time is a bit of a generation, collegewise, ahead of New York's Greene, the WNBA rookie is already advancing way beyond her limited time in the league.

"I've said this before, I credit Connecticut and (coach) Geno (Auriemma) for the preparation she had in college and all the championship experience she had coming into the WNBA," Donovan continued. "She doesn't get rattled. Very competitive so if somebody beats her she's determined the next time it's not going to happen. Works very hard in practice. And that pays off when she gets an opportunity to get into a game.

"She's been giving us production when she plays but tonight she was outstanding."

Donovan, who will be opposing UConn this winter as the new coach of Seton Hall in the Big East Conference, also believed Greene was first-round material and had little expectations she would still be available when the top of the second round got under way in April.

"We were stunned," Donovan recalled watching the other teams go elsewhere for picks after Charles went first overall to the Connecticut Sun. "I had her going as high as sixth.

"With every pick and her name was still on our board and we were thinking, `It's not possible. It's just not going to happen.' You couldn't even get excited about it because we didn't think in any way that was going to happen. So, obviously when she was still there we were excited."

New York (12-11), coming off a tough loss Sunday at Atlanta, was unable to catch the Sun (13-10) Tuesday night to get in a fourth place tie for the last available conference playoff spot due to Connecticut's 88-78 win over the Washington Mystics (13-8) at home.

But the Liberty in fifth place did create some spacing ahead of the Chicago Sky (12-13), which had a closing rally fall short to the defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever (16-7), which maintained its one game lead over the Atlanta Dream (16-9) with a 77-72 victory.

Chicago is five back of the Fever and two behind Connecticut.

Atlanta won earlier in the day, easily beating the Western cellar dwelling Tulsa Shock 105-89 in the Southwest.

Washington (13-9) fell 2.5 games off the pace and is just a half-game ahead of the Sun, which is three games behind Indiana.

"It's going to be determined in the last week of the regular season," Donovan said of the rugged playoff chase in the East and the compacted bunch of mediocre teams behind Seattle in the West fighting for playoff spots.

"We've been battling and battling, all we could do is hope to get better every game and we've done that. So we have to keep battling and hopefully we'll get a break here soon."

That actually comes in the next game with the Los Angeles Sparks (8-16) visiting here Friday night, though Connecticut failed to take advantage of a similar visit on Saturday.

Furthermore, the Sparks caught Minnesota (7-15) with a 71-58 win over the host Lynx Tuesday night that gave Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the series between the two who are holding the fourth and final playoff spot. They trail Seattle by 13.5 games, third-place San Antonio (8-15) by 0.5 games and Phoenix by 2.5 games.

Well, say this for Minnesota: if the Lynx and Connecticut both fail to make the postseason, Minnesota will be holding two of the four shots at the No. 1 lottery pick that will likely yield UConn's Moore next spring.

The Lynx hold the Sun's pick in the draft-day trade that sent former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin to Connecticut.

Back here New York squandered an early 12-point lead but was able to hold off San Antonio down the stretch.

"We got stops tonight where we didn't get them in Atlanta," Donovan said of Sunday's loss.

Plenette Pierson off the bench for New York scored 16 points, while former Rutgers star Essence Carson added eight points for a collective effort of 41 points and 11 rebounds from the substitutes.

"You have to be ready when your number is called and all three of them did that tonight," Donovan said.

The bench also got saluted by starting All-Star Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers All-American who scored 13 points, while Leilani Mitchell also scored in double figures with 10 points.

"When the bench comes in like that, it's awesome," Pondexter said.

The Silver Stars had two of their players involved in a homecoming of sorts.

Chamique Holdsclaw, the former Tennessee star and Christ The King High School sensation here, had a game-high 18 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. Becky Hammon, who entered the WNBA as a free-agent walk-on here on the Liberty and became an All-Star, scored 10 points. San Antonio also got 12 points from former Baylor star Sophia Young and 14 points from former Tennessee post player Michelle Snow.

In other games, Los Angeles has a two-game win streak for the first time this season as new Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom returned to Minneslota where she guided the Lynx with an interim title last season.

Gillom, a former WNBA All-Star and All-American at Mississippi, is also an assistant to UConn's Auriemma with the USA Basketball women's national team that will compete in the FIBA World Championship in September.

Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from the inaugural summer of 1997 when she was part of the powerful lineup with Houston, had a game-high 24 points for Los Angeles.

Lindsay Whalen, the All-Star who was dealt to the Lynx by the Connecticut Sun in the trade that brought former UConn star Renee Montgomery and eventually Charles through the draft, had 12 points for Minnesota, as did rookie Monica Wright out of Virginia.

It was UConn night on the Sun in their win over Washington with ex-Huskies star Asjha Jones scoring a season-high 23 points at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, while Renee Montgomery had 17 and Tina Thompson scored 15.

Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, had 23 points for the Mystics.

Indiana got a double-double effort of 16 points and 10 rebounds from Tamika Catchings, while Briann January got 15 points. Chicago, which nearly erased a 21-point deficit from the first half, got 18 points from Sylvia Fowles.

The demise of the former Sacramento Monarchs last winter resulted in teams in each conference meeting some divisional rivals five times, which meant Indiana's win Tuesday made the Fever the first to sweep an opponent 5-0 in the regular season.

Atlanta stayed right behind Indiana in the East pursuit as Sancho Lyttle had 20 points and 14 rebounds. Former North Carolina star Ivory Latta, recently acquired by Tulsa, had a 23-point effort, best ever for the Shock in its first season in Tulsa after having been formerly the once proud Detroit franchise that won three WNBA titles.

The Guru will be back early Thursday morning to look ahead to the reet of the week.

-- Mel

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