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 25, 2010

WNBA: January In July Heat Keeps Indy In First

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON –
Second-year pro Briann January was considered a steal a year ago when the Indiana Fever made her the sixth overall pick of the WNBA draft out of Arizona State and went on to win the East and extend the Phoenix Mercury to the fifth and deciding game of the championship series in the playoffs.

January continued to make good on her pick Saturday night, celebrating her return to the starting lineup after an injury by scoring 19 points and helping the Fever to a 78-73 win over the Washington Mystics.

With her effort, it was ironic that a player with a last name of a month known for wintertime would help the Fever sizzle over the Mystics while the temperature outside the arena has reached over 100 degrees.

Billed as a battle for first place – a rarity in the Verizon Center in the WNBA for the home team – the win enabled Indiana (15-7) to go up 1.5 games ahead of Washington (13-8) and the idle Atlanta Dream (14-9). The Fever also gained a game on fourth-place Connecticut (12-10), which fell three games off the pace after losing at home Saturday night to the woeful Los Angeles Sparks, 89-80.

“We did not do a very good job on her,” Mystics coach Julie Plank said afterwards on trying to contain January. “She was 14-for-15 from the line. Normally you worry about Tamika Catchings in that category.”

Ebony Hoffman and Katie Douglas each scored 13 points for Indiana, while Catchings finished with 12 points.

Washington’s Katie Smith, who has a history of doing well against the Fever dating to her previous affiliation with the former Detroit Shock now in Tulsa, scored 17 points. Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, had 15 points and 13 rebounds but the forward did not get many shooting opportunities, finishing with a 5-for-6 effort from the field.

Monique Currie, a former Duke star, had 14 points for the Mystics, while Lindsay Harding, another Blue Devils alum, had 10 points and did not go to the line.

“We’re not going to beat this team playing half court,” Plank said of the Mystics, who are still 2-1 in the series with Indiana. However, they were swept last year by the Fever, including the first round of the playoffs. “I was not pleased with our ball movement.”

The two teams meet again Friday night in Indiana.

The game was a marathon of sorts for regulation confrontations in the WNBA, lasting a half-hour longer than must games of usually two hours, in part because of the 51 fouls called against both teams.

Indiana was 21-for-27 from the line, while Washington shot 28-for-36. The Mystics were also hounded into 20 turnovers.

Washington was coming off a big win against Atlanta here on Wednesday that briefly propelled the Mystics into first place for the first time this late in the season since 2002.

Indiana was able to cope with foul trouble. The Fever also got a lift when Tully Bevilaqua, who had been going through recent futility on three-point attempts (2-for-22), hit a pair of treys including one late in the game which enabled the Fever to hold off a Mystics surge.

But the move of the night for Dunn was guessing the time was right for January’s name to be announced to the crowd of 9,786 here when the starting lineups were introduced.

“We never gave up that lead and one of the key reasons was January – her ability to break them down off the dribble, her ability to get to the free throw line – I thought that was key for us,” Dunn said and explained the switch that put Bevilaqua back into a substitute role.

“We changed the lineup – originally Briann was the starter for us and then hurt her knee, was out a couple of weeks and was working her way back in, but I just thought it was time to bring her back running the point for us and bringing Tully in off the bench.”

The potential win hung out most of the night in a carrot-on-a-stick manner for the Mystics, who fell behind by as many as 12 points but rallied all the way back to two points at 70-68 with 1 minute, 10 seconds left in the game.

Bevilaqua then hit her second trey soon thereafter and while Harding’s shot got the Mystics within a point with 4.9 seconds left it was too little and too late.

“We just had a lot of mistakes tonight,” Langhorne said. “A lot of times when we needed a bucket or needed a stop we would give up a big basket or turnover. It wasn’t a great night for us.

“Everyone was talking how this was for first place, but we just need to win because every game is going to be big. It’s just a tough loss for us, especially being home, we needed this.”

Washington next visits Connecticut on Tuesday when all 12 WNBA teams will be in action on the same day for the first time this season. Indiana will host Chicago.

Sparks Hit Jackpot In Casino-Land

The Los Angeles Sparks (7-16) hadn’t had many nights to feel good this season, especially since superstar Candace Parker was sideline last month for the rest of the way with a shoulder injury.

But the women from Tinseltown cashed in big Saturday night with an 89-80 triumph over the Connecticut Sun that at one moment didn’t seem worth much until rallies in two other WNBA games gave the Phoenix Mercury (10-12) a high-scoring 127-124 victory at Minnesota (7-14) in double overtime against the Lynx.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sky (12-12) shook off Friday night’s home loss to the New York Liberty in the congested Eastern Conference race with a ferocious rally in the final three minutes and won in San Antonio 75-72 against the Silver Stars (8-14).

Thus Los Angeles, though way back 13 games behind first-place Seattle (19-2) in the West, is now a half-game behind Minnesota for the fourth and final playoff spot and just a game behind San Antonio. There are still three games left, including one this week, between the women of the Twin Cities and L.A.

The Sparks may have been ready to try the slot machines at the casino alongside the Mohegan Sun Arena after setting a franchise record with 15 three-pointers.

DeLisha Milton had seven treys on the way to scoring 20 against the Sun, while Ticha Penicheiro had 17 points, Kristi Toliver scored 15, Noelle Quinn had 14 and Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from 1997, scored 11.

Renee Montgomery scored 14 points for Connecticut, who are now just a half-game in front of the New York Liberty (11-10) for the fourth playoff spot in the rugged East.

“I believe playing in the East will make you better for the playoffs,” Indiana’s Dunn said of the tight competition this season. “It’s not just every game. It’s every possession, that’s how hard fought these games are.”

Mercury Rallies in Another Scoring Spree

Following a WNBA record 127 points against Tulsa earlier in the week, the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury rallied against Minnesota 127-124 in double overtime for the highest scoring game in league history to actually reduce idle and runaway West leader Seattle’s advantage over the women from the desert to 9.5 games, though that may only last for the moment.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi, the reigning WNBA MVP, scored 11 of her 31 points in the second overtime. Former Temple star Candice Dupree, who came to Phoenix from Chicago in the three-team mega off-season deal that sent Cappie Pondexter to the New York Liberty, scored a team-high 32 points.

Minnesota, which squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, got a season-high 36 points from former LSU star Seimone Augustus.

Sky Outshines Silver Stars

The Chicago Sky are still alive in the Eastern playoff hunt after Sylvia Fowles scored 23 points and the visitors overcame an eight-point deficit in the final 3:10 to bring every team in the Eastern Conference to .500 or better. Jia Perkins added 15 points as Chicago stayed four games behind first-place Indiana and moved to within a game of fourth-place Connecticut.

Michelle Snow and Roneeka Hodges each scored 13 points for San Antonio, which is now two games behind second-place Phoenix but just a half-game ahead of fourth-place Minnesota and 1.5 games in front of fifth-place Los Angeles.

Sunday’s Games: New York Seeking to Make It Sweeps Week

Suddenly the New York Liberty are knocking real hard on the door of a playoff spot and will be looking to make it three straight this week – all on the road -- when they visit the Atlanta Dream.

A win would put the women of Manhattan in a tie for fourth with the Connecticut Sun, but if that occurred the Liberty, if the regular season ended now, would own the tie-breaker for the playoffs with a 2-1 season record. Those two teams have two more games against each other.

In the only other Sunday game, Tulsa (4-18), which is 15.5 games behind Seattle, visits the first-place Storm, which will be seeking to restore its double digit lead over second-place Phoenix.

Seattle has already clinched a playoff spot and San Antonio’s loss Saturday night leaves Phoenix as the only team with a mathematical shot to catch the Storm in the West.

But Seattle could reduce the magic number for the regular season title to two by beating the Shock, unless the Guru is wrong, Jayda Evans, then send the correction, which might be one game.

And while getting a little personal, the Guru apologizes to the fan who he said he’d get back to at halftime but was unable to leave press row at the time. Maybe next trip.

-- Mel

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