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, July 17, 2010

WNBA: Sun Hold T-Party As East Tightens Further

By Mel Greenberg

The third time was the charm for the Connecticut Sun Saturday night in finally turning the Atlanta Dream aside with a 96-80 victory that caused the Eastern Conference race to grow even tighter.

Aided by another stellar performance by Sun rookie center Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 draft pick out of two-time defending NCAA champion UConn, the winners drew closer to first place that for the moment now belongs to the Washington Mystics.

Charles posted her 15th double double in the friendly confines of the Mohegan Sun Arena, scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. That mark is just behind the rookie record of 17, which was achieved by former Tennessee star Candace Parker with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008, and Yolanda Griffith with the Sacramento Monarchs in 1999, though Griffith had already played for the former American Basketball League.

The Mystics (12-6, .667), who seem to get more done recently when they don't play, again slipped just in front of Atlanta (14-8, .636), which lost its second straight in two nights.

The win put fourth-place Connecticut (12-8, 600) within a game of first and just behind the defending Eastern champion Indiana Fever (12-7, 632), which is 1/2 game out of first.

The wildness in the East continues Sunday with the two teams just outside of playoff spots -- New York (9-9, .500), which is three games behind first and two behind Connecticut, will host Indiana, while Chicago (10-11, .476), which is in last a half-game behind New York, will visit Washington.

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault, whose team had gained a road win earlier in the week at Indianapolis, didn't feel he needed to say much of an opening statement after the Sun dominated the Dream in the second half.

"Real good win, that's my opening statement," Thibault smiled at the media representatives in the room. "It's just a real good win."

Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee star who does studio work for ESPN during the women's collegiate season in the winner, had 18 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 hitting critical three-point attempts that helped Connecticut widen the gap in the second half.

Former Connecticut star Asjha Jones had 15 points, Tan White, a former Mississippi State star, scored 10 points, and European Sandrine Gruda had 14 for the sun.

Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, who was the rookie of the year out of Louisville last season, scored 27 points, while Erika DeSouza had 16 points, and Sancho Lyttle scored 12.

Iziane Castro Marques, who was averaging 17 points, was held scoreless.

Connecticut just snapped out of a three-game slide that had them appearing to be drifting out of playoff contention. But in the gridlock that is the WNBA's version of the Big East, it doesn't take much to change perceptions.

One can argue the same is held true in the West in terms of jockeying for playoff positions, but a damper has been put on that by the record mediocrity in which the Seattle Storm is the only team with a winning record (18-2) and just a game from matching the former Houston Comets' best-ever WNBA start of 19-2.

The Storm had another narrow escape Saturday, edging the host Minnesota Lynx 73-71 to take a double-digit lead with a gap of at least 10 games no matter what the outcome of a late game in the desert between the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury and Tulsa Shock, which formerly was the once-proud franchise in Detroit.

Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright hit a critical three-pointer to ensure Seattle's streak extended to nine straight and Lauren Jackson led the Storm with 26 points. Rebekkah Brunson scored 19 for Minnesota (7-12), which is now 10.5 games behind the frontrunners.

"That's the nature of the Eastern Conference this year where every game is important," said Lawson, who signed as a free agent in the wake of the demise of the former Sacramento franchise.

"What we didn't do a good job in the first part (of this season) is win our conference," said Lawson, whose long-range shots delighted the crowd of 7,378.

"Now you start looking in the second half and know you're going to have to beat some of these teams at some point if you aspire to be in the playoffs. What we're going to do is try to take care of the home court and we feel if we can do that, that puts us in tremendous, tremendous position down the stretch to get in the playoffs."

Meanwhile, Charles continues to impress and while Thibault notes that she is still in a learning process, her rebounding ability to dominate has been phenomenal.

Atlanta had bolted to an early lead in the Eastern race before the rest of the conference began closing the gap.

Dream coach/general manager Marynell Meadors was reluctant to use fatigue as an excuse for the 14-2 run by the Sun at the outset of the fourth quarter that decided the outcome.

"Sometimes when you are fatigued you make bad decisions and I thought we had some bad offensive shot selections that led to their points and we got down in that hole and it's just hard to come back," Meadors said after her team's third straight loss.

"We just have to refocus. It has nothing to do with other teams, it's us, we just need to refocus and get back to winning, to our old style of play."

Connecticut next hosts New York on Tuesday in the first meeting since blowing a big lead to the Liberty in Madison Square Garden in the week before the All-Star game.

Atlanta next travels to Washington to play an 11:30 morning game on Wednesday.

Comparing the West to the East, the appropriate thing, though not workable, this season in terms of the playoffs would be to allow Seattle and all six East teams play and toss out geographical identity.

The Storm could get a first-round bye while the six Eastern teams play. The four survivors could then get seeded with the winners advancing to the finals.

Although many admire the Seattle record, talk within the league is sprouting over what the Storm might be doing if they hads to play the East night after night.

"It's so tough in the East, you lose one game and you can drop way down, so that is why every game right now is so important and everybody is fighting for a playoff spot right now," McCoughtry said. "It has gotten tougher for us, but I still think we are in a good position."

-- Mel


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