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, August 29, 2010

WNBA: Three Playoff Teams Get Extended Rest

(Guru's note: Updating blog originally posted early Sunday to reflect and adjust effects of New York-Indiana result from Sunday night)

By Mel Greenberg

WNBA Western finalists Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury, the defending WNBA champion, along with one Eastern finalist -- the Atlanta Dream -- will be well rested for the next round which won't be played until this weekend.

All three teams produced 2-0 sweeps in their respective conference best-of-three sermifinals series participation.

Second-seeded Phoenix, with former Temple star Candice Dupree playing spectacular in her playoff debut, and former UConn sensation Diana Taurasi, made quick work of the third-seeded San Antonio Silver Stars. Seattle, with the best overall record at 28-6, dispatched the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Sparks, gaining revenge for ousters by L.A. the last two seasons.

Seattle also snapped a five-year drought of being ejected in first-round West play since winning its only WNBA title in 2004 by topping the Connecticut Sun.

However, the defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever allowed one storyline to keep from becoming dormant Sunday night by knotting its semifinals series with the New York Liberty with a 75-67 victory in Indianapolis.

The 1-1 deadlock will be broken Wednesday night when the teams return to New York's Madison Square Garden.

New York tied for first with the eliminated Washington Mystics but got the second seed while Indiana, which finished a game behind the leaders got the third seed.

Tamika Catchings, the former Tennessee All-American and a frontrunning MVP candidate, had 17 and 13 rebounds for Indiana, which had lost four straight games and also had lost three straight to New York.

The Rutgers alums had another stellar performance for the Liberty, though no one else was in double figures. Essence Carson, who had a monster game in Thursday's opening win in New York followed with 24 points, while Cappie Pondexter, another top MVP candidate, added 20.

This time New York was unable to recover from a wretched start as the Liberty had done many times during their recent 10-game win streak. They shot 5-for-15 from the outset and trailed 21-8 before getting someewhat untracked.

The Indiana contingent quickly pointed out afterwards how a year ago the Fever fell behind the former Detroit Shock 0-1 but stayed alive to ultimately extend the Phoenix Mercury to the final minutes in the fifth and deciding game of the best-of-five WNBA championship series in Arizona.

This will be trickier for Indiana because a year ago the conference rounds opened with the higher seeded team in each series on the road and then the Fever enjoyed the comforts of Conseco Fieldhouse to draw energy from their fans the next two games against the Shock.

But now the league finally listened to its coaches and the format was changed to 1-1-1 meaning if Indiana is to return to the Eastern finals, which will be against the fourth-seeded Atlanta Dream, it will have to win in New York.

Of course, should Indiana prevail, it will open the finals at home, otherwise the honor will go to New York.

Had the Liberty won Sunday night, it would have become quickly quiet for a spell in terms of playoff coverage because the other three series wrapped up Friday night and Saturday with 2-0 sweeps in each situation.

The one result which might be considered an upset in terms of seedings was No. 4 seeded Atlanta in the Dream's third year of existence routing the No. 1 seeded Mystics in both games.

The Guru is loathe to tell you exactly what day conference finals begin, probably Friday or Saturday, because when the conference semifinals schedule was released on the final night of the regular season some of the dates were quite different from what had been given to the Associated Press several days earlier.

One reason for the gap is, of course, allowances if any of the series went the entire three-game distance, which has now happened in the Indiana-New York series.

Indiana's win means from a positive note that its series with the Liberty will provide continuity the next two days and right afterwards, especially if New York wins considering for good or bad the team is located in the media capital of America, also the area home of Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants. Did someone also say Rutgers football?

New York again will be trying to extend a pair of farewells in Madison Square Garden, though one for now will be temporary.

Liberty coach Anne Donovan is heading for the college ranks to become the new coach of Seton Hall, a Big East rival of Villanova, Rutgers and two-time defending NCAA chasmpion Connecticut, located across the Hudson River in South Orange, N.J.

The Liberty are also heading in that direction because, though not officially announced, New York will use the Prudential Center, also known as The Rock, in Newark as a temporary home the next three summers while the Garden undergoes renovations.

Meanwhile, the Guru discovered when he was done writing that this blog became rather long, which will give you a way to kill time until the weekend action gets under way.

Along the way, it is almost guaranteed ESPN.com's Michelle Voepel will be up around the clock working on features to fill space, even if it means career histories of every referee who works in the WNBA -- which might or might not be entertaining.

But to set up the next round, there are plenty of storylines among the two teams to explore.

Back in the Pacific Northwest Jayda Evans at the Seattle Times, as the Storm and Phoenix Mercury wait to play, will give you lots of color and perhaps cooking recipes and favorite menu items and restaurants of every individual from both Western semifinalists.

That reminds, thanks for the recent tweet from Jayda on how the Guru and Jayda recently turned D.C. Cab into a new meaning after a post-game meal when she was in the nation's capital for the Storm-Mystics game.

So with that said, it is time for some Guru creativy and musings below. And to you college folks out there, especially the local D-1 crowd, now would be good time to be shipping schedule, even partials or tentatives (not for publication), to the Guru for planning purposes in his post-Inquirer life.

To those beyond the local fringe, Guru would say for now maybe the highlights games at your schools, even if that includes a multitude in the mega-conferences, would be appropriate considering there's more time available this winter for the Guru to attend those contests.

Staley Few Degrees of Separation From Playoffs Action

Though former Temple coach Dawn Staley, now at South Carolina, is four seasons removed from WNBA active status, meaning Hall of Fame eligibility in both Knoxville, Tenn., and Springfield, Mass., is not far away, the former All-Star and Olympic gold medalist has direct ties in some way to each of the five times still alive at the moment in the postseason.

The most direct is at Phoenix where her all-time recruit at Temple, Candice Dupree, is lighting up the scoreboard for the WNBA defending champion Mercury.

Dupree, who came from the Chicago Sky last winter in the mega three-team deal that sent former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter to New York, set a playoffs debut record with 32 points, tying her career record set earlier in the summer, in the Game 1 win over the third-seeded San Antonio Silver Stars in Phoenix.

The Florida native followed up with 19 points in Saturday's win in Texas that sent the Mercury into the conference finals against Seattle.

When Dupree was picked by the Sky at No. 6 overall in 2006 by the Chicago, Staley predicted a great pro career for her Owl center, noting Dupree would not see a bunch of the suffocating defense she faced in college, especially against Atlantic 10 rivals.

Dupree still managed to become associated with a slew of individual and team records at Temple.

Staley in terms of Phoenix ties, also played with Taurasi, the reigning WNBA MVP, on the 2004 gold-medal winning Olympic team at the Athens games in Greece. The former star of Virginia and Philadelphia's Dobbins Tech was on the coaching staff over Taurasi in the gold medal triumph in Beijing, China, in 2008.

There's another Philly tie as well in Phoenix.

Coach Corey Gaines, who guided the Mercury to last season's title, played for the NBA 76ers and also played at Loyola Marymount for Paul Westhead, the previous Mercury head coach who is a graduate of St. Joseph's and coached at La Salle before designing his high-octane scoring system on the West Coast.

Westhead returned to the women's game and the college ranks last season at Oregon afte having been back to the NBA as an assistant following the Mercury's first title in 2007.

Gaines was on Westhead's Mercury staff before being elevated to head coach.

Staley's New York Connection: Moving on to Staley's New York ties, she was with Liberty coach Anne Donovan for a long time in the USA Basketball system, assisting her in 2008 and playing for her with the former Charlotte Sting, especially in 2001 when the Sting went from 1-10 to the playoff finals against Los Angeles.

And being on the 2008 staff also means she had Cappie Pondexter as one of the players on the Beijing squad.

Meanwhile, veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin was a teammate of Staley's two seasons in the former American Basketball League, first in Richmond, Va., and then when the team moved to Philadelphia.

She would have been with Donovan for the start of 1998-99 season that died in December when the ABL collapsed in bankruptcy, but Staley decided the previous September to jump ship ahead of time and bolt to the WNBA.

Staley's Atlanta Connection: Yep, there's a strong tie here. Dream coach and general manager Marynell Meadors held both titles with the former Charlotte Sting when she chose Staley in the 1999 draft that included the former ABL players.

Staley's Indiana Connection: Well, a former teammate in Charlotte, who arrived on the Sting as a rookie, was fomer Rutgers center Tammy Sutton-Brown, one of the Fever post players.

Fever coach Lin Dunn had to contend with coaching against Staley when Dunn was coaching the Seattle Storm and earlier when Dunn was the coach of the Portland Power in the ABL.

It is possible, though records couldn't be checked at the late hour of this writing, that if Purdue played Virginia in the early '1990s then Dunn would have been on the Boilermakers bench going against Staley and the Cavaliers.

As for another strong Fever tie, Tamika Catchings was an Olympic teammate of Staley's in 2004 in Athens and of course the two were together again, but in an assistant coach-player relationship on the USA gold medalists in 2008 in China.

Staley's Seattle Connection:: First is the Olympic association here with Sue Bird, another former UConn star, playing as the backup point guard to Staley in 2004. Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson, a center, was on the opposing Australian team during Staley's international farewell as a player in 2004. All the associations, as mentioned above, were also in play here in the 2008 games in Beijing with Staley having become an assistant off her successful Temple coach experience.

Meanwhile Seattle coach Brian Agler guided the Columbus Quest in Ohio over Staley's Richmond Rage squad in the championship series in the first season of the ABL in 1996-97.

A Guru memory comes a year later -- Richmond was now in Philadelphia, which opened the 1997-98 season in Columbus. Staley went wire-to-wire on the last play of the game to beat the Quest.

Unfortunately, unknown to the Guru, who typed away furiously to make deadline, there was a malfunction in the press room back in Philadelphia and the last edition of the Inquirer with details of the win never made it to print.

This was in a time before Philly.com ramped it up but the Guru had previously made the website famous back in 1996 when a way was figured to carry the ABL draft, giving the site its first major threshhold of traffic.

For you Rutgers fans, incidentally, before Agler took over the Quest, he was Scarlet Knights' associate coach Carlene Mitchell's coach when she played at Mo.-Kansas City or UMKC or whatever it is called these days.

Duke Gtaduate WNBA Tales

A great season for the Washington Mystics came to a quick end with two routs by the Atlanta Dream in the Eastern Conference semifinals though anybody calling it a big upset because of the 4th-seed beating 1-seed is off the mark.

The four Eastern playoff teams were close together down the stretch and could have dropped into the playoff deck in almost any order. Not far behind, by the way, was the Connecticut Sun.

Which brings this Duke University thought: Mystics guard Lindsey Harding, a former Duke star, is stuck in Blue Devils history with that moment when she missed both foul shots with an eyelash of time left on the clock, causing the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament to be upset by Rutgers in the 2007 regional semifinals in Greensboro, N.C.. That upset propelled the Scarlet Knights to advance all the way to the national title game a week later in Cleveland.

Well, in hindsight, perhaps Washington might still be alive in round one were it not for a field goal Harding did make at the finish in the final weekend of the regular season.

It was a little over a week ago that Harding hit that shot with 13 seconds left that enabled the Mystics to stop New York's 10-game win streak and move into a three-way tie for first and go on to take the No. 1 seed.

If Harding misses, New York wins, gets the overall No. 1 seed in the East, and then matches with Atlanta. Ergo, Washington, with what would have been the No. 2 seed, still has home court advantage, but plays No. 3 Indiana, which might have been a better matchup even though the Mystics won the season series over both the Fever and the Dream.

There's still a Dookie to cheer for in Atlanta's Allison Bales, who has earned praise for her work in the sweep of the Mystics.

Dunn's Duos

Told you all the Guru has too much time on his hands this weekend not being on the road. No Old Ebbitts Grill Sunday night in D.C. thanks to Atlanta.

But the Guru digresses.

If Indiana repeats as Eastern Conference champion and plays against Seattle in the WNBA best-of-five championship series, Fever coach Lin Dunn will be going against the powerful 1-2 punch of Australian Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, the players she took overall No. 1 in the successive 2001 and 2002 WNBA drafts when Dunn held both the coach and general manager titles.

It will not be the first time that kind of storyline about Dunn's past drew attention.

In 1999 Dunn, who had coached Portland in the ABL, drew a crowd of reporters at the Women's Final Four semifinals in San Jose, Calif., after Duke and Purdue advanced to the NCAA title game.

The Blue Devils, incidentally, were in their first Final Four, courtesy of a regional final upset in Greensboro, N.C., when Duke shocked Tennessee, the overall No. 1 seed, short-circuiting the last collegiate days of senior star Chamique Holdsclaw.

Several seasons before in 1996 Dunn was fired by Purdue, causing a mass player exodus but two freshmen -- Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs -- remained. The Fever's Katie Douglas, who was recruited later, was also on the 1999 Boilermakrs.

Two other Dunn recruits, Michele Van Gorp and Nicole Erickson, transferred to Duke.

Naturally, everyone wanted to know who Dunn was going to cheer for in the title game. She just gave that famous grin and professed neutrality.

The coach of the winning Boilermakers was Carolyn Peck, who had announced well ahead of time that the 1999 season would be her last and she was heading to coach the Orlando Miracle in the WNBA, which several seasons later moved to casino-land as the Connecticut Sun.

Peck was already gone as coach and is now an analyst for ESPN on WNBA and NCAA women's basketball coverage.

WNBA.com's Web Site Fine Print Entry Door

Ok, first the Guru knows why things have to be done the way they are from a marketing perspective this time of year when it involves gateways to playoff teams from the league's main WNBA.com website.

But did you ever see those puzzle magazines in which you are asked to find hidden things in a picture or drawing.

Well, you can find the same game at each playoff team's sub-website when it comes to cnecking spellings, doing research, etc.

Unlike the regular season, when you click a link to the playoff team's page, you are hit with a mega marketing advertisement, especially selling tickets to the team's home games.

As for the entry link to get to the normal site with all the rosters, etc., here's the deal to save you hunting time. At the very bottom or in a bottom corner, you will find in fine print, as opposed to outstanding print, a little "enter blahblah.com" or something similar and you will find that which you seek, unless, of course, you are actually buying tickets and won't need to go further.

This public service item has been brought to you by the Guru foundation, in business for over 40 years trying to make life better for media colleagues.

Told you this was long but one more item to go.

If you had an iPad, reading would go quicker, which is a bit of advice upaid by Apple.


Curse of the No. 1 Draft Pick

Those of you who are veteran Guru followers at this blog might remember back in the days of one of the Disney Pirates of Caribbean movies several years ago that the Guru tongue-in-cheek noted how whichever WNBA coach had the opportunity to select a No. 1 overall pick of the draft, the coach making the selection didn't last much longer -- another season at best and most times not even in the same season the pick was made.

Indiana's Dunn, mentioned above, was one of those victims as it has already been noted following the successive picks of Jackson and Bird before Anne Donovan came along to cash in on the choices to guide Seattle to the 2004 championship.

Well, it now appears the curse has been broken for the moment -- though not entirely in the case of the Connecticut Sun.

Off a disastrous franchise debut from 2008, Atlanta general manager Marynell Mwadors had the honors -- incidentally, she's one of UConn's Geno Auriemma's assistants on next month's USA Basketball World Championship team along with DePaul's Doug Bruno and the Los Angeles Sparks' Jennifer Gillom, who avoided a conflict with the start of USA training camp in Washington courtesy of the Seattle Storm.

Anyhow, Meadors picked Angel McCoughtry fresh off the Louisville squad that had advanced to the NCAA title game losing to Big East rival UConn in the first of the two back-to-back unbeaten seasons by the Huskies.

That turned out rather well a year ago with Atlanta reversing direction in a forward thrust to the playoffs as Meadors was named coach of the year.

Progress continued this season with Atlanta holding first place through most of the way and now advancing to the Eastern finals as of now.

Meanwhile, as for the Connecticut Sun, which didn't win it but did obtain the No. 1 pick in last April's draft -- maybe good enough for coach Mike Tibault to have gotten an extension in his contract and executive support. Still, in that dynamic, the Sun are on the playoff sidelines for the second straight season.

As for that selection obtained by Connecticut, it was as surprising as a WNBA major announcement -- details unspecified in the media invite -- to made Tuesday at the Mohegan Sun -- think former UConn star Tina Charles in both situations.

The only other thing the announcement might provide is that because Connecticut, as a fifth place finisher in the East had a better record than the West second team, next season the Sun is going to be moved to the Western Conference to provide competitive balance. That's because every team except Seattle west of the Mississippi, or, in the case of the Minnesota Lynx, on top of the Mississippi, had a losing record.

The good news in that suspected move is that for the third straight summer, All-Star activity will continue at Mohegan, but the West won't be able to gripe anymore that recently they keep getting shut out of the All-Star action.

The Guru wouldn't be upset if the event actually went back to Orlando, Fla., we already noted that Sun tie earlier. Why? The shirmp feed at the NBA Store at Universal is still one of the all-time gormet events. Mohegan feeds are no longer eligible in media food discussions because of the unfair advangtage.

Speaking of killing time, the Guru might just go up to Mohegan using the announcement to take advantage of the one place he missed on the meal rounds after games in the casino.

Meet me at Margaritaville.

-- Mel

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