WNBA: Sizzling Sunday As Stretch Drive Continues
NEW YORK -- With almost every game in the WNBA having some importance attached to the outcomes these days, there weren't enough presidents to go around Sunday as teams continued to jockey against each other to reach the postseason.
Donna Orender, president of the WNBA, was here in Madison Square Garden where the New York Liberty fended off a 16-0 run by the Connecticut Sun in the second half and emerged at the finish with a 71-67 victory to put New York past Connecticut into fourth place in the tight race in the Eastern Conference.
Barack Obama, President of the United States, took his daughter Sasha and a friend of hers unidentified by the White House for a short trip from 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. to the Verizon Center to see the host Mystics produce a lop-sided 87-62 victory over the Tulsa Shock who used to be identified as a three-time WNBA champion when the franchise existed in Detroit prior to this season.
Apparently Sasha's friend was allowed to remain anonymous by the media in Washington -- unless a story has since appeared -- unlike details elsewhere sought last week over Saturday's wedding of former President Clinton's daughter Chelsea.
While the Shock couldn't absorb anything from the Mystics, another shock of sorts was in the house in the Twin Cities where the Minnesota Lynx upset the visiting Seattle Storm 72-71, ending the Storm's 13-game win streak.
Also, the New York Daily News is reporting in Monday's editions that plans are almost set for the Liberty to play its next three summers across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., at the Rock (Prudential Center) while the Garden undergoes renovations.
More details later in this post.
In other Sunday action, the defending champion Phoenix Mercury also grabbed a one-point thriller, topping the upset-minded Chicago Sky 97-96 as Diana Taurasi, the reigning MVP, hit two foul shots with 3.7 seconds remaining and finished with 35 points.
Finally, the Atlanta Dream (18-9) had a peachy time at home in Georgia beating the defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever 90-74 to snap a tie with the opposition (16-9) and return to sole possession of first place.
The amazing thing with the league this season is teams that win enjoy a great night afterwards only to wake up the next morning and realize the effort will have gone for naught unless they can overcome another tough opponent the next time out.
And the teams that lose in a similar situation find that hill they are trying to climb just got a little steeper.
The Conference Races
In terms of standings, which will remain in place until Tuesday games, Washington's win kept the Mystics (15-10) in third place in the East, just two games behind Atlanta, one behind Indiana, but only one in front of New York (14-11).
The Liberty's win finally moved them into the fourth and last playoff spot out of the East for now ahead of the Sun (13-12), which is four games behind Atlanta. New York also has a tie-break advantage over Connecticut, having clinched the season series 3-1 with one game remaining to be played just before the playoffs.
The loss by Chicago (12-15) kept the Sky mired in sixth place falling three games behind the fourth playoff spot. And with the Mercury (12-13) winning that game, no longer does the last place team in the East have a better record than second place Phoenix in the West.
Seattle (22-3), which had already clinched its first regular season conference title in the West, is no longer in position to top the 25-2 start by the former Houston Comets in 1998, the WNBA's second season.
Phoenix's second-place gulf behind the Storm shrank slightly smaller by 10 games, but the Mercury are now two games in front of the third-place San Antonio Silver Stars (12-15), who were idle.
The two will meet twice this week.
Minnesota (8-16) slipped in front of the idle Los Angeles Sparks (8-17) by a half-game into fourth for the final playoff spot and trail San Antonio by 1.5 games.
The Lynx will host Connecticut Tuesday in an interesting matchup for those watching the reverse out-of-the playoff situation involving the draft lottery and the chance to grab UConn senior Maya Moore with the No. 1 pick.
A Minnesota win will continue to help the Lynx cause in the tight race, bad records notwithstanding, for playoff action. At the same time it will keep Connecticut from regaining similar ground.
In the best of both worlds for those who still favor winning, in that scenario, the Lynx extend their season BUT if the Sun lose out, Minnesota owns Connecticut's pick courtesy of the draft day trade that sent former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin to the Sun.
On the other hand, if Minnesota gets aced out, it's possible the Lynx, as has been mentioned here before, will have two of four shots to land Moore.
The team that will have the best shot will be the forlorn sixth-place Tulsa Shock (4-22), which is five games behind Minnesota with eight remaining to reduce the magic number toward official lottery status.
Liberty Own Sun For Now
Connecticut entered the game here against the Liberty coming off its worst-ever pounding since taking up residence in New England when Atlanta routed the Sun Friday night in Uncasville.
With the winner of Sunday's game in the Garden destined to move into the fourth slot all alone, the competition was worthy of the stakes tied to the outcome.
Ultimately, New York's first real franchise star in several seasons made good again as former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter scored 24 points, including three key foul shots in the final minute. The native of Chicago also became the second fastest person in the WNBA to reach 3,000 points, which came in her 154th game. Former UConn star Diana Taurasi, who had been teammates with Pondexter in Phoenix since the Scarlet Knights sensation went second overall in 2006, reached the milestone in her 151st game.
It was the second straight game in which New Yotk was able to lock down the opposition in the fourth quarter after Friday's win here over Los Angeles.
"Sometimes a team has another team's number," Pondexter said of New York's ability to beat the Sun this season. New York hadn't topped Sunday's opponent in season-series play since it was known as the Orlando Miracle in 2001.
"It's weird because all along we've been saying we're a really good team, our record isn't showing it or we're falling short in the fourth quarter," Pondexter said while enjoying a night in which she reached another milestone but this time her team was able to win the game.
"I thank God for those earlier lessons that we learned earlier in the season because now it's starting to pay off."
Connecticut once again imploded with 20 turnovers including a key one with 30.9 seconds remaining by former UConn star Renee Montgomery, with the Sun down two points, that resulted in Pondexter hitting her third foul shot in the closing seconds.
She snapped the tie on a previous possession with two foul shots when the Sun lost sight of her until the last moment and sent her to the line.
"How we could not stay focused on Cappie on the play when it was tied is beyond me because that was the whole dicussion at the timeout and if she used a pick-and-roll we were going to double her, but we were going to make her a passer," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "She put her head down and we don't see her until the last second.
"Other than that Cappie made some tough shots but it's a tough game to give them that many shots (64 to the Sun's 57).
Asjha Jones, who reached her 3,000th point Friday night, had 18 for the Sun, while Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 draft pick out of UConn, had her 16th double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, though she last achieved that feat on July 17th.
The game was Charles' second official homecoming trip this season to her native New York after a prolific career her final two seasons at UConn when the Huskies won back-to-back NCAA titles with perfect records.
Meanwhile, Kristie Ackert in the New York Daily News is reporting in Mondsy's editions that the Liberty will play the next three summers at the Rock (Prudential Center) across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., while the Garden undergoes renovations.
Ackert is known to have a creditable source not tied to the Liberty or its parent NBA New York Knicks operation.
Observers have anticipated that move since the Garden plans had been announced.
An official announcement by the Liberty is expected soon.
To understand why New York can enjoy Sunday's win for just a little while, ahead this week is a visit to Indiana Tuesday, a visit from Washington, Friday, and then a trip to Minnesota Sunday. The Lynx have already beaten the Liberty in New York.
Connecticut, though, travels to Minnesota, Tuesday, then on to Seattle Thursday, and will host Washington on Sunday.
Washington did not suffer a letdown following Friday's impressive win at Indiana.
Obama became the first sitting president to attend a WNBA game, he had courtside seats, but it appears there was no media interview ability based on the lack of quotes at this late/early morning hour in stories about his attendance.
During the WNBA's 14-year existence, past presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, along with Obama, have welcomed WNBA champions to the White House to note their achievements.
In Sunday's game, the Mystics' Monique Currie, a former Duke star, and Katie Smith, the former Ohio State sensation, each scored 15 points. Former Maryland star Marissa Coleman had her first WNBA double double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while her former Terrapins teammate Crystal Langhorne scored 11 points.
"It's just a king of surreal thing to look over and see the President of the United States sitting courtside," Coleman said, alluding to a game once attended by LeBron James as the only other time she noticed a celebrity of sorts near the action.
Tiffany Jackson scored 14 points for the Shock.
Washington's week includes a visit to Atlanta, Tuesday, the game in New York Friday, and then the visit to Connecticut, Sunday.
Tulsa, which seems only capable of being a spoiler the rest of the way, hosts Seattle on Tuesday, visits Los Angeles on Friday night and then on to Seattle Saturday for a second game this week against the Storm.
Mercury Surge Continues
Phoenix, starting to look more like a defending champion and continues to hit the 90s and beyond almost nightly on the scoreboard.
Besides Taurasi's 35 and 11 assists in the win over Chicago, former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 19 points.
Sylvia Fowles, a former all-American at LSU, had a career high 35 points for the Sky.
Phoenix travels to San Antonio Tuesday and then hosts the Silver Stars on Friday. The Mercury will also host Indiana Sunday in a cross-conference matchup.
Chicago, which is getting closer to the draft lottery being three games behind fourth with seven remaining, travels to Los Angeles Wednesday, and hosts Minnesota Saturday.
The Sky had been 6-0 against the West, including a win at home over Seattle, before the loss to Phoenix.
Lynx Not Missing in Topping Seattle
Former LSU star Seimone Augustus had 24 points to lift Minnesota, which had suffered several narrow losses to the Storm. She also reached her 2,500 career points, which occurred in her 120th WNBA game. That milestone for fastest to the number is topped only by former Houston Comets All-Star Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who took 117 games to reach that total.
Cooper-Dyke, who will coach N.C.-Wilmington in the Colonial Athletic Association after having guided Texas-Pan American to several NCAA appearances, will be inducted later this month into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Former UConn star Sue Bird scored 16 points for Seattle in the loss.
After Minnesota hosts Connecticut on Tuesday, the Lynx travel to Chicago Saturday and host New York on Tuesday.
Seattle travels to Tulsa on Tuesday, hosts Connecticut Thursday and in a second game with the Shock this week, hosts Tulsa on Saturday.
Dream Attack Becoming East's Nightmare
Iziane Castro Marquez put up 22 points for Atlanta, while Angel McCoughtry, last season's rookie of the year out of Louisville, scored 20 for the Dream in the win over Indiana.
The Fever's Tamika Catchings had 24 points.
Indiana hosts New York Tuesday, Atlanta on Friday, and then travels to Phoenix on Sunday.
The Dream, meanwhile, hosts Washington, Tuesday and visits Indiana Friday.
As for the teams that were idle Sunday, Los Angeles will host Chicago Wednesday, Tulsa on Friday, and San Antonio on Sunday. The Silver Stars hosts Phoenix Tuesday, return to the Arizona desaert to play the Mercury Friday, and then visit Los Angeles Sunday.
With East teams traveling away until Friday, the Guru will observe the games from afar and most likely visit the local summer league playoffs, which enter semifinal play Tuesday, before the best-of-three finals begin Thursday.