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.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A-10 Rivals of Past Meet In USA-Spain Game

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. --
There was a bit of a reunion of two past individual rivals from the Atlantic 10 Conference women's wars Sunday afternoon in the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Championship Finalists squad's 85-69 win over Spain's national team at the XL Center.

Former Temple star Candice Dupree, a 6-foot-2 All-Star forward who plays for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, entered the game in the final period -- she didn't arrive here until Saturday because of the WNBA playoffs -- and scored all 10 of her points, shooting 4-for-4 from the field.

Former George Washington forward Anna Montanana, a 2005 graduate, was a rose to the Spanish Hartford contingent in the crowd, scoring a game-high 21 points and hitting 5-of-7 three pointers.

Dupree, who graduated a year after Montanana, was the key factor in Temple's unseating of the Colonials as the A-10 rulers when the Owls won three straight conference titles from 2004-06.

Montanana played for a brief period with the Minnesota Lynx this season while Dupree originally was with the Chicago Sky when the then-expansion team made her the sixth overall pick in 2006.

Dupree was part of the three-team deal in the offseason that had her dealt to Phoenix while former Rutgers stars Cappie Pondexter landed, by request, with the New York Liberty, helping them to a tie for first with the Washington Mystics in the East and advancement to the conference finals against the Atlanta Dream.

Montana may have been an unknown to most of the non-Spanish fans in the stands but USA coach Geno Auriemma, also the coach of the two-time defending and twice unbeaten NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies, said she was a known commodity to his squad.

"One thing about our players, they know who every player is," he said.

Auriemma could not remember if she was still on GW when UConn played the Colonials several years ago.

"One thing I do know, she can shoot it. They never shoot it as well in college as they do in the pros," he added. "That's one thing that separates everybody. She shoots it like a pro. When it leaves her hand, she knows it's going in. I'm always amazed when you leave someone open they don't miss. In college, they might miss."

Auriemma also had compliments for Dupree, who had her best season to date this past summer.

"You throw the ball to Candice Dupree around the basket, she's going to score," he said. "There's a comfort level in that. It's not really a (WNBA) All-Star team but it is a collection of the best players."

Montanana talked a little about her development and also about Dupree's game now as opposed to their collegiate rivarly when Father Judge graduate Joe McKeown, now at Northwestern, was coaching her at GW while Dawn Staley, now at South Carolina, was developing Dupree at Temple.

"That was a long time ago," Montanana laughed about her days in the nation's capital. "When you start playing professional, now I like passing the ball and now I work harder than in college.

"You can see when (Dupree) was at Temple she was going to be a great player. Her game is better now and she's more mature."

Dupree also had a smile in discussing their encounter during the game.

"GW was always a rival," Dupree said. "I've seen her when she was with Minnesota and obviously she knocked down a few tonight.

"We get along. She complimented me on one of my moves today. It's all love."

Dupree is a Phoenix teammate of former UConn star Diana Taurasi, who was the 2009 MVP in the WNBA prior to the Mercury winning their second title in three seasons.

They were eliminated 2-0 by the Seattle Storm in the Western finals when Taurasi's former UConn teammate Sue Bird hit a three-pointer to break a tie with 2.8 seconds left in the game.

On Sunday Bird was a little quicker, hitting a shot inside with 2.6 seconds left to give Seattle the opening win in the Northwestern against Atlanta in the best-of-five finals. Game 2 is Tuesday night.

Taurasi got a little playful at first talking about what Dupree brought to Phoenix before giving her serious praise.

"She sucks. She sucks," Taurasi said first with her playful grin.

"She's great. She's one of the most talented players I've been around in a long time. She's so smooth. Great hands. Finishes with both hands. she has a great touch," Taurasi added.

"Once she got used to the second part of the season, she was putting up unbelievable numbers. I think she led the league in shooting percentage. She just got unbelievable touches."

During the preseason in discussing the trade Phoenix coach Corey Gaines, who succeeded former La Salle coach Paul Westhead, said Westhead's high-powered scoring system was actually designed more for a player with abilities such as Dupree.

"I knew my role was going to change," Dupree said about the switch from Chicago. "Corey told me when I got to Phoenix I would be getting up and down the court a lot more.

"That's exactly what I did. I was getting a lot of easy baskets in transition. The pace was a lot faster."

It's not a lock that Dupree will be on the USA squad when the roster is finalized for the FIBA World Championships this month in the Czech Republic but Sunday's performance had to help.

"Yesterday (Saturday) was my first practice, it was only about an hour long," the native of Orlando explained. "I'm still trying to get adjusted to the new systems that coach Auriemma is putting in which is why I probably didn't play until later on in the game.

"I'm just trying to do what I can when I get in and I felt I did pretty well today.

"I think he is harder on his own players more than us," Dupree said with a grin, "but he is one of the best coaches in the world.

"He's still the same cocky guy but we all love him. We're professionals and we're suppose to do things without him saying it. And we all do that on our own."

Former UConn star Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 pick of the Connecticut Sun and WNBA rookie of the year, had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Americans.

Kara Lawson, who also plays for the Sun, had 11 points, connecting on 3-of-4 three point attempts. Asjha Jones, another former UConn star who is on the Sun, had 10 points ans did UConn senior Maya Moore, the only collegian on the squad.

Charles may have to play more of a role if former LSU star Sylvia Fowles can't play in the worlds because of a leg injury.

"Doing that in the WNBA and doing that here, that might be a little different than having to do it over there (in Europe)," Auriemma said of Charles. "I hope Sylvia is 100 percent so we can find that out gradually. But if she's not, we're going to have to find that out quickly.

"And I'm ok with that. I'm ok with going with Tina and having to count on her a lot I'm ok. I'm worried that if there's foul problems and if there's some injury or sickness where do we go from there.

"If Sylvia is going to be 100 percent, I'm going to be the happiest guy in the world," Auriemma said. "If not, I'm going to be ok with Tina. If something happens to Tina, I'm not going to be ok that much longer."

The USA heads to Spain for more exhibitions this week before moving on to the main competition.

The squad lost the World Championships in 2006 when such stars as former WNBA great Lisa Leslie couldn't play and had to go the long qualifying root to earn a place in the Olympics for the 2008 Games in Beijing, China, where the USA won its fourth straight gold medal.

This time around Fowles' situation in terms of activation won't be known for a while yet and the team is also missing former Tennessee star Candice Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks because of shoulder and leg surgery.

Still missing are Bird and former UConn star Swin Cash, who are playing in the finals for Seattle while former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 rookie of the year, is playing for Atlanta.

Addtionally, Spain is awaiting Sancho Lyttle who also is with Atlanta.

Former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn, who plays for the New York Liberty and is a recent addition to the core group, is not here because of a leg injury. There's no word whether the selection committee might add former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of the Washington Mystics, a finalist for league MVP and a native of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia.

Atlanta Hurt By One Bird Too Many

The Dream apparently were able to deal with Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street entourage when a schedule switch enabled them to play Game 3 in the Phillips Arena, their regular home in downtown Atlanta when the finals move South Thursday.

A potential Game 4 would still be at the Gwinnett Center 30 miles away in Duluth on Sunday.

Sue Bird, as mentioned above, was impossible to overcome in Sunday's opener in Seattle.

The native of New York canned a shot with 2.6 seconds left, 0.2 seconds faster then her game winner over Phoenix in the West finals, as Seattle edged Atlanta 79-77 in Sunday's opener in the Pacific Northwest.

The Storm had the league's best record at 28-6 and swept the Dream, fourh seed in the East (19-15), in both regular season meetings.

Game 2 is Tuesday night on ESPN2.

Seattle is now 20-0 at home this season in Key Arena and has had two straight narrow victories. Australian sensation Lauren Jackson, the new WNBA MVP, had 20 points for the Storm. Former UNC star Camille Little had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

McCoughtry, who was in foul trouble, had 19 points for Atlanta. Lyttle had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

The victory will enable USA coach Auriemma to maintain peace and love among his former UConn stars on Seattle -- Bird, Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova, who is from Russia.

Anxious for the finals to end quickly to get the other missing players to report, Auriemma told the Associated Press here jesting that whoever wins the first game he would root for that team to sweep at 3-0 even though an Atlanta win in Game won would come at the expense of his former stars.

Now he can root for both Seattle and his ex-Huskies.

While Sylvia's Away From the Windy City

Fowles had no idea the Chicago Sky was going to let go coach Steven Key after the team finished last in the East this season, which, if nothing else has them, in the hunt for the No. 1 lottery pick, likely to be UConn's Moore.

It was also news to DePaul coach Doug Bruno, an assistant here to Auriemma on the USA staff.

"No, I didn't know it was coming, it was a surprising decision that they made," Fowles said here. "You just have to press forward and look forward to whoever is coming in for the future."

Fowles also went through coaching changes at LSU when Pokey Chatman resigned and Hall of Famer Van Chancellor took over the Tigers.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

One missing person not yet discussed in this report is the Liberty's Cappie Pondexter, a native of Chicago who is a budding fashion designer and spending this week in Manhattan at Fashion Week.

Auriemma also said that Pondexter had some injury problems and was not likely to be on the team when it competes in the world championship.

He did not elablorate but during the weekend it was easy to get a sense that while they cannot do anything to make Pondexter appear, there is some concern over the consequences Pondexter's absence could cause if the USA squad has to go the long route again.

But in another vein earlier at the postgame press conference without any reference to Pondexter, Auriemma noted that he had told his USA team Sunday morning:

"This is a three year program. There have been some people not on the World Championship team who played in the Olympics and some who played in the World Championship but did not make the Olympic team.

"This is not just for now. It's a three-year program."

Auriemma also said he is looking forward to play in Spain this week.

"It's one of the countries I've never been but wanted to go. Of course, there are some countries that I've never been that I don't want to go.

-- Mel


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