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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, September 11, 2010

USA Basketball Women Serve a Buffet of Talent

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. --
Though some delights have yet to make it to the display trays on the USA Basketball World Championship Team Finalists, the talents appearing Friday night in an 89-56 exhibition wipeout of Australia were a plentiful feast for the eyes of the crowd here at the XL Center.

The international socialities in advance of the real games later this month in the Czech Republic continue the rest of the weekend with the Aussies meeting Spain at the University of Hartford Saturday afternoon before the USA group meets Spain Sunday afternoon back in the XL Center.

UConn nation lives in this building much of the collegiate winter season so the American lineup was nothing untasted in the past.

On the Australian side, however, a previous unknown commodity impressed in 19-year-old Elizabeth Cambage, a 6-foot-8 center from Bulleen Boomers who scored 18 points.

"She kind of came out of nowhere," said USA coach Geno Auriemma, also the UConn coach of the two-time defending NCAA champion Huskies who have put together back-to-back unbeaten seasons.

He noted that Cambage had come a long way since a private scrimmage won by Australia a month ago during WNBA All-Star weekend down the road at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment complex. Auriemma expressed concern at the thought of how much better she might be in a few weeks overseas and two years from now when the Olympic Games are held in London.

Expect to see Cambage become a high selection when the WNBA draft is held in April.

Because of the WNBA season and the domination of the roster by the American professionals -- UConn senior Maya Moore is the only collegian -- Auriemma only had five days to put together a concotion that would be a hit to his staff as well as the crowd.

Auriemma said for the things his players were able to practice, he was pleased with their performance and added he had told them not to worry about things the team has yet handle.

Moore, likely the No. 1 WNBA pick in the spring, had a team-high 16 points for USA, while WNBA Connecticut Sun guard Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee star, scored 15 points, hitting 3-of-4 three-point attempts along the way.

Olympic veteran Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever scored 12 points while the WNBA defensive player of the year also who starred at Tennessee in college had three steals and three blocked shots.

Lawson was with Auriemma in the postgame press conference and got some ribbing from him over the former UConn-Tennessee rivalry when he said he was not hard to play for but he had some rules like limiting the number of "(Southeastern Conference) players on the floor at the same time."

Moore could also be seen making a slight smirk when Auriemma was comparing the way he coaches the USA squad with the way he handles his collegians.

Former UConn sensation Diana Taurasi, fresh off the former defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury's elimination by the Seattle Storm in the Western Conference finals, took advantage of her knowledge of the local countryside to get to the arena and play a few minutes Friday night.

"The itinerary said I was supposed to land around 6 p.m.-6:30 p.m. but we arrived at 5:30 and I thought, `I can make the game.' We also got here pretty quick from the airport," she said with a grin.

USA officials had a uniform ready for her in case she was able to get to the XL Center by the 7:30 p.m. listed tipoff.

Taurasi, the WNBA MVP in 2009, got into the game late in the third quarter drawing a huge ovation.

When asked if that was the longest Taurasi had ever sat on Auriemma's bench, he responded that she wanted to play.

"But I wasn't going to let her get in the game ahead of these guys."

One of them is former Stanford star Jayne Appel, a 6-4 center now with WNBA San Antonio who played here against UConn last December in a game in which the Cardinal challenged the Huskies in the first half, holding a brief lead.

Several months later a foot injury rendered Appel ineffective when Connecticut rallied in the title game against Stanford in San Antonio, Texas.

But Friday she had become a home girl here and drew praise from Auriemma for her work defending Cambage grabbing eight rebounds and making one steal.

"She was just what we needed tonight," he said.

To a certain extent the matchup with Australia, the key threat to the USA recapturing the world title they lost in 2006, was like an early spring training game in baseball.

Australia missed superstar Lauren Jackson who is with the Seattle Storm that will open at home Sunday in the best-of-five WNBA championship series against the third-year Atlanta Dream.

Former UConn stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird are also on the Storm, precluding an appearance here. Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, fresh off the New York Liberty's elimination by Atlanta, has yet to arrive, while Phoenix's Candice Dupree, a former Temple star was expected to be here Saturday.

Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry is also a key absentee because of the finals.

Australia's Penny Taylor, who has had a series of injuries and plays for Phoenix, was due in also perhaps in time for Saturday's game against Spain.

Coach Carrie Graff, a former Phoenix coach, was not sure of Taylor's condition but said "we may have her taped like a mummy" for the game against Spain.

Discussing her joy being on the squad, Catchings noted that common misery has been a great unifier in getting the USA group out of the mindset from the WNBA season and quickly into the pursuit of a gold medal in the Czech Republic.

Just over a week ago Catchings, whose Indiana team nearly won the WNBA 2009 title against Phoenix, stood at the podium in New York after being eliminated by the Liberty. She had an edge in her voice as she chided herself and her Fever teammates over the lack of intensity they had at times defending their Eastern title.

Asked if quickly joining the USA group was therapeutic, Catching said it was.

"We're all here because we didn't advance in the playoffs," Catchings said. "So we all have something in common now.

"And we have those players on Seattle and Atlanta and some are going to come here happy and some are going to be down. At least for me having a couple days break and then getting back in it, like I said, playing with such great players always helps."

-- Mel

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