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, September 05, 2010

WNBA: Seattle and Atlanta Ride Road to Playoff Wins

By Mel Greenberg

Enemy arenas were hurdled by the Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream Sunday in grabbing WNBA playoff victories.

Seattle's Sue Bird had the final word in Phoenix, shooting a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining to end the Mercury's reign as WNBA defending champions with a 91-88 victory and advance to the WNBA finals as Western Conference champions for the first time since the Storm won it all in 2004.

The Storm, who had the best WNBA regular season record at 28-6 and swept their second straight playoff series 2-0, overcame a 19-point deficit that existed in the third quarter and closed out the second-seeded Mercury with a 15-0 run.

Diana Taurasi, who was a teammate of Bird's at UConn on the fabled 2002 unbeaten NCAA champions, missed a contested three-pointer attempting to tie the game. That enabled the Storm to go a WNBA record 7-0 against Phoenix, which was 15-19 in the regular season.

A few hours later here at Madison Square Garden, Atlanta sent the New York Liberty into the ropes in the best-of-three Eastern Conference championship opener with an 81-75 victory as former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry scored 21 points, including 13 in the decisive fourth quarter when she hits 11-of- 14 free throw attempts.

McCoughtry, an overall No. 1 draft pick, was the WNBA rookie of the year last season after carrying the Cardinals to the NCAA title game against UConn, which won the first of the Huskies' two back-to-bach unbeaten crowns.

New York's magic of recent months transformed to tragedy Sunday night.

Instead of completing another stirring rally, the wheels came apart at the finish.

Unless the Liberty finds a way to cut into the Dream's 40-28 rebounding Tuesday night in Atlanta, Sunday's game here will have been the last for Hall of Famer Anne Donovan, who is moving back to the collegiate ranks across the Hudson River at Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J.

The New York loss will be a tough one to digest without a potential encore Thursday. The Liberty, who have enjoyed a renaissance this season, will call the Prudential Center across the Hudson in Newark, N.J. their temporary home the next three summers while the Garden undergoes renovations.

Meanwhile fourth-seeded Atlanta (19-15) did not appear to need to shake off any rust following a 10-day layoff. The Dream earned extra rest by blitzing through No. 1 Washington 2-0 in the conference semifinals. They then had to wait for the No. 2 Liberty to emerge from their three-game series Wednesday night here with the Indiana Fever, who had been the defending Eastern champions.

Instead it was the Liberty who appeared to have been enjoying siesta sessions.

"I don't know what our mindset was coming into the game, but I don't think it was aggressive enough," said All-Star Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers sensation who had a game-high 24 points for New York. "I think Atlanta did a great job coming out with energy because sometimes when you have too many days off you come out really flat, but they didn't.

"At this time of year, it's about a will, it's not abour restng or not having days off. It's about who wants it the most and tonight Atlanta did."

Sancho Lyttle, a 2005 graduate of Houston who spent four seasons in a substitute's role on the nearby and former four-time WNBA champion Comets, had 18 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta.

Erika de Souza, a starter who has been coming off the bench in the playoffs, had 12 points and 11 rebounds as Atlanta continues its rise the third year in the league.

"You have to look at the way we built the Atlanta Dream team," veteran coach-general manager Marynell Meadors said. "It's built on speed, quickness, depth and balance. I think we've got great balance from top to bottom, and everybody comes to play. When one doesn't play well another one will and that's the great balance and depth we have."

The Liberty got outplayed in the first half as the Dream dominated the paint with a 36-18 advantage and 17-2 on second chance points to go into the break ahead 44-39.

However, being behind is not anything the announced Garden crowd of 14,248 hadn't seen before.

Since the All-Star break when New York (22-12) made its 15-3 run to a first-place tie with Washington and set a franchise record for wins, numerous times the Liberty used strong efforts in the second half to avoid potential losses.

As recently as Wednesday night when the game seemed to be getting away, New York was able to perform magic once again in the final moments.

Thus all seemed business as usual when Pondexter's two foul shots gave New York a 75-74 lead with 54.9 seconds left.

But Atlanta persevered. McCoughtry quickly got the lead back at the foul line that had become home down the stretch.

Pondexter, attempting to counter, missed a layup and Atlanta made it 78-75 on Iziane Castro Marques' layup with 36.9 seconds left.

New York then committed a turnover and McCoughtry hit one-of-two attempts from the line. Lytttle scored two more when New York was forced to foul.

"You have to take care of the backboard and in the first half we did not do that," Donovan said. "We made only mistakes in the last two minutes that we do not normally make. This was the difference in the game.

"We had two bad turnovers and fouled when we should not have fouled," she continued and then addressed the Liberty's spirit.

"What I know is this group has been there before and they all have their own experience and we have to go to Atlanta to get it done."

One reason the Liberty didn't protect its own court Sunday night -- they return here Thursday for Game 3 if they win in Atlanta -- was the absence of center Janelle McCarville, who missed her second straight game after spraining her ankle in a morning shootaround before Wednesday's game with Indiana.

"She's our leading rebounder," Donovan said in stating the obvious on why she was missed.

Furthermore, the win against Indiana was highlighted by support from the bench, especially substitute center Kia Vaughn, the former Rutgers star who is a second-year pro.

On Sunday night, however, Vaughn couldn't follow up. She scored all four of the points off the bench and had just two rebounds.

Two starters joined Pondexter in double figures with Plenette Pierson scoring 18 points and former Stanford star Nicole Powell using outside shooting to add 15 to the Liberty total. Veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 11 rebounds.

Meanwhile, in Phoenix Swin Cash, the former UConn star who was a force in the rise of the former WNBA champion Detroit Shock, scored a team-high 23 points for Seattle.

Taurasi, who led the WNBA in scoring this season and was the 2009 MVP, had 28 points for the Mercury.

A year ago, she and Pondexter, who came to New York in a mega three-team deal, were part of the tandem in the WNBA championship finals that enabled the Mercury to tie the Fever 2-2 in Indianapolis and return back to Phoenix to win the title in the final minutes.

Asked what there is to draw on that experience going into Tuesday night's game in Atlanta, Pondexter said it's all about getting home for the next game.

"We play best when our backs are against the wall."

If not, she and Taurasi will soon be together again in Washington, where the USA national team under UConn coach Geno Auriemma has begun training for this month's FIBA world championships in the Czech Republic.

Former Temple star Candice Dupree, who plays with Taurasi, is also on her way to the nation's capital.

Bird, who already has one famed buzzer-beater that gave UConn the Big East title in 2001 over Notre Dame, will eventually join the group.

But first there's the matter of another ring to pursue adding to the one she and Aussie star Lauren Jackson won with the Storm in 2004.

Liberty vacancy: With the fine print now signed off on the Liberty's move to Newark the next three summers, New York president Carol Blazejowski will soon have to find the succesor to Donovan, who moved up to the head coaching role in the middle of last season when Patty Coyle was let go.

Incidentally, if New York were to advance Donovan will have led three different teams to the WNBA Finals -- the first to do so. She took the former Charlotte Sting to the 2001 finals against Los Angeles after a 1-10 start and was Seattle's coach for the 2004 championship.

"Right now, I just want to enjoy the moment," Blazejowski said of the Liberty's return to their glory days in the WNBA's early era.

She indicated she would wait to see what the interest is in the soon-to-be vacancy.

Blazejowski is optimistic about the Prudential Center -- "It's a nice place" -- but she noted her strong attachment to the Garden where some of her greater moments occurred as a player for Montclair State.

"You saw it here the other night," she said. "It just has its own magic and energy about it, especially when it is packed and ecveryone is on their feet."

-- Mel



Blogger ever said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:00 AM  
Blogger ever said...

None of the reporting on Sunday's first game of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Liberty and the Dream comments on the horrible officiating. I was at the Garden for the game and was disgusted by the whistle-happy referees who seemed to think that every play needed to ultimately be decided by a foul. It was extremely frustrating to watch: it broke up the rhythm of the game completely and in the end, made the match appear a free-throw contest. There were some really ridiculous jump ball calls and some blocks that in replay were simply undeniably all ball. In short, the calls were exaggerated and inconsistent. I sincerely hope that the officials reorient for Game 2 and take a different approach to refereeing this series. I say this as an enthusiastic supporter of the WNBA who hates to see games bogged down by the same nonsense that lead NBA basketball into its turn for the worse in the nineties.

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