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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Dream Rocks Liberty At The Rock

(Guru’s note: A post above this contains former and founding WNBA president Val Ackerman’s acceptance speech into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn. As promised she shipped the Guru a copy to save transcription time.)

By Mel Greenberg

The defending WNBA Eastern Conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream finished off a nightmarish day for the New York Liberty Tuesday night with a dominating 79-58 victory at the Prudential Center, the Liberty’s temporary home away from Madison Square Garden the next three seasons while the fabled Mahattan venue undergoes renovations.

The Dream, which had gotten off to a 0-3 start, including two losses in overtime, finally broke into the win column while New York fell to 2-2 with both losses occurring here.

The Liberty, who went down 2-0 to Atlanta in the 2010 Eastern Conference best-of-three finals, had beaten the Dream on the road in one of the overtime games in the season opener for both teams almost two weeks ago.

Former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 rookie of the year, said she is “80 percent” recovered from a knee injury in training camp that caused her to miss the first game with New York.

She was healthy enough Tuesday night to score 18 points on 6-for-11 from the floor to lead the Dream, who also got 12 points from Erika DeSouza, 10 from Sancho Lyttle, the third starter in double figures, and 10 from Sandora Irvin off the bench.

DeSouza and Lyttle have also had injuries to hamper Atlanta’s start.

But it was a player who only had three points in just over eight minutes whom Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors is counting on to help the Dream’s depth deepen in season four of the franchise’s short history and perhaps go one step further than in 2010 to the WNBA title.

That would be former Penn State star Kelly Mazzante, the Lady Lions’ and Big Ten Conference’s all-time scorer, whom Meadors, also the general manager, quickly scooped up as a free agent signee right after the San Antonio Silver Stars made Mazzante a final roster cut in getting down to the limit of 11 players before the season got under way.

“No question about it,” Meadors said of taking Mazzante. “I tried to do that four years ago and I was one of the ones who upped her salary and made Phoenix (Mercury) pay.

“I laid an offer on her in 2008 but she stayed with Phoenix, probably a good move for her at that time, because we weren’t very good in 2008 as everybody knows, but we had a chance to put her on our roster,” Meadors continued.

“As soon as she gets a chance to get in the flow of what we’re doing, she’ll get her minutes. She’s a great player and a great shooter.”

Some of Mazzante’s freshmen records at Penn State went by the boards last season as freshman Maggie Lucas, a Germantown Academy graduate out of suburban Philadelphia, helped the Lady Lions return to prominence and a first appearance since 2005 in the NCAA tournament, which was a year after Mazzante’s graduation.

Mazzante was actually with New York for a brief flash in time prior to the start of 2010 having landed from Phoenix in the three-team deal that also brought former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter from the desert to New York in moves that also involved the Chicago Sky.

But she had suffered an ACL injury and was quickly cut. She signed in March as a free agent with San Antonio and connected for four three-pointers in an exhibition game near her home against the Connecticut Sun at the Mohegan Sun’s Wilkes-Barre, Pa., venue.

However, that was not good enough, though Mazzante said she still had hopes to make a WNBA roster.

“It was a situation of personnel in San Antonio,” Mazzante said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to be back. I just did my thing and Atlanta called.

“Things happen for a reason, so I’m here now and that is the most important thing. It’s a good spot. Obviously, there’s a lot of talent here 1-through-11, so whenever I get an opportunity I’ll try to take advantage.”

The Atlanta win leaves two teams out of the West and rest of the WNBA yet to triumph – Phoenix (0-2) and the Tulsa Shock, which dipped to 0-5 Tuesday night, losing competitively 82-74 to the Indiana Fever on the road in Indianapolis at Conseco Fieldhouse.

New York is still adjusting to the move here and part of it has been the longer trek from Westchester Country, where most of the players live near the Liberty training center.

A consequence Tuesday was two rookie players – Jessica Breland and Alex Montgomery getting rear-ended in a mishap witnessed by veteran Plenette Pierson, who was driving ahead of them.

Two assistant coaches were also in involved in an auto collision though no one in the New York delegation was injured in either accident
Those accidents may have palled compared to the collision on the boards with Atlanta, which dominated with a 37-26 rebounding advantage.

The game started as if it was going to be Rutgers alumni night on the New York Liberty’s squad with former Scarlet Knights Kia Vaughn on the inside and Essence Carson on the outside scoring with some help from sister Rutgers alum Pondexter.

Carson scored 21 points and Vaughn had a career high 16 with seven rebounds and blocked three shots. But that was it for double figures from New York, which only got seven from Pondexter.

Indeed some veteran Liberty observers wondered whether problems could lie ahead considering Pondexter did not get her usual share of shots – she was 3-for-12 from the floor.

The rebounding was a fear expressed by new coach-general manager John Whisenant before the game to the media. He also admitted to a rebuilding process to install his intense defensive “White Line” defense, which factored in a WNBA title in Sacramento in 2005 with the Monarchs, with whom he had similar duties prior to the team’s dissolve in the winter of 2009.

It hasn’t helped matters with Janelle McCarville declining to play this season for New York and veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin moving on as a free agent to sign with the Minnesota Lynx, whom Atlanta plays Friday night. The two teams will then meet again Sunday in Atlanta.

Though it was the second time in two games that New York had to deal with problems getting to the Rock, Atlanta had had its share of travel woes with cancelled flights and an extended trip into New Jersey.

The attendance was listed at 5,725, matching the number that was the Guru’s phone extension at The Inquirer, though at game time the crowd seemed as if it easily all arrived on the same Jersey Transit commuter train.

During the game as the Guru was looking for a GPS to find his way from the main concourse back to press row, former Liberty coach Anne Donovan, a Hall of Famer now coaching Seton Hall, was doing likewise to figure out how to get back to her suite.

In a brief chitchat, Donovan expressed regrets over the recent controversy at her alma mater Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., in which longtime coach Wendy Larry resigned and has since been replaced by former Lady Monarchs assistant and former Elon head coach Karen Barefoot.

New York on Friday night travels to the Chicago Sky. The WNBA will throw the schedule into idle Wednesday night before the Guru will be on hand for Thursday’s singular game in Washington when the Mystics host the Connecticut Sun.

Fever Absorbs Shock

Meanwhile, the only other competition on the WNBA slate Tuesday night was the Indiana game in which the Fever’s Katie Douglas, a former Purdue star, had 22 points, seven rebounds, and for the second time this season matched her career high with six three-pointers.

Douglas also became the first WNBA player with at least 500 treys to go with 500 steals, a milestone she reached Tuesday with No. 500 coming with a swipe against the Shock.

Jessica Davenport scored 14 for Indiana (3-1), whose only loss was a week ago Friday night at home to New York before recovering to beat the Liberty here 24 hours later. Briann January had 12 points and 10 assists.

The Shock were without overall No. 2 draft pick and Australian Elizabeth Cambage, who suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss at the Connecticut.

Former North Carolina star Ivory Latta collected 19 points for Tulsa, which had the league’s worst record a year ago after relocating under new ownership from Detroit, which won three titles. The Shock’s Jennifer Lacy had 14 points. Rookie Kayla Pedersen from Stanford got 13 points and former Oklahoma State star Andrea Riley had 10.

Indiana heads to the defending champion Seattle Storm Friday night, while Tulsa, in the WNBA’s only Saturday night game this week, will host Washington.

San Antonio will host Phoenix in the only other Friday night game on the schedule, while, on Sunday, the weekend slate will be completed with Chicago at Connecticut, Indiana at Phoenix and Seattle at the Western Conference challenging Los Angeles Sparks.

WNBA Presidential Tour Continues

New WNBA president Laurel Ritchie continued her introductory tour stopping at the league’s 12 franchise and Tuesday night it was New York’s turn here to receive a visit so Richie could have a brief session with the local media.
ncidentally, for the curious, regulars on the beat from the New York Daily News, Newsday, and the New York Post as well as Associated Press women’s national pro writer Vin Cherwoo made the trip here across the Hudson River from Manhattan and beyond while many of the other regular media types, except one from the New York Times, also were on hand.

The Guru asked Ritchie what was the most surprising thing she has found so far in her brief tenure succeeding Val Ackerman, with whom she is lunching on Wednesday, and past president Donna Orender.

Richie, who began the session saying she can now begin to measure her start time in months instead of weeks, responded:

“You know what I’ve been pleasantly surprised by, is the fans of the WNBA,” said Ritchie, who addressed the crowd briefly later to start the game.

“This is in my experience the most loyal group and the most positive, people love the teams, love the players, so that was a bit surprising,” she continued.

“I knew we had great fans but I had no idea of the depth of passion that our fans have for the WNBA.”

Brown Heading To Dydek’s Funeral

Renee Brown, the WNBA’s chief of basketball operations and player relations who also holds a vice presidential title and has been with the league since its launch in 1997, was at the game here and said she will be in Poland Sunday to attend the funeral of retired player Margo Dydek, who was pregnant with her third child and died of a heart attack late last month.

-- Mel


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