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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Every Night Is Marquee Night

(Guru’s note: This report is a rewrite off of team and wire reports including quotes. The Guru’s next live appearance is Sunday in Newark, N.J., when Los Angeles visits the Liberty, a choice made over Tulsa at Washington on options of the day).

By Mel Greenberg

It looks like every night is going to be marquee night in the WNBA the rest of the way except on a few occasions. The, ahem, guilty names involved with those exceptions shall remain anonymous though obvious for now.

Friday night’s trifecta on the WNBA schedule had mixtures of resolve, resilience and revenge across the board.

Five of the six Western Conference teams were in action and it’s beginning to look like old times on the other side of the Mississippi River. A year ago, except for the eventual WNBA champion Seattle Storm, the rest of the crowd were in a tight race for playoffs spots, but one in which they spent time losing to each other, based on all those mediocre records.

This season the race seems much tighter from top to five but one in which the teams will be more seemingly in modes to beat each other.

Any of the three games Friday could be called the big story.

Seattle (4-2), which earlier in the day learned its three time league MVP Lauren Jackson would be sidelined up to three weeks with a labral tear in her left hip, unseated the Minnesota Lynx (5-2) from their fragile hold on first by shaking off adversity and grabbing a 65-55 victory at KeyArena in the Northwest.

Seattle coach Brian Agler gained his 200th victory as a pro coach including two seasons in the former American Basketball League when he guided the Columbus Quest to the championship both times.

“That will be nice 20 years from now,” Agler said of his milestone. “I’m more interested in how we played tonight. I thought we played really well and I’m proud of our team.”

Van Chancellor, formerly with the former Houston Comets, is the only other pro coach with more than 200 wins at 211 all gained in the WNBA.

The surprising San Antonio Silver Stars (5-1) took over the top spot after beating the Los Angeles Sparks 90-80 in overtime, knocking the Sparks (4-2) back into a third place tie with Seattle.

The Phoenix Mercury (3-3) made it three straight after losing the first three games of the season by going on the road and in a cross-conference matchup defeated the defending Easter Conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream 92-83.

Two weeks ago Minnesota ended a six-season drought in Seattle and rode to a big early lead to win and end the Storm’s 22-game home court win streak that included a 4-0 run in the playoffs.

On Friday night, Seattle lived up to its name and stormed ahead early and after Minnesota came back to tie in the third quarter, Agler’s group shut the door on the Lynx in the fourth quarter.

Little meant a lot in Jackson’s absence caused by the injury that occurred in Tuesday’s win at the Tulsa Shock. In this case it was Camille Little, the former North Carolina star, who led a balanced attack with 16 points.

Former UConn star Swin Cash scored 13 points, former Penn State star Tanisha Wright and former Auburn star Le’coe Willingham each scored 11 in Seattle’s attack.

“It’s something that unfortunately we’ve done before,” Little referenced previous seasons in which Jackson has been sidelined with injuries. “We just wanted to make sure we played well. She’s a great player and no one can take her place so we try to make sure we play well collectively.”

Former UConn star Sue Bird, who had seven points and eight assists, looked ahead to the minimum expected time without Jackson, saying, “It’s going to be a team effort from now on and it always is really. The more players that we’ve got going the better off our team is going to be because you can’t hone in on one. A lot of people can do different things and that’s a good thing.”

Seimone Augustus had 17 points for the Lynx, which ended a five-game win streak, one short of its franchise record for a season.

Rookie Amber Harris, the fourth overall pick in April’s draft out of Xavier, had 11 points and veteran all-star Lindsay Whalen scored 10.

However, former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson, who had tied former Sparks all-timer Lisa Leslie and current Los Angeles superstar Candace Parker for most consecutive double double efforts at the start of the season at six games was held to two points and seven rebounds.

Jackson has the overall double double streak record at seven.

“I think our team just made a better effort of boxing out the entire team,” Little said of shutting down Brunson, who had previously played for the former Sacramento Monarchs and was picked up by Minnesota before last season in the dispersal draft.

“They are a great rebounding team and she is a main reason for that,” Little added. “A lot of times it wasn’t just the post players boxing her out. It was one of us and a guard and two guards. That’s something we really tried to focus on and make sure she didn’t get too many (offensive boards)."

The Storm also made it the worst night in the short-lived career of former UConn sensation Maya Moore, the number one overall pick in the draft who fouled out and scored just four points, her lowest total of the season.

“We let everybody on their team get involved, and they were determined not to let the same outcome happen when we came in last time,” Moore said.

Minnesota shot 30.9 percent from the field.

“The ball wasn’t going in,” Moore said of the overall inept shooting by the Lynx. A little bit out of rhythm, offensively at a time. Some of them were good looks, in and out – didn’t fall.

“We needed to, like Coach (Cheryl) Reeve said, we needed to play well and to get a win in this environment, and we didn’t.”

Earlier in the night Agler gave the public the word on Jackson’s situation prior to tipoff.

He said initially the plan is for the Australian to have rest and undergo physical therapy. If Jackson fails to make progress with that treatment in the three-week period than “surgery will be considered.”

Seattle will be off until Friday night’s visit to the Connecticut Sun, though Wednesday the team will visit President Obama in the White House to celebrate last season’s championship a little more.

Minnesota heads back home for Sunday’s game with the Indiana Fever, which first will host Connecticut Saturday night.

Silver Stars Douse Sparks In Overtime

San Antonio can drive teams batty at times but Friday night a bat drove the Silver Stars and Los Angeles Sparks off the floor in the fourth quarter.

The incident, according to the Associated Press report, ignited the crowd to chant “Manu” in reference to NBA brother Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who caught a bat during a 2009 game at the AT&T Center.

A referee, who also has been known to drive fans batty with calls during the season, achieved the heroics this time. The official carried the creature off, covered with two towels.

As for the real entertainment, all-star Becky Hammon forced the extra period for San Antonio by nailing a three-point shot with 33.4 seconds left in regulation and then scored six of her 22 points – she also dealt nine assists – in the extra period as the Silver Stars moved into first in the West by a half-game with the 90-80 victory.

“We’ve been in those situations before,” Hammon said of her game-saving shot. “You just want to stay calm. You don’t really think about it. You’re just so concentrated on what you’re doing, it doesn’t go through your mind, `Oh, if I miss this shot, we’re probably going to lose the game.’”

Newcomer Jia Perkins, acquired in an offseason deal with the Chicago Sky, came off the bench to score 31 points for San Antonio.

“I just came into the game with the mindset that I wanted to attack,” she said. “I just wanted to get my shot off or find my teammates. Whatever it was, I just wanted to be aggressive. Early on, the shots started falling so it makes it more comfortable for you to keep shooting.”

“Jia Perkins had a marvelous game,” said coach Dan Hughes, who as general manager hired himself to return to the bench this season. “We rode her through most of the game.”

Sophia Young, the former Baylor star who missed a game with an illness, returned and scored 12 points for San Antonio, while former Notre Dame all-American Ruth Riley scored 11 points.

Los Angeles, which began a seven-game road trip, got 25 points and 13 rebounds from Candace Parker while DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 15 points.

“We had the game,” said Parker, the former Tennesseee star, of the Sparks, who committed 17 turnovers. “I think we just didn’t execute defensively or offensively down the stretch. Coming off them tying in regulation, I think we were still hung up on that. We weren’t focused as much.”

Los Angeles, which beat New York at home Tuesday night in the WNBA 15th anniversary signature game, heads to Newark, N.J. for Sunday’s return game against the Liberty.

San Antonio will travel to Atlanta.

Phoenix Continues To Rise

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi says there is a reason her Mercury are now 3-3 after being the last WNBA team to get a win off an 0-3 start.

“We had a lot of people play well and that’s what we need to win games,” Taurasi said after the Mercury topped the host Dream 92-83 as Atlanta fell to 2-6. “A lot of people participating, and if you go up and down (the stat sheet), I think we did that.”

Taurasi had 20 points, and former Temple star Candice Dupree continued her hot hand for the Mercury, scoring 19 points.

Penny Taylor aided Phoenix’s cause with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists – two short of a triple double, which she said she was unaware of during the game.

“Doesn’t mean much,” Taylor said of the statistical near-miss. “We won. That’s what matters.”

Angel McCoughtry had 24 points for the Dream, who are in a virtual tie for last place in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Mystics, although Atlanta holds the upper hand in won-loss percentage.

“We do well in the first half, but during the second half, I don’t know if we are just tired, but we slack off,” McCoughtry said. “We just have to keep our focus going through the entire game.”

The Dream have struggled in the opening weeks because of injuries. Furthermore, former Oklahoma star Courtney Paris was recently signed while Sancho Lyttle, on a temporary suspension, is play in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Spain and expected to miss a total of six games before it ends.

Kara Braxton scored 17 points for Phoenix, which heads to Chicago for a Saturday night game with the Sky. Iziane Castro-Marques had 12 points for Atlanta.

In the only other game left on the weekend slate not mentioned above Washington (1-5) will host the Tulsa Shock.

The Mystics are missing former Duke star Monique Currie because of an offseason knee injury that will cause her not to play this summer, while former Blue Devil all-American Alana Beard has been sidelined since the start of the season with a sprained left foot.

As a result Washington has been given a medical hardship ruling by the WNBA and on Friday added Joy Cheek to the roster.

Cheek is yet another former Duke player to go through Washington after she played last season as a draft pick by Indiana.

-- Mel

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