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 11, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Pondexter Propels New York Over Indiana

(There are two posts above this one covering events at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductions in Knoxville, Tenn. Quotes in this post are from the wire services)

By Mel Greenberg

Gee Whiz!

What else can one say about the opening week of the WNBA season for the New York Liberty under new coach-general manager John Whisenant, who held similar titles with the former Sacramento Monarchs, who went out of business in the winter following the 2009 season.

After rallying and beating the Atlanta Dream on the road Sunday in overtime, the Liberty picked up where they left a year ago with Indiana, beating the Fever 81-80 Friday night in Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

But then anything is possible with former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, who landed in New York a year ago from the Phoenix Mercury in a three-team deal that also involved the Chicago Sky.

Pondexter, who scored 21 points, rescued the Liberty, who squandered an 18-point lead, with a jump shot with 8.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Fever were defending Eastern Conference champions last season when ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Liberty, who then fell to Atlanta in the conference finals.

New York will try to make it a weekend sweep of Indiana when the two teams complete a back-to-back Saturday night as the Liberty officially open their temporary home the next three summers at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.

Plenette Pierson, the star of New York’s win in the season opener, had 13 points and the Liberty reached their big lead in the middle of the third quarter.

But the Fever got hot and went ahead with 23 seconds left in the game on Briann January’s trey before Pondexter provided the last word with her game-winner.

"I'm proud of the ladies for their fortitude to come back to win by one point," Whisenant said. "This is a tough environment to play a good team."

Katie Douglas was Indiana’s high scorer with 27 points and Tamika Catchings scored 13 points as the Fever fell to 1-1 following an opening win last weekend against Chicago. Douglas, a former Purdue star, tied a career high with six 3-pointers.

Newcomer Erin Phillips, a former Connecticut Sun player from Australia, scored 11 points and January had 10.

Sky Limits Sun

The days of LSU’s collegiate prominence were rekindled Friday night as former Tigers all-American Sylvia Fowles scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to give coach Pokey Chatman, who had coached in Baton Rouge, La., her first WNBA win as the Chicago Sky eclipsed the Connecticut Sun 78-75 in suburban Rosemont, Ill.

Chicago evened its record at 1-1 and heads to complete a back-to-back Saturday night when the Sky travel to Washington to play the 2-0 Mystics at the Verizon Center.

Rookie guard Courtney Vandersloot, the former all-American at Gonzaga who was the third overall pick in April’s draft, had 18 points, most of which were courtesy of four 3-pointers.

Vandersloot, who was an add-on prior to the start of training camp at the USA Basketball national team training session in Las Vegas, was 7-for-10 from the field.

"Courtney's vision and her poise are great," Chatman said. "You know sometimes we don't get that early break but she gives us enough poise and we got some ball reversals and get some looks, but I'm very pleased with Courtney and she is only going to get better once she gets more comfortable."

Fowles hit a tiebreaking putback with 28 seconds left for the win.

The Sky had other double-digit scorers in Michelle Snow (12), former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince Prince (13), while former New York star Cathrine Kraayeveld grabbed 11 rebounds.

"Our defensive standpoint did it for us tonight," Fowles said. "We stayed in tune with our game plan and listened to Coach. But, at the same time we just pulled it all together on the floor."

Former UConn stars Renee Montgomery and Asjha Jones came up big for the Sun with 22 and 20 points respectively, but Connecticut, which returns home Sunday to host the Tulsa Shock, fell to 1-1.

Connecticut could never get the lead, trailing by as many as 13 points, but Jones’ jumper with 44 seconds left tied the game prior to Fowles’ game-winner.

"We hustled and stayed in the game and had a chance," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "In the end, they made two big shots in the last minute."

One reason Connecticut missed the playoffs for the second straight season in 2010 was the inability to win frequently on the road and losing close ones down the stretch.

"Our defense in the second and fourth quarter was good but it wasn't good in the first and the third," Thibault said. "Vandersloot was great for the first 10-12 minutes in the game. When we got her under control, we played better in the second quarter."

Sparks Melt Mercury

Former Tennessee star Candace Parker, the first overall pick of the 2008 draft, is healthy again following missing of the last season due to shoulder surgery and the Los Angeles Sparks are looking like the WNBA force they had been in the past.

Parker had 22 points, veteran Tina Thompson, one of the last of two of the original 1997 players from the WNBA inaugural 1997 season, scored 21 and the Sparks topped the Phoenix Mercury 98-84 at home in the Staples Center.

That put Los Angeles up at 2-1 after winning the season opener against Minnesota a week ago Friday night but then losing to the Lynx on the road Sunday.

DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 18 points and reserve guard Kristi Toliver, a former Maryland star, added 17 for the Sparks, making five 3-pointers. It was her trey in the 2006 NCAA championship at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime as the Terrapins went on to beat Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke.

Phoenix remained winless at 0-2 despite getting 18 points from Penny Taylor. The key reason was Los Angeles’ ability to stop former UConn great Diana Taurasi, holding her scoreless in the second half and limiting the 2009 most valuable player to nine points.

The Sparks’ perimeter attack was their second best ever by making 13 of 23 3-pointers.

Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom credited her team’s ability to regroup following the 17-point loss to Minnesota on Sunday.

"We needed that (victory) because I thought we had good practices this week," Gillom said. "We came out with a lot of energy. That was key tonight. Our last game, we didn't show that. We played some great defense. We held Diana Taurasi to nine points. That's hard to do."

Besides going 0-for-5 in the second half, Taurasi also was assessed with a technical foul.

"We were just trying to keep her frustrated," Toliver said. "We were throwing different looks at her. We've got a lot of big bodies on this team, so were able to switch and keep big people on her at times, really keep her off the glass. That was definitely a major contributor of why the game turned out the way it did."

Silver Stars Shine Again Over Shock

Following last weekend’s season opening win against Tulsa in Texas, San Antonio made it a sweep with a 93-63 road win Friday night in Oklahoma with another dominating performance.

The Silver Stars complete a back-to-back road swing Saturday night in the only other weekend game left to play besides those previous mentioned when they travel to winless Atlanta (0-2).

Five San Antonio players scored in double figures, topped by Roneeka Hodges’ 19 points.

Jia Perkins scored13 points, Sophia Young added 12 and Becky Hammon and rookie Danielle Adams scored 11.
Adams was the MVP of the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis in April when Texas A&M got past Notre Dame in the NCAA championship game.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is in Knoxville, Tenn., this weekend as one of six inductees into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

San Antonio was deadly against Tulsa from the perimeter connecting on 9 of 17 3-point attempts. Hodges made all five of her attempted treys.

"We knew we would be a pretty good 3-point shooting team," Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. "We got very good energy out of our bench. Tulsa came out and really attacked us. We stabilized but the difference was our bench. They just gave us great energy.

Rookie Liz Cambage, the second overall pick of the WNBA draft out of Australia, and rookie Kayla Pederson, a former Stanford star, each scored 12 points for Tulsa, which will head to Sunday’s game against Connecticut with an 0-3 record, including a loss to Minnesota.

The former Detroit Shock franchise, which had won three WNBA titles, is now 6-31 since moving to the Southwest prior to last season.

Hughes lauded his team’s defensive effort on Cambage, a 19-year-old center.

"We attacked her," Hughes said. "I thought we had a very solid game plan for her. It was a team effort defending her. I'm glad we've gotten her twice early in the season. She's got such great potential. She's only going to get better."

Cambage, used to winning consistently in her native country, spoke of disappointment in losing the Shock’s home opener.

"What went right?” Cambage responded to a postgame question. “We just need to do the little things. This is frustrating."

The game was a homecoming for San Antonio rookie and former Oklahoma star Danielle Robinson, who had eight points, four assists and two steals.

"It was great to be back in Oklahoma and see fans in OU shirts," Robinson said. "It was cool to play here. I love the league."

-- Mel


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