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 29, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Silver Stars Light Up Sky

(Guru’s Note: Tuesday night’s Philly Summer League post is in a blog below this one in blogspot. If you are reading this in melgreenberg.com, click on the mel’s blog tab on the left column and you will get there where the entire archive is housed. This post compiled off wire and team reports with quotes. The Guru next goes life up to Mohegan Friday for the Seattle game.)

By Mel Greenberg

When it comes to the looking at surprises in the early going of the respective conference races a new saying in San Antonio might be Forget The Alamo but Remember The Silver Stars.

That’s whose holding a two-game lead atop the Western Conference with a WNBA-best 7-1 record after an 84-74 win over the Chicago Sky Tuesday night in suburban Rosemont, Ill.

In the other two games on the slate, the Indiana Fever (7-3) continues to live up to its nickname in throwing some heat, specifically by cooling down the Phoenix Mercury 91-86 in Indianapolis at Conseco Fieldhouse to win their fourth straight over some impressive opponents.

The triumph enabled Indiana to hold a one-game lead in the East ahead of the Connecticut Sun (5-3), who came home from a two-game losing road trip and reversed directions by holding off the Los Angeles Sparks 79-76 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

It was the first game for Los Angeles (4-4) without superstar Candace Parker, who suffered an injured knee in Sunday’s loss to the New York Liberty that is expected to keep her sidelined six weeks.

After a quick exit in last season’s playoffs San Antonio dismissed coach Sandy Brondello, who is now an assistant with Los Angeles.

Needing a replacement to get the Silver Stars back on the winning track general manager Dan Hughes looked in the mirror and found the right guy in himself who already had a successful stint on the sidelines in Texas
San Antonio’s record at the moment resembles last season’s start by the eventual champion Seattle Storm.

But though the numbers look gaudy, it was still a struggle not far from Lake Michigan where the Silver Stars tread water most of the night until former Notre Dame all-American Ruth Riley nailed a three-pointer with 3 minutes, 29 seconds left in the game for a 71-68 lead. Then in a little over the final minute off the game Hughes' team hit 10 straight foul shots to hold the Sky (4-5) off.

The Silver Stars outscored the Sky 31-18 in the fourth quarter.

“You have to build your play with streaks and we got some stops,” Hughes said of the San Antonio performance. “We had some timely shots. Our execution just got better at the right time of the game.”

The Sky found a way to hold their former player Jia Perkins off limiting her to six points after she had averaged 23.7 points in the previous three games.

Perkins was dealt in the offseason for former Tennessee post player Michelle Snow who became the 12th player in WNBA history to reach 2,000 rebounds and become the seventh player to also have 2,800 points and block 300 shots.

But while Perkins was being handcuffed, five other Silver Stars hit double figures led by former Baylor star Sophia Young, who had 19 points. Rookie Danielle Adams, the MVP for the NCAA-winning Texas A&M Aggies in April, scored 16 points, perennial All-Star Becky Hammon scored 14 and Danielle Robinson and Riley each scored 10 points.

“Defensively, our team got better as the game went on, especially in the second half,” Hammon said. “It was just a grind tonight. It wasn’t a pretty game but we found a way to win. I thought our post players did an exceptional job hitting big shots for us and just playing really good defense.”

The stand was effective in limiting Chicago All-Star Sylvia Fowles to 16 points, the first time since the season opener she scored below 20. She also grabbed 12 rebounds.

Second-year pro Epiphanny Prince out of Rutgers, looking like an early contender for most improved player in the WNBA, had 19 points for the Sky. Erin Thorn scored 14 and Cathrine Kraayveld had 10.

“We aren’t buckling down the way we need to,” Kraayveld said of the Sky, who have lost four of five games after briefly being tied for first with the Connecticut Sun at 3-3. “I don’t know if we need to get mad, but we need to do something. We’ve got to just stick together. We have a good team here, so we’ve just got to come together and learn from this one and move on.”

Meanwhile Indiana’s last loss came at Phoenix in overtime and coach Lin Dunn bemoaned the setback as a missed opportunity.

The Mercury (4-4) moved ahead after that game with a four-game win streak until arriving Tuesday night in the Midwest.

Indiana’s one redeeming note in that loss in the desert was the career-high 20 points by former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport. She was even better Tuesday night setting a new standard for herself with 25 points.

“I think every person has a team they play well against, and maybe Phoenix is just mine,” she said.

All-Star Katie Douglas had 26 points to lead the Fever, including six 3-pointers while all-star Tamika Catchings had another all-around game with 14 points, seven assists, four steals, and three blocks as the Indiana win streak has been extended to four straight.

A road win at Washington, one at home against Connecticut and then another at Minnesota Sunday preceded Tuesday’s win over the Mercury.

The only downer is another WNBA talent could be sidelined – this time Fever point guard Briann January who hurt her right knee in the fourth quarter.

“We won’t know anything until tomorrow when she has an MRI,” Dunn said. “We’re hoping for the best.

“It’ll be point guard by committee, but I don’t really want to talk about that until I know that for sure,” Dunn added. “Right now, Briann January is our point guard, and she will continue to be our point guard until we know more information.”

Catchings lauded her teammates for persevering after January went down.

“It was a great team win,” she said. “Down the stretch, one man down, we have players coming off the bench who played well.”

DeWanna Bonner, a former Auburn star, and all-everything Diana Taurasi each scored 15 points for the Mercury, though Taurasi, who scored 32 against the Fever in Phoenix, was 5-for-14 from the field and committed five turnovers.

“We played well in stretches but not enough to beat them at home.” Taurasi observed afterwards.

Connecticut (5-3) stayed within a game of Indiana and one ahead of third-place New York (4-4) in a wild one against Los Angeles (4-4), which is now mired in a fourth-place tie with Phoenix, three games behind San Antonio.

The Sparks have yet to win on the road in all four games and are 0-3 at the front end of a seven-game swing that will now veer back through the West against everyone but Minnesota.

Tina Charles, the former UConn star and last season’s rookie of the year, had 22 points and matched her career-high with 23 rebounds in a game in which Los Angeles rallied in its first outing without Parker but missed several opportunities with attempted 3-pointers at the finish that could have sent the game into overtime.

Charles joined former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw, currently not in the league, as the only two to have had multiple games of 20 points and 20 rebounds.

Renee Montgomery, another former UConn star in her third season as a pro, scored 17 points for the Sun and Kara Lawson and former UConn star Asjha Jones each scored 16 points.

Connecticut jumped to a 12-point lead at the outset before the Sparks rallied, primarily on the play of former Maryland star Kristi Toliver, who had 19 points. DeLisha Milton-Jones added 13 and rookie laToya Pringle out of North Carolina scored 11.

Parker is expected to be sidelined for six weeks and on Friday night Connecticut will host defending champion Seattle, whose Lauren Jackson is sidelined for at least three weeks with a hip injury.

The Storm, incidentally, are headed for the White House Wednesday to meet with President Obama to mark their title.

Los Angeles coach Jennifer Gillom had her ideas how the game might go at the outset and her fears were realized.

“I knew that at the beginning, we would either come out and play really well or there would be a lack of chemistry on both ends of the floor because of Candace’s absence,” Gillom said. “This is our first game without her and true enough, we had a hard time finding that chemistry early on.”

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault was just pleased to have the Sun back on the winning side of the ledger.

“This was a playoff atmosphere,” he said. “Given everything that went on throughout the game, that’s a hell of a win. (Los Angeles) is really talented. Just a great basketball game.

Toliver had 14 of her points off the bench during the comeback for a one-point halftime lead in which other substitutes also made contributions.

“That second unit that went in there in the second quarter, they are used to playing together in practice and I decided to go with that group. They did a great job of coming in, giving us that energy and getting us back in the ballgame.”

The league is idle again Wednesday night with two on Thursday’s slate.

New York will try to follow Sunday’s win when the Liberty travel to the Atlanta Dream, where they won the season opener in overtime.

The Dream currently sit in the Eastern basement at 2-7 after advancing to the WNBA championship series last season when they were swept 3-0 by Seattle in close contests.

Minnesota (5-3) in a virtual tie for second with Seattle (4-2) heads to the woeful Tulsa Shock (1-8), who have won just one game.

-- Mel


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