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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Sun Shines Weathering Mystics Rally

(Guru’s note: The Philly summer league opening night report is under this post. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click mel’s blog to get to blogspot for the full archive).

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON –
Little mistakes led to bigger problems and ultimately disappointment for the Connecticut Sun in 2010 as they missed the WNBA playoffs for the second straight season.

Costly turnovers or other bad plays in closing minutes resulted in losses and the road stops, which had been kind in the past, were not places coach Mike Thibault’s group could enjoy away from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

Though it is too early to jump to definitive conclusions, the Sun’s 79-71 win here over the Washington Mystics in the Verizon Center Thursday night –- the only game on the league schedule -- had enough elements to produce good feelings.

“We probably don’t win this game a year ago,” Thibault said and noted the improved maturity over what was a very young squad last summer.

The victory made Connecticut 3-1 with a chance to get even for the one loss Sunday afternoon when the Sun hosts the Chicago Sky.

Washington, the Eastern Conference regular season co-champ and top seed in the conference playoffs a year ago when the Mystics had their best record, fell to 1-3 and also dropped their second straight to Connecticut.

The UConn alumni association led the way with 2010 rookie of the year Tina Charles scoring a game-high 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds while her former Huskies teammate Renee Montgomery, who is beginning to look like a seasoned pro point guard in year number three, scored 23 points.

“It helps to play that many games together,” Thibault said of the duo. “Renee more than anybody understands where to throw it to Tina at the right time. It’s a very helpful thing.

“When we get everybody on the same page every night defensively we’ll be even better.”

Tan White, a former Mississippi State star, had 11 points while former Nebraska star and second-year pro Kelsey Griffin had five rebounds, scored four points, and blocked two shots to keep things going for the Sun.

Being loaded with UConn DNA at times results in expectations of automatic success from the Sun, which still had to cope with adversity to produce the win.

Starting guard Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee star who also broadcasts college games on ESPN, was sidelined with an ankle injury.

“Just day-to-day,” Lawson said of her condition. “I just tried to warm up and see how it felt. It wasn’t ready to go so I’m going to try each day and hopefully I can come back.”

Furthermore, Asjha Jones, another starter and former UConn star, got into early foul trouble.

Yet the Sun shock that off and built an early 17-point lead but a flurry of three-pointers got the Mystics back in the game.

A run in the third quarter made things really close and then former Tennessee star Nicky Anosike scored on the inside to put Washington ahead 65-54 with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game in the fourth quarter.

“We thought we had it, but we missed some shots and they executed down the stretch and we didn’t,” former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne from suburban Philadelphia said of the brief swings in momentum.

Charles, who fueled a 38-18 Connecticut advantage in the paint, enabled the Sun to regain the lead with a putback and then Connecticut extended things with a 9-0 run as Kalana Greene, another former UConn star who played for the New York Liberty as a rookie in 2010, scored a layup, Montgomery hit a driving finger roll layup, and then White bombed a 3-pointer for a 73-65 leadwith 3:26 left in the game.

Kelly Miller, who had a team-high 19 points for the Mystics, hit her sixth three-pointer on the night and Crystal Langhorne scored on the inside to reduce the deficit to three points.

But Charles scored five straight points and Montgomery hit a foul shot for the game’s final points.

"She looked really fresh when everybody else was tired late in the game," Thibault said of Charles' performance. "I thought she was still playing at a very high level energy-wise."

Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon, who has moved into a starting rule here while former Duke star Alana Beard recovers from a sprained ankle, had 11 points but was in foul trouble and eventually was disqualified late in the game.

Anosike had 10 points for the Mystics, who next travel to Tulsa to play the Shock Saturday night and return here Tuesday to play the Indiana Fever.

“The main thing on the road is it’s not going to be easy,” Montgomery said of the flow of the contest. “At some point you know the home team is going to make a run.

“It’s kind of taking the run and putting together your own and not let your team fall apart. They made shots when they had to. At one point, they had 12 field goals and six three-pointers. When you’re playing zone, that’s kind of what you want them to do, but you don’t want … they shot us out of our zone so give them credit for that.”

Charles talked about the ability to dominate inside.

“`Coach put an emphasis on putting the ball inside, so we just did our job,” Charles said. “We just wanted to execute everything we worked on in practice.”

Many times last year Thibault would have to tick off a list while being ticked off over all the things that went wrong.

Thursday, his list was about all the good things that went the Sun’s way.

“We mixed the defenses and went back to more man-to-man to try to make them try to make penetration shots,” Thibault said of countering Washington’s air attack when the Mystics were hitting the basket from long range.

“They had some people step up and make big plays to keep them in the game but we weathered the storm on the road. We had to play with adversity with practically two starters out. We started Allison Hightower (second year pro from LSU) who hardly plays and she did a good job.

“It’s a win in conference and that’s important, also.”

Looking Ahead

Four games comprise Friday night’s WNBA schedule highlighted by the Atlanta Dream’s visit to the Minnesota Lynx, who will then return the game on Sunday marking former UConn star Maya Moore’s second homecoming within a year.

Her first was when the Huskies played at Georgia Tech in November.

Minnesota has won four straight after a season-opening loss at Los Angeles, which the Lynx erased two days later. The Dream, hampered by injuries, lost their first three, including two in overtime, before winning against the New York Liberty on the road Tuesday.

The Liberty, who are 2-0 on the road and 0-2 at home, go back to the Midwest Friday night to visit Chicago, which won two games after dropping a home opener.

Indiana, tied with Connecticut at 3-1, visits the defending champion Seattle Storm, which has been idle for eight days at 1-1 after suffering their first home loss in 22 games, counting the 2010 playoffs.

The San Antonio Silver Stars visit the Phoenix Mercury, which at 0-2, is one of only two teams yet to win. The other is Tulsa, which at 0-5, as mentioned, is home against Washington Saturday for the league’s only game that day.

The Silver Stars at 3-0 is a surprise, although two of the wins have been home-and-home against Tulsa.

The other two Sunday games besides Chicago at Connecticut and Minnesota at Atlanta are Indiana at Phoenix and Seattle at the Los Angeles Sparks.

-- Mel

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