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.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Tina and Maya Heading For A WNBA Title Showdown?

(Guru’s note: Quotes from outside the Connecticut game came from team and wire reports).

By Mel Greenberg

In 2004 in year two of the arrival here of the former WNBA Orlando Miracle transformed into the Connecticut Sun, whose home became the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment establishment, the vast women’s basketball fan base in this state found itself quickly in a situation it could not previously envision.

The Sun made its way to the then-championship best-of-three series and on the other side to cheer against stood the Seattle Storm and former UConn favorite Sue Bird.

Bird and the Storm won in a decisive Game 3 though in Game 2 the Sun’s Nykesha Sales, another former Huskies great, missed a three-point shot at the buzzer after scoring a championship record 32 points that would have given Connecticut a rally to a 2-0 sweep.

Now it is eight seasons later and though it is very early in a 15th season of the WNBA that will quickly pick up steam there is this to ponder in what might be a remade dynamic of 2004.

A year after the Sun and the Minnesota Lynx narrowly missed the playoffs could Sun fans find themselves rooting for their team and second-year pro Tina Charles in the championship series against WNBA rookie and UConn all-timer Maya Moore.

Certainly Sunday’s results here and in Atlanta could allow one’s self to dream in that direction though, again, much basketball exists between now and the finals.

In the afternoon game here at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Charles, the 2010 overall No. 1 pick and also another UConn all-timer, matched her uniform number with a career-high 31 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds as the Sun (4-1) broke a first-place deadlock and took overall sole possession of the top of the Eastern Conference with an 83-68 win over the revitalized Chicago Sky, which also was on the postseason sidelines.

Kara Lawson, off the bench after missing a game with a nagging ankle injury, scored 13 points and former UConn all-American Asjha Jones scored 12 points.

Meanwhile down in Atlanta, the Lynx (5-1) completed a weekend sweep against the defending Eastern Conference champion Dream (1-5) with a 77-64 victory as former LSU all-American Seimone Augustus scored 19 points and former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson continued her hot start on both ends with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Lindsay Whalen scored 13 points and veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin grabbed 12 rebounds.

Moore, who grew up in suburban Atlanta, made her first homecoming as a WNBA player and second since November when UConn visited Georgia Tech.

The talented rookie had 12 points, though perhaps it was not her best performance in her fledgling career in the pros.

“She was excited,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, a former star in the late 1980s at Philadelphia’s La Salle University. “She’s not immune to human nature. She played hard and every time she gets out there she gets better.”

Moore saluted her following: “The energy in the building was great,” she said. “I saw a bunch of people I knew that were there to support me.

“A lot of players from my former AAU team, the Georgia Metros were there, so I wanted to reach out to them and say thank you for coming. I was just glad that they were there to scream for my Lynx.”

Minnesota has won five straight after an opening night loss in Los Angeles when the Sparks rallied in the second half. The Lynx avenged that setback two days later, then went on to win impressively in Seattle against the defending champion Storm, sweep Atlanta and also beat the Tulsa Shock.

The Lynx in the Western Conference are in a virtual first-place tie with the San Antonio Silver Stars (4-0) the last unbeaten in the 12-team league, though two of the Texans’ wins were against Tulsa.

Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry was held to 10 points, shooting 2-for-10. Newcomer and former Duke star Lindsay Harding, a four-year pro who came to the Dream in a draft-day trade with the Washington Mystics, had 14 points while Erika DeSouza and Coco Miller each scored 12.

Back here, a year ago when Charles arrived in the league Sun coach Mike Thibault cautioned against instant expectations of the native New Yorker. He urged media and fans to wait and see how she does night-after-night against the established super centers such as the Sky’s Sylvia Fowles, who at LSU played against Charles in college and also has been a teammate on USA Basketball.

Fowles scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Chicago (3-2), but Charles was able to draw the Sky center and former Tennessee forward Michelle Snow into five fouls each. Former Rutgers star and second-year pro Epiphanny Prince scored 18 points, while Cathrine Kraayeveld scored 13 points.

A week ago, Charles scored just eight points in the loss at Chicago, which Connecticut will return to again Thursday.

“This was a really good win,” Thibault said. “One of the things that’s interesting about this little stretch here, even though we had a game the other day, it feels a little like a playoff series because you’re playing the same team (Chicago) three times in about a 12-day period. It was good to see our teamkind of respond to the way we played in Chicago and improve in several
areas. I think that is what I am most happy about.”

Thibault also spoke about Charles’ on-going development.

“You could tell early in the game that she was aggressive about presenting herself to her teammates to get open to get the ball,” he said. “When they did double a couple of times, she passed the ball well, but she was aggressive about attacking sometimes before the double-team got there.

‘It will be interesting to see what kind of chess match it will be when we play them again later in the week. At least she put a dimension into the game that now, they need to make an adjustment too. We had to make some. Now you get to that third game and see how it goes.”

Charles in a sense also talked about going against great opponent post players and also wanting to make up for her play against Chicago the last time the two teams met.

“I just had it in my mind how I played against Chicago the first time (8 points, 4 rebounds),” she explained. “I personally wanted to come out and take it to them. The way that I played in that game, I didn’t feel like I was there for my
teammates the way that they need me every night, so I took this game very personal.

“It’s always tough,” Charles said of the Sky’s front line. “But I think it’s tough against every team in this league. There’s great talent and every team has size. You’re always going to go against a post player that is really good. Today, I had to go against Sylvia Fowles, so you know it’s not going to be easy as soon as you step on the floor.”

Thibault pointed out the rivalry between the two stars is good for both of them.

“I think they challenge each other to get better, to add stuff to their game, or to be more aggressive,” he said. “I think it brings out the best in each other. I think Sylvia has worked to improve her offensive game, to add stuff to her repertoire.

“I think Tina has worked to make sure she’s not just in the same spot all the time. She caught it low, she caught it going across the lane, she caught it in pick-and-rolls and she caught it in the high post, and it puts a little bit of pressure on a team to have to now guard her on different places on the floor and make some adjustments.”

First-year coach Chicago Pokey Chatman, who has coached at LSU and has seen Charles and Fowles battle overseas while coaching in Russia, said, They’re two of the best at the position and if I didn’t have to coach against them, it would be fun to watch.”

In the other two games played Sunday, the Phoenix Mercury are no longer the last team in the WNBA this season still looking for a win.

The Mercury (1-3) at home beat the Indiana Fever 93-89 in overtime in Arizona as former UConn star Diana Taurasi scored eight of her 32 points in the extra period. Former Temple star Candice Dupree had 21 points and 18 rebounds.

Two seasons ago, Phoenix beat Indiana in the WNBA championship series, one of the most exciting in the 15 years, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to win a decisive Game 5 in the desert.

“It felt like Game 5 of the finals, and that’s how we are going to have to treat every game,” Taurasi said. “I think we should what kind of team we can be, but the key is to build on it. It is no good if you do it and pull away with one win at a time.”

Marie Ferdinand-Harris added 17 points to the Mercury attack.

The Fever (3-3), who were coming off a Friday loss at Seattle, got 20 points and nine rebounds from former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport, while All-Star Tamika Catchings had 17 points and 15 rebounds, and rookie Jeanette Pohlen out of Stanford, had 17 points and nailed all five 3-point attempts in the first half.

Fever All-Star Katie Douglas injured her lower back in a fall late in the first quarter and did not not return to action the rest of the way.

Indiana coach Lin Dunn said the Fever “gave the game away with bad decisions down the stretch.”

Meanwhile, out in Los Angeles, the Sparks got a balanced attack, highlighted by 12 points from former Indiana player Ebony Hoffman in a 74-50 win over Seattle.

The Storm dominated the win column in the league last season on the way to a second WNBA title, including sweeping Los Angeles in five regular season games and two in the playoffs.

A week ago Seattle (2-2) also lost a 22-game home-court win streak, including the playoffs, when Minnesota rolled to an early lead.

Other high scorers for Los Angeles (3-1) Sunday were former Maryland star Kristi Toliver with 11 points, while All-Star Candace Parker and rookie Jantel Lavender out of Ohio State each scored 10 points.

“It was a test for us to see where we stand, and I think it showed we’re a great team,” Hoffman said. “But it’s going to be another test to go back in Seattle and play there. We just have to keep capitalizing and keep building on where we are now.”

Sue Bird had 15 points for the Storm but Lauren Jackson was held to nine points.

“We knew what their strengths were and time and time again we had lapses where we let them do what they the wanted to do,” Bird said. “They seemed very hungry, very motivated. They played hard every possession and they’re very motivated.”

The league, as is the situation most of the season, will be idle Monday but then everyone will be in action Tuesday night. The highlight of the five games will be the New York Liberty visiting Los Angeles at the Staples Center to celebrate the 15th anniversary when the two teams launched the WNBA in 1997 with a game against each other at The Forum, the former home of the Sparks and NBA brother Los Angeles Lakers.

Elsewhere on the day's slate, Chicago visits Atlanta for a noon game while the other night attractions feature Indiana at struggling Washington, Phoenix at San Antonio, and Seattle at Tulsa.

-- Mel


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