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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report:Taylor and Taurasi Propel Phoenix Over New York

(Guru’s note: Material and quotes beyond the live game site are sourced from team and wire service reports).

By Mel Greenberg

Penny Taylor showered the Prudential Center with 29 points and Diana Taurasi offered her two cents worth with a pair of successfully made critical shots in the final minute Saturday night to give the Phoenix Mercury a 91-84 victory over the New York Liberty in one of three games on the WNBA schedule.

Taurasi finished with 16 points while former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Mercury (11-7) snapped a three-game losing streak to hold third place in the Western Conference two-games behind idle Minnesota (12-4) and one behind the San Antonio Silver Stars (11-5).

Phoenix also stayed a game ahead of the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (10-8), who were also on the road and beat lowly Tulsa 89-72.

The Shock (1-17) lost their 12th straight to slip to 12 games out of first and nine behind the Storm who are holding what would be the final playoff spot in the West.

Seattle is 2.5 games ahead of Los Angeles (7-10), which closed the distance slightly to 5.5 games behind first place with a rare road win beating the Chicago Sky 88-84 to move to 3-8 away from the Staples Center.

The Sparks, now 3-8 on the road, snapped a four-game losing streak to move to 3-4 under interim coach Joe Bryant, who was promoted for his second tour of duty at the helm several weeks ago after Jennifer Gillom was fired.

New York (10-8) stayed in third despite the loss but fell to 2.5 games behind the idle Eastern front-running Indiana Fever (13-6), one behind Connecticut (10-6) and slipped to just 1.5 ahead of the idle Atlanta Dream (8-9), the defending Eastern playoff champions.

Chicago (9-11), with the loss to the Sparks, fell to fifth place 0.5 games behind fourth-place Atlanta and 4.5 ahead of the idle Washington Mystics (3-14).

The Liberty had a bunch of nagging injuries – All-Star Cappie Pondexter missed the shootaround because of an Achilles problem, Plenette Pierson had a blister on her hand, newcomer and rookie Ta’Shia Phillips from Xavier has a foot problem, and Sydney Spencer missed her second straight game because of back problems.

New York had rallied from a nine-point deficit in the game that featured 14 ties and 10 lead changes to move to within a basket at 84-82 on a trey from Pondexter, who scored 13 points.

Then in the last minute, Taurasi, the former UConn star, hit a driving layup after an offensive foul by Essence Carson, who had 12 points off the Liberty bench.

“We can’t do that against good teams and expect a win,” New York first-year coach-general manager John Whisenant said.

Pondexter, who like Carson and Liberty center Kia Vaughn are Rutgers alums, missed a shot and former UConn player Katia Swanier grabbed the rebound and fed Taurasi for a long three-pointer and an 89-82 lead with 25.6 seconds left.

Taurasi then stole the ball from Carson and Pondexter fouled Swanier, who made two foul shots. Pierson, who had 15 points, then scored just before the game ended.

“Tonight we did a little better job of executing (in the closing minutes), getting some loose balls, but they made some huge plays too, but it was an evenly battled game,” Taurasi said.

She spoke of ending the second three-game slide of the season joining the one that occurred in Phoenix’s start last month.

“You don’t want to let those things happen but you have to find ways to nip it in the bud,” Taurasi said.

“We played really goods defense today and I think that’s what got us over the hump.”

Taurasi also spoke of the play of Taylor.

“This organization, this team knows how important she is every night,” Taurasi said of the Australian the Mercury picked up several years ago in the expansion draft off the former Cleveland Rockers roster.

“She’s one of the best players in the world and she’s proven that every season since she’s been in the WNBA. “Her resume is as good as anyone’s out there.”

New York thrived getting second chance points outscoring Phoenix 21-10 in the category.

Nicole Powell, a former Stanford star, had a team-high 16 points for New York and also set a career mark with six steals that contributed to the Mercury’s 20 turnovers.

The Liberty got 30 points off of the Mercury’s errors.

“It’s one of those things where we’ll get it fixed,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said.
Vaughn had 11 points and 10 rebounds for New York, which got into foul trouble.

“They executed their game plan, they lost three straight, they came in and they were hungry to get a win,” Pondexter said of what Phoenix, her former team, was able to do against the one she got dealt to a year ago.

“We had a couple of letdowns and they got the hot hand at the end, made a couple of key buckets and got the win.”

Phoenix is at Minnesota on Tuesday for what should be another high-scoring duel, while New York will be visiting Atlanta the same day.

Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, who had an all-American career at Old Dominion, was at the game near her native New York to do a book signing.

Seattle Routs Shock

Following one of her worst performances on Friday night when Seattle got overrun at Minneapolis, former UConn great Sue Bird had one of her best, scoring 29 points, while another ex-Huskies all-American Swin Cash scored 23. Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright had 11 points.

Tulsa’s Tiffany Jackson scored 16 points, former North Carolina star Ivory Latta scored 13, and rookie Elizabeth Cambage, the second overall pick in the draft out of Australia, had 11 points.

"For me to be able to help my team I have to be aggressive, and if that means when I'm open to take the shots, that's what I have to do," Bird said. "By being aggressive, getting some shots to fall in the first half, I was able to be aggressive and find my teammates. They did an awesome job of knocking down shots."

Bird jokingly referred to herself as the quarterback with her teammates serving as her offensive line in setting screens.

"We did a good job of screening for her and she did a good job of using screens," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "People think of Sue as a quarterback point guard where she distributes the ball to everyone else. She is that, but she's also more and you saw the more today. She's the best in the world. The people in Tulsa had a chance to see that firsthand. She was not going to let us lose tonight."

Bird talked about turning things around after the loss at Minnesota.

"We're really glad to get the win. Any road win, especially against a Western Conference team is big, but coming off the loss (Friday) was important for us to go 2-1 on this road trip," Bird said. "(Friday) was one of those games, and I don't want to take anything away from Minnesota, but it was one of those games that we were a little out of sorts."

Sparks Stop Sky

Chicago rallied from a 20-point deficit to within two points of Los Angeles before DeLisha Milton-Jones hit two foul shots to halt the rally asnd finish with 19 points.

Tina Thompson added 14 points, rookie Jantel Lavender out of Ohio State scored 13 points, and former Maryland star Kristi Toliver sored 12 points.

Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, the former LSU All-American and former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince each scored 16 points, while Erin Thorn off the bench scored 17 points.

Los Angeles had already coughed up one big lead since losing Candace Parker for six weeks to a knee injury. Washington, in its only win in the Mystics’ last 10 games, rallied from a 24-point second-half deficit to beat the Sparks in overtime in Los Angeles.

Looking Ahead

The Sparks will try to get another win Sunday on the road, visiting Indiana that is coming off of Friday’s last-second triumph in Washington.

Connecticut, trying to recover from Thursday’s home loss to Indiana, stays at the Mohegan Sun Arena to meet Atlanta for the first time this season.

The Dream, who struggled with injuries at the start, have now won five straight.

In a first-place showdown in the West red-hot Minnesota travels to surprising San Antonio.

-- Mel


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Thrilling Finish For Indiana Means More Washington Agony

(Guru’s note: Material and quotes from beyond game origination sourced from team and wire reports. The guru will be in Newark Saturday night.)

By Mel Greenberg

The thrill of an Indiana Fever victory and the recurring agony of another Washington Mystics narrow loss collided head on with 0.4 seconds left in regulation at the Verizon Center Friday night when former Tennessee star Shannon Bobbitt played heroine for the second straight game.

This time Bobbitt, inserted into the lineup by coach Lin Dunn with 13 seconds left, broke free and took her only shot of the night and it zipped through the basket for a 61-59 victory that allowed the Fever to take a 61-59 victory and move to a 1.5 lead over the idle Connecticut Sun (10-6) atop the WNBA’s Eastern Conference.

In the only other game on the league schedule Minnesota (12-4) again trounced the defending champion Seattle Storm (9-8), this time 92-67 at the Lynx’s Target Center to take the season series 3-1 and move to a one-game lead over the idle San Antonio Silver Stars (11-5) atop the Western Conference.

Back here Bobbitt’s game-winner followed her performance Thursday night when she helped short-handed Indiana (13-6), owning the best record in the league, snap a first-place tie with Connecticut by scoring a career-high 13 points at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Ironically, the Fever’s All-Star Katie Douglas remained home off the road from that one battling a medical fever but she caught up with Indiana Friday night scoring 10 points in nearly 33 minutes of playing time for the Fever’s third straight win that came at the expense of the last-place Mystics (3-14).

Indiana returns home for Sunday’s crossover game at Conseco Fieldhouse against the fifth-place Los Angeles Sparks (6-10), who are 2-8 on the road and have a four-game losing streak.

Then it will be back on the road next Friday for a visit to the Western cellar-dwelling Tulsa Shock (1-16) followed two days later by a visit to the Chicago Sky, against whom the Fever have already gone 2-0 on the season.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive and in a situation like that I’m good to play off the dribble and using the screens very well,” Bobbitt said of the final moments against Washington.

“When they switched it, I thought I could take the last shot on the post play and that’s what I did.”

All-Star Tamika Catchings scored 16 points for Indiana, former Rutgers star Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 12 and former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport came off the bench scoring in double digits, this time matching teammate Douglas’ total of 10 points.

“When we have four people scoring in double figures we usually win,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said.

Meanwhile the fourth quarter has become the Bermuda Triangle for Washington, though this time the Mystics didn’t vanish until the final instant having rallied from a nine-point deficit that existed early in the third period.

They went on to take brief one-point leads in the fourth and then a two-point lead at 59-57 when another former Rutgers star, Matee Ajavon, hit a pair of foul shots for her game-high 19 points with 3:54 left in the game.

But Davenport tied it with a jumper with 1:39 left. Catchings blocked Ajavon’s shot on the next possession but the Mystics maintained the ball only to be tied up going for the win with 15.2 seconds.

Douglas beat Kelly Miller for the tip sending it to Shyra Ely and Indiana took a 20 second time out with 13 seconds left to insert Bobbitt who then joined other Washington opponents who have dealt heartache to the Mystics.

On Thursday night, an offensive foul down the stretch that took away two points from Washington on a call later said by knowledgeable people to be in error helped doom the Mystics to a 75-71 loss on the road against New York.

Washington, which also got 17 points from Crystal Langhorne against Indiana, has lost four straight and 9-of-10, the exception being the dramatic second half rally from a 24-point deficit to beat Los Angeles in overtime on the road.

In nearly all of them Washington has lost late in the game, causing Dunn to offer some sympathy for the Mystics, who except for their landmark run in 2010 seem to have been cursed from the day the WNBA anointed the franchise for the league’s second season in 1998.

“I just can’t say enough how much I am impressed with Washington’s defensive pressure, how intense they play,” Dunn said.

“You telling me this team is last place in the East, it’s just amazing,” Dunn said of the nine-game distance from her Fever and five from Chicago and the Atlanta Dream who are tied for what would be the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference.

“They work so hard. They had a heartbreaker last night and a heartbreaker tonight, it’s got to be hard for them but I have so much respect for what they’re doing. That just shows how good this league is.”

Both teams have been hit with injuries. Indiana lost starting point guard Briann January for the season several weeks ago with a knee injury.

Washington lost Monique Currie in the offseaaon for 2011 with a knew injury and Alana Beard, who missed all of last season following foot surgery, has yet to play in 2011 after spraining an ankle on the same foot just before opening day.

“They’re 3-14 and they’re playing like they’re 14-3,” Dunn said.

When Bobbitt got the ball at the finish, Washington thought it could get to overtime.

“We tried to keep it out of the hands of their major players and we did that,” Ajavon said. “We got the ball in Shannon’s hands. We tried to make her take a tough shot and she just made it.”

Minnesota Revival Continues

A year ago Atlanta was one of the feel-good stories in the WNBA advancing to the finals in the Dream’s third season after entering as an expansion franchise.

The Minnesota Lynx have been around longer but have been cut down in recent seasons by injuries and suffered losses of the kind Washington is experiencing in 2011.

That was then this is now and against last season’s dominating team – one of the most in WNB history – Minnesota dominated for the third time this season.

Former LSU star Seimone Augustus and Stanford alum Candice Wiggins each scored 16 points for Minnesota against fourth-place Seattle, which has lost two more games than in all of 2010.

The Storm are 3.5 games behind Minnesota, one behind third-place Phoenix (10-7) and 2.5 ahead of Los Angeles having now reached the middle of the eight-to-12 week estimated recovery period for three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who suffered a hip injury.

Rookie Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 pick out of UConn, added 12 points, while veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 10 as the Lynx won their fifth straight and seventh-in-eight games for the best start in franchise history.

Former UConn star Swin Cash scored 18 for the Storm but another former UConn great Sue Bird, the top All-Star vote collector, was held to four points.

“This group came back (from the All-Star break) on a mission to kind of reverse the fortunes of the Lynx,” said coach Cheryl Reeve, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia in South Jersey and starred at La Salle.

“People talk a lot about the previous years. This team, the only thing they cared about was last year. I couldn’t tell you what happened in the years before. We don’t really care. I think it’s more, with this group, there was a certain level of determination,” Reeve continued.

“It’s fun. We’re 12-4. Bottom line is we haven’t done anything yet. I think this group knows that more than any other group I’ve been a part of.”

Reeve, a previous assistant on the former Detroit Shock champions before the franchise moved to Tulsa, was hired last season. She also was an assistant to Anne Donovan on the former Charlotte team that advanced to the finals in 2001.

“This team has gotten better,” said Augustus, a previous overall No. 1 pick. “We finally got the pieces to the puzzle and we’re ready to roll. “But we also (Seattle) is missing a big piece to their team in Lauren Jackson. They’re still a tough team.”

Bird cited the health factor in comparing the two squads.

“In the WNBA health is the No. 1 key,” she said. “I mean, look at our team. That’s what I see. With that, they were able to add some high draft picks and really form a nice solid core group and they’re able to to build chemistry.”

As for the Storm’s performance, she added, “Any game like this disappointing, especially with a chance to continue to creep up in the standings.”

Looking Ahead

Seattle will get a chance to make up some ground on Saturday night visiting Tulsa, while Phoenix will be at New York, which is trying to stay near the Eastern leaders.

Los Angeles, looking to snap its road woes, visits Chicago, which will try to move a half-game ahead of Atlanta, which plays on Sunday at Connecticut in the first meeting of the season between the Sun and Dream.

Minnesota heads to San Antonio Sunday for a first-place duel in the West, while Los Angeles stays on the road, as previously mentioned, to play Indiana.

-- Mel

Friday, July 29, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Indy Tops Connecticut To Move Into First

(Guru’s note: A blog with the philly summer league quarterfinals is under this. If you are in melgreenberg.com just click the mel’s blog item on the left side to get to blogspot and the full archive. Although a domino effect precluded the Guru getting to the NY game on time, he opted to be at the summer league but will be in Newark on Saturday night and points north Sunday maybe and point south Friday less maybe. Thus, sources and quotes for this come from team reports and wire service coverage.)

By Mel Greenberg

There are times when team nicknames can get in the way of a story and make things a bit confusing.

Though All-Star starting guard Katie Douglas remained home knocked out of the start of a road trip by a fever, her Indiana Fever knocked out the previous unbeaten home record of the Connecticut Sun with a 69-58 victory Thursday night to break a statistical first-place tie between the two and move to a one-game lead in the WNBA Eastern Conference.

The New York Liberty (10-7) held third place 1.5 games behind Indiana (12-6) and 0.5 behind the Sun (10-6) by closing out the struggling Washington Mystics (3-13) at the end of their first meeting of the season to emerge with a 75-71 victory at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Meanwhile Chicago (9-10) and Atlanta (8-9) stayed in a statistical tie for fourth 3.5 games behind the Fever and 2 behind New York but 4.5 ahead of the last-place Mystics with wins over the bottom of the Western Conference.

The Atlanta Dream took advantage of Los Angeles’ inept performance on the road to gain an 89-80 win over the Sparks (6-10), who fell further behind in fifth place in the West 5.5 games behind the idle Minnesota Lynx (11-4) and 3 games behind the idle Seattle Storm (9-7), the defending WNBA champions.

The Sparks, who remain without superstar Candace Parker for several more weeks as she recovers from a knee injury, are 2-8 away from Staples Arena.

Chicago fended off the Tulsa Shock (1-16) in Oklahoma with a 64-55 win to stop the home team’s threat to snap a 10-game losing streak that increased by one more and has them in sixth place 11 games behind Minnesota and 5.5 behind Los Angeles.

Earlier in the day in the other game on the WNBA schedule in a shootout in Texas between teams near the top of the West, San Antonio delighted a matinee home crowd at the site of last weekend’s All-Star game with a 102-91 win over Phoenix.

The Silver Stars (11-5) moved to within a half-game of Minnesota and 1.5 games of the third-place Mercury (10-7), who dropped their third straight to be just 0.5 games in front of Seattle, which will visit Minnesota in one of two WNBA games Friday night.

The host Lynx can win the four-game series between the two at 3-1 by emerging victorious in the Target Center.

The other Friday night game has Indiana at Washington, with both teams involved in the second of back-to-back encounters.

Indiana is coming off a win in which the Fever jumped to a 17-point lead that shrank to four in the fourth quarter before handing Connecticut its first loss in eight games this season at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The visitors clinched the five-game series between the two at 3-1 with another one to be played at Connecticut in September, where Indiana suffered a setback to the Sun earlier this month.

Indiana has a chance to continue building another run playing underdog teams in the next week similar to the seven-game streak earlier this season.

After Friday’s game, the Fever host Los Angeles Sunday before continuing back on the road at Tulsa and then at Chicago, which is already 0-2 to Indiana in their four-game series.

Indiana, which has been without starting point guard Briann January for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, got help against the Sun from an unlikely heroine for the second time this season.

In an earlier game former Rutgers star Tammy Sutton-Brown in a rare move from the bench was the scoring star. This time it was former Tennessee star Shannon Bobbitt, who scored a career-high 13 points.

“It’s definitely going to be harder without Katie because we rely on her a lot offensively and defensively,” said Indiana’s other All-Star starter Tamika Catchings, the Olympic gold medalist and former Tennessee All-American who had 16 points. “I think anytime we have someone go down, someone else has to step up. I think Shannon did a great job tonight.”

Rookie Jeanette Pohlen, a first-round pick out of Stanford who was a primary destroyer stopping the UConn NCAA-record win streak at 90 in December, had 10 points starting in place of Douglas.

“We think we got a great draft pick,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. “We think she is a great shooter and she’s a lot like Katie. She has a lot of playing time in big games.

”We lost January and today Katie, but you’ve got to play with what you’ve got,” Dunn continued. “We have a lot of confidence in our bench.”

The Fever reserves outscored the Sun substitutes 31-18 helped by former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Connecticut was coming home from an impressive win at Chicago but fell into what has become another unforeseen shooting funk at 31 percent, not that Indiana was much better at 33 percent.

Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery, both recent UConn All-Americans prior to their WNBA entries in 2009 and 2010, scored 13 points and 10, respectively, for the Sun, who will host Atlanta Sunday in their first meeting this season.

“It seems about twice every year we I don’t think we can shoot any worse
than what we do,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “We wasted a really good defensive effort. We had an opportunity. Indiana was missing their leading scorer.

“I thought we played terrific defense but we couldn’t make a shot to save our life. When our four leading scorers go a combined 12 for 47, you just don’t win. It’s that simple.”

As for Bobbitt’s heroics, Thibault noted, “We did everything defensively for the most part but the only disappointing part from a defensive standpoint was I thought we let (Shannon) Bobbitt have a huge effect on the game.

“I don’t mean that negatively towards her but she’s not normally a 13 point scorer and when you allow somebody to do those things it hurts everything else you’re doing,” Thibault said. “I thought we fell asleep a couple times. She obviously made some big plays with some of her steals. Those were big plays; they were momentum plays for them.

“She needs to be commended but it’s disappointing because I thought the game turned on those kinds of plays.”

Montgomery spoke of the implications of the loss.

“This game was a big game. I’m not going to downplay it,” she said. “This was a big loss for us.

“It is just unfortunate that you have one of those poor shooting nights in such an important game. There is nothing that you can really do about it. It’s just unfortunate that a shooting night like that for everyone came in a game that meant a lot in the standings.”

Rutgers Alums Star In New York Win And At Halftime

Two Rutgers greats of recent Scarlet Knights vintage in All-Star starter Cappie Pondexter and center Kia Vaughn helped the Liberty edge Washington and stay in range of the Eastern frontrunners while Sue Wicks -- a golden oldie of the late 1980s for the university in Central New Jersey – became the third former New York notable this season to be cited at halftime in the WNBA team’s new Ring of Honor.

Pondexter had 19 points while Vaughn scored 14, including the go-ahead shot just inside the last minute of regulation.

Wicks, a native of Long Island, joined San Antonio assistant coach Vickie Johnson and Louisiana Tech coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who have already attended halftime ceremonies in their honor.

Plenette Pierson also scored in double figures for the Liberty with 13 points.

New York struggled in the first half, in part from having had a nine-day layoff across the All-Star break, but then began to defend he way first-year coach-general manager John Whisenant desires.

“I thought our defense kept us close enough that we had a chance to win it at the end, on our home court,” he said.

“They are a team that has struggled this year but has good talents. They have had some issues with injuries but I thought they (Mystics) played very hard, were well organized, intense and had a good game plan against us. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win.”

On Washington’s side the loss was just more frustration in letting games slip away, especially with Indiana about to visit.

“It’s tough because it’s another game we just kind of blew away, we’re in the game and we don’t get back when we need to and we lose,” said former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, the All-Star center from suburban Philadelphia on the New Jersey side, who had 18 points.

“We’re playing well and we just break down. You can’t win games playing like that.”

Former George star Kelly Miller had 17 points and former Maryland star Marissa Coleman scored 13 as the Mystics lost their eighth of last nine games while New York has won six of eight heading into Saturday night’s annual visit from Phoenix.

“It was a tough game,” said Washington coach Trudi Lacey. “Our team played really well, but so did New York. It really came down to stops and scores at the end. We didn’t get a couple of stops, where we needed them, and that was the difference in the game.

“Our team is very young,” Lacey said. “We’ve added a couple of new players, we are missing a couple of starters, but what I’ve asked them is to continue to grow, continue to learn and improve, and they have done that.

“We are so close,” she continued. “Late game execution has been hurting us for the last five games. We have had leads and not been able to hold on to leads. That’s a learning experience and learning how to play with a lead and finishing games.”

Former Mystics rookie Ta’Shia Phillips, who was cut last weekend to make room for veteran DeMya Walker, the native of Mt. Holly, N.J., and former Virginia star released by the Connecticut Sun, did not see action with New York, who signed her Thursday and released rookie and former DePaul star Felicia Chester.

Dream Emerging From Nightmare Start

After struggling through most of the first half of the season because of injuries Atlanta is beginning to look like the Dream team that won the Eastern playoffs last season in its third year as a franchise.

With all-timer Lisa Leslie two years into retirement and Candace Parker still injured, Los Angeles had little to stop Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 overall No. 1 pick out of Louisville, who scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Dream’s fifth straight win to keep pressure on Chicago.

“We are feeling good about ourselves and we want to keep this going,” McCoughtry said as Atlanta heads to Sunday’s game in Uncasville against Connecticut. “We want to make the playoffs and that is where our momentum is right now.

Atlanta, which also got 14 points from Arminitie Price and 13 from Iziane Castro Marques – all of hers in the second quarter – needs a win Sunday to tie the franchise streak record which was six out of the gate last season.

Los Angeles dropped its fourth straight after two wins – all under interim coach Joe Bryant who replaced the fired Jennifer Gillom.

The Sparks, who go to Chicago Saturday and Indiana Sunday, got 16 points from Ebony Hoffman and 15 from Tina Thompson.

Sky Snap Losing Streak Absorbing Shock

Chicago stayed percentage points ahead of Atlanta in what is looming as a battle for the last Eastern playoff spot, by shedding the Sky’s two-game losing streak, winning at Tulsa as Sylvia Fowles had 14 points and 10 rebounds to blunt a Shock rally and send them to their 11th straight loss.

Sky rookie Courtney Vandersloot, the number three overall pick of the draft, had 12 points and no turnovers.

``That was probably her best game of late, well maybe her best game overall,'' first-year Chicago coach-general manager Pokey Chatman said. ``All I know is anshe had no turnovers and that's big. She didn't get the chance to be indoctrined the league. We've had to throw her out there with all her injuries.''

Former North Carolina star Ivory Latta, in her second action since sidelined several games with a staph infection, scored 20 points for Tulsa while Tiffany Jackson had 11 rebounds, including a WNBA matching record of eight on the offensive boards.

Silver Stars Drop Mercury

Veteran Becky Hammon, a perennial All-Star, had another big game, this time against Phoenix with 33 points, including a pair of treys late in the game to repulse a Phoenix rally and hand the Mercury their third straight loss, matching the 0-3 slide out of the gate last month.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi scored 27 points, dealt five assists and went 11 of 11 on free throw attempts while former Temple star Candice Dupree had 17 points and 14 rebounds.

``I think we did some good things and we did some things that didn't help us,'' Taurasi said. ``San Antonio played really well, they executed, and they made a lot of plays throughout the game.''

The Silver Stars, who were without All-Star rookie forward Danielle Adams due to a sprained right toe, dealt 29 assists on 37 field goal attempts.

``I thought we really played well as a team today,'' Hammon said. ``Sophia (Young) did a great job finding open people. We did a great job of moving the ball around, and we shot better because of it. Its just a great team win.''

San Antonio scored 32 points off 21 Phoenix turnovers.

``When you play Phoenix, the lead doesn't matter,'' Hammon said. ``You can't get ahead of this team and you can't get behind. I tell this team all the time, whenever you play Phoenix, if you're down 20 you're in the game, if you're up 20, they're still in the game. They always come back at you.''

``I was really pleased that we answered their runs,'' San Antonio coach Dan Hughes said. ``We got control of the game early, but you know they're going to come back. They're such a difficult team to guard, but I thought this was a more aggressive San Antonio team that (Phoenix) played today.''

Jia Perkins scored 14 points for San Antonio, while Danielle Robinson and Scholanda Robinson each added 11 points.

Penny Taylor and Kara Braxton finished with 11 points apiece for the Mercury.

The Guru will either originate from Washington or file the two games from here.

-- Mel

Guru's Summer League Report: Gold Rallies in Overtime in Quarterfinals

(Guru’s note: The WNBA report is above this blog.)

By Mel Greenberg

Two rallies, two routs, and, in terms of seeds, one upset, were the stories of Thursday night’s quarterfinals as the playoffs of the Philadelphia/Suburban Women’s NCAA Summer Basketball League got under way at the Kelly Bolish Gymnasium – home of the AAU Renegades – near Willow Grove.

The night’s most dramatic game was second-seeded Gold’s rally from 13 points to top seventh-seeded Orange 67-62 in overtime to advance to Tuesday’s semifinals.

Gold had beaten Orange last month on opening night 61-48.

But on this particular night coach Keith Wood had to make do for the second straight game without Bethune-Cookman senior Jasmine Elum, who is on a vacation cruise but will be back for the semifinals Tuesday night.

Elum is averaging 15.5 points per game in the 11-team in which three did not qualify.

Gold, featuring Division II Kutztown players and two from the two-time defending Ivy champion Princeton Tigers, lost its regular season final on Tuesday to White 68-62.

That allowed White, dominated by Division II University of Sciences players, to make the field, completing a 5-1 Cinderella recovery from an 0-4 start to finish as part of the five-way tie for fourth.

Gold had already locked up the two-seed prior to that game.

On Thursday Gold caught Orange at the finish in regulation and took over in the extended period as Kutztown junior Ashley Wood, Keith’s daughter, sored 19 points, Lehigh junior Becky Guman scored 13, recent Princeton grad Addie Micir scored 10 points, as did her former Tigers teammate junior Megan Bowen, and Lehigh sophomore Hilary Weaver scored eight.

Orange’s Aly Byorick, a Lehigh senior, scored 23 points and Marisa Repasch, a Lehigh sophomore averaging 16.9 points per game in the summer, finished with 14 points.

Meanwhile Kelly Green, which had finished 9-1 as the top seed, quickly fell eight points behind eighth-seed Royal Blue, a team with a strong sampling of Division II Holy Family players, rallied to a 66-58 win after having gained a 78-64 win during the regular season.

Kelly Green’s Katie Kuester, a St. Joseph’s senior, scored 17 points, while Lafayette senior Sarah McGorry scored 10, as did

Villanova junior Megan Pearson, Lehigh junior Kelly Peterson, and Villanova junior Devon Kane scored nine points.
Peterson averaged 15.4 during the summer, and Pearson averaged 11.8

Holy Family recent grad Meghan Gibson scored 16 points and Tigers junior Erin Mann scored 15 for Royal Blue.

A year ago a more populated Holy Family group advanced to the best of three finals losing to Kuester’s team 2-0.

Meanwhile by seed, but not by experience, sixth seed Teal, dominated by former Temple players, upset No. 3 Columbia Blue 68-60 in a game in which Teal took a big lead against the Division II West Chester group and held on at the finish.

Columbia Blue beat Teal 73-60 during the summer.

Teal’s Ashley Morris, a 2008 Temple graduated who also played at Central High, scored 22, one point less than her league-leading average, as did Michelle Maslowski, a 20021 Drexel grad and one of the all-time Dragons scorers. She averaged 18.3 in the summer.

On Columbia Blue, incoming West Chester freshman Kendall Benovy scored 12 points; Golden Rams senior Shmyra Hammond scored 11, as did juniors Meghan Kerrigan and Carly Strickland, while freshman Steph Keyes scored nine points.

Fourth-seeded Purple dominated the fifth-seeded White squad 96-62 following a narrow 76-75 win against the same team during the summer.

La Salle recent grad Ashley Gale had 26 points for Purple, above her 18.0 average, while St. Joseph’s junior Shelby Smith scored 23, Hawks sophomore Erin Shields scored 18, and Valparaiso 2009 grad Launa Hochstetler scored 16 points.
Shields averaged a second-best 20.1 mark during the summer.

In Tuesday’s semifinals, both games on Court 1, Kelly Green at 7 p.m. will meet Teal, which handed Kelly Green its lone loss 75-65 back on June 21, the second night of the season.

Then at 8:15 Gold meets Purple, which Gold beat 84-61 back on July 7th.

As Gold coach Wood was leaving Thursday night he exchanged pleasantries with Gale joking, “Looks like it will be Ashley vs. Ashley.”

The winners advance to the finals, all on Court 1, all at 7 p.m., with games set for next Thursday, August 4, the following Tuesday, August 9th, and, if necessary, finishing up on Thursday, August 11th.

-- Mel

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Minnesota and Connecticut On A Roll

(Guru’s note: The Philly summer league report is below this post. If you are in melgreenberg.com just hit the mel’s blog link on the left column to get to blogspot and the full archive. Material and quotes for this post is sourced from team reports and wire service coverage.)

By Mel Greenberg

The Minnesota Lynx extended their first-place lead in the WNBA Western Conference by a full game Tuesday night after a dominating 85-72 win in Minneapolis over the Los Angeles Sparks as the second half of the season got under way for all but two of the 12 teams in the women’s pro league.

Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference the Connecticut Sun finally shined in Chicago on their third try to beat the host Sky 77-66 and move back on top over the idle Indiana Fever by a few percentage points.

The Sun (10-5) next return home to host the Fever (11-6) Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena for their third meeting in a matchup whose outcome will widen the separation by a full game.

Minnesota (11-4), which is now a game in front of the San Antonio Silver Stars (10-5), will get the same night off and get a chance to enjoy the franchise’s record start – win No. 11 came in game No. 28 a year ago when the Lynx were coping with injuries.

It was the second win at home over the Sparks (6-9) by a lopsided score following the opening weekend result when Los Angeles superstar Candace Parker was still in the lineup.

Los Angeles two nights earlier won the season opener at home rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second half.

Parker is halfway through an estimated six-week recovery period from a knee injury suffered on a road stop to play the New York Liberty.

The loss dropped the fifth-place Sparks five games behind the Lynx and 2.5 games behind the fourth-place and defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (9-7), who won at Phoenix 83-77 to knock the Mercury (10-6) back to third place in the West 1.5 games behind the Lynx and 1.0 behind San Antonio.

The Silver Stars (10-5) jumped over Phoenix into second in the West with a 73-67 win in the nation’s capital over Washington (3-12) as the last-place Mystics fell seven games behind first and 3.5 behind Chicago (8-10) and Atlanta (7-9), which are in a statistical tie for fourth 3.5 games behind the Eastern frontrunners and 2.0 games behind second-place New York (9-7), which was idle.

New York will host Washington Thursday night – their first meeting this season -- in Newark, N.J., at the Liberty’s temporary home in the Prudential Center while Madison Square Garden is undergoing a series of renovations.

Atlanta, the defending Eastern Conference playoff champion, moved into the fourth-place tie in the East as a result of Chicago’s loss to Connecticut and the Dream’s 76-68 win at Tulsa (1-15), which is deep down in the basement of the West in sixth place 10.5 games behind Minnesota and 5.5 games behind Los Angeles.

The Shock, who are 0-5 under interim coach Teresa Edwards since Nolan Richardson’s resignation, will host Chicago Thursday night while Atlanta will host Los Angeles.

No WNBA games are scheduled for Wednesday.

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, who starred at La Salle University in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, can relate to Phillies baseball manager Charlie Manuel in the joy of guiding a roster of superior talent.

While the Phillies have been heralded for their pitching staff, everyone of Reeve’s starters on the Lynx are a threat to be the star on a given night.

All the focus early on was over rookie Maya Moore, the overall number one pick of April’s WNBA draft out of UConn, and then quickly shifted to veteran Rebekkah Brunson, the former Georgetown star, who quickly began racking up double doubles after the season got under way.

But on Tuesday against Los Angeles, Moore scored just eight points off of 2-for-11 shooting from the field, while Brunson had six points and six rebounds and was ejected in the fourth quarter after her second technical foul.

Not to worry for those who are Minnesota fans.

Former LSU All-American Seimone Augustus, one of four All-Star representatives from the Lynx at last weekend’s festivities, scored 22 points against Los Angeles, while veteran center post player Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 14 points and nine rebounds, and Lindsay Whalen had 16 points and dealt seven assists.

Moore, Whalen, Brunson, and Augustus, the Western Conference WNBA player of the week, were in San Antonio, Texas.

The Minnesota roster also includes two former high first round picks in Stanford grad Candice Wiggins and Virginia grad Monica Wright.

“Everybody was happy to see each other after having these days off, so we just clicked immediately,” said Augustus, a past overall number one pick. “We had fun tonight more than anything and just enjoyed being back with our teammates.”

The Lynx had so much fun they forced the Sparks into 25 turnovers, which they capitalized into a franchise record 35 points to Reeve’s delight as Minnesota never trailed and led by as many as 20 points.

“We like to score off of that,” Reeve said.

Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver scored 28 points for the Sparks and
Ebony Hoffman, who had played for Indiana, previously, scored 24.

Since Joe Bryant was promoted to interim coach several weeks ago after Jennifer Gillom was fired for his second tour of duty, the Sparks are 2-3 with three straight losses, including one at home where they squandered a 24-n point second half lead to Washington.

Ex-UConn Stars Carry Sun Over Chicago

Veteran Asjha Jones and Tina Charles, former stars of separate eras of University of Connecticut greatness, helped the Connecticut Sun inch ahead of Indiana back into first place and resume a current win streak that has reached four straight.

Connecticut had crept ahead of Indiana after beating New York at home but the Fever played last Thursday before the break and moved back in front by a half-game after snapping a three-game losing streak.

Jones, part of the 2002 Huskies that went unbeaten, scored 22 points against the Sky, while Charles, a mainstay of the 2009-10 back-to-back unbeaten group, scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Former Tennessee star Kara Lawson and 2009 UConn grad Renee Montgomery each scored 14 points from the Sun backcourt.

Charles, a teammate of Chicago star Sylvia Fowles on the USA national squad who held the former LSU All-American in check in their game in Connecticut, held her to 14 points, which is off her league-leading 20.6 average, though both grabbed 12 rebounds.

“I tried to get her out of her rhythm, trying to play hard defense,” Charles said of the duel. “I think me and her, when we play against each other, we try to take it personal … “Charles said.

Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince, who was on the East squad with Montgomery and Charles, scored 16 points for Chicago, whose edge over Atlanta in fourth place evaporated.

“Tina did a great job and was focused on making (Fowles) work for everything she got,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said.

Former James Madison star Tamera Young scored 10 points for the Sky, whose play disappointed new coach-general manager Pokey Chatman.

“We’re not good enough to play harder earlier, smarter earlier, with a sense of urgency because you negate some of the good things you do,” Chatman said.

Storm Rule of Mercury Continues

Phoenix had been one of the hottest WNBA teams before the break but Seattle dusted the Mercury in the Arizona desert as former UConn star and All-Star West starter Sue Bird, the top vote collector, scored 18 points, dealt seven assists, while grabbing five rebounds and three steals.

It was the ninth straight win over Phoenix as former UNC star Camille Little added 15 points and five rebounds to the Storm total.

“For us this is just a really good road win against a really good team,” Bird said noting Seattle’s goal to move up in the standings.

Diana Taurasi, a former Bird collegiate teammate who graduated two years later in 2004, scored 26 points for Phoenix, which has lost two straight after reeling off six straight wins.

DeWanna Bonner and former Temple star Candice Dupree each scored 10 points for Phoenix.

“At stretches I thought we played well,” Taurasi said. “We just have to find a balance through a 40-minute game.”

San Antonio and Atlanta Top The Cellar Dwellers

West All-Star Becky Hammon kept San Antonio in the West title race with its win at Washington while East starter Angel McCoughtry, the conference player of the week, kept the Dream with its win over Tulsa looking more like the group that challenged Seattle in three straight narrow losses in the WNBA finals last year.

Hammon scored 22 for San Antonio, while the bench helped with a collectivc total of 35 points, including 10 from Jia Perkins.

“We’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day,” Hammon said.

Former Maryland All-American Crystal Langhorne scored 19 points and Marissa Coleman, her former Terrapins teammate, scored 14 points.

“They made plays and we didn’t,” Langhorne said listing a bunch of Mystics errors. “Things like that, it has to stop.”

Veteran DeMya Walker of Mount Holly, N.J., a former Virginia star who was cut during the break by the Sun and quickly signed by the Mystics, made her debut and scored four points off the bench.

Washington cut first-round pick and former Xavier star Ta’Shia Phillips to make roster room.

Meanwhile McCoughtry, a former Louisville star and 2009 overall top draft pick by Atlanta, scored a career-high 37 points as the Dream repulsed a Tulsa rally in Oklahoma for their fourth straight win.

The chemistry is coming,” McCoughtry said.

Her total is tops this season in the WNBA.

Tulsa rookie Liz Cambage, the number two overall pick in April’s draft out of Australia, had 16 points, veteran Sheryl Swoopes scored 12, and Tiffany Jackson had 11 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Edwards praised Jackson, saying, “She’s the one person I can count on to leave everything on the floor. She’s been playing like an All-Star all season.”

Earlier in the day Edwards announced the hire of former NBA player Tracy Murray, a veteran of 12 seaaons with six different teams.

She previously hired Kathy McConnell-Miller, a former Virginia star who coached at Tulsa and Colorado.

She is the sister of Duquesne coach Suzie MConnell-Serio, a former Penn State star, Olympic gold medalist, and WNBA All-Star and coach at Minnesota.

-- Mel

Guru's Summer League Report: Playoff Field Settled Off Five-Way Tie For 4th At 5-5

(Guru’s note: The WNBA Roundup is above this post.)

By Mel Greenberg

The eight-team playoff field was set Tuesday night on the final day of the regular season without tiebreakers needed for Thursday night’s quarterfinals in the Philadelphia/Suburban Women’s NCAA Summer Basketball League at Kelly Bolish Gymnasium – home of the AAU Renegades – near Willow Grove.

However, though three of the 11 teams had eliminated themselves, five within the field tied for fourth with 5-5 records and had Columbia Blue not tied for second with Gold at 6-4 it would have been a six-way gridlock for third.

“How’s that for parity?” smiled veteran commissioner David Kessler while working out the tiebreakers for seeds.

The big story was White, dominated by Division II University of the Sciences players, which started 0-4 but went 5-1 the rest of the way and earned the fifth seed after Tuesday’s 68-62 win over Gold as Brianne Traub scored 16 points and Villanova redshirt junior Laura Sweeney scored 13 points.

Gold (6-4) had already clinched a second seed because of its win over Columbia Blue, composed entirely of Division II West Chester players.

In the loss to White Tuesday, Becky Guman, a Lehigh sophomore, scored 23 points, her Mountain Hawks sophomore teammate Hilary Weaver scored 20 points, and Division II Bloomsburg senior Courtney Nyce scored 13 points.

Columbia Blue, in its 67-63 win over Cardinal Red, got 15 points from West Chester sophomore Alexandra Lennon, 12 from incoming freshman Steph Keyes, and 12 also from incoming freshman Kendall Bonovy.

Incoming Colgate freshman Stephanie Schultz scored 14 points and Kaitlin Cole, a Holy Cross junior, scored 12 for Cardinal Red (3-7), which finished 10th and would have needed a longshot set of scenarios to qualify.

Royal Blue (5-5) avoided elimination tie-breakers with a 70-60 upset of sorts over Purple (5-5) to get the eighth seed as Division II Holy Family sophomore Carolyne Heston scored 17 points and recent Tigers grad Meghan Gibson scored 13.

A year ago the Holy Family group reached the finals on a series of upsets.

Purple (5-5) got 18 points from St. Joseph’s junior Shelby Smith and 17 from Hawks sophomore Erin Shields.

Despite the loss, Purple at 3-1 against the teams in the tie, got the fourth seed.

Teal (5-5) rolled over Lime Green 92-46 as Drexel 2002 graduate Michelle Maslowski, one of the Dragons’ all-time scorers, had one of the summer’s top performances with 34 points and 2008 Temple grad Ashley Morris scored 30 to earn the sixth seed.

The squad has several former stars who played for the Owls and player-coach Ari Moore promised to round up as many as can be found to head for Knoxville, Tenn., next June when former Temple coach Dawn Staley, now at South Carolina, is inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Lime Green (2-8), which had already been eliminated, in the loss to Teal, got 17 points from Division II Philadelphia University sophomore Samantha Morris and 10 points from her sophomore teammate Megan Finn.

Orange (5-5) had the bye and landed the seventh seed.

In the other Tuesday night game Kelly Green (9-1) which finished first outright by three games to get the top seeds ruined any shot for Black (4-6) to make the playoffs by getting a 78-32 win as St. Joseph’s senior Katie Kuester scored 16 points, Villanova junior Megan Pearson scored 12, and Lafayette senior Sarah McGorry scored 10 points.

Black, which finished 10th, got 12 points from Sheperd senior Jenn Prine and had already clinched first and 10 from Millersville junior Shira Newman.

Playoff schedule

On Thursday night at 7 p.m. No. 1 Kelly Green meets No. 8 Royal Blue on Court 1. Kelly Green won 78-64 in their previous meeting. At the same time No. 6 Teal will meet No. 3 Columbia Blue on Court 2 trying to avenge a 73-60 loss in their previous meeting.

At 8:15 on Court 1 No. 7 Orange will meet No. 2 Gold, which waa a 61-48 winner in the season opener on June 16th.
At the same time on Court 2 No. 5 White meets No. 4 Purple, which emerged with a narrow 76-75 win when they met at the end of June.

Next Tuesday the highest surviving seed will meet the lowest at 7 p.m. on Court 1, where at 8:15 p.m. the other two survivors will meet on Court 1.

The best-of-three finals, all at 7 p.m., will be on Court 1 Thursday, August 4, Tuesday, August 9th, and, if necessary Thursday, August 11th.

Quickie Final Standings

Kelly Green 9-1
Gold 6-4
Columbia Blue 6-4
Purple 5-5
White 5-5
Teal 5-5
Orange 5-5
Royal Blue 5-5
Black 4-6
Cardinal Red 3-7
Lime Green 2-8.

-- Mel

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Guru's WNBA Musings: Dawn Staley Nets Hall of Fame and WNBA Top 15 Honors

By Mel Greenberg

Back when the WNBA first launched in the summer of 1997 and notables from the sports world, particularly the NBA, were being interviewed about their perspectives of the new women’s venture, one Magic Johnson made the observation that Dawn Staley was the one women’s basketball he’d pay to see play.

On Saturday the 41-yeae-old former point guard legend out of Philadelphia, now retired, made good on Magic’s valuation in producing a terrific double in the statistics of reward for career accomplishments.

At halftime of the WNBA All-Star game in San Antonio, Texas, Staley was two-fold announced as one of six new inductees to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn. and as one of the top 15 players in WNBA history.

Staley, a former top national prospect out of Dobbins Tech in North Philadelphia, is being cited for a playing career that included leading Virginia to three Final Fours, winning numerous international honors highlighted by three Olympic gold medals, and All-Star careers in the WNBA and former ABL.

She has also added coaching success to her accolades.

In the spring of 2000 Temple, located blocks from her childhood home, hired Staley to guide the Owls and overnight she erased a decade of losing and eventually made them a nationally regarded force in her eight seasons at the Big Five and Atlantic 10 school.

These days she is trying to build South Carolina back to prominence and last season led the Gamecocks to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

But to be fair also, for Staley not to earn the Women’s Hall on her first eligibility or as a top 15 honoree would have been an insult given her storied career.

The Top 15 all-time group in association with the WNBA’s 15th anniversary season was a result of voting from fans, media, and current WNBA coaches and players.

The vote for the Hall of Fame was by the executive board that met at last month’s induction though the public announcement is made at halftime of the WNBA All-Star game.

Staley likely got the word from WNBA executive Renee Brown or USA Basketball executive Carol Callan, who is also the WBHOF board president, since those are the two on the board closest to her.

Induction ceremonies have been the second week in June and Staley’s election follows Notre Dame coach and former St. Joseph’s star Muffet McGraw from this year’s class with a Philadelphia connection.

She also follows former WNBA president Val Ackerman of the same class with a tie to Virginia, where recently departed coach Debbie Ryan is a past inductee.

Staley has ties to the two women’s basketball notables who will be part of next month’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Springfield, Mass.

Former Georgia and Olympic great Teresa Edwards, currently interim head coach of the WNBA Tulsa Shock, is a lifelong friend of Staley’s from their days playing international ball together, and Staley played on the 1996 Olympic squad headed by Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

The other five WBHOF inductees are former Tennessee star Nikki McCray, who is one of Staley’s aides at South Carolina, former Old Dominion center Inge Nissen, who was part of the 1979 and 1980 national champions, and is currently associate head coach at Florida International, former Southern Cal star Pam McGee, who with here twin sister Paula, played on two NCAA champions, Washington University in St. Louis coach Nancy Fahey, who guided her team to five NCAA Division III titles, and, from the contributor category, longtime broadcaster Robin Roberts, who played basketball at Southeastern Louisiana.

Ironically, McCray follows former Auburn star Ruthie Bolton of this year’s class. During the 1996 yearlong tour of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic squad Bolton and McCray would sing the national anthem before exhibition games.

Robin Roberts is the second media member and first from the electronic side elected following the 2007 induction of, ahem, well, you know whom.

Honoring The Top 15

Aside from Staley, the other 14 WNBA honorees were the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, Katie Smith, and Lauren Jackson, the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi, the big three of the WNBA four-title winning former Houston Comets: Sheryl Swoopes (now with Tulsa), Tina Thompson (now with the Los Angeles Sparks and last of the original WNBA players who appeared every season), and Cynthia Cooper (retired and now coaching UNC Wilmington), the Los Angeles Sparks’ Ticha Penicheiro and Lisa Leslie (retired), the New York Liberty’s Cappie Pondexter and Teresa Weatherspoon (retired and coaching Louisiana Tech, her alma mater), the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings, the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Becky Hammon (originally an undrafted signee from Colorado State who first achieved All-Star status in New York), and retired center Yolanda Griffith who played for the former Sacramento Monarchs.

The Guru on his official WNBA-requested media ballot batted 14 for 15 but should have batted 1.000 after making the comparisons between his vote and the outcome.

What happened was a re-vote after the original submission was requested because of a glitch and in making the transfers the Guru overlooked Yolanda Griffith and submitted Seattle’s Swin Cash, thinking he was one short.

All 15 honorees were in San Antonio but before anyone accuses the cost for this impacting the NBA lockout do remember Addias was the title sponsor of the exercise and one would think the athletic apparel company picked up the expenses.

Looking at the nomination ballot of 30 candidates two all-time Tennessee players, who were both overall No. 1 draft picks, did not make it for perhaps different reasons so give the voters credit for their decisions.

Los Angeles’ Candace Parker, voted an All-Star starter this year but is out with a knee injury suffered last month, has not been in the league long enough considering here rookie 2008 arrival and missing 2009 because of pregnancy and most of 2010 due to shoulder surgery.

When Chamique Holdsclaw played – she was the 1999 No. 1 pick of the Washington Mystics – few could question her worth BUT she was out of uniform over the years more than wearing it as a participant.

Meanwhile, the Guru was part of a blue ribbon group who individually submitted a nomination of 30 candidates from an original list of 100.

One person who the Guru voted but did not make the list of 30 was former Temple star Candice Dupree of the Phoenix Mercury.

However, when it comes to the 20 all-timers when this exercise resumes in year 20, she should be in a group considered with Parker who will be strong candidates. Some others to think about, though many others could be added: Swin Cash (Seattle Storm), Penny Taylor (Phoenix), Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince (Chicago Sky), Essence Carson (New York Liberty), Danielle Adams, Sophia Young (San Antonio), Elizabeth Cambadge (Tulsa), Katie Douglas (Indiana Fever), Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles, and Asjha Jones (Connecticut Sun), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), and Crystal Langhorne (Washington Mystics).

Top 15 Coaches

There was no selection for head coach of the 15th anniversary team but most in internet conversations, as well as some in WNBA tweets, center on the honor if it would exist to be given to former Houston Comets mentor Van Chancellor, who might return to the league next season.

With three WNBA titles, the Guru would name Bill Laimbeer of the former Detroit Shock associate head coach.

Then after that here are some worthy people from over the years deserving mention in no particular order:

Anne Donovan (Charlotte, Seattle, New York)
Dan Hughes (Charlotte, Cleveland, San Antonio)
Brian Agler (Seattle Storm)
Mike Thibault (Connecticut Sun)
Michael Cooper (Los Angeles Sparks)
Lin Dunn (Indiana Fever)
John Whisenant (Sacramento Monarchs, N.Y.)
Paul Westhead (Phoenix Mercury)

Top 15 Front Office Executives – Player Personnel

Like certain collegiate conferences, the number in the title is not in correlation with the reality on the list. This is focused on one area and involves those who do not hold coaching titles also and order is nor specific.
Renee Brown – WNBA home office – Last of the originals
Chris Sienko – Connecticut Sun
Karen Bryant – Seattle Storm
Angela Taylor – (WNBA, Washington Mystics) – former both
Carol Blazejowski – (Former NY Liberty) – Quibble over moves but she was an architect of the WNBA.
Kelly Krauskopf – Indiana Fever
Ann Meyers-Drysdale – Phoenix Mercury
Penny Toler – Staying power and L.A. up more than down over the years.
Kristin Bernert – Don’t know if player matters involved but track record is things go well at stops – Detroit, WNBA, L.A., and now N.Y.


Connecticut Sun’s Kara Lawson on the tight races in both Eastern and Western Conferences at All-Star break: “I don’t know if it is much different than other years. It might be more the way the schedule has played out though I like where we are right now. But there have been a lot of East-West games and there are teams that haven’t seen each other yet. For example, we haven’t seen Atlanta, New York hasn’t seen Washington, and we hadn’t seen New York till this week.”


The Guru would just like to note his sympathies to Rebecca Lobo on the recent passing of her mother RuthAnn and to new UC Santa Barbara coach Carlene Mitchell on the passing recently of her uncle, who died in an auto accident, and her mom, who died suddenly a few days later and his thoughts are with you both.

-- Mel

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Indiana Regains First While Seattle Also Stops Slide

(Guru’s note: The Philly summer league post is below this one. If you are in melgreenberg.com, just click the mel’s blog on the left column to be linked to the complete archives in blogspot. Material and quotes in this post are dawn on team and wire service report.)

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA schedule heading into this weekend’s All-Star break wrapped up with two games Thursday night as the Indiana Fever and Seattle Storm each stopped three-game slides with wins at home.

In Indiana’s case, the 77-63 win over the fourth-place Chicago Sky (8-9) at Conseco Fieldhouse allowed the Fever (11-6) to inch back into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference a half-game ahead of the idle Connecticut Sun (9-5), which had taken a percentage points lead with its home win over the New York Liberty (9-7) on Tuesday night.

The Sky dropped 1.5 games behind New York and are only a game ahead of the defending Eastern playoff champion Atlanta Dream (6-9), which is beginning to return to the form they showed late last season.

Seattle (8-7), which has now lost one more game than the entire last season when the Storm blitzed their way to their second WNBA title, turned aside the San Antonio Silver Stars 73-55 to move within 1.5 games of its third-place opponent and 2.5 of first-place Minnesota (10-4), which was idle.

The Storm, holding what would be the final playoff spot, moved 1.5 games away from the fifth place Los Angeles Sparks (6-8).

San Antonio (9-5) is in third place a game behind the front running Lynx and a half-game behind the second-place Phoenix Mercury (10-5).

The Silver Stars will be hosting the All-Star game Saturday for the first time and on Thursday the WNBA announced that San Antonio coach-general manager Dan Hughes would join Seattle coach Brian Agler as an assistant on the West squad, replacing Storm assistant Nancy Darsch, who is tending to a family matter.

Agler’s other assistant Jenny Boucek, a former Virginia star, has coached the West once before when she was in charge of the former Sacramento Monarchs.

In Thursday’s win, former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 11 of her 17 points in the third quarter preventing the Storm’s losing skid from becoming its longest in six seasons.

Former UConn star Swin Cash scored 15 points for the Storm and former North Carolina star Camile Little was also in double figures with 10 points.

“Tonight was a must win for us,” said Cash, whose team recently lost at San Antonio. “Any home games are a must win but tonight having just lost three games on the road and going into the break you want to go out on a high.

“We all knew with a win it would keep us over .500 and that was the goal. We were able to get it done.”

Wright was ecstatic afterwards over the Storm looking more like the way they played in 2010.

“That’s the kind of basketball we want to play right there. I don’t know any other way to put it,” Wright said. “That’s the kind of basketball we want to play, we need to play to be successful.”

San Antonio’s Sophia Young, a former Baylor star, scored 12 points, Becky Hammon scored 11, and Jia Perkins scored 10 as the Silver Stars missed a chance to reach the best start in the history of the franchise.

“This is one of the most physical teams in the league, if not the most physical,” Hammon said of Seattle. “We just didn’t handle it well. It was one of those nights where everything went wrong.”

San Antonio had been one of the surprises of the league with its play until recently tailing off. Some picked the Silver Stars for last in the West.

“When you consider we have six of 11 as new players and three rookies, we’re probably in a position we’d hope that we’d be,” Hughes said. “We’ve got a lot to learn. This is a learning lesson for a lot of us, even the rookies. … You could see first time up here, we were a frame behind.

Seattle and Los Angeles have been playing without two of the WNBA’s top stars with the Storm’s three time MVP Lauren Jackson sidelined eight to 12 weeks after hip surgery from a knee injury while the Sparks’ Candace Parker out six weeks recovering from a knee injury.

“We have a winning record and we’ve been fighting hard with injuries and a road trip, inconsistent play but you just have to be persistent,” Agler said. “You can’t give into it. You have to find ways to get better when you can’t practice.”

Indiana has had an injury problem also in recently losing starting point guard Briann January.

But the Fever were able to win three straight without her and seven overall before hitting the slide.
Former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport came to the rescue with 20 points and five rebounds.

“It’s always nice to be at home and have that home crowd behind us,” she said. “I thought our road trip was pretty tough but we had a good practice yesterday and everyone had energy. I think just being home helped a lot.”

Tamika Catchings, who will be one of the East starters Saturday, scored 13 points and Tangela Smith scored 10 points.
It was the seventh straight Fever win over the Sky, who got 21 points from All-Star reserve Sylvia Fowles, a former LSU star.

“We had a really good effort being disruptive tonight,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. “Sylvia had 21, but it was a hard 21. I thought we fought her and made her work hard.”

Chicago first year coach-general manager Pokey Chatman, a former star and coach at LSU, spoke of the Sky needing to make adjustments if they are going to make the playoffs for the first time in the six-year history of the franchise.

“They came out like a team that lost a few and needed the win,” she said. “We’re at the point where we need to grow up, step up and recognize opportunities. It’s mental to physical. We played like a young team.”

In other news elsewhere in the league, the woeful Tulsa Shock (1-14) cut former Olympic track star Marion Jones, who signed on a year ago hoping to revive her basketball career from her days of North Carolina in the early 1990s when she played on an NCAA champion.

Former Olympic and Georgia great Teresa Edwards is 0-4 since being promoted after Nolan Richardson resigned earlier this month.

The Shock replaced Jones with former Oklahoma center Abi Olajuwon, a daughter of former NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon, who was cut by Indiana before the 15th NBA season opened in June.

The Guru will be back from more at the next sunrise but in ending a lifetime streak is not in San Antonio for the All-Star game.

-- Mel

Guru's Summer League Report: Kelly Green Wins First, Gold Claims No. 2 Seed

(Guru's note: The WNBA roundup is above this post.)

By Mel Greenberg

Kelly Green won its seventh straight and clinched first place outright while Gold clinched a playoff spot and the No. 2 seed Thursday night in the Philadelphia/Suburban Women’s NCAA Summer League at Kelly Bolish Gymnasium – home of the AAU Renegades – in Harboro, Pa., near Willow Grove.

The Kelly Green (7-1) triumph, their seventh straight, was an 81-58 win over Cardinal Red (3-6) as Villanova junior Megan Pearson scored 24 points, hitting five 3-pointers; incoming Lafayette freshman Kelly Loughney scored 17 points, her future Leopards teammate senior Sarah McGorry scored 14 points, and Harvard junior Elle Hagedorn scored 12 points.

Cardinal Red (3-6), which fell to 10th place in the 11-team league, got 22 points from Holy Cross sophomore Alexis Smith and 13 from incoming Colgate freshman Stephanie Schultz. The team is most likely eliminated though some long-shot tie-break might occur, though it has only one win against teams in the four-way deadlock for sixth above Cardinal Red and that is over Black.

The regular season will end Tuesday night and the eight-team quarterfinals will be played next Thursday night as the playoffs get under way.

Semifinals will occur on Tuesday, August 2, followed by a best-of-three finals between the two survivors on Thursday, August 4, Tuesday, August 9, and, if necessary, Thursday, August 11th.

Lime Green (2-7), which is in 11th place and composed primarily of Division II Philadelphia University players, fell 64-37 to Royal Blue (4-5), composed primarily of Division II players Holy Family players from the rival Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and was eliminated.

Royal Blue (4-5) moved into a four-way tie for sixth with Black, White, which won its fourth straight, and Teal, which gained the benefit of a forfeit by Orange (5-5), which completed its regular schedule because of a bye next Tuesday night.

Orange is in fifth place a half-game behind Purple (5-4), which had the bye, and Columbia Blue (5-4) and a half-game in front of sixth place.

The forfeit was the third of the season, including one lost two weeks ago by Teal. Gold was the beneficiary of the other forfeit, which was committed by Columbia Blue.

Royal Blue in its win got the night’s top overall performance from Holy Family junior Erin Mann, who scored 26 points, while recent Tigers graduate Meghan Gibson scored 10 points.

Lime Green got 13 points from Philadelphia U. junior Kristen Blye and 11 from Christine Wooding, her Rams classmate.

Mathematically there could be a seven-way tie for third at 5-5 and one team will be eliminated based on the common records against each other among the group in the tie. Head-to-head results will determine seeds.

“I wish all the spots could be decided on the courts instead of on paper but the schedule and unavailable gym space precludes that,” said longtime commissioner David Kessler.

Gold (6-3), which is two games behind Kelly but a game ahead of third, got 21 points from Bethune-Cookman senior Jasmine Elum and 19 from Bloomsburg senior Courtney Nyce in its 70-45 win over Black, which got 12 points from Millersville junior Shira Newman and eight points from Shepherd senior Jenn Prine.

The win clinched the No. 2 seed because Gold has triumphs over both Columbia Blue and Purple if the three finishes tied for second next week.

If Columbia Blue and Purple tie for third and Gold takes second outright, Columbia Blue will earn the third seed off its win over Black.

The streaking White team stayed in the playoff hunt beating Columbia Blue 65-54 as USP junior Carolyn Edwards scored 11 points, while her Devils teammates junior Rebecca Ruggear scored nine and junior Sarah Hickman scored seven. Villanova redshirt junior Laura Sweeney added 10 points to the White attack and Wildcats junior Jesse Carey scored eight points.

Columbia Blue, composed entirely of Division II West Chester players, got 14 points from junior Carly Strickland, 13 from senior Shamyra Hammond, and 11 from junior Meghan Kerrigan.

The standings and seed positions, as of now, are as follows
Team W-L GB
*-Kelly Green 8-1 –
$-Gold 6-3 2
Columbia Blue 5-4 3
Purple 5-4 3
Orange 5-5 3.5
Black 4-5 4
White 4-5 4
Teal 4-5 4
Royal Blue 4-5 4
Cardinal Red 3-6 5
Lime Green 2-7 6

*-Clinched 1st
$-Clinched 2nd seed

In the group of the four teams tied for sixth Black is 2-1, White is 2-1 with a loss to Black, Teal is 1-2 and Royal Blue is 1-2 with a loss to Teal.

If the same four are deadlocked without any new teams in the mix after Tuesday, Royal Blue will lose out.

On Tuesday night White needing a win or a favorable tie-break meets Gold at 7 p..m. on Court 1 while at the same time on Court 2 Royal Blue needing a win or favorable tie break will meet Purple, which would clinch a playoff spot with a win.

Teal needs a win or favorable tie break as a result of its outcome with Lime on Court 1 in the 8:15 game and Black needs to upset Kelly or get a favorable tie-break after its game at the same time on Court 2.

In the singleton on Court 3 at 8:15 p.m. Columbia Blue needs a win over Cardinal Red to avoid being drawn into any elimination ties though it could back into the playoffs if teams below also lose.

-- Mel

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Atlanta Stops Washington At The Finish

(Guru’s note: Updated with more action in last 48 hours, Wednesday's other WNBA game with Phoenix and Minnesota. Material and quotes beyond the two-game trip to Connecticut and Washington are drawn on team and wire reports. If you are in melgreenberg.com, the summer league Tuesday action is in a post under this and click mel's blog in left column to get to blogspot and the complete archive.)

By Mel Greenberg

The home team Washington Mystics were coming off of two days rest and a landmark come-from-behind victory on the road Sunday night overcoming a 24-point deficit that existed in the second-half before subduing the Los Angeles Sparks in overtime.

The visiting Atlanta Dream were coming off the front part of a rare back-to-back, the scourge of WNBA scheduling, in which both games on successive days had late morning starts to allow hundreds of young summer campers to attend.

Furthermore both teams that had been feel-good stories in 2010 advancing to the playoffs have been mired in the bottom of the East.

If one took all those components to predict the outcome of Wednesday’s matinee here, the conclusion afterwards might be that Atlanta, which also went with a shortened roster due to injury, defied the trends to beat the Mystics.

In a game that had 17 ties and 16 lead trends Atlanta seized the final two minutes of the fourth quarter to pull out a gritty 86-79 victory for the third straight win by the fifth-place Dream (6-9).
Atlanta moved within 1.5 games of the idle fourth-place Chicago Sky (8-8) and 3.5 of first place where the Connecticut Sun (9-5) and Indiana Fever (10-6) are percentage points apart.

Connecticut advanced in the standings to first in the East later Tuesday night beating New York in the Mohegan Sun Arena, where the Sun at home is 7-0. The win was the second triumph over the Liberty in a five-day span.

Washington (3-11), in the bottom of the six-team East, dropped 2.5 games behind the Dream and 6 behind the frontrunners.

A few hours later Wednesday, Minnesota (10-4) avenged last week's high-scoring loss to Phoenix in Minneapolis by winning another shootout with the Mercury (10-5). This time the Lynx prevailed in the Arizona desert 106-98 to leapfrog over Phoenix into first place in the West.

Phoenix fell into a second-place tie with idle San Antonio (9-4) but statistically behind the Silver Stars who will visit the defending champion Seattle Storm (7-7) Thursday night in one of two games to wrap up the week heading into the break for the All-Star game.

Seattle (7-7) is in fourth place three games behind the leaders and 2.5 games behind the Texans and Phoenix.

Storm coach Brian Agler will head to Texas after the game to coach the West squad in Saturday's All-Star classic in San Antonio where the Silver Stars are hosting the event for the first time.

In Thursday's other game Indiana (10-6) will try to stop a three-game losing streak and move back in sole possession of first when the Fever host the fourth-place Chicago Sky (8-8). The visitors are two games behind first place in the East and 1.5 games in front of Atlanta in holding what would be the final spot at the end of the regular season for the playoffs.

Chicago on Tuesday recovered from Saturday's loss at Atlanta by beating Seattle 78-69 at home as former LSU star Sylvia Fowles scored 24 points and former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince scored 23 to hand the Storm their third straight loss and most overall in two seasons.

Fowles and Prince were named Eastern All-Star reserves Tuesday by the conference's six coaches.

Former UConn star Sue Bird, who was named a starter for the West in the fans' vote, scored 26 points for Seattle against the Sky, while Ashley Robinson scored 14 points and former UConn star Swin Cash, a past All-Star, had 10 points.

In the Lynx's win Wednesday over Phoenix, former LSU star Seimone Augustus tied a season-high with 25 points to help snap the Mercury's six-game win streak.

Minnesota, which won its third straight and fifth in six games, also got 16 points from Lindsay Whalen, while rookie Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin each scored 14 points.

The Mercury's Diana Taurasi scored 24 points, while Aussie Penny Taylor scored 23 and former Temple star Candice Dupree had 16 points in Phoenix's first home loss in six games.

The game featured a bunch of players who are All-Star selectees.

UConn alums Taurasi and Moore, the number one overall pick of the draft in April, were tabbed as starters in the Western Conference group by the fans while on Tuesday the six conference coaches' reserve choices of Taylor, Whalen, Augustus and former Georgetown star Brunson were announced.

McWilliams-Franklin and Dupree have been a past All-Star honorees.

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve lauded the play of Augustus against the Mercury: "It's just so much fun to watch. Seimone is such a great player, an All-Star, an Olympian. It's just nice to see her get back after coming off a tough year where she had san injury. Physically, it's just scary how good she is."

August said revenge for last week's loss in which each team finished in triple digits with the Mercury pulling ahead in the closing minutes was a good reason to be motivated.

"We just locked in and focused," she said. "We felt like the last game we played we let one slip away, so we wanted to come out in the third quarter and put the pressure on them. Get out in transition, rebound and keep them off the glass."

Moore noted the play of her team's defense and the importance of going into the break with momentum.

"We just tried to outmatch their offense with their defense," Moore said. "It was important for us to end this segment of the season and start off the next part with a lot of good momentum."

Phoenix, which lost its first three games at the start of the season, is entering the break with its second best record trailing the 12-5 won-loss mark in 2009 when the Mercury won their second WNBA title. The loss snapped a four-game win streak to Minnesota and also it was the second home loss in two seasons to Lynx.

"Once we got our focus and realized how well we could play, ands how much effort it took to play that well, we have been rolling," Taylor said of the Mercury's overall performance to date. "Even though what happened today, I think we can still take some positives away from it, but we definitely have to have that same focus coming off the break."

On Wednesday, the league announced that new president Laurel Richie had selected Tulsa's rookie center Elizabeth Cambage, the number two overall pick of the draft out of Australia, will be a replacement on the West roster for Los Angeles center Candice Parker.

The former Tennessee sensation was picked by the fans but is currently on a six-week recovery from a knee injury suffered in last month's loss to New York in Newark, N.J. That's where the Liberty are using the Prudential Center the next three summers during the renovation of Madison Square Garden.

Aussie center Lauren Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP with defending champion Seattle, would have been a likely addition by the coaches but she, too, is injured and is on a recovery of eight to 12 weeks for hip surgery.

Meanwhile, back here Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors spoke of her team's perseverance in overcoming the problems caused by the schedule and injuries.

“Both teams fought hard trying to get that next win,” said Meadors, who will coach the Eastern All-Stars.

On Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta at home knocked Indiana 84-74 out of the top spot in the East placing them percentage points behind Connecticut as former Duke star Lindsey Harding scored 19 points and Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 overall top draft pick out of Lousville, scored 15 points in limited action because of early foul trouble.

"Lindsey played really awesome," Meadors said of her play against the Fever. "She controlled the pace of the game, We had a lot of fast breaks, and she was leading a lot of those situations. And she distributed the ball really well to her teammates.

Erika de Souza added 15 points and 11 rebounds to the Atlanta attack while Iziane Castro Marques scored 10 points off the bench.

Tamika Catchings, who will start for the East All-Stars, scored 22 points for Indiana, while Erin Phillips scored 21 points. Katie Douglas, who will also start for the East, was held to four points, shooting 1-for-8 from the field.

"Once they separated by eight to 10 points, it was really tough to overcome it with their athleticism," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said of the Dream. "Overall, their quickness, their athleticism really bothered us.

"The thing about us, we win when we have balanced scoring," Dunn explained. "We want five to six players in double figures.

"You cannot judge where (Atlanta) is right now becxause they are not at full strength. But at the end of the season, if they are healthy, Atlanta could be a very dangerous team again. They are big and they have speed," Dunn added.

The Dream continued their thrust against Washington here Wednesday.

“We were playing two games in less than 24 hours and that was very tough on us,” Meadors said at the Verizon Center. “The biggest thing we had to fight against was our fatigue. We didn’t get into 10 o’clock last night.

“It seemed we finally got rolling there in the fourth quarter. I thought we had some good stops and offensively I felt we did a really good job of getting open looks.

“Lindsey did a good driving inside and Sandora (Irvin) really played well coming off the bench. When you only have eight players everybody has to make contributions. We’ve gotten better the last three or four games but we still have to get some injured folks back into the lineup and if we can do that maybe we can get deeper into our bench.”

Irvin’s putback brought Atlanta to a 71-71 tie with 1 minute 59 seconds left in the game and then Armintie Price drove inside for the lead almost 30 seconds later.

Then a Duke alumni combo dealt more damage when Alison Bales stole as ball off the Mystics' Nicky Anosike and fed former Washington star Harding, who hit a six-foot turnaround jump shot.

Washington’s Marissa Coleman, a former Maryland star, then made a bad pass allowing McCoughtry to make a pair of foul shots, which were followed by another pair from Irvin.

Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon finally stopped the Washington scoring drought, though it was the proverbial too little, too late, when she hit one of two free throw attempts for the game’s final points.

McCoughtry, who will join her coach in San Antonio and be one of the Eastern starters, scored a game-high 33 points, while Harding had 14 points, Price scored 12, Erika DeSouza had 10 and Bales grabbed 10 rebounds.

Irvin, the former TCU star, played significant minutes as a substitute scoring eight points and grabbing 11 rebounds as Atlanta evened the five-game series between the two teams at 1-1.

Sancho Lyttle, who initially missed six games early in the season to play in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Spain, continued to be sidelined with a sore back while Coco Miller, the twin sister of Washington’s Kelly Miller, is out with a sprained right ankle.

Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J., in suburban Philadelphia, scored 24 points along with grabbing 10 rebounds for Washington. On Tuesday she was also named an All-Star reserve and she'll be making her second straight All-Star appearance.

Coleman had 21 points, Ajavon scored 12, and rookie Jasmine Thomas out of Duke scored 10 off the bench while Anosike grabbed 14 rebounds.

Former Duke star Alana Beard has yet to play this season after suffering a left foot sprain prior to the opener last month. She missed all of last season after surgery on the same foot.

Monique Currie, another former Duke sensation, is out for the entire season with a knee injury suffered overseas.

“I actually liked this back-to-back better because you get to sleep a whole night,” said Harding, who made her first appearance in Washington as an opponent since the draft day deal sent her to Atlanta. “But screaming kids in both arenas are still in my head.

“A lot of our losses were very close – four, five, or six points and you have to foul at the end. We’re starting to learn to play better together and get over that hump and learn every game is going to be a grind in this league because you’re not going to blow anybody out.

“We wanted to have some momentum going into the All-Star break.”

Though only the fourth seed in last year’s playoffs, Atlanta, in its third season as a franchise, wiped out Washington 2-0 in the East opening round, then did likewise to New York to advance to the WNBA finals losing all three games by narrow margins to Seattle.

Washington, decimated by injuries and coping with a slew of roster changes – Langhorne is the only returning starter – has reverted to its mediocre ways after a franchise-best tie 22 wins, a first-place tie in the East, and gaining the number one East seed in 2010.

“I think we played a great game,” Langhorne said of the Atlanta loss. “But the fourth quarter we missed blockouts, just kind of didn’t get things going, we were going back and forth, they made plays and we didn’t and they ended up winning.

“This game hurts really bad. We’re just going to refocus. We’re still going to play hard. We have to start finishing games off because we’re playing with (teams) at the end but we’re just making little mistakes that aren’t working.”

Connecticut Surges To The Break

Things are working for the Sun (9-5), who head to the break with a three-game win streak and for the moment a percentage lead in first over Indiana, though the Fever could regain first with a Thursday win over Chicago.

Connecticut built large double digit leads Tuesday night but had to fend off a late rally by New York (9-7) before emerging with an 85-79 victory and dropping the Liberty into third place a game behind the leaders.

Former UConn star Tina Charles, the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft, had 24 points for Connecticut, while Renee Montgomery, another former UConn star, scored 13 points, Danielle McCray, a rookie out of Kansas who missed last year with a knee injury, scored 11 points, and second-year pro Kalana Greene, who also played at UConn, scored 10 points against her former team.

The Liberty’s Plenette Pierson scored 18 points, while the trio of former Rutgers stars scored in double digits: Cappie Pondexter had 16 points, Essence Carson scored 11 off the bench, and Kia Vaughn had 10 points. Former Stanford star Nicole Powell scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

“We aren’t setting any artistic things for finishing games but we’ll take it,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said of the way the game played out. “The one thing I told our players is you harp as a coach all the time that throwing away possessions in the first half count just as much in the second half so all the good stuff that we did for the first three quarters paid off and got us through some of the last part. But it’s a win so we’ll take it.”

New York is 5-2 in its last seven games and both losses have been to Connecticut.

Charles and Pondexter will start for the East Saturday and Montgomery and Carson were picked by the East coaches as reserves.

Thibault talked about Montgomery’s development in her third year as a pro.

“It shows the respect the coaches have in our league for how much she has improved,” he said of her selection. Montgomery came from Minnesota prior to last season in the deal that included the rights to select Charles in exchange for all-star and Minnesota native Whalen.

“As I’ve said I still think she is a work in progress but she’s light-years ahead of where she was a year ago in knowing how to run a team. I’ve told her I think if she really wants to at some point she can lead the league in assists. She knows that the defensive part is something I’ve harped about with her but she is better now than she was two weeks ago and she’s better than she was in training camp.”

Montgomery feels good about being on the upside of momentum going into the break.

“This is the situation that you always want to be in going into the All-Star break,” she said. “We have three wins in a row and you’re feeling good going into the break.

“You never want to have a horrible game with five days of rest to stew over it. You just sit around and think about it and wish you could get right back on the court to get the bad taste out of your mouth.

“For us to have three consecutive wins allows us to go home, clear our minds, and come back fresh and ready for the second half.”

An X-factor in the series between New York and the Liberty could be Greene, who made the WNBA All-Rookie team in 2010 when playing with New York, which won the series with the Sun last season. She was dealt to Connecticut on a draft day deal with New York, who got Sun pick Sydney Colson of the NCAA champion Texas A&M Aggies.

"I'm pretty sure I have little to do with it," Greene laughed. "But I'm happy though and it feels good. It just shows how hard we play as a team. Everyone gives the most every night. And when we have that it is going to be hard beating a team that leaves everything on the floor."

Thibault spoke of what Greene has brought to the Sun table.

"I think she's been an X-factor defensively," Thibault said. "A - she has a knowledge of playing with those guys every day but I think her quickness and size on Cappie and on Carson, is something we didn't have consistently last year. We got caught playing small a lot and she and Danielle have given us more physical and bigger wings to play against them."

New York coach John Whisenant commented on having now suffered two losses to Connecticut.

“They are good,” he said. “I didn’t think we played particularly well in our last outing, but they were good tonight and maybe they were the other night too. They are on a roll, they are playing good and they just beat us. We have to do our stuff better or they will beat us again and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Tulsa Names An Assistant

In other news Wednesday, Tulsa coach Teresa Edwards named former Virginia star Kathy McConnell-Miller as an assistant coach. A spot has been vacant on the Shock staff since Edwards was promoted earlier this month after Nolan Richardson resigned.

McConnell-Miller previously coached at the collegiate level at Tulsa, giving her local identity. She then moved to Colorado.

She is a sister of Duquesne coach Susie McConnell-Serio, the former Penn State All-American who played with Edwards in the Olympics and later coaxed her to Minnesota in the WNBA as a player and then assistant with the Lynx when McConnell-Serio coached there.

Heat or no heat the Guru will be at the Philly summer league Thursday night and will be back here before the next sunrise with a roundup of that action and also the two-game card on Thursday's WNBA schedule. He'll also offer his choices for the top 15 all-time WNBA players off the ballot he was asked to submit.

-- Mel