Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Connecticut Stops Road Slide Beating New York

(Guru's note. The report on games played elsewhere than Newark are sourced and contain quotes from team reports and those and the Associated Press).

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. –
The road was the place to be for all the but the struggling Washington Mystics Friday night in four games that saw races in the Eastern and Western Conferences stay tight.

Here at the Prudential Center the Connecticut Sun (7-5) finally broke through with their second road win of the season to stop a two-game skid on the last of a three-game travel swing by beating New York 68-59 to pull even in second place with the Liberty (8-6) two games behind Indiana in the East.

The Fever (10-4), who had been enjoying a franchise second-best seven-game win streak to bolt to the top of the East, were halted at home by the Minnesota Lynx (8-4) who pulled into a second-place tie in the West with the idle San Antonio Silver Stars (8-4) by beating Indiana 80-70 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Los Angeles (6-6) in a game featuring the two newest WNBA coaches rallied to ruin a competitive effort by the woeful Tulsa Shock 79-74 in Oklahoma to move within a game of the idle Seattle Storm (7-5).

The Shock (1-12) fell to 0-3 under interim coach Teresa Edwards while the Sparks made Joe Jellybean Bryant 2-0 in his second tour of duty guiding Los Angeles after being promoted from assistant Sunday to replace Jennifer Gillom, who was fired Sunday night.

Her ouster came two days after Nolan Richardson resigned and Edwards, who had been assistant and player personnel director, was promoted in Tulsa. The Shock are in their second season in the Southwest following the franchise move from Detroit after the NBA Pistons ownership gave up the team. In 2010 Tulsa went 6-28.

Meanwhile, Phoenix (10-4) produced the only home win of the night to tie Indiana with the best WNBA overall record after beating Eastern cellar-dwelling Washington 78-64 as the Mystics fell to 2-10 but remained seven behind Indiana.

New York, which saw a four-game win streak conclude, blew a chance to move closer to the Fever when the Sun took over in the fourth and final quarter here to dominate the period 18-7.

The announced crowd of 7,722 included former WNBA president Donna Orender, who left the league in December after serving six seasons as its second head. Marketing expert Laurel Ritchie replaced her in May.

It was Connecticut’s first road in two years against the Liberty, which will be using the arena here the next three summers as a temporary home while Madison Square Garden undergoes a series of renovations.

The two teams meet again Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena after the Sun hosts Indiana Sunday while New York will try to reverse direction at home the same day against Tulsa.

Connecticut finished the game on a 10-0 run against the Liberty, who had a slim 59-58 lead with 5 minutes, 34 seconds left in the game.

The Sun had suffered blowout losses at Minnesota and two days ago Indiana before putting things together with former UConn star Renee Montgomery getting 10 of her 12 points in the final period.

"It's a road win, a good win," said Connecticut coach Mike Thibault, who tied former New York coach Anne Donovan, now at nearby Seton Hall, and former Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper with 167 career wins, good enough for second place in WNBA history. "That's the best defense we've played for an entire game all year."

Three other former UConn stars, who started, had key roles in Tina Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year and overall draft pick, who had 15 points, while Ashja Jones scored 14 and second-year pro Kalana Greene, dealt from New York on draft day in April, played a key role defending her former team.

Former Tennessee star Kara Lawson scored nine points off the bench as the Sun finally were able to keep a game from getting away.

“When you lose games you go back and watch the tape and you figure out how you can improve and how you can get better and that’s what we did tonight,” Lawson said afterwards. “Hopefully we can continue because it is important how you finish leading up to the All-Star break. You want to feel good about yourself as you go into the break.”

New York seemed headed in that direction until stopped by the Sun in an effiort that puzzled first year Liberty coach-general manager John Whisenant.

Quanitra Hollingsworth made her first start. Plenette Pierson was sidelined with a patella tendon strain on her knee, which she suffered in Wedneday’s matinee win here over Atlanta.

“I wish I had an answer as to why we had on those mud boots,” Whisenant said. “We were moving in slow motion both defensively and offensively. I can’t explain how we came up with this kind of effort but we did and just have to put it behind us and prepare to play Tulsa here on Sunday.

“Obviously not having Plenette (Pierson) takes a rotation post player out of us and that adds a little fatigue but that doesn’t explain all of that,” he continued. “Plenette doesn’t play outside and our perimeter people weren’t sharp either. It was just not a sharp, alert, intense effort."

Former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn had a team-high 15 points for the Liberty, while former Scarlet Knights all-American Cappie Pondexter was held to 11 points and former Stanford star Nicole Powell continued her recent scoring spree by collecting 13 points. Rookie Alex Montgomery, the former Georgia Tcch star, had 10 points off the bench.

“It’s tough when you have the game, it is right there, and you just let it go.” Pondexter said. “You can’t really tell the momentum of the game. It was one of those games from both ends. I’m sure their coach wasn’t happy with the way they played as well.

“We didn’t have any energy and I don’t know if it was because we were playing all of these games, practicing, and no days off,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but I can tell we were a step slow and our shots weren’t falling. We just played a very intense game against Atlanta and we had to go right back in the gym and prepare for Connecticut.”

Whisenant noted the Sun's defense of Pondexter but said the Liberty should have been able to thrive off other options.

“They were trying to keep the ball away from Cappie but everybody does that,” he said. “If they’re going to double Cappie then we should have open shots for Leilani (Mitchell) and Nicole and Sidney (Spencer) and Alex, who have to knock those shots down.

“The last game we were doing that and tonight we either weren’t moving quick enough to make those open shots or to me, it was an overall mental letdown on our part which of course I’m supposed to not let happen but I did.”

Lynx Cool Fever

Meanwhile, Minnesota shook off the Lynx’s tough high-scoring loss at home Wednesday to Phoenix and crossed conferences and beat Indiana to gain a split on the season following the Fever’s win last month in Minneapolis.

Former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson scored 20 points for the Lynx and rookie Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 pick of April’s draft out of UConn, scored 18 points.

Indiana’s Tamika Catchings scored 22 points and former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport scored 13 points.

"The biggest thing for us was that we finally locked down and defended in the second half," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We were disappointed with how well we let the Fever move the basketball, we thought they really had their wheels rolling."

Indiana coach Lin Dunn complimented the opposition’s defensive effort.

"Minnesota did a super job on us defensively," Dunn said. "We did not match their intensity. They disrupted what we were trying to do."

The Lynx return home Saturday night on the second part of a back-to-back to host Seattle for the first time this season after splitting the first two games with the Storm in the Northwest.

In the only other game scheduled Saturday the Chicago Sky (7-7) visit Atlanta (3-9) where the defending Eastern playoff champion Dream trail fourth place Chicago by three games in fifth place.

Atlanta has the third worst record in the WNBA after advancing in the third year of the franchise’s history to the WNBA finals, losing three straight by narrow scores to the Storm in 2010.

Sparks and Mercury Stay Hot In The Southwest

The two other games on Friday’s card were played in the Southwest where Tulsa seemed well on the way to beating Los Angeles.

However, former Maryland star Kristi Toliver scored 25 points for the Sparks and nailed an important three-pointer in the final half-minute.

In 2006 Toliver’s three-pointer at the finish in regulation sent Maryland into overtime and an eventual win over Atlantic Coast-rival Duke to capture the Terrapins’ NCAA title in Boston.

Tulsa, which had a 55-37 lead in the second quarter, was scoreless for 4 ½ minutes in the fourth quarter as the Shock lost their eighth straight.

DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 18 points for the Sparks while Tina Thompson added 11 and Jenna O'Hea had 10.

Andrea Riley led the Shock with 15 points, Tiffany Jackson had 14 and rookie Kalyla Pederson out of Stanford scored 13.

Down in the Arizona desert, former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 20 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt three assists to help Phoenix stay ahead in the West with the win over Washington. The Mystics have won 10 of 11 since leaving rhe season launch pad at 0-3.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi was held to 13 points but the Mercury star still made some WNBA history by becoming the fastest player to reach 5,000 points. The milestone came in her 243rd game, which is 16 games faster than Seattle’s Lauren Jackson. Three others have reached the mark.

Kara Braxton had 17 points for Phoenix.

Washington’s Crystal Langhorne in her second straight game back after missing a few with sore back, scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds, though the Mystics, who have been playing all season without former Duke stars Monique Currie and Alana Beard, have lost five straight and nine of 10.

The current gruesome road trip continues Sunday in Los Angeles as part of the WNBA card that includes the Tulsa-New York and Seattle-Minnesota games.

Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon scored 14 for the Mystics.

Langhorne scored 11 of the Mystics' 12 first-quarter points but was held to 3-of-10 shooting from the field the rest of the night.

-- Mel

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