Womhoops Guru

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

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Fifth of July Fireworks In Phoenix

(Guru's note: If you are reading this in melgreenberg.com click's mel's blog on left to get to full archive in blogspot and a post below this is some campus reaction to longtime St. Joseph's associate athletic director Ellen Ryan's, the first Hawks WBB coach, who will retire next month. The school announcement is below that and below all that are some stats from the summer league, which took a break Tuesday but returns Thursday. Information below drawn from team and wire reports, including quotes.)

By Mel Greenberg

Three games were on the WNBA card Tuesday night and each might have signified a trend of things to come for the winners and losers especially since all the teams involved with key injuries were in play.

Two of the shorthanded squads met head on with the defending champion Seattle Storm (5-4), forced to miss three-time MVP Lauren Jackson over the next eight to 12 weeks unless her recovery from a hip injury occurs sooner, traveling to Indianapolis where the Eastern-leading Indiana Fever (8-3) were forced to play the first of the rest of the season without starting point guard Briann January, who suffered an ACL injury last week.

Spurred by the play of former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport, yet another candidate for WNBA most improved player, the Fever made it five straight with a 78-61 win at Conseco Fieldhouse to stay a game in front of the idle Connecticut Sun.

Seattle, playing the fourth game without Jackson since her injury two weeks ago, finished off a three-game road trip through the Eastern Conference at 1-2 and it was another situation in which the Storm allowed the opponent to get a substantial lead early in the game.

The loss dropped Seattle to fourth place in the Western Conference two games behind the idle San Antonio Silver Stars (7-2) and a game ahead of the Los Angeles Sparks (4-5), who remained winless on the road at 0-5 as the Phoenix Mercury (6-4) rallied for a 101-82 victory.

Los Angeles may be the Sparks but there were fireworks a day after the Fourth of July when things got physical in terms of initiated contact by L.A.'s Kristi Toliver to former UConn player Ketia Swanier on Phoenix.

The Sparks were playing their fourth straight game away from the Staples Center on a seven-game swing and third without superstar Candace Parker, who is in the early part of a six week recovery period from a knee injury suffered in a loss at the New York Liberty (5-5).

Los Angeles next goes head-to-head Saturday night in Seattle before going back to San Antonio, where the trip began, and then on to Tulsa (1-9) against the Shock.

The Washington Mystics (2-7) played its second straight game down three players as leading scorer Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland star, was out of action due to a sore back.

The Chicago Sky (5-6) took advantage of the visiting Mystics to snap a three-game losing streak and hold fourth place in the East with a 78-65 win in suburban Rosemont, Ill.

Washington, which was coming off Sunday’s home loss to Seattle, has been without two former Duke stars all season in Monique Currie, who suffered a knee injury this past winter and won’t play in 2011, and Alana Beard, who didn’t play in 2010 because of an ankle injury, and then sprained the same foot just before last month’s opener.

The next two nights are dark in the WNBA before the pace picks up again for the weekend when on Friday the New York Liberty visits San Antonio, whom they beat at home last Friday, and Phoenix visits Tulsa.

In the Indiana game Erin Phillips, the Australian star guard whose last start was two seasons ago with the Connecticut Sun, started in place of January but Davenport was the story for the Fever, whose depth and experience could be a major factor to keep them in the hunt in the East.

Davenport scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots. Tamika Catchings had 11 points, six rebounds and four steals as the Fever forced the Storm into 19 turnovers.

The Storm, who got 21 points from Sue Bird and 13 from Swin Cash, both former UConn greats, are now just two losses from what they suffered entirely last season when they carried a 28-6 record into the playoffs and then went 7-0 through the playoffs for their second title.

“It was a tough game,” Bird said. “For Indy, they played well and did what they had to do. For us, we let them get a lead we could not cut into. They responded to everything we gave them.”

Seattle rallied to within four points in the fourth quarter but Indiana used a 7-2 run to secure the win.

"I was able to move the ball so people on the weak side could get open shots," Davenport said of her performance. "Towards the end of the game, they started playing single coverage and I was able to get my game going down low."

Indiana coach Lin Dunn lauded her bench, which produced 26 points.

“They gave us a real spark,” she said. “When you can get 26 points out of your bench, you know you have some good things going on.”

Washington has nothing good going on right now and if the Mystics couldn’t take advantage of what had been a building spiral by Chicago, last place in the East may be too high in terms of what is ahead on the schedule.

Tuesday’s stop was the first of a five-game road trip to Indiana, Seattle, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Frankly, if the team doesn’t find its way back to a healthier roster, there isn’t a game in the next 14 in which the Mystics could be considered the favorite, though four are against New York, which continues to be a work in progress.

The Liberty games are all bunched in a two-week period beginning in Newark, N.J., on July 28th at the Prudential Center, a temporary home for the next three summers while Madison Square Garden undergoes renovations.

Those four could determine a playoff spot though if the slide continues, Mystics fans better start studying college rosters in their spare time to consider whose worthy to covet out of the draft lottery positioning.

It’s hard to believe that only 10 months ago it seemed the long-running franchise history of futility had been vanquished when the Mystics had a best-ever 22 wins, tied New York for first in the East and took the conference top seed into the playoffs before Atlanta pulled a 2-0 sweep in the opening round.

In Tuesday’s game, former Maryland star Marissa Coleman had 14 points for the Mystics while former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon and rookie Jasmine Thomas out of Duke each scored 11.

Former LSU star Sylvia Fowles had a monster game for the Sky with 34 points and 16 rebounds while another former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince scored 14 points and former Tennessee star Michelle Snow grabbed 11 rebounds.

Chicago is looking for its first postseason appearance in its six-year existence and if Washington can’t get any traction, the Sky will be in a five-for-four race for spots assuming Atlanta (3-7) recovers from its woeful start to mount a stronger defense of the Dream’s conference playoff title.

Meanwhile in terms of the Western race Phoenix, which continues to recover from an 0-3 start, did what it needed to do to stay ahead of Los Angeles, which could still be a factor if Parker returns and the Sparks are right in the thick of a race for a playoff spot.

But it was quite the nasty affair in the Arizona desert Tuesday night.

The moral might be never disturb a former star UConn player, especially one named Diana Taurasi, by picking on another ex-Huskies player, as did occur when former Maryland star Kristi Toliver of the Sparks gave Ketia Swanier an elbow to the head while protecting the ball, knocking her out of the game.

The Mercury, who were rallying from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter, went on to a 14-point lead and kept going from there.

Swanier hit the deck and was in pain with her eye bleeding, according to the Associated Press account of the incident.

Toliver, initially charged with an offensive foul, was then charged with a flagrant foul and soon was hit with another technical on another play.

Sparks assistant Joe Bryant, the former La Salle star and father of NBA Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant was also hit with a technical arguing when the ruling was made when Swanier got hurt.

“When something like that happens, it can affect you in a way where it takes away all your energy or it can get you going a little bit, and I think it did that for us today,” said Taurasi, who then had a few things to say to Toliver on the court when the two resumed play.

Taurasi finished with 20 points and dealt seven assists for the Mercury while former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 20 points, Penny Taylor scored 16, and Kara Braxton had 14.

Phoenix, which won its sixth game out of its last seven, is in third place a game behind front running San Antonio.

“Anytime you get hit in the eye, it’s dangerous,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said.

Former Southern Cal Ebony Hoffman, who had played for Indiana before signing with Los Angeles as a free agent, scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and said the incident disrupted her squad.

“It was kind of like a spiral; we spiraled down from there,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t rebound from the flagrant foul and all the technical we got. We weren’t tough mentally today and that’s sad to say with as many veterans as we have on this team. It’s kind of inexcusable and I’m speechless at our effort today.”

Toliver, most likely, will get some kind of suspension considering league procedure when such an action occurs.

Phoenix scored 37 points in the third quarter.

“We lost our composure, that’s the bottom line,” Los Angeles coach Jennifer Gillom said. “It started with (the injury), then it trickled down to our team and took us out of our game.”

As sunrise neared in the East there was no update available on Swanier’s condition following the end of the game.

Stay tuned.

-- Mel

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