Womhoops Guru

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

Friday, 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

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