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 02, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Liberty Halts Silver Stars' Streak

(Guru’s note: Beyond the New York game, material from other two games including quotes are compiled from team and wire reports. Normally this note would have begun “Beyond the Connecticut game … BUT Jersey traffic was such that when the Guru neared the Tappan Zee Bridge to cross into New York and looking at the GPS ETA, and factoring in holiday weekend, rush hour, I-95, Merritt Parkway, Cape Cod traffic, the Guru bailed and since a hotel had yet to be claimed anyway, he headed back to Newark for the Liberty game and anyhow will see Seattle Sunday in Washington (No not the town Seattle in Washington) – the only game on the slate.)

By Mel Greenberg

Maybe it really is parity, though there is good parity and bad parity if one reflects on the two WNBA conference races last season.

But the new conventional wisdom in the WNBA is beginning to look like there is no conventional wisdom – except in certain situations.

Take Friday night’s game here, for example, between what had been the red hot Western Conference-leading San Antonio Silver Stars and the New York Liberty in an entertaining game at the Prudential Center.

The Silver Stars arrived here rested while the Liberty arrived dragging their feet from Thursday night’s squandered opportunity in Atlanta against the Dream.

Furthermore, former Rutgers star Essence Carson, who had been a positive consistent force in year four as a pro, sometime during the shootaround suffered a right eye injury described as traumatic iritis and missed the game.

Now if these WNBA games were on the gambling books at Las Vegas along with others from elsewhere on the daily sports calendar conventional wisdom would easily indicate which of the two teams here was drawing the money, point spreads notwithstanding.

However, New York gave the so-called conventional wisdom quite the bath with a gritty 81-75 victory over the Sliver Stars (7-2) to get back to .500 at 5-5 to move alone into third place two games behind the idle Indiana Fever (7-3) and just ahead of the Chicago Sky (4-6), which lost in the Arizona desert to the Phoenix Mercury, 97-84.

Considering what holiday is celebrated this weekend, it was quite the appropriate win for the Liberty on the weekend that celebrates Independence Day.

In the other game on the WNBA card, the Connecticut Sun (6-3) for the second straight time took a big lead and then had to stop a comeback by the visitors but was able to emerge with a 75-70 win over the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (4-3) to move within a half-game of first-place in the East.

“I think they (New York) kind of came in here with a purpose while our people may have been too relaxed and we hadn’t really been shooting the ball well, anyway,” San Antonio coach Dan Hughes said after his team said adios to what had been a perfect 4-0 start on the road and three-game win streak overall coming here.

Former Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter had 19 points for the Liberty while Plenette Pierson scored 10 of her 14 points in the remaining 4 minutes eight seconds of the game when New York went ahead for good.

Former Stanford stsr Nicolle Powell had 13 points and Kia Vaughn, another former Rutgers star, scored 11 for New York, whose first-year coach-general manager John Whisenant is ok with the Liberty record at the moment, considering they have had only four games in the Prudential Center, their temporary home the next three summers while Madison Square Garden undergoes a series of renovations.

Two of the games were the second of the back-to-back variety such as Friday night and also the home opener with Indiana, which was a loss after beating the Fever the previous night on the road.

“I’m giving them a couple of days off for the Fourth (of July) and Essence should be back by the time we come back and start,” Whisenant said.

Ironically the next game is on the road next Saturday when New York returns the East-West visits with San Antonio.

“Now we have them upset, the league leader, and we have to go play them in San Antonio,” Whisenant said and then expressed pleasure with the win.

“I’m really happy with our team – we struggled, with playing (Thursday) night and getting back here. We were dead-legged, fighting through it, players were trying to play, and we tried to play a lot of bench to give them a lot of rest and something I didn’t do as well last night in Atlanta as I should have and it gave us an opportunity to have our key veteran players in the game with somewhat fresh legs even though they played last night and we were able to pull it out against a very good team – the league leader.”

Whisenant cited the statistics off the box score in describing the keys to New York’s win.

“(San Antonio) is leading the league in field goal percentage and we held them our 35 (percent). And they’re leading the league in scoring and we held them to 75. And we gave up 11offensive rebounds in the first half and that’s what killed us in Atlanta last night,” Whisenant said.

“Second half we only gave up three offensive rebounds so we were much better in getting control of that. For whatever reason it’s a real difficult thing for us to control the boards and if you don’t do that it’s really difficult to win.”

One thing he is pleased with is the play of his frontcourt.

“Our post players are getting better,” Whisenant said. “(Quanitra) Hollingsworth is getting better. She’s a 22-year-old that’s really the age of s college senior who has been in the league two years but has not played much.

“She’s big and strong and we need size.”

Hollingsworth, who had a season-high eight points and seven rebounds, was a star at Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association, who had been with the Minnesota Lynx prior to a trade with the Liberty before the season began.

Pondexter was happy with the outcome.

“It was a good win for us. We were a player down – Essence was not available for us – we got together and people came and gave us good minutes,” she said.

“We’re always in the hunt. We’re a hardworking group with a sound coach and we’re always going to be there,” Pondexter added. “We’re just trying to figure each other out and it’s just going to be a matter of working the kinks out. We’ll be fine.”

San Antonio rookie Danielle Adams, the star of Texas A&M’s win over Notre Dame to capture the Aggies’ first NCAA title, had 19 points.

A 20th overall pick in the WNBA draft, some people say Hughes had the advantage to make the steal over others because he had seen her play much in the winter doing color commentary of Big 12 women’s games.

“I watch video all the time,” he said in a humorous way of the accusation. “Maybe they need to take out their DVDs and spend more time like I do. I’ll even do color commentary.

“(Adams) brought two things; people don’t realize that defensively for a rookie, she really moves her feet and positions very well,” Hughes said. “And offensively she gives you an unique weapon from the standpoint of you can really challenge post players to guard her away from the basket, yet she’s strong enough inside to get some things done at the basket.”

Former Baylor star Sophia Young had 16 points for the Silver Stars as did Becky Hammon, who made her all-star status as an undrafted free-agent signee with the Liberty for whom she played until a draft-day trade in 2007 sent her to San Antonio.

Hammon offered her impressions of the Liberty’s temporary home.

“It’s a little different feel not being at The Garden,” she said. “I just hope they can get some momentum and get some people in the stands because they have a real exciting team so I hope people come out and support them more.”

The crowd was announced at 6,714 though when Liberty rookie Sydney Colson, a teammate of San Antonio’s Adams at Texas A&M, gave a few welcoming remarks from the floor in an upbeat manner she cited the smallish setting.

In a side event the Liberty has begun a Ring of Honor and San Antonio assistant coach Vickie Johnson, a former Louisiana Tech star, is the first of four honorees.

Johnson is still the Liberty’s all-time scorer with 3,246 points in her nine seasons before she signed with San Antonio as a free agent for four more before joining the Silver Stars staff. She also is the New York leader with 1,053 rebounds, 282 games, field goals made and attempted, and foul shots made and attempted.

“What Vickie Johnson is – she’s a player that’s meant a lot to the league,” Hughes said of one of his assistants. “If there ever was an underrated player I think someone could say, there’s someone who’s done a lot in the first 15 years – 13 years in VJ’s case – to help the league establish itself.

“She was a pleasure to compete against, which I did for nine, and she was even a more pleasure to coach.”

Kym Hampton, Teresa Weatherspoon, and former Rutgers star Sue Wicks will each get their own night as Ring of Honor inductees as the season moves along.

Sun Repulses Storm

For the second straight game the Connecticut Sun at home played a major rival out of the Western Conference that was without one of its star players and for the second straight game the Sun roared to a big lead but had to hang on for dear life at the finish.

On Tuesday the win came against the Los Angeles Sparks, who were playing their first game without Candace Parker, whose knee injury last Sunday on the road against New York will keep her sidelined an expected stretch of six weeks.

On Friday night, the Sun met Seattle, which was without Australian star Lauren Jackson, the three-time MVP who underwent surgery Thursday in Colorado for a hip injury suffered a week ago in a win at Tulsa.

Jackson is expected to be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks.

Seattle is still loaded, though when it comes to winning against the Sun on the road, a long record of futility was extended with Connecticut’s narrow win.

The Sun are now 9-0 in Connecticut against the Storm (4-3), who are in a virtual third-place tie in the West with Phoenix (5-4) two games behind the Silver Stars and a game behind the Minnesota Lynx (6-3).

Seattle’s last win in the arena was July 17, 2003, which was the first year the Sun as the Sun played in the league following the franchise transformation from being the former Orlando Miracle.

Both teams are highlighted with former UConn stars from the powerful Huskies, whose home in Storrs is less than a hour away.

Second-year pro Tina Charles, the 2010 overall No. 1 draft pick and rookie of the year, had another monster game for the Sun with 20 points and 10 rebounds, her sixth straight double double – a stretch the ties a career run last season.

Veteran Kara Lawson, a former star at Tennessee, added 16 points to the Sun attack, while Renee Montgomery, a third year pro and first round pick out of UConn, scored 11 points.

Swin Cash, one of the fabled 2002 UConn graduates, had 25 points for the Storm, while former Auburn star Le’Coe Willingham, who once played for the Sun, scored 10 points as did former North Carolina star Camille Little.

It was the second game Seattle played without Jackson after beating Minnesota at home a week ago.

Connecticut rolled to a 19-point lead in the third quarter before Seattle began a rally to slice the advantage to a slim basket at two points near the finish.

“We don’t hang our heads,” the Sun’s Asjha Jones, another of the 2002 Huskies grads as is Seattle’s Sue Bird, said of withstanding those rallies by opponents. “Last year when the other team would make a run we would day, `Oh no, not again.’ But this year I think we have a little more composure.

“We just know that we can look at each other and relax and say `We’re going to get it.’ So I think it’s just a matter of learning each other and just being more comfortable with each other that we can look at each other, we don’t have to say anything, we don’t have to pump each other up, but we have that common bond that we know we can get it done.

“The fact that we are able to pull out these wins is awesome for our confidence and it just lets us know that we are capable of withstanding a team’s runs and eventually we will get it done,” Jones added. “You don’t want to have these games at the end of the season, but if we can have them early that’s the way you have to look at it. It’s a learning experience.”

Seattle has already had experience making do without Jackson when injuries have sidelined her for stretches in the past.
“Since I’ve been here, we have played quite a few games without Lauren,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “We have a good group of people in that locker room who are great competitors.

“But in this league, it doesn’t matter if you have all your people or missing people. If you don’t come out ready to play from the beginning, you’re going to find yourself playing from behind.”

Bird spoke of the roller-coaster ride Seattle has experienced after dominating the WNBA in 2010, even when Jackson was still playing.

“That’s kind of the story with this team right now,” Bird said. “It’s a little bit of the tale of two halves or tale of two teams. Of Course, there’s something to be said about a team that can come back, but there also needs to be something said about why we were falling behind like that.

“I think that is what we are going to focus on in trying to improve. However, if you give yourself a chance to win on the road like we did tonight, like I said, there’s something to be said about that.”

Seattle on Sunday heads to Washington (2-5), which is mired in the basement of the East, and then on to Indiana, which will play its first game without starting point guard Briann January, who suffered a knee injury on Tuesday night and is out for the season.

Taurasi Propels Mercury Over Sky

The Chicago Sky continues to come up dry in terms of playing Phoenix in the Arizona desert.

Paced by former UConn star Diana Taurasi’s 24 points, Phoenix kept the Windy City crowd winless in all six visits to the U.S. Airways Center since joining the WNBA as an expansion team in 2006.

The Mercury, who actually trailed by 15 points, set a team record with 42 completed foul shots out of the 45 they attempted.
Penny Taylor added 14 points to Phoenix’s total while Kara Braxton scored 15 as the Mercury is now 5-1 after dropping their first three games of the season.

Marie Ferdinand-Harris had 10 points and DeWanna Bonner scored 11 for Phoenix.

“You know it’s always the hardest game coming off a road trip, “ Taurasi said afterwards. “You come back home and think that the game is going to be easy and the crowd is going to get you through it, and the other team is going to come in here and just go through the motions, but Chicago came in and played really well and really hard.”

Chicago, which at one point was tied with Connecticut for first in the East at 3-1 off a three-game win streak, has now dropped five of six.

Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince had 19 points for Chicago, while rookie Courtney Vandersloot, the third overall draft pick out of Gonzaga, had 14 points.

Michelle Snow had 12 points and Tamera Young scored 10.

Sylvia Fowles, limited by the number of foul calls against the Sky, had 12.

First-year Chicago coach-general manager Pokey Chatman, a former LSU coach, spoke of the Sky’s quick start and then the adversity caused by the Mercury’s ongoing trips to the foul line.

“It really is a simple game,” Chatman said. ”A little bit of transition baskets. We thought we could get some good looks on the pick-and-role, we did that. Also, got some looks down low.

“The few minutes that Sylvia (Fowles) was able to play because of the 30 or so fouls called on us and the 45 free-throws shot, she managed to get 12 points in that short amount of time, she just wasn’t on the court enough.”

-- Mel


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