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 13, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Los Angeles Sings A Different Tune Under Bryant

(Guru’s Note: The Tuesday night action in the Philly summer league is in a post below this one. If you are reading in melgreenberg.com, click mel’s blog on the left to get to the blogspot archive and previous posts. This report is drawn on team and Associated Press reports for quotes and source material.

The Guru is heading up to Newark for the matinee game between Atlanta and New York.

And for you iPad users, the Guru on Tuesday discovered a browser called Puffin that cost a bucks and runs flash, maybe faster in a wifi environment, which enables you to look at the inside women’s basketball pages and video presentation. The Guru is waiting to hear if it runs well on iPhones.)

By Mel Greenberg

Three weeks after Los Angeles began a disastrous seven-game road trip with a loss at San Antonio in the WNBA the Sparks returned to the Alamo city in Texas Tuesday night no longer singing the same old song but with a different meaning now that former coach Jen Gillom is gone.

The Sparks (5-6), in fifth place in the six-team Western Conference, rewarded the start of Joe Jellybean Bryant’s second tour of duty at the helm with an 84-74 win over the Silver Stars (7-4), knocking the home team out of first place while snapping a five-game losing streak in also gaining their first road win away from the Staples Center.

The Sparks are likely to win the next and final game of the current swing, visiting lowly Tulsa (1-11), which also had a coaching change on the weekend with the promotion of Olympic great and former Georgia star Teresa Edwards for the rest of the season in the wake of Nolan Richardson’s resignation Friday night.

Tulsa, which had been the Detroit Shock winning three WNBA titles under the previous NBA Pistons ownership, named Richardson last season after the franchise move to Oklahoma and struggled to a 6-28 record.

Not only has Los Angeles struggled with losses but on the second road stop, a visit to the New York Liberty, superstar Candice Parker was lost for six weeks because of a knee injury.

She had missed all but the first 10 games of last season after shoulder surgery and had returned in top shape to start the season.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday night it was San Antonio’s third straight setback, including two to New York.

In the only other game on the league schedule, the defending champion Seattle Storm (7-4) completed a two-game sweep over the struggling Washington Mystics (2-9) in the Northwest in gaining a 79-71 home win in a matinee game to move into a third-place tie with San Antonio just a half-game behind the conference leaders.

The Mystics continue to lose on their road swing and are now 6.5 games out of first in last place and a game behind the Atlanta Dream (3-8), the defending Eastern Conference playoff champions who will visit New York (7-5) in one of four overall Wednesday afternoon games on the WNBA schedule.

Veteran Ticha Penicheiro, who had been benched along with veteran Tina Thompson by Gillom in the Sparks’ lopsided loss at Seattle Saturday night scored 18 points for Los Angeles against San Antonio.

When Los Angeles returned home for a brief stay Sunday general manager Penny Taylor was waiting to fire Gillom, who was named a year ago, and promoted Bryant for the rest of the season while retaining assistant Sandy Brondello, who had previously been a head coach of San Antonio last season.

Following her dismissal after last season general manager Dan Hughes reappointed himself as head coach.

This is also the second time around for Bryant, the father of NBA Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who returned this season as an assistant after previously named to coach the Sparks in August 2005. He then gaining the job outright for 2006 and guided Los Angeles to the top of the West with the second best WNBA record that season before losing in the conference finals.

Asked the proverbial question Tuesday night after snapping the losing streak Penicheiro responded, "It was not a monkey. It was an orangutan, a gorilla on our back."

Bryant drew a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing over a no-call.

“If I don't get them, they'll get them, and that'll throw them off their game," he said afterwards.

Bryant, looking for a thrust in the offense, screamed out at former Maryland star Kristi Toliver in the third quarter, "Shoot it." After hearing his repeated yells, the heroine of the Terrapins' 2006 NCAA title against ACC-rival Duke in overtime, nailed a three-pointer on the Sparks’ next possession.

"You can't be afraid to play," Bryant said. "Someone like Kristi Toliver, I'll take her out if she doesn't shoot the ball."

He said likewise of Penicheiro, a former Old Dominion all-American who scored a season high, though she did not start for the second straight game.

"She's always been known as a non-shooter, a passer," Bryant said. "I kind of gave her the green light, said 'If you don't shoot, I'm taking you out too.'"

Former Baylor star Sophia Young scored 22 points for the Silver Stars and rookie Danielle Adams, the 20th overall pick in the second round after leading Texas A&M to its first NCAA title, added 16 points and eight rebounds for San Antonio.

The Sparks were fueled by 49 points from the bench. Besides Penicheiro’s performance, Natasha Lacy added 13 and Jantel Lavender had 12. In the second quarter, only one Sparks starter — DeLisha Milton-Jones — played as they turned an eight-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Silver Stars star guard Becky Hammon, who struggled down the stretch in the previous home loss to New York, her former team, was held to five points on 2-of-14 shooting. She missed all seven of her 3-point attempts.

"That happens sometimes when you get in a rough patch," Hammon said. "As (coach Dan) Hughes says, 'We get cold, we can get hot.'"

Storm Over Washington

Meanwhile nearly two weeks ago two former UConn stars bedeviled Washington in the nation's capital when Sue Bird and Swin Cash led the Storm to a win over the Mystics.

Nothing much changed Tuesday though Seattle coach Brian Agler said the Mystics seemed much improved.

Bird led the damage with 22 points and Cash added 20 for the Storm.

Seattle continues to cope without three-time WNBA MVP Lsuren Jackson, who is sidelined eight to 12 weeks rehabbing from a hip injury.

The Stom have won three of four, a run that began with the 73-63 victory at Washington, while the Mystics have lost four straight and still have to visit the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles on the current Western swing.
Former North Carolina star had 12 points for the Storm.

Bird has scored 20 points four or more times this season.

"We're just taking what they're giving us," she said. "(It) was a great team win, and everybody at some point stepped up and made a big play. "Whoever gets the points gets the points."

With Jackson sidelined, Bird’s scoring average this season at 16 points above a career average of 12.4.

"When Lauren is out, other people really have to step up and contribute in the scoring factor," Agler said. "Sue has consistently done that over the years, and she's doing it now when we need it.

"She's a player who contributes in a lot of different ways, and she makes her teammates better around her, and that's sort of her strength. But she has the ability to score, too, and that's why she's world-class. She can do both."

Washington was led by former Maryland star Marissa Coleman's 16 points.

Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon had 13 points and the Mystics’ injury list dropped from three to two with the return of former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, who had been sidelined since the first Seattle game with a sore back.

The native of Willingboro, N.J., in suburban Philadelphia, who was out three games, scored 10 points.

Former Duke star Monique Currie was lost for the season over the winter with a knee injury while former Blue Devils all-American Alana Beard, who missed all of 2010 because of foot surgery, has yet to play this season after an ankle sprain suffered on the same foot a few days before the season opener at Connecticut.

Washington got within 76-71, but was scoreless for the final 2:08 of the game.

"We had our opportunities to take the lead, and we settled on some jump shots and missed some shots (0 for 5) down the stretch," Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said. "That made the difference."

"They got stops," Ajavon said. "It was maybe three possessions where we could have taken the lead, and we were unable to execute. Our effort, it was aggressive, but it didn't work."

The Mystics' only lead was 3-0 when Ajavon begun the game with a 3-pointer before Seattle answered with a 9-0 run to never be seriously threatened except briefly near the finish.

Looking Ahead

Meanwhile, all four games on Wednesday’s card are important.

The Minnesota Lynx (7-3) are tied for first with Phoenix (8-4) but have a statistical lead going into their showdown in Minneapolis. The home team, which has overall No. 1 draft pick Maya Moore out of UConn, has matched its best-ever WNBA start over the first ten games.

The Mercury started 0-3 but have since gone 8-1 led by another former UConn great in Diana Taurasi who will be going against Moore for the first time since both were teammates for their UConn coach Geno Auriemma last September when he guided the USA squad to the FIBA World Championship gold medal.

The three are likely to be together for the Olympic games next summer in London along with Bird and maybe several other former UConn stars.

Taurasi graduated in 2004 before becoming one of the top stars in the WNBA.

In another game first-place Indiana (9-3), which is on a five-game tear and has shook off the season-ending knee injury to starting point guard Briann January, will be hosting the second-place Connecticut Sun (6-4), which is two games behind in the East but is again having trouble winning games on the road.

New York is in a tie with the Sun in terms of games behind but trails in percentage points, as it hosts Atlanta for the second time this season, having lost at home in the Prudential Center to the Dream last month.

The Liberty also lost a recent game in Atlanta, the only blemish prior to a three-game streak including the sweep of San Antonio and a rally Sunday over the Chicago Sky.

Atlanta, following a run to the WNBA finals in the franchise’s third season, has struggled with injuries but is looking to begin moving upwards.

Looking to hold the Dream off is Chicago (6-7), which is two games ahead in fourth place and will be hosting Tulsa in Wednesday’s other game.

Chicago has never been to the playoffs in the franchise’s four-year history.

Now it’s time to wrap this up and head for Newark. The Guru will return at sunrise with a complete report of Wednesday’s action.

-- Mel.


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