Guru's WNBA Report: Minnesota and Connecticut On A Roll
By Mel Greenberg
The Minnesota Lynx extended their first-place lead in the WNBA Western Conference by a full game Tuesday night after a dominating 85-72 win in Minneapolis over the Los Angeles Sparks as the second half of the season got under way for all but two of the 12 teams in the women’s pro league.
Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference the Connecticut Sun finally shined in Chicago on their third try to beat the host Sky 77-66 and move back on top over the idle Indiana Fever by a few percentage points.
The Sun (10-5) next return home to host the Fever (11-6) Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena for their third meeting in a matchup whose outcome will widen the separation by a full game.
Minnesota (11-4), which is now a game in front of the San Antonio Silver Stars (10-5), will get the same night off and get a chance to enjoy the franchise’s record start – win No. 11 came in game No. 28 a year ago when the Lynx were coping with injuries.
It was the second win at home over the Sparks (6-9) by a lopsided score following the opening weekend result when Los Angeles superstar Candace Parker was still in the lineup.
Los Angeles two nights earlier won the season opener at home rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second half.
Parker is halfway through an estimated six-week recovery period from a knee injury suffered on a road stop to play the New York Liberty.
The loss dropped the fifth-place Sparks five games behind the Lynx and 2.5 games behind the fourth-place and defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (9-7), who won at Phoenix 83-77 to knock the Mercury (10-6) back to third place in the West 1.5 games behind the Lynx and 1.0 behind San Antonio.
The Silver Stars (10-5) jumped over Phoenix into second in the West with a 73-67 win in the nation’s capital over Washington (3-12) as the last-place Mystics fell seven games behind first and 3.5 behind Chicago (8-10) and Atlanta (7-9), which are in a statistical tie for fourth 3.5 games behind the Eastern frontrunners and 2.0 games behind second-place New York (9-7), which was idle.
New York will host Washington Thursday night – their first meeting this season -- in Newark, N.J., at the Liberty’s temporary home in the Prudential Center while Madison Square Garden is undergoing a series of renovations.
Atlanta, the defending Eastern Conference playoff champion, moved into the fourth-place tie in the East as a result of Chicago’s loss to Connecticut and the Dream’s 76-68 win at Tulsa (1-15), which is deep down in the basement of the West in sixth place 10.5 games behind Minnesota and 5.5 games behind Los Angeles.
The Shock, who are 0-5 under interim coach Teresa Edwards since Nolan Richardson’s resignation, will host Chicago Thursday night while Atlanta will host Los Angeles.
No WNBA games are scheduled for Wednesday.
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, who starred at La Salle University in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, can relate to Phillies baseball manager Charlie Manuel in the joy of guiding a roster of superior talent.
While the Phillies have been heralded for their pitching staff, everyone of Reeve’s starters on the Lynx are a threat to be the star on a given night.
All the focus early on was over rookie Maya Moore, the overall number one pick of April’s WNBA draft out of UConn, and then quickly shifted to veteran Rebekkah Brunson, the former Georgetown star, who quickly began racking up double doubles after the season got under way.
But on Tuesday against Los Angeles, Moore scored just eight points off of 2-for-11 shooting from the field, while Brunson had six points and six rebounds and was ejected in the fourth quarter after her second technical foul.
Not to worry for those who are Minnesota fans.
Former LSU All-American Seimone Augustus, one of four All-Star representatives from the Lynx at last weekend’s festivities, scored 22 points against Los Angeles, while veteran center post player Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 14 points and nine rebounds, and Lindsay Whalen had 16 points and dealt seven assists.
Moore, Whalen, Brunson, and Augustus, the Western Conference WNBA player of the week, were in San Antonio, Texas.
The Minnesota roster also includes two former high first round picks in Stanford grad Candice Wiggins and Virginia grad Monica Wright.
“Everybody was happy to see each other after having these days off, so we just clicked immediately,” said Augustus, a past overall number one pick. “We had fun tonight more than anything and just enjoyed being back with our teammates.”
The Lynx had so much fun they forced the Sparks into 25 turnovers, which they capitalized into a franchise record 35 points to Reeve’s delight as Minnesota never trailed and led by as many as 20 points.
“We like to score off of that,” Reeve said.
Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver scored 28 points for the Sparks and
Ebony Hoffman, who had played for Indiana, previously, scored 24.
Since Joe Bryant was promoted to interim coach several weeks ago after Jennifer Gillom was fired for his second tour of duty, the Sparks are 2-3 with three straight losses, including one at home where they squandered a 24-n point second half lead to Washington.
Ex-UConn Stars Carry Sun Over Chicago
Veteran Asjha Jones and Tina Charles, former stars of separate eras of University of Connecticut greatness, helped the Connecticut Sun inch ahead of Indiana back into first place and resume a current win streak that has reached four straight.
Connecticut had crept ahead of Indiana after beating New York at home but the Fever played last Thursday before the break and moved back in front by a half-game after snapping a three-game losing streak.
Jones, part of the 2002 Huskies that went unbeaten, scored 22 points against the Sky, while Charles, a mainstay of the 2009-10 back-to-back unbeaten group, scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Former Tennessee star Kara Lawson and 2009 UConn grad Renee Montgomery each scored 14 points from the Sun backcourt.
Charles, a teammate of Chicago star Sylvia Fowles on the USA national squad who held the former LSU All-American in check in their game in Connecticut, held her to 14 points, which is off her league-leading 20.6 average, though both grabbed 12 rebounds.
“I tried to get her out of her rhythm, trying to play hard defense,” Charles said of the duel. “I think me and her, when we play against each other, we try to take it personal … “Charles said.
Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince, who was on the East squad with Montgomery and Charles, scored 16 points for Chicago, whose edge over Atlanta in fourth place evaporated.
“Tina did a great job and was focused on making (Fowles) work for everything she got,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said.
Former James Madison star Tamera Young scored 10 points for the Sky, whose play disappointed new coach-general manager Pokey Chatman.
“We’re not good enough to play harder earlier, smarter earlier, with a sense of urgency because you negate some of the good things you do,” Chatman said.
Storm Rule of Mercury Continues
Phoenix had been one of the hottest WNBA teams before the break but Seattle dusted the Mercury in the Arizona desert as former UConn star and All-Star West starter Sue Bird, the top vote collector, scored 18 points, dealt seven assists, while grabbing five rebounds and three steals.
It was the ninth straight win over Phoenix as former UNC star Camille Little added 15 points and five rebounds to the Storm total.
“For us this is just a really good road win against a really good team,” Bird said noting Seattle’s goal to move up in the standings.
Diana Taurasi, a former Bird collegiate teammate who graduated two years later in 2004, scored 26 points for Phoenix, which has lost two straight after reeling off six straight wins.
DeWanna Bonner and former Temple star Candice Dupree each scored 10 points for Phoenix.
“At stretches I thought we played well,” Taurasi said. “We just have to find a balance through a 40-minute game.”
San Antonio and Atlanta Top The Cellar Dwellers
West All-Star Becky Hammon kept San Antonio in the West title race with its win at Washington while East starter Angel McCoughtry, the conference player of the week, kept the Dream with its win over Tulsa looking more like the group that challenged Seattle in three straight narrow losses in the WNBA finals last year.
Hammon scored 22 for San Antonio, while the bench helped with a collectivc total of 35 points, including 10 from Jia Perkins.
“We’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day,” Hammon said.
Former Maryland All-American Crystal Langhorne scored 19 points and Marissa Coleman, her former Terrapins teammate, scored 14 points.
“They made plays and we didn’t,” Langhorne said listing a bunch of Mystics errors. “Things like that, it has to stop.”
Veteran DeMya Walker of Mount Holly, N.J., a former Virginia star who was cut during the break by the Sun and quickly signed by the Mystics, made her debut and scored four points off the bench.
Washington cut first-round pick and former Xavier star Ta’Shia Phillips to make roster room.
Meanwhile McCoughtry, a former Louisville star and 2009 overall top draft pick by Atlanta, scored a career-high 37 points as the Dream repulsed a Tulsa rally in Oklahoma for their fourth straight win.
The chemistry is coming,” McCoughtry said.
Her total is tops this season in the WNBA.
Tulsa rookie Liz Cambage, the number two overall pick in April’s draft out of Australia, had 16 points, veteran Sheryl Swoopes scored 12, and Tiffany Jackson had 11 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
Edwards praised Jackson, saying, “She’s the one person I can count on to leave everything on the floor. She’s been playing like an All-Star all season.”
Earlier in the day Edwards announced the hire of former NBA player Tracy Murray, a veteran of 12 seaaons with six different teams.
She previously hired Kathy McConnell-Miller, a former Virginia star who coached at Tulsa and Colorado.
She is the sister of Duquesne coach Suzie MConnell-Serio, a former Penn State star, Olympic gold medalist, and WNBA All-Star and coach at Minnesota.