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 09, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Richardson Departs Tulsa Following Phoenix Loss

(Guru’s note: A lot of the Guru’s own knowledge and referencing is in this report but it also contains information and quotes from team reports and Associated Press coverage.)

By Mel Greenberg

What loomed as a relatively quiet night in the WNBA Friday with only two games on the league schedule turned out to be not so quiet at all, though the biggest noise occurred in the wee Eastern Daylight Hours of Saturday.

That’s when the news broke that Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson resigned soon after the forlorn squad lost yet another game – this time an 86-78 setback to the Phoenix Mercury at home to drop to 1-10 on the season after winning only six last summer when Tulsa had the worst WNBA record at 6-28.

That performance in 2010 occurred following the franchise move under new ownership from what had been the once proud operation in Detroit.

In some fairness, Tulsa quickly transformed into an expansion-style look after several Detroit players with All-Star status refused to make the move to Oklahoma and several more were traded away after the new management and Richardson, a former Arkansas men’s coach who also built the men’s collegiate team at Tulsa, took control.

Richardson said he was “saddened” to leave but also said, “I am also very disappointed in the way we have started the year, and as coach, I accept my share of the responsibility.”

Earlier in the night the New York Liberty (6-5) helped itself in the Eastern Conference and scrambled the West with an 81-75 victory in San Antonio over the front-running Silver Stars (7-3) to sweep the two-game cross-conference series following a win at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., a week ago Friday.

Neither team had played since and after New York’s win in its temporary home the next three summers, first-year general manager-coach John Whisenant was leery of the Silver Stars looking for revenge knowing the two teams would be idle until meeting again in Texas.

Back in Tulsa, basketball great Teresa Edwards, listed as director of player personnel but who also assisted on the coaching sidelines, was promoted to interim head coach in what is becoming quiet an eventual summer for the former Georgia star and Olympic standout.

Edwards was recently named Chef de Mission for the United States Olympic Team with an eye toward next summer’s games in London England.

She was named by the USOC board of directors and besides providing overall leadership to the USA team, Edwards will function as the liaison officer between the London Organizing Committee, the International Olympic Committee and other National Olympic Committees at the Games.

Her international career includes four Olympic gold medals and one bronze making her the most decorated Olympic player among either male or female athletes who have competed.

Next month Edwards will join Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer as two women’s basketball notables to be part of the 2011 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

This will be Edwards’ second stint as a head coach. She guided the Atlanta Glory as a player-coach in the second and last full season of the American Basketball League before she moved to Philadelphia to play for Anne Donovan on the Rage in the ABL’s shorten third season that died when bankruptcy was declared.

Whether Edwards holds on to the Tulsa position remains to be seen pending the Shock performance moving forward and/or her own desires and those of Shock management.

Co-Owner David Box said Edwards would remain in charge for the remainder of the season, which begins Sunday with a return matchup with the Mercury in Phoenix.

“Teresa knows our team well and the players respect her management, leadership and passion for the game,” Box said. “Her credentials are strong and she knows what it takes to succeed.”

Edwards commented: “Even though the circumstances are not what I prefer to become a head coach, I appreciate the opportunity I have been given to coach the Shock on an interim basis. We have work to do and we are going to start right now.”

If a change is made again after season the vacancy might possibly be filled by former LSU and WNBA Houston coach Van Chancellor, who was let go by the Tigers in April with one year remaining on his contract.

He guided the former Comets to the first four WNBA titles and the United States to the 2004 Olympic gold medal in Athens, Greece and after he was jettisoned by LSU, Chancellor made it known he wouldn’t mind returning to the WNBA in a coaching capacity.

Several WNBA assistants have previous experience as WNBA head coaches in Nancy Darsch and Jenny Boucek in Seattle with the defending champion Storm and Marianne Stanley with the Washington Mystics.

Also, Richie Adubato, who coached the New York Liberty and Washington Mystics, has been known to be keeping track of the league and has expressed interest to friends in coaching again in the WNBA.

Julie Plank, who coached the Washington Mystics to their best-ever record in 2011, is also out there and probably available.
In the Shock game with Phoenix Friday night, Diana Taurasi was hit with a technical foul in the fourth quarter but the former UConn great finished with 17 points for the Mercury.

Told she was penalized for “an over-gesture,” Taurasi in her usual wisecracking matter noted, “I guess it was my Italian coming out of me.”

Penny Taylor scored 16 points, Kara Braxton contributed 11, and DeWanna Bonner had 10 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix (7-4), which has shaken off an 0-3 start to win 7 of 8 games and moved to a virtual second-place tie with the Minnesota Lynx (6-3) both a half-game behind San Antonio.

Elizabeth Cambage, the Australian teenage sensation who was the second overall pick in April’s WNBA draft behind Minnesota’s Maya Moore out of UConn, had 19 points for Tulsa. The Shock’s Tiffany Jackson scored 15 points, rookie Kayla Pedersen had 13 and Sheryl Swoopes scored 10.

Former North Carolina star Ivory Latta missed the game for Tulsa because of a staph infection and the team announced she would miss the upcoming two-game road trip that begins Sunday.

Cambage, used to winning consistently in her own country and not being down under in the won-loss column, expressed frustration that developed in Tulsa prior to Richardson’s resignation with the inability of the Shock to show improvement off of last season.

“People keep saying, `There’s change coming, there’s change coming.’ Well, I don’t see any change, really. We’ve changed a few players. Where’s the change?”

Taurasi said Phoenix didn’t play as well as the Mercury did last time out but added that Tulsa presented problems that belied the Shock’s miserable won-loss record.

“They have some key players and they’re tough,” she said. “They’ll start rolling eventually. They have some talent to win some games, especially at home.”

In other Phoenix news former UConn player Ketia Swanier, who was elbowed in the left eye Tuesday night by former Maryland star Kristi Toliver of the Los Angeles Sparks during the third quarter when the Mercury were rallying to a win did not make the trip to Tulsa and won’t play Sunday night, the Arizona Republic reported.

Swanier, whose left eye swelled following the altercation, was evaluated by an eye doctor Wednesday afternoon and will receive another evaluation Monday, the newspaper reported.

Liberty Edges Silver Stars

Several weeks ago Chicago Sky assistant Jeff House was discussing the league’s early season action and noted, “I think New York is going to be good.

“They haven’t gotten everything down in Whiz’s (Coach John Whisenant’s) system but once they do they are going to be tough.”

Perhaps that prediction is coming true.

New York (6-5), which has had some tough losses and setbacks, has also shown it can win on the road with triumphs already achieved in Atlanta, Indiana, and now San Antonio in a key win Friday over the Silver Stars as former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and deaslt seven assists.

Additionally, Plenette Pierson helped New York make it four wins in the last five games by scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, Nicole Powell scored 13, Leilani Mitchell scored 11, and former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn scored 10.

“We feel lucky,” said Whisenant, whose team returns home to play Chicago Sunday afternoon. “I’m proud of my team playing with determination.”

The Sky will be on the second part of a back-to-back when they visit the Prudential Center after playing at home Saturday night against Atlanta.

The New York and Phoenix games are the only two on the WNBA card Sunday.

Pierson cited teamwork in the Liberty win over San Antonio, saying, “It just shows how we can play when we play together.”

Pondexter also noted the Liberty defense after an eight-point lead with less than four minutes in the game shriveled to three with 12.3 seconds left before the Silver Stars committed a costly turnover.

“Eventually the home team is going to make a push at the end of the game,” Pondexter said. “I said to these guys, `No matter what, we have to stand up to them.’ We were able to do that.”

Former Liberty All-Star Becky Hammon, who was dealt to San Antonio in 2007 on a draft-day trade, had 18 points for the Silver Stars, while Jia Perkins scored 13, rookie Danielle Adams scored 12, Danielle Robinson scored 11 and Sophia Young scored 10.

The normally reliable Hammon missed three of four foul shots and committed a turnover in the last three minutes.

“I can’t remember the last time I shot free throws like that,” she said. “This loss hurts because we should have had that one.”

Looking Ahead

There are four WNBA games on Saturday night’s schedule and each of them have implications highlighted by the Connecticut Sun (6-3) visit to the Minnesota Lynx (6-3) inter-divisional game in Minneapolis at 8 p.m., EDT.

The Sun are holding second in the East in a tight race a game ahead of New York and a game behind the Indiana Fever (8-3), which will be hosting the Washington Mystics (2-7) at 7 p.m.

Minnesota in the West is a half-game behind idle San Antonio, but in a virtual tie with idle Phoenix, and just a game ahead of Seattle (5-4), which will host Los Angeles (4-5), which is a game back in fifth.

Neither Minnesota nor Connecticut made the playoffs last year but both are showing they expect a postseason appearance to be in each of their futures this time around.

Of course just like a week ago back in Casino-land against Seattle where the Sun call home, this is another UConn alumnae special and a major one at that.

For the first time in games that count dating back to college, Lynx overall first-round pick Maya Moore will be going against her former Huskies teammates such as Tina Charles, the overall top pick in 2010 and the rookie of the year last summer, and Renee Montgomery, who was a first-rounder in 2009.

The two teams meet again back in Connecticut in August.

Should the two make it all the way to the WNBA championship series the two-game set could be a factor in home court advantage in the best-of-five series.

Also, Minnesota All-Star guard Lindsay Whalen faces her former team that dealt her away a year ago to get the rights to pick Charles in the draft and also gained Montgomery in the deal.

Two other games feature situations where each team has been affected by injuries.

Indiana, trying to keep the pressure on, will be playing its second game without starting point guard Briann January, a recent victim of an ACL injury that has sidelined her for the rest of the season.

The Fever had no problems last time out, however, dominating Seattle 78-61 at Conseco Fieldhouse though the Storm have their own problems with three-time MVP Lauren Jackson out for eight to 12 weeks with a hip injury.

The Fever star was former Ohio State post player Jessica Davenport, who never saw much quality time with the New York Liberty after being the second round overall No. 2 pick of the 2007 draft by San Antonio, who then dealt her to New York for Becky Hammon.

Washington now has three players hurt, unless Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland star, sole returning starter and leading scorer, is ready to return to action after missing the last two games with back problems.

Two former Duke standouts have been sidelined all season with Monique Currie declared a no-go for 2011 after an offseason knee injury while Alana Beard, who didn’t play last season because of an ankle injury, has yet to appear in 2011 following a sprain just before the opener on the same foot.

The Mystics’ slide is the latest act off a turbulent winter that has a fan base disgruntled following a giddy 2010 in which Washington set a franchise record for wins, tied New York for first in the East and earned the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs.

Then in successive moves Washington management claimed were driven by economics, Angela Taylor was let go as general manager, followed by the departure of Julie Plank, when she refused to do both the GM and coaching jobs.

Trudi Lacey was then promoted to both positions from assistant coach but despite the Mystics plunging to low depths again, she may get a pass considering the injuries and wholesale roster changes in the offseason.

By the way in a related note the team posed for a picture in Washington this week with the Dalai Lama as the mystic met the Mystics.

Perhaps Saturday’s game will tell which one got the better karma out of the other.

In another game, also accentuate by injuries that involves what looms as a five-for-four-playoff-spots battle in the West, Los Angeles (4-5) visits Seattle in the second meeting of the season between the two.

When the two last played each other several weeks ago in Los Angeles, the Sparks won 74-50 snapping the perfect 7-0 Storm domination of last season.

Then two nights later Lauren Jackson got hurt for Seattle and a week later Candace Parker suffered a Knee injury in New York and is out for six weeks.

Furthermore, Los Angeles has yet to win on the road this season and it is not known if Kristi Toliver is suspended for the game or beyond resulting from her flagrant foul for hurting Ketia Swanier in the loss at Phoenix on Tuesday. She was then hit with an ensuing technical on another play.

Anyhow both teams need the win to avoid beginning to drift from the Western frontrunners.

Finally, Chicago (5-6) hosts the Atlanta Dream (3-7) and if the Sky wants to break the 0-5 lifetime mark from not making the playoffs a win Saturday night would be a place to start.

Injuries affected the Dream, the defending Eastern playoffs champ, at the outset. Atlanta is hoping the Chicago visits bring a win a move closer to the four teams in front while the Sky will be looking to make it a distance of 2.5 games before heading to New York on Sunday.

The Guru will be back on the wee hours after Saturday’s games with the complete roundup.

-- Mel

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