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 30, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Thrilling Finish For Indiana Means More Washington Agony

(Guru’s note: Material and quotes from beyond game origination sourced from team and wire reports. The guru will be in Newark Saturday night.)

By Mel Greenberg

The thrill of an Indiana Fever victory and the recurring agony of another Washington Mystics narrow loss collided head on with 0.4 seconds left in regulation at the Verizon Center Friday night when former Tennessee star Shannon Bobbitt played heroine for the second straight game.

This time Bobbitt, inserted into the lineup by coach Lin Dunn with 13 seconds left, broke free and took her only shot of the night and it zipped through the basket for a 61-59 victory that allowed the Fever to take a 61-59 victory and move to a 1.5 lead over the idle Connecticut Sun (10-6) atop the WNBA’s Eastern Conference.

In the only other game on the league schedule Minnesota (12-4) again trounced the defending champion Seattle Storm (9-8), this time 92-67 at the Lynx’s Target Center to take the season series 3-1 and move to a one-game lead over the idle San Antonio Silver Stars (11-5) atop the Western Conference.

Back here Bobbitt’s game-winner followed her performance Thursday night when she helped short-handed Indiana (13-6), owning the best record in the league, snap a first-place tie with Connecticut by scoring a career-high 13 points at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Ironically, the Fever’s All-Star Katie Douglas remained home off the road from that one battling a medical fever but she caught up with Indiana Friday night scoring 10 points in nearly 33 minutes of playing time for the Fever’s third straight win that came at the expense of the last-place Mystics (3-14).

Indiana returns home for Sunday’s crossover game at Conseco Fieldhouse against the fifth-place Los Angeles Sparks (6-10), who are 2-8 on the road and have a four-game losing streak.

Then it will be back on the road next Friday for a visit to the Western cellar-dwelling Tulsa Shock (1-16) followed two days later by a visit to the Chicago Sky, against whom the Fever have already gone 2-0 on the season.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive and in a situation like that I’m good to play off the dribble and using the screens very well,” Bobbitt said of the final moments against Washington.

“When they switched it, I thought I could take the last shot on the post play and that’s what I did.”

All-Star Tamika Catchings scored 16 points for Indiana, former Rutgers star Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 12 and former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport came off the bench scoring in double digits, this time matching teammate Douglas’ total of 10 points.

“When we have four people scoring in double figures we usually win,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said.

Meanwhile the fourth quarter has become the Bermuda Triangle for Washington, though this time the Mystics didn’t vanish until the final instant having rallied from a nine-point deficit that existed early in the third period.

They went on to take brief one-point leads in the fourth and then a two-point lead at 59-57 when another former Rutgers star, Matee Ajavon, hit a pair of foul shots for her game-high 19 points with 3:54 left in the game.

But Davenport tied it with a jumper with 1:39 left. Catchings blocked Ajavon’s shot on the next possession but the Mystics maintained the ball only to be tied up going for the win with 15.2 seconds.

Douglas beat Kelly Miller for the tip sending it to Shyra Ely and Indiana took a 20 second time out with 13 seconds left to insert Bobbitt who then joined other Washington opponents who have dealt heartache to the Mystics.

On Thursday night, an offensive foul down the stretch that took away two points from Washington on a call later said by knowledgeable people to be in error helped doom the Mystics to a 75-71 loss on the road against New York.

Washington, which also got 17 points from Crystal Langhorne against Indiana, has lost four straight and 9-of-10, the exception being the dramatic second half rally from a 24-point deficit to beat Los Angeles in overtime on the road.

In nearly all of them Washington has lost late in the game, causing Dunn to offer some sympathy for the Mystics, who except for their landmark run in 2010 seem to have been cursed from the day the WNBA anointed the franchise for the league’s second season in 1998.

“I just can’t say enough how much I am impressed with Washington’s defensive pressure, how intense they play,” Dunn said.

“You telling me this team is last place in the East, it’s just amazing,” Dunn said of the nine-game distance from her Fever and five from Chicago and the Atlanta Dream who are tied for what would be the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference.

“They work so hard. They had a heartbreaker last night and a heartbreaker tonight, it’s got to be hard for them but I have so much respect for what they’re doing. That just shows how good this league is.”

Both teams have been hit with injuries. Indiana lost starting point guard Briann January for the season several weeks ago with a knee injury.

Washington lost Monique Currie in the offseaaon for 2011 with a knew injury and Alana Beard, who missed all of last season following foot surgery, has yet to play in 2011 after spraining an ankle on the same foot just before opening day.

“They’re 3-14 and they’re playing like they’re 14-3,” Dunn said.

When Bobbitt got the ball at the finish, Washington thought it could get to overtime.

“We tried to keep it out of the hands of their major players and we did that,” Ajavon said. “We got the ball in Shannon’s hands. We tried to make her take a tough shot and she just made it.”

Minnesota Revival Continues

A year ago Atlanta was one of the feel-good stories in the WNBA advancing to the finals in the Dream’s third season after entering as an expansion franchise.

The Minnesota Lynx have been around longer but have been cut down in recent seasons by injuries and suffered losses of the kind Washington is experiencing in 2011.

That was then this is now and against last season’s dominating team – one of the most in WNB history – Minnesota dominated for the third time this season.

Former LSU star Seimone Augustus and Stanford alum Candice Wiggins each scored 16 points for Minnesota against fourth-place Seattle, which has lost two more games than in all of 2010.

The Storm are 3.5 games behind Minnesota, one behind third-place Phoenix (10-7) and 2.5 ahead of Los Angeles having now reached the middle of the eight-to-12 week estimated recovery period for three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who suffered a hip injury.

Rookie Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 pick out of UConn, added 12 points, while veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 10 as the Lynx won their fifth straight and seventh-in-eight games for the best start in franchise history.

Former UConn star Swin Cash scored 18 for the Storm but another former UConn great Sue Bird, the top All-Star vote collector, was held to four points.

“This group came back (from the All-Star break) on a mission to kind of reverse the fortunes of the Lynx,” said coach Cheryl Reeve, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia in South Jersey and starred at La Salle.

“People talk a lot about the previous years. This team, the only thing they cared about was last year. I couldn’t tell you what happened in the years before. We don’t really care. I think it’s more, with this group, there was a certain level of determination,” Reeve continued.

“It’s fun. We’re 12-4. Bottom line is we haven’t done anything yet. I think this group knows that more than any other group I’ve been a part of.”

Reeve, a previous assistant on the former Detroit Shock champions before the franchise moved to Tulsa, was hired last season. She also was an assistant to Anne Donovan on the former Charlotte team that advanced to the finals in 2001.

“This team has gotten better,” said Augustus, a previous overall No. 1 pick. “We finally got the pieces to the puzzle and we’re ready to roll. “But we also (Seattle) is missing a big piece to their team in Lauren Jackson. They’re still a tough team.”

Bird cited the health factor in comparing the two squads.

“In the WNBA health is the No. 1 key,” she said. “I mean, look at our team. That’s what I see. With that, they were able to add some high draft picks and really form a nice solid core group and they’re able to to build chemistry.”

As for the Storm’s performance, she added, “Any game like this disappointing, especially with a chance to continue to creep up in the standings.”

Looking Ahead

Seattle will get a chance to make up some ground on Saturday night visiting Tulsa, while Phoenix will be at New York, which is trying to stay near the Eastern leaders.

Los Angeles, looking to snap its road woes, visits Chicago, which will try to move a half-game ahead of Atlanta, which plays on Sunday at Connecticut in the first meeting of the season between the Sun and Dream.

Minnesota heads to San Antonio Sunday for a first-place duel in the West, while Los Angeles stays on the road, as previously mentioned, to play Indiana.

-- Mel


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