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.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: UConn Generations Score Key Wins

(Guru’s note: Report drawn on quotes and source reporting by teams and the Associated Press. Also, at the Inside Women’s Basketball part of this site if you are in melgreenberg.com, the Guru provided a text interview with WNBA coach-general manager Pokey Chatman to go with the video interview by LaChina Robinson.)

By Mel Greenberg

A recent generation of University of Connecticut success fought to a split decision Saturday night in the WNBA while a previous generation of Huskies dominance also landed on both sides of the won-loss column.

Elsewhere the Fever continued to rage in Indianapolis and Rutgers alum Epiphanny Prince prepared for her Sunday New Jersey homecoming by just missing a career high as the Chicago Sky was the limit in repulsing the Atlanta Dream in a key win in the Eastern Conference.

Milestones were attained. Disappointments were plentiful.

Meanwhile Teresa Edwards, an Olympic golden oldie, held a quick press conference in Tulsa after being handed the coaching reins and before The Shock departed on a brief road trip that might be a jump start to changing fortunes or just more of the same

In Minneapolis Saturday night at the Target Center before a crowd of 8,208 the Lynx (7-3) matched their best-ever 10-game start and moved into a first-place tie in the Western Conference with the idle San Antonio Silver Stars (7-3) by grabbing a cross-divisional 90-67 thumping of the Connecticut Sun (6-4), which stayed in second but dropped two games behind Indiana (9-3) in the East.

The idle Phoenix Mercury (7-4), which hosts Tulsa (1-10) Sunday can make it a virtual three-way tie in the West unless the Shock can provide a successful debut for interim coach Teresa Edwards who was named late Friday night to take the helm for the rest of the season after Nolan Richardson resigned following a home loss to Phoenix.

Prior to the Lynx game, the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minneapolis’ sister city did a feature on recent UConn grad Maya Moore, the No. 1 overall pick of the draft, noting her impact on the WNBA to date had not been in the mode of Michael Jordan.

Moore gave this evaluation of herself to the publication: "I'd give myself something in the B range, I'm not totally happy about that. I still have plenty of work to do.''

Perhaps she may have underrated herself unless there’s nothing like having your former teammates show up wearing the enemy uniforms of the Sun to provide some motivation.

Moore had a season-high 26 points while former LSU star Seimone Augustus, a previous overall No. 1 pick, scored 20 for the Lynx. Former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson continued her double double act for Minnesota with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Charde Houston, announced this week winner of the WNBA Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award named for the famed Philadelphian who starred at Virginia, the Pros and in the Olympics, is also on the Lynx and was a senior when Moore was a freshman in 2008.

On the other side Saturday night were three ex-UConn teammates in Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 pick in 2010 and WNBA rookie of the year, second-year pro Kalana Greene, and third-year pro Renee Montgomery, who scored 14 points for the Sun.

Connecticut has two more former Huskies – Jessica Moore and Asjha Jones – the latter of the famed 2002 Huskies senior class that included current Seattle Storm All-Stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird, who played key roles Saturday night in the Storm win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

“I think it forced me to focus more because I know how talented they are, how talented and how good they can be,” Moore said of going against the Sun ex-Huskies. “This was a game where I just wanted to make sure I was mentally prepared. I felt good in warmups and practice leading up to the game. I’m just happy with the results.

Minnesota also has local star Lindsay Whalen, a graduate of the Big 10 university in Minneapolis, who played for the Sun until dealt prior to last season to the Lynx for the rights to pick Charles and Montgomery.

Whalen dealt eight assists Saturday night. The two teams meet again in Uncasville in August.

The Lynx, who next host Phoenix Wednesday, broke open the game with a lop-sided 23-6 advantage in the third quarter.

“It was our defense,” Moore said of the third quarter which was also observed in the crowd by new WNBA president Laurel Ritchie. “When we play defense like that, especially at home, that’s the way we want to play and it really sparked our defense.”

From the Sun side Montgomery spoke of playing against Moore.

“When you have played with somebody for so long, you kind of know what shots are going to go in and what aren’t,” she said. “You know if you leave (Moore) open, they are going.”

Charles, who normally puts up double figures in offense and defense off the boards, was held to six points and eight rebounds.

Veteran center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who once played for the Sun before playing on three other WNBA teams before signing with Minnesota this season as a free agent, helped defend Charles.

“This was something that we really were confident in going into the game,” said Cheryl Reeve, who played for La Salle University in Philadelphia in the late 1980s. “We fight the post as good as anyone in the league. We limited the touches, and when they did have touches, it was a little bit difficult for them.”

Sun coach Mike Thibault lauded the Lynx effort.

“They were just way better than us,” he said after his team fell on the start of a three-game road trip and is already 1-4 this season away from the Mohegan Sun Arena. “They played great and we did not.

“I think it’s a struggle in the league right now,” Thibault said. There are not a lot of road wins happening.”

Seattle Cashes In With Swin Over Los Angeles

Road wins are definitely not happening for the Los Angeles Sparks, who have yet to win away from the Staples Center in six tries and are now 0-5 on the current trip after a 99-80 loss in Seattle to the Storm Saturday night.

The move kept the Storm (6-4) in fourth in the West but just one game out of first while Los Angeles (4-6) stayed in fifth but fell to two games behind Seattle.

Both teams missed key players with Seattle minus three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who is out eight to 12 weeks with a hip injury. The injury occurred almost a week before Los Angeles lost Candace Parker for six weeks on the second stop where she suffered a knee injury in New York
Former UConn star Swin Cash again filled the role of getting things done by scoring 16 of her 26 points in the third quarter at KeyArena.

Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 21 points, Ex-UConn great Bird scored 17, and veteran all-star Katie Smith had 13 for Seattle.

“I thought Swin was really persistent tonight in her play and just constantly aggressive on the offensive end,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “She got to the free-throw line a lot, got some finishes, got some offensive boards and played good defense. That’s why she’s such a good player.”

Seattle was coming off a dominating loss at Indiana.

Cash, who was 5-of-7 from the field spoke of changing up from living on the perimeter.

“You’ve got to get to the rim and be aggressive,” Cash said. “And whenever I’m doing that I think it’s better for the team.”

Rookie Jantel Lavender from Ohio State had a career-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Sparks, making her first start of the season as did former Maryland star Kristi Toliver, who scored 17 points.

The duo replaced veteran all-stars Tina Thompson and Ticha Penicheiro.

“We just wanted to start with more energy tonight, they seemed to bring a lot of energy,” Los Angeles coach Jennifer Gillom explained the switch. “We wanted to run our fastbreak and that’s why we started with them, which I thought was pretty successful when they were in there.”

Veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones had 19 points for Los Angeles while Seatte’s Le’coe Willingham scored 12.

Los Angeles stays on the road Tuesday when the Sparks return to San Antonio, where the current long journey began two weeks ago,

Bird spoke of the breakaway by the Storm in the third period and her former Huskies classmate of 2002.

“We just got a lot of stops and we were able to that into transition,” Bird said. “Swin was super aggressive. From there, everything kind of just fell into place. The combination of Swin’s aggressiveness and our defense is what really got us going.”

Prince Helps Chicago Rule Atlanta

Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince kept Chicago going against the Atlanta Dream, even when behind by 13 points in the first half, as the Sky emerged at home in suburban Rosemont, Ill., with an 81-69 win for the Sky’s second straight.

Prince scored 24, one less than her two-year high as a pro when she had 25 at home earlier this season against Connecticut.

The win brought the Sky to .500 at 6-6 and their fourh-place standing in the East is just a half-game behind idle New York (6-5), whom the Sky visits Sunday.

Atlanta (3-8), the defending East playoff champion, fell further behind in fifth place now 2.5 games behind Chicago.

Sky rookie Courtney Vandersloot, the point guard sensation out of Gonzaga who was the third overall pick of the draft, had 16 points, former Tennessee star Michelle Snow had 13, while former LSU all-American Sylvia Fowles had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 overall No. 1 pick out of Louisville, had 17 points, Erika DeSouza had 14, Iziane Castro Marques scored 12 and Armintie Price scored 10.

“Coming into the half we talked about the fortune of only being down by eight,” Chicago first-year coach-general manager Pokey Chatman said. “They were plus-eight on the boards, they had 23 in transition and we had 14 turnovers. So I said we should send them a thank you card because we should be down 18.”

Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors spoke of the closing minutes when Chicago prevailed.

“We were making a lot of mistakes and they were taking advantage of ours and we did not take advantage of theirs,” Meadors said.

Sancho Lyttle, who was temporarily supended for six games while competing overseas in Spain in an Olympic qualifying tournament, made the trip but was sidelined with a sore back.

It is not known if she’ll be ready the next game when Atlanta visits New York Wednesday afternoon.

Prince said of her game: “I just wanted to be aggressive and attack the rim. I didn’t think I was doing that well on defense, but I just wanted to be aggressive.”

With New York using the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for the next three seasons while Madison Square Garden is undergoing renovations, Sunday’s game gives Prince the first opportunity to play in the Garden State since her junior season at Rutgers.

She bypassed her senior season (2009-10) to play in Europe to prepare for the WNBA, a move that seems to have benefitted her though it had a negative impact on the Scarlet Knights who struggled to an NCAA appearance with a roster lacking overall experience.

Chicago beat New York at home earlier this season and Sunday’s game will be a second reunion against former Rutgers classmates Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn. All-American Cappie Pondexter graduated in 2006 prior to Prince’s arrival from Brooklyn, where she set a high school record with 113 points in a game.

Indiana's Catchings New Steals Queen -- For The Moment

Veteran Tamika Catchings was in a record-setting mode Saturday night setting the WNBA career mark in steals with 738 as the Indiana Fever (9-3) continued to win, beating the struggling Washington Mystics 68-57 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to open a two-game lead over the Connecticut Sun in the East.

Catchings had six steals, five of them late in the game to propel the Fever away from the Mystics (2-8) and finish two ahead in career thefts over Los Angeles veteran all-star Ticha Penicheiro, who played but did not start against Seattle and failed to gain any swipes from the Storm.

“It’s cool,” Catchings said, not knowing if the mark would be short-lived, though she and the former Old Dominion star will likely be trading the top career spot the rest of the season. “it’s definitely an honor.”

Overall Catchings had 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks to go with the steals.

Erin Phillips, an Australian who played for the Sun, signed before the season with Seattle as a free agent and then was dealt to the Fever, had 14 points.

Catchings sounded like a little of her Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, the Hall of Famer, had rubbed off in the way she described overcoming a bad night, offensively.

“You might be missing shots, but the one thing, no matter what, that you always have control over is the way you play defense,” she said. “That’s the one thing I want my teammates to take from me.”

Katie Douglas had 12 points, Shavonte Zellous and Jessica Davenport each scored 11 for the Fever, who have now won three straight without starting point guard Briann January is sidelined for the season with an ACL.

The Fever have won six straight.

Tangela Smith did not play, either, sitting out with a quad contusion that ended a streak of 79 straight games for the former Iowa star who was previously with Phoenix.

Washington, which is on a five-game road trip, has the second worst record in the league with two wins ahead of the one by Tulsa and that was against the Mystics in Oklahoma.

The Mystics committed 20 turnovers, leading to 28 points as a close game got away from them in the closing minutes.

Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland star from Willingboro, N.J., in suburban Philadelphia, missed her third straight game with a sore back adding to the season-ending absence of former Duke star Monique Currie (knee) and former Blue Devil Alana Beard (ankle) who missed last season, returned healthy to training camp and then sprained an ankle on the same foot just before the opener.

Nicky Anosike had 12 points for Washington, while Marissa Coleman grabbed nine rebounds to go with her 12 points.

The Mystics’ road doesn’t get any easier as they next head West to play Seattle Tuesday, Phoenix Friday and Los Angeles next Sunday.

“Our defense is getting better,” Anosike said, noting holding the Fever to 25 at the half and trying to find some positives. “Defense is a great thing to be successful. We’ve got to try to keep our poise and try to improve.”

Indiana hosts Connecticut Wednesday as the Sun try to get back in the win column and move closer to the Fever.

Edwards In Charge At Tulsa

Meanwhile Teresa Edwards spoke to reporters in Tulsa after being placed in charge of the Shock of her first head coaching opportunity since the former Georgia star was player-coach of the Atlanta Glory in the second season of the short-lived American Basketball League.

She was also an aide to Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio when the former Penn State great coached Minnesota in the WNBA in 2006.

Edwards was recently named Chef de Mission for the United States Olympic Team for the London Games in 2012 and next month will be an inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

She also played for the ABL Philadelphia Rage in the shortened third season that died when the league declared bankruptcy.

Edwards was originally hired in the offseason after the Shock went 6-28 as director of player personnel but was coaxed by Nolan Richardson to become an assistant.

The franchise had previously belonged to the NBA Detroit Pistons prior to 2010 and won three titles with Bill Laimbeer as coach-general manager.

He left right after the start of the 2009 season and the team was sold to a group in Tulsa, though several Detroit All-Stars such as Katie Smith refused to move to Oklahoma. Several others were dealt in trades.

“This is an amazing transition, one I’ve never been in,” Edwards said. “I’m stepping into some huge shoes and probably would never fill the shoes I’m stepping into. I had a lot of respect (for Richardson). He’s the reason I’m here. I respect him tremendously.

Edwards said Richardson had been “dealt some tough cards from last year to this year. … Right now, I have to learn who I am and be me. And figure a way to be successful.”

The Guru will be on the scene in New York Sunday afternoon for the Chicago game.

-- Mel


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