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, August 06, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Ajavon's Career Night Helps Washington Topple New York

(Guru’s note: Quotes and material from beyond here drawn from team and wire reports).

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON –
Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon did it all Saturday for the lowly WNBA Washington Mystics from matching a career high 32 points, surpassing her 1,000th point, and even providing the most entertaining pre-recorded video timeout feature doing man-in-the-street interviews in front of the Verizon Center.

Ajavon’s efforts on the floor helped the Mystics snap a four-game losing streak and avenge a previous tough road loss to New York by coming up with a 91-81 victory.

Washington (4-14), which sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference 9.5 games behind the front-running Indiana Fever (15-6) and 3.5 behind the virtual fourth-place final playoff deadlocked spot occupied by the Chicago Sky (9-12) and Atlanta Dream (8-11) had not played since a week ago Friday when the Mystics suffered a tough last-second lost here to the Fever.

The Mystics had lost 9-of-10 and most of them were surrendered in the final quarter after competitive efforts from the opening tip.

“We had great practices, everybody was focused, we know we can only get better,” Ajavon said. “You have to move forward in this league and try to get better.”

The Mystics found several ways to avoid this one slipping away in getting a season high in points scored in regulation. The first was by taking advantage on the boards 32-20, the second was by shooting a sizzling 50 percent from the field making 29 of 58 shots and the third was by rolling up a nearly insurmountable lead of 22 points with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Ajavon has had increased minutes ever since All-Star Alana Beard has been unable to play after spraining her foot back in June before the season opener. It is the same foot that was operated on a year ago causing the former Duke All-American to miss the entire season.

Additionally, forward Monique Currie is out for the year after suffering a “knee injury playing in Europe in the offseason.

“Matee is playing great for us,” said the Mystics’ Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland All-American and lone returning starter who had 20 points and nine rebounds.

“She’s so explosive, she’s so quick so it’s really hard for people to guard her,” Langhorne said. “When she’s hot, it’s hard to stop her.”

Kelly Miller also scored in double figures collecting 10 points while Nicky Anosike matched Langhorne’s rebounding total of nine.

Despite the slide, unlike the Western cellar dwelling Tulsa Shock (1-19), Washington still has a somewhat shot at the playoffs if the Mystics can sustain and run while the teams above them beat up on each other.

In the only other WNBA game Saturday night Tulsa lost on the road to the San Antonio Silver Stars 72-64 to set a combined franchise record, including the time spent in Detroit through 2009, by losing its 14th straight game.

The Shock are 14.5 games behind the front-running Minnesota Lynx (15-4) and 11 behind the fourth playoff spot with 14 remaining.

San Antonio (12-8) jumped back into a two-way tie for second with the defending champion Seattle Storm 3.5 games behind Minnesota and 0.5 games ahead of the Phoenix Mercury (11-8).
Former Baylor star Sophia Young scored 20 points for San Antonio, Becky Hammon scored 19, and Scholanda Robinson scored 12.

Tulsa’s Tiffany Jackson scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while rookie Kayla Pedersen out of Stanford scored 14 points. Rookie Liz Cambage, the number two overall draft pick out of Australia, had nine points seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

Back here in the nation’s capital Washington had enough time to dispense the lingering effects of the succession of tough losses and look ahead to hosting the Liberty (12-9) who are still in third but slipped to three games behind Indiana and two behind the second-place Connecticut Sun (12-7).

New York has a three-game lead over Chicago and Atlanta heading into Tuesday night’s game at home against Seattle.
Washington next will host Atlanta also on Tuesday night and then New York again here Friday.

“We had a chance to regroup and refocus for this one,” Langhorne said. “It’s not impossible (to make the playoffs). We just have to win games. We can’t lose a bunch of games anymore. We have to start winning. It’s in our control.”

Saturday’s game wasn’t in New York’s control despite the Liberty coming off a great defensive stand at their temporary home in Newark, N.J., holding Chicago to one point in the fourth quarter in a 59-49 victory that had been their eighth win in a span of 11 games.

“They did a great job,” New York coach-general manager John Whisenant saluted the opposition. “We had been playing a game every other day since we last played them and they basically had a week off.

“They’re a team that had three wins but obviously are more talented than that. They had different reasons for not getting it together but it was obvious they were going to start clicking somewhere but we didn’t want it to be against us.”

Rutgers grad and New York All-Star Cappie Pondexter had 21 points, Plenette Pierson scored 20, former Stanford star Nicolle Powell scored 13, while Essence Carson, another Rutgers alum, scored 11 and Quanitra Hollingsworth matched that number and had a team-high seven rebounds.

“We are a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hide from two games ago when we played great defense from beginning to end,” Whisenant said. “Tonight, we forgot to show up. Our mental alertness and defensive effort, especially in the first half, (Washington) scored more points than Chicago scored in the game.

“They’re two different teams in two different nights but we weren’t ready to go. Trudi (Lacey) and her coaching staff did an excellent job preparing for us – Ajavon had a super game, their whole team played great,” Whisenant continued.

“They got almost half of their misses back – 45 percent – (the Liberty had 26.7 percent). You can’t win when the other team is just shooting until they make it.”

New York was without veteran forward Kara Braxton, obtained in a Thursday trade with Phoenix for former Tennessee star Sydney Spencer, who had missed three straight Liberty games with back problems.

Braxton is due to arrive Sunday; though Whisenant said her absence had a negligible effect on the outcome getting away from his team.

“We lost and deserved it and I just told the team as a young coach, `You can’t get (the game) back. A loss is like dying. It’s lost. It’s gone. It’s over. You can’t get it back so you better work pretty hard to win. We just have to learn from that and get better prepared mentally and emotionally against our next opponent.

“The reason we lost was our own preparation as a team. One player would not have changed that. Nor will it change it in the future. We are what we are. We went into the season losing our two rebounders (Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Janel McCarville) from last year.

“We went into the season with two unproven post players that had to step up this year (former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn and VCU grad Hollingsworth). They’ve done a good job and we’re in reasonably good shape.

“But it’s still a long way from being over. We could still finish last vs. finishing first. That’s the way this league is.

“Washington played us a great game up there and they should have beaten Indiana who has the second best record in the league. There’s not a lot of difference. It comes down to who plays and who doesn’t on a given night.”

Pondexter said the compacted schedule for the Liberty at the moment had little effect on the result for her team.

“At this point it’s just a matter of mentally preparing yourself. You know the schedule. It’s not like you can change it. You just have to readjust your mindset. That’s what we have to do.

“Even if you are tired, you still have to play. You still have to go out and earn your paycheck.”

Shock Slide Continues

Tulsa, which committed 26 turnovers Saturday night, eclipsed the 13-game losing mark set in 2002 back in Detroit though the Shock played San Antonio tougher than the two previous losses to the Silver Stars this season, which had been by 20 and 29 points.

Shock interim coach Teresa Edwards is guaranteed a happier moment in the week ahead when the former Georgia All-American and Olympic great will join Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer as two women’s basketball representatives to be part of the induction class Friday night to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

She was elevated last month from an assistant after Nolan Richardson resigned.

"That's one of the most positive games we've put together," Edwards said of Saturday night’s performance. "We still had a lot of turnovers. We're trying to eliminate that, but our execution, the players believing and trusting in one another to execute, was the best game we've had so far.

"We're getting there," Edwards said. "Just have to hope we can coat tail off this and move it into the next game, not go backwards."

Looking Ahead

Four games are on the WNBA slate Sunday and every team has something at stake as the season enters the stretch drive toward the playoffs.

Minnesota, with the WNBA’s best record, will be looking to win the four-game season series with the Los Angeles Sparks (7-12) whom they will meet on the West Coast to complete the four-game series in which they hold a 2-1 lead.

The Lynx won both in Minneapolis by large margins but dropped the season opener at the Staples Center after holding a lead in the second half.

Minnesota, on a franchise-record eight-game win streak, will also look to minimally keep its 3.5 lead over second place which currently is held by San Antonio, which will be idle, and Seattle, which visits Atlanta.

Los Angeles, still without superstar Candace Parker, who may return soon from a knee injury suffered in late June, is in fifth place eight games behind Minnesota but four behind the fourth playoff spot and can’t afford to keep drifting backwards.

The Phoenix team in front of the Sparks will be hosting the Connecticut Sun in one of two cross-conference matchups.

The Mercury (11-8) are four games behind Minnesota, but just 0.5 behind Seattle and San Antonio while holding the four-game edge over Los Angeles for the final playoff spot in the West.

Connecticut, on a three-game Western Swing, will be coming off of Friday’s tough loss at Seattle in which the Sun rallied to take a lead with 3.1 seconds left only to be trumped by Sue Bird’s three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left.

The Sun will be trying to avoid falling further behind Indiana, which will be at Chicago. They trail the Fever by two games, holding second, and are a game in front of New York. Connecticut started the trip with a win at Los Angeles.

Seattle, as mentioned, will be trying to stay in the hunt in the West, trying to defend its league title, which so far has had to be done most of the season without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who suffered a hip injury in early June.

Atlanta, which is hosting the Storm in Georgia where Seattle wrapped up the league title in September against the Dream, is in a tight race with Chicago trying to minimally make the fourth playoff spot after a rough start.

The Sky will be hosting Indiana, trying to keep pace with Atlanta from its side, while the Fever will be looking to maintain or widen its lead over Connecticut.

-- Mel

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