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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Bird Stopped At The Buzzer For New York Win

(Material and quotes for games beyond here for the post are drawn from tam and wire reports).

By Mel Greenberg

Newark, N.J. –
Call this one Carson Stops Bird at the Buzzer.

Less than a week after making another pulsating game-winning shot as time expired, former UConn great Sue Bird’s 17-footer was blocked by Rutgers alum Essence Carson with 01.1 seconds left on the clock in regulation enabling the New York Liberty to hold off the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm 58-56 Tuesday night at the Prudential Center.

“I held my breath that there wasn’t a (foul) call,” New York first-year coach-general manager John Whisenant said afterwards.

Bird has a history of making last-second shots, dating back to the famous half-court missile that won 2001 Big East tournament for UConn over Notre Dame and years later inspired former Hartford Courant beat writer Jeff Goldberg to pen a book released last March – Bird at the Buzzer – chronicling the many future WNBA players from both schools involved in that game.

But apparently Bird can’t make them all, though Seattle coach Brian
Agler noted before the game, “Any time she’s open, she’s a threat to make those shots.”

But not Tuesday night, though she did fire down a bunch of three-pointers early in the contest.

However, the end came for the Storm after getting numerous opportunities in the last minute to grab the win off a series of reversal by officials that kept Seattle (12-10) maintaining possession in the first of two East-West matchups scheduled with the Liberty (13-9).

Though UConn has often gotten the best of Rutgers in the Big East women’s wars in college, this was a night that the heroics belonged to the grads from the Scarlet Knights.

With 46.8 seconds left Carson grabbed a defensive rebound and then All-Star Cappie Pondexter scored inside on a driving layup with 41.1 seconds left to go ahead 57-56.

Bird then missed a 23-foot attempt at a trey, but officials reversed themselves on an out-of-bounds possession involving former Stanford star Nicole Powell of the Liberty and after looking at the video decided that Seattle still had possession with 17.4 seconds remaining.

But the public address announcer stated as both teams took the floor that Seattle only had a second left on the shot clock but then allowed the full 17.4 seconds.

Bird then missed a running jump shot and her former Huskies teammate Swin Cash, a key component on separate WNBA champions including the former Detroit Shock missed a driving layup with 8.4 seconds left.

“Cappie kept saying in the huddle, `This is why we work all those defensive drills, so we can win games like this,’” Whisenant said. “She kept reinforcing it to the team during that last minute.”

Seattle’s Camille Little then fouled Plenette Pierson, who made one of the two attempted free throws for New York allowing the Storm to get one more possession with 3.8 seconds left.

That was plenty of time on Friday in Seattle where Bird trumped Tina Charles’ apparent game-winner by making a trey with 0.4 seconds left to give the Storm a win over the Connecticut Sun.

The win enabled New York to keep pace with the Eastern Conference frontrunners on a night when all 12 WNBA teams saw action.

The Indiana Fever (16-7) held its one-game lead over Connecticut (14-7) by gaining a comfortable 81-68 win at home over the San Antonio Silver Stars (12-9) while the Sun stayed in second with a home win beating the Chicago Sky 69-58 to stay 1.5 games ahead of New York, which is 2.5 games behind Indiana.

The defending Eastern playoff champion Atlanta Dream (10-11) moved into sole possession of fourth 2.5 behind the Liberty in what would be the final conference final playoff spot thanks to Sancho Lyttle’s buzzer beater for a 72-70 win in Washington over the Mystics (4-15) to go a game ahead of Chicago (10-13), which is now six games behind first.

Washington came into the Atlanta game with some momentum off a home win over New York Saturday but now the Mystics are mired five games behind fourth in the Eastern basement.

The New York win came off a hard-nosed battle in which both teams emphasize defense.

“It wasn’t pretty but we held them to (30.9) percent shooting and we needed every bit of it to have a chance to win it,” Whisenant said. “They’re a tough team. I’d like to have an easier life than that, but we didn’t.”

Pondexter finished with a game-high 19 point for New York while Pierson scored 10. Kara Braxton, acquired in a deal with Phoenix on Thursday, made her debut and scored four points in 12 minutes, 20 seconds.

“I don’t like to make trades at mid-season because of what it takes to learn our defensive system,” Whisenant said but said the move was worth it considering the veteran experience the former Georgia star brings along side his young posts in former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn and former Virginia Commonwealth standout Quanitra Hollingsworth.

Bird, who made five-of-nine three-point attempts, played her high school ball across the Hudson River at Christ the King. She collected 17 points but she was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and Whisenant credited Carson’s defensive work on the Storm All-Star.

“Our whole game plan with Sue – she’s a great player. She’s a (Olympic) gold medal point guard – she shoots it – high percentage shooter and what we said in the beginning was we had to wear on her so that in the last two minutes her legs were tired from the first three quarters.

“But then they started going to Katie Smith, their other All-Time Top 15 (WNBA) player and Katie started making shots, too. They’re a good team. They’ve been through the wars, they know how to not panic. It was a good learning experience for our team. We’re not as veteran as they are.

“The reason defense wins championships is all games end up in a street fight,” Whisenant said of the physicality between the two teams. “Which is what this felt like, a street fight, and if you can’t play defense, you can’t win these kind of battles.”

Smith finished with 11 points as did former Penn State star Tanisha Wright for Seattle, which was coming in off a lopsided loss at Atlanta on the weekend.

“We had multiple opportunities,” Seattle’s Agler said. “It was one of those games where the ball did not bounce our way. We had (18) turnovers, until we get that corrected, we are going to be on a roller coaster, so we have to eliminate turnovers.”

At halftime, incidentally, former UConn and New York star Rebecca Lobo became the fourth inductee into the new Liberty Ring of Honor, citing stars of the past in the franchise’s 15-year history.

Lobo was picked by a fan vote while three players already honored – former Rutgers star Sue Wicks and former Louisiana Tech stars Vicky Johnson and Teresa Weatherspoon – were picked by a committee as was Kym Hampton, who will be honored at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Bird was philosophical considering that the Storm, who went 28-6 last season on the way to their second WNBA title, have been without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who suffered a hip injury in June.

“You can’t talk about Lauren, you can’t talk about what you don’t have,” Bird said. “You just talk about what you do. We’ve been doing a great job.”

Asked if she felt Carson made contact on her last attempt, Bird said, “Who knows? Obviously the referees didn’t feel that way. It is what it is.

“We had a lot of great opportunities at the end but it the game of basketball it is never about that last play,” Bird said. “That’s just the one you remember. Throughout the entire game, things could have gone different for us.

“We had really good chances, we kept giving ourselves good opportunities.”

Instead Seattle blew a chance to move up in the standings in the tightly-contested West behind the front-running Minnesota Lynx, whose nine-game win streak was ended in Phoenix by the Mercury 85-80 to tie the series at 2-2 with one game remaining.

WNBA history was made in the game, nevertheless, by the Lynx, because All-Star Lindsay Whalen’s seventh point and sister All-Star Seimone Augustus’ 21st point made it the first time two teammates reached the 3,000-point career plateau in the same game.

Once before in the WNBA’s 15-year history, two opposing players reached their 3,000th point in the same game when Los Angeles’ DeLisha Milton-Jones and Tamecka Dixon, then with the former Houston Comets after starting out with the Sparks, got to the magic number on July 20, 2007.

“We’re trying to get the best seed possible and if we can host in the first round, that could be a good thing,” Agler said, noting Seattle will play 8 of their last 12 at home.

Bird used the same theme.

“Winning on the road is tough,” she said. “Last year in games like this, we could close the deal. But we’re 12-10 and who would have thought that when they heard Lauren Jackson was injured.

“We’re not satisfied with 12-10, we’re not happy, but we have six of our next seven at home. Maybe we can make some movement and just go from there. Maybe Lauren comes back and playoffs, anything can happen.

“With every win and loss you live and die,” Bird said of the Western grid like. “If you win, you feel great because maybe you gained a half-game and if you lose, you’re a half-game back in two days, so you can’t really get caught up in the ups and downs, you just have to take it one game at a time.”

The Phoenix win moved the Mercury into a two-way tie for second with San Antonio after the Silver Stars’ loss, though both teams remain four games behind Minnesota. (16-5).

Seattle is in fourth at 4.5 behind the Lynx and 0.5 behind the two teams in front of them.

However, Los Angeles (8-13) closed the gap between the Sparks’ fifth-place position and Seattle, which is in the fourth and final conference playoff spot, to just 3.5 games by extending forlorn Tulsa’s losing streak to 15 games in registering a 71-66 win against the Shock (1-20) at the Staples Center in Southern California.

Mercury Rises Over Lynx

Superstars of different UConn eras led their respective teams in this one as Minnesota’s franchise-best nine-game win streak concluded.

The Mercury’s Diana Taurasi, of the 2003 UConn class, scored 26 points and made a key steal in the final 20 seconds to keep Minnesota’s magic number at eight at making the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Phoenix had a slim 78-77 lead with 36 seconds left when Rebekkah Brunson lost the ball to Taurasi, who was then fouled.

“We probably won it before that,” Taurasi said. “Marie (Ferdinand-Harris) came in and just worked her tail off. When she got out there, she changed the whole aggression of our team.”

Lynx rookie Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 draft pick in April’s draft out of UConn, scored a career-high 28 points, while Augustus scored 26.

Australia’s Penny Taylor scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and dealt three assists for Phoenix, which had lost five of six games prior to Tuesday night. Former Temple star Candice Dupree had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Augustus matched Taurasi has the fastest to reach 3,000, which occurred in their 151st games. also passed the 3,000-point mark on Tuesday, tying Taurasi as the fastest player to reach the milestone (151 games).

Phoenix defended the Minnesota bench to a zero scoring effort after the Lynx subs had averaged 23 points in the three previous games between the two teams.

“We got hurt at the foul line,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “They were very persistent in getting to the line and we just didn’t do a very good job of defending without fouling and getting defensive rebounds.”

Fever Stop Silver Stars

Upset over being assessed a technical foul late in the game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis when San Antonio was rallying, Indy All-Star Tamika Catchings used the penalty for scoring motivation and she finished with 21 points, while All-Star and Fever teammate Kate Douglas scored 13 points.

Australian Erin Phillips had 18 points for Indiana.

All-Star Becky Hammon had 19 points for the Texans.

"I was a little upset," said Catchings. "I don't even remember exactly what happened. We needed something to get us fired up, right? I was just trying to find different ways to get us fired up."

The Fevers decided to talk things over among themselves after a technical foul was closed.

"We got together and said, Don't let the refs take us out of the game,'" Catchings said.
Indiana led by as many as 20 points before Hammon scored 15 points in the fourth period.

"Don't make Catchings mad," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "What she did (stripping the ball from Hammon) doesn't surprise me at all."

"I was pleased with how we came back," Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. "Catchings made some pivotal plays. That's why she's the player she is."

Charles sets WNBA Record Leading Sun To Win

Tina Charles’ 16 points and 11 rebounds helped Connecticut stay a game behind Indiana in the East with a double double that was her seventh pf the season.

That tied the record set by Lauren Jackson in 2003 as the Sun knocked Chicago a game behind Atlanta to fifth place.

The Sun held Chicago to 27 percent shooting in Connecticut’s first home game after a three-game road swing through the West.

"Can we call it a defensive clinic, not an offensive meltdown?" Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "This was a game we had to grind out somehow. We didn't have our legs to shoot the ball. We had to win with defense."

The Sun shot 36 percent, but made 17 of 21 free throws.

Kara Lawson scored 14 points for Connecticut, Asjha Jones had 12 points, and Renee Montgomery added 10.

Sylvia Fowles led Chicago with 19 points and Shay Murphy added 18. Tamera Young had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

The Sun won the season series from the Sky 3-2. Connecticut earned the tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.

"Connecticut understands what's at stake," Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. "They were at home with the feeling they should win every game. We're at the point of the season where everything matters."

Dream Breaks Mystics’ Heart

For the second time in three games Washington has lost in the final seconds.

Sancho Lyttle hit a 13-footer to give Atlanta a 72-70 comeback win over the Mystics in the Verizon Center.

Angel McCoughtry scored 19 points for the Dream who have won seven of seven of their last nine. Erika DeSouza added 18 points and 12 rebounds for her seventh double-double of the season.

Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon scored 17 of her 28 points in the fourth quarter, but to no avail for Washington, which got 23 from Crystal Langhorne.

"They did fight hard and probably should've won the game," said Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors. "But crazy things happen in this league and you never know when your opportunity is going to present itself."

Washigton fell after a 19-6 run in the fourth quarter had given the Mystics a 67-61 lead that was topped by the Dream’s closing 11-3 kick.

DeMya Walker was called for a double-dribble while driving the lane on the ensuing possession, setting up Lyttle's game-winner.

"It hurts when you keep losing games like this," said Langhorne, whose team also suffered a 61-59 loss at home against Indiana on Shannon Bobbitt's layup. "I guess it's going to give us a great hunger to win the next one."
Atlanta leads the season series 2-1, with all three games won by the road team.

Sparks Extend Shock Losing Streak

Ticha Penicheiro scored a season-high 23 points as Los Angeles saddled Tulsa with its 15th straight loss.
Natasha Lacy and Tina Thompson had 12 points apiece to help the Sparks (8-13) snap a three-game losing skid. Penicheiro added seven rebounds and seven assists.

Tiffany Jackson led Tulsa with 18 points and Liz Cambage scored 16 points off the bench.
It was Tulsa’s second straight loss by a narrow margin.

"It's very frustrating," Jackson said. "We've been close. But we all can't put our finger on it."

-- Mel


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