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: Bird's Shot For Seattle Trump Charles' Connecticut Shot

(Guru’s note: Material and quotes for this post drawn on team and wire reports. The Guru expects to be in Washington Sat nite for the New York game.)

By Mel Greenberg

It was Bird at the Buzzer – again.

Apparently the Minnesota Lynx don’t have a monopoly on buzzer-beaters in the WNBA.

One night after Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s shot beat the San Antonio Silver Stars, enabling Minnesota to open up a four-game lead atop the Western Conference for 24 hours, former UConn great Sue Bird of the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm hit the mark with a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining to produce an 81-79 victory over the Connecticut Sun.

It seems the way to stop one group of UConn alumni in the WNBA from breaking hearts is get another supply of ex-Huskies to strike back.

That’s what happened in the Northwest Friday night.

The Sun (12-7), trying to keep pace in the Eastern race with the Indiana Fever, who had essentially a free pass earlier in the evening visiting the forlorn Tulsa Shock, appeared to have accomplished the mission rallying from an 18-point deficit to take a 79-78 lead courtesy of second-year pro Tina Charles, another former UConn All-American, making a shot inside on a putback with 3.1 seconds remaining.

That was all the time in the world needed for Bird to once again have the last word as she has done so many times in the past, especially the famous halfcourt shot in the 2001 Big East title that gave UConn the conference title over Notre Dame, which recovered to go on and win an NCAA title.

That moment was the inspiration for former Hartford Courant beat writer Jeff Goldberg to write a book surrounding that event and he penned it Bird At The Buzzer, which hit the bookstores last March.

Years later the former product of Christ the King keeps producing sequels.

Last season in the WNBA championship series at the same KeyArena, Bird hit a game-winner in the final seconds of the first game of the best-of-five series to beat the Atlanta Dream and Seattle went on to finish its dominant season with two more narrow wins over the Eastern playoffs champs.

Asked to compare Friday’s dagger with her others, Bird responded, “I think in last year’s playoff run, there were some memorable shots from that and because it was the playoff those probably take the cake.

“But this one, the way the game went, us being up by almost 20 at one point, them coming back, us making a run, and for them to get the lead with three seconds was really a killer,” Bird continued.

“This was a game where if we would have lost we would be sitting in this locker room talking about how we let one go. So to hit that shot and to get the win does mean a lot. We’re fighting and jockeying for position just like everybody else.”

Seattle (12-8) broke out of a three-way deadlock for second in the West by a half-game ahead of idle Phoenix (11-8) and San Antonio (11-8) to move within 3.5 games behind idle Minnesota (15-4) to take sole possession of the runnerup slot.

Connecticut is also in second but fell two games behind Indiana (15-6) who earlier in the night on the road beat Tulsa 85-65 as the Western cellar dwellers fell to 1-18. The Shock are 14 games behind Minnesota and 10 behind the fourth and final playoff spot with 15 games left in their regular season.

Swin Cash, who was a teammate of Bird at UConn as well as on the 2004 Olympic team and now the Storm, continued to marvel at Bird’s exploits.

"I've seen her make that shot a number of times," Cash said. "In Sue Bird we trust. She's proven herself over and over again. When she puts that shot up, it's going in."

Bird’s shot from 22 feet out gave her 20 points on the night as the Storm continue to cope without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson who has missed most of the season with a hip injury but hopes to return near the playoffs.

"She's extremely clutch," Seattle coach Brian Agler said of Bird. "We try to give her the ball in those situations and she has come through numerous times. I've been around clutch players so I can't tell you she's necessarily better, but she's come through more than anybody I've been around."

Bird described the winning play that began following the timeout and off an inbounds pass from Katie Smith.
"They cheated the screens a little bit and I was able to bounce back the other way and get an open look and just was able to knock it down," Bird said. "I held my followthrough a little longer to kind of squeeze that one in there. Sometimes you know, sometimes you're not sure."

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault spoke about the play that stopped his Sun from going 2-0 on the three-game Western road swing that concludes Sunday night at Phoenix where another prized UConn alum will be waiting with the Mercury in Diana Taurasi.

"That's a great shot Sue made at the end," Thibault said. "She got open with an illegal screen, but it was a heck of a shot. I thought it was going to be short when it left her hand, but sure enough, she's made enough big ones in her life. That's why she's one of the best in the world."

Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 18 points for Seattle, Cash had 14 and former North Carolina star Camille Little scored 13 points to give the Storm a season-high three-game win streak.

"We had to come back from a lot and made that run and we were playing better in the second half," Charles said. "It's just a
heartbreaker. That's Sue for you."

Renee Montgomery, another former Huskies great, scored 19 points, Charles had 18 and UConn alum Asjha Jones scored 12.
Connecticut went on a 15-4 run at the end of the first half to slice the 18-point hole to 47-40.

"We get down often," Montgomery said. "It's bad, but we get down so often I don't think it was really a worry. We knew we just had to get some stops and the shots would start to fall."

Seattle next goes to Atlanta (8-11) Sunday in the first meeting in Phillips Arena between the two since the Storm wrapped up the WNBA title in Georgia last September.

Indiana’s Balance Makes It Five Straight

Former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport scored 17 points, while All-Star Tamika Catchings, the former Tennessee All-American, scored 15 as the Fever saddled Tulsa with a franchise-tying 13th straight loss.

Jessica Davenport scored 17 points, Tamika Catchings had 15, and the Fever rolled to their fifth straight win, 85-65 victory Friday night.

Former Pittsburgh star Shavonte Zellous, a former Shock member who initially moved with the Shock to Tulsa before being traded to Indiana, added 12 points while All-Star Katie Douglas had 11 and Erin Phillips scored 10 as Indiana continued get double digit totals throughout the lineup.

Tiffany Jackson and Jennifer Lacy scored 12 points each as the Shock tied the team mark set in 2002. After that loss Bill Laimbeer became the coach and one year later Detroit had its first of three WNBA titles.
Jackson passed the 1,000 scoring milestone for her career.

"I didn't have a clue until I heard it at the free throw line," Jackson said of the PA announcement to the crowd about the milestone. "It's an honor and a privilege and I'm really excited about it. I'll give it to my mom to put with my draft ball and all my Texas balls."

"Tulsa is a scrappy team," Davenport said. "We worked hard. We dug in and played great defense. Our bench is a cohesive unit. We play well together, we encourage each other. “

Rookie Kayla Pedersen out of Stanford, who finished with seven points and six rebounds, said Shock games have not produced the same execution achieved in practice.

"I don't know what that reason is," Pedersen said. "We're all trying to find it. We've been saying that the whole year. Practices are nowhere close to games. We don't know the answer right now.

"We just couldn't get into a flow. At the end, we looked a lot better, started feeding each other the ball. They were switching (defenses) and we couldn't quite figure out what to do. That really stopped us."

Looking Ahead

Kara Braxton, traded Thursday to New York from Phoenix for former Tennessee star Sydney Spencer. Will make her debut Saturday night for the Liberty in their road visit to the Washington Mystics.

New York (12-8) is 2.5 games behind Indiana holding third place but could move into a tie for second with Connecticut with a win in the second meeting of the season with Washington after beating the Mystics in Newark, N.J., rallying at the finish a week ago Thursday in the Prudential Center.

Washington (3-14) has not played since its last-second home loss in the Verizon Center to Indiana a week ago Friday night.

The Mystics, who tied New York for the regular season conference title in 2010 and took the No. 1 seed, has had a slew of narrow losses.

In Saturday’s other game Tulsa will try to avoid getting the franchise record outright for most losses in a row when the Shock visit San Antonio, which will try to move into a second-place tie with idle Seattle.

On Sunday when Atlanta hosts Seattle, the Dream will be looking at worst to keep pace with Chicago (9-12), which will be hosting Indiana, which will try to minimally hold a two-game lead in the East.

Atlanta and Chicago are in a virtual tie for fourth and fifth, just four games in front of the Mystics and six behind the first-place Fever.

Minnesota will try to make it three out of four wins against the Sparks (7-12), when the Lynx visit Los Angeles where they lost the season opener giving up a lead. They’ve since romped twice as the Sparks remain hopeful of soon getting back Candace Parker, who has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Los Angeles is eight behind Minnesota and four behind the playoff spot but six in front of Tulsa.

As mentioned, Connecticut will be at Phoenix in the fourth and other WNBA game on the schedule as the Mercury try to get into second in the West.

-- Mel

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