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 20, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Connecticut Dips From Invincible to Invisible

(Guru’s note: Material and quotes from team and wire reports. Also per a request the Guru's twitter handle is @womhoopsguru).

By Mel Greenberg

In just 48 hours the WNBA Connecticut Sun has transformed from a perception of invincible to one of a team becoming invisible in the fourth quarter.

On Tuesday night playing in the manner of the UConn national collegiate power that resides less than hour away near Hartford, the Sun took on the Minnesota Lynx, the top team by record in the WNBA, and made the homecoming of rookie Maya Moore an event she’d like to forget.

Connecticut ran the Lynx right out of the state and headed off on a brief two-game road trip on back-to-back nights with thoughts of catching the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Fever (18-8).

And had the Sun (16-10) taken care of business in the final period against the New York Liberty (15-11) Thursday night in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and the defending conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream (13-12) Friday night at the Philips Arena, Connecticut would indeed be tied with the Fever heading into Sunday’s return visit from the Dream at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

But thanks to a blown 19-point lead that existed in the third quarter Thursday night against New York and a blown 13-point lead that existed in third quarter Friday night against Atlanta, the Sun are still in second place but two games behind Indiana and now only a game ahead of the Liberty, which has a major East-West showdown Saturday night against the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (13-12) in the Northwest on the Pacific seaboard.

Furthermore, Atlanta, which has won 10 of 13 after a rough start because of injuries, is only1.5 games behind Connecticut and has moved to two games in front of the Chicago Sky (11-14) in holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sancho Lyttle connected with only her second three-pointer of the season when she tied the score at 78-78 with 12.2 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Sun had one last chance to avoid the overtime but third-year pro Angel McCoughtry out of Louisville blocked second-year pro Allison Hightower’s attempted game-winner.

McCoughtry took it from there hitting two key baskets on the way to a 24-point performance on the offensive end while collecting 12 rebounds on the defensive side of things.

"She's a winner," Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said of McCoughtry before the Dream heads back on the road for another three games. "She finds a way to score and she finds a way to defend. That block she made at the end of the game was huge."

Turnovers again bedeviled Connecticut as they had one night earlier against New York. The Sun committed 21 and Atlanta cashed them in for 25 points.

"We had too many turnovers in the second half," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "When you give up 25 points off turnovers, you're just asking for trouble."

Former Duke star Lindsey Harding scored 21 points for the Dream, Lyttle had 20, and Erika DeSouza had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Asjha Jones scored 21 points for the Sun while reigning rookie of the year Tina Charles added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Jackson’s Return To Level Field For Seattle?

In late June three-time MVP Lauren Jackson of the defending-WNBA champion Seattle Storm suffered a hip injury on a road stop at Tulsa and has been sidelined ever since.

Less than a week later Candace Parker, the 2008 rookie and MVP of the league with the Los Angeles Sparks, went to the sidelines with a knee injury suffered on the road against New York.

Since then the Storm, who originally did not expect to see Jackson play again for another eight to 12 weeks, have treaded water while Los Angeles plunged to the fifth spot, which in the final standings would mean out of the playoff loop and into the draft lottery.

Parker returned this week and Los Angeles beat Indiana Thursday to close the gap with fourth-place Seattle to 2.5 games. The Sparks are also three games behind the third-place San Antonio Silver Stars (13-11) and four behind the second-place Phoenix Mercury (14-10).

But now comes word that Jackson has been given medical clearance to return to action, which gives Seattle a powerful weapon, equalizing Parker’s return, to hold the Sparks off.

It is not known if Jackson will play Saturday night when New York visits, but both teams need the win – the Storm to potentially widen the gap with Los Angeles if the Sparks lose to the Western-leading Minnesota Lynx (19-6) in Minneapolis while New York seeks to stay ahead Atlanta and Chicago and move closer to the 1-2 Eastern frontrunners in Indiana and Connecticut.

The Lynx can clinch their first playoff appearance with a win over Los Angeles. They currently hold a 4.5 lead over Phoenix, which will be in a 2-3 showdown in the West Saturday night hosting San Antonio.

The other game on the Saturday card in the WNBA has the Chicago Sky visiting the Washington Mystics (5-18), who are seven games behind Atlanta in the fourth and final East playoff spot.

Though Washington has 11 games remaining, it is hard to see how the Mystics can gain enough ground to get to the playoff loop. Atlanta’s rally Friday night did not do any favors for Washington or Chicago, which has been sitting in idle since Sunday’s pulsating 28-point, 17-rebound performance by All-Star Sylvia Fowles in the win at San Antonio.

Forced by the fates dealt from the schedule maker to sit around while Atlanta picked up two wins, the Sky can apply a must-win tag on itself Saturday night in the nation’s capital, which will be covered by the Guru.

On Sunday the Mystics travel to Indiana, which has beaten Washington in three games, one of which came at the Mystics’ Verizon Center from Shannon Bobbitt just before time expired in regulation.

Connecticut hosts Atlanta, while Los Angeles on a road back-to-back visits the lowly Tulsa Shock (1-22) in one of three games with the Oklahomans remaining on the Sparks’ schedule.

Tulsa is trying to avoid landing the singular WNBA record for longest losing streak, which would be at 18. The Shock moved into a shared possession position for the record with Atlanta, which lost the first 17 games of the Dream’s inaugural season in 2008.

The Western Playoff Race

Having gone over the East several posts ago, here is a look at the West contenders’ remaining competition, excluding Minnesota, because of its lead, and Tulsa. The Lynx will be dealt with after Saturday night in terms of magic number to clinch the West No. 1 seed outright.

Phoenix has 10 games left including 1 with Minnesota and a current 2-2 tie; 2 with Tulsa and a 2-0 lead; 2 with San Antonio, trailing in the series 1-2; 1 with Seattle, which is leading 2-1 on the season; 1 with Los Angeles, trailing 1-2 in the series; and from the East one each with New York, Connecticut, and Washington.

San Antonio, likewise to Phoenix, has 10 games left: 2 with Phoenix, leading 2-1; 2 with Seattle, trailing 1-2; 2 with Minnesota, trailing 2-0 on two buzzer beaters; 1 with Tulsa, leading 3-0; 1 with Los Angeles, trailing 2-1; and from the East 1 each with Connecticut and Washington.

Los Angeles also 10 left, including 3 with Tulsa and a 2-0 lead; 1 with Minnesota, which won the series 3-1; 2 with Seattle, which includes a 1-1 tie; 1 with San Antonio, which leads 2-1; and 1 with Phoenix and a 2-1 lead, and from the East, one each with Chicago and Washington.

Seattle has nine left, including 2 with Los Angeles and a 1-1 tie; 2 with San Antonio and a 2-1 lead; 1 with Phoenix and a 2-1 lead; 2 with Tulsa and a 3-0 lead; and from the East 1 each from New York and Chicago.

Minnesota won the season series 3-1 over Los Angeles with the last game in the series on Saturday night.
The Guru will return upon returning from Washington Saturday night before the next sunrise.

-- Mel

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