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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Minnesota Stops Tulsa - Moore's Conn. Homecoming Next

(Guru’s note: Material from game sites on Sunday, including quotes, drawn from team and wire reports, though the Guru had a few on hand from his own discussions. There is a post under this on general musings from Hall of Fame and college scene, such as Elena Delle Donne on USA team. If you are melgreenberg.com, click mel’s blog on the left column to get to blogspot and the full archive.)

By Mel Greenberg

In their landmark season in franchise history, the Minnesota Lynx, the team with the best WNBA record, sent the Tulsa Shock off to the 2012 draft lottery and a dismal-tying milestone for losing streaks Sunday by gaining an 82-54 victory at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Lynx (18-5) tied a franchise record for wins and moved to a five-game lead in the Western Conference following a San Antonio Silver Stars 85-73 home loss to the Chicago Sky (11-14) in the only other league game scheduled Sunday.

The Silver Stars (13-10) fell into a second-place tie with the Phoenix Mercury (13-10) just one-half game ahead of the idle and WNBA defending champion Seattle Storm (13-11), who were womanhandled Saturday night at home 92-63 by the Atlanta Dream (11-12).

That win in the East-West matchup gave Atlanta a 2-0 sweep of the Storm following last season’s 3-0 tightly contested sweep by Seattle in the WNBA best-of-five championship series.

Meanwhile, Tuesday is expected to mark the return of Los Angeles superstar Candace Parker, who has been sidelined from the Sparks (9-13) since late with a knee injury suffered on a road stop against the New York Liberty.

Los Angeles sits just three games behind the fourth-place Storm, who have had their own problems since three-time MVP Lauren Jackson suffered a hip injury the same week as Parker’s mishap and is still some time away from rejoining the lineup.

There will be more on the Sparks’ situation down below in this post.

The loss by Tulsa (1-22) to Minnesota tied a league record for 17 consecutive setbacks registered by Atlanta in the Dream’s first 17 games in that franchise’s existence in 2008.

Tulsa next plays Sunday hosting Los Angeles.

The Shock are 17 games out of first, but also 11.5 games behind the fourth playoff spot, currently occupied by Seattle, with 11 games left in Tulsa’s second season in Oklahoma since being transformed from the once proud three-time league champion in Detroit.

That means they are the first of four teams in the 12-team WNBA to be eliminated from the postseason and sent to the draft lottery, which was also the case in 2010. However, Minnesota edged Tulsa for the No. 1 overall draft pick and chose UConn sensation Maya Moore.

The Shock are currently coached by interim Teresa Edwards, the former Olympic and Georgia great who was promoted last month when Nolan Richardson resigned and has an 0-12 record since taking charge.

Edwards missed Thursday’s loss in Seattle while being one of two women’s basketball standouts joined by Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who were part of the 2011 Class inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Friday night.

During Thursday’s press conference one-on-one interview sessions, Edwards joked that she was “the winningest player and the losingest coach.”

But Sunday she was back to talking seriously about trying to get Tulsa to reverse the season-long struggle.

"It's just not a time to beat them up, it's not a time to be sad," Edwards said. "I've got to let them be who they are and try to just instill the most important things and be prepared for it game in and game out in hopes that I find a different tactic here to spark some growth."

Seimone Augustus had 16 points for Minnesota in the win, while Lindsay Whalen had 12 points and dealt nine assists.

Veteran Sheryl Swoopes had nine points for Tulsa.

Minnesota on Tuesday’s heads for the East-West rematch against the Connecticut Sun (15-8), who sit in second place in the Eastern Conference 1.5 games behind Indiana (17-7). The game at the Mohegan Sun Arena is close to a sellout that will most probably occur because of Moore’s first game back near the home of her days of collegiate glory.

The Fever have the second best record in the WNBA but the Lynx with a better one would have home court advantage in a championship series after the two teams split their pair of games.

The Lynx crushed the Sun 90-67 in their first meeting in Minneapolis on July 9th.

Minnesota’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is four over Los Angeles in any combination of wins and losses between the two teams but it is actually three. The reason is if the two teams tied for fourth Minnesota gets the playoff spot after already winning the season series over the Sparks, though one game is left to play in the five-game set.

Despite all the Lynx success, coach Cheryl Reeve continues to sound much like Moore’ college coach, Geno Auriemma, in looking for improvement, though perhaps it is their Philadelphia background that creates the commonality in demeanor of the two mentors.

Auriemma grew up in Norristown in the northwest suburbs while, Reeve, from South Jersey across the Delaware River, played at La Salle University in the late 1980s, graduating in 1988 one year before the Explorers knocked out UConn in the opening round at the Huskies’ campus in UConn’s first NCAA tournament appearance.

On Sunday against Tulsa, Reeve was not pleased with her Lynx’s effort out of the locker room after building a 15-point lead at the half.

"We're a team that's striving for perfection," Reeve explained. "We're carrying the label of the best team in the league. With that goes a lot of responsibility every time you step on the court to play great and be the great players that they are.

"We started the (third) quarter with the ball and we turned it over. The next possession we fouled and it just kind of continued from there," Reeve said. "That group, with the exception of (Lindsay Whalen), I just didn't think played the way we had hoped coming out of the locker room."

Moore, of course, heard similar criticisms in her four years from Auriemma, especially while being a major contributor to the Huskies’ NCAA-record 90-game win streak established last season.

"I'm very used to that mindset of not playing to the scoreboard. It's about the quality of play," Moore said. "There's just some things we have to tighten up, just continuing to stay focused every possession. That's what it's going to take to win a championship."

Sky’s Fowles Clouds Silver Stars

Chicago, which has struggled on the road, did its best Sunday to stay close to Atlanta and New York in what is currently a three-way battle for two playoff spots in the East behind Indiana and Connecticut, which have a bit of separation for the moment at the top of the conference.

Olympian and former LSU star Sylvia Fowles had one of her best games as a pro in scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds at San Antonio. Chicago made her the second overall pick of the 2008 draft behind Los Angeles’ selection of Candace Parker.

"She did it early, she did it in the middle, she did it late," Chicago first-year coach-general manager Pokey Chatman said. "When she couldn't do it, she snatched some boards."

Fowles hit 12 of 16 shots from the field in the Sky’s second win in their last six while San Antonio, which was an early season surprise, has now lost five of the Silver Stars’ last seven games.

Former James Madison star Tamera Young scored 15 points for Chicago and Michelle Snow, a WNBA veteran out of Tennessee, had 11 points.

San Antonio’s Jia Perkins scored 18 points, former Baylor star Sophia Young had 16, while All-Star Becky Hammon had 14 and Scholanda Robinson had 10.

With Fowles leading the way, the Sky lived up to their nickname on the backboard towering over the Silver Stars with a 45-20 rebounding advantage.

"This is the first year I can be myself," Fowles said. "My first two years I got hurt, last year was an off year for me. But this season, I feel like I can broaden my horizons and get better."

That might frighten San Antonio’s Dan Hughes and the rest of the league’s coaches.

"That's about as dominating a presence in the post that I have ever seen," Hughes said. "And I've coached over 300 games."

The win kept Chicago a game behind Atlanta, which has been on a tear, and just 2.5 games behind third-place New York (13-11).

The Sky are also 4 games in front of the Washington Mystics (5-16), who are down to a long shot to return to the playoffs, trailing Atlanta by five games.

Washington, a year ago, had a franchise-best 22 wins, tied New York for the conference title, took the top conference seed in the playoffs before being swept 2-0 by Atlanta.

The Mystics got more bad news last week with the announcement that Alana Beard, the former Duke star, would not return this season because of the foot injury, which is on the same one that kept her out of action in 2010.

Beard got hurt again just before the season opener while Monique Currie, another former Blue Devils standout, has not played all year after suffering a knee injury in Europe in the winter.

Meanwhile, Atlanta has a 2-1 series lead over the Sky with one game remaining and the Dream have lost the season series to New York 3-1.

They also have a killer schedule in their final 11 games with one at Los Angeles, one against Chicago, three with Connecticut, three with Indiana, two with Washington and one with Tulsa.

Chicago, which has only nine left, also has its work cut out with one game left with Atlanta, two with Washington, two with New York, one with Indiana and a Western swing finishing up the regular season at Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

New York has 10 left with one with Washington, two with Connecticut, two with Minnesota, one with Indiana, one each at Seattle and Phoenix, and two with Chicago.

Can Parker Rescue Los Angeles?

If Candace Parker does return to the lineup for Tuesday’s home game with Atlanta here is what’s ahead as they Sparks try to close the 3 and 3.5 game gaps between fourth place, and second-and-third in the West.

Los Angeles’s week involves hosting Atlanta, which as mentioned, has been on a tear, then hosting Indiana on Thursday, traveling to Minnesota, where the Sparks are 0-2, on Saturday, and then on to Tulsa.

Considering that the team immediately above the Sparks could beat up on each other and suffer losses to Minnesota, it is not impossible for Los Angeles to slip ahead of someone, considering the Sparks have three games remaining with Tulsa.

Here’s what’s left overall. In terms of crossovers from the East, besides the Atlanta and Indiana games, Los Angeles has one with Chicago at the finish, and one at Washington for a total of four games.

In the West, the big perk is three games remain to be played with Tulsa. There’s one at Minnesota, two with Seattle, one with Phoenix and one with San Antonio.

As mentioned, Los Angeles has already lost the series 3-1 to Minnesota with one left. The Sparks are 1-1 with Seattle, the loss being a 99-80 wipeout on the road that quickly saw the ouster of Jennifer Gillom and Joe “Jellybean” Bryant elevated from assistant to a second tour of duty as head of Los Angeles through the end of the season.

Los Angeles is 2-1 with Phoenix and that Sparks comeback overtime win the other night could become of major importance.

They are also 1-2 with San Antonio. The Sparks are 2-0 with Tulsa but everybody in the West has beaten the Shock, the lone team to lose was Washington on a road trip early in the season.

As for the rest of the West in terms of remaining action: San Antonio has two with Minnesota after having lost two games to the Lynx in the final seconds; two with Seattle, one with Los Angeles, one with Tulsa; two with Phoenix, and one each with Indiana, Washington, and Connecticut.

Phoenix has one New York game in Arizona and road visits to Connecticut and Washington in games against the East; two against San Antonio, two against Seattle, one against Los Angeles, two against Tulsa, and one with Minnesota.

Seattle has one each at home with New York and Chicago out of the East; then it’s two with Phoenix, two with Los Angeles, two with San Antonio and one with Tulsa.

And, from the standpoint of projecting outcomes for those that want to do it from another direction, Minnesota finishes out its 11 with one against Connecticut, two with Washington, and two with New York and one with Chicago in the East; one against Los Angeles; one against Tulsa; two against San Antonio and one against Phoenix.

And to supplement the previous paragraph the Tulsa opponents remaining to be played in the West are: three with Los Angeles; one with Minnesota; two with Seattle; two with Phoenix; and one with San Antonio.

Looking Ahead

The league is dark on Monday as it has been on that day for most of the season but Tuesday’s five-game slate has a must-win tag for at least one team on each of them.

Must-win may not necessarily be attached to the marquee game of the night: Minnesota at Connecticut, but the Lynx have a chance to increase their five-game lead in the West. The Sun need the game more in terms of fighting back from the blowout dealt by Minnesota on the Sun visit earlier in the season and to stay close if not get closer to Indiana and maintain at least the 2.5 game distance from third-place New York.

Washington at New York has urgency on both sides of the fence. The Mystics can win the season series 3-1 over New York after last Friday’s comeback and also cannot afford to fall further behind fourth place.

The Liberty, off a two-game slide, which might have been three if Sue Bird’s shot went down last Tuesday for Seattle, need to maintain the 1.5 game lead over Atlanta, though New York has a claim on the season series; And with two Chicago games left, they also need to increase that 2.5 lead over the Sky.

Indiana at San Antonio has storylines on both sides. The visiting Fever need to maintain their 1.5 game lead over Connecticut, which might bet increased, and as well try to catch Minnesota for best overall record. Remember, not having home court in 2009 in the WNBA finals against Phoenix was fatal, though, yes, the Fever did have home court with a chance to win it in Game 4.

The Silver Stars need to put on the breaks of their slide and avoid Los Angeles creeping up assuming Parker is back and the Sparks get hot off the get-go.
Seattle at Phoenix: They both need it, especially if, as in the above item, Los Angeles gets hot at the outset if Parker is back.

Atlanta at Los Angeles is a statement game on both sides whether or not Parker is back. A Sparks loss hurts, though considering Seatle and Phoenix play, not much ground is given with a loss, though that would be wasteful in the long run.

As for the Dream, there’s a chance to get closer to New York and slightly further away from Chicago, which will be idle.
Wednesday, which is also the situation most weeks, will be dark. Then there are three games Thursday. Connecticut is at New

York and depending on Tuesday’s results, there are plenty of reasons on both sides of the ledger to get a win.
Minnesota is at Washington – The onus is more on the host Mystics in this one, though let’s see what happens with the Lynx at Connecticut.

Indiana is at Los Angeles – For reasons mentioned for Tuesday, both sides need the win.

On Friday Connecticut will be at Atlanta for a single game that’s on the WNBA schedule. Both sides could use the win and we will stop right here and then later in the week look to even more action coming on Saturday and Sunday.

-- Mel






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