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.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Prince Foul Shots Give Chicago Sudden Life In Playoff Hunt

(Guru's note: Depending if it is done at the hour of your reading here, there is a WNBA roundup post above this covering Saturday night's other action.)

By Mel Greenberg

When Cappie Pondexter, Matee Ajavon, Epiphanny Prince, Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn played at Rutgers in the last decade, the hip-hop song Joy and Pain could have served as their anthem to signify the exhilarating wins and excruciating losses they collectively experienced in their notable collegiate careers as Scarlet Knights.

Now they’re all in the WNBA and this week in games against each other the Washington Mystics’ Ajavon was twice dealt doses of pain in last seconds defeats at the hands of Pondexter and Prince.

On Tuesday night Ajavon was unable to defend Pondexter in the closing seconds of a narrow 69-66 loss on the road to the New York Liberty at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Saturday night was worse for Ajavon, the graduate of Malcolm X Shabazz High from Newark.

Poised to deliver a crippling setback to the Chicago Sky’s playoff hopes, the visitors got sudden life here in the Verizon Center with 00.7 seconds left on the clock when Ajavon was assessed with committing a foul on Prince, who was launching a long desperation three-point shot.

Prince stepped to the line and made the first two shots then missed the third on purpose as time expired and Chicago emerged with a 71-70 victory.

The win enabled the Sky (12-14), who are in fifth place, to move within 1.5 games of the red-hot defending Eastern playoff champion Atlanta Dream (13-12), who in fourth place are holding what would be the final playoff spot.

The Sky prior to Saturday night had been off since last Sunday’s win in San Antonio. Meanwhile, Atlanta gained a game with two comeback wins on the road at Los Angeles (10-15) against the Sparks and at home in overtime against the Connecticut Sun (16-10).

But if the Sun can gain revenge Sunday in a home game at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the Sky will be just a game back heading into Tuesday’s showdown with the Dream at home in the Rosemont, Ill., in the Windy City suburbs.

“I thought the officials called the foul on Nicky Anosike and after the game ended I ran right in the locker room and looked at the video and it looked like she blocked the ball clean,” Chicago first-year coach/general manager Pokey Chatman said.

“But then it looked like Ajavon touched Epiphanny as she got the shot off and then I saw they called the foul on Ajavon.”

Washington (5-19), which has been mired in the basement of the East most of the season, is now 12 games back of first-place Indiana (18-8), which the Mystics travel to Sunday night to play the Fever in Conseco Fieldhouse.

Coach Trudi Lacey’s squad has lost a slew of games in the final minutes and are 7.5 games in back of the fourth-place playoff spot with ten games remaining.

It has been a spectacular fall for the Mystics from the 2010 landmark season of a year ago when Washington set a franchise record for wins at 22, tied New York for the regular season conference crown and claimed the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, though Atlanta made it a short-lived elation with a 2-0 sweep in the best-of-three conference semifinals series.

Considering that former Duke stars Monique Currie (knee) and Alana Beard (foot) have been out of action all season for Washington, one wondered whether the sling owner Ted Leonsis had on his arm while seated on the Mystics bench during the pre-game warmups was to show some sympathy for the Washington cause.

If anyone could use some sympathy it’s Ajavon, who has moved into a starting role in the wake of Beard’s absence and has blossomed.

“I voted for her on the All-Star team. She’s that good,” said Chatman, though Ajavon did not make the squad.

On one hand, Ajavon was set to be the star of the night against Chicago, carrying the Mystics to a four-point lead at 69-65 with 52.3 seconds left after her fade away jumper brought her scoring production to the 22nd of her team-high 23 points.

Former Maryland stars Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman were also in double figures for the Mystics with 18 and 11 points, respectively.

But then it all started to go bad again, especially for Ajavon, just at the moment one wondered whether Washington might yet find new innovative ways to squander a looming victory.

“Matee played awesome, she’s my mentor,” Prince said afterwards. “I gave her a hug but I’m glad we got the win.”
Sky All-Star Sylvia Fowles had another monster game with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Cathrine Kraayeveld had 14 points off the bench fueled by 4-of-5 completed three-point shots.

Prince finished with 12 points and former James Madison star Tamera Young scored 11 points.

After Washington got its four-point lead in the last minute, Fowles got the Sky back to within a basket at 69-67 with 43.4 seconds left.

Young then stripped Langhorne of the ball with 26.9 seconds left but Anosike got the ball back for Washington, making a steal off a bad pass by Chicago’s Erin Thorn with 22.8 seconds left.

Ajavon was fouled by Young with 20.4 seconds left, went to the line and made the first but missed the second free throw for a 70-67 lead.

Fowles scored inside to bring the Sky closer at 70-69 with 4.7 seconds left.

Ajavon was immediately fouled with 4.1 seconds left and missed both shots and Chicago grabbed the rebound.

Officials went to the video to check that the 2.1 seconds left on the clock were correct.

The ball was then inbounded to Fowles, who being covered, got it to Prince, who actually went with the heave because she thought less time remained.

The foul was called and officials went to the video to see if time was left and gave the order to put 00.7 back so Prince could go to the line.

Prince, who set a high school girls scoring record with 113 points at Murray Bergstrom in Brooklyn her senior season and who bypassed her senior season at Rutgers to play overseas to better prepare herself for the WNBA, was the fourth overall pick of the 2010 draft. She currently leads the WNBA in steals though her career has seen a game or two stolen away in the other direction.

“This was like that Tennessee game,” Prince said of the final moments Saturday night when the Sky waited to see if they still had a life.

Her reference was to a similar ending involving time in a Rutgers game at Tennessee in which the clock inadvertently stopped before the finish, allowing the Vols to go to the line and beat Rutgers after an incorrect ruling was made that a foul was committed with time on the clock.

The officials chose not to check to see if a faulty stop had occurred, only that the foul was committed with time left.

Had the Scarlet Knights won that game, it would have been the first time a women’s team beat consecutive opponents ranked No. 1. Rutgers had beaten Connecticut the previous week and before arriving in Knoxville, a new poll was taken and the Lady Vols had replaced the Huskies at the top.

When Prince was a freshman, she went wire-to-wire to score what became the winning basket and major upset of top-seeded Duke in the Greensboro (N.C.) regional semifinals but not before the Blue Devils’ Lindsey Harding, now with Atlanta, missed two foul shots with 00.4 seconds left allowing Rutgers in 2007 to advance all the way to the national title game.

“We need to win all the games coming up to get to the playoffs and we have a tough stretch coming up,” Prince said of the road ahead on the Sky’s schedule.

Though Chicago had not played in six days after a major win at San Antonio Sunday, Prince said the time off had value.
“Some players needed the rest and we got to work on a bunch of plays.”

Chatman had little time to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Look at my eyes – that’s how little sleep I had preparing for this game,” she said. “I don’t care what Washington’s record is – I looked at them on film and they just scared the heck out of me.

“I’m going to enjoy this one for 30 minutes on the ride back to the hotel and then I'm going to start watching film of Atlanta.”

Fowles was ready to move on having dodged a Mystics bullet.

“We didn’t do a lot of good things in this game but a W is a W for me,” the former LSU all-American said. “I’m going to look at stuff we didn’t do well and get ready for the next one.

“We don’t want to lose any more ground and Atlanta is playing very well,” Fowles said.

“Matee has been playing so well and shown so much growth in her few years here in the WNBA. I feel she is only going to get better and more power to her and I hope she reaches her potential.”

As for Prince, Fowles said of her teammate, “She’s more comfortable this year. He rookie year we had her running the one and that was out of her comfort zone. Having her at the two enables her to create off the dribble. She’s going to get better as well as Matee.”

Though Chicago struggled, Chatman noted, “We always talk about the end of the games. I’m just happy we were able to sustain some stuff on the road where we have struggled regardless of who we played.

“The tightness of the game was no surprise. It’s so obvious in terms of what we need that we don’t need to talk about it,” Chatman said of a playoff history that has seen the Sky come up empty in each of the five seasons of Chicago’s existence.

“You know the schedule. It’s not going to be easy. All I know is I have to watch six games of Atlanta now.”

-- Mel


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