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 01, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Whalen's Shot Keeps Minnesota Best in the West

(Guru’s note: Material and quotes for this post sourced from team and wire reports)

By Mel Greenberg

Lindsay Whalen kept the Minnesota Lynx beat going while the Connecticut Sun beat a nemesis from 2010 and the Indiana Fever just plain beat up on the Los Angeles Sparks in Sunday’s trifecta on the WNBA schedule.

In the latest 1 vs. 2 showdown in the Western Conference Whalen’s fadeaway shot from the corner over second-year pro Jayne Appel, a former Stanford star, with 1.5 seconds remaining gave Minnesota (13-4) a 70-69 win over San Antonio and a two-game lead over the Silver Stars (11-6) in the two teams’ first meeting of the season, which was in Texas.

Despite what became the game winner, the Lynx were still not safe until San Antonio’s Becky Hammon missed a runner as time expired.

The two teams will meet again in Minneapolis on Thursday and in between Minnesota will host Phoenix Tuesday. The two squads have already split a pair of high-scoring shootouts with the Mercury outlasting the Lynx on the road 112-105 on July 13 and then Minnesota striking back in Arizona 106-98 on July 20th.

The Mercury (11-7) are in third place 2.5 games behind the Lynx, 0.5 behind San Antonio and a game ahead of the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (10-8), who will host San Antonio Tuesday night.

The third and other Tuesday game has the New York Liberty (10-8), three games out of first and 1.5 out of second in the East, traveling to Atlanta (8-10), which fell back to a virtual fourth-place tie with the idle Chicago Sky (9-11) five games out of first and two behind New York.

Whalen’s 2011 high of 23 points on Sunday was also accompanied in her performance by seven rebounds, six assists and four steals as the Lynx matched their entire win total of a year ago.

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve discussed the strategy for the final seconds.

“The first option that we had was to go to Lindsay Whalen earlier, but we missed it,” Reeve said. “They ended up throwing the ball to Taj (McWilliams-Franklin) and we were coming by for a handoff, so it wasn’t necessarily supposed to come back around the way, but it did.”

Whalen described the play from her perspective on the floor.

“I was just kind of waiting to see what Maya (Moore) was going to do,” she said. “She ended up going right back to me. (San Antonio coach Dan Hughes) was yelling to foul so I wanted to get the shot off because I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to run another set play after a foul. I just tried to get the shot up and over the defender and it went in.”

Hughes said from the defensive side, “We told (the Silver Stars) we had a foul to give, but you’re not going to foul a jump shooter and put her at the line. So we weren’t fouling there.”

With a healthy roster loaded with lottery picks acquired through frustrating finishes in the past, Minnesota keeps setting franchise marks and Sunday’s sixth-straight win matched another Lynx high that was attained in 2004.

The Lynx trailed by 12 points at the half before Whalen led a rally in which the former University of Minnesota All-American scored 12 of her points in the third quarter in which her assist to Rebekkah Brunson with 1.7 seconds left gave Minnesota its first lead since early in the game.

“This is the first time we’ve been down and had to come back,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “The games we lost, we were up and let the other teams come back on us. It was our first real challenge of the season.”

Added Whalen of the second half play: “Give San Antonio credit; they were playing really hard and playing really well together. In the second half we stepped up. We made some halftime adjustments. We have to credit Coach and our leaders for stepping up and making plays.”

Seimone Augustus had 16 points and McWilliams-Franklin scored 15 for Minnesota.

San Antonio’s Jia Perkins scored 18 points, Hammon scored 15, while Sophia Young and Danielle Robinson each scored 10 as the Silver Stars went for the second game without rookie Danielle Adams. The star of Texas A&M’s NCAA championship win over Notre Dame is out four to six weeks with a sprained right foot.

“I think a lot of people have been waiting for this game,” said Perkins, who came to Texas off a trade prior to the season from Chicago. “You know, number one and number two going to head-to-head. It was an exciting game. We were excited to have it. We’re not satisfied with the outcome, but we’ll learn from this and move forward.

“This game doesn’t make or break us. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. We still have the whole second half and we play them again Thursday. We have a chance to redeem ourselves. They’re a great team; that’s why they are in first place. We played hard and they played hard. They just made one more play than we did.”

Connecticut Rallies Over Atlanta

Angel McCoughtry had another big game against the Sun, even if her damage came from the bench.

But despite seeing a 12-point lead evaporate into a 10-point second-half deficit Connecticut (11-6) rallied at its Mohegan Sun Arena for a 99-92 win over the Dream to stay 1.5 games behind Indiana and 1.5 in front of third-place New York.

The Sun in three days time recovered from a loss to Indiana in a game unable to make shots to a game against Atlanta in which they matched their season high of 35 field goals.

And Connecticut prevailed in a game of 16 lead changes against an Atlanta squad that took 3-of-4 in last year’s series that helped the Dream make the postseason and keep the Sun at home for the second straight year.

“I don’t know if our players really understand yet, they probably understand better now after playing them how you have to play them but we were trying to take away the paint and they got 52 points in the paint,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said.

Former UConn star Renee Montgomery had 19 points for the Sun, highlighted by a half-court shot at the end of the third period to cut a Dream lead to 69-66.

“There wasn’t much of a thought process,” Montgomery said of the shot. “I thought there was no way I got it off in time.”

However, a review of the play by the officials allowed the shot to count.

“That’s what daggered us,” said Atlanta’s McCoughtry, who attempted to be a one-woman wrecking crew again, this time with 36 points.

The former Louisville star who has played several times in Connecticut against UConn in the Big East wars prior to her WNBA career said her trips north provide a special motivation.

“I always call Connecticut the capital of women’s basketball, so it’s always good to come back to the capital,” she said. (UConn coach) Geno (Auriemma) is the mayor and when you come back to the capital you have to play well.”

She could end up playing for Auriemma next summer on the U.S. Olympic squad.

The overall top pick of the 2009 draft, McCoughtry did not start Sunday because she had not felt well prior to the game.

“It’s one of those things, you just don’t feel well, I think she (coach Marynell Meadors) wanted to see when I came in how I was feeling,” McCoughtry said. “But once you start playing, the jitters go away, the bug goes away.”

The game kept the Sun fan base on the edge of their seats, especially after the team’s previous performance and the knowledge of this week’s tough road trip West with stops at Los Angeles Wednesday, Seattle Friday, and Phoenix Sunday.

“That might be one of the (darndest) games I’ve ever seen since I’ve been in the league,” said Thibault who is in his ninth WNBA season. “I thought we forced turnovers, we got to the free throw line, and we hung in the game when it looked pretty bleak.

“After the game we played the other night with Indiana when nobody could make a shot, tonight everybody made shots. It’s a testament to hanging in.”

Asjha Jones had 17 points for the Sun, rookie Danielle McCray scored 16, while Tina Charles had 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Additionally, Allison Hightower had a career-high nine points off the bench while Kara Lawson dealt a career high nine assists.

Erika DeSouza and Coco Miller each scored 18 points for Atlanta – DeSouza also grabbed nine rebounds – and Iziane Castro Marques scored 10 points.

Fever Douses Sparks

Indiana (14-6) didn’t have to rely on buzzer-beating shots to win a game Sunday after Shannon Bobbitt’s destruction of the Washington Mystics on the road Friday night.

Back home with a day’s rest, the Fever maintained their 1.5 lead in the East over Connecticut by crushing Los Angeles 98-63.
The Sparks (7-11), who had won in Chicago Saturday, fell to 6.5 games behind Minnesota in the West and are in fifth place three games behind Seattle for the fourth and final playoff spot.

Following its brief success against the Sky in the Windy City suburbs, Los Angeles is now 3-9 on the road and were part of another dubious milestone allowing Indiana’s bench to score a franchise record 57 points.

Former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport scored 16 points for the Fever off the bench while the starters were led by Tangela Smith, who scored 15 points.

Former Pittsburgh star Shavonte Zellous had 13 points, while rookie Jeanette Pohlen had 10 points for Indiana and Shyra Ely and Bobbitt each scored nine points.

“The key is we have quality depth,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. You want to have eight, nine, 10, 11 quality players who can play.”

The WNBA record for double digit scorers off the bench in a game is four – one more than Indy had against the Sparks.

Nobody had to tell the Sparks’ Ebony Hoffman, who had 13 points, about Indy, her former team, but she apparently had trouble communicating the news to her teammates.

“I know how Indy plays and I don’t think our team was ready for it,” Hoffman said. “It’s hard to do well when their bench was great.

“Two 10-day trips in July were rough,” Hoffman added.”

Sparks rookie Jantel Lavender, another former Ohio State star, had 12 points for Los Angeles, who continue to tread water during Candace Parker’s six-week recovery period from a knee injury.

The 35-point win was the second most lopsided victory in the team’s history and when the Fever went up 92-51 in the fourth quarter that became the largest differential on the winning side in any game at any moment in franchise history.

“Defensively, they took us out of everything,” Los Angeles interim coach Joe Bryant said. “We couldn’t make shots.”

All-Star starter Katie Douglas of the Fever appreciated the conference crossover matchup.

“It’s nice to sometime play a Western Conference team,” she said. “They don’t know how you play. I’m proud of how we’re continuing to play out there and raise our intensity.”

-- Mel

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