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 Roundup: Minnesota Finds Way To Playoffs Beating Los Angeles

(Guru’s note: Separate post below this one on Chicago last-second win at Wash as ex-Rutgers stars deal joy and pain to each other. Material and quotes in this post drawn from team and wire reports. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click mel's blog on left panel to get to the archive in blogspot and full reports.)

By Mel Greenberg

The Lynx won’t be missing from the WNBA playoffs anymore.

The fate of the league schedule produced some poetic justice Saturday night as Minnesota thrilled a home crowd in the Target Center in Minneapolis with an 87-68 win over the Los Angeles Sparks to earn a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2004.

The Lynx (20-6), took one giant leap for the franchise though it is a small step with bigger ones to follow on the hunt for a first-ever WNBA title.

A year ago, Tina Thompson hit a shot near the end of the season for Los Angeles that ultimately made the Sparks edge the Lynx for the playoffs, though Minnesota came up big as the outcast several months later.

The Lynx edged Tulsa for the overall No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, allowing Minnesota to take UConn sensation Maya Moore in April as well as former Xavier star Amber Harris as the fourth overall pick.

Saturday’s win also made the Sparks’ playoff situation a bit precarious, especially several hours later when the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm, celebrating the return of three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, edged the New York Liberty 63-62 to step up to third in the West six games behind the Lynx but 3.5 ahead of the Sparks (10-15), who have nine games left.

Phoenix (15-10), in one of two other games, beat the San Antonio Silver Stars (13-12) at home 87-81 to stay 4.5 games behind Minnesota in second place while the Texans fell to fourth 4.5 games behind the Lynx but stayed three games in front of Los Angeles.

The Sparks will have a chance to get a win back Sunday night when they travel to Tulsa (1-22) where the Shock are trying to avoid setting the singular record for longest losing streak, which would happen at 18, one more than the previous mark now shared by Tulsa and the Atlanta Dream, which began in 2008 as a franchise losing their first 17 games.

In the other Saturday game, the Washington Mystics (5-19) found a new way to lose, squandering a four-point lead with just under a minute left that culminated with the Mystics’ Matee Ajavon fouling her ex-Rutgers teammate Epiphanny Prince of the Chicago Sky (12-14).

That resulted in Prince making two of three foul shots with 00.7 left on the regulation clock for a 71-70 win allowing the Chicago to stay alive in the playoff hunt six games behind Indiana in the East but just 1.5 games behind Atlanta, which visits the Sky Tuesday night.

A separate blog on that game is under this post.

The Dream, who are the defending Eastern Conference playoff champions, play at Connecticut Sunday night in Uncasville after beating the Sun 94-88 in overtime Friday night at home.

With Minnesota holding the 4.5 lead over Phoenix, the new magic number is five, which will give the Lynx a first-ever regular season conference crown and potentially home court advantage all the way if they finish better than Indiana in the East, which has the second best overall record two games behind the Lynx.

The Lynx tied a franchise record for total wins, counting the playoffs and set a record for regular season wins.

“It was a long time coming and it’s here,” said former Stanford star Candice Wiggins, who missed most of her third season in 2010 with injuries. “Now, it’s like, `Hey, who cares? Now it’s on to the next goal.”

Minnesota won its fourth straight in the five-game series with Los Angeles after dropping the season opener on the West Coast.

The Lynx showed they can dominate the Sparks with a without Candace Parker, who played the first weekend in the two-game set against Minnesota but then had been sidelined since late June with a knee injury suffered on the road in a game at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., against the New York Liberty.

Parker returned this week after a seven-week hiatus and on Saturday night scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in her second start. Tina Thompson scored 11 points.

Former LSU star Seimone Augustus, the overall No. 1 pick of the 2006 draft by Minnesota, had 17 points while Wiggins scored 13 points and former Virginia star Monica Wright scored 11.

“I thought this day was going to come, it couldn’t get no worse than where we were at,” Augustus said. “The people that’s been here and went through those rough stages, we feel real good about it. It’s just that weight. I feel lightheaded right now. I feel real light right now.”

Los Angeles had an early 20-10 lead before Minnesota got untracked and went on to force 17 turnovers and dominate the boards 43-24.

We had them on their heels,” Parker said. “But we relaxed and they took over. We only showed glimpses of being a great team. We saw a little bit of adversity and laid down.”

Minnesota began growing its roster the last several seasons when Augustus was joined by Wright, Wiggins, Harris, Moore, Rebekkah Brusnon last year off the dispersal of the former Sacramento Monarchs team, and in a mega trade last year former

University of Minnesota stsr Lindsay Whalen, who was dealt from the Connecticut Sun to return home in exchange for the 2010 overall No. 1 pick, which became UConn star Tina Charles, and former Huskies all-American point guard Renee Montgomery.

Veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin, formerly with the New York Liberty, signed as a free agent, reuniting her with coach Cheryl Reeve, who was an assistant coach on the former Detroit franchise who won three WNBA titles.

“There’s a lot of history to be made here,” Augustus said. “We still got some work to do.”

Jackson Return Makes Storm Rage

Several days after Candace Parker’s return to the Los Angeles lineup from a knee injury the WNBA got another superstar back Saturday night in three-time MVP Lauren Jackson of the defending champion Seattle Storm, who edged the New York Liberty 63-62.

Jackson suffered a hip injury the same week Parker got hurt and both Seattle and Los Angeles have struggled since, though the Storm has managed to stay more solidly in the playoff hunt.

The Liberty (15-12), who next head to Phoenix, had beaten the Storm several weeks ago in Newark when All-Star Sue Bird missed a shot, and New York had won several other games at the finish.
This time the Liberty, who held third place but are just a game ahead of fourth place Atlanta in the East, were the ones with the frowns in the locker room.

Former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn missed a shot with 6.9 seconds remaining that would have been a go-ahead score, potentially keeping the Liberty’s magical finishes alive.

Essence Carson, yet another Rutgers star on the Liberty, stole an inbounds pass but former UConn great Sue Bird, who missed a shot at the finish in Newark, stole the ball back with three seconds left as Carson drove for the basket.

“The official choked the last play,” Liberty coach John Whisenant said. He has been unhappy in recent weeks with a series of calls in games that have reversed against New York after video reviews.

“They were trying to foul and he choked. There is not a whole lot you can do about that.”

Bird, who shrugged off physical contact in the East Coast game with the Liberty, thought the play was clean.

“I personally don’t feel like I fouled,” she said. “I was going for the ball. In my mind, I was going to get the ball clean or I was going to foul her. There was no way I was going to let her shoot a layup to win the game.”

New York is now 1.5 games behind second-place Connecticut and dropped to just 2.5 games in front of Chicago, which edged Washington Saturday night on the road 71-70.

Jackson, who played 21 points, scored 20 points for Seattle, while shooting 6-10 from the field and connected on 3-5 three-pointers.

Katie Smith’s three-pointer with 1:13 left put Seattle in front before the controversies at the finish.

But on Seattle’s side, there was sheer happiness to get Jackson back as Los Angeles attempts to make a move to displace someone in the middle of the Western pack.

“She got a lot out of her minutes, didn’t she?” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “She played well. We’re a different team, obviously. You’ve got to give everybody credit for keeping us competitive without her. But we can be must better with her.”

Jackson missed 20 games.

“I don’t think I looked forward to playing basketball as much as I did before this game for probably 10 years,” the Australian star said. “It just felt awesome to be back out there. I’m just happy my hip held up and we won.”

Bird scored 14 points to come within four of the 4,000 career milestone and Camille Little had 14 for Seattle.
New York’s Plenette Pierson scoed 15 points, while Carson and Cappie Pondexter each scored 12 points.

Mercury Keeps Pace

It was rally time again for Phoenix with San Antonio being the victim in the 2-3 matchups of Western teams, though the Silver Stars loss enabled Seattle to jump to third place.

Penny Taylor had 28 points for the Mercury, including 16 in the fourth quarter in the game played in the desert. Former Temple star Candice Dupree added 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Mercury, while DeWanna Bonner scored 13.

San Antonio All-Star Becky Hammon scored 20 points and had 10 assists, while Ruth Riley scored 16 points, and Scholanda Robinson scored 15.

Phoenix won despite missing superstar Diana Taurasi, who was suffering from back spasms.

-- Mel


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