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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guru' WNBA Report: A Penny Saved By Dupree Is A Western Final Earned For Phoenix

(Guru's note: A separate breakout of the Indiana-New York game is over at fullcourt.com. Some quotes and other material for this post drawn from wire service and team reports. Below the game story is an item on Dawn Staley cheerleading for Candice Dupree, her star at Temple when Staley coached in her hometown.)

By Mel Greenberg

A Penny saved was a Western Conference playoff finals earned by the Phoenix Mercury over the Seattle Storm thanks to former Temple star Candice Dupree’s putback with 1.9 seconds remaining Monday night.

As Dupree’s former coach, the legendary Dawn Staley, cheered from afar on her tweeter account in South Carolina, Dupree scored on a loose ball rebound of Penny Taylor’s missed shot that gave Phoenix a 77-75 victory over Seattle in the Emerald City that brought a stunning end to the Storm’s one-year reign as WNBA champions.

“Everybody was tipping the ball around and it just so happened to land in my hands,” said Dupree of the final moments. “I put it back as soon as I could.”

Third-seeded Phoenix will either travel to the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx or host the fourth-seeded San Antonio Silver Stars in the best-of-three conference finals with that winner moving on to met the Eastern winner between the Indiana Fever and defending conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream for the WNBA title.

San Antonio, which tied Minnesota with a win in Texas Sunday, will be at the Target Center against the Lynx Tuesday night to decide who moves on to face Phoenix in the Western finals.

The Lynx, which had their best regular season in history with a WNBA-best 27-7 overall record, have never won a playoff series in two previous appearances in 2003 and 2004.

Atlanta advanced to the East finals Sunday for the second straight year by finishing off the Connecticut Sun with a 2-0 sweep in the semifinals.

Indiana took the decisive Game 3 at home Monday night in Conseco Fieldhouse by eliminating the New York Liberty 72-62 as former Purdue star Katie Douglas scored a game-high 21 points for the Fever and former Tennessee standout Tamika Catchings scored 17 points.

Former Stanford star Nicole Powell scored 19 points for New York, matching her total from Saturday’s win in Newark, N.J., when the Liberty evened the series.

However, former Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter was held to 11 points shooting 4-for-14 from the field.

Phoenix, which tied Seattle back home on Saturday, had to rally from an early 29-11 deficit in the first half and also go the final 6 minutes, 38 seconds without former UConn great Diana Taurasi, who fouled out and also was hit with a technical.

Dupree had 20 points, Taylor had 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Taurasi also scored 19 points before she had to go to the bench.

Taurasi’s former UConn teammate Sue Bird had 22 points for the Storm, including another in a long history of clutch shots when she tied the game 75-75 with 10.5 seconds left in the game.

Soon after Taurasi fouled out, Seattle’s Camile Little, a former North Carolina star, had to go to the bench with her sixth foul.

Lauren Jackson, the three-time MVP who missed a large portion of the Storm’s season because of a hip injury in late June, scored 18 points, former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 17, and Swin Cash, another former UConn standout, scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Seattle had dominated Phoenix in recent seasons and took the opener at home with an easy 80-61 victory before the Mercury evened the series in the Arizona desert with a 92-83 win.

The Storm had been on a roll after Jackson neared the end of the regular season, besting Phoenix for the second seed and home-court advantage causing its fan base to continue hope for a back-to-back title in spite of Minnesota’s overall success to date.

“Not that we disrespect Phoenix or anyone else in the league, but we didn’t expect to be in this situation right now,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said afterwards. “We thought we could win and we did a lot of good things tonight, but sometimes things aren’t meant to be. That’s sort of how this game was. It wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Bird was asked to describe the moment of elimination of the Storm.

“All of a sudden the buzzer’s going off and there’s this `wait-a-minute moment,;” Bird said of the sudden end to the season. “This is one of those things that doesn’t set in until a day, two days, a week.

“Right now, it feels like, `We must have a game in two days. We must.’

“Obviously, we don’t. Like I said, it will set in as the playoffs continue – everytime we see a commercial, every time we see a game, it’s a reminder.”

Instead of continuing in the playoffs, Bird will likely now reunite, depending on her overseas commitments, with her former college coach Geno Auriemma, who will take some quick time off from preseason practice at UConn to lead the USA Olympic team on a quick exhibition tour from Sept. 27 through Oct. 9 to Naples, Italy; Valencia, Spain; Prague, Czech Republic; and Hungary.

Jackson also gave her perspective on the finish.

“The ball just didn’t swing our way in the end,” she said. “We’ve caught a lot of lucky breaks here, but tonight wasn’t one of them. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it now.”

As for Jackson’s injured hip, she said, “It’s numb, like the rest of me right now. My hip is nothing in comparison as to how I feel emotionally. I think the same could be said of every one of my teammates. I think everyone fought so hard this season to get in this position, to have this third game at home and we didn’t capitalize on it, we didn’t maximize it.

“Everyone of us will learn from this and hopefully we’re never in this situation again.”

On the other side, Phoenix coach Corey Gaines talked about his reaction when the Mercury had fallen deep behind.

“I told our players in the first half when we were down by 15 or 16, or whatever it was, just try to cut it under 10. We got it to nine. I told them to just keep on pushing and try to wear them down and it worked. It worked.”

As for staying afloat after Taurasi fouled out, Gaines said, “I called Penny over and said, `Penny, take as many shots as you can possibly get right now.’ I told her that. And I said I didn’t care if they were `threes, twos, let the ball go. I need you take as many shots as possible,’ and she did. And she also got 17 rebounds, which was pretty big.”

Gaines also talked about how travel in a short span from Seattle to Phoenix and back played into the Mercury’s hands.

“The first time we played Seattle up here, I think they were waiting for us six days. And then we knew they had to fly down and play us, and we both flew back at the same time so it was to our advantage. The game would also wear them down and we kept on pushing, kept on pushing. They were kind of tired at the end.”

Dupree was the sixth overall pick by the Chicago Sky in the first year of the franchise in 2006 and then a year ago she was part of the three-way deal that sent Pondexter from Phoenix to New York and Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld from New York to Chicago.

“I’ve loved the last two years in Phoenix,” Dupree said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing for a very competitive team, competitive conference. It wasn’t easy adjusting to a system like that. When you play against it (Phoenix) you think they’re just running up and down, but there is a method to the madness. I got to be part of that last year and I’ve been excited to be part of it this year.”

Asked her preferences for an opponent in the next round, Dupree said, “Me personally. I enjoy playing against Minnesota. They play a fast-paced game like we do. It makes it fun to get up and down the floor a little bit. We match up well against them.

“San Antonio is a great team but they’re a little more half court. We like to get out and run. Either way, we’re ready to take on whoever wins.”

Staley Cheers (And) Tweets For Dupree

Phoenix’s Dupree, who in her career at Temple between 2002 and 2006 joined for Gratz High graduate Marilyn Stephens Franklin, now coach at Division II Cheyney, as the Owls’ two all-time greatest players, had no idea Dawn Staley was even the coach at the time.

“I just wanted to go up north to a big city,” the native of Florida and suburb of Orlando has said when asked about choosing Temple.

She became a three-time player and tournament player of the year in the Atlantic 10 when Temple three-peated conference titles and began their current run of eight straight NCAA appearances.

Staley moved on to coach South Carolina in May of 2008 in Columbia where she has been trying to rebuild the Gamecocks’ program in the Southeastern Conference.

However, on Monday night Staley took a break from focusing on preseason practice to follow Dupree’s work in the Phoenix game while at her home in Columbia, S.C.

Here are some of the things Staley had to say and also some comments made by her former Temple players who caught on to Staley’s twitter remarks at @dawnstaley.

Staley, incidentally, has over 4,000 followers.

The Guru also had a side conversation with Staley along the way.

“Just turned on WNBA gm (11:21 p,m. EDT) when Seattle had started to rally… is phx giving the ball to my girl Candice Dupree. If not they #notwinning lol …

“Shoot it Can! Lol”

“Rebound Can! ☺

“(Ashley Morris, Khadija Bowens, Jasmine Stone) I knew I would hear from my TU family … we know firsthand what she does w the ball in her hands. ☺”

“Please give Can the ball!!!!”

Jasmine Stone then weighs in “You coaching, coach?”

At this point the Guru sent a side text message to Staley reminding her that former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, Staley’s collegiate mentor when she played for the Casvaliers, was sitting on the Seattle bench as a volunteer assistant.

Staley quickly texted back “It’s different when it’s ur kid, tho.”

The Guru then asked if that made Ryan a basketball grandmother.

“Nana coach!”

Ashley Morris weighed in “Coach is coaching via twitter” and Staley responded, “Ash .. do they know what we know or what ☺

“It’s Can Time,” Staley exclaimed via twitter when Dupree helped fuel the Mercury surge. “Give it to her again … keep shooting Can!”

“It’s Can time!!! Give it to her again … keep shooting Can!!!”

“I’m just saying … CANDICE DUPREE!!!!!”

“I was horizontal in bed … I’m up pacing now. Somebody is going to hear what I’m saying … if they want to win give Can the ball.”

Then Taurasi fouled out and Staley said:

“Let’s not fret … DT fouling out … Can is still on the floor. And she’s Hot!!!!”

“I’m coming out of retirement. I got 6:13 left in me.”

“Hope Can is telling them in the huddle to get her the ball … so not her but she can use my mouth ☺”

“Commercial break … How many touches will Candice get in the last 6 mins. of this game?”
A note to Morris in a side conversation said, “My knees hurt typing that.”

“Put Can on Bird!: Lol”

“Put Can on Wright.”

“Omg! Did Can really get a T”

“Can is mad. Get her the ball.”

“Did u guys see Can discourage a Bird shot?”

“While we are on commercial break … idk how many times I tried to get Can to not necessarily get a T but get mad. I like it.:)

“Big shot Birdie!!!! Can rotate over there!” ☺

“Candice Dupree!!!! They didn’t give her the ball so she went and shoe got it!!!! MVP!!!!

“You knew Can … Clear out for Can.!!!!”

And then with the game secured for Phoenix, shortly before signing off, anticipating Phoenix in the finals, Staley tweeted “So I
can see Can do her thang up close and personal Need courtside seat CAN!”

The Guru will be back at the next sunrise perhaps in a discussion on the conference membership reported shifts and the impact on women’s basketball.

Until then:

-- Mel

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