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.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guru's WNBA Musings: Former Penn State Star The Wright Stuff In Seattle's Win

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA does not have an unsung honor among its collection of postseason awards, but if it did perhaps one strong candidate would be former Penn State star Tanisha Wright of the defending champion Seattle Storm.

Playing in the shadows of backcourt teammate Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson it takes a while to hear Wright’s name come up in discussion of the recent powerhouse in the Western Conference.

But then she had the same experience with the Lady Lions being teammates at the time with Kelly Mazzante, who became the all-time scorer in both school history and history of the Big Ten Conference.

However, her collegiate career did bring her accolades as a three-time Big Ten defensive player of the year and in her senior season after Mazzante graduated, she did become the Big Ten leading scorer in 2005 with a 19.3 points per game average.

Her senior season also brought her a first team All-America honor from the United States Basketball Writers Association and a third team All-America selection from The Associated Press.

As it turns out, Thursday night Wright shot her way into the spotlight, scoring 21 points as Seattle opened its best-of-three Western Conference semifinal series at home at KeyArena with a lopsided 80-61 victory over the Phoenix Mercury.

Sometimes one needs to look in Wright’s biography to realize she was a first-round pick of Seattle in 2005, 12th overall when former coach Anne Donovan was making the selections.

As much credit as has been given to Bird for helping to keep Seattle in playoff contention while Jackson was spending much of the season on the sidelines following a hip injury in late June, Wright’s consistent play was also an important factor.

Seattle has owned Phoenix in recent seasons as the Mercury tries to avoid another quick exit by the Storm when the series moves to the desert in Arizona on Saturday.

But if Thursday night’s performance by Seattle is an indication that the Storm might be back in their championship mode of last season it is going to take a lot to prevent them from becoming a repeat champion.

Sudden Life For Indiana Brings Heartbreak To Liberty

Paybacks from the basketball Gods can be brutal as the New York Liberty found out in an opening 74-72 loss to the Indiana Fever at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

After a summer of fourth-quarter runs and last-minute victories, New York had a ferocious rally from a 15-point deficit go to waste when Australian Erin Phillips hit the game-winner with 1.5 seconds left in the game.

The series now goes back to Newark, N.J. Saturday afternoon at The Prudential Center and perhaps New York can recover from the loss with the mindset that perhaps if the Liberty don’t let things get out of hand early they still have a chance to stay competitive with the Fever.

It was a star-crossed night for the Rutgers alumni trio on the New York bench though former Scarlet Knights center Tammy Sutton-Brown is a veteran with the Fever.

Former All-American Cappie Pondexter missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have won the game and Phillips was the defender on the play.

Furthermore, Essence Carson, considered New York’s best defender, was opposite Phillips when she scored the game winner.

Speaking of Rutgers, since former Scarlet Knights star Matee Ajavon of the Washington Mystics will be entering free agency it wouldn’t be surprising to see her land with her former college teammates on the Liberty.

Considering that she played high school ball in Newark, Ajavon could bring some marketing to the mix as well as additional help playing Liberty coach John Whisenant’s defensive schemes.

Postseason Honors

Meanwhile, The Associated Press off a reliable source reported late Thursday night that former Rutgers center Kia Vaughn will be named the Most Improved Player when the WNBA postseason announcements will begin with the handouts Friday night in Minnesota.

Two are slated for the Target Center in Minneapolis prior to the Lynx Western Conference semifinals opener against the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Neither is much of a surprise. Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia from Washington Township in nearby Southern New Jersey will receive coach of the year.

Reeve did an outstanding job this summer in guiding the Lynx to a WNBA-best 27-7 record blending sensational rookie and veteran talent to dominate the conference.

Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 draft pick taken by Minnesota, will receive rookie of the year joining last year’s winner Tina Charles of the Connecticut Sun and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury as three former UConn stars who have won the rookie citation.

Seattle’s Sue Bird was a runnerup when she entered the WNBA in 2002.

Moore might have had some tougher competition for the honor had not San Antonio’s Danielle Adams, the MVP of the Women’s Final Four from NCAA champion Texas A&M, missed several weeks with an injured foot.

Another winner revealed are Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner, the former Auburn star, as Sixth Player winner for the third straight season.

Other awards to be announced are defensive player of the year, the most valuable player, and the first and second All-WNBA teams.

A media panel selected those winners but additionally the coaches picked an all-rookie team and all-defensive team, which will also be announced.

The Guru now signs off to head for Connecticut and Friday night’s game so see you at the next sunrise.

-- Mel

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