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, September 12, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Charles' Record Double Double Leads Conn. Sun To East Tie

(Guru’s Note: Some material with quotes for posts drawn on team and wire service reports. There is a post above this with end-of-the-season Guru-derived newsy-notes.)

By Mel Greenberg

Let the postseason begin.

A key steal by the Connecticut Sun’s Tan White and a closing kick by the Atlanta Dream set the playoff seeds and pairings for the WNBA’s Eastern Conference as the regular season concluded with five games to finish out the schedule.

White’s theft of the New York Liberty’s All-Star Cappie Pondexter with 24 seconds remaining enabled the Sun (21-13) to stay ahead and win 69-63 at home in the Mohegan Sun Arena to finish in a tie for first with the Indiana Fever (21-13) and take the second seed and home-court advantage in the best-of-three conference semifinals.

Indiana (21-13), which had to go without veteran All-Star and MVP candidate Tamika Catchings for the first time this season because of a strained knee, lost a chance to take the regular season title outright when Atlanta (20-14), the defending conference playoff champion, broke from a 71-71 tie in the fourth quarter at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and went on a 13-4 run to prevail 93-88.

``If Catchings could have played, she would have played,'' Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. ``She has struggled with this knee for the last couple of weeks. We knew after the New York game that it was bothering her much more. This was not a situation where we held a player out to rest.''

Catching’s Tennessee coach, Hall of Famer Pat Summitt, who recently revealed she had been diagnosed with early dementia leading to Alzheimer’s, was at the game to view her former Lady Vols stars on the Fever before joining a slew of college women’s coaches in Greensboro, N.C. for the annual 4Kay Golf Tournament.

That event is one of several functions in the memory of former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, a Hall of Famer, who died three years ago after a lengthy battle with breast cancer.

Indiana was also down two more players off the roster. Point guard Briann January has been sidelined most of the season with a knee injury and Erin Phillips missed another game due to a sprained left ankle, though she is expected to be ready for the playoffs, which begin Thursday.

The Dream took all four games in the season series with the Fever.

The big guns for both winners were Sun second-year pro Tina Charles, the 2010 overall No. 1 pick and rookie of the year out of UConn, and Atlanta’s third-year pro Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 overall No. 1 pick and rookie of the year.

Charles had 18 points and 17 rebounds to top her own WNBA record by one in recording her 23rd double double on the season in the win over the Liberty (19-15). The native New Yorker also had 374 rebounds, which were 24 less than the total of a year ago when she also set a WNBA record in that category.

McCoughtry, who like Charles is in the MVP hunt with Catchings and perhaps Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen, had 32 points for Atlanta, the sixth time this season she reached 30 or more points.

For the second straight game following Friday night’s road loss to New York, Indiana got handled on the boards.
The Dream outrebounded the Fever, 44-30, including 19-8 on the offensive end.

``I am disappointed that we did not do a better job on the boards,'' Dunn said. ``You cannot give up 19 offensive rebounds and beat anybody. It's unfortunate because I thought we could steal a game from Atlanta.''

Had that happened Indiana, which had previously clinched the No. 1 seed off a 3-2 season series win over Connecticut, would be opening against the Dream, who are now the third seed and will open with the Sun.

Katie Douglas had 30 points for the Fever, including 16 from four 3-pointers.

Indiana will face New York in a rematch of last season’s semifinals when the Liberty as the No. 2 seed instead of the No. 4 had home court advantage and ousted the Fever 2-1 to ruin Indiana’s defense of its Eastern playoff title from the 2009 season.

It’s the second straight year that the East produced a tie at the top following New York and Washington setting franchise records with 22-12 finishes.

The Mystics (6-28), whose season ended Saturday in a loss at San Antonio, fell way off the pace to finish in the Eastern basement with a woeful record topped only by the 3-27 mark in their inaugural summer of 1998.

They were able to cash that previous ineptness into grabbing Tennessee sensation Chamique Holdsclaw as the overall No. 1 pick when the worst record produced the rights to the top draft choice. Since then the WNBA has gone to a lottery and Washington’s pick for next April, order to be determined, is owned by the Minnesota Lynx, which acquired the rights in a preseason deal that sent former Tennessee player Nicky Anosike to Washington.

In the three other games the Western Conference regular-season champion Lynx (27-7) completed series wins over all five conference rivals by topping Phoenix 96-90 on the road to edge the Mercury 3-2 in their five-game set.

Minnesota, with the overall best record in the WNBA, also had the best cross-conference record at 9-3 with sweeps of Washngton, Chicago and Atlanta, while splitting with Connecticut, New York and Indiana.

The Connecticut split was the only one of the three in which the home team was the winner. The Lynx routed the Sun at the Target Center in Minneapolis and then later suffered their worst of the season in a rout by Connecticut.

The Lynx trio of Maya Moore, the No. 1 pick out of UConn; former Virginia star Monica Wright, and former LSU star Seimone Augustus each scored 15 points while the Mercury’s Diana Taurasi, another former UConn great, had 19 points and edged Atlanta’s McCoughtry with a 21.6 average to win the WNBA’s scoring title for the fifth time in her eight seasons in the WNBA.

Rebekkah Brunson added 14 points for the Lynx while former George Washington star Jessica Adair had 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Minnesota, which will open at home against the fourth-seeded San Antonio Silver Stars (18-16), is entering the postseason for the first time since a 2-0 sweep by the Seattle Storm, who went on the win the first of two WNBA titles with the other coming a year ago when they dominated the regular season at 28-6 and then took all seven playoff games.

The Lynx also have a loss to Los Angeles in the playoffs in 2003.

Penny Taylor, the Mercury’s second leading scorer, missed her fifth game out of the last six with back spasms but is said to be ready for the playoffs when Phoenix (19-15) opens at Seattle (21-13), who finished second six games behind the Lynx.

The Storm finished at home beating Chicago 81-70 as veteran Katie Smith had another big scoring night with 17points, as did Seattle’s Camille Little.

Former UConn stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird had 15 and 10 points, respectively, for Seattle, who have won eight of their last nine games.

Chicago (14-20), which has yet to make the playoffs in the Sky’s six-year history, got 30 points from Sylvia Fowles.

Seattle’s three-time MVP Lauren Jackson rested again to be ready for the playoffs but the Storm won 7-of-8 with her in the lineup after her return from a hip injury that had her sidelined since late June.

"Seattle is getting ready for their postseason play so they went hard and were trying to fine tune some things," Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. "We battled. We didn't shoot the ball very well but I thought we stayed aggressive and attacked. The bottom line is it's a loss. We're done and we have a lot of work to do in the offseason."

In the other game San Antonio rallied for a 102-94 road win in overtime to beat Tulsa and saddle the Shock (3-31) with the worst-ever record since the WNBA went to a 34-game schedule. Atlanta, in its inaugural season in 2008, went 4-30, but then made the playoffs the next season and the finals a year ago.

Silver Stars rookie Danielle Robinson out of Oklahoma had a career-high 36 points while Oklahoma State graduate Andrea Riley had a career-high 20 points for Tulsa and Shock teammate Sheryl Swoopes, one of three founding WNBA players for the inaugural 1997 season, also scored 20.

Tulsa’s Tiffany Jackson had 19 points and rookie Liz Cambage, the No. 2 overall draft pick out of Australia, had 15 points and Amber Holt scored 11.

``I think we played a well-fought game as a team,'' Riley said. ``It just hurts so bad when you fight that hard and don't come out on top.''

San Antonio’s Jia Perkins, who came in the offseason in trade with Chicago, scored 22 points. A bench player most of the season, she’s a leading candidate for the WNBA’s sixth-player award.

Winners of the postseason awards selected by a media panel of national representatives and local beat representatives in each of the WNBA’s 12 franchise cities, will be announced during the playoffs.

Silver Stars rookie Daniella Adams, who had 14 points, led Texas A&M to the Aggies’ first NCAA title in April, beating Stanford and Notre Dame in the Women’s Final Four.

San Antonio coach Dan Hughes praised Robinson’s effort.

``We wanted to rest some players so we put the ball in Danielle's hands and she was awfully good with the basketball,'' he said.

``But that's been indicative of her year. She's really had a good year for us. She continues to evolve. She has some gifts at that position. Give Tulsa credit, they played extremely hard and they played well.''

-- Mel

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