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, September 04, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Minnesota Delivers Payback To New York

(Guru's note: Material and quotes from beyond this game site for roundup drawn on team and wire service reports)

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. –
If New York Liberty fans felt it might be a good time to be meeting Western Conference regular-season champion Minnesota just two days after the Liberty upset the WNBA’s top team on the road in Minneapolis, the Lynx arrived in the Prudential Center Sunday afternoon with a different idea.

Though coach Cheryl Reeve, a former star at La Salle University in Philadelphia, was inclined to rest her starters a bit with just under two weeks left until the playoffs begin, she knew that was not their desire.

“My starters, they don’t want to sit,” Reeve said after Minnesota rolled to an 86-68 win over New York to improve the Lynx’s league-best record to 25-7. “They don’t want to not play. And if they’re going to be out there, they’re going to play hard.

“And we just lost. So there’s no way I could go into this game saying, they were not going to play. We only saw New York twice, the first time they saw us I don’t know they were convinced that we are a very good team,” Reeve continued.

“So it was really a message game for us to make sure New York understood we were pretty good and that’s not who we are that they saw on Friday night.”

On the offensive side, the Lynx shot 54 percent from the field while defensively holding New York to 35.7 percent, including shutting out Liberty All-Star Cappie Pondexter, whose nine points all came off of free throws.

The former Rutgers standout was 0-for-9 from the field.

“I was very concerned about Cappie today,” Reeve said, “because I thought we did a decent job at our place. I thought she got some open looks at our place that she didn’t make so I was very concerned about her making the same looks.

“I thought we did a nice job no giving her as easy looks as she had at our place. I thought we did a nice job corralling her. We spent two players on her, which is what created some difficulties for the others in the second half.

“Cappie’s a great player. Anytime you hold her to zero field goals, we feel good about that. It’s the second time we did that to a good player. We did that to (San Antonio’s) Becky Hammon as well. We take great pride in that.”

Lynx rookie Maya Moore, the number one overall pick in April’s draft out of UConn, scored a game-high 19 points, while Seimone Augustus scored 12 points and Rebekkah Brunson scored 10. Lindsay Whalen scored nine points and dealt seven assists while Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a free-agent signee who played for the Liberty last season, scored eight points.

Rookie Amber Harris, a former Xavier star who was the fourth overall pick, scored 12 points off the bench and former Stanford star Candice Wiggins scored 11.

New York’s Plenette Pierson had 17 points and Nicole Powell, another former Stanford star, had 10 points.

It was a tough loss for the Liberty (18-14), who fell into a third-place tie with the Eastern Conference defending playoff champion Atlanta Dream.

The Dream, who beat the Western Conference cellar-dwelling Tulsa Shock 73-52 at home Sunday, clinched the last playoff spot in the East though all four seeds are still undecided.

In the West, San Antonio (15-16) holds a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Sparks (13-18) for the fourth and final playoff spot and visits the Sparks on Tuesday night.

Connecticut (20-12) is guaranteed to finish ahead of New York in the standings after romping 79-48 over the Washington Mystics (6-26) on the road Sunday afternoon.

The Sun in second-place remained a half-game in back of the Indiana Fever (20-11), which won at Chicago 88-80 in suburban Rosemont, Ill.

The Sky (14-17) were eliminated from the playoffs earlier in the day when Atlanta won and now will go back to the draft lottery after being 0-6 in franchise history trying to reach the postseason.

If the Sun and Liberty tie – they meet in Connecticut Sunday on the final day of the season – the Sun clinched the better conference record with the win over Washington.

A Connecticut win at Atlanta Tuesday night would give the Sun at least second place in the East.

The only thing that seems almost certain for the Liberty is that New York, which hosts Indiana Friday night before heading to Connecticut, is not likely to be in a slot holding home-court advantage in the best-of-three Eastern semifinals.

“We didn’t come out prepared with the energy required to beat this team,” New York coach John Whisenant said after the loss to Minnesota. “We kind of stirred them up beating them over there and we just didn’t play well.

“In the first half, we just didn’t have the right kind of effort, and in the second half, when we tried, we just couldn’t make a basket,” he added.

The Lynx outscored the Liberty in the third quarter 15-5 after leading 52-41 at the half.

“I told my team, ‘You look like you went into the city last night and stayed up late,’” Whisenant related. “If I was coaching college men that’s what I would accuse them of doing. But these are professionals and I hope that’s not the case.

“But as Cappie just told the team in there, we have two games left against two teams in the Division we’re going to have to face in the playoffs – one of the two – and the only two teams that hold a won-loss advantage on us this year.

“We have a chance to even up with Indiana and Connecticut – we have everything in front of us. You get in the playoffs and the way teams are in the East, anything can happen.”

Whalen and McWilliams-Franklin supported Reeve’s assertion that despite the long gap between an early clinching of the league’s best record and the start of the playoffs, it’s not good to engage in too much experimentation with the lineup.

“We want to feel good going into the playoffs and we wanted to come out here and play well,” Whalen said. “That’s what we’re focusing on. It’s been a lot of fun this year having a lot of weapons on either side – inside or outside – I just think we’ve done well sharing the ball and getting good things going.

“Defensively, I thought we were a lot better than the other night and it showed with a win.”

McWilliams-Franklin observed, “We don’t want to rest people because you lose your rhythm, you lose your touch. That’s not how we want to play going into the playoffs. But this team, it’s significant moment is the playoffs and we want to make sure all our players are running on the same cylinders we have all season.

“It’s not about wins or losses. This is about Lynx basketball and do what we need to do staying at the top level.”

Charles In Charge For Connecticut While Losing Her Letter

Second-year pro Tina Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year and overall No. 1 draft pick out of UConn, had another dominating performance in the Connecticut Sun’s win over the Washington Mystics to the point that her only flaw was an accidental choice of wearing a backup jersey for the game at the Verizon Center in Washington.

The mistake became apparent in the opening quarter when the letter “C” fell off the back of the jersey, causing her teammates to call her “Tina Harles,” according to the Associated Press account of the game.

Performance-wise Charles followed up her triple double Friday night at home against Indiana with 24 points and 15 rebounds against the Mystics. That brought her double doubles stats on the season to 21, one short of the record she set a year ago in her WNBA debut.

"Tina Charles is certainly a forced to be reckoned with," Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said. "She is a legitimate candidate for MVP. I would definitely say that."

The Sun had lost four straight on the road but finished the Washington series with a 4-0 sweep – all by lopsided scores -- as Charles held Washington All-Star Crystal Langhorne to 10 points.

"I was just doing my job," Charles said. "I want to be there for my team offensively and defensively. My job is to get rebounds, and it leads to our transition and everything. So, I just go out there with the mindset just to try to get them all."

The scoring for the Mystics was their lowest of the season as was their 26.9 field goal effort. The two numbers were also Connecticut’s best defensive effort against opponents.

Former Duke star Monique Currie, recently returned from a season-long absence because of a knee injury, scored 13 points for Washington.

Connecticut rookie Danielle McCray had 13 points and former UConn star Renee Montgomery dealt seven assists.

Dream Handles Shock

Though still to be determined in terms of Atlanta’s seed in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Dream have come all the way back from a nightmarish start earlier in the summer to return to the playoffs for the second straight year after advancing to the WNBA finals a year ago.

Atlanta officially became the East’s fourth and final playoff participant Sunday afternoon with the Dream’s win over the Shock as former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, the 2009 rookie of the year, scored 19 points.

"It's a relief," said Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors, who has also served as an assistant on UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s staff with the USABasketball senior national women;’s team. "I was real proud of our ability to win tonight simply because that means we are going to the playoffs again. And whatever position we end up in, we are going to give it everything we have to represent the Atlanta Dream with the best of our abilities."

Former Duke star Lindsey Harding had 13 points and 10 assists for Atlanta, which has won 10 of its last 13 games. Armintie Price scored 13 points.

Tiffany Jackson had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Tulsa and Amber Holt had 14 points and eight rebounds.

"I think (Atlanta) has a great opportunity," said Tulsa interim coach Teresa Edwards, a former All-American at the University of Georgia who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., last month. "They proved they could be successful last year. If they build on this game today, they're in a great place for the playoffs."

Fever Hold Off Sky

The Chicago Sky will get more of a taste of playoff fever finishing out on a West road trip at Minnesota, Los Angeles, which may still be in the hunt, and the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm, which has clinched a berth for the eighth straight season.

But they won’t have any for themselves after Atlanta eliminated them earlier in the day and they couldn’t make much use of the home court to put a crimp in Indiana’s drive to finish first in the East in the regular season.

The Fever’s win kept them a half-game in front of Connecticut in the East with a home game against Washington on Wednesday, a visit here to New York on Friday and a final at home Sunday against Atlanta, which has bedeviled Indiana all season.

The Fever with a 3-2 season record over Connecticut holds a tiebreak between the two teams.

Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas each scored 17 points in the win over Chicago, while Erin Phillips scored 16 and Jessica Davenport off the bench scored 14 points.

Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince had 21 points for the Sky, while Sylvia Fowles had 15 points and Tamera Young, a former James Madison star, scored 12 points.

-- Mel

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