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 02, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Mystics Spell Atlanta While Silver Stars Shine Over Mercury

(Guru’s note: Material for this post, including quotes, drawn from team and wire service reports).

By Mel Greenberg

For once the Washington Mystics didn’t crumble in the final minutes while the San Antonio Silver Stars got a must win over Phoenix, beating the visiting Mercury 86-68 in the only two games on the WNBA schedule Thursday night.

However, while the action might have been limited, the outcomes affected a bunch of teams with playoff aspirations that were scoreboard watching the two results.

Washington, whose 85-81 win over Atlanta at the Verizon Center snapped a nine-game losing streak that had tied a mark dating to the woeful inaugural 1998 season, celebrated the return of former Duke star Monique Currie for the first time this season.

However, the Mystics have to turn right around and play the Eastern playoff defending champion Dream again Friday night on the road at the Philips Arena in Georgia.

Former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon got 11 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter to give the cellar-dwelling Mystics (6-24) just their sixth win of the season.

``We have been taking steps forward,'' third-year pro Angel McCoughtry said after scoring 30 points for Atlanta (16-14), which struggled at the outset of the season. ``This is just a little bump, and tomorrow we've got them again.''

Nevertheless, Atlanta froze for the moment on two wins needed to clinch a playoff spot, though while the fifth-place Chicago Sky (14-16) moved to within two games of the Dream, only the mathematics say the Windy City bunch still has a mild pulse.

The reality for Chicago is the need to win all four remaining games, which include the Eastern front-running Indiana Fever (19-10), and then a swing through the Western Conference at overall-best Minnesota Lynx (24-6), at the Los Angeles Sparks (13-17) and the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (17-13).

The Atlanta loss enabled the third-place and idle New York Liberty (17-13) to get ahead by a game over the Dream but if Atlanta avenges its loss Friday night against the Mystics and the Liberty loses at Minnesota, the two will be tied.

New York, which is only a game behind second-place Connecticut (18-12), won the season series with Atlanta 3-2 but the Liberty faces a daunting return Minnesota game at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and then a visit from Indiana and a trip to Connecticut to finish out the regular season.

One win gets a return trip to the playoffs for New York, which had a franchise-best 22 wins last season in tying Washington for first, but getting the No. 2 seed behind the Mystics.

The next Chicago loss can also do the trick for the Liberty.

Over in the West, San Antonio opened up a two-game lead over the idle and fifth-place Los Angeles Sparks (13-17) with four games remaining while Phoenix (7-13), which still needs one win to return to the postseason, fell to a second place tie with Seattle, seven games behind Minnesota.

Phoenix and Seattle are two games ahead of San Antonio and three in front of Los Angeles.

Just as happened to Indiana and Connecticut in the East race earlier in the week, West teams might back into the playoffs.

On Friday night Connecticut hosts Indiana looking to reduce the Fever lead to 0.5 games in the battle for the East top seed. At worst, with New York an underdog in the Minnesota home-and-home series, a Sun win could move them close to getting the home court advantage in the best-of-three conference semifinals match.

Seattle on Friday night could clinch a berth and move in front of idle Phoenix if the Storm wins on the road at Tulsa (3-29).
On Saturday night, just two games are scheduled but they are mega-matchups in the West playoff hunt with Seattle visiting San Antonio and Los Angeles visiting Phoenix.

On Sunday, besides New York-Minnesota, Atlanta will host Tulsa, Connecticut travels to Washington, and Indiana travels to Chicago.

Back in Washington, Thursday night, Currie had missed the entire season rehabbing from a knee injury suffered overseas in competition last winter.

Her return was a bit ahead of schedule, though too late to help the Mystics’ cause. Currie’s absence, along with former Duke star Alana Beard, suffering with a foot injury, were two of the reasons Washington reverted from its landmark run in 2010 to a first-place finish with New York and top seed in the playoffs.

In 9 ½ minutes against Atlanta, Currie, who averaged 14.1 points in 2010, had eight points and three rebounds.

“She’s (always) on the bench, giving us insight on what she can do can see from the bench,” said rookie Jasmine Thomas, another former Duke star who scored 12 points behind teammate Crystal Langhorne’s 25 points and 120 rebounds. “So to have (Currie) actually go in the game and provide that information and put it into play, it was important.”

Ajavon was her usual modest self after another outstanding game as a starter that came about when Beard was unable to play for the second straight season.

“I just, you know, was aggressive and I took what they gave me.”

Meanwhile, in San Antonio back spasms struck Phoenix again with Australian star Penny Taylor missing a second straight game following All-Star Diana Taurasi’s recent absence from a few games because of the same condition.

The Silver Stars, trying to keep ahead of Los Angeles, got 23 points from Jia Perkins, while All-Star Becky Hammon scored 16. Danielle Robinson scored 15 points and dealt seven assists, while rookie Danielle Adams, the Women’s Final Four most valuable player in Texas A&M’s run to the NCAA title in April, scored 10 points.

"We know that our backs are against the walls, so we're going to come out throwing blows and not go down easy," Perkins said. "We came out here and played hard and had fun, and we ended up with a win."

DeWanna Bonner scored 23 points and Taurasi scored 18 for Phoenix, which is trying to clinch a playoff spot and finish second behind Minnesota, which has clinched the West top seed.

"They shot the ball well and they played a great game," Bonner said. We just have to get ready for the next game as we can't just sit here and dwell on it. But overall, they played a great game and they hit some big shots when they needed to."
Phoenix was hounded into 21 turnovers.

Should Phoenix somehow fall into a third-place tie with the Texans, then San Antonio would get the third seed, winning the series with the Mercury 3-2.

Viewership Up

Whether it’s the women’s basketball mania in Connecticut over Maya Moore, who was picked first overall by the front-running Minnesota Lynx, or the tough competitive nature of the WNBA overall this season, ESPN announced Wednesday that the games broadcast on ESPN2 were the most viewed since 2005, averaging 270,000 viewers, a five percent increase over 2010 when the viewership was 258,000.

The 12-game schedule delivered a 0.2household coverage rating, though the Guru is curious what the number from the improved apps is drawn, considering the ability to now watch games on smartphones and iPads.
The playoffs,with ESPN offering part of the coverage, begins Thursday, Sept. 15.

-- Mel

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