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, July 03, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Remember The Alamo But Don't Forget San Antonio

(Guru's note: To save a headline and extra blog, way down below the guru has some non-WNBA collegiate items -- one referring to Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw's 10-year contract extension, which he originally tweeted Monday night, and the other a trivia item noting Miami's Fountainbleau Hotel, the site of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick's wedding this past weekend, is famous for a notable event of the past involved in the growth of women's collegiate competition.)

By Mel Greenberg

The San Antonio Silver Stars certainly are in the right location being situated not far from the famed Alamo, sight of the famous wipeout of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the other members of the small band of men fighting Mexican general Santa Anna in the mid-1800s in the battle for Texas' independence.

Though everyone took a total whipping from the overwhelming troops from South of the Border, ultimately the American forces under Sam Houston had the last say and the rest was history.

Why mention the analogy?

Well, with the WNBAers San Antonio on the upswing in recent weeks after a ragged start, the Silver Stars are saying a thing or two about being taken for granted and getting no respect.

The problem isn't the lack of regard of the personable general Dan Hughes and his troops, featuring veteran Becky Hammon and Sophia Young, one of the prime leaders of Baylor's first NCAA title in 2005.

It's more the emphasis within the Western Conference in which the Seattle Storm has gotten their due because of the mega-star reputation of Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, the Los Angeles Sparks' soap opera in which coming out of Tinseltown is an ongoing saga of a team being very good and then being not so very good and portentially back to good again.

Then there's the rise of the Minnesota Lynx, whom San Antonio dismantled Sunday for the defending champion Lynx' overall second loss of the season after a dominant 10-0 start.

The Phoenix Mercury, which is struggling, gets attention because of two past WNBA titles and, when healthy, a roster featuring Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree, and Penny Taylor, besides in the past when Cappie Pondexter was with the team during their two title runs.

So San Antonio somehow gets lost in the shuffle in all this, let alone the coverage of denser media markets in the Eastern Conference.

But the Silver Stars usually find a way to be in the hunt at the finish, even in lean years.

After being thought of perhaps being relegated to a team more in the hunt for the lucrative 2013 draft lottery -- too bad territorial picks don't exist or Baylor's Brittney Griner would have more of a shot to remain in the Lone Star State -- San Antonio hits the final two weeks before the Olympic break at a crossroads.

"Everyone is going to have ups and downs because of the schedule," Hughes said when discussing how some weeks some teams have games packed together and then in others wide spacing occurs between playing dates.

A three-game win streak over what had been a hot Los Angeles team has drawn notice if not a lot of coverage, but now the grind begins for San Antonio with four games this week.

Currently in third place in the West, but at 7-5 and just a game behind Los Angeles and 1.5 ahead of Seattle, the Silver Stars begin with Tuesday night's sole WNBA game on the schedule, a visit from Phoenix, which in fifth place is four games behind San Antonio.

Thus, a win makes it a five-game advantage, which would be a long drop for the Texans to return to lottery-mode.

Phoenix does not seem capable of getting that hot, though, with a roster than has been decimated from injuries, the Mercury have still played tough at times, paced by rookie pick Samantha Prahalis, the first-rounder out of Ohio State.

After that, it's a trip through the East with a Thursday stop at the Indiana Fever, on to the Washington Mystics Friday and then on to the New York Liberty Sunday.

Every game is winnable for San Antonio, with Indiana being the most challenging going in, though as was seen last week, nothing can be absolutely assured on a given night in the WNBA this season, even in Tulsa, despite the Shock's woeful 2-12 record.

If San Antonio goes perfect in this week's stretch, the Silver Stars may become insulated in making the playoffs, though within the hunt the fight for most seeding spots in the West will go down to the wire.

Elsewhere, looking back, it was an interesting week in which several likely wins for some teams didn't occur but they recovered with an upset over what was thought to be a likely loss.

Seattle, for example, looked like a win at New York was much more doable than one at Eastern-leader Connecticut. But the Storm didn't shoot themselves in the foot per se against the Liberty because there weren't any bullets in the chamber so turnovers were just as harmful.

But 24 hours later Seattle prevailed over the Sun in overtime.

The Chicago Sky, meanwhile, which is struggling since the loss of Epiphanny Prince with a foot fracture until after the Olympics break, was thought that beating Phoenix at home was one of the few winnable games to stay in the playoff hunt.

But coach Pokey Chatman's teamk fell at home to the Mercury but then surprised by coming up with another narrow win-- this time a second one over the Atlanta Dream.

Twin Ousters

In other news, it was quite the day for somewhat separate announcements Monday when the fabled Miller twins -- Kelly and Coco -- were waived from different squads at the same time.

Until drafted at the turn of the decade, the former Georgia backcourt duo out of the state of Minnesota were inseparable, playing on opposite sides perhaps only in pick-up games.

During their long stints, they have been together at times.

However, this season Kelly was signed prior to the opening tip as a free agent with the New York Liberty while Coco was cut before the season opener by Atlanta. Then last month she was signed by Los Angeles,which had lost point guard Sharnee Zoll to a season-ending ACL injury.

Now adding to their sisterly doing things together is the Millers' act of betting waived the same days in two different cities.

No word yet, though the Guru was busy Tuesday finishing his Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame program assignment on the life of 2012 inductee Katrina McClain, on what either Los Angeles or New York will do for replacements on the roster.

Now that the preamble has been written for this week, it's time to go to the ongoing conference-by-conference, team-by-team outlook at the storylines ahead through Sunday night's action.


Connecticut Sun (0-4) -- Coach Mike Thibault's squad now has an overwhelming number of wins over Eastern rivals, a commanding lead in the portion of Eastern record that could determine tiebreaking slots in the playoffs, but is 0-3, all at home, with narrow losses to Minnesota, Los Angeles, and now, in overtime. to Seattle.

It's a quiet but key week in which the Sun go West, speaking of disasters, visiting Tulsa on Friday and then Minnesota on Saturday.

Tulsa is a must win, especially with Indiana and Chicago yapping overall at Connecticut's heels. But Oklahoma is a place late last season that the Sun met with a shocking loss, to turn a phrase, handing Tulsa one of its only three wins for the entire season.

So if Minnesota can't be toppled by Connecticut, then 1-1 on the week holds serve, 2-0 is more helpful, but 0-2 again gives hope to those in the East still pursuing the Sun.

Indiana Fever (8-5) -- There are two weekend home games in which San Antonio comes from the West for a Friday visit and then Chicago visits Saturday.

The Fever are in a tie for second with Chicago but have two wins over the Sky so one more clinches the season series. A 2-0 week will fortify things but as noted in the preamble, the Silver Stars will be tough to handle. But Indiana has owned Chicago, though the Sky stay in playoff contention, hoping to reach the postseason for the first time in seven tries.

Things are so packed that 1-1 or even 0-2 won't be the end of the world, but the latter won't exactly start next week with sunshine in the last set of games before the Olympic break.

Chicago Sky (8-5) -- The idea when the season started was to make the playoffs. However, Prince's stellar play at levels a few notches higher than what was already suitable contributions from her, gave thoughts of conference title aspirations before the injury.

But opportunity is ahead with a group that is still loaded with talent to cope with Prince's absence.

New York visits Friday and consider it a must win in that the Sky would then keep the fifth-place Liberty five games behind Chicago, maybe enough of a lead to avoid plunging down into the lottery division, though many, of course, will not cry about it, if it happened, considering what the Delle Donne-Griner-Diggins potential addition of one of them would mean for the future.

But Chicago has already done well in past lotteries so now the future is now and nothing else matters, unless circumstances make it so.

That said, a win at Indiana on Saturday would be quite helpful, but if it isn't coming then one over New York is really needed, as said, on Friday. The worst case, going 0-2, will certainly inject the Liberty with ideas of moving ahead.

Atlanta Dream (7-8) -- For the last two years as the youngest franchise in terms of existence in the league, it hasn't made a difference what happens along the way as long as the road leads to the playoffs.

Though in disadvantaged seeding positions, nothing has stopped Atlanta from winning two Eastern playoff crowns.

But with New York just 1.5 games back, Atlanta needs to hold serve and on the slate to attempt to do that are visits West to Phoenix on Saturday and Los Angeles on Sunday.

Atlanta already picked up a win back home over Los Angeles. A sweep of 2-0 keeps the minimal 1.5 lead ahead of New York and maybe even grows if the Liberty have a tough weekend.

Going 1-1 is the worst case scenario while the effects of the consequences of 0-2 will be determined by what New York does.

On the other hand, trailing second-place Indiana and Chicago by just two games offers the opportunity to gain at least a little ground with the 2-0 sweep, especially if both teams above Atlanta lose Friday night.

New York Liberty (5-9) -- What is New York up to in releasing Kelly Miller, considering that post player Plenette Pierson is sidelined with a knee injury until after the Olympics and Kia Vaughn, who suffered a concussion Saturday, is not yet declared ready to play this weekend.

New York, off its upset of Seattle, heads to Chicago Friday night, attempting to gain some ground before hosting San Antonio Sunday.

Who knows with this team on a given day. If the Liberty go 2-0 that's momentum, but they could easily go 0-2 which will have them still battling more for lottery placement than the postseason.

Going 1-1 perhaps keeps things from getting worse if not better but coach John Whisenant is not outlandish to say that considering the post-Olympics schedule, the Liberty could land anywhere in terms of playoffs/lottery at the finish and it will go to the wire.

Washington Mystics (3-10) -- The schedule is still light on games with San Antonio visiting Friday night and a trip to Tulsa on Sunday.

The second involves potential long-range implications in the lottery considering the Mystics own one of the two attainable wins over the Shock.

Washington sits three games behind fourth-place Atlanta, which might get swept this weekend, though 1-1 is more likely. That seems to be the same for the Mystics, but at 0-2, if it occurs, Washington and Tulsa could be tied at the moment for the No. 1 pick and there will be a split on the season series so a tiebreak would be needed.


Minnesota Lynx (13-2) -- If not for the hot start at 10-0, which set a WNBA record, it would not seem uncomfortable for the defending champions to have their current record.

Still, new levels of achievement raise new levels of expectations. And since this week's slate is a two-game set with a visit to Los Angeles Thursday and a visit from Connecticut Saturday, anything is now possible 2-0, 1-1, 0-2.

A sweep keeps the gas pedal down. If there's a split, beating Western foe Los Angeles Thursday is actually the more important game. But 0-2 will certainly raise a stir among potential Western challengers depending on their results this weekend.

Los Angeles Sparks (10-6) -- In recent weeks, Los Angeles has gone from budding super power to just one of the upper crowd in the West off the Sparks' slide.

Three game are on the slate and if Los Angeles wants to resume chasing Minnesota, the first head-to-head chance after a previous loss to the Lynx comes with Thursday's visit.

Following on the weekend is a visit from Seattle, Saturday, in which the Storm will be looking to gain something after three early losses to Los Angeles, two by narrow margins.

Then Atlanta visits Sunday. Thus, 3-0 restores the luster, 2-1 gives some shine back depending how the Sparks achieve the record. However, going 1-2 keeps the element of concern alive and 0-3, let's not got there yet to discuss the implications.

Whatever, they are, it is not likely to result in a slide to the lottery with a five-game lead on fifth-place Phoenix.

San Antonio Silver Stars (7-5) -- The agenda ahead has already been addressed in this week's preamble at the top. But to repeat the schedule here: At Phoenix Tuesday night, then East to Indisns, Thursday; Washington, Friday; and on to New York Sunday.

Barring injuries, the wear and tear of an extended trip is the bigger challenge than most of the opponents on the horizon.

Seattle Storm (7-8) -- Moving up from the lottery hunt to playoff seeding contention, the Storm were rolling until hitting a speed bump Saturday at New York. But redemption came a day later against Connecticut in overtime.

Holding a 2.5 lead over Phoenix, winning at Los Angeles Saturday and then topping the Mercury at home Sunday could keep the positive vibes in place until Lauren Jackson returns from the Australian olympic team after the break.

Going 1-1 might be OK if the win is over Phoenix. But if the Mercury makes progress while the Storm are 0-2, then Seattle fans don't throw away those charts yet reflecting the collegiate seasons of the big three draft prospects.

Phoenix Mercury (4-10) -- Right now the Mercury can't worry about passing Seattle into the postseason hunt until they solve some of their problems.

And it's a tough week ahead beginning with a Tuesday trip to San Antonio, a visit from Atlanta Saturday and a trip to Seattle Sunday.

Going 0-3 is more likely than anything else, but 1-2 is possible, 2-1 less likely, and at 3-0, there will be a whole new discussion here next week on Phoenix prospects.

Tulsa Shock (2-12) -- It's a short week with Connecticut visiting Friday and Washington Sunday from the East. Those cheering for a good draft pick and waiting a year for the future will hope for 0-2, but the last Washington game was close. So 1-1 is not out of the question, while 2-0 means this team might get rid of part of its doormat status after the break when second-year pro Elizabeth Cambage, another Australian, returns from her Olympic hiatus.

A Few Non-WNBA Musings

Item one, which the Guru tweeted (@womhoopsguru is the handle for you wannabe followers), involves Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, the 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach and Big Five Hall of Famer as a former player at Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia.

On Monday the Irish announced that McGraw signed a 10-year extension, meaning if she is still around through the contract, she is liable to outlast Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, though the Guru did not say that in the tweet.

But given McGraw's coaching records, the Guru noted that her win No. 600 with the Irish should come early in the forthcoming 2012-13 season and that overall win No. 700 should come somewhat near the end.

Item two, which the Guru did not tweet, in news over the weekend it was reported that NFL Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was married in the plush Fountainbleau Hotel, which has been around forever, in Miami, Fla.

This facility is a famous site in the growth of women's collegiate athletics. Most of you won't know why, so the Guru won't even offer a chance to tweet an answer.

But the response is that in 1981 at the momentus NCAA convention, the membership authorized a system of governance of women's sports at their institutions and also voted the start of NCAA women's championship competition to begin in 1981-82.

The Guru was on the scene, and he remembers the Fountainbleau because he knew of it growing up as a place people fled to get away from the Northeast in the winter.

A special NCAA hotel rate of some $30 was in place.

The week before the Guru had been in frigid cold Detroit where the embattled AIAW was holding its conclave.

In hearing the Guru would soon be in Miami to head to the NCAA meeting, many friends expressed envy.

His response was that considering he was going to be inside all week, having the Detroit weather repeated wouldn't be so terrible.

Well, it so turned out that after landing in Miami on a balmy Saturday afternoon, some 48 hours later the region had one of its worst temperature drops causing a major crops freeze involving all those foods such as oranges, melons, etc.

Furthermore, many or most of the employees were of Latin America backgrounds and probably most had been refugees who were escaping Fidel Castro's Cuba in droves.

Considering language problems in dealing with the hotel room for nominal requests, in talking to his editors in the Inquirer sports department to discuss coverage -- this was pre-computers -- he noted to them when asked about the hotel:

"Chances are this week in this place, ifs you are not a coach, athletic director, sports information director, NCAA headquarters official, print or broadcast member, holding either delegate or media credentials, then most likely you probably are not an American citizen."

And on that note, the Guru wishes everybody a happy Fourth of July.

Philadelphia/Suburban Summer League coverage resumes late Thursday night after the doubleheaders.

Games are not scheduled Tuesday night because of the holiday. Tweeting will continue unless the limitations of 140 characters and breaking news forces blogging to continue ahead of schedule.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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