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.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Division Leaders Grab Wins On Road And Home

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON --
Being in the nation's capital where this report began, in terms of activity, though a wide gap exists between Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun and the basement dwelling Washington Mystics, the two battled down to the final minutes Tuesday night before the Sun added another trophy to their WNBA-best 11-3 road record with an 88-77 victory at the Verizon Center to zip back to a two-game lead over the idle Indiana Fever.

At the moment, because the Fever (17-8) have a two-game in-hand advantage to Connecticut, the magic number for coach Mike Thibault's group (20-7) to claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference is seven, meaning, as of now, if Indiana were to keep winning, the Sun must win all seven of their remaining games.

However, that two-game in-hand situation for Indiana is about to be reduced to one with a trip to third-place Atlanta on Wednesday night before moving on to the San Antonio Silver Stars on Friday.

So when Connecticut takes the floor back home in the Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night in a cross-conference game against the Phoenix Mercury (6-19) featuring former UConn superstar Diana Taurasi's annual homecoming of sorts, the digit could be reduced to six before the game with Phoenix and as low as four afterwards if the Sun win and the Fever fall.

The Tuesday loss down here (or back in D.C. considering where this is being written) also had implications for the worst-place Washington bunch (5-22) because, though Mystics went down with dignity along with inopportune turnovers and missed shots in the closing minutes after taking a brief lead, they maintained their overall poorest record.

Furthermore, in the Bottoms Up Division of likely participants in the lucractive draft lottery, Washington opened a 1.5 lead over the Western celler dweller Tulsa Shock (6-20) and a 2.5 lead over Phoenix (6-19) for the best shot at getting the ping pong balls to bounce in the Mystics' favor and deliver the No. 1 overall pick.

Most believe that whoever of the four non-playoff teams win that grand prize, they will reach for Baylor sensation Brittney Griner, though the next two likely selectees are also highly coveted in Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

Speaking of Delaware, the Guru said this report began in the nation's capital, but it is being completed on the way home to Philadelphia in the wee hours at the magnificent rest stop on I-95 a few miles away from the Blue Hens' Newark main campus, an excellent stop for road warriors.

Incidentally, on Wednesday night the Guru will be tweeting from the other Newark, N.J., as the New York Liberty in a tight race in the East with the Chicago Sky for the fourth and final conference playoff spot, host the Phoenix Mercury.

The Guru did notice the internal geography containing areas to compute on a free strong wifi signal here (below Wilmington) have undergone a re-design (all-night Starbucks, among other eateries, folks, previously and still exist) and the place has an impressive array of pictures of activity in the state.

But no photos exist of one of its most famous home-grown talents in action.

However, Delle Donne is in good company because no pictures exist either of a certain vice president of the United States -- Joe Biden, the former U.S. senator who is also an alum of the Blue Hens.

Of course, should he be re-elected with President Obama and Delle Donne lands with the Mystics, expect a major security headache all next summer getting into the arena to watch the WNBA team in action.

On the other hand, if Griner becomes the one, expect a lot of Baylor love among Bears alum with Redskins NFL rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III (RGIII) attending Griner's games in the summer and vice versa in the fall and winter.

Oh yes, there is also the possibility of an Irish tandem if Diggins lands here (or, there) since she'll be reunited with her former Notre Dame teammate Natalie Novosel, a Washington rookie this summer, and in a sense with former associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis, who is now the head coach of George Washington.

Meanwhile, in the other contest on Tuesday's slate, a Western Conference tilt featuring the top two teams in the standings, the incumbent WNBA and conference champion Minnesota Lynx put down Los Angeles 88-77 at home to open a four-game lead over the Sparks (19-9) as the regular season winds down to its last three weeks.

Veteran Seimone Augustus scored 23 points and passed former Minnesota star Katie Smith, now with the Seattle Storm (11-14) to become the all-time scorer for the Lynx (22-4).

Note to Connecticut fans. Besides motivation for winning conference top seed, though it is looking tough to catch Minnesota for homecourt advantage if both make the best-of-five WNBA finals, the Sun have a great chance to hold it over anyone else in the West should the Lynx get upset.

Right now, the Sun continue to hold an amazing turnaround on road performance compared to a season ago and the game here Tuesday night completed a four-game road trip, longest of the season, through Chicago, San Antonio, Atlanta and Washington at 3-1, technically 3.75-0.25, worth full value to Atlanta Sunday when Angel McCoughtry exploded in the fourth quarter to carry the Dream to a win.

Furthermore, the Sun navigated the trip despite missing several key thrusters.

Olympian Asjha Jones continues to be sidelined as a precaution because of an Achilles problem though there is a chance she could return soon to get in rhythm for the postseason, according to Thibault.

Former Duke star Mistie Mims returned to the starting lineup following a quad injury at the outset of the trip in Chicago that caused her to miss the next two games, but she contributed 15 points, seven rebounds, and dealt four assists in 27 minutes, 46 seconds against Washington.

Olympian Tina Charles had 20 points and 13 rebounds to become a force again at center, while Kara Lawson scored 16 points. Meanwhile, off the bench Renee Montgomery scored 11 points.

Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne had 23 points for Washington, while starter Noelle Quinn, a former UCLA star, and former Tennessee star Shannon Bobbitt, off the bench,each scored 10 points.

Connecticut was hounded into 13 of its 19 turnovers in the second half as an 11-point lead late in the third quarter evaporated into a brief one-point deficit with 4:06 left to play in the game before Montgomery's jump shot regained the advantage.

"All things, to win 3 out of 4 on a long road trip and get 11 road wins at this point in the season, what is it, 11-3? It's as good as you can ask for a lot of times in this league," Thibault said afterwards.

"It was a hard game. I thought Washington played real well for long stretches -- Langhorne, Bobbitt and Quinn played great -- but we hung together," he added. "We had a bad start. We had a bad middle of the second half and we just kind of regrouped each time.

"We got a balanced offensive effort, our rebounding was good -- the biggest negative I had for tonight was turnovers in the second half gave them some life."

Though in this game, Washington didn't start out in a deep hole that has had them falling short in fourth quarter rallies, Langhorne, a member of the 2006 NCAA champion Terrapins, was still dismayed.

"We're playing better, but we're still not winning, so it's tough," Langhorne said. "We're still not executing down the stretch -- messing up on defense, missing block outs, things like that.

"You can't beat people when you're messing up on little things. At the end of the game, we didn't execute when we needed to," Langhorne added. "You always think you're going to make plays down the stretch, no matter how things are going.

"You always come out every night, thinking you're going to win, so you have to believe it. But it's tough, the way things are going."

The Guru, who made have made a major mistake himself, taking advantage of the wifi to update the map in his GPS on his laptop alongside him, said the trip began in Washington with the story being finished here.

The reason is to be closer to home considering Wednesday postgame will be a trip towards Springfield, Mass., for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction events that will keep the Guru off the WNBA grid -- but not out of touch -- for a few days.

And there is part two of this post to be completed right here before your eyes -- the weekly outlook considering the Guru refrained from laboring during Labor Day -- a Monday when he offers the post by Tuesday sunrise.

So, let's go with the rest of it.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Connecticut Sun (20-7), GB --
There's two games left on the week -- a visit from Phoenix, with Taurasi back in action, on Friday and then a visit from Chicago on Sunday.

With a slim two-game lead over Indiana, everything is a must as of right now, though the next two nights will determine whether a split can be sustained. If so, better to beat Chicago and keep piling up the conference wins as a potential tiebreaker -- Connecticut currently is 15-4 with 3 East games remaining, while Indiana is 14-5.

Of course, a win over the Fever the final weekend means a 3-1 record in the season series but the Sun is hoping that by then the contest is just a tuneup and one hopefully that Jones could put to good use.

Thibault noted that former star Nykesha Sales one year was missing games at the end and then had a tough time getting her rhythm with the playoffs under way.

2. Indiana Fever (17-8), GB 2.0 -- It is one tough row ahead for coach Lin Dunn's troops, who have sparkled since the league resumed play following the month-long pause for the Olympics in London, England.

Now comes a tough Wednesday visit to Atlanta, which is trying to erase its demons -- McCoughtry is back from the suspension issued by new coach/GM Fred Williams, who was promoted when Marynell Meadors was let go -- presumably owners choosing in favor of McCoughtry.

Then it's a trip Friday to San Antonio, where the Silver Stars could still catch Los Angeles for second in the West, followed by a visit from Phoenix Sunday.

Anything can happen here. Atlanta is a must because of the conference implications out of the game. Thibault looking at the current stretch said of his rival, a sweep means they're really very good.

Considering everything from Indiana's viewpoint, 2-1 is probably acceptable, but 1-2 or 0-3 is not, especially if over the same span Connecticut does not collapse.

3. Atlanta Dream (14-13), GB 6.0 -- The goal is to move closer to the playoffs. Catching Indiana, trailing second place by four games, is a chore, while staying ahead of the New York-Chicago combo is less arduous with a 3.5 lead.

But as the saying goes, Win, Baby! That means running schedule hurdles that include Indiana's visit Wednesday, the second game of the cross-conference tilt with Minnesota, this time on the road Friday in another rematch of last season's finals, captured in a 3-0 sweep by the Lynx, and then Washington visits Sunday.

The worst case looks like 1-2, which isn't terrible, while 3-0 would mean the defending Eastern playoff champs (two straight) are a threat again. More than likely, it seems like a 2-1 week.

But if becomes 0-3, troubles may just be beginning.

4. New York Liberty (10-16), GB 9.5 -- As they say in politics, the Wednesday Phoenix game was penciled in as a 'W" a week ago, while Friday's visit from Chicago received the same treatment. Sunday's visit from Los Angeles was always going to be tough in any regard.

But now Phoenix has Taurasi back, Chicago recovered from an Indiana thrashing the next night to beat Los Angeles at home. So suddenly these two games are too close to call.

Perhaps Chicago is a win, even if Olympian Sylvia Fowles stays back in lineup for the Sky. But New York needs to keep winning and keep the pressure on the Windy City crew.

For all the team has been through, 3-0 on the week would be magnificent, though it is doubtful, so 2-1 is probably good enough. But trouble will still lurk at 1-2 and call a medic if its 0-3 between now and the next weekly forecast.

5. Chicago Sky (10-16), GB 9.5 -- Technically, a 2-0 sweep is a must, even though its two road stops to New York and Connecticut. But the Sky recently beat the Sun on the road, only to get skunked at home two nights later by the same team.

So at worst 1-1 and hope for the best. At 0-2 start praying for a good ping pong bounce if failure to reach the playoffs becomes 0-for-7.

6. Washington Mystics (5-22), GB 15.0 -- Good effort and bad effort. It's all producing the same bottom line. With Los Angeles visiting Friday while Washington visits Atlanta Sunday, the smart money people would say 0-2, which at least maintains a lead in the Bottoms Up Division.

Anything else, 1-1 split or 2-0 sweep would be enough to cause President Obama to visit the Verizon Center for a shoot-around.

Incidentally, apparently there's some work being done on the floor in the hallways of the Verizon Center. When he asked, the Guru got a response from an unnamed source for this blog: "It's part of a work in progress being done in many levels around here."

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Minnesota Lynx (22-4), GB --
Not much to be said, the Lynx speak for themselves looking like another juggernaut, though one could find many moments of potential imperilment hidden in some of the wins.

Atlanta visits Friday and then off to San Antonio Sunday. A 2-0 sweep is quite likely while 0-2 much less so. How about 1-1? It's possible, but believers better not be near Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve if that's what they think the week will produce.

2. Los Angeles Sparks (19-9), GB 4.0 -- Very talented. Quite unpredictable. The slide probably ends Friday night in Washington, though it will be an emotional affair with so many former Mystics and Maryland players making a return to the District.

Then Sunday is a visit to New York to complete the cross-conference home-and-home series. Bet the house on 2-0. Certainly, with San Antonio just one game behind second in the West, nothing else on this week's slate will do.

Sorry, no consolation for 1-1 and don't expect anything in your holiday stocking this winter for an 0-2 this week.

3. San Antonio Silver Stars (17-9) GB 5.0 -- The distance is safe from behind for now, but coach/GM Dan Hughes' group, as mentioned, would like to return to the surge that carried them across the Olympic break.

Unfortunately, the schedule calls for a visit from Indiana on Friday, and a visit to Minnesota, Sunday.

Anything goes in the week ahead from 2-0 to more than likely 1-1 but it could easily be 0-2. Losses will not harm like an ebb tide but they will prevent forward progress.

4. Seattle Storm (11-14), GB 10.5 -- In playoff speak, the Storm can officially send the Tulsa Shock back to the draft lottery with a 2-0 sweep, winning at home on Thursday and in Oklahoma on Saturday.

Phoenix, however, is still in the hunt, so all the Storm do with a sweep is get closer, which is better than not getting closer, especially if the Mercury get a fire lit by the return of Taurasi.

Getting shocked by the Shock at 0-2 wouldn't be the end of the world at this juncture, but it would be a setback, to be sure. Tulsa is playing better so 1-1 won't be a surprise. But Seattle is looking to gear up for a postseason run, no matter what the seed is when the Western wars begin later this month.

Put money, barring injuries, on 2-0.

5. Phoenix Mercury (6-19), GB 15.5 -- This would be an exciting WNBA week if the Mercury were totally healthy. Still, Taurasi's return is worth something, maybe 1-2, at best, because the other road stops are at Connecticut, Friday, and Indiana, Sunday.

Phoenix is about to impact, and maybe not, the finish in the East between Connecticut, which the Mercury visit Friday, and Indiana, which is Sunday's stop on the schedule.

Of course, 2-1 and 3-0 does nothing in the Bottom's Up Division, but 0-3 keeps the Mercury deep in the tank, er, mix with Washington and Tulsa.

6. Tulsa Shock (6-20), GB 16.0 -- You read it all in the Seattle blurb, but this time read it from Tulsa's side: visit to the Storm, Thursday, and a visit in the other direction back to Oklahoma, Sunday.

An 0-2 knockout would cause a look at the future blueprint and let the dreaming begin, though until Elizabeth Cambage shows up next season after the second year pro decided to not return after the Olympics, that component of the dream remains foggy.

However, what happens at 2-0? Nothing much different except it shows that the fortitude the squad has undergone guided by new coach Gary Kloppenburg is paying off. He'll probably even get a vote or two for coach of the year, which, for a while, seemed headed in Dan Hughes' direction.

When all is said and done, the honor may land with Connecticut's Thibault.

But if lottery fortune smiles on Tulsa, the potential for wheeling and dealing can carry its own rewards.

And with that, it's time to sign off, though if Vin at AP is reading this, besides doing rescue work catching errors, is it time for another pre-game rendezvous at Dinosaur before enterting Prudential?

Same barbecue time, same barbecue channel as last week, though it's time for the Guru to switch the starting lineup from the menu.

And for those of you who don't follow the Guru on twitter, @womhoopsguru, -- he will tweet from the game, but on the way to here, he stopped at his usual place in Baltimore and found the city quite calm after the Orioles caught the New York Yankees for a first-place tie in the AL East.

As he also tweeted, a Washington-Baltimore World Series would be so cost effective on travel budgets involving only the Baltimore-Washington Memorial Parkway or I-95 that papers could send seven reporters for the price of one.

However, in light of cutbacks, that would not leave anybody left to cover football or anything else, and in some places, seven still on staff is exhorbitant.

-- Mel









- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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