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.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Mcoughtry and Whalen Helping Hands For More Than One Team

<By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON -- USABasketball Olympic gold medal-winning teammates Angel McCoughtry and Lindsay Whalen were a pair of helping hands
Friday night not only for their own WNBA squads but also for two other contingents as the stretch drive of the regular season drew within nine days of its conclusion.

Here in the Verizon Center, home of the forlorn Washington Mystics, McCoughtry, the former Louisville collegiate star who hails from nearby Baltimore, scored 12 of her game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter enabling the visiting Atlanta Dream to pull away to an 82-74 victory that locked up the third Eastern playoff seed.

The outcome was a microcasm of the way the Dream (18-14) have gone about their business the previous two seasons as well as this one.

Standingswise, Atlanta has struggled at the outset and then, despite being an under-seed in 2010 and 2011, managed to zip through the first two playoff rounds and make the WNBA best-of-five finals, losing to the Seattle Storm in 2010 and then the Minnesota Lynx in 2011 in what were both 3-0 wipeouts.

On Friday night Atlanta trailed Washington by 11 points in each of the first three quarters before rallying to once again send the Mystics (5-26) into yet another fadeout in what has now been two seasons of futility since tying the New York Liberty in 2010 for first in the East and grabbing the No. 1 conference seed with a franchise record number of 22 wins.

"We just had to adjust and get on the boards in the second half," said McCoughtry. "It's weird because we always seem to find our niche toward the end (of the season), which, is probably good.

"But this is a time when we find ourselves and really make an impact in the playoffs."

However, for the Mystics fans, whose team has already been eliminated and have an eye on a hopeful future, in this particular season the loss drew Washington closer to winning one of three grand prizes, in fact maybe the grandest of all, on Sept. 26 when the ping pong balls will be deployed to determine the lottery winners and the top four picks in next April's selections.

The fates of Washington, the Tulsa Shock, Phoenix Mercury, and either the New York Liberty or Chicago Sky will be revealed at 6 p.m. on ESPN, which will air the draft lottery results.

In spuring Atlanta by MCoughtry to subdue the Mystics, Washington remained in worst place with the poorest record of the 12 teams in the league and after a battle of lottery-bound teams in the Arizona desert in which Tulsa won a rare road game 92-84 over the injury-riddled Mercury, the home team here opened a 2.5-game lead with three remaining over Tulsa and Phoenix, which are both 7-23 with four games left to play.

There are no guarantees as No. 1 going into the ping pong ball delivery, as Tulsa can attest with a three-win season a year ago, only to land the de-vauled fourth pick.

But otherwise, a Washington lottery victory will mean the almost certain selection of Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 star of defending NCAA champion Baylor.

One other recent Baylor star is already lighting up the nation's capital, which is also enthralled with the Washington National's major league baseball countdown to claiming the East Division, monopolized the last five seasons by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Last week, Heisman winner and rookie NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3) made an impressive debut leading the Washington Redskins to a high-scoring road win over the New Orleans Saints.

Griner and Griffin have been campus pals in the Baylor athletic department.

But even if the top pick eludes Washington, getting number two or three will mean the likely addition of either scoring sensation Elena Delle Donne from nearby University of Delaware or Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins, whose former teammate Natalie Novosel was taken by the Mystics in the first round of last April's draft at ESPN.

The current lottery standings look like this:

1. Washington 5-26 GB: --
2. Tulsa 7-23 GB: 2.5
3. Phoenix 7-23 GB: 2.5
4. Chicago 12-18 GB: 7.0
or 4. New York 13-17 GB: 8.5

New York is holding a one-game lead over Chicago, which has failed to make the playoffs in six previous seasons since joining the league. The two are in a tight race down the stretch for the last playoff spot in the East and overall since all the Western Conference participants have been determined.

Whoever makes the playoffs will be the fourth seed after Atlanta's win here locked the Dream into the third spot. And whoever lands in the draft lottery will be assigned the fourth-best shot at one of the three highly coveted collegiate stars mentioned.

Tulsa's win created a 2-2 split in the four-game Western series between the two teams, but in terms of breaking a tie in reverse direction, for now Tulsa with a 4-17 record in the West with one conference game remaining, enables the Shock to place in front of Phoenix, which is 4-15 with three conference games remaining.

Phoenix, which has shut down WNBA elite star Diana Taurasi to rest for the remaininder of the schedule, to go with other major depletions on the Mercury, will host Chicago Sunday in a must-win for the visiting Sky and then travel to the Los Angeles Sparks Tuesday, before hosting defending champion Minnesota, Friday, and the Seattle Storm next Sunday.

Tulsa's final overall games are at the San Antonio Silver Stars, Sunday, where the home team is pursing Los Angeles for the second West seed, and then it's on to three games against the East, hosting New York on Thursday and then visiting the Liberty on Saturday in Newark, N.J., before finishing at the Indiana Fever, which may or may not need to win the game next Sunday on the final day of the regular season to regain the top East seed for the second straight season.

New York visits here Sunday and Washington can afford to detour from being the worst without much damage to put a potential playoff hurt on the geographical rival Liberty.

"We're not going to give anybody a free pass into the playoffs, " said former Duke star Monique Currie, who had a team-high 20 points for Washington. "Atlanta was able to clinch with a win (actually they backed in the previous night when Chicago lost at Los Angeles).

"But they had to work for it. New York will have to work when they come here Sunday. They're battling Chicago. We'll do whatever we can to make it as difficult as possible for them to get to where they want to go."

After the New York game, Washington will host Indiana Friday and then travel to Chicago on Saturday. The Mystics are 1-15 on the road, the one win being at New York on the final day of the front half of the season before the schedule suspended during the Olympic games in London, England.

As for the rest of the game details here, McCoughtry was one of four Atlanta starters in double figures and leads the league in scoring with a 21.7 points per game average.

Lindsey Harding, a former Washington player as well as Duke sensation, scored 19 points while Erika deSouza had 12 points, and Sancho Lyttle scored 11.

"We came out a little flat, I felt our energy level wasn't high that first half," said Fred Williams, who recently became coach/general manager in a promotion from an assistant to the ousted Marynell Meadors, who was one of UConn coach Geno Auriemma's assistants on the Olympic squad.

The firing by the Atlanta owners was related to an ongoing dispute with McCoughtry and other team issues.

"In the second half, we picked it up with more intensity," said Williams, who was once an assistant on the Southern Cal squad that contained all-time great Cheryl Miller in the early 1980s.

"Washington played hard. They really came after us. Washington does a good job playing hard," Williams said of the early Dream struggles in the game.

"We've been through a lot of things these past few weeks. My job is to keep them together and keep them focused and getting some wins for us. We just want to take it one game at a time and see how it rolls out for us.

"We just want to play good basketball and if it is a victory, it's a victory. I never want to run up the score on anybody."

Besides Currie's scoring, former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon had 15 points for Washington and Jasmine Thomas, a second-year pro out of Duke, scored 13 points.

Former Maryland stars Crystal Langhorne, Washington's top player, was limited after suffering a strain to an ankle.

Whalen To The Rescue!

While McCoughtry was doing her helper act here, elsewhere Minnesota star Lindsay Whalen knocked down a shot with 1.6 seconds remaining to give the WNBA defending champion Lynx a 66-64 win at Indiana (20-10), which is fighting the Connecticut Sun for first place in the East, the same closing finish as last season.

Whalen was part of the mega-trade prior to the 2010 season in which she was dealt to her hometown Minneapolis and the Sun received the overall No. 1 pick, which became UConn star Tina Charles, to go with another inbound former Huskies all-American in Renee Montgomery from the Lynx.

The deal had an echo effect Friday night and might have even been more because Whalen's game-winner enabled Connecticut (22-9) to hang on to a 1.5 lead over the Fever despite losing on the West Coast late Friday night 93-82 in Los Angeles to the Sparks (22-10), which swept the two-game East-West series.

"That was a good bounce back game for us," Whalen said. "We got off to the right start. Although Indy's tough, we were able to stay with them. They're a great team. We have to be ready because we play them again Monday (in Minneapolis).

The win enabled Minnesota (25-5), which already wrapped up the top spot in the West , to maintain a four-game lead over Los Angeles.

"Well, it was a defensive battle," said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. "We knew were going to be playing that side of the ball. We scored 25 points in the second half. Indiana should be proud of that. Giving, it's a long road trip, it was a great game to win."

Added Indiana coach Lin Dunn: "It was a great game fpr the fans. We started slow against their defensive pressure. We missed too many shots.

"This was a good game for us," Dunn observed of the battle in Bankers Life Field House, formerly named Conseco. "I'm disappointed we didn't win, but excited we had the chance. At the end, we ran a great play, but just missed the shot."

Second-year pro and reigning rookie of the year Maya Moore, the former national player of the year out of UConn, had 15 points and seven rebounds, both team highs, while Briann January scored 16 points for the Fever and Tamika Catchings, who is third all-time in the WNBA with double doubles, scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Fever.

"It shouldn't have come to the last shot," January said. "There were things we should have done early on in the game. On our end, we need to step it up, we need to cut harder, we need to execute better screens.

"Going into the playoffs, basketball teams are going to scout our plays and we need to execute better."

Katie Douglas, who failed to score a three-pointer for only the third time in the former Purdue star's career but finished with 14 points, had a chance to force overtime in the final seconds but the shot didn't go down.

"'Coach' drew up a play," Douglas explained. "I thought we executed it well. I didn't exactly know how they were going to defend it. I thought we got a good look.

"It didn't honestly come down to the last shot. Give them credit. They were able to get a score. Whalen had a great night. She got in there and made that basket. Put us back on our heels with 1.6 seconds to go. Give them credit. They're the defending champions."

Rookie Deveraux Peters out of Notre Dame scored 13 points for the Lynx.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles (22-10), All-Star Candace Parker had 23 points and 10 rebounds as the Sparks repelled a late Connecticut rally to prevent the Sun from getting much closer to clinching the regular season East title, though the magic number to do so was reduced by one game to three.

After Sunday, Connecticut returns home to host Indiana on Wednesday in a game that could wrap up the East and then Atlanta on Sunday to complete the regular season.

The Sun at the moment hold the advantage in tiebreakers in conference wins should Indiana win Wednesday and tie the season series with the Sun at 2-2.

Connecticut is 16-4 in the East and the Fever is 14-6 with two remaining for each team.

Indiana goes to Minnesota, Monday, then to Connecticut, Wednesday, at Washington, Friday, before finishing up at home hosting Tulsa on Sunday.

Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver had 18 points for Los Angeles to complete a two-game East-West sweep of the Sun while Nneka Oguwmike, the No. 1 pick last April and likely rookie of the year out of Stanford, had 17 points and eight rebounds.

The Sun's Charles, who was rested against Phoenix bccause of a groin strain in the win over the Mercury in Arizona, had 21 points and 13 rebounds, her WNBA-leading 17th double double on the season.

Connecticut rallied from a deep deficit and pulled to within a point in the fourth quarter before Los Angeles recovered to win its eighth straight at home and 15-1 overall. The Sun, who struggled on the road a year ago, have only lost four away from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

Former Duke star Alana Beard added 14 points for Los Angeles, while veteran and former Olympian DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 11 points.

Renee Montgomery had 15 points for the Sun and Tan White scored 11.

Los Angeles hosts Phoenix, Tuesday, and Minnesota, Thursday, to finish the regular season, while San Antonio (19-11), trailing by two games, can finish in a tie for second sweeping its final four games.

The Silver Stars would then be the second seed with homecourt advantage over the Sparks because they won the season series.

San Antonio, which will have difficulty catching Los Angeles, hosts Tulsa Sunday, New York on Tuesday, travel to Seattle on Friday and then hosts Minnesota next Sunday to wrap up the season.

The Silver Stars at home beat Seattle 90-66 as the Storm, missing key players at the moment, will be the fourth seed.

Australian Olympian Lauren Jackson has a strained hamstring while former UConn star Sue Bird has a hip flexor.

Becky Hammon had 25 points for San Antonio, while Sophia Young scored 19 points, Shameka Christon had 13 points, and Dianelle Robinson scored 10 points.

Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters each scored 12 points for the Storm (13-17), while Svetlana Abrosimova, another former UConn star, scored 11 points.

"I feel like we are now starting to find our groove again," Hammon said. "We're starting to play the way we want to play. It all starts on the defensive end."

That's it for now. Coming up later this weekend, the acceptance speech from the All American Red Heads upon their recent induction as the first women's team into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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