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.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: New York Edges Los Angeles and Slides Back Into 4th In the East

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. --
-- In 2006, Kristi Toliver, then a freshman, nailed one of the biggest shots in Maryland women's basketball history, connecting on a three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation in Boston that sent the Terrapins into overtime and an eventual come-from-behind victory over arch-Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke to win the NCAA championship.

On Sunday afternoon with seconds remaining, Toliver's hand was on the trigger again, this time with a chance to rescue the Los Angeles Sparks, who had squandered a 15-point lead to the New York Liberty.

But the shot missed, New York (12-17) grabbed the rebound and former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter went to the line and made one of two attempts to werap up a 73-71 victory by the Liberty that sent them a half-game in front of the Chicago Sky (11-17) into fourth place, which will be the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Los Angeles loss coupled with WNBA defending champion Minnesota (24-4) routing the San Antonio Silver Stars 81-62 clinched the regular season Western Conference title for the Lynx for the second straight season.

Minnesota owns all the tiebreakers and if Los Angeles won all its remaining games and the Lynx were to suddenly come up empty the rest of the way the two would tie for first place but advantage would go to the Lynx.

Los Angeles's remaining job with a scant two games lead over third place San Antonio (17-11) is to hold serve the rest of the way over the Silver Stars or the Sparks will yield homecourt advantage in the best-of-three Western semifinals.

On the other hand, if the Sparks were to lose their remaining games and the Seattle Storm (13-14), which has gained the playoffs for a WNBA-record ninth straight season, were to run the table, Los Angeles would win the tiebreak for second place seeding based on its season domination of Seattle.

"Right now, we just need to get off the road, get home and try to get some rest," said first-year Los Angeles coach Carol Ross, whose team has but four games remaining before the postseason kicks in.

New York meanwhile came out of the weekend with a wash in reverse of expectations. Having lost here Friday night to Chicago, the Liberty recovered with their upset of Los Angeles to flip forward while the Sky squandered an early lead at the first-place Connecticut Sun (21-8), which stayed 1.5 games in front of Indiana (19-9).

With a crowd of 7,357 the Prudential Center had playoff atmosphere, pulsating in the way life has been in the Liberty's regular home over in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden, which is still undergoing summer renovations this season and next.

"It really made it seem like a real home game, the way the crowd helped us," New York coach John Whisenant said.

The Fever kept the pressure on Connecticut by topping Phoenix 89-83 at home to officially make the losing Mercury the third team over the weekend to officially join what will be the four-team entries in the lottery for the draft order in April that will yield one of the most talented trio of graduating seniors among the top three picks.

The threesome are highlighted by Baylor sensation Brittney Griner, expected to be the top pick, Delaware star Elena Delle Donne, who may be a surprise No. 1 pick depending who lands the top choice, and Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins.

The Washington Mystics (5-24), who were easily handled 93-68 by the Atlanta Dream (16-14), continues with the worst overall record at 5-24, just ahead of the Tulsa Shock (6-22), which earlier became part of the lottery pool for the third straight year since becoming the shell of the former three-time WNBA champion Detroit Shock.

So coming down to the last two weeks of the season the footrace between Chicago and New York will determine who is in the playoffs as the last overall entry and who enters the lottery, with what seems likely might be the fourth-best percentage in terms of getting the advantage from the ping pong balls that will determine the draft order.

The Toliver missed shot at the outset of this post was so highlighted because it is one of several key moments that may be looked back upon in terms of the fates of Chicago and New York.

Certainly, the Sky squandering leads against Washington and Tulsa to suffer losses at the finish may end up becoming just as big an impact and New York winning narrowly in this one.

"Man that was a satisfying win, but I'm tired. I'll sleep good tonight," former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter said after scoring 21 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing eight assists.

Plenette Pierson scored 17 points and another former star Essence Carson scored 14, hitting several key shots during the second half rally.

Toliver finished with 17 points, while rookie Nneka Oguwmike, the former Stanford star, scored 13 points, and league MVP candidate Candace Parker finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

As much as Toliver's shot as been mentioned, Parker missed two critical foul shots in the closing minutes, and over Los Angeles was a mediocre 8-for-16 from the line, while New York connected on 13 of 19 attempts.

In her first homecoming, of sourts, Los Angeles rookie and former Rutgers star April Sykes scored eight points off the bench and had the Sparks prevailed, she would have been one of the key performers in the comeback.

"She stepped up and took advantage of her opportunity when it came," Ross said.

Pondexter observered, "Those non-Liberty Rutgers girls always seem to have big games when they come here."

On Friday night, Chicago's Epiphanny Prince was back in early season form in the Sky's upset of New York, so labelled in terms of current expectations.

If New York and Chicago tie at the finish, the Liberty is likely to take the second tiebreaker. The first one becomes moot since the teams split their series 2-2 but New York has a better chance to finish with a better conference record over the Sky.

Right now, New York is 8-12 with two games remaining against East opponents, both of them being lowly Washington, while Chicago is 7-13 with conference games left against Atlanta and Washington.

But it may never come down to any of that considering what's left overall for each team.

New York will host Washington, Wednesday, then visit Washington Sunday this week before going to San Antonio and finishing with a home-and-home against Tulsa.

If the Liberty should slide, however, the Tulsa series could be interesting because if New York gets clipped the rest of the way it possibly would finish behind the Shock in the percentage order for the draft order.

Chicago hosts Minnesota, Tuesday; Atlanta, Thursday; then travels to Phoenix and Seattle before finishing up at home against Atlanta and Washington.

The Mystics, at the moment, in the Bottoms Up Division, hold a 1.5 lead over Tulsa and a 2.5 lead over Phoenix for best shot at getting the No. 1 pick.

Chicago trails by 6.5 games and New York by 7 and whoever lands in the lottery, neither can finish ahead of Washington for best perentage shot.

Meanwhile at the top of the heap in the East, Connecticut, besides holding a 1.5 lead over Indiana, also is ahead of the Fever in conference performance -- The Sun are 16-4 while Indiana is at 14-6.

Indiana holds a four-game lead over Atlanta for third place and won the season series 3-2. The Dream have not clinched a playoff spot, but, barring mathematically improbability transforming into reality, should do so this week.

Connecticut heads West visiting Phoenix Wednesday, Los Angeles Friday, and Seattle Sunday -- the Sun lost at home to all three with Friday's loss to Phoenix being lopsided -- before finishing up at home against Indiana the following Wednesday and Atlanta the final Sunday and overall day of the regular season on Sept. 23.

Indiana this week hosts Seattle, Wednesday, and Minnesota, Friday, before going to Minnesota, next Monday, so with that daunting assignment, taking the East may become a non-issue in finishing up the following Wednesday visiting Connecticut and then going to Washington that Friday and then finishing with Tulsa.

Washington's final games, incidentally, are the two with New York, a visit from Atlanta on Friday before the Indiana visit a week later and a trip to Chicago the final Sunday.

If the Mystics get the top pick, they will likely take Griner, though Delle Donne means an attendance boost considering her fan base is within two hours of the nation's capital and they will travel to watch her play.

Of course, Griner in Washington would make two Baylor sensations. The other is RGIII, who pulsated the fan base Sunday with his sensational debut at quarterback in the NFL Redskins' win over the New Orleans Saints.

That's it for now. The Guru needs a quick nap before heading back north again to attend the WNBA Inspirational Women Awards luncheon at Chelsea Piers along the Hudson River in New York at which the gold-medal winning USA Olympians will be honored.

With a clearer head, the Guru will rehash all this in the weekly outlook 24 hours from now with all the scenarios further clarified from each team's perspective in terms of attaining either playoff seed or getting the best shot at getting the best shot in the draft lottery.

-- Mel


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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