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.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Guru's WNBA Roundup: New York Singes Washington To Regain 4th In The East

(Guru's note: There is a post below this updating the Angel McCoughtry situation in Atlanta in the wake of a text to the Guru late Saturday night from McCoughtry's agent. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click on the mel's blog link on the left side and then scroll down in the archive in blogspot to the previous post.)

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. --
Washington isn't admitting defeat, per se, since that would be out of character for America's revolutionary war hero and first president of the United States.

But Washington, the WNBA franchise known as the Mystics out of the nation's capital, got another dose of a reality show late Saturday afternoon, courtesy of the New York Liberty which bounced back into the victory column with a 79-73 triumph following Thursday's loss here at the Prudential Center to the Indiana Fever at the start of a long homestand.

The WNBA had just three games out of a potential six scheduled to start the Labor Day weekend but the fates of all six teams in action this late in the season were all tied to each other through the outcomes on the slate.

New York's win got the Liberty back into the upside of the race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference because several hours later Saturday night, Indiana completed a sweep of its season-series with the visiting Chicago Sky, posting a lopsided 81-64 win that dropped the Sky into fifth-place, a half-game behind New York and also officially kept the Fever postseason string alive with the clinching of a playoff berth to join the first-place Connecticut Sun among conference participants.

The Atlanta Dream, whose beleagured star Angel McCoughtry is suposed to return from her suspension and play Sunday afternoon against visiting Connecticut, according to her agent, will try to move closer to locking up a spot for a fourth-straight playoff run following winning the Eastern title the two previous postseasons as an under-seed.

Connecticut will need to keep winning on the road because Indiana is just two games behind the Sun after Saturday, though the next stop for the Sun on their four-game slate is at Washington, Tuesday.

The Mystics' loss meanwhile was worth its potential weight in the lucrative draft lottery offering Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins because in the race for a shot at the No. 1 pick, Washington's league worst 5-21 record got some breathing room when late Saturday night the Phoenix Mercury won their second straight, upsetting the suddenly struggling San Antonio Silver Stars 94-90 in the Arizona Desert.

Washington trailed by as many as 18 points before a fourth quarter rally made the score look more respectable than the competition offered most of the way.

The Mystics dropped five games behind New York with eight remaining in terms of making the postseason, but for those hoping to get another Baylor product into Washington following the catch of Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III by the NFL's Redskins, or to get the attendance boost possible with Delle Donne bringing her fans from nearby Delaware, or for Washington rookie Natalie Novosel to gain a reunion with Diggins, her former Notre Dame teammate, the magic number is now three to be allowed to pan for gold.

The only tragedy in that is not stumbling into fool's gold by getting stuck with the fourth pick, though the potential player there would be ok, but certainly nowhere near the esteem held over the other three collegians.

"I guess that's the upside -- we know we have a chance to get a very good elite player," Mystics coach/general manager Trudi Lacey said following the loss to New York.

Unlike the outcry against Phoenix, complaining the Mercury were conjuring up a first class tank job before superstar and Olympian Diana Taurasi finally returned to the lineup in the last week, Washington is more focused on finding ways to get tothe win column in addition to having fotune smile in the Mystics' direction.

"We're trying to find our way but in the second quarter I felt offense got really stagnant -- we scored 12 points but we're trying to get Izzy (Iziane Castro Marques) acclimated, give her some minutes," Lacey said of her recent free agent signee who had been a key member of Atlanta in two previous seasons.

"It's been a long week," Lacey continued. "We've had eight of our last 10 on the road so it makes it tough. But I thought for the most part, execution was better, defense was improved as we went, we had some turnovers late, which led to some easy baskets for them which really hurt us down the stretch."

Former Duke star Monique Currie had 20 points, former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne scored 19, and Jasmine Thomas, another former Duke sensation, scored 18 points, though she committed six of the 18 Washington turnovers that allowed New York a 25-13 advantage in points in transition, quite the opposite than 48 hours earlier when the Liberty were on the downside to Indiana in the same statistic.

With former Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter being troubled by her feet -- she still scored 16 points -- her former Scarlet Knights teammate Essence Carson matched Currie's game-high total of 20, but doing it for the Liberty whiile dealing a season-high six assists.

Kara Braxton added 14 points, a season high for her, while Plenette Pierson had nine out of the Liberty starting lineup, and former Stanford star Nicole Powell scored eight points.

It doesn't get easier for Washington, which next hosts Connecticut on Tuesday, while New York, which recently played six games in nine days on the road, is getting a break down the stretch in terms of the quality of opponents.

"Again, we're trying to take it one step aside and trying to play better, putting together a 40-minute game together. We're trying to better now and also build for the future. We're looking forward to getting off the road and playing at home."

Langhorne noted the frustration of the game in which Washington trailed by a mere two points, 22-20, at the end of the first quarter, was outscored 23-12 in the second, held even at 18-18 in the third, a quarter that had bedeviled the Liberty, and then closed the gap with a 23-16 finish over the final 10 minutes.

"We just had turnovers at the wrong time," Langhorne said. "It seemed our turnovers came at really crucial points, and then they would get going and we would try to get a stop when they would hit a big (three pointer) or something like that.

"It's tough playing like that on the road. We just have to keep fighting at this point and that's what we're going to keep doing."

In terms of becoming a superior product in the future through a quality addition in the draft, the worst-to-not-as-worse standings, now stacks up as follows in terms of getting the best opportunities in the draft lottery:

1. Washington Mystics 5-21 .192 --
2. Tulsa Shock 6-20 .231 1
3. Phoenix Mercury 6-19 .240 1.5
4. Chicago Sky 9-16 .360 4.5


For New York coach John Whisenant, the future is now, even though many believe the Liberty would be better served gaining another elite player in the draft, rather than experience a short-lived run in the playoffs, likely to happen playing either Connecticut or Indiana in the first round.

"Its nicer to be here after a win," he said. "Our players had a good business-like approach to this game. Cappie's feet were hurting and she played through that. Plenette got knocked around a little, played through that.

"We kind of shook the starting lineup up, not for any particular reason, we just wanted to shake it up. As I told (his players), it doesn't really change minutes. I try to judge whose having a good game against a particular matchup that day, so who starts is not a particular factor.

"Essence did come back and I played her a few more minutes (31.16), she usually plays 25 or 30, she played because she played rather well, and Kara Braxton played more minutes because she played better -- I thought, and rewarded with her more minutes -- she got a little fatigued at the end because she has stamina (issues).

Speaking of defending Washington, which had evened the five-game series at 1-1 here right before the Olympics break, Whisenant said of Langhorne: "She's ought to be a receiver for (Eli) Manning. She's got great hands, if you throw it to her, she'll catch it.

"If she gets one finger on it, she'll rebound. She makes that step-through move through the basket left-handed no matter what you do."

Looking at the race for a playoff spot, particular versus Chicago, with whom New York has one game left, he observed, "As I've said, we've had the tougher schedule early and on paper the easier one going down.

"With 10 to go, we've had six games against teams with the fewest wins plus Chicago and we have seven at home. Chicago is going on the road to play some of the best teams.

"It matters not, whether it's Washington or Minnesota, if we play hard, we have a chance to win, but if we don't play hard, we won't win. The league's even. We're limited in certain areas in scoring. But that doesn't keep you from rebounding, getting loose balls, setting screens, diving on the ball, taking charges, doing all the team things that players do -- that's what we encourage them to do. We look for scoring, always, and we look for rebounding, always. And if we get those, we can compete.

"This was a hard win. The other night against Indiana, we struggled. As I watched the tape of the game the other night I could see the six games in nine days on the road was still showing up even if we were at home.

"We were a little fresher tonight. Phoenix has Taurasi back and that's not good luck (for New York). It would be better luck without having to play her because she can ignite a team."

Pondexter praised Carson's performance, saying, "It's good to have other people step up. Essence at point guard has allowd her to better her vision in terms of knowing when to pass and not when to pass. She's doing a great job. My teammates really took advantage of the game tonight."

Indiana 81, Chicago 64

The Fever, with Saturday's victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, formerly known, as Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, has now won 10 or more home games in 11 consecutive seasons, a WNBA record.

Previously, Whisenant's now defunct Sacramento Monarchs won 10 or more for 10 straight seasons (1999-2008), while New York did it for nine straight (1997-2005).

Briann January had 19 points for the Fever, while Olympian Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas each scored 17 points as Indiana has won a seas0n-high five straight games.

Catchings also had 10 rebounds to gain her 78th career double double, which is third on the WNBA's all-time list.

Indiana is now 7-1 since the season resumed after the Olympics, the one being a loss at Los Angeles.

Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince scored 22 points for Chicago, whose Olympian Sylvia Fowles played for the first time in three games but went to the locker room in tears caused by what the Associated Press termed an apparent injury to her right leg.

She had been bothered by her knees, according to a team source. Fowles had two points and two rebounds while limited to 11 minutes playing time as Chicago is now 2-15 since a foot injury sidelined Prince before the Olympic break in the schedule and that misfortune followed a franchise-record six-game win streak.

Former Boston College star Carolyn Swords, spelling Fowles off the bench, scored 13 points, one less than the career game total she set in a recent visit to the Connecticut Sun. She also had eight rebounds.

Indiana clinched a playoff berth because if Chicago beats New York, the most wins the Liberty could get is 17 and the Fever would win a fourth-place tiebreak on season series 3-1 triumph.

Likewise, if New York beats Chicago, in a similar tiebreak with a 5-0 series sweep, the Fever top the Sky.

"Playing someone five times is tough," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said of the season sweep of Chicago. "We started the game very sluggish. We turned up the defense a notch in the second quarter. This was a real team effort. We didn't win the boards, but we stayed close."

Sky coach Pokey Chatman spoke of the disastrous second quarter for the Sky after bolting to an early lead.

"We had 20 turnovers and 10 assists," Chatman said of the final tally in both categories. "That's a ratio of two-to-one. We didn't recover from that. They scored 27 points in the second quarter and we only scored 11."

Prince said, "They beat us to every loose ball. We didn't play defense like we are capable of. They seemed to get every shot they threw up at the buzzer. We didn't take advantage of the switches on defense."

Phoenix 94, San Antonio 90

The host Mercury (6-19) have won two straight for the first time this season and moved back out of last place in the West as Diana Taurasi fired away for 25 points and DeWanna Bonner scored 22 to hand the Silver Stars (17-9) their fourth loss in five games.

Sophia Young had a career-high 32 points for the Silver Stars while second year pro Danielle Adams out of 2011 NCAA champion Texas A&M had 21 points.

Following a franchise-record 12-game surge that had San Antonio on the cusp of the conference lead, the Stars, who have already clinched a playoff spot in the West, are now mired in third place, 4.5 games behind the defending champion Minnesota Lynx (21-4), two behind the Los Angeles Sparks (19-7), but stil 5.5 games ahead of the Seattle Storm with eight games remaining.

That's it till the next blog, posssibly within the next 24 hours, but the Guru will continue to tweet at @womhoopsguru.

-- Mel










- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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