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, October 06, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Connecticut Rallies Over Indy To Capture Opener of Eastern Finals

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. --
The top-seeded Connecticut Sun did what they needed to do Friday night in the opener of their best-of-three WNBA Eastern Conference finals against the second-seeded Indiana Fever.

Now all they have to do Monday night when the series moves to Indianapolis is match their skill this season at winning on the road and Connecticut will be back to the league championship series for the first time since doing a back-to-back job as WNBA runnersup in 2004 and 2005.

Though not falling behind early nearly as bad as a week ago when the New York Liberty jumped on the visiting Sun for a 16-point lead in a conference semifinal elimination game trying to avoid a 2-0 sweep, Connecticut still needed a comeback from an eight-point deficit in the opening stanza.

By the time the Sun finished their latest massive turnaround, this time by 24 points, Connecticut pushed away from a 30-30 halftime tie to move to a 16-point advantage and eventual 76-64 triumph.

Third year pro and the WNBA most valuable player of the regular season, Tina Charles, one of several alums on the Sun from the powerful University of Connecticut collegiate program, which is located not far from here, shook off another slow start to finish with another double double, this time scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.

She also blocked four shots and grabbed two steals.

"We controlled two of the things we wanted to control -- rebounding (30-25) and free throw difference (19-20 vs. 8-12), turnovers were close, we had a couple more than them (12-8), but for the most part we did what were supposed to do, other than the first quarter, which was a little scary," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said.

While Charles was leading the way for the Sun with help from Kara Lawson's 16 points and Asjha Jones's 11 in addition to 13 off the bench from Tan White, Indiana's veteran Tamika Catchings could be relieved she wasn't in the adjoining casino suffering similarly at the tables the way she was locked down by the Connecticut defense.

Catchings, the former Tennessee standout as well as Charles' Olympic teammate this summer on the USA gold medalists in London, was held to a 2-for-14 effort from the floor, one of the poorest performances, offensively, she's ever had in the playoffs.

"She'll bounce back," Thibault said of Catchings without wanting to give away any secret strategy as to the defensive schemes to keep her from breaking out. "We made her work to get the ball. We made her uncomfortable every time she touched the ball."

Indiana coach Lin Dunn gave credit to Connecticut as a unit but also noted Catchings wasn't alone in failed marksmanship.

"I see 2-for-7, 1-for-4, 1-for-6," Dunn referred to some of the other mediocre field goal attempts. "We shoot 38 percent, they shoot 43 percent and they're going to win the ballgame. We need to shoot 42 percent.

"I'm not asking for a miracle. I'm asking to go from 38 percent to 42 percent and I think we can do that," Dunn continued. "Bt we've got to step up and knock down those open shots. I also think we have to keep our poise and composure.

"We were even at the half, and then they come out on top and got 15 second-chance points, so we're going to take five of those second chance points, we're going to hit four or five more of our shots, we're going to get to the free throw line two or three more times, and we're going to win the second game. That's how we're going to do it."

Though having the benefit of playing at home in the opener of their semifinal series against the third-seeded Atlanta Dream, which topped Indiana in last season's Eastern Final, the Fever struggled to a similar opening loss here.

But on the play of blossoming Erlana Larkins, the former North Carolina star who had big outings offensively and defensively after the opener, Indiana rallied into last Tuesday night to take Games 2 and 3 in their series and gain some revenge on Atlanta.

While Larkins drew praise from people here in the arena, who remember her heavy build as a rookie first-round pick and 14th overall of the Liberty in 2008, Connecticut was able to somewhat limit her to nine points and eight rebounds, though she clearly outplayed Charles during a long stretch of the first half.

"I think it's obvious we have to do a better job of getting Larkins touches," Dunn said. "She shot 50 percent and she only got eight shots."

The Fever were not without another heroic effort from former Purdue All-American Katie Douglas, the former Sun star who tied a career mark for second-best playoff effort. She scored 27 points and was deadly down the stretch from the arc, where she connected on 5-of-10 three point attempts overall on the night, which tied a Fever record.

"I like it here in Connecticut," Douglas reflected on her 11-of-19 effort overall from the floor. "I played here five years, so obviously I'm very comfortable with the rims, the floor, the lighting. I was feeling good. My teammates did a good job of getting me open, finding me.

"A lot of people were knocking down shots. I felt my shot was pretty good tonight."

Over in the West, the defending champion Minnesota Lynx will try to close out Los Angeles with a sweep in that conference finals against the Sparks in Tinseltown Sunday.

If Connecticut is extended to a decisive Game 3, the action returns here Thursday night, while the best-of-five WNBA finals begin Sunday night, October 14.

Minnesota has overall home-court advantage, while Connecticut would hold the home-court perk if the Sun advanced to the finals and met Los Angeles.

But the Sparks would gain the edge if they got to the finals and met Indiana.

Lawson knows the Sun will not have it easy over at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the Midwest. (The arena was formally known as Conseco Fieldhouse, which was the host venue for the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2011.)

"Obviously, they are a team that is very aggressive, a great defensive team," Lawson said of Indiana. "Both teams talked about at length how rebounding is a key to this series.

"We know they are going to play with a lot of energy. That's what teams do when they are facing elimination. This is far from over. We did what we were supposed to do, which is win the first game, and now we have to try to win a tough game on the road."

Guru Notes: It looks like the rookie of the year and coach of the year awards, two of the three priominent postseason honors yet to be announced, may be heading in Los Angeles' direction.

Former Stanford star Nneka Oguwmike, the overall No. 1 pick of the draft in April, lived up to the status of being top dog on selection day.

With the Western series moving to Los Angeles, most honors are presented in front of home fans, though the league has yet to announce the timing of any remaining awards.

Connecticut took a cue from gamblers around the corner, hitting the jackpot prior to the start here of the semifinals against New York,when Charles was given her MVP trophy; Renee Montgomery, another ex-UConn star, earned the Sixth Player Award from a nationwide media panel of writers and broadcasters, while Lawson was named the winner of the Kim Perrot Sportmanship Award.

If Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve was going to repeat as coach of the year, based on tradition, she should have been given the trophy before the Lynx rout in Minneapolis before the start of the West finals Thursday night.

Likewise, if Thibault was in line, the moment for being honored should have come here Friday night. That means that perhaps first-year coach Carol Ross, the former Atlanta assistant, might be targeted to join Oguwmike on the podium.

The All-League team usually gets announced during the finals, as does the all rookie team, which is selected by the 12 WNBA head coaches.

Meanwhile, with the playoffs extended deep into October beecause of the month-long suspension of the schedule for the Olympics, Lawson, who does commentary on women's collegiate games in the winter, is running into an overlap with Midnight Madness ready to make its reappearance at campuses across the country.

"I'm not getting any vacation this time," Lawson quipped. "They've (ESPN) already started sending me stuff."

The Indiana traveling party here includes longtime general manager Kelly Krauskopf, who was a finalist for the top NCAA women's job that had been vacant since Sue Donohoe departed in November.

"I just was not ready to go back to college," said Krauskopf, who once worked in the headquarters of the former Southwest Conference as well as in the NBA prior to the 1997 launch of the WNBA. "My heart just wasn't in it, but I was very flattered when I was approached."

The job eventually went to former Northwestern star Anucha Browne Sanders, who had been in the marketing department of the NBA New York Knicks and most recently had been the senior women's administrator at the University of Buffalo.

-- Mel


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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