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, June 10, 2013

Maya's WNBA Chicago Scene: Delle Donne and Sky Growing Together

By Maya Goldberg-Safir

ROSEMONT, Ill. --
How did the Chicago Sky win this game?

Definitely not by taking care of the ball.

With 24 turnovers over all, the Sky won Sunday's weekend re-match against the San Antonio Silver after the loss Friday night in Texas only because they are finally ready to battle – with a Olympian in the post, a seemingly 4-dimensional rookie, and a lot of heart.

The Sky are also being put to the test without former Rutgers star Epiphany Prince, whose Russian ankle madness is reported to be a grade-two sprain (“No ligament damage, thank goodness,” says Pokey.)

In any case, Tamera Young is starting, Courtney Vandersloot is firmly in point position, and Allie Quigley is gaining minutes. The lack of Piph also means even more pressure on playmaking by Elena Delle Donne – whose total WNBA career comprises of about a month - and who is apparently ready to step up in a way rookies rarely have before.

But even without Prince, the Sky are still capable of spreading the floor, penetrating, dishing down low and shooting the three… all of which makes them a very serious threat.

And there were a couple moments of wonderful chemistry– EDD’s over the shoulder hook pass to Big Syl on the blocks was a great example – but Chicago also made quite a few careless lobs and desperately telegraphed passes, and 24 turnovers overall could have easily cost them the game.

But while Pokey Chatman definitely isn't happy about those ever-plaguing lost possessions, she must be pleased with how the Sky saved themselves – notably that EDD was much more aggressive than in Friday’s 81-69 loss, and that the entire squad maintained a level of intensity unseen during last year’s playoff-less season.

As the eloquent Swin Cash noted after the game: "It's the character and toughness that let you find a way to win. Games like this last year, we lost.”

And in the end, the Sky found their way, specifically by out-rebounding the Silver Stars 45-31 and getting to the line over twice as often as the visiting team, with huge contributions down low from veteran center Sylvia Fowles, who ended the night with 16 rebounds.

Delle Donne, who had both a game and career-high 23 points (a record that will last about as long as the Guru can stay off his iPad), was as dynamic as she’s been, and despite a couple of sloppy plays, Courtney Vandersloot dished out 5 assists and collected 12 points on the night, looking mostly like a smarter, tougher player – able to get around defenders, create openings, and even limit Danielle Robinson’s insane speed on offense – but she does need to execute both passes and shots with a bit more confidence.

And let’s not forget completely about San Antonio, who came out fighting – even though they played without injured veteran stars Becky Hammon and Sophia Young.

The Silver Stars relied largely on D-Rob to run their offense, who was unable to convert points-wise and ended the night with only 5. Nevertheless, the Silver Stars appear well coached as ever, clawing back from a 15 point deficit and capitalizing on out-of-sync Sky turnovers.

Their offensive rally was largely led by Jia Perkins, whose team-high 20 points included a clutch three point shot that tied the game at 70, with only seconds left to go against her former team.

But Elena Delle Donne was ready with a quick response, driving with to the rim and drawing a foul, leaving the Silver Stars with just 1.8 seconds to chuck the ball toward the hoop.

Her finish adds to game-winners at Delaware against Drexel and St. John's the last two seasons before graduating to the WNBA.

And at that point, did anyone have any doubt that EDD would easily net both free throws and secure a 72-70 victory for the Sky? Of course not.

You could feel everyone breathing easily as The Very Poised Rookie took the line.

And soon, when the final buzzer sounded, Allstate Arena burst out in cheers – yes, Chicago Fans finally appear to be enjoying themselves.

That’s right: despite the empty seats, with just 4,293 fans in attendance, being at the game kind of felt like being invited to a secret party with a giant of buffet of goodies – which is to say, there’s nothing wrong with an excess of goodies.

Our treats included a clear view of Elena Delle Donne’s mile-long spin move (could we call it the Magnificent Mile?!) and Sylvia Fowles glittering, locked-in glare after drawing the and-1 on an incredible offensive put-back.

Plus, there were enough bundled t-shirts and yellow Styrofoam balls for everyone.

And when the wonderfully diverse Chicago crowd spilled out together into the parking lot, the whole Sky crew - nerdy Jewish dads and their young daughters, whole families still in their Sunday best, 13U AAU players, women in khaki shorts and awesome bleached pixie-cuts – seemed truly joyous, excited for the next game.

The Chicago Sky are not a perfect team. But they do look focused and ready to grow – guided in part by the wisdom of their youngest member, ironically enough – because when Elena Delle Donne makes a mistake, she never seems to turn on the refs, or on herself.

Instead, she’ll pat her chest twice, perhaps catch Swin Cash for a high five and a quick, "my fault," and gaze straight ahead, ready to defend or meet the ball once more.

But mostly, of course, EDD isn’t making mistakes - she's scored 20 points three times so far this season and is second in blocks behind only Candace Parker.

And with the continued suburb play of Sylvia Fowles (don’t forget, she’s a rare and dominant pure center in the league) alongside the improving play of Sloot and (let’s hope) added confidence from Young and Quigley, Chicago Sky fans should keep leaving Allstate satisfied – and that’s just before Piph gets back.

Plus, @WNBA recently retweeted the following: 'If @De11eDonne keeps up this level of play we're going to have to not only consider her for rookie of the year but also for MVP.'

MmmmHMMM.

And hey, New York – see you in Chi-town.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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