Guru's WNBA Roundup: Chicago Sky Rises to Claim Top of the East While The Connecticut Sun Sets While West
By Mel Greenberg
Having claimed the necessary tie-breaker over second-place Atlanta by beating the Dream 85-68 Saturday night at the Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont, Ill., the Chicago Sky will go into the WNBA playoffs later this month at the height of the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile at the botton of the East, the no-longer defending regular-season champion Connecticut Sun offically set in the West on its current road trip with a 76-68 loss in the closing minutes in Phoenix to the Mercury.
The Mercury's magic number reduced to one to join the front-running Minnesota Lynx (22-7), second-place Los Angeles Sparks (21-8) and fourth-place Seattle Storm (15-15), who backed into the a spot in the West despite losing Saturday night 97-74 in Minnesota because fifth-place San Antonio (11-19) fell at home to Los Angeles 80-67.
Seattle is in because the Storm won the season-series with San Antonio to clinch a spot even though the Silver Stars could still tie on record.
However, a quirk in the schedule in comparable number of games is the reason Phoenix (15-13), the preseason overall favorite with the number one pick of Baylor star Brittney Griner, has not clinched.
But that could come on Friday when Phoenix (15-13) visits San Antonio to play the Silver Stars straight up in Texas.
It just seems a matter of time for the Mercury to get into the mix, though considering San Antonio leads the five-game series 2-1 and Phoenix has a tough finish with a road trip through the East, the Silver Stars still have a pulse, however faint.
Not so for Connecticut (7-22), which with the league's worst record joins the Tulsa Shock (9-20) in the next draft lottery with two other teams to be determined.
While one is likely to be San Antonio, the tight grouping of the rest of the East has the other also-ran still to be determined.
The draft next April may not be as loaded at the top as it was this time, but the first-round might be deeper overall in terms of serviceable seniors that will be up grabs to both the lottery teams and the rest of the eight teams in the league.
But for the first time since joining the WNBA as an expansion outfit in 2006, one of the four will not be Chicago, which finally made it over the hump and more riding the addition of overall number two pick Elena Delle Donne, the leading rookie-of-the-year candidate out of Delaware.
At this point, Delle Donne, who was the first newcomer to be the top vote-getter in the fans votes for All-Star starters, is also in the mix for Most Valuable Player in the WNBA, considering how far the Sky has climbed.
While the win Saturday night did not give Chicago (21-8) the outright numerical number one at the top, the Sky claimed the top seed because the worst they can do is tie the Dream 2-2 on season series and overall record.
That means going to the second tie-breaker if both have the same record and the win clinched the best performance against the rest of the East.
Chicago, which had never had a winning record or been to the playoffs, is also still in the hunt for best overall record and home-court advantage if the Sky advances to the best-of-five finals next month.
The Sky trails two-time Western Conference playoff champion Minnesota (22-7) by a game and are tied with Los Angeles (21-8).
Thus, Delle Donne's postgame comment is well-grounded, especially since her experience with Delaware ripping through the Colonial Athletic Associatiion the last two seasons, close encounters with Drexel notwithstanding, only meant that there were still bigger fish to fry in the NCAA tournament.
"I think we have taken huge strides as a team, but what's cooler iss there's a lot more we can do and improve on," Delle Donne said. "That's what you like to see at a time like this."
Delle Donne had 15 points behind Sylvia Fowles' 18 points while former James Madison star Tamara Young out of the CAA scored 12 points and put Atlanta (14-13) six games behind Chicago and just a game ahead of the idle Washington Mystics (14-15), who next play at Connecticut Friday night.
Atlanta is suddenly in danger of continuing a slide considering it must next host Los Angeles in a crossover game and then play the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever (13-15), which is just 1.5 games behind Atlanta holding fourth.
"We're all crunched in there fighting to make the playoffs and fighting to get the best position we can," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said Friday night after the Fever outlasted the New York Liberty 73-67 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
In tht game, Tamika Catchings had 22 points and Shavonte Zellous scored 21.
"Shavonte is a good candidate for most improved player," Dunn said.
The loss, which featured New York (11-18) fallling in a deep hole early before rallying for a brief lead, put the Liberty on the edge of the playoff cliff, dropping three games behind Washington and 2.5 behind Indiana, which is tied 2-2 with New York in their series with one more game to play.
The Liberty next visit Tulsa on Sunday and that game has no win guarantees for New York despite the Shock's elimination.
Rookie Kelsey Bone out of Texas A&M had 13 points off the bench for New York and Plenette Pierson scored 10 but All-Star Cappie Pondexter was held to seven points, shooting 1-for-12 from the field.
Back in the Midwest, Atlanta rookie Alex Bentley out of Penn State had a career-high 19 points against Chicago while Angel McCoughtry, who shook off an injured right ankle from her previous game, didn't start but the league's leading scorer finished with 17 points.
At the beginning of the season, mking the playoffs, alone, was enough of a goal for Chicago, but the focus changed as the Sky persevered several injuries including two by Delle Donne to move ahead of the East.
The first, a concussion, caused Delle Donne to miss two games and miss playing in the All-Star game while the second, a foot injury in a narrow loss at Los Angeles, caused her to miss two more, but Chicago made dramatic rallies to beat Seattle on the road and Connecticut at home.
"I wouldn't have listened," third-year coach Pokey Chatman said about her reaction if anyone had talked about Chicago going to the head of the class, "just out of respect for the league and the players, and I probably would have figured that person's someone in my family.
"But I would have still taken it as a compliment in terms of them having respect for the players and their ability that's there."
Chicago hadn't played for a week since winning at Atlanta the night after beating New York at home to make the playoffs participation official.
"We came out after being off a week," Fowles said. "We just tried to be focused as much as possible. Just taking a week off is hard in general, but just to come out and feel that way an d contribute on the court the way we did tonight. I think it was amazing."
Amazing is how Connecticut fans feel watching their team (7-22) plunge from the lofty heights of last season to the worst record in t5he league.
But Saturday night they had to watch from afar and for almost the entire game they saw a last-ditch effort by the Sun to stay alive for a playoff spot until Phoenix took over down the stretch.
Former Temple star Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner each scored 22 points to hand the Sun their seventh straight loss.
"The whole game, I'm thinking, we can't be the ones that lose to this team," Dupree said. "It sounds horrible bujt that's the mentality you have to have because at some point they are going to get somebody and I don't want us to be the team that they get."
Former UConn star Tina Charles, the reigning MVP of the league, had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Sun.
"We gave up a couple of o-boards that were a huge difference down the stretch," Sun first-year coach Anne Donovan said. "We had some good looks, but it was defensively that we had some lapses at the end."
Connecticut has had injury problems all season but while the Sun couldn't overcome the absentees, Seattle has overcome its problems to make the postseason, fulfilling coach Brian Agler's mid-season hopes because he wanted a reward for the way his Storm hasd coped.
Both All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird announced before the season opener they would be out of action recovering from surgery.
Saturday night, though, the Storm, who has to play Minnesota two more straight times, ran into a buzzsaw that is the Lynx.
Former UConn star Maya Moore, the overall top pick of the 2011 draft, had 25 of her 30 points in the first half for the Lynx.
"Minnesota's the best team in the league," Agler said. "There's no question."
Seimone Augustus added 16 points for the Lynx, who could end up playing Seattle in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Rookie Rachel Jarry scored a career-high 14 points while Lindsay Whalen scored 12 and former Virginia star Monica Wright had 10.
Tina Thompson, who is retiring at the end of the season after being the oldest player in terms of being on rosters since the league launch in 1997, had 18 points for the Storm and tied a season high with five 3-pointers.
Temeka Johnson had 16 points and former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 11.
In the night's only other game in the WNBA, second-year pro Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Kristi Toliver had 15 points and seven assists to help keep Los Angeles a game behing Minnesota in second place.
Candace Parker had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Sparks attack.
San Antonio, which has been without All-Stars Sophia Young and Becky Hammon with injuries, were down two more Saturday night to eight with the absences of Danielle Robinson and Davellyn Whyte, both point guards, who have leg injuries.
Jia Perkins scored 25 for San Antonio, likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Former Stanford star Jayne Appel had 10 points and 123 rebounds, while Danielle Adams, a former Texas A&M star, scored 10 points.
That's it for now.
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