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, July 07, 2014

Rob Knox's WNBA Notebook: The Mercury Is Heating Up

This is the first weekly WNBA column for the womhoop blog. As everybody recovers from the Fourth of July, take a few moments to get caught up on a very busy seven days around the WNBA. The week that was featured more 30-point efforts, an impressive comeback, several personal milestones and another Brittney Griner dunk.

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

The temperatures and the heat aren’t the only things rising in the desert. In addition to racking up victories, the red-hot Phoenix Mercury has climbed to the standings while celebrating plenty of individual accolades along the journey.

Overall, life is great for the Mercury, who are a league best 13-3.

Diana Taurasi scored a season-high 32 points, including a season-best seven 3-pointers, and Brittney Griner dunked as the Mercury beat the Los Angeles Sparks 94-89 in an instant classic for their seventh straight victory Sunday, tying a franchise record.

It’s the Mercury's best winning streak since August 2006 and the longest in the WNBA this season.

The one 3-pointer that had everybody buzzing and twitter blowing up was Taurasi’s cold-blooded attempt from several feet beyond the arc with the shot-clock winding down and 8.9 seconds remaining. Taurasi’s triple touched nothing but net and extended Phoenix’s lead to 93-89. In the immediate aftermath of Taurasi’s basket, “#WhiteMamba” and “#DirtyDiana” was quickly trending on twitter.

“In those moments, you can't really panic,” said Taurasi after her WNBA best 35th career 30-point game. “You actually have to feel the most relaxed because you've done all the work. You've played 38 minutes. Now, let's get a good shot and if it goes in, you feel good about it. If you don't, go on to the next game.”

Phoenix shot 56 percent from the floor (35-of-63) and 67 percent from the three-point line (10-of-15). Penny Taylor finished with 17 points, Candice Dupree, the former Temple all-American, and Brittney Griner had 15 points each, and DeWanna Bonner had 11 points and eight rebounds.

During its victory last Thursday over Chicago, Taurasi moved into second place on the WNBA's all-time scoring list, passing Katie Smith (6,452), with 6:46 remaining in the third quarter. Perhaps more amazing, she did so in 316 career games. Taurasi has scored 6,489 points in her illustrious career. Tina Thompson’s total of 7,488 points will certainly be threatened by Taurasi.

In the same game, the silent assassin Dupree had her best outing of the season scoring a game-high 26 points and 14 rebounds. She also surpassed the 4,000-point plateau and became just the 22nd player in league history to reach the mark. Of course, Dupree is just one of three players on her team with 4,000 career points (Taurasi and Taylor are the others).

Lastly, Griner held a personal block party by swatting a WNBA-record 11 shots against Tulsa in an 80-77 win on June 30.

The Mercury's winning streak has coincided with Taylor joining the starting lineup on June 15. Phoenix has raced to the front of the league with a multi-faceted attack featuring four players averaging double figures in scoring: Taurasi (18.9 ppg.), Griner (15.8), Dupree (15.6) and Bonner (10.9).

After winning nine games against Western Conference opponents last year, the Mercury have surpassed that number after beating the Sparks on Sunday. Phoenix has 10 wins over the Western Conference this season, including two over Minnesota at the beginning of its streak.

Phoenix has also been dominant at the U.S. Airways Center this season, compiling a 6-1 mark, matching the best home start in franchise history. The win over the Sky was its fifth straight double-digit home victory. Overall, six of Phoenix’s home wins this year have been by double figures. Phoenix has outscored opponents by a total of 94 points in seven home games this season for an average differential of 13.4 points.

The Mercury will be busy as it plays four of its next five games at home before playing host to the WNBA for All-Star weekend July 18-19.

SPEAKING OF ALL-STAR WEEKEND: The WNBA will announce the All-Star starters on ESPN2 on Tuesday, July 8, during a nationally televised game featuring the Los Angeles Sparks at the Minnesota Lynx (tip-off at 9 p.m. ET). Reserves will be announced on ESPN2 tonight during the game between Los Angeles and the Indiana Fever (tip-off at 8 p.m. ET).

GET ME BODIED: Atlanta Dream all-star Angel McCoughtry is the latest WNBA athlete to pose for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. She joins Candace Parker (2012) and Swin Cash (2013) as WNBA athletes who appeared in the annual Body Issue. The issue, which hits newsstands Thursday, is ESPN The Magazine's annual celebration of the athletic form.

COMMANDER CHARLES: New York ended its five-game homestand with flourish thanks to the brilliance of Tina Charles. She scored a career-high 32 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Liberty to an 87-80 win over Maya Moore and the defending champion Minnesota Lynx on Sunday. This was a perfect encore for Charles, who scored 28 points and grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds against Tulsa last Tuesday. In her last two games, Charles is averaging 30 points and 12 rebounds. Charles has eight double-doubles this season and 88 for her career.

New York has won three straight and finished its five-game homestand with a 4-1 record. The Liberty were reeling when they started their homestand, having sunk to a season-low 3-10 overall after a stretch of games in which it lost eight of nine contests, including five consecutive between June 10-20. Now, New York is full of swagger and confidence as it visits San Antonio Wednesday and hosts Los Angeles (Friday) and Atlanta (June 16) before the All-Star break.

Following its first win of the homestand over East-leading Atlanta on June 23, veteran guard Cappie Pondexter said: “This one is worth celebrating. They’re a tough team and we know that if we’re able to beat them, then we should be able to beat anybody. That’s a mindset we have to have going forward.”

Pondexter complemented Charles with finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds against the Lynx.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: It’s not surprising that Taurasi and Charles earned Western and Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, respectively. For Taurasi, a seven-time All-WNBA First Team selection and former regular season MVP (2009), the Player of the Week award is her second of the season and the 18th of her career. Her 18 such honors rank third in league history behind only Tamika Catchings (20) and Lauren Jackson (19). Meanwhile, the POW honor was Charles’ first of the season and 11th of her career.

30 IS THE NEW 20: Taurasi and Charles were just the latest players to add their names to the 30-point list this season. Overall, 11 players have scored at least 30 points in a single game this season. Tulsa guard Odyssey Sims also joined the 30-point club with a career-best 30-point performance against Connecticut Thursday in a 96-83 road win. Among some of the other members of the 30-point club this season are Kayla McBride, Shavonte Zellous, Skylar Diggins, Angel McCoughtry, Candace Parker, and Maya Moore.

STORMIN’ BACK: Seattle enjoyed the most impressive 48-hour turnaround. The Storm scored a season-low 56 points and committed 18 turnovers in Thursday's loss to the Sparks. During Saturday’s 80-73 victory over Chicago on Saturday, the Storm shot 50.9 percent (28 of 55) and had a season-low six turnovers. Sue Bird took over down the stretch and scored eight straight points late in the fourth quarter. In addition to completing their first season sweep over the Sky since 2008, the Storm had its full roster in-tact for a game for the first time this season. While Bird and Crystal Langhorne finished with 19 points each in the win over the Sky, guard Tanisha Wright had a season-high 11 assists.

FAULKNER ON FIRE: Chicago rookie guard Jamierra Faulkner turned her first career WNBA start into an early Fourth of July fireworks show by detonating for a career-high 27 points during an impressive 90-83 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday. For the Sky, it was the franchise's first victory in Los Angeles since July 1, 2007. In the absence of Sky starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot, Faulkner and Epiphany Prince led the Sky down the stretch scoring 19 of the Sky's final 21 points against the Sparks.

MONEY MCBRIDE: San Antonio’s Kayla McBride hit a 3-pointer with 1.8 remaining to give the San Antonio Stars a 71-70 win over the Indiana Fever on Saturday, spoiling the season debut of Tamika Catchings. Indiana led by 13 points with just more than 5 minutes left before the Stars rallied. McBride finished with 14 points, her fourth straight contest in double figures and ninth this season. The Silver Stars are 4-1 on the road against the Eastern Conference. They have won four straight games on the road against the East after a season-opening loss to Atlanta. San Antonio will visit Chicago in its regular season finale on August 17.

MONTGOMERY MILESTONE: One neat thing about sports; round numbers are always celebrated. Connecticut Sun veteran guard Renee Montgomery will always remember scoring her 2,000th career point. She scored it on a drive with 5.8 seconds left to give the Connecticut Sun a 78-76 victory over the Tulsa Shock on Saturday night. More importantly, Montgomery’s basket ended a four-game Sun losing streak and avenged last Thursday’s 96-83 setback to the Shock. Montgomery played a season-high 25 minutes in the win over Tulsa and reached double figures in scoring for the third time this season.

Also in the win over Tulsa, Katie Douglas became the all-time leader in career three-pointers by a Connecticut Sun player, passing Nykesha Sales. She now has 698 total threes, two shy of becoming the fifth player in WNBA history to reach 700.

SUN SIGNING: The Connecticut Sun has signed Briana Gilbreath-Butler to a seven-day contract. The signing comes as Allison Hightower prepares to undergo an arthroscopic debridement procedure on her left knee Tuesday. Hightower, who missed four games after injuring the knee against Phoenix on June 12th, is expected to miss two to three weeks. She returned to play sparingly in four games but did not accompany the team on this current three game road trip. Gilbreath-Butler saw action in all 34 games for the Mercury in 2013, averaging 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

THE WRIGHT STUFF: Minnesota’s Monica Wright announced her return to the lineup with a bang by scoring a season-high 17 points during its 91-84 victory over San Antonio last Thursday. Wright missed the Lynx’s first 10 games while recovering from offseason knee surgery and had scored a total of 18 points in seven games before her breakout game Thursday. She scored 11 points in the Lynx’s setback to the Liberty. In her last two games, Wright is averaging 14 points per game.

The Lynx are hopeful that Olympian Seimone Augustus will be back in the lineup when it hosts Los Angeles Tuesday night on ESPN2. She has missed three straight games with bursitis in her left knee.

SOARING SKYLAR: Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins scored 30 points in the loss to Connecticut on Saturday. It was her sixth game this season with 25 or more points. Diggins is leading the WNBA in scoring (23.7 points per game) over her last 10 games. For the season, her 21.3 point per game average is second overall in the league behind Moore. Diggins is one of three players averaging at least 20 points this season.

WELCOME BACK WIGGINS: Candice Wiggins is expected to return to the Sparks lineup tonight when they visit Minnesota. She had been out since early June after undergoing surgery to repair her left meniscus.

WATCH TO WATCH THIS WEEK: ESPN2 has another quality doubleheader tonight with the top two teams in the East squaring off as Connecticut visits Atlanta (7 p.m.) and Los Angeles beginning a four-game road trip by visiting Minnesota (9 p.m.). The Sun are in a stretch in which it’s playing nine of 11 on the road. Tamika Catchings plays her second game of the season when the Fever visit Tulsa Tuesday night.

That’s it for this week, but please don’t hesitate to send suggestions, comments and feedback to robknox22@gmail.com.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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