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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Washington Enjoys Big Week in Crowded East

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

One good thing about playing in the Eastern Conference is a solid week will vault you in the standings faster than a Six Flags thrill ride. Even with a bad week, you’re still bound to be part of the playoff chase as the games become more meaningful.

Washington and Connecticut are this week’s examples.

The Mystics ended the week with two straight wins to move from sixth (at the start of the week) and into third place in the East. Connecticut fell from second to fourth despite three straight losses.

The Eastern Conference standings are as jammed as the Capital Beltway during rush hour. Washington is one game behind Indiana and a half-game ahead of Connecticut. Of course, the Mystics are just 1.5 games away from being in sixth place.

Coach Mike Thibault's squad captured a pair of crucial road wins during their difficult five-game road trip. They defeated Chicago, 72-65 Thursday and Tulsa, 91-74 Saturday.

In both wins, the Mystics played some of their best basketball all season.
Rookie Bria Hartley led three teammates in double figures with 16 points in the win over Chicago.

In the conquest of Tulsa, it seemed as if everybody had a hand in scoring for the Mystics as they topped 90 points for the second time this season.

Emma Meesseman and Ivory Latta scored 15 points each to lead six players in double figures to the win over the Shock.

Kara Lawson had 14 points, Kia Vaughn added 12 points and 10 rebounds, Monique Currie had 11 points and 12 rebounds, and rookie Stefanie Dolson also scored 11 points to help Washington (9-12) raise its record on this road trip to 2-1.

The Mystics still have stops in Phoenix (Tuesday night on ESPN2) and Los Angeles (Thursday) remaining on this trip. A winning road trip is within reach and would go a long way in helping Washington navigate the remainder of its season.

“Balanced scoring is important for us,” Thibault said following the Tulsa win. “We need a collective effort there. For a lot of the season we have been struggling shooting the ball from the outside.

"Tonight we shot a good percentage from the three-point line, mid-range and this is probably as good as we’ve been offensively in a while. We got enough defensive stops to make a difference. We helped our offense in the first half by getting to the offensive boards. We got a lot of extra possessions and I think that took them by surprise.”

Washington shot 57 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes before finishing at 49 percent. Another key in the win over the Shock was winning the rebounding battle, 43-29. Dolson said following the game, the Mystics made a conscious effort to win that battle.

“We know Courtney (Paris) is great rebounder and Glory (Johnson) too, so we knew going into the game we wanted to keep them off the boards,” Dolson said. “For us a goal every game is to get on the offensive boards, and we did a really great job of taking advantage of their switching, getting offensive boards and extra possessions.”

Fueling the Mystics for much of the season has been the improved and consistent performances of Meesseman, who added another double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Sky.

After not recording any double-doubles her rookie season, Meesseman now has four double-doubles and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

She has scored in double figures for the Mystics in seven straight games. Meesseman should earn serious consideration as an all-star reserve.

RE2PECT: Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore appears in a very classy and heartfelt commercial ad for the Jordan brand that pays tribute to retiring New Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.

It is well done and one of the top 10 commercials of this generation. Moore and Jeter are Jordan-brand clients.

Moore tweeted “What an amazing career to celebrate, a true competitor. #RE2PECT #JordanFam.”

The 90-second video, which will air during Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game on Fox, features cameos from nearly the who’s who in entertainment and sports over the last 20 years including Spike Lee, Jay-Z, Billy Crystal, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael Jordan.

The video even features a pair of Boston fans along with pitcher Tim Lester tipping their caps to Jeter. Here’s a final cap-tip from this author to Jeter.

MORE MAYA: Moore had a busy last couple of days. She finished off a phenomenal week by scoring 26 points to lead Minnesota to a 77-60 win over Seattle Sunday afternoon at the Target Center.

Later that night, Moore participated in the celebrity All-Star softball game at nearby Target Field, site of this year’s All-Star game. She played first base and made a couple of nice plays. Much to the delight of head coach Cheryl Reeve, Moore didn’t get hit by a pitch.

Moore, the leading vote-getter for Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star 2014, was named Western Conference the Player of the Week for the second time this season and the seventh of her career.

She helped Minnesota to a 3-0 mark for the week as the Lynx improved its record to 16-6, moving within 1.5 games of the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference.

For the week, the University of Connecticut product led the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) and ranked third in rebounding (9.7 rpg).

Moore was tied for second in the West in free throw percentage (.952, 20-for-21) and tied for third in blocks (1.0 bpg), while placing ninth in field goal percentage (.508, 33-for-65). She scored 30 points against the Sparks on Tuesday and 33 points against Tulsa on Thursday.

DYNAMITE DUPREE: Temple product Candice Dupree, who led all scorers during Phoenix’s 10th-straight win, a 90-61 rout of the Silver Stars with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, extended her streak of consecutive games in double-figures to 13-straight.

Dupree should be an all-star reserve when the team is announced Tuesday night during the Fever-Sparks game on ESPN2. In Friday’s road win over the Sky, Dupree notched her 28th double-double as a Mercury (fourth on the year) which is a franchise record. She had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

MERCURY MELTING THE COMPETITION: The Mercury has scorched opponents at U.S. Airways Arena this season.

Phoenix is 8-1 at home and its average margin of victory is a whopping 18.1 points per game. The Mercury beat Seattle by 20 points on Wednesday and San Antonio by 29 points Sunday. Phoenix is 16-3 as it enters the final week before it welcomes the rest of the WNBA to its house for what promises to be an exciting weekend party. As a point of reference, Phoenix won 19 games last season.

GUESSING THE RESERVES: I’ve mentioned Meesseman and Dupree above for inclusion on the All-Star teams; I am going to try and fill out the rest of the roster.

I’d be interested to see how many I get right when the league officially announces the teams.

For the East, I have Erlana Larkins (Indiana), Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta), Tina Charles (New York), Allie Quigley (Chicago), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago) and Chiney Oguwmike (Connecticut).

In the West, I have Courtney Paris (Tulsa), DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix), Nneka Oguwmike (Los Angeles), Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota), Danielle Robinson (San Antonio) and Camille Little or Sue Bird (Seattle).

STRICKLEN UPDATE: There was a scary moment involving Seattle’s Shekinna Stricklen during Sunday’s nationally televised game between the Lynx and Storm.

The fall she suffered in Minneapolis in the second quarter was a difficult scene to witness.

Stricklen took a charge and as she fell back to the floor, her head violently hit the hard surface.

Play was halted for about 15 minutes as Stricklen was placed on a stretcher and removed from the arena.

Fortunately, she suffered a neck strain and did not require an overnight stay in the hospital.

Stricklen was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft out of Tennessee. She led the Storm with 19 points in a Friday night win over San Antonio.

OLD SPARK: Tuesday’s nationally-televised tilt between Los Angeles and Indiana on ESPN2 will be the first time for Fever forward Marissa Coleman to face off against her former teammates.

Coleman spent the last two seasons with the Sparks before signing with Indiana in March.

Through 21 games, the former Maryland star is averaging a career-best 9.1 points per contest and shooting just under 40 percent from 3-point range. The Fever, despite dropping below .500 with a loss last week to Atlanta, are in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Dream.

OGWUMIKE BOWL I: Nneka Ogwumike claimed round one of the first of many battles against her younger sister Chiney Sunday afternoon.

Nneka scored 24 points to lead Los Angeles to a 90-64 victory over Chiney’s Connecticut Sun. Chiney finished with 18 points. The sisters, who were both No. 1 picks in the WNBA draft in 2012 (Nneka) and 2014 (Chiney), exchanged a pregame hug and were constantly guarding each other.

“I think there were more emotions before tiopff when I realized `oh I'm actually going to play against Chiney,'” Nneka Ogwumike said. “'It really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. We're both aggressive and competitive and I thought it was a good matchup.”

The two teams will play again in Los Angeles on Aug. 3.

HAYES COMES THROUGH: The Atlanta Dream extended their winning streak to four and overall record to 15-5 after sweeping a back-to-back weekend set with a 93-74 win at Indiana Saturday night and 89-87 at home in overtime against Chicago. The Dream have won four straight games.

In the center of both wins was Hayes, a guard and former UConn star who had a season-high 21 points against the Fever and 17 points against the Sky. She hit the winning foul shots with 29.3 seconds remaining in overtime to help ground the Sky.

Hayes has scored in double figures in four straight games for the Dream. In three wins last week, she averaged 18 points per game.

“We were all tired and all struggling,” Hayes said, “but coach kept telling us to fight and we pulled together and won.”

Hayes’ teammate Angel McCoughtry – the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in June – led the Dream to a 3-0 record for the week with wins over Connecticut, Indiana, and Chicago.

She was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season and the 13th of her career. For the week, McCoughtry led the Eastern Conference in scoring (22.0 ppg), tied for first in steals (2.33 spg), and tied for fifth in assists (4.0 apg).

The recently voted Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star starter, McCoughtry opened her week with 22 points, four assists and six rebounds in a win over the Connecticut Sun on July 8. To finish out the week, she poured in a season-high-tying 33 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for her second double-double of the season against the Sky.

Following her impressive week, McCoughtry now ranks third in the WNBA in scoring (20.0 ppg) and first in steals (2.3 spg).

FEVER CATCH FIRE: Behind Tamika Catchings, who scored 21 points, the Indiana Fever rallied from a 14-point third quarter deficit to stun Connecticut, 72-68 last Thursday.

The Fever scored 33 points in the fourth quarter, tied for second-best in franchise history. Catchings scored 11 points in the final 10 minutes of the win. Also in the fourth quarter, the Fever hit 60 percent of its shots (12-of-20) and committed just one turnover.

“When we had Catch bringing the ball down the floor at the end of the game, there's a lot of confidence in her being the playmaker,” said Fever Coach Lin Dunn. “Having her in crunch time is huge for this team. It gives the team a lot of confidence that no matter what the score is, we can come back and win.”

Catchings, who missed the season's first 17 games with a back injury, is quickly rounding into form. The future Hall of Famer is averaging 16 points in the four games she has played this year.

She cemented her season-high 23-point performance against Tulsa last Tuesday by hitting the game-winning shot with 5.2 seconds remaining to lift the Fever to a 78-76 victory.

Catchings also pulled down 11 rebounds for her 90th career double-double. Heading into home games this week with the Sparks and Sky, Indiana is 2-2 overall since Catchings returned.

Even though the Fever lost the season series to the Dream, 3-2, following Saturday’s 93-74 setback, they would seem to have an edge if these two teams meet in the playoffs. The road team won every matchup in this series.

SWISHIN’ SKYLAR: In Tulsa's loss to Indiana, Skylar Diggins scored 23 points and was 12-for-12 from the foul line. The former Nottr Dame all-American made 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.

SWIN’S DEBUT: Swin Cash was re-united with her former head coach Bill Laimbeer as she was traded from Atlanta to New York on Wednesday. Cash had four points in 13 minutes in her debut on Friday night in New York's 68-54 loss to Los Angeles. Cash and Laimbeer helped the Detroit Shock win WNBA titles in 2003 and 2005.

“I'm going to do what I can to help them,” Cash said. “The East is still somewhat wide open with a lot of teams all around the same in the hunt.”

LACY FOR LIBERTY: New York has signed free agent guard Natasha Lacy to a seven-day contract. She replaces Janeesa “Chucky” Jeffery, whose second-consecutive seven-day contract expired on Sunday.

Lacy made her WNBA debut with the Tulsa Shock in 2010, averaging 6.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a rookie.

She spent the 2011 season as a member of Los Angeles and 2012 with the Mystics. Lacy last played in the WNBA during the 2013 season with the Sun, appearing in three games. She has career averages of 4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game over four seasons.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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