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.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Meessemen and Lawson Propel Washington Over New York For A 2-0 Start

By Lamar Carter @lcarter031

For the first time since 2010, the Washington Mystics stand undefeated after their first two games of the WNBA season.

A near double-double by Emma Meesseman and a clutch late-game basket by Kara Lawson helped propel the Mystics to a 67-62 victory over the New York Liberty in the team’s home opener Saturday evening.

The last time D.C. opened a campaign with a pair of wins was in 2010 when the Mystics won two road games and went on to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 22-12 record.

This season’s early performance has been even more impressive considering the team is without the services of starters Bria Hartley (foot) and Kia Vaughn (hip).

“I know it’s just two games but we feel really good about our team and about our group," Lawson said.

"We have a long way to go to improve and we’re down two starters so for us to go 2-0 on opening weekend is huge for us.”

Both teams were coming off back-to-back front end games at Friday's season openers with New York having the easier situation with a giddy, dominating win over the Atlanta Dream in Madison Square Garden and then a shorter bus ride immediately afterwards down to the nation's capital.

The Mystics had a tough triumph up at the Mohegan Sun Arena against the Commecticut Sun, followed by a 4 a.m. wake-up call to catch an early flight.

"We could have bussed it but it's a little far for the short turnaround," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said during Saturday's pre-game warmups in the Verizon Center.

After New York’s Tina Charles – who led all scorers with 18 points - tied the game at 62-62 with a minute remaining, Lawson set up the go-ahead basket, driving hard to her left before reversing course and nailing a fadeaway jumper with 43 seconds to go.

Meesseman (16 points, nine rebounds) and Lawson (eight points, five rebounds, four assists) would extend the lead by hitting five free throws down the stretch.

In fact, after Ivory Latta tied the score at 54-54 with over six minutes left in the contest, Meesseman and Lawson outscored the Liberty by themselves (13-8) to close out the game.

Whether it was the effect of two fatigued teams that played games on Friday or two comparable squads that won those season openers, the game was extremely close throughout.

For much of the game, neither team held a lead of more than five points.

New York head coach Bill Laimbeer was less upbeat than on Friday night in looking at a game that got away down the stretch.

"It’s a winnable game and we didn’t get it done," he said. "Numerous factors: marginal coaching, we couldn’t find a way to score, inexperience for our team, familiarity of playing together wasn’t quite there yet, and we didn’t make the plays, so we lost.

"We knew we weren’t going to go 34-0 so we have to get over it and win the next game.”

In further analyzing the outcome, Laimbeer observed, “I like our chemistry and how we’re structured. We could really use one more scorer but she’s over in Russia right now (former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince) and when she comes back that’s really going to help us because we need to make some perimeter shots, but overall I think we’re in good shape.”

Between the two teams, there were 17 lead changes and 15 ties in the game.

The largest lead of the night came late in the third after a pair of Meesseman free throws put Washington up 51-45 with less than a minute left in the period.

Part of what helped push Washington over the top was the energy of the Mystic crowd.

Over 7.400 enthusiastic fans were in attendance to watch Washington open the Verizon Center’s summer slate with a win.

Latta said, “we had a great crowd tonight…they were with us. They even helped [the Liberty] miss two free throws [in the fourth]. That was a great thing.

"It feels good to be 2-0 but we’re not going to get complacent with where we’re at. We’re going to continue to work…just some little things that we need to correct. We’re going to come back on Monday and correct them.”

The crowd included most of the Saint Joseph's basketball team and coaches who came down from Philadelphia to see rookie Natasha Cloud, their former star out of Broomall, Pa., in the suburbs, and Cardinal O'Hara who was Washington's second round pick, overall 15th, in April's draft.

"I feel like I'm watching my daughter," said Hawks coach Cindy Griffin during the game. "I knew she could do it, but until you actually see it happen. Mike runs a great system and she fits right in."

The contingent, who came down separately with the players wanting to stay overnight, sported stick figures with Cloud's picture and they waved them everytime she made something happen.

In 15 minutes, Cloud was 2-for-7 with a three-pointer, though one shot was a desperation long end-of-quarter attempt, and she also dealt three assists and had a pair of rebounds while scoring seven points.

Although Washington has notable areas that need improvement – for instance, the team shot just over 36 percent in both games – correcting their ills is much easier to do after winning two conference games.

“We have a team that has a lot of talent so the fact that we won those two games were good because I don’t think they were great games. Our defense is way better than our offense [right now] I think, because we miss too much,” Meesseman said as an assessment of the team’s play so far.

Thibault echoed the same sentiments, adding, “I told [the team] inside the locker room just now that I’m having a hard time embracing being 2-0 with them shooting 36% every night, but right now I will take that.

"Our offense will get better as we get a little more rhythm. We will take it, 2-0 with good defense, that’s a good start.”

Latta is the only Mystics player to score in double figures in both games – hitting for 15 points Friday at Connecticut and 10 against New York.

Washington will host the Atlanta Dream in its next game, a 7 p.m. contest on Friday, June 12 at Verizon Center, while New York next hosts the winless Indiana Fever (0-2) Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden.

The Guru contributed to this report while Rob Knox will have a feature or two on Sunday off this game.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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