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.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

WNBA Notebook: Living the Back to Backs

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

Pre-dawn wake-up calls are just as much a part of the WNBA as are crossover dribbles, jumpers and blocked shots.

Playing contests on consecutive days necessitates the late-night bus rides and early morning flights. It’s a way of life for players in the WNBA. They don’t fly charter. Nope, they go through security screenings, have to check their bags and wait in the terminal like normal citizens.

Despite the interruption of sleep patterns, many players are blessed to be able to experience the joys of playing a game in one city, getting home late, waking up early and going to another city.

“I am going to give you the real deal,” veteran Atlanta Dream forward Delisha Milton-Jones said. “We played at 7:00 p.m. (against San Antonio on Thursday). I got home around 11:30 p.m. because, you know, I had to get my treatment.

"We had be at our facility by 4:30 a.m. so that we could take a bus to the airport and then catch an 8:00 a.m. flight to D.C. Once we got here to D.C., we had about two hours to get a good nap and then we were right back at it again.”

Over the last seven days, the Washington Mystics, New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream all experienced playing back-to-back sets of games. We spoke with rookies and veterans on each team to get their perspective on playing and preparing for back-to-back games. The defending champion Phoenix Mercury also played consecutive games on Thursday and Friday, dropping both to New York and Indiana on the road.

With four months to cram in 34 games, the schedule sometimes can be unkind and unforgiving.

The Liberty defeated the Dream and the Mystics beat the Sun on the season’s opening night, which was last Friday. They played one another the following night with the Mystics winning, 67-62. Both teams took opposite modes of transportation to the Verizon Center.

The Liberty made the three-hour drive from Madison Square Garden immediately following the contest.

Meanwhile, the Mystics had a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call for an early flight to Washington. For rookies Brittany Boyd and Kiah Stokes of the Liberty and Ally Malott, Natasha Cloud and Kayla Thornton of the Mystics, it was the first time they experienced playing a back-to-back set of games where significant travel was involved.

They all played back-to-back games in college, but mostly it was in postseason conference tournaments in the same location. The only travel involved was back-and-forth to the hotel and the arena.

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be even though we got back to the hotel around midnight,” Cloud, the former Saint Joseph's star, said following the Liberty game. “It was an experience and at first I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. It was fine. We got home early and had a pre-game film session. We all played pretty well today.”

While Boyd spent most of the trip sleeping, Stokes kept herself entertained. Atlanta All-Star guard Angel McCoughtry is usually sleeping before any plane she’s on takes off.

“I watched a new show on Netflix until I dozed off,” Stokes said. “It’s a tough intro to the league, but you have to be mentally ready. I feel as rookies, we’re different because we are new to the league and our legs are probably fresher. I feel like we could’ve done more to help our team.”

Milton-Jones, who has been playing for 17 years, has a unique perspective on playing two straight games and how they actually help the team.

Atlanta defeated San Antonio Thursday night before catching an early morning flight Friday morning to Washington. Demonstrating they had plenty in reserve, the Dream rallied from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat the Mystics, 64-61 Friday night.

“It’s not an easy lifestyle but we manage to do it and have fun with it,” Milton-Jones said. “Although it may be a negative in some people’s eyes, it’s a positive for us in some aspects because we spend lots of time together. We have to treasure those moments when you can sit around the airport and talk it up with your teammates.

“We share ideas and bounce different things off each other. As a result of that, it helps break down walls and make it easier for you to be transparent and communicate in a hostile environment on the court.”

Since every team flies commercial, it gives them time to interact with fans, photobomb pictures with their admirers, catch-up on the latest books or movies. While the back-to-backs can be tough occasionally, every player in the league is blessed to be able to experience a few of them this season.

“We’re just excited to play,” McCoughtry said. “There’s no other place we’d rather be than on the court and playing. The only thing you can do when you know you have back-to-backs is rest, hydrate and stretch.”

McCoughtry scored 10 of her team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter against Washington. She made the go-ahead 3-point basket with under 15 seconds remaining to cap a terrific Dream rally.

GARDEN OF DREAMS: The New York Liberty are 3-1 for the first time since 2007 following impressive triumphs over Indiana on Tuesday and defending champion Phoenix Thursday night. All three of the Liberty’s victories have been at home. For the Liberty, it was their first win over Phoenix since the 2012 season.

The lone setback was a 67-62 defeat to the Mystics last Saturday. The Liberty will have a chance to avenge that setback when they host the Mystics Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Liberty’s early season rock has been, who else, but veteran Tina Charles. She’s led New York in scoring in all four games and is averaging 18.8 points per game. However, she hasn’t been a solo act. Boyd and Stokes have energized the Garden with their play so far. They have become instant fan favorites.

Through Thursday’s games, Boyd and Stokes are category leaders among rookies. Boyd averages 3.5 assists per game and Stokes hauls down 7.3 rebounds per contest. Stokes had a career best 11 rebounds against the Mercury. The pair has already made an impression on Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello.

“They are great rookies,” Brondello said following the loss to the Liberty. “We would have taken Stokes too if she was available lower in the round. Boyd makes the game up-tempo for them and Stokes does all of the little things…she is the glue that every team needs.”

In addition, the Liberty’s defense has been suffocating to start the season. They are holding teams to 34.8 percent shooting, which is the best in the WNBA, after limiting Phoenix to 29.2 percent (19-for-65).

DELLE DONNE DETONATES: Chicago forward and University of Delaware graduate Elena Delle Donne is averaging 32.6 points on 53.1 percent accuracy through the Sky’s first three games. Despite her scoring exhibitions, the Sky have lost two straight games and are off to a 1-2 start following Thursday’s 67-65 road loss to the Connecticut Sun, who are 2-1.

Delle Donne’s explosive scoring surge has been a sight to behold. She dropped a career-high 40 points along with a team-high nine rebounds in a 101-93 loss to Tulsa last Saturday. She led all players in the game finishing with a career-high 40 points and nine rebounds while shooting an impressive 13-for-24 from the field and 11-for-11 from the free throw line. Delle Donne and Cappie Pondexter combined for 66 of Chicago’s 93 points in the game.

“I'd trade a two-point game for a win,” said Delle Donne following the Tulsa game. “Well, (scoring 40 points) doesn't matter. When you lose, you lose no matter how well you play. We just created way too big of a deficit in the first half, and we just weren't able to overcome that in the second.”

In its last two losses, the Sky have fallen behind by double digits in the first half. They were down 19 at halftime to the Shock and 14 points to the Sun. The first quarters have been the culprits for the Sky as the Shock scored 34 points and the Sky tallied 16 points. Head coach and general manager Pokey Chapman doesn’t take much positives from the Sky’s ability to rally in the second half.

“Nothing positive about that,” Chapman said. “Comeback kids do not win a lot of games and people just remember the one that they win. You want to set the tone early and have people chasing you.”

BENTLEY DRIVING CONNECTICUT: Thought to be rebuilding and waiting for the WNBA Draft Lottery with the hopes of landing top prize Breanna Stewart, the Connecticut Sun are off to an impressive 2-1 start following a 67-65 victory over Chicago. The Sun’s victories were on the road against Atlanta and at home against Chicago, the two teams that are odds-on-favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals according to most pundits at the start of the season.

Alex Bentley, a third-year guard from Penn State, has led the Sun in scoring in every game this season. She scored 16 points against the Sky and had 17 against the Dream to help the Sun rally from a 10-point second half deficit. Through three games, Bentley is averaging 16.7 points and 32.3 minutes, both team highs.

While Bentley has led the Sun early in the season, it has been a solid team effort that has fueled Connecticut’s surprising start.

Second-year forward Alyssa Thomas out of Maryland finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, narrowly missing her second career double-double. Her first was against Chicago last June 25th. Thomas scored eight of her points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of clutch free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining that provided the winning margin.

Third-year center Kelsey Bone had her first double-double of the season, the sixth of her career, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“They really trust each other,” Connecticut coach Anne Donavan said following the Sky game. “When Alex (Bentley) makes plays, it speaks a lot for this team because Alex is a confident player and she’s looking to find other people when they really step up and stop her, which they try to do. This team really enjoys playing with each other and there’s a lot of trust going on right now and that’s evidence on the floor.”

Added Bone: “At the end of the day, we just play together. We’re looking for each other. We’re trying to find things. As long as we stay together and I think that’s the biggest thing you can hear in this locker room, it’s all about staying together.”

FEVER WITH LAUREN HILL CELEBRATION: Sunday prior to the Indiana Fever’s nationally-televised game against the Chicago Sky on ESPN2 at 1:00 p.m., Fever head coach Stephanie White and star players Tamika Catchings and Shavonte Zellous will welcome Lauren Hill’s family as honorary team captains for the day, as part of a pregame presentation honoring the memory of the Division three freshman who passed away in April following a courageous battle against pediatric brain cancer.

Hill was first honored by the franchise during an Indiana Pacers game last season (Oct. 10), when she was proclaimed an honorary member of the Indiana Fever. Later, with Fever coaches and players in attendance last October in Cincinnati, Hill scored last season's first basket for Mount St. Joseph.

An Indiana Fever jersey with Hill's No. 22 will be placed on the Fever bench where it will remain in her honor throughout the game.

Throughout the afternoon, special in-game elements and tributes from Fever players will be viewed on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse videoboard, and the Be YOUnique Fund will donate $300 to The Cure Starts Now for every layup scored in the game, by both teams.

Before the game and through halftime, a silent auction will be conducted on the main concourse for donated items from the Indiana Pacers, the Indiana Fever and Fever players. All proceeds from this auction will benefit The Cure Starts Now. After the game, fans are invited to shoot their own Layups for Lauren. Fans can shoot a layup and make voluntary donations to The Cure Starts Now with with Zellous collecting the donations!

DIGGINS MILESTONE: The Tulsa Shock, who will be at the Verizon Center to meet the Mystics Friday night, are 2-1 following a 68-45 victory over Seattle. It’s the first time the Shock have been above .500 in any season since moving from Detroit in 2010. The win was highlighted by Shock guard Skylar Diggins scoring the 1,000th point of her career.

“It’s awesome,” Diggins said following the game of her 1,000th career point. “I’m so grateful to just be in this league and just to be beginning my third year. I’m just proud to be in the league. I’m just happy to be here and to be wearing the Tulsa Shock jersey. One of the best things to ever happen to me was hearing my name being called in the draft. Coach Fred, coach Bridget and coach Ed; I couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff or a better group of ladies. I love each and every one of my teammates and their support. It wouldn’t be possible without them. This is just the first milestone of many that I’m going to work toward.”

Seattle’s Crystal Lanhorne, a Maryland graduate and Willingboro (NJ) native scored her 3,000th career point during the Storm’s 86-81 opening night victory over the Los Angeles Sparks. She has enjoyed a consistently solid career in the WNBA. The Storm will make their annual D.C. visit on Wednesday, July 29.

Renee Montgomery has now played five games with Seattle (including the preseason) and has quickly made an impact on the team. Coming off the bench, she is the team’s leading scorer at 13.0 per game and is tied with Sue Bird for the team lead in assists at 4.3 per contest. Meanwhile, Bird has 4,838 career points entering Sunday’s game against the Sparks. She is three points ahead of New York’s Swin Cash for 14th on the all-time list. She is also closing in on Sheryl Swoopes for 13th on the list and trails the great by 37 points.

ESPN2 DOUBLEHEADER ON SUNDAY: The doubleheader showcases the league champions from the past three seasons: Indiana Fever (2012 champions) against the Chicago Sky (a 2014 finalist) at 1 p.m. ET, followed by the Minnesota Lynx (2013 champions) at the Phoenix Mercury (2014 champions at 3 p.m. ET.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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