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 06, 2015

WNBA Notebook: Washington Looks to Gain a Little Distance on New York

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

All eyes will be on Thursday morning’s New York Liberty-Washington Mystics game and not because it’s the only one on the WNBA schedule that day.

The “Camp Day” showdown at the Verizon Center matches a pair of 6-4 squads looking to stay near the top of Eastern Conference standings and the surprising Connecticut Sun.

Both teams will be well-rested entering this game as the Liberty last played on June 30 when it beat Chicago, 89-81, on the road and the Mystics dropped a 73-50 decision to the Indiana Fever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Washington has three things in its favor as it meets the Liberty for the third time this season.

The Mystics have won both matchups so far, including 74-59 in the last meeting on June 14 in New York. Washington hasn’t lost consecutive games this season, rebounding from defeats with solid efforts in its next game. Lastly, the Mystics have won two straight home games.

However, it will be the Mystics' first look at the Liberty with its prized offseason acquisition Epiphanny Prince, who was acquired from Sky via an offseason trade in exchange for Cappie Pondexter who landed in her hometown Chicago.

Prince missed the first nine games of the season due to a pre-existing commitment to compete in the Eurobasket Women 2015 Tournament.

She was expected to play in last week’s victory over the Chicago Sky but didn’t see action even though she was in uniform.

A Brooklyn native, who competed collegiately at Rutgers University, Prince played her first five WNBA seasons for the Sky, eclipsing 2,000-career points while averaging 14.1 ppg.

The Mystics will be anxious to play after enduring an unusually rough contest.

They were led by Stefanie Dolson and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, each of whom scored 12 points each.

Expected soon-to-be all-star Emma Meesseman pulled down a team-best nine rebounds.

The final numbers were gruesome for the Mystics, who committed 18 turnovers, scored a season-low point total, made 3-of-21 from beyond the arc, shot 29.3 percent and tallied 16 points after intermission.

“In every aspect of the game, we got outworked toughness wise,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said following the Indiana game. “They got almost a third of their points off our turnovers, about 30 percent of their points in the first half came off our turnovers.

"We obviously didn’t shoot the ball well from three. They caused a lot of that. They were short-handed with guards so they just decided to get physical and pound us defensively and they did a good job of it. We missed some shots when we had a chance to stay connected mid-third quarter and it just turned.”

Dolson, who has enjoyed a solid season for the Mystics, believes this is just a small bump in the road.

She was part of a defensive effort that limited New York’s Tina Charles to a season-low six points at Madison Square Garden in the last matchup between the two squads. Dolson, one of three Mystic players averaging double figures for the season, had 15 points and six rebounds in the win over the Liberty.

Meesseman leads Washington in scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.0). Ivory Latta, who had 20 points against New York on June 14, is second on the team in scoring (13.0).

“We just have to take care of the ball a little better,” Dolson said. “But that’s something that we can work on. Anything that we didn’t do the second half we can go back and practice and get better at it. We still have a lot of games left in the season so we just have to move on.”

Lately New York has been led by third-year guard Sugar Rodgers, who has started her team’s last four games and in college excelled in the nation's capital playing for Georgetown in the old rough-and-tumble Big East.

In helping New York win three of the four games she’s started, Rodgers has averaged 15.7 points per game, 2.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds.

In its win over the Sky, New York had five players score in double figures for the first time this season and scored a season-high 89 points. The Liberty outscored the Sky 34-28 in the paint and drilled a season-high nine 3-pointers.

Charles (26 points, 11 rebounds) and rookie Kiah Stokes (11 points, 10 rebounds) made it two Liberty players with a double-double for the first time this year.

It was the first-career double-double for Stokes and the fourth of the season for Charles, who has 101 for her career. Both players starred at powerful Connecticut.

The Liberty had 26 assists on 30 made baskets, led by Essence Carson who had a season-best seven assists.

New York’s bench outscored Chicago’s 34-7 and the Liberty had two bench players (Candice Wiggins, Stokes) score in double figures.

Stokes has made an immediate impact in her first month in the league. She is averaging two blocks per game which ranks third in the WNBA, and first among rookies. She is second in the league with 20 total blocks.

Defensively, the Liberty leads the league, limiting opponents to just 36.4 percent from the field. New York forced teams to shoot under 40 percent in eight of its 10 games, and held two teams under 30- percent.

Both teams will be on the road for their next games. The Mystics enjoy six days off before visiting Chicago on Wednesday, July 15 for a 12:30 p.m. start. Meanwhile, the Liberty visit Atlanta for a Sunday matinee at 3:00 p.m.

MYSTICS PERSONNEL MOVE: Thibault announced that forward LaToya Sanders has joined the team. The Mystics have held the rights to Sanders since acquiring her in a trade prior to the 2012 season.

“LaToya will bring us an experienced presence at both ends of the floor,” said Thibault. “She is an elite defender and rebounder, as well as a high percentage shooter. She has been one of the premier power forwards in Europe for the last several years and is coming off an excellent Eurobasket performance for Turkey the past month. LaToya will fit in extremely well with the team we have.”

Sanders was selected in the first round (13th overall) by the Phoenix Mercury during the 2008 WNBA draft. She finished that season ranked fifth in block shots (1.52) and first in blocks per 40 minutes (4.66). Sanders spent the 2009 season on the roster of the Minnesota Lynx where she saw action in 17 games.

In 2011, Sanders averaged career highs in field goal (.473) and free throw (0.889) percentage as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks.

An alum of the University of North Carolina, Sanders has spent the last five years as a member of the Turkish team TED Keyseri, where she averaged 16.7 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game in Eurobasket play. She has also spent the last three years as a key member of the Turkish National Team.

Washington waived Kayla Thornton, who averaged 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game this season.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS: Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever and Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks were named the WNBA’s Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.

Catchings, a nine-time All-Star selection and the 2011 WNBA MVP, earned her first Player of the Week award of the season and league-record 22nd of her career.

Now in her 14th active season with the Fever, she led Indiana to a 2-0 week with wins over the top two teams in the Eastern Conference – the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics.

The 35-year-old Catchings led the Eastern Conference in field goal percentage (.714, 15-of-21) and was second in three-point shooting accuracy (.800, 4-of-5). She also ranked fourth among conference players in scoring (20.5 ppg), sixth in rebounding (8.5 rpg), and 11th in assists (3.5 apg).

Catchings opened the week with 26 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in a 92-84 win at Connecticut. She made her first six field goal attempts and finished 9-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from three-point range. During the game, she also became just the fourth player in WNBA history to record 3,000 career rebounds.

The University of Tennessee product followed that up with 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals as the Fever defeated visiting Washington 73-50 on July 2 to improve to 5-6.

For Ogwumike, a two-time All-Star and the 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year, the Player of the Week honor is her first of the season and the fourth of her career.

The fourth-year player helped the Sparks to a 2-1 week as Los Angeles notched consecutive victories over the San Antonio Stars and Tulsa Shock for their first wins of the season, before falling in overtime to the Phoenix Mercury.

For the week, the Stanford University product ranked second in the Western Conference in scoring (24.0 ppg), while pacing the West in rebounding (12.3 rpg) and tying for second in steals (1.67 spg).

Oguwmike opened the week with 27 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals in an 86-81 win over San Antonio. She then contributed consecutive double-doubles with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and two steals in a 98-95 win over Tulsa.

TOLIVER SETS RECORD: Kristie Toliver hasn’t wasted any time in making her presence felt. The former Maryland sensation, who missed the Sparks first six games while playing for Slovak Republic at the EuroBasket 2015 tournament in Hungary, is quickly making up for lost time.

In her third game back, Toliver went berserk to set a Los Angeles Spark franchise record for most points in a single game with 43 to fuel a 98-95 win over the Tulsa Shock.

The seven-year pro broke recent Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Lisa Leslie's mark of 41 points when she made two free throws with nine seconds left. In her season debut at Madison Square Garden against the Liberty, Toliver delivered 30 points in a close loss.

Against the Shock, Toliver hit 15 of 24 shots, including 7 of 12 3-pointers, and made all six of her free throws. She also matched her career high with nine assists. In the third quarter, Toliver hit all four of her three-pointers and scored 19 points, surpassing 2,300 points for her career.

“It's a very special feeling,” Toliver said following her historic performance. “It's a very special franchise and I'm just happy to be a part of it,'' she said.

In 2006, Toliver hit the buzzer-beating three-pointer in regulation in Boston that sent the Terrapins in overtime on to their first NCAA title, beating Atlantic Coast Conference-arch rival Duke.

DIGGINS DONE FOR YEAR: The news that Tulsa third-year star Skylar Diggins will miss the rest of the season after tearing her right Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is a blow to everybody.

One of the most popular athletes on the planet, Diggins will undergo ACL reconstructive surgery, but a date for the procedure has not been set at the time of this writing.

“I'm focused on getting healthy and stepping on the court even stronger,” said Diggins. “For the remainder of this season, I will continue to support my teammates in every way possible.”

The injury occurred with 44 seconds remaining on the clock during the Shock’s game versus the Seattle Storm at the BOK Center on Sunday, June 28th. The Shock won 93-89 and Diggins scored 31 points in the game, which was her season high.

The former Notre Dame all-AmericanDiggins at the time of her injury led the Shock in minutes averaging 32 per game, and in points per game averaging 17.8.

She was also averaging five assists per game and was ranked fourth in the league in both scoring and assists. Diggins was the WNBA’s Most Improved Player and a First-Team All-Star in 2014.

With her leading the way Tulsa was looking like it was heading to its first playoff appearance since the franchise moved from Detroit where the former Shock won three titles under current New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer.

Since Diggins' injury, the Shock has lost three consecutive road games. Tulsa has also played a significant part of the season without former Baylor all-American Odyssey Sims.

The Shock finishes their four-game road trip against Atlanta on Tuesday night in a nationally-televised showdown on ESPN2. It will be the annual “Hoops for Troops” game.

DELLE DONNE AND DIGGINS TAKE MONTHY HONORS FOR JUNE: Though the injury to Diggins marred what had been an otherwise great beginning, the performance for June along with that of Chicago's Elena Delle Donne earned the duo the first WNBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Month for the season presented by Samsung, which was the official WNBA presenting marketing partner for the first time in 2014.

The Samsung name will be part of the presentations of the top WNBA individual honors, including the Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, Sixth Woman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year.

Those awards have been picked in the past by a media panel comprised of representatives from the 12 franchise cities and several individuals who are considered national reporters of the league.

Delle Donne, the former Delaware all-American and the Eastern Conference Player of the Week in each of the first three weeks of the season, earned the Eastern Conference award for the second time in her three seasons.

She aided the Sky to a 5-5 record by averaging a league-leading 28.7 points, a WNBA record for the first 10 games of a season (surpassing Cappie Pondexter’s mark of 25.7 points with the Phoenix Mercury in 2008). Delle Donne also led the East in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and blocks (2.6 bpg), and was second in free throw shooting percentage (.978, 91-of-93).

The two-time All-Star selection opened the season with 31 points, eight boards, four blocks, and three steals in a 95-72 victory over Indiana, and immediately followed that performance with a then-career-high 40 points and nine rebounds in a 101-93 road loss to Tulsa.

In the season’s third week, Delle Donne grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds in an 83-77 win at the Indiana Fever, and she also set career highs of 45 points and six blocks to go with 11 rebounds in a 100-96 overtime victory over the Atlanta Dream. Her 19-of-19 effort at the foul line against Atlanta set a league record for most made free throws without a miss in a single game. The 45-point outing was the sixth best in a game in WNBA history and enabled her to become only the fourth player in league history to notch multiple 40-point games in the same season.

Meanwhile, after Tulsa’s season-opening loss at Minnesota, Diggins led the Shock to eight straight wins and the top spot in the Western Conference standings through June 28, before her injury.

During June, Diggins ranked second among West players in scoring (17.8 ppg) and three-point shooting percentage (.448 on 13-of-29 from behind the arc), and fourth in assists (5.0 apg). She also tied for fifth in the conference in steals (1.56 spg) and was sixth in free throw shooting percentage (.918, 45-of-49).

The Notre Dame product scored 20 or more points four times, including a season-high 31-point effort in a 93-89 victory over visiting Seattle on June 28 in which Tulsa tied its franchise record of eight consecutive wins. Diggins also poured in 26 points and added eight assists in an 86-78 win at Minnesota on June 21 as the Shock supplanted the Lynx for first place in the West at the time.

AWESOME ACHONWA: Natalie Achonwa of the Indiana Fever was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month in June.

Achonwa, another former Notre Dame all-American, led all rookies in points (10.2 ppg) and placed second in field goal percentage (.526), fourth in rebounds (4.6 rpg), and fifth in minutes played (21.5 mpg).

Overall, she ranked sixth among all WNBA players in field goal percentage. Achonwa had career highs in points (14) and minutes (32) to go with five rebounds in a 78-69 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on June 6.

The ninth overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm, Achonwa was sidelined all of last season due to an ACL injury sustained during the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

The Irish alum has started in all but one game for the Fever and posted double digits in scoring in seven of her first 10 games this season. She ranks second on the team in rebounds and fourth in points.

Highlights of Achonwa’s month included finishing with 10 points and six rebounds, including a career-high five defensive rebounds, in a 95-72 loss to the Sky, tallying a career-high 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field in a 78-69 loss to the Minnesota Lynx and grabbing a career-high seven rebounds, including a career-high four offensive rebounds, in a 77-74 win.

ALL-STAR UPDATE: The 2015 Boost Mobile All-Star starters will be announced during an ESPN telecast of “SportsCenter” on Tuesday, July 14, just one week away.

Reserves will be announced on Tuesday, July 21, during ESPN2’s game telecast of the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks (tip-off at 11 p.m. ET).

In the case of players who are unable to play due to injury – such as Diggins, who recently sustained a season-ending injury – replacement players will be named by WNBA President Laurel J. Richie. Any changes to the starting lineup necessitated by injury will be made by the head coach of the respective All-Star team.

The game will be played in familiar settings June 25, a Saturday afternoon, at the Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun, where it has been played several times in the past.

Elena Delle Donne was the overall winner the last two seasons but missed each game due to injuries and illness.

McCOUGHTRY MOVING UP: Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry scored 23 points in Sunday’s 72-64 win over the Seattle Storm to move into 27th place on the WNBA career scoring list at 3,890 points sliding past Asjha Jones (3,872). She also extended her current streak of consecutive games with double-digit points to 17. McCoughtry last failed to hit double-digit points on Aug. 7, 2014 vs. Seattle when she finished with two. It was also McCoughtry’s sixth 20-plus scoring effort this season.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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