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, October 12, 2015

WNBA Finals: White Huddle Outburst Leads to Indiana Forcing Minnesota to Game Five

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

For Blue Star Media

Call it the tongue-lashing heard ‘round the huddle.

Holding off the Minnesota Lynx most of Sunday night from wrapping up Game 4 and the WNBA championship for 2015 here in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Fever were on the verge of seeing all the comebacks starting with the Eastern semifinals go for naught.

Minnesota, which had taken a 2-1 lead here Friday night in the best of five series on Maya Moore’s three-point buzzer-beater, had bolted from a 36-32 halftime deficit to a 38-36 lead on Sylvia Fowles’ layup with 8 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter.

At that moment, Fever rookie coach Stephanie White called a timeout and gathered her troops.

“I just really challenged our team,” White said. “Our attention to detail was worse. We were fumbling the ball. Nobody was sure about anything we were doing.

“So I just challenged them. `Do you want to see the opponent hoisting up a trophy on our home floor, or do you want to fight, and do you want to do everything we’ve done to put ourselves in this position?

“Fortunately, they responded. It’s tough. You’re playing against a great opponent. You can’t afford to have moments like that because they’re going to capitalize and make you pay for that, and we can’t afford to do it.”

From that moment the Fever surged on a 13-2 run and went on to open a 14-point lead, largest of the series, and thrilled the predominantly pro-Indiana crowd of 10,582 fans to gain a 75-69 victory re-tie the series and send it back to Minnesota Wednesday night for a penultimate Game 5.

Tamika Catchings, the elegant former Tennessee All-American and Hall-of-Fame bound warrior who will retire after next season, offered a family-friendly Fevers player perspective on what was said.

“That’s a `You need to be in the huddle’ moment,” Catchings said with a smile. “Steph went off on us and basically just challenged us. She said, `You guys have 30 seconds to turn this thing around.’

“Literally, we went out and she just lit a fire upon us, and she was like,` this is a game to allow you an opportunity to play for a championship, and this is how you want to come out?’ Those are my nice words,” Catchings winked.

Indiana is 5-0 in elimination games to date in the postseason, including two on the road to emerge out of the Eastern Conference in their 11th straight playoff appearance – a league record.

The Fever, seeded third, dropped Game 1 of the East semis on the road to the defending conference playoff champion Chicago Sky and then bounced back to take the next two games and move on against the overall top-seeded New York Liberty, against whom they dropped that Game 1 in Madison Square Garden.

Then down 18 points here in Game 2, Indiana rallied and then went back on the road to control the New Yorkers and reach the WNBA championship series for the third time. In 2009 they dropped a thrilling five-game series to the Phoenix Mercury, came back in 2012 to dethrone Minnesota, which won its first title in 2011, and here they are one win away again.

A lot of times might have had trouble recovering from Friday night’s crusher, but this franchise has become skilled in resiliency first under White’s predecessor Lin Dunn and continued under White who was promoted after Dunn retired at the end of last season.

“Indiana played great,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia who will also be one of UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s assistants in the Olympics in Rio next summer.

“They played like a team that didn’t want their season to end. Played with great pace.

“They had to be thrilled with their defense, just the way they came at us. Frankly, it probably started with their defense. We started early in the game with silly turnovers. They were very opportunistic.

“Briann January outshot us at the free-throw line. We had nine free throws. She had 12. That’s not good for us. 26 (Indiana) free throws, and it was all Indiana just creating a pace, doing what they do, straight line drives. Our defense was not as good as we need to be.”

Indiana only made one field goal in the fourth quarter but was 15-for-18 from the line.

On Friday night, Minnesota’s Moore missed a chunk of the game because of foul trouble, and 48 hours later it was inside post presence Sylvia Fowles limited to less than a half of action.

Shenise Johnson, the former Florida State star picked up in the offseason as a free agent, had another stellar night, scoring 15 points for an Indiana high, with nine coming in the second half.

January had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Marissa Coleman scored 14 points, and Catchings had 10 points and four rebounds in under under 35 minutes.

White talked about Catchings being the reason the Fever have won so many elimination games over their years in the WNBA.

“A lot of people were asking me about Catchings’ numbers,” she said. I’m like, no, it’s not the numbers. She’s tricking all you guys because it’s not the numbers,” White explained.

“It’s the way she creates for her teammates whether it be through her hard-nose play, whether it be through her extra possessions and toughness, whether it be through her spacing, whether it be what she is saying in the huddle, the way she’s been coachable all season long.

“I challenged her with a couple of her turnovers, and she took it. So there is a lot of things Tamika Catchings does that don’t show up in the stat sheets that we value as teammates and that allow her teammates to be coached the way I coach her.”

Incidentally, the extended series will delay White from getting into her winter gig as a chief women’s basketball analyst on the Big Ten Network, so whatever happens Wednesday, she probably won’t be doing the early network preps at the conference media day in Chicago Thursday.

Meanwhile, on the Minnesota side, Moore finished with 20 points, but Fowles, because of her limited play, scored just four points. Seimone Augustus scored 10 and Lindsay Whalen scored 16 in one of her better performances in this series.

So now what has been an exciting test of wills heads to theTarget Center.

Moore first rebuffed the idea of being home for a game that will probably draw the most attention in the WNBA all season, indicating the better feeling would have been to have finished off the Fever.

But she then acknowledged what has been on the better finals in the history of the championship series.

“”The series has been a fun one to watch,” the former UConn great said. “Especially the last few games have been very fun, I think just from a fan standpoint.

“So a lot of great things happening, players making plays. Sometimes you can have all the schemes and sets in the world, and it comes down to players making plays. You’ve seen a lot of that in this series. One more game to see which players do that more.”

As for playing at home Wednesday, Moore said, “It’s going to be hard, but if I was to, like I said, have a choice, I’d want to do it at the Target Center.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

WNBA Finals: Moore's Money Shot at the Buzzer Stuns Indiana as Minnesota Goes Up 2-1

By Mel Greenberg
For Blue Star Media

Women’s Basketball Legend Maya Moore sliced the hearts of 16,332 predominately WNBA Indiana Fever fans in an arena appropriately named Bankers Life Friday night with a buzzer-beating three-point money shot from beyond the top of the key in the final 1.7 seconds to give the Minnesota Lynx an 80-77 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in the best of five championship series

The Lynx can close out the Fever for their third title in five years when the two meet in Game 4 Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. here on ESPN2 or at worst from their perspective, having regained the home advantage, on Wednesday night when a penultimate fifth game would be played back in Minneapolis at the Target Center.

It’s only the second time in the 19-year history of the WNBA finals when a long shot decided the outcome, the other being Teresa Weatherspoon’s 47-foot missile from beyond half court on a play that began with 2.4 seconds left to even a best-of-series with the former Houston Comets 68-67 in 1999 before the Texans won their third straight the next day.

In terms of winning with less than three seconds on the clock the other electrifier in a finals came in Game 1 of the 2010 WNBA series when Seattle’s Sue Bird, like Moore a former UConn great, hit a jumper from the foul line with 2.6 seconds left for the Storm’s 87-84 win over the Atlanta Dream on the way for a second crown in Seattle history.

And in recalling a great finish in the NCAA men’s tournament, Duke’s Christian Laettner ruined Kentucky 104-103 in a regional title game with a length-of-the-court heave in Philadelphia’s former Spectrum with 2.1 seconds left.

“That was pretty fun,” Moore said afterwards. “Pretty fun to finish that way.”

Asked to recall any previous winner at the horn, Moore said, “I guess high school was the last buzzer-beater. I was 16, to win an AAU championship.”

Ironically, the team she beat was the Philadelphia Belles, a nationally prominent organization, who once counted among its top talents over the years Moore’s Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, the native of southern New Jersey who starred at La Salle College in the City of Brotherly Love

Moore was once on the other side of a buzzer-beating situation in the 2012 when Notre Dame put an end to her illustrious collegiate career at Connecticut in overtime.

In the national semifinals in Denver, Natalie Novosel scored inside with four seconds left in regulation to force overtime and the Irish took it from there sending Moore on the way to the next stage of her career where she quickly became the overall No. 1 draft pick with her selection by Minnesota.

Since then she has picked up a league MVP title and a key part of two championships by the Lynx in 2012, her rookie season, and 2014.

Now her shot Friday night has the Lynx knocking on the door for another one.

“Well, 1.7 is a lot of time,” she described the winning play. “Everything kind of fell into line. I did what I could. I can’t say I completed masterminded the whole situation. It was just a basketball move and I was able to get it off.

“Fortunately, I have a pretty quick release so it worked out … It felt good. It felt good. There’s not much you can do after it leaves your hand until it goes in the rim, other than hope it goes in.

“But it felt good coming off my hand. It felt a little off center, but not so off center that it couldn’t go in. But I’m just glad it went in.”

I think that might have been one of the best played WNBA Finals games in our history,” Reeve proclaimed in the media presser afterwards. “I’m pretty mindful of things that have gone on before us. But that’s got to be right up there.”

Certainly with eight ties and 11 lead changes, the game was tense and exiting throughout, especially with the crowd at, excuse the expression for this particular home team, Fever pitch to provide a great atmosphere.

But the game’s ultimate place in the WNBA finals talked lexicon will be enhanced or diminished by whether Minnesota moves on to win it all, in the process attaining for its fans, revenge for losing to Indy in 2012 a year after claiming the first crown in the Lynx franchise history.

But maybe both teams are just getting started considering there's still Sunday's game here and potentially one more in Minnesota.

One certainly can't discount a Fever squad that has done well on the road, rallying from an opening loss in the conference semifinals to dethrone the reigning Eastern playoff champion Chicago Sky.

Then after trailing by 18 in Game 2 of the Eastern finals following an opening loss to New York, the Fever rallied to force Game 3, where in Madison Square Garden before a hostile crowd, the Lynx put an end to the Liberty's renaissance season.

With Game 3 see-sawing down the stretch Friday night, the way things were going with two league superstars – one from each in Moore and Indiana’s Tamika Catchings involved – it seemed likely that even as both struggled – one of them might be headed to a frozen moment in time for all to recall in years to come.

Certainly it virtually froze for Reeve, who described her thoughts in the final moments from the time the ball was inbounded in the Lynx frontcourt.

“It looked darn good. It looked darn good. I don’t know if I had any thoughts. It looked like what you felt in the arena. It just got quiet. It’s what you’ve seen in the movies with the ball going in the basket (nothing but net swishing through completing a path from it’s launch by Moore),” Reeve described.

“It looked like everyone was watching, then it went through and (sound) picked up again, and that’s what it felt like.”

Now the only way Indy might have been rescued and allowed to try to win in overtime would have been for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s sister Lady to arrive and effect an observation by the officials viewing the video replay that would indicate the shot didn’t go down fast enough, allowing Indiana to dodge defeat for at least another five minutes.

Perhaps because there is a chance to play another day or days and all Moore did was tip the balance of an existing 1-1 tie rather than closing the WNBA postseason, Fever rookie coach Stephanie White was remarkably straight forward and sounded more like she was in her offseason role as a prime collegiate women’s basketball analyst for the Big Ten network.

“That was a great player making a great play at the end of the game,” the former Purdue star said. “I’m proud of our team how we fought. We battled.

“We did a much better job in some areas we needed to improve. But that was just a hell of a shot by Maya Moore. Great individual effort on her part. She comes back in and think the beginning of the fourth quarter maybe has five straight points, and Minnesota got great balance.

“Their bench, again, was superb, and we just gave ourselves an opportunity. We gave ourselves an opportunity and didn’t capitalize.”

White alluded to the pump fake Moore pulled on former Maryland star Marissa Coleman before launching the shot.

“One of the great things that Maya Moore does, she always stays poised. She always stays under control. Marissa wanted to contest, and got suckered a little bit in the head and shoulder fake, but I just thought it was a heck of a shot and a heck of a play.”

The UConn karma also permeated the Lynx in the performance of former Huskie Renee Montgomery, who has struggled in recent seasons off injuries, but who delivered a key three-pointer to tie the game 77-77 with 1 minute, 25 seconds left in regulation.

The Fever then had a chance to delight the fan base here but steady Brian January missed a jumper with 46 seconds left. However, Erlana Larkins grabbed the offensive rebound to retain possession but then quickly made a bad pass turnover.

Montgomery, who had 12 points off the bench to account for her part of a completed reserve combo of 22 points going with former New Yorker Anna Cruz scoring 10, missed a chance at a game-winner with 26.9 seconds left.

Coleman then gave Indy another chance at taking the lead in the series but former Florida State star Shenise Johnson, who propelled the Fever with 14 of her 17 points in the first half, missed with 4.9 seconds left and the Lynx called time to set up the Moore moment that followed Lindsay Whalen’s pass to get the ball in her hands.

Reeve called Montgomery a big key to the win on a night that although Moore scored 24, she missed almost half the game in two stretches in each half with foul trouble.

Moore was asked whether her teammate’s performance was the vintage Huskies’ Montgomery who was a contemporary of Moore on the collegiate powerhouse.

“I had a flashback for a second. She’s even talking to me like we’re in school again,” Moore said of Montgomery. “But she’s a battler. She’s a competitor.

“I remember really being connected to Renee when we were in school together because we were the two most competitive people everywhere we went. We were never on the same team (at practice) because we would kill the other team, so we always had to be on opposite teams and we would just duke it out because we were competitors, and she’s brought that to the Lynx.”

Sylvia Fowles, who came to the Lynx at midseason in a trade from Chicago also involving the Atlanta Dream, had a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota, while Seimone Augustus, recovered from a bunch of nagging injuries, scored 13.

The Lynx shot 7-of-13 treys, including 4-for-7 from Moore.

Johnson’s 17 was a team high for the Fever, who also got 14 from Coleman, 15 from January, but only 10 from Catchings, who will be retiring after next season.

She also had 10 rebounds while in trying to maintain her role as the Fever’s force, shot only 3-of-10 from the field and missed an easy inside layup down the stretch with the outcome still undetermined.

“Yeah, this is probably the worst I played,” said Catchings, who now owns the WNBA record for most postseason appearances at 65, breaking a tie with former WNBA star Taj McWilliams-Franklin. She’s also tied with McWilliams-Franklin with her 64th start and that will be broken on Sunday barring any unforeseen event to sideline her.

“It’s just so frustrating as a player when you know you’re so much better.”

Montgomery paid tribute from her side of the long association with Moore.

“We’re witnessing greatness. It’s hard to realize in the moment but the way she continuously puts up big numbers night in and night out, when you know the entire scouting report is focused on her, she continuously comes through.

“I’m excited to witness that and be part of it. I was with her in college, and now in the pros. We are witnessing greatness.”

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: League Has One Rep While UConn Has Four in Next National Challenge

By Mike Siroky

Candace Parker, at age 29, will have an end of summer adventure.

She is the only SEC player on the roster of the team that will represent America in a European tour in October.

The Tennessee All-American plays professionally in the United States for the Los Angeles Sparks.

The WNBA is wrapping up its season and L.A. is already done.

The best-represented college is, of course, indomitable UConn with Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson, Tina Charles and returning national college player of the year Breanna Stewart.

All the rest are paid by various professional teams in America and Europe.

Teammates include Brittney Griner, Candice Dupree, Courtney Vandersloot, Angel McCoughtry, Elena Delle Donne and Danielle Robinson.

Of them all Bird, a three-time Olympic Gold medalist and the most-decorated FIBA World Championship athlete in the world, is the team leader, at age 34.

Griner will miss 20 percent of the training camp as a result of her guilty plea in the domestic assault case. She had agreed her next camp would be the one in which the penalty would be applied.

Bird is shooting for her fourth U.S. Olympic Team in 2016.

The Women's National Team continues its preparations for 2016 this week with a European Tour from Oct. 2-10 that will feature games in Barcelona, Rome, Naples and Prague.

That’s what this tour is about, assembling players who undoubtedly have the inside track for the ‘16 Games.

Others will be added and some may be dropped, but this is the core talent for Team USA right now.

The team is selected and administrated by USA Basketball.

The 11 USA Women's National Team athletes have accepted invitations to participate in a training camp in Spain, and compete in four exhibition games in Spain, Italy and Czech Republic from Oct. 2-10.

The USA squad will train Oct. 2-3 in Barcelona, Spain, before taking on professional EuroLeague club Uni Girona on Oct. 4 in Girona, Spain.

Following a final practice in Barcelona, the team will travel to Italy to face the Italian National Team on Oct. 7 in Rome and the Dike Naples professional team on Oct. 8 in Naples.

The tour concludes with a game against 2015 EuroLeague champion USK Prague on Oct. 9 in Prague, Czech Republic.

"It's one of the obstacles that we have every Olympic year; the amount of time we get with our players," said USA National Team and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma , who since being selected to coach the USA Basketball Women's National Team in 2009 has piloted the USA National Team to an overall 23-0 record and gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Championships and the 2012 Olympic Games.

He is UConn’s coach and has won more NCAA titles than any other.

"This is another example of that. We are going to have 10 days together, so we'll have a couple practices and a couple games but we are going to be missing some players.

"All the players that are playing in the WNBA Finals won't be there, which means some of our best players won't be there.

“That's difficult because it doesn't give you a great sense of everyone that is eligible for the team. But in the end, you have to do what you have to do and out of this maybe some younger players or some players that we really didn't know too much about show us something and put themselves in the mix."

Auriemma is being assisted through the 2016 Olympic Games by DePaul University's Doug Bruno, University of South Carolina's Dawn Staley.

University of Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti – another Auriemma All-American while at UConn -- will serve as a court coach during the USA's European Tour.

The Minnesota Lynx' Cheryl Reeve is another Team USA assistant, but has team in the 2015 WNBA Finals and therefore will not be on the sideline during the 2015 European Tour.

The 2016 Olympic Games are Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro.

A total of 12 nations will compete in the Olympic women's basketball competition, including host Brazil and the USA, which earned its berth by virtue of claiming the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Championship.

Australia (Oceania), Canada (Americas), Japan (Asia) and Serbia (Europe) claimed their respective FIBA zone championship to earn a spot in the Rio field, while the African champion, which will be crowned on Oct. 3, will claim the seventh spot.

The remaining berths will be awarded to the top five finishing teams at the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament (June 13-19, 2016).

Qualified for that tournament based on finishes in their respective zone championships: Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela from the Americas; China and South Korea from Asia; Belarus, France, Spain and Turkey from Europe; New Zealand from Oceania; and the two teams TBD from the AfroBasket Championship (Sept. 24-Oct. 3).

U.S. Olympic women's basketball teams have earned a record seven Gold medals, one Silver medal and one Bronze medal.

They are 58-3 all-time in Olympic competition. The 2016 U.S. team will enter Rio riding a 41-game Olympic winning streak that dates back to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Bronze medal game.

Since the inception of the 1995-96 USA Basketball Women's National Team program, the USA National Team, in addition to its record five-straight Olympic gold medals, has captured four FIBA World Championship gold medals, one FIBA World Championship bronze medal and one FIBA Americas Championship gold medal, while compiling a remarkable 86-1 record for a .989 winning percentage in those events.

Further, USA National Teams in exhibition contests since 1995 boast of a 186-15 record (.925 winning percentage).

The final 12-player 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team will be selected from the 2015-16 USA National Team pool by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee.

Chaired by USA Basketball women's national team director Carol Callan, the committee includes WNBA appointees Reneé Brown, WNBA chief of basketball operations and player relations; Dan Hughes, head coach and general manager of the San Antonio Stars; andChris Sienko , vice president and general manager of the Connecticut Sun; and three-time Olympic and two-time FIBA World Championship gold medalist Katie Smith, who played in nearly 200 games for USA Basketball from 1993-2008, and serves as the athlete representative.

Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA Basketball, chaired by Jerry Colangelo , is a nonprofit organization and the national governing body for men's and women's basketball in the United States.

As the recognized governing body for basketball in the U.S. by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Basketball is responsible for the selection, training and fielding of USA teams that compete in FIBA-sponsored international competitions, as well as for some national competitions, and for the development of youth basketball initiatives that address player development, coach education and safety.

USA Basketball men's and women's teams between 2012-15 compiled a 151-6 win-loss record in FIBA and FIBA Americas competitions, the World University Games and the Nike Hoop Summit, and posted a 76-12 win-loss record in official FIBA and FIBA Americas 3x3 competitions.

USA teams are the current men's and women's champions in the Olympics; men's FIBA World Cup and women's FIBA World Championship; men's and women's FIBA U19 and U17 World Championships; men's and women's U18 FIBA Americas Championships; men's U16 FIBA Americas Championship; the FIBA 3x3 Women's World Championship; and the women's Youth Olympic Games. USA Basketball currently ranks No. 1 in all five of FIBA's world-ranking categories, including combined, men's, women's, boys and girls.

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