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.

Friday, October 21, 2016

WNBA Finals: The Last Laugh and Last Shot Spurred Los Angeles Over Minnesota

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Also for Blue Star Media

MINNEAPOLIS – Candace Parker got the last laugh and Nneka Ogwumike got the last word and the WNBA could not have hoped for anything better to top a magnificent decisive Game 5 here at the Target Center that wrapped up the league’s celebratory 20th anniversary season.

A roaring but disappointed sellout crowd of 19,423 saw their hometown defending champion Minnesota Lynx succumb to the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday night when league MVP Ogwumike put back a shot with 2.1 seconds left in regulation to give the folks from Tinseltown a 77-76 victory and their first WNBA crown since 2002 and third overall.

It was history made and history denied and a bunch of her-stories among the rosters of both squads.

Had Ogwumike been stopped the Lynx would have won the first back-to-back repeat crowns since the Sparks achieved the feat in 2001 and 2002 and off their recent domination they would have won their fourth to tie the long defunct Houston Comets, who won their quartet in the first four seasons of the league’s existence.

And former Georgetown star Rebekah Brunson would have won her fifth title – becoming the only player in the WNBA two-decades existence to do that with what would have been the fourth here and another with the defunct Sacramento Monarchs.

But it was not to be. Instead, L.A. Coach Brian Angler, who has the most North American women’s basketball wins in the United States, was the historic beneficiary of Ogumike’s putback to to win his fourth title in two leagues beginning with the two achieved in the short-lived American Basketball League (ABL) in 1997 and 1998 by the Columbus Quest before the league’s demise under bankruptcy early in its third season.

Then in 2010 Agler led a dominating Seattle Storm bunch to a title and now in his second Los Angeles season the graduate of Wittenberg and former Missouri-Kansas City women’s coach gained his third.

To do so, he had to quickly rebuild Los Angeles’ morale after a tough loss at home Sunday night in the Staples Center that allowed the Lynx to extend the series back to here.

The last laugh went to Parker, the former Tennessee super star who won NCAA crowns in 2007 and 2008, went first overall in the 2009 draft as a lottery pick, was denied a return slot on this past summer’s USA gold-medal winning Olympic squad, and was dazzling Thursday night with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Her MVP finals honor came after a personal tough time in late June, aside from the Olympic snub,  when her iconic Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who stepped down after the 2012 season, succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Parker saluted Summitt with remarks after the game and spoke of her spirit guiding her to rebound against the physically built and veteran Lynx contingent.

Rob has the focus under this post on the blog.

Ogwumike, the former Stanford star, had 12 points while former Duke star Chelsea Gray, formerly with the Connecticut Sun, off the bench had 11  straight points across the end of the third and early in the fourth quarter to keep the Sparks from drifting further behind Minnesota.

The stats on the Minnesota side of the ball show Maya Moore, the esteemed standout from Connecticut, with 23 points and had the Lynx prevailed, she would have been the MVP. Instead her current run at glory that included a spot on the Olympic squad with Minnesota teammates Sylvia Fowles, Lindsay Whalen, and Seimone Augustus, ended the way her junior and senior UConn seasons ended with the Huskies in the final excruciating seconds against then-Big East rival Notre Dame in the NCAA semifinals.

Fowles finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, Augustus had 17, and Whalen had 10 but missed the final long-range attempt beyond half-court that would have preserved the now-stalled Minnesota dynasty.

Incidentally, Los Angeles had no one on this past summer gold medal group in Brazil.

As for the WNBA, the league struck its own gold that as a result of a revamped playoff format that allowed the best eight regardless of East-West conference affiliations into the postseason and had the two best teams of the regular season reach the final best-of-five round and produce a scintillating matchup.

Los Angeles struck in Game 1 here with a buzzer-beater by Alana Beard, another with her own story, while Minnesota countered with a blowout in Game 2.

Then the Sparks blazed at one of their two homes Friday night, winning at the Galen Center on Southern Cal’s campus, before Minnesota came back on the play of Moore to go ahead in the fourth quarter and even the series at the Staples Center.

Then came this one Thursday night with 24 lead changes  and 11 ties.

Asked at the end how much longer can the Lynx solid core stay together, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, one of the Olympic assistants to Geno Auriemma and a La Salle graduate from the Philadelphia suburbs in South Jersey, said, “I don’t know, they just said stick a fork in it last year and all we did was get back to the finals and have the best record in the league.

“I don’t know, maybe you guys should start writing how we’re old and washed up and maybe it motivates them. I don’t know.”

But that answer is a winter away and now because of the extended duration caused by the one-month pause for the Olympics, as the WNBA action for 2016 gets sealed in the history books, the collegians have already been in the gym for several weeks and soon the curtain will go up on what is expected to be an unusually wide-open race to the NCAA title in Dallas March 31-April 2 at the Women’s Final Four.

That should offer enough excitement to pass the time until next spring when season No. 21 looms for the WNBA professionals.