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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

WNBA Matinee Thriller: Mystics' Late Rally in D.C. Eclipses Sun

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON – While there’s many ways to win a basketball game, the Washington Mystics hope to avoid the script they used in rallying for a thrilling 78-76 victory over the Connecticut Sun in a spirited school day game at the Verizon CenterWednesday morning.

In winning their third straight game and remaining perfect at home, the Mystics (4-2 overall) overcame a performance in which they missed their first 10 shots of the contest, spotted the Sun a 10-0 advantage, shot 3-of-14 in the fourth quarter, and erased a late nine-point deficit in the final five minutes.

Normally, that's not a winning recipe, but the determined Mystics made it the right formula despite their difficulties during the game.

Following the game, Washington head coach Mike Thibault looked like he just survived a disaster scene from a horror movie with only a paper cut.

“Not the prettiest game, but when you shoot 35 percent and you still win, I guess there is a lot of beauty in that,” Thibault said.  “A month from now we’ll only remember it as a win. In the moment, it feels really ugly. We made a lot of mistakes and figured out a way to defend hard enough to win.”

Victory wasn’t secured until Washington’s Krystal Thomas blocked Alyssa Thomas’ short jumper that could have forced overtime as time expired. Just moments prior, the Sun’s Alex Bentley, a former star at Penn State, was fouled while attempting a potential game-tying three-pointer with 3.6 seconds remaining.

With the entire arena on its feet and screaming, Bentley missed the first, made the second and missed the third on purpose, leading to a jump ball that was secured by the Sun with 1.2 seconds left.

“A lot of mistakes at the end, and I guess we made up for it when somehow some karma allowed [Alex] Bentley to miss one,” Thibault said. “The things that we’ve been trying to emphasize actually won us the game; battling the boards, not turning it over, getting to the free throw line more than the other team and we did that. We shot 29 free throws, we only had eight turnovers, and that helps you get through bad shooting nights.”

Ah yes, the free-throw line kept the Mystics from disappearing in this game.

While Washington fired enough bricks to build a new downtown skyscraper, the Mystics were scorching the nets from the foul line, making 13-of-15 freebies in the fourth quarter. Overall, they were 26-for-29 from the free throw line, having eight different players attempt at least two foul shots.

By contrast, the Sun were 6-for-11 from the foul line. This comes after Connecticut attempted 39 free throws in its last game at Chicago earlier this week.

Of course, one of Washington’s baskets in the final quarter belonged to Elena Delle Donne.

Her dynamic spinning baseline layup out of a double team in which she softly kissed the ball off of the glass, which resulted in an old fashioned "and-one," and ensuing made foul shot snapped a tie game and gave the Mystics a 78-75 advantage with 44 seconds remaining it never relinquished.

After Delle Donne’s shot went through the net, she displayed a rare burst of emotion when she screamed and clinched both of her fists. She finished with 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting and was one of three Mystic players to reach double figures in scoring.

 The Delaware native added 11 rebounds for her first double-double as a Mystic and a season best five blocked shots.

Tayler Hill shined and led Washington with 18 points and a career best eight assists. Thomas added 11 points and nine rebounds.

 Hill was unavailable postgame as she was being evaluated for a possible concussion after violently hitting her head on the floor midway through the final quarter when she was fouled while driving to the basket.

“When shots aren’t falling early in the season sometimes that will make a team lose a game, and we were able to stay in the game because of our defense and our rebounding,” Delle Donne said. “That’s huge. It’s something we will continue to improve and get better, and hopefully, our shots will fall next time.”

Washington’s defense was solid in the final 4:33 after Connecticut’s Shekinna Stricklen sank her third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter. It swelled the Sun’s advantage to 73-64.

The Mystics sprinted to the finish by scoring 14 of the final 17 points. Alyssa Thomas, made the Sun’s only basket after Stricklen’s 3-pointer with 1:29 remaining. It gave the Sun its final lead of the game, 75-73.

Stricklen, who starred at Tennessee, led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-12 accuracy. She made six of Connecticut’s 10 3-pointers.

Jonquel Jones, who starred at nearby George Washington here as a collegian, added 14 points and 13 for her second straight double-double and third this season.  Lynetta  Kizer finished with 12 points for the Sun, which dropped to 1-5. This was the Sun’s third defeat by two points this season.

“It was a great game,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “I thought we executed a lot of our game plan. We outscored them by 18 points in the field. We really bothered them with what we did. No one made more than five baskets against us. When the game was on the line, they put their heads down and got calls and we didn’t.”

NOTES: Maryland head coach Brenda Frese was in attendance as six of her former players saw action. Kristi Toliver, Tianna Hawkins, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough made meaningful contributions for the Mystics combining for 14 points. Meanwhile, Thomas, Kizer, and Brionna Jones combined for 20 points for the Sun. … The Mystics had 17 assists on their 23 baskets … The rebounding battle was even as each team finished with 38 … There were 11 lead changes and nine ties … Washington’s Natasha Cloud, a product of Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia, had six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes … Eleven of the Mystics’ 19 first quarter points came off the bench: Cloud (4), Latta (3), Hawkins (2), Walker-Kimbrough (2) … Bentley will be leaving the Sun to compete for the Belarus National Team in the 2017 FIFA EuroBasket Women’s tournament, which runs from June 16-25.

NEXT GAMES: The Sun finish its three-game road trip Saturday in San Antonio at 8 p.m. while the Mystics conclude a three-game homestand Sunday against Atlanta at 3 p.m.

Guru's WNBA Report: Another Flameout As New York Falls to Los Angeles

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – Back in the day there used to be a joke about attending NBA games where if you were running late, don’t worry, you only had to be there for the last quarter.

The WNBA’s New York Liberty, so far, are doing it the other way, and perhaps in some cases, maybe it can be looked at as a fan-friendly action.

Through the Liberty’s first five games this season, the New Yorkers have yet to outscore an opponent in the second half.

The latest collapse of the offense came Tuesday night here in Madison Square Garden where the defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks parted with a two-game losing streak to top the Liberty 90-75 here fueled by a 54-37 second-half performance, including 24-11 in the final quarter.

At the this rate, if seeing a win at the end of a game isn’t imperative, fans here can watch New York do their best in the first two quarters and then head home.

Blazing the way for the Sparks (3-2), who trailed 38-36 at the half, were reigning WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike with 22 points and Candace Parker with 20 while veteran Alana Beard had 13 points and Riquana Williams scored 12.

Parker also had 11 rebounds.

Former Uconn star Tina Charles, who got her Olympic ring symbolic of a gold medal from a USA Basketball official, prior to the opening tip, started out like she might reach a career high but settled at 25 for the Liberty while also playing in foul trouble.

However, 19 of her total occurred in the first half.

Former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince had 21 points behind Charles’ performance for New York while former Georgetown star Sugar Rodgers scored 13.

A narrow 69-67 two-point win at the Phoenix Mercury in Arizona on the recent road trip and an opening day 73-64 win here over the then-inferior makeup of the San Antonio Silver Stars account for New York’s pair of victories.

The loss to Los Angeles was the fourth straight in the series, including an overtime setback here last year, while New York also lost to the other WNBA power hitter, the unbeaten runnersup Minnesota Lynx and also to the revitalized Seattle Storm.

“I give L.A. A lot of credit, they did all the right plays in the second half and we didn’t,” said Liberty veteran coach Bill Laimbeer, who used to be on the other side picking up the kudos back in the day when the former Detroit Shock, which later became Tulsa and now the Dallas Wings, were picking up three championships and dominating the league in the early part of the last decade.

Dallas, by the way, is finally moving in a positive direction and is headed here for Friday night’s 7 p.m. tip, the second of a season-long five-game home stand.

“Every time we seem to face adversity we have to get mentally stronger,” said Laimbeer, who will lose a chunk of his offense while Prince and former Rutgers star and teammate Kia Vaughn play overseas for respective national teams vying for the European championship.

Vaughn is on her second stint with New York, arriving via trade in the offseason with the Washington Mystics, who have an 11:30 a.m. tip Wednesday morning in the nation’s capital Wednesday against the Connecticut Sun.

Rob Knox will be on the scene for this site relieving the Guru of a tough back-to-back in his travels.

Rodgers upped her WNBA-leading 3-point total to 14 Tuesday night as she increased her average to 2.8 three-balls a game.

“We gave them too many easy baskets and second shots,” Laimbeer continued in what is becoming an ongoing litany of the same theme here first promulgated in the league opener earlier this month when New York barely dodged a lost to a San Antonio team the Liberty should have routed.

“That can’t happen against a quality team. Until we decide as a collective group, coaches and players, that we become mentally tougher and execute everything we’re supposed to every play, we’re going to struggle. That’s two games in a row with 11 points in the fourth quarter and it’s hard to win games like that.

“We’ve been finding that every game it’s one little thing here and one little thing there. The little things collectively add up to a big thing and that is what is happening to us. You have to play on top of your game. You can’t make many mistakes in basketball games if you want to win.”

As for losing some players besides the recent season-ending injury to former California star Brittany Boyd, who was coming into her own running the point, Laimbeer noted, “We knew this was coming. Three of our top seven will be gone.

“The league doesn’t stop. It is what it is. We have to dig deeper, work harder and smarter. It’s just work. Putting in some more time in the gym. It’s going to be done. We can win some games. That is our goal, to win as many games as possibly. We’ll tread water till our players get back. We can’t put our heads down.”

Former Notre Dame star Lindsay Allen, who was drafted by New York in April before becoming one of the final cuts in camp, is set to return to help fill the void.

As New York learned last season, being best in the East, which they are not yet in the early going, isn’t nearly enough under the revamped playoff qualifying format established last season.

The best overall eight teams without regard to conference affiliation qualify and being third best a year ago deprived New York of getting to the finals when Phoenix won here in a one-and-done deal in the early rounds after the Liberty had an opening round bye.

Prince said of Los Angeles’ thrust in the second half, “They just came out. They were aggressive and physical, got a couple of turnovers, (were) able to score (off) of that. They were getting too many offensive rebounds.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles coach Brian Agler was pleased to get back on the winning side after two narrow losses at the Indiana Fever and Atlanta Dream.

“I still think there’s a lot we can work on, but I sort of liked how we played collectively in the second half. We bonded out there a little bit,” Agler observed.

“A little bit of a resemblance how we played a year ago in regards to our enthusiasm and just our focus and communication, helping each other out and making plays for each other. Offensively, we played with a little bit of purpose and got the ball to the right people in the right spots.”

Parkes also expressed relief getting the win. “We needed a win on this trip and this was the way to get it. Obviously, I think we are a work in progress. We let two slip away but I think our defense got back on track in this game.”

Los Angeles is off until the Chicago Sky visits Tinseltown on June 6, next Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Renee Montgomery Values Lynx Wins As Her Top Priority

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

There’s only one thing that matters for Minnesota Lynx guard Renee Montgomery, a tenacious, vivacious and ruthless ball of kinetic energy with a sweet smile.

“Winning is important,” Montgomery said Monday afternoon. “I feel we have a great chance to win here. Adjustment to playing a smaller role. For me, this is my ninth season and as you get older, you begin to value different things and my priority list changed.”

A former UConn star, Montgomery signed a two-year contract to remain with the Lynx in the offseason.

She was happy and comfortable.

Montgomery is part of a loaded bench brigade for Minnesota which also includes veterans Jia Perkins, Natasha Howard and Plentte Pierson. Their presence enables Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve to confidently go nine deep without a drop-off in performance.

The undefeated Lynx (3-0 overall) will look to remain perfect when it hosts the Connecticut Sun (0-2) Tuesday night at 8 p.m.on ESPN2. Montgomery played for the Sun from 2009-14.

This season, Montgomery is averaging 5.0 points per game in 14.9 minutes through three games. She scored seven points and had two steals in 18 entertaining minutes during the Lynx’s impressive road win against New York last week.

Montgomery is still getting into season shape after playing overseas for Basket 90 Gdynia in Poland where she averaged 18.0 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds in 11 games. Playing in that country, Montgomery was one of the top players on her team and she admitted it took some getting used to.

“Playing overseas is change and I am role player here,” Montgomery said. “You have to switch that mode over there. I had to take more shots and be a lot more for the team. It makes you tougher because you know the scouting report is going to be about you.”

While Montgomery shined overseas, Maya Moore decided not to play during the offseason and rest. It has done her some good as she looks refreshed at the start of the season. Moore is averaging 16 points per game, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists.

“I benefited from the mental rest,” Moore said. “Taking that break has helped because I have more to give during this WNBA season. There’s a lot that we pour into the game when we are playing year round. (Resting) doesn’t mean you’re going to be amazing. You just have to go out and prove it every day.”

The Sun are coming off an 81-79 loss to the Indiana Fever on Sunday afternoon despite placing five players in double figures.

 Second-year center Jonquel Jones, a George Washington product, had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Former Penn State star Alex Bentley contributed 14 points and UConn product Morgan Tuck tallied 13 points. Tuck leads the Sun in scoring through two games with a 14.0 point per game average.

Montgomery and the Lynx won’t be taking the Sun lightly. The Sun won two of the three meetings against Minnesota last season.

“The Sun is a relentless team,” Montgomery said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re up 10 or down by 10. They are going to play hard at all times. They are always hard to play against. You can’t go on a run and expect them to fold. They are always going to be relentless. They are going to pick up their defense and they are hard to play against.”

Loyd Lighting It Up Early

Seattle’s Jewel Loyd is leading the WNBA in scoring with a 26.0 point per game average after lighting up the Mystics for 26 points in Sunday’s 81-71 victory.

The Storm have won two straight after an opening loss to the reigning champion Sparks. Loyd has also been efficient as she’s also shooting 60 percent from the field through three games.

 She has scored at least 25 points in every game this season. Loyd scored a season best 27 points and pulled down seven rebounds against the Indiana Fever in an 87-82 win on May 14. The Storm’s next game is Friday against the New York Liberty.

Players of the Week

Layshia Clarendon of the Atlanta Dream and Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx were named the WNBA’s Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played May 13-21 – the opening week of the 2017 regular season.

Clarendon earned Player of the Week honors for the first time in her five-year career.  The former University of California standout led the Dream to a 2-1 record.

  For the week, Clarendon ranked second among Eastern Conference players in assists (6.0 apg), fifth in scoring (16.3 ppg), tied for fifth in field goal percentage (.500, 17-of-34) and seventh in free throw percentage (.929, 13-of-14).

Fowles earned Player of the Week honors for the eighth time in her 10-year career.

  Among Western Conference players, she ranked second in rebounding (10.0 rpg) and blocks (2.0 bpg), third in steals (2.0 spg), fourth in scoring (21.7 ppg) and sixth in sixth in field goal percentage (.575, 23-of-40).  The former LSU standout recorded two double-doubles to lead Minnesota to a 3-0 start as the Lynx extended its May winning streak to 20 games (5-0 in 2012, 6-0 in 2014, 6-0 in 2016 and 3-0 in 2017).

Next Twitter Game

An afternoon affair on Thursday, May 25 at 12 p.m. when Dallas visits San Antonio.

Boyd Done For Season

One of the bright young talents of the league, Liberty guard Brittany Boyd is out for the season after an MRI at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) confirmed a torn left Achilles tendon. She suffered the injury during the fourth quarter of the Liberty’s game against the Minnesota Lynx last Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

“Brittany suffered an unfortunate injury after working hard to come into this season prepared to lead our team from the point guard position,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer in a press release. “She had an excellent training camp, and was poised for a breakout season, as evidenced by the way she performed in our first two games. We are all hoping for a speedy recovery.”

Griner Dominates

Playing like the No. 1 overall draft pick, Phoenix’s Brittney Griner enjoyed a monster week in leading the Mercury to a pair of victories over the Fever (85-62) and Silver Stars (78-72). She averaged 26 points and 11.5 rebounds last week. The former Baylor star notched her first double-double of the season with a career best 32 points and 10 rebounds against the Fever.

 She followed up her stellar performance with another big night in San Antonio on Friday, posting a second-straight double-double with game highs in points (20) and rebounds (13). Griner also had a game-high four blocks against the Stars.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Moore Leads Minnesota to Lopsided 90-71 Win at New York

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – To take on an old phrase by reversing it and playing on the word – Magnificent to the Core.

That would be the Minnesota Lynx, holders of three WNBA championships in the last six years and by an eyelash just missed a fourth at the finish to the Los Angeles Sparks last season.

The Lynx, with a veteran lineup that’s been together quite a while, fended off the New York Liberty here on the road in Madison Square Garden Thursday night with a collection of spurts that put the Western Conference group at 2-0 in the young season while the home team took its first loss to drop to 1-1 and suffered a roster loss with California grad Brittany Boyd suffering an Achilles tendon injury.

It was bad business as usual for New York in the front part of the season where a a history of mishaps have occurred, one even to former UConn great Rebecca Lobo, and one recently two years ago to Rebecca Allen of Australia.

Speaking of bad, the two losses, the one in the standings and the one likely off the roster, pending an MRI in the wake of the fourth quarter mishap, ruined the birthday of “Bad Boy” Bill Laimbeer, the Liberty coach who starred for the NBA Pistons in Detroit’s Bad Boy era winning several NBA titles.

Laimbeer acknowledge the injury to be related to Achilles but deferred any speculation until results from Friday’s examination of Boyd is known.

Despite wins on the weekend to launch the WNBA’s 21st season, both coaches were not in a pleasant mood over each team’s performance.

Laimbeer was back on the stump with more of the same campaign lingo after his team got trumped Thursday, allowing those runs and a reversal of the Liberty’s fortune that saw the New Yorkers hit the locker room down just 43-40 after two periods.

“Execution,” Laimbeer returned to a familiar theme from Saturday’s struggle to win here over the depleted San Antonio Silver Stars, whose No. 1 overall draft pick Kelsey Plum, the NCAA scoring record breaker out of Washington, was held out the first two games due to an ankle sprain.

“We didn’t execute appropriately. We didn’t run our plays the way we’d been working all week in practice. We have to be more disciplined and we weren’t tonight. And against a good team you have to execute every time or you’re going to get beat.”

Though Georgetown grad and now veteran Sugar Rodgers had a game high 20 points, 19 of those came before the half and then Minnesota found a way during the the break to clean up that problem, defensively.

Tina Charles, the former UConn star of New York who was held under double digits just once all last summer, scored just six points and the Liberty as a team were held to 35.3 percent from the field, a defensive statistic on the Lynx side that when they hold teams under 40 percent, which was the 36th straight time since 2011, the Lynx are 85-1.

The 19-point differential was Minnesota’s biggest here though several summers ago when the two played across the Hudson River at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., during the MSG upgrade, the all-time rout by 26 in the series was achieved on Aug. 27, 2013, by a score of 73-47.

“Tina was sick the last couple of days, she wasn’t able to play her way through it and that hurt us big time because that is our normal go-to player,” Laimbeer said.

Boyd had 16 points, shooting 60-for-10 from the field in 15 minutes, 48 seconds of play before getting hurt.

Minnesota, meanwhile, had a scoring fiesta, tying a record for the franchise with seven different players connecting on three-point attempts.

The entire starting lineup was in double figures led by another UConn great in Maya Moore, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Sylvia Fowles had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Lindsay Whalen had 12 points and dealt five assists, and Rebekkah Brunson, another Georgetown alum, and Seimone Augustus each scored 11.

Natasha Howard and Renee Montgomery each scored seven points as the Lynx showed depth getting 28 points from the bench.

Brunson, a rebounding machine as is Fowles, with four fell just one sort of becoming the fifth player in WNBA history to collecting 3000 or more off the backboards.

“We had some lapses in assignments,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve described the early action. “Sugar Rodgers running free in the first half, we fixed that in the second half. We were good on offense, just keeping it simple. Don’t over think it.

“We are a great defensive team, for the most part we played defense pretty well. The balance of what we did was really, really good.”

Reeve, a former La Salle star in Philadelphia, who is from South Jersey across the Delaware River, was once an assistant to Laimbeer with the former Detroit Shock and he helped her land the Minnesota job when he was part of the NBA Timber Wolves organization.

She knew Laimbeer had been an unhappy camper in Saturday’s opener.

“We knew how New York felt about the game, what they were going to do,” she said. “And we responded to that and had great energy from start to finish.”

Reeve had 12 people at the game, including some former La Salle people from her era, which usually happens when the Garden is considered the key homecoming stop of the three seaboard visits that also including games in Washington against the Mystics and at Connecticut against the Sun.

She also told the Guru she has yet to hear from USA Basketball on whether she might be appointed as a national aide to Dawn Staley, the NCAA championship coach who will head USA Basketball’s World Championship and Olympic efforts.

“I know they are starting to consider the staff,” Reeve said. “You know I would do anything for Dawn.”

Reeve coached Staley as an assistant when both were with the former Charlotte Sting and both served last summer on the staff of Geno Auriemma when USA won another Olympic gold medal, this time in Rio in Brazil.

Moore, and three other Lynx players, Whalen, Fowles, and Augustus were on the USA squad.

Moore said of Thursday’s win, “I’m just glad to see us make movements from game one to game two,” she said. “There was a lot of energy in the building today so I think once we put some stops together in the fourth quarter, we were able to defend the lead.

“We played with great poise and were able to open up a lead.”

Minnesota will next stay on the road to visit the Dallas Wings on Saturday while New York begins a road trip West on Tuesday visiting the Phoenix Mercury.

Elsewhere in the WNBA, the game here was the only one on the league slate. On Friday night, the Atlanta Dream at 1-0 visits the 0-1 Chicago Sky, which fell to Minnesota on the road last weekend.

Phoenix at 1-1 visits 0-2 San Antonio, who is hopeful of having Plum ready for the home opener in Texas.

Washington steps up after following up New York on the weekend openers, beating San Antonio, by visiting the Los Angeles Sparks, who will have their championship ring ceremony before the game, now that everyone will have returned from their overseas offseason commitments.

On Saturday, Connecticut, which fell to Atlanta in the Sun’s home opener to go 0-1, which visit Indiana seeking a first win, while likewise the Fever, which is off to an 0-2 start.

Minnesota at Dallas was already mentioned.

Chicago turns right around to visit Atlanta Sunday and Washington moves on to Seattle, so much more will be known by the end of the weekend the real state of improvement of the Mystics, who now have Elena Delle Donne in the fold.

The league is dark on Monday and the other Tuesday game has the Sun staying on the road visiting Minnesota.

The Lynx could still be unbeaten by then and it would not be presumptive to start counting down Minnesota’s magic number to clinch another playoff spot.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Despite Acclaim, New York's Kiah Stokes Seeks Improvement

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

When informed of the recent preseason acclaim lavished upon her, New York Liberty center Kiah Stokes reacted like she was sentenced to drink a pint of Castor Oil.

In the preseason poll by WNBA general managers, the rapidly improving Stokes, a former UConn star, received votes for defensive player of the year and was labeled as one of the players who could enjoy a breakout season.

“I haven’t proved myself yet in this league,” Stokes said during a conference call Wednesday. “It’s nice to get recognition. I also know that I have to keep working hard and getting better every time I step on the floor. I also have to continue to be more physical and aggressive defensively and offensively.”

Stokes has come a long way in a short time. In a city known for its skyscrapers, the affable and athletic 6 foot, 3 inch Stokes stands as tall as the Empire State Building.

She shuts down the lane, builds a moat around the basket and intimidates opponents with her breathtaking shot blocking ability. Just one game into her third season with the Liberty, Stokes is fifth all-time in franchise history in blocked shots with 106.

“I have to continue to work hard to be a better defender and rebounder,” said Stokes, who ranked seventh in the WNBA in rebounds (7.4) and was sixth in blocked shots (1.4) per game last season. “Instead of jumping over people for rebounds. I am making more of an effort to box out. I just want to improve my game.”

Stokes and the rest of her New York Liberty teammates are excited to return to action Thursday night against the Minnesota Lynx. The game from Madison Square Garden begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Both teams are 1-0.

Fifth-year Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance following their harder-than-necessary 73-64 win over a shorthanded San Antonio squad missing three of its top players, including No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum, last Saturday.

Tina Charles led five Liberty players in double figures, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. It was nearly a wire-to-wire victory for the Liberty, who fell behind 1-0 and then led the rest of the way, peaking with an 18-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. The Liberty held a distinct advantage in fast-break opportunities, outscoring the Stars 15-2.

The Liberty won’t give back the victory, but it since it has championship aspirations, each player understands that the effort has to be better.

“Our team heard (Laimbeer’s) message loud and clear,” Stokes said. “We expected more. Practice has been great this week and his words as well as our performance has lit a fire under us. (Playing Minnesota) is a great test for us. We have to step up fight, work hard and be more intense.”

Several outlets have these two teams meeting in the WNBA Finals later this year. This is the first of three meetings against the Lynx, who also opened the season with a 70-61 win over the Chicago Sky last Sunday at the Target Center.

The schedule comes at the Liberty fast. Starting with Thursday night’s game, seven of New York’s next eight games are against teams that qualified for the WNBA playoffs last season.

“It’s exciting and we’re really looking to show what kind of team what we’re made of,” Stokes said. “Really, we are taking one game at a time and we’re going to focus on that. I don’t even know we play after Minnesota.”

Meanwhile, the Lynx are fueled this season by last season’s tough ending where it lost the championship at home to the Los Angeles Sparks. However, as Seimone Augustus pointed out, the Lynx never struggle to find motivation even though it has three championships in the last six years and have been the WNBA’s gold standard during that span.

“The media gives us something to motivate us,” Augustus said. “Some years we’re not ranked high enough in preseason or people say that we’re too old. We always find little things to get us going. We understand that with New York, a lot of their players pose different problems. We believe that if we can make Tina Charles’ night difficult, then hopefully it can disrupt New York’s offensive flow.”

In its win over Chicago, the Lynx was led by Sylvia Fowles, who scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. It was her 108th career double-double.

She also swiped four steals and blocked three shots. Despite that, competitive Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame, she believed that Fowles should have had at least 15 boards. Reeve and Laimbeer coached together in Detroit.

The Lynx held Chicago to 35.3% shooting (24-of-68) from the field. Minnesota has won 35 consecutive games when keeping its opponent under 40% shooting, including 84-1 since the 2011 season. Minnesota dished out 23 assists on 24 made baskets led by Maya Moore with six dimes.

“Everytime we play New York, it’s always intense,” Augustus said. “It’s funny how we always have a few days off to prepare for New York leading into the game. It’s never a back-to-back or play one game, then have an off day, and play New York.”

Twitter Debut A Hit 

The WNBA had its first live streamed game on Twitter on Sunday as part of a new three-year deal with the social platform featuring the Dallas Wings at the Phoenix Mercury. It was a smashing success as it received more than 1.1 million unique viewers and an average minute audience (AMA) of 62,459.

“The numbers were outstanding for the first time,” Minnesota guard Lindsey Whalen said. “It’s a digital and a hand-held world. The more we can put our game into people’s hands, the better it’ll be. The more people that can access our games, the better it is for us. I am excited to see where the league and technology takes us. Big credit to the league for (the Twitter deal).”

The next game streamed on Twitter will be Friday night when Phoenix visits San Antonio beginning at 8 p.m. Hopefully that game will feature the debut of Kelsey Plum, who missed last week’s games at New York and Washington.

“It’s great that we’re getting more eyes on the game, which can help get more fans in the stands,” Augustus said. “The deal with Fan Duel opens up a whole new world for us. We want to continue evolve as a league and bring awareness that women’s basketball is going on.”

Mystics Head West

After their sterling 89-74 season opening win over the Stars on Sunday, the Mystics begin a three-game road trip Friday night at the reigning champion Sparks (10 p.m.). After that, the Mystics visit Seattle on Sunday (7 p.m.) before Elena Delle Donne plays her first game in Chicago since being traded from there on Wednesday, May 24 at 12:30 p.m. It will be the first of a home-and-home against the Sky, who visit the Verizon Center on Friday, May 26.

Delle Donne tallied 24 points and four rebounds in just over 23 minutes of action in her Washington debut. Delle Donne was 8-12 from the field, including 8-9 from inside the arc. Guard Tayler Hill and forward Emma Meesseman each scored in double figures, tallying 15 and 13 points, respectively. The Mystics outrebounded the Stars 39-22 overall and 14-6 on the offensive boards. Washington finished with a 21-6 advantage in second chance points.

“It’s a good start,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said following Sunday’s game. “It’s a win. Particularly at home, I think it’ll get people excited about us. Far from perfect, some defensive lapses occasionally, especially in the second quarter. I thought we got our defensive mojo back in the second half.

"We held them to 35 percent in the second half. I don’t think we played great, but yet we scored 89 points and held them to 74. They’re certainly going to be a whole lot better when we see them later in the year when they have [Kelsey] Plum, [Moriah] Jefferson, and [Kayla] McBride. We’ll take the win.”

Magnificent Monique

One of the best performances of the opening weekend was turned in by San Antonio veteran forward Monique Currie, who turned back the clock. Now in her 12th year, Currie finds herself leading the WNBA in scoring with a 27.0 point per game effort.

Currie led all players in scoring against the Mystics, amassing a career-high 31 points. Her previous career-high was 28 points vs. Connecticut on June 8, 2008. Her 18 first-half points ties her first-half points career-high. Currie previously scored 18 first-half points twice with the Mystics - June 8, 2013 vs. Minnesota and May 16, 2010 at Minnesota.

Despite the two losses, Currie remained optimistic that the Silver Stars will be formidable and contend for the playoffs this season.

“I think its a few things; we're young, we're missing three players who play a big role in this team, and that makes a difference,” Currie said. “Even still, I think we have enough talent and enough work here that we can still win games. We can't bank on when players will return, but I think everybody needs to step it up a little bit. We're going to go back home, and keep working. Our home opener is this weekend, so we'll try to get a win then.”

Taurasi Signs Contract Extension

Three-time WNBA Champion, seven-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA Finals MVP and 2009 WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi signed a multi-year contract extension with the Phoenix Mercury Tuesday afternoon.

“As long as Diana Taurasi wants to play in the WNBA, we want her in a Mercury uniform,” said Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman.  “As we’ve said before, she is the heart of our franchise, the first face on our Mount Rushmore, the best winner and competitor in the women’s game.  The trajectory of our organization changed the day we drafted her 13 years ago, and we are excited she will be here into the future.”

Taurasi owns the most 20-point games in league history (191), the most 30-point efforts (41), the single-season record for scoring average (25.3 points in 2006) and total points (860, 2006).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Washington Takes WNBA Opener As Delle Donne Scores 24 in Mystics' Debut

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

WASHINGTON -- Other than the chance that the current occupants over nearby 1600 Pennsylvania Ave might take umbrage, the WNBA Washington Mystics these days could be excused for throwing caution to the wind and start blaring that old Democratic campaign theme song “Happy Days Are Here Again” over loudspeakers from the rooftop of their headquarters here at the Verizon Center.

Actually, there haven’t been many happy moments over the years the since the creation of the Mystics, who are celebrating their two decades of existence this season.

But it was all joy and elation Sunday afternoon following Washington‘s season and home opening 89-74 win over the depleted San Antonio Silver Stars as the Mystics’ new star Elena Delle Donne, the former Delaware great, was bordering on breaking out in a downright giddy persona not seen a lot publicly throughout her notable career.

Delle Donne, who became an instant star and rookie of the year in 2013 when she was picked overall No. 2 by the Chicago Sky, arrived here this past winter in a three-team mega deal involving the Mystics, New York Liberty and her former team in the Windy City.

What’s not to like by the 2016 Olympian’s debut less than two hours from her Wilmington home as she scored 24 points, shooting 8-for-12 from the field, including connecting on her’s and the game’s first shot, though in a rarity she actually missed a free throw in her nine attempts and did get into some foul trouble.

Coach/General Manager Mike Thibault, whose was hired in the winter of 2012 after being let go at the end of a decade of success but no title guiding the Connecticut Sun, was mostly pleased with his new offensive machine that includes other prominent parts such as young but veteran Washington stars Emma Messemann of Belgium and Tayler Hill as well as new addition Kristi Toliver, the former Maryland great who helped the Los Angeles Sparks win the WNBA crown last season.

“I’ll tell you guys what I told our players,” said Thibault at his postgame briefing. “It’s a good start. It’s a win, particularly at home. I think it will get people excited about us. Far from perfect. Some defensive lapses, occasionally.

“I don’t feel we played great, though we scored 89 points and held them to 74. They’re certainly going to be a whole lot better when we see them later in the year when they have (Kelsey) Plum, (Moriah) Jefferson, and (Kayla) McBride.

“But we’ll take the win. Mo Currie was great for them today. I’d like to say it was just a payback against us but she did the same yesterday to New York so she’s on a roll. I’m happy for her, but not today,” Thibault quipped about the former Duke star who played with Washington for eight seasons through 2014.

“I thought we did a lot of good things. We moved the ball pretty well, offensively. We didn’t make some of the shots we’ve been making but Kristi and Emma have had about a practice and a half or two practices with us and I think that will get better,” he said.

“Although we’re not looking forward to playing L.A. (Friday) and Seattle (Storm, Sunday), we’re looking forward to going on the road and have some private time together to work on some stuff. Training camp become a mish mash of a lot of meetings and media and league things, so it would be nice to just get back to basketball.”

Once concluding his opening remarks, though further down the road, the questions from media members could start over almost anything and anyone, considering the new-look Mystics, Sunday meant cutting to the chase to gush about Delle Donne.

Though it can be said, if you’ve seen one Delle Donne 24-point performance with the Mystics, you’ve seen them all, that only holds up until next time.

“We have a rule. If you violate while she’s shooting a free throw, we’re going to fine you $25 a piece. We almost had one of them do it earlier in the game. But they’re all going to fine her for missing a free throw because it’s such a rare thing.

“I thought it was good. She got in foul trouble a little bit. We’re not going to play that kind of lineup all the time, necessarily. But we wanted to play kind of a little bit smaller lineup today with her today at center. Although we gave up a couple of things because of it, teams are going to have a hard time guarding us at the other end because of what she and Emma can do.

“So we’re going to give up something to get something. She’ll get better once she gets used to our defensive system of staying out of foul trouble. I thought she kind of got there a little bit late. But I thought it was a great start to come and get 24 points in your debut, that probably sets a pretty good tone for things.

“But I was kind of impressed how the ball moved for us in that regard. She facilitates for everybody else, too.”

A crowd of 6,126 watched the game, a figure that could grow considerably if Washington gets to show they are serious contenders for a title.

Part of that crowd included a chunk of Delle Donne’s fans from her area and alma mater, which Sunday made news naming Georgetown’s Natasha Adair as the Blue Hens’ new coach. She will be introduced Monday morning at a press briefing at Delaware.

Delle Donne was on the search committee, though she did not address the process Sunday. But she did salute the advantage of now playing near home, a chance lost in 2013 when Washington finished with the worst record in 2012 but failed to land any of the top three slots in the lottery.

She did admit to having nerves despite her long list of career accomplishments.

“Certainly. I thought I got here at 11:45,” she smiled of arriving early for the 3 p.m. tip. “For sure there were nerves. I didn’t sleep great. I was jittery. And just ready to get here. It was one under my belt but  that was amazing.”

Usually when Delle Donne scores quickly it’s a sign for things to come. “Thank God. I can breathe,” she said of making her first shot. “I was able to breathe.

“It’s exactly what I was hoping for and even more. This team has great chemistry but when you get here and you feel it, it’s even better than I imagined. So many options.”

As for her personal fans, “I knew the Delaware faithful would show up. There was no doubt in my mind. Mother’s Day. It didn’t matter. I knew they’d be here. That’s my crew. That’s my family. Delaware always makes me proud and I knew they’d show up.”

The Bob Carpenter Center has sold out when Chicago played preseason games there as well as when USA Basketball played several exhibitions.

Now, it’s easy for that crowd to come down here, though it would not be surprising to see Washington follow Chicago’s lead and play games at Delaware in the future.

“It’s truly a home game. Literally a home game. Delaware doesn’t care that it might be two hours. It’s home for them. Everybody showed up.”

 As for her true home family, they all went to dinner Saturday night.

Despite having had posted some titanic performances with Chicago, Delle Donne said she is not thinking about the potential to score even better with the Mystics.

“I don’t really look at numbers. I know a lot of players look at numbers and coaches look at stats. For me, I look at the end number – the Mystics had more than the other team. That’s all I worry about. Game to game, obviously there’s other numbers that are going to be different. There are going to be ups and downs but as long as the Mystics are on top, that’s the number I care about.”

As for the numbers from everyone else that helped put Washington on top, Meessemann had 13 points and Hill had 15, while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored eight, and Toliver had eight and dealt four assists out of the starting lineup.

Tianna Hawkins had nine points off the bench, while Ivory Latta scored six and former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud scored four.

Another contingent in the crowd consisted of Old Dominion fans and former coach Karen Barefoot, newly named at UNC Wilmington, who came to support rookie Jennie Simms, who did not get into the game.

San Antonio dropped its second straight as Plum, the new NCAA scoring leader and overall No. 1 draft pick out of Washington, remained sidelined with a sprained ankle. Second-year pro Moriah Jefferson did not play either due to a nagging foot injury, while McBride, a former Notre Dame great, is still overseas with Turkey playing for a title.

New coach Vickie Johnson, a former New York Liberty star, is 0-2 waiting for her first official victory.

Currie, who was the only player for the Texans in double figures, scored 31 points, following up her 23 on Saturday against New York at Madison Square Garden.

The Silver Star next host the Phoenix Mercury on Friday and the team is hopeful Plum will be ready for the home opener.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Liberty's Laimbeer Stews Over His New Yorkers' Play in WNBA Opening Win Over San Antonio

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – Well, as the summer moves along each of the 12 WNBA franchises will offer several matinee events targeted to the younger set as has been the norm for most of the history of the women’s pro basketball league, that began its 21st season Saturday in three different cities.

Apparently, though, veteran New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer has taken the aforementioned concept and reversed it with a new idea: Unhappy Camper Day.

Though most of the Madison Square Garden crowd of 8,207 left the fabled arena pleased that their home team grabbed a 73-64 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars, that statistical result, not the score, was one of the few positive things about the triumph Laimbeer noted following an arrival that took a bit longer to occur than his normal postgame drill following a victory.

Laimbeer was in vintage form dating back to his days with the former Detroit Shock, which later became the Tulsa Shock, and now the Dallas Wings, when the Motor City bunch rang up three WNBA titles.

“Sorry, I’m an unhappy person and I let them know about it,” said Laimbeer, one of the stars of the NBA championship Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” era, opening his remarks.

“I hope this was the worst game we’ve played all year long. It was awful. We didn’t execute the things we were suppose to, we didn’t box out, we gave up way too many offensive rebounds, we missed free throws (20-27) all over the place.

“And our second unit had a chance to extend the game and didn’t do it. I had to put Tina Charles back in for doing that, she sat so long, this is the year I want to play her a lot less. Instead of taking care of business, it became one-on-one basketball, we didn’t execute anything, and we had missed assignments all over, and that’s bad.

“Our starters didn’t play great, but however, we got a lead, and we should extend that lead with our bench, and collectively, top to bottom it’s the worst effort we could have put forth tonight. And I told them so in strong language.”

Off of finishing with the best record in the East and third best overall, New York is viewed as a title threat with a younger roster with much talent. But to Laimbeer’s point, titles aren’t won based on what teams say about themselves or others say about them in training camp.

“They want to be all-talk, they can be all-talk, they won’t go anywhere,” Laimbeer said, saying that a lack of complete chemistry for now until the new additions get acclimated, is not an excuse. “They have to execute every minute they’re on the floor, do their assignments they were trained to do, do it on time, and collectively as a group.

“If they don’t, then they’re going to win nothing. Fortunately, San Antonio was short-handed. If they had their full squad, we probably would have lost the game. We can’t play like that and compete for a championship. And I told them so.

“There’s no rust. We have to learn what it really takes. We don’t have it. We’re all talk right now. Whether their actions will come around for us to be an elite team, and a consistent elite team, well then that’s what we’re going to find out.

“They have it within them. They have it in their locker room to be able to do it. It’s a matter of them willing to pay the price. They have to do the little things. Kiah Stokes had a terrible night. Awful. She’s in terrible shape. She can’t get the ball she got last year. I told her that in front of everybody too.

And as of last year, when the WNBA changed the playoff system so that the best eight teams without regard to division affiliation qualify, the onus now is that every game on the schedule is equally important.

New York was only third best overall last year despite being best in the East and the Liberty off a first-round bye, fell at home in a one-and-done deal to the Phoenix Mercury in the second round.

Meanwhile, following Saturday’s game, the WNBA schedule makers certainly didn’t make May an easy opening month for the Liberty, who on Thursday night host the runnerup Minnesota Lynx, winners of three titles in the last six years and almost a fourth in that period when they fell at home in the last second to the Los Angeles Sparks in the decisive Game 5 last October.

Then its on to the Mercury and Seattle Storm before returning home here on May 30 to host the Sparks.

“I’m not going to sugar coat anything this year,” Laimbeer said. “We’re going to talk about what reality is and if you want to compete for a championship, this is what you have to do. You have to do your business individually and collectively and you have to get it done. That’s how we’re going to do business. We play like this against Minnesota, we drop by 30. Facts.”

On the other side, former Liberty star Vickie Johnson had her official WNBA coaching debut ruined in the wake of the loss by San Antonio, which had to sit overall No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum (right ankle sprain), who set NCAA scoring records with Washington. Former Uconn star and second-year pro Moriah Jefferson was also sidelined with right knee soreness.

Former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride is still overseas.

Plum is not likely to play Sunday, also, when San Antonio travels a short distance South from here to help the Washington Mystics launch their season Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. In the Verizon Center, where former Delaware star and league sensation Elena Delle Donne will make her local debut following a mega trade with the Chicago Sky, her former team, and New York.

The deal landed former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn, a native New Yorker and former Rutgers star, back with the Liberty and a second tour of duty, though she says while being thrilled to be back here, her previous Liberty stint cannot be used for comparison with the current one.

“Different players. Different chemistry,” said Vaughn, who was one of the players praised by Laimbeer, who bemoaned she did not see the ball more in Saturday’s game.

Vaughn had seven points off the bench, shooting 3-for-5 from the field. Charles had a team-high 12 points for New York, while Shavonte Zeallous and Brittany Boyd each scored 10 points.

Stokes, a former Uconn star, had just two points, while Sugar Rodgers scored seven among the starters, who got 11 points off the bench from Epiphanny Prince, another former Rutgers star. Cierra Burdick, a former Tennessee stars who is another Liberty newcomer, scored 10 points.

On the San Antonio side, former Duke star and league veteran Monique Currie scored 23 points, Isabelle Harrison scored 10, both off the bench, while Alex Montgomery, a starter and former Liberty star, grabbed 11 rebounds.

Rookie Nia Coffey, a first-round pick out of Northwestern, played 16 minutes, 21 seconds, and had three points and five rebounds.

Friday, May 12, 2017

WNBA begins Season No. 21 as a Worthy Follow-Up to What No. 20 Delivered

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

The WNBA’s 21st season promises to be exciting with big names moving to new cities, electrifying rookies joining the league and dynamite storylines.

Elena Delle Donne is the newest Washington monument. San Antonio’s Kelsey Plum enters the league as the No. 1 overall pick after an awesome record-breaking career at the University of Washington. The Los Angeles Sparks are looking to repeat as champions while the Minnesota Lynx are looking to bounce back from a Finals heartbreak.

If it means anything, the Lynx was picked to win its fourth WNBA championship in seven years according to the 15th annual 2017 WNBA.com GM Survey released Thursday.

The Mystics are probably the most fascinating team to watch this season. In addition to acquiring Delle Donne from the Chicago Sky in exchange for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and this year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, who became South Carolina’s Alaina Coates, the Mystics also added veteran Kristie Toliver, a member of last season’s Sparks championship squad.

“I think they're very intriguing,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said during a conference call Wednesday. “When you look at what Elena Delle Donne has already accomplished in the WNBA, being a former MVP, and now you add to that being back to what she calls home.

“I was watching her reading the letter to the fans in D.C. and to her teammates and coaches, and just how excited she is. So to think that there is another level to her game, possibly, with her being in a place where she feels even more comfortable than she did in Chicago, is something exciting, to think about.

“And Kristi Toliver, as well. We watched her in the Finals. I mean, she is a championship-minded player. She plays at a very high level, and I think can bring a mentality to Washington that they've needed. That killer instinct, that player who can help them elevate to the next level. So definitely a very intriguing team. As far as how long it will take to come together, I think a lot of that will depend on the point guard position. Just, you've got so many options there.”

The Mystics already had some nice building blocks in place with veterans Ivory Latta, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman, and Natasha Cloud.

The Mystics could produce plenty of points this season with arguably their most talented team in franchise history. Even though Meesseman will be in and out of the Mystics lineup this summer because of the European championships, head coach Mike Thibault doesn’t appear overly concerned.

“Emma will fit in just because she's been here long enough to know how we do things,” Thibault said and previously noted at last Monday's preseason game he was aware of the situation since last winter. “She's comfortable with how we play and what we do and with the majority of the teammates that are returning. Kristi's a very smart player who picks up things quickly. The way we are playing kind of fits what she's already done. We're probably playing a little bit closer to how L.A., stylewise did last year. So I think that will fit her.

“It's going to take us a while just to develop the on-court chemistry you'd like. Luckily those two have played together all winter. So that should help. But as long as we're playing our best basketball when it counts, I guess that's probably all that matters.”

Ninety-two percent of GMs viewed the Mystics as the team that made the best offseason moves overall, and the same number considered Delle Donne to be the one player acquisition who will make the biggest impact.  Similarly, 67 percent of general managers picked the Mystics as the most improved team.

The Mystics main competition in the Eastern conference could come from the New York Liberty. Half of the league GM’s believe that the Liberty will lead the Eastern Conference in victories for a third straight season. It should be a fun summer along the Interstate 95 corridor as both teams are loaded.

The Liberty also benefitted from the Mystics acquisition of Delle Donne as they gained Long Island native Bria Hartley and Kia Vaughn, who played at Rutgers and is entering her second stint as a member of New York, as part of the three-team trade involving the Sky.

Tina Charles is back to terrorize the league again. Last season, she became just the third player in league history to lead the league in both scoring (21.5) and rebounding (9.9) in the same season. One of the biggest moves was resigning Sugar Rodgers, who averaged 14.5 points (more than her previous two seasons combined) and knocked down 86 3-pointers.

A full season of Epiphanny Prince and an improving Brittany Boyd makes the Liberty a solid contender to finally breakthrough and win the title this season.

Of course just leading the East for the Liberty is not the only thing they need based on last season’s playoff change in which the top eight teams qualified without regard to division affiliation.

Under the old system, New York might have made the finals, but with just the third best overall  record, the Liberty, who had a first round bye,  were knocked off by the Phoenix Mercury 101-94  still early in a one-and-done deal in Madison Square Garden in the second round  at home as Diana Taurasi scored 30 points.

Meanwhile, out West, Maya Moore decided not to play overseas during the offseason in an effort to rest, refine, and recover. That is a scary thought that Moore, who is just 27, is entering the prime of her career and has another level that can she raise her already superb and indescribable game to.

“It's scary to think of Maya rested, more focused than ever, coming off of what could be described as a heart-breaking loss in the Finals,” Robinson said. “So if there is another level to Maya Moore's game, then watch out, WNBA, because she's already an elite player. But definitely as Maya can find another gear, she can really start to establish herself, if not already, as one of the greatest to have ever played in this league.”

The Sparks added Odyssey Sims from Dallas. They still feature the most potent low-post combination in Nneka Ogumike, the regular season MVP, and Candace Parker, who is beginning her 10th season.

The Sparks also made the smart move of re-signing defensive stalwarts Alana Beard and Essence Carson, the former Rutgers great, to keep their core together for another championship run.

“We feel like Odyssey can provide us quality minutes at the point and on the perimeter,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “I don't know if she'll be starting for us, I can't tell you that right now. But she'll play quality minutes.

 “When we knew Kristi was going to Washington, we knew we lost a really good player and somebody that had come off of an extremely good season, both individually and her part of the team. So we needed to find a way to replace her. Not that we could replace her with Odyssey, but we also feel like Odyssey is a really good player on her own behalf.”

The Atlanta Dream will without Angel McCoughtry for an unspecified length of time as she announced that she will be resting during the upcoming campaign. Tiffany Hayes could emerge as the leader of the Dream after coming off of her best season of her career in which she averaged 15 points per game. She will be counted to lead a young team that features Elizabeth Williams, who was named the league’s most improved player last year, and Layshia Clarendon.

McCoughtry won’t be the only big name missing this season. The Mercury will be without standout DeWanna Bonner, who is pregnant and will sit out the season.

 The Connecticut Sun won’t have forward Chiney Ogwumike, who will miss the season as she continues to recover from Achilles surgery. Obviously, the biggest absence will be that of Tamika Catchings, who retired from a long career with the Indiana Fever and now has a job in the front office.

Some other familiar faces in different places this season include Candice Dupree (Fever), Danielle Robinson (Mercury), Lynetta Kizer (Sun) and former Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who is now the Fever’s head coach. A major addition occurred for Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who as you guessed it got married recently.

Also longtime Connecticut Sun GM Chris Sienko, who also held a similar position with the former ABL franchise in that state, departed and coach Curt Miller added his duties, while Amber Cox, who served stints with the Mercury and collegiate Big East Conference, is now with the Mohegans as vice president of the Sun and the organization’s National Lacrosse League entry.

“I'm really eager to see -- I guess it's Diggins-Smith now,” said ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn great who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September. “I'm eager to see her this year in Dallas. Such a young group now that is around her.

“That's another team that I think people are kind of watching because you don't really know quite what to expect from them with so many new faces on the roster and anticipating her being back at the top of her game, which I'm eager to see because she was having such a great season a couple years ago before she got hurt.”

 “We saw it again in stretches last year. So I'm eager to see if she can, once again, be one of the elite players in the WNBA.”

The answer to that question and many more will be revealed when the Silver Stars and Liberty tip off the season that runs through September 3rd.

The Sparks and Seattle Storm, with reigning rookie of the year Breanna Stewart, plus the Sun and Dream, will also open Saturday, while Sunday’s card will feature the Mercury and Wings, the Fever and Storm, the Sky and Lynx, and Delle Donne with the Mystics opening at home against the Silver Stars.

Fearless predictions
Playoff teams in order: Lynx, Liberty, Mystics, Sparks, Mercury, Storm, Fever and Wings.
MVP: Maya Moore, Lynx
Defensive Player of the Year: Briann January, Fever
Rookie of the Year: Kelsey Plum, Silver Stars
Coach of the Year: Mike Thibault, Mystics
Most Improved Player: Tiffany Mitchell, Fever
Finals: Lynx over Liberty

Five Must Games To Watch
Lynx at Liberty, Thursday, May 18: Possible championship preview and an early gauge for both teams.
Mystics at Sky, Wednesday May 24: Delle Donne’s first game against her former team in Chicago.
Liberty at Mystics, Thursday, June 29: First meeting between the two Eastern Conference favorites.
Sparks at Lynx, Thursday July 6: First meeting between the two heavyweights since last season’s memorable WNBA Finals.
Fever at Mercury, Wednesday July 19: Dupree returns home to Phoenix.

WNBA Games On Twitter
The second day of the season marks the debut of live WNBA games on Twitter. The matchup between the Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, May 14 (6 p.m. ET) will be available at wnba.twitter.com and via @WNBA. The WNBA will live stream 20 regular-season games per year on Twitter in 2017, 2018 and 2019. This is cool and interesting. Kudos to the WNBA for expanding its brand.

Fantasy game
The WNBA and FanDuel announced today a new partnership that will make FanDuel the official, one-day fantasy partner of the WNBA. The partnership is FanDuel’s first with a women’s professional sports league and the WNBA’s first official one-day fantasy offering.

New awards
The WNBA has announced new awards beginning with the 2017 season. For the first time, the league will present a Coach of the Month award, an addition to the list of in-season honors that includes Players of the Month and Rookie of the Month. Also new in 2017, the WNBA will name a Basketball Executive of the Year at the end of the season.

Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru also contributed to this report.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Guru's WNBA Report: Washington's Sunny Outlook has a Philly-Area Accent

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

WASHINGTON – If the WNBA Washington Mystics really get it going this season as the roster overhaul might suggest, a strong dose of Philadelphia area connections will be part of the formula.

Assistant coach Marianne Stanley, the former Immaculata star, national championship coach at Old Dominion, and a few previous WNBA coaching stops, has been a mainstay who was retained when Mike Thibault took over the team after having had a decade of winning with the Connecticut Sun.

In recent seasons former Cardinal O’Hara and Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud has been one of the younger additions after Thibault became enamored of her game with the Hawks and drafted her in the second round.

Now, of course, comes former Delaware great Elena Delle Donne, quickly established as a league superstar with Chicago when drafted second in 2013, who was part of one of the mega-deals pulled by the Mystics.

Cloud was spending the offseason playing in Australia, where she’s been for several years, when word began to seep that Delle Donne might be headed to the nation’s capital, within two hours at worst of her home in Wilmington, Del.

 “I knew a little bit early,” Cloud said Monday night after the Mystics fell to the WNBA runnerup Minnesota Lynx, 74-59, at the Verizon Center in their only home preview and second and last overall preseason contest.

Washington will open its 20th anniversary season Sunday afternoon here against the San Antonio Silver Stars, who have overall first-round pick Kelsey Plum, the NCAA scoring record breaker out of the University of Washington.

The Texans will also be in New York Saturday to help the Liberty open their 21st season, the same as the WNBA, at Madison Square Garden at 3 p.m., the same start time as the game here in Washington.

“It’s our job to keep it low key,” Cloud said of the early rumbles that Delle Donne might be headed East.  “You never know what’s going to happen. Things could not work out. Situations can happen.

“But when (Thibault) told us his master plan of what was going on, it’s exciting. I played against her in high school (Ursuline Academy). Elena is one of the top players in this league. She’s just so versatile. There’s so much she can do.

“For us to have the power we have now on offense, it’s going to be a fun season.”

Monday night was supposed to be Delle Donne’s local preview after the team won its other game at Indiana against the Fever.

But she didn’t play, the boxscore saying groin as a reason for not playing. Had the game counted, Thibault indicated she likely would have been on the court.

Delle Donne is also on the Delaware search committee for her former coach Tina Martin’s replacement but said she hadn’t met anyone yet who is in the mix to follow the longtime mentor, who the school recently announced her retirement.

However, Martin said in the Wilmington News Journal at the time of the news that she was retiring from Delaware but not necessarily from coaching.

The Mystics were missing several key part of their roster with Emma Meesseman still playing overseas as well as new arrival and former Maryland star Kristi Toliver, who had player for the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks.

In the Washington do-over an interesting note has occurred. The 2013 draft was billed as the three-to-see with overall number one pick Brittney Griner going to the Phoenix Mercury, Delle Donne to Chicago, and Skylar Diggins-Smith to the then Tulsa Shock, which became the Dallas Wings last season.

The Mystics, which had the worst overall record the previous season, lost out, though with the fourth pick landed former Ohio State star Tayler Hill, who has been a significant contributor.

“As it now turns out,” Thibault noted before Monday’s game, “four of our starters could be people who were part of that 2013 draft.”

Thibault had a busy weekend, spent in North Carolina where his daughter Carly, an assistant coach with NCAA runnerup Mississippi State, got married. His son Eric is an assistant on the Mystics.

“The good news is I get my checkbook back,” Thibault quipped about the weekend.

Working the family and league situations the same time, Thibault said the original planning got disrupted because, “the league wasn’t supposed to start his early until they told us it was starting this early, even though it’s not an Olympic year.”

Cloud started against Minnesota and has started for most of her brief WNBA career.

Incidentally, former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware, who went to see Delle Donne play at their alma mater, the Blue Hens, is likely to see a few games this season and also plans to talk to the Mystics squad at some point, Thibault related.

He recently was at the NBA-brother Wizards’ game here and got a big ovation when introduced.
In Monday’s game, Tianna Hawkins scored 14 points for the home team and Cloud scored 11, while rookie Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, another former Maryland product on the local roster, was scoreless in 16 minutes, 14 seconds of playing time.

On the other end, while change is a theme in the WNBA, the Lynx, with three championships in the last six seasons, and a near fourth that died on a last second shot by Los Angeles in Minneapolis in the fifth and final deciding game, is still a force with its core in place.

Former Connecticut star and Olympian Maya Moore, who was part of last summer’s USA gold medalists with Delle Donne and Lynx teammates Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, and Lindsay Whalen, did not play because of a similar groin injury as Delle Donne’s.

But former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson had 14 points, Fowles 11, Natasha Howard off the bench with 11, while Whalen had six points and matched Fowles with 19 on the plus/minus category.
Also on the roster trying to make the team is former Harvard star Temi Fagbenle, who would be the third Ivy Leaguer to make a WNBA roster and second Crimson member after former All-Star Allison Feaster.
“I think we’re in a good space as a group,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star from South Jersey near Philadelphia. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had fairly decent health. Got a glimpse of them tonight.

“I think they’re ready, ready to play. Obviously Maya wasn’t out there but it’s a group that I think had a great training camp. They were all there on time and we got a lot of work done.”

Over the years Washington and Minnesota had very competitive games playing out of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference. Last season those designations became moot since the top eight teams regardless of conference affiliation made the playoffs.

“That’s what I like about coming here in the preseason,” Reeve said. “We know we’re going to be challenged in every way. It’s just a tremendous learning experience playing against these guys.

"Obviously they’re well coached and have a ton of talent.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting summer in D.C.”

It was noted to Reeve how every time the Lynx failed to repeat after winning the previous season, they came right back to reclaim the crown the next.

“That’s been the one constant. They’re very, very resilient. Very, vey prideful. We respond very well to adversity. And hopefully this season will be no different to the response of how our season ended.”
Whalen agreed about her team’s long-running stability.

“You know, we still feel good,” Whalen said. “We’ve had some stuff we’ve worked on but for this time of the year, it was good to play against a good team like Washington. They always make it tough on us. My thought is we were able to make some good plays tonight.”