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

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.


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