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.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Guru's WNBA Report: Charles In Charge With Career Night to Lead New York Over Dallas

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – Back in her collegiate days when Tina Charles was piling up the points on certain nights playing for the University of Connecticut powerhouse, the Huskies usually had the game well in hand long before she reached the number that was headed next to her name in the boxscore.

The dynamic was a little different here Friday night at Madison Square Garden in what became a career performance for the member of last summer’s USA Olympic gold medalists, who is a native New Yorker, as she poured in 36 points besides grabbing 10 rebounds.

Eleven of those points came in the final quarter, virtually all necessary as a nine-point lead at 87-78 against the Dallas Wings with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left in the game got whittled to two with 36.6 seconds of regulation remaining before Charles grabbed a rebound and went to the line for two and then Sugar Rodgers followed with two more foul shots for a 93-89 victory.

It’s the fourth straight game that Charles scored 20 or more points and 10th performance of 30-plus points in the WNBA, of which seven have come since being dealt several years ago on a homecoming swap from the Connecticut Sun.
Dallas led by as many as seven points in the third period before both teams finished with identical 3-3 records.

“She has a lot of quality games under her belt,” New York coach Bill Laimbeer said afterwards. “It was a win we needed and she willed us down the stretch and made some really big buckets, but that’s what her job is.

“She’ll tell you the same thing if you ask her. Even though she had a career high, it’s just one ‘W’ in the season and there are more games to be had; 36 is a bunch.”

Of her game, Charles said, “I am always in attack mode regardless of who I play against. I know I mean a lot to this team, I know I definitely have to contribute on the offensive end and always on the defensive end.”

It’s the first time in all six games that New York outscored the opposition in the second half and in this one the Liberty began the final pair of 10-minute quarters trailing 50-45.

Considering that three players were missing – one for the season in the injured point guard Brittany Boyd (left Achilles tendon) and two for six games in former Rutgers stars Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn who are overseas playing for national teams in the EuroBasket tournament – and Rodgers struggled offensively with two points after getting in early foul trouble, the lively crowd of 7,426 got other things to celebrate.

Laimbeer acknowledged that had this one got away at the end, it might have been a severe hit considering that Sunday’s home stand continues with a visit from the sensational Diana Taurasi and her Phoenix Mercury teammates.

But happily, the supporting cast rose to the occasion and for the first time in the home events in which the locals of the press corps have heard an ongoing theme from Laimbeer criticizing his own squad, win or lose, the former NBA Detroit Pistons “Bad Boy,” changed the script and had worthy praise to go around beyond Charles.

“You could look at two other performances, actually three,” he said, though a fourth also came up with kudos from the coach.

“I thought that (Shavonte) Zellous, tonight, was phenomenal, he said of the former University of Pittsburgh star, who scored 27 points, her first 20 or more with the Liberty in the seasons in which she had signed as a free agent after playing for the Indiana Fever, where her career high was 33 on June 25, 2014.

“We asked more of her the last several days in practice. We said we needed her to step up and be more of looking for her shot and she did and the results proved it.”

As for former Uconn star Kiah Stokes, who had been verbally muscled in the spoken manner of Laimbeer’s physical playing style on the court, he said, “I’ve been on Kiah Stokes’ case hard now since she arrived from Turkey.

“Somewhat beating her down and her teammates are even pushing her, we’ve all been pushing her. She’s lost some weight and she had a monster game tonight, a very dominate force on the inside.”

Stokes, another former Uconn star and a third year pro, played more like she did her rookie season, scoring 13 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, both career marks.

“Bria Hartley had a fine showing also,” he said of yet another former Huskies standout, this one coming in an offseason deal with the Washington Mystics. “She could feel the confidence shake in the last couple of games, it came back tonight and played very hard. She’s worked very hard in practice , both individually and with the team and the results showed tonight.”

Hartley scored 10 points.

The fourth was recent Notre Dame star Lindsay Allen, who was drafted by the Liberty but became victim of the final cut, a difficult move at that, Laimbeer said.

But with the absentees, New York wasted little time reacquiring Allen, who by necessity, despite having only two practices, played 17 minutes, 36 seconds, helping to fill the breach and registering +12 on the plus/minus charts.

“ I thought she did well,” Laimbeer said, adding he had no idea of the Liberty’s prospects until the others return, though he said, that once they are re-acclimated, the potential could be very positive.

“We compete,” Laimbeer said as far as the effort, “but it’s a matter of cutting down things like turnovers,”  – New York had 16 – which can be addressed in practice.

“I thought entering the post tonight was our best effort.”

Meanwhile, on the Dallas side of things, after some recent promising victories, it was back to the days of losing narrowly dating back to the Tulsa Shock era before the franchise moved last year to Texas. And before that, the franchise was the famed Detroit Shock, which won three WNBA titles last decade under Laimbeer and was one of the top squads for most that time.

Statistics-wise, former Notre Dame great Skylar Diggins-Smith was as usual most nights for the Wings the top scorer with 19 points, rookie Allisha Gray off the South Carolina NCAA champions, had 15 points, former LSU star Theresa Plaisance had 18 points, fueled by connecting on 4-of-5 three-pointers, and Karima Christmas-Kelly had 12 points.

The four treys by  Plaissance matched two previous career highs while the 18 points were four off her career mark of 22 set in a game last season.

Kaela Davis, another rookie off the NCAA champion Gamecocks, had 10 points off the bench.

“I thought we played really well,” said coach Fred Williams, who might get some reinforcement if former Liz Cambage, an Aussie who was a former star in Tulsa, signs with the team, as some reports indicated could occur in the near future.

“We just left a lot of things on the boards,” Williams said. “Rebounding gave New York second effort opportunities but when I looked at it, Charles had a good outing as did Zellous. When it came down to it, it’s all about rebounding and boxing out.

“We talked about that with our post players,” he said of New York’s 44-28 advantage, including 19-8 on second chance points. “And we just didn’t get to some of those loose balls to generate some offense.”

Dallas turns right around on Saturday night and heads to Indiana on a back-to-back to play the Fever in Indianapolis and then home on Tuesday to host Washington.

The New York/Dallas game was the only one on the WNBA card Friday night. Continuing the weekend, joining the Indiana/Dallas game Saturday, the Connecticut Sun visits the San Antonio Silver Stars, while in a key early season game, the Minnesota Lynx will visit the Seattle Storm.

On Sunday, besides the Phoenix/New York game here, the Atlanta Dream visits Washington, in the only other game scheduled.


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