Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, July 17, 2017

WNBA: New York Picks Off Injured Washington

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – After the WNBA New York Liberty fell to the Chicago Sky at Madison Square Garden Friday, looking ahead to Sunday’s game against Washington here less than 48 hours later coach Bill Laimbeer was a bit pessimistic saying he couldn’t turn anything magically to tip the switch.

Well, it didn’t take a couple years studying Edison’s light bulb technique to extract a better result against the folks from the nation’s capital then had been achieved against the Sky.

That was courtesy of the news from Indy Friday night that prolific scorer Elena Delle Donne had left the game with an ankle sprain and former Ohio State star Tayler Hill had departed similarly with what was announced pre-game Sunday as a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament that will sideline her the rest of the season.

With scant amount of time for Washington coach Mike Thibault to retool, Laimbeer made one move on his side, transforming former Georgetown star Sugar Rodgers from starter to instant offense off the bench and the Liberty (9-9) easily got back to .500 with a lopsided 85-55 victory that also evened the season series at one apiece.

Ironically, as New York fell to Chicago Friday with the Sky capitalizing on the play of Stefani Dolson and Kahleah Copper, two players they got out of the trade that allowed Delle Donne to head for the nation’s capital a short distance from here home in Wilmington, Del., the Liberty used two players they picked up from the Mystics (11-9) to help handle Washington.

UConn alum Bria Hartley was back as a starter for the first time since June 23 and connected on a season high with three 3-pointers, and former Rutgers standout Kia Vaughn was cited by Laimbeer for her play in the opening period 30-14 blitz when she scored six of her 11 points and four of her seven rebounds.

Hartley finished with a team-high 15 points while Rodgers as a sub scored 14 points aided by connecting on three of her six-ball attempts. Shavonte Zellous also scored in double figures with 11 points and Kiah Stokes, the second-year pro out of UConn, grabbed 10 rebounds as part of New York’s dominating 46-30 on the boards.

The romp also enabled quality minutes to be enjoyed by reserves Lindsay Allen, the rookie out of Notre Dame, while Rebecca Allen and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe each scored eight points.

Devoid of two of their big weapons, Washington was limited to 27.7 percent off the floor and Emma Meesseman was the only Mystics player in double figures with 19 points while Krystal Thomas grabbed 10 rebounds.

The 30 points in the opening period were a high for New York on the season as was the same 30-points margin of victory.

Laimbeer said afterwards the moves, which included former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince, had been contemplated to jack up what had become a stagnant offense so the fact that superstar Tina Charles’ stats Sunday afternoon showed just six points to go with seven rebounds was inconsequential.

“I think it’s just more important for them individually knowing there are some nights that I might not be there on the stats sheet offensively and they can do what they have to do,” Charles said. “Everyone in this locker room got into the WNBA for a reason and they have to just keep that in their mind.

“They are here for a reason, they made the team for a reason, they went through training camp and we all trust them,  the coaching staff and myself.”

As for Laimbeer’s lineup adjustments, “We’ve been kicking it around for two games,” the former NBA Detroit Pistons Bad Boy member said. “We gave it our best shot having Piph and Sugar on the court at the same time. It just didn’t give us the pace of play that we were looking for-getting up and down a little bit more.

“We don’t get easy baskets when Piph is at the one because she is not a push guard. We are always against a set defense and we feel that we need to get more easy baskets when we are struggling offensively,” he added.

“Quite frankly, Lindsay and Bria will get us into our sets quicker and easier. I also think it was also a relief for Piph also that the responsibility of the one was off of her. Positive reinforcements are a great thing, it worked! So that was behind it.”

Laimbeer had detected enough of a pre-game atmosphere to expect his team would be like more like the Liberty of a year ago without regard to Washington’s absences.

“I knew we would come out and play well. Yes, they were shorthanded but I don’t think it would have made a difference. I think we came out with a determination like, `Okay, here is what we got and this is how we’re going to play and do it.’”

 It’s not football, but one could say on the change of punts, things aren’t as bad as in the past when Hill missed time with her first pregnancy because Delle Donne is the X factor even though she won’t play again until after the All-Star break and miss the Mystics’ final game before the break at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday when the Atlanta Dream visit.

The summer classic will be Saturday at 3:30 p.m. from Seattle, home of the Storm.

“The Liberty came out guns blazing and we’ve had a lot happen to our team in the last 24 hours; but that’s not excuse for not handling things better,” Thibault said. “They made shots early.

“I thought Bria Hartley and Sugar Rodgers  did a great job of guarding them and scoring. They did a pretty good defensive job on us, but we missed some wide open shots in the first quarter and it turned into fast break stuff for them. I credit for New York playing well and we didn’t.

“We have to figure out a way to win on Wednesday against Atlanta. We don’t know how long Elena is going to be out, we know that we’re not going to have Tayler. Other people are going to have to step up. We’ve been playing a certain kind of lineup for five games now, and now we have to adjust, so we’ll see. I thought we had a couple of people play well, but not well enough.”

The Liberty, meanwhile, will learn how well they may have righted their ship from a team that has righted theirs big-time in the Connecticut Sun that comes visiting Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. for the wrap up for both teams prior to the weekend.

“Then we go to Minnesota to start a five-game road trip,” Laimbeer said of what is now on the radar. “So this was an important win for us and I know Washington was shorthanded but that doesn’t make a difference – a win is a win.

“Connecticut has beaten us twice so we need to come out and make a statement that we’re here. We’re not going away. As much as everyone might want us to go away, we’re not going away and hopefully, we’ll play as well as we played today.”


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