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, August 26, 2017

WNBA: Fourth Quarter Shutdown Carries New York to Seventh Straight With Win Over Washington

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – In the WNBA over the last month or so four teams have had their engines motoring them forward to the playoffs of September and early October, one has kind of idled a bit due to injuries and the other seven have all been in reverse with one exception in the group to the point that the Phoenix Mercury have not lost much ground because the teams behind have not closed the gap.

The exception has been the Seattle Storm, which made a coaching change and has not lost a game yet to move from pending extinction to potential life after Sept. 3.

Meanwhile, up here the island of Manhattan, the New York Liberty, who have been on a roll, hosted a healthier Washington Mystics, the team that has been idling, in Madison Square Garden Friday night with playoffs assured for both but battling the next phase of best seed possible.

After a back-and-forth evening, New York again used a strong fourth quarter defensively outscoring Washington 13-6 with four of the six occurring in the final minute to gain a 74-66 triumph extending the Liberty win streak to seven.

More important, New York (19-12) tightened its grip on fourth seed, which has the perk of a first-round bye, over Washington (17-3) by moving 1.5 games in front of the Mystics with three games remaining, while Washington has four.

The win gives New York the tiebreak in the season series 2-1 should both finish fourth.

Of course, the Liberty have their sights on a little more since they trail third place Connecticut by just one game after the Sun (20-12) got spanked at home earlier 96-83 by Chicago (12-18) allowing the Sky to remain on life support in the race for the last spots.

Chicago visits New York Sunday while Washington will host the Dallas Wings Saturday night with Dallas looking to land a playoff spot.

The Sun loss dropped them three games behind the second-place and defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks.

Minnesota, riding at the top of the league, ran over the San Antonio Silver Stars 89-70 in Texas where the home team has already been living in 2018 draft lottery city for some time.

Washington welcomed the return of former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne, who had been out with a hand injury and for the first time in the New York series the Mystics had both Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman in the game at the same time but it was to no avail.

But it was to no avail, though Delle Donne had 15 points and Meessemann had 12, while Krystal Thomas scored 17 points and Kristi Toliver scored 11.

Though healthier, Washington was still without former Saint Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud, who is out with a left hip injury while Tayler Hill was sidelined much earlier for the rest of the way with a torn right ACL.

New York thrived on its defense, out-rebounding Washington 40-32, improved its ball handling by committing just eight turnovers, and got a strong 20-20 basket vision performance by Tina Charles, a former UConn star, and Epiphanny Prince, a former Rutgers star, who each scored 20 points.

Shavonte Zellous, a standout in college at Pitt, scored 18, while the whole group, thanks to Prince, managed to overcome Sugar Rodgers’ 0-for-9 night in which she went scoreless for the game. Bria Hartley was also in double figures, scoring 10 points.

The Liberty win streak Is the longest in seven seasons outperformed by just the 10-0 run during the 2010 season.

Considering that New York had a three seed last season and got bounced after the first-round bye at home by Phoenix in the then-new one-and-one first and second round setups, and that coach Bill Laimbeer had enjoyed greater success winning three titles with the former Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings after a stint as the Tulsa Shock), the former Detroit Piston NBA “Bad Boy” was accepting the Oscar for the win but was not totally enamored of the performance.

So his review of his team’s work was mixed, saying, “I don’t think we played well at all, our defense was lackluster at many times during the game, we didn’t shoot well, obviously,.

“I think we have to play with more intensity and more passion against Chicago on Sunday. They got a nice big win tonight so they are feeling good about themselves. We have to play better than that.”

Yet Laimbeer had some positives, saying, “I told the players that in this league, `Anytime you win a game it’s a great feat.’ This is a tough league to win games in, and we got a win tonight.”

The fact that New York’s record has uplifted since former UConn star Bria Hartley, a new arrival via offseason deal with Washington, moved into the starting lineup, Laimbeer pointed out that she gives the Liberty more speed, rather than having Prince in that spot being a little more stagnant with the offense.

Prince said of her game, “I feel good. I am being more aggressive. .. trying to assert myself more. I am just playing my game and getting everybody else involved when I can and just doing what I know I can do.”

Of course, things were a little more somber on the Washington side of the arena in a season in which promise thrived early when everyone was healthy and now improvement is coming in lesser steps.

“We really struggled,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “We didn’t make a lot of outside shots. Both teams kind of played each other the same way.

“The game comes down to them having ten more field goal attempts than us, our live ball turnovers,and their offensive boards hurt us more than anything. We held them under 40 percent shooting but they got second chance shots and they got some breakouts on our turnovers.”

As for his evaluation of Delle Donne’s return, the Washington coach said, “I thought her legs were good. Her conditioning was good. She shot the ball pretty well but we have to give her better touches in open space. We’ll work on that between now and next week and see if we can get her some easier looks too.”

Delle Donne, herself, responded to her self-evaluation question, saying, “We lost so I didn’t give myself a grade. I’m not giving our team a grade because tomorrow we have Dallas and there’s no time to put your head down.

“Obviously, we wanted to come in here and get a win so definitely not thrilled with that but it’s time to just focus on Dallas tomorrow.”

NCAA champion South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, also the next USA Women’s Olympic coach, will be in Washington Saturday night to give former North Carolina star Ivory Latta of Washington the WNBA Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award, which was announced earlier Friday.

Ironically, with Dallas in town, the Wings have former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was the 2013 Dawn Staley Guard award presented at the Union League in Philadelphia.