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, September 11, 2017

WNBA Playoff Notes: Getting a Schooling From New York Helped Educate Washington

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – When New York and Washington last met in the regular season here on August 25, the Liberty fell 74-66, Elena Delle Donne’s first night back from being sidelined for several weeks with a broken hand, the next night they returned home to host the Dallas Wings.

Another loss occurred then also and in all Washington won only two of its last eight. The loss here sent Washington behind New York in the fight for third seed and ultimately the Mystics fell to sixth, still good enough to to be a host, though the first-round bye became a casualty.

Nevertheless while Washington seemed on the way to an early exit, the Mystics had already clinched a playoff berth and the night after the loss here, down in D.C., assistant coach Marianne Stanley, a former Immaculata star, seemed upbeat.

“We learned a lot last night,” she said of the loss to New York, also knowing Delle Donne wasn’t ready to play 100 percent. “Look once you’re in the playoffs, it’s all about where are you and who are you playing and let’s get ready because it’s one-and-done in the first couple of rounds.

So Sunday night, Stanley was asked about what was in her head that night and what was the effect on the win over New York.

“After every game you look at film and how you performed and we knew we weren’t at our best last time up here. Elena was just back. You learn in this game to not let stuff linger. You learn from it and you move on,” Stanley said.

“You move on to the next game. And I give our players a lot of credit because they focused on the things we asked them to focus on, the things they needed to improve, and to put their attention on. You can’t pay attention to 30 different things.

“You figure out the things you need to do in order to win and our guys did a great job following that game plan and just sticking to it. It’s clear and obvious, some of the things we were concerned about from before were necessary to change and we did and the result was way different,” she said.

“We didn’t expect that (the 34-point turnaround during Sunday's game), I don’t think, but the result was way different. It’s a lot like the NCAA tournament. Even if you have ten losses. If you’re playing well at the time, and you got good chemistry and playing hard, that’s all you care about.”

 Stanley and the Mystics’ Natasha Cloud out of Saint Joseph's give Washington two individuals with Philadelphia ties, while Minnesota features coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star out of South Jersey who has won three WNBA titles the past six years and nearly made it a fourth.

Reeve was an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma on the USA World Champion and 2016 Olympic squads and is a strong favorite to be an aide to Dawn Staley, who she coached as an assistant with the former Charlotte Sting.

Early Knockouts

With the quick demise of Dallas, which has former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins-Smith, in the first round, and Phoenix dispatching Seattle, and then in round two the departures of Connecticut and New York have fans and media bemoaning the lack of best-of-three formats like the old days.

The previous format, in which the top four in each division made the field, the first and second round, both within the division, were best-of-three and then on to the best-of-five finals.

One reason for short openers that has been given comes from agents who worry about too long a postseason holding up players from their offseason overseas commitments, where they make the big bucks.

Some people like the drama of the new setup in the early rounds while others are not happy with the quick exit.

Laimbeer, whose team has been sent packing two straight years cancelling what had been excellent regular season play, said after Sunday’s game:

“That’s the nature of this format. You can have one bad game, or you can have a player like Toliver go off and shoot you out of it or some bad calls and you’re out,” he said. “But everybody has the same situation.

“It’s not just unique to the New York Liberty. That’s the way the format is and we have to take advantage of it and today we just didn’t do that.”

Charles doesn’t ascribe to the concept that Washington got its juices flowing against Dallas while the Liberty sat around all week with the bye.

“Look at Minnesota and Los Angeles, who had the double bye and a lot of rest last year and they got to the finals so they certainly weren’t affected by it,” she said.

Feeling a Lucky Draft

The pecking order for the lottery picks in next April’s draft will be announced at halftime of Semifinals Game 2 of the Minnesota-Washington series on Thursday.

The four teams who did not make the playoffs are San Antonio, which had the worst record and last April took Washington’s Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick, the Chicago Sky, the Atlanta Dream, and, for the first time in 13 seasons, the Indiana Fever.

But in a recent trade, Chicago got Atlanta’s first round pick, which became part of the deal and in it becoming a lottery selection, the Sky have two early picks.