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, September 02, 2017

WNBA Report: New York Keeps Rolling While Help Elsewhere Sends Seattle to Playoffs After Tough Loss

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – While things continued to rumble along here Friday in the WNBA with the New York Liberty pulling away in the fourth quarter for an 81-69 triumph over the last place San Antonio Silver Stars before a crowd of 10,108 in Madison Square Garden on fan appreciation night, the hottest action on the league’s card occurred 200 miles to the South in the nation’s capitol.

That’s where the the team suffering the toughest loss became evening’s biggest winner with a little help from rivals elsewhere.

That would be the Seattle Storm, a 110-106 victim in an explosive scoring battle in overitme with the host Washington Mystics, became the eighth and final playoff qualifier a few hours later following the 110-187 elimination of the Chicago Sky (12-21) by the overall first place Minnesota Lynx (26-7) in the Target Center in Minneapolis, and the 81-56 knockout of the Atlanta Dream (12-21) by the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks (25-8), who hosted in the Staples Center.

In the other game on the card the Phoenix Mercury (17-16) at home in Arizona defeated the Connecticut Sun 86-66.

Thus the field was set but not most of the seeds heading into the final day of the regular season Sunday when the Sun (21-12) will head to Los Angeles, Washington (17-15) will head to Minnesota, Seattle (14-19) will head to Chicago (12-21) in what almost became a key game, and Atlanta (12-21) will visit Phoenix).

New York (21-12), on a franchise second-best ever nine-game win streak, will head to Dallas (16-17), in a game that will be the league’s first to be streamed on Tidal.

In between on Saturday, San Antonio (7-26), owning the league’s worst record, will head to the Indiana Fever (9-24), which is out of the postseason for the first time after a WNBA playoff record 12-straight appearances.

Minnesota has a one game lead over Los Angeles but if the Lynx lose and the Sparks win, then Los Angeles is entitled to No. 1 overall seed and the Lynx fall to second, with both owning two-round byes into a best-of-five semifinal matchups against the lower teams that advance the best.

New York and Connecticut, the surprise of the league, are tied for third and if that deadlock remains, since the teams split their four-game series 2-2, the tie-break will be the team with the best record against teams .500 or better.

Some of this could be much ado about eventual nothing considered a year ago Los Angeles won Game 5 in a thrilling final at the last seconds carrying the No. 2 seed, while New York as a three-seed at home with a first-round bye was the second straight upset victim by Phoenix.

The first two rounds are one-and-done affairs in the second year of the revamped playoff format in which the eight teams with the best overall records, in part determined by tiebreakers, make the field regardless of geographical East/West Conference affiliation.

Washington currently has a one-game lead over Phoenix for fifth seed, though both are guaranteed first-round home game, but if they tie, Phoenix has the series win over the Mystics.

Dallas is seventh even if they move up and Phoenix drops to a sixth-seed tie since the Mercury won the series.

And Seattle, which made a late rush after a change of coaches, will be eighth.

Thus, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana and San Antonio, which last April in the draft grabbed all-time NCAA scoring great Kelsey Plum as the overall No. 1 pick out of the University of Washington, will be heading to the lottery, which is projected to have depth in value players.

Up here in New York, the Liberty at 65-36 are in the middle of the best three-year stretch in the 21-year history that began with the franchise being one of eight charter members in 1997.

The Liberty has proven to be tough at home, going 12-0 when reaching the fourth quarter with a lead, and 18-1 overall holding leads after three quarters.

Against San Antonio, Tina Charles finished with 16 points and eight rebounds while former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince also had 16 points, while Shavonte Zellous and Kia Vaughn each scored 10 points.

Plum led San Antonio with 18 points and was 3-for-4 on 3-point attempts, while Kayla Alexander had 15 points, and former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride had seven points and dealt a career-high eight assists.

Isabelle Harrison Harrison had 10 points and Alex Montgomery grabbed 10 rebounds for the visitors.

New York coach Bill Laimbeer, the former NBA Detroit Piston “Bad Boys” era post player who coached the former Detroit Shock franchise (now Dallas with a short stay in Tulsa) to three WNBA titles, may need a new postgame script writer considering the familiarity with his postgame responses.

“I told them that any win in this league is a good win,” Laimbeer said using a familiar refrain after gritty competition. “It’s very hard to get wins, no matter who you’re playing and I felt San Antonio played very well tonight.”

The Stars were without former UConn star Moriah Jefferson (sore right knee) and former Northwestern star Nia Coffey did not get into the game.

“I don’t think we played our best game by any stretch of the imagination, but we gutted it out and got through it, we got a win and into the next one.”

Said Prince, “I think we’re peaking at the right time. We’re peaking right going into the playoffs so I rather have it this way than have us peaking early and kind of going downhill afterwards.”

San Antonio is now coached by former New York star Vickie Johnson, who played at Louisiana Tech in college, following the retirement of coach/general manager Dan Hughes.

The Stars GM is former Detroit star Ruth Riley, who played for the 2001 Notre Dame NCAA champs and said she plans to be in Springfield, Mass., next Thursday and Friday when Irish coach Muffet McGraw, who starred at Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia, is one of the inductees into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

“It’s going to be great,” Riley said. “Coach doesn’t allow us to celebrate her too often so this will be a lot of fun.”

As for the game, Johnson said, “It’s hard to play without Jefferson and give Plum a break every now and then. Sydney (Colson) did a good job for us. The first three quarters we played very well. The last quarter we didn’t share the basketball, we got one assist.”

As to what caused the Stars to flameout in the final period, “Johnson observed, “It was a little fatigue, but not only that. We didn’t play with the discipline and consistency that we played with in the first three quarters.”

Meanwhile in Washington at the renamed Capitol One Arena, formerly known as the Verizon Center, Washington stopped a three-game slide as former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne poured down 37 points and grabbed a key rebound at the end, her seventh of the game, while she also shot 6-of-9 three pointers.

Emma Meesseman had 27 points, Kristi Toliver scored 12, and Krystal Thomas grabbed 12 rebounds, while Allison Hightower scored 10 points.

During the game Seattle veteran and former Uconn great Sue Bird, who had 19 points and 13 assists, passed former Old Dominion standout Ticha Penincheiro, of the former Sacramento Monarchs, to become the all-time WNBA assists leader with what is now 2,610 and will continue to change until she retires, which may not be too soon.

Former Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd had 19 points for Seattle, while Crystal Langhorne, a former Maryland star who played for the Mystics, had 15 points, Alysha Clark scored 20, former Liberty Carolyn Swords had 10, and former UConn standout Breanna Stewart, the top overall pick in 2016, had 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Minnesota went on another scoring explosion as Sylvia Fowles had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Rene Montgomery had 21 points, Maya Moore scored 20, and Simone Augustus had 11.

Former Rutgers star Kahleah Copper of Philadelphia had 21 points for Chicago, Stef Dolson had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Courtney Vandersloot had 14 points and nine assists, and Allie Quigley scored 11.

In the Phoenix win over Connecticut, the Mercury secured a first-round home game in the 1-0 knockdown as Britney Griner scored 31 points and had eight rebounds, Diana Taurasi scored 15, and Yolanda Turner had 13.

Alyssa Thomas had 19 points for the Sun, and Brionna Jones scored 13.

Out in Los Angeles, the host Sparks sent Atlanta packing for the lottery as Candace Parker had 15 points, Nneka Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims each scored 13, and Jantel Lavender scored 12.

The Dream, who played the whole season with Angel McCoughtry taking a breather, got 19 points from Tiffany Hayes and Brittany Sykes scored 10.