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 02, 2018

WNBA Preview: Now Comes a Duel in the East as Unbeaten Connecticut Visits Washington




The WNBA season may be two weeks old, but there will be a significant buzz inside of Capital One Arena Sunday afternoon when the Washington Mystics host the undefeated Connecticut Sun in an early season showdown between Eastern Conference heavyweights beginning at 3 p.m.


After all, with the playoff format rewarding overall seasonal excellence, every game matters. So, this is a big one between a pair of teams with championship aspirations. 


The Mystics (5-2 overall) are tied for most wins in the WNBA with Seattle. They finished a grueling stretch of playing five games in eight days. The last three games occurred during a 1-2 west coast trip. 

Washington played the last three games without Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud, the former collegiate stars out Delaware and Saint Joseph’s, respectively. Their status for Sunday’s game is uncertain.


This will be Connecticut’s fifth game of the season. 


The Sun (4-0) are rolling after blasting Chicago, 110-72, Friday night for the best start in franchise history 

  just a year after launching the season at 0-4 and 1-5 before reversing as the league surprise. 

Connecticut is the only unbeaten team in the WNBA and has topped 100 points in three of the triumphs.

While the Mystics have crammed in several games over the last week, Friday’s game for the Sun was its first road contest of the season and its first game in six days on the way to making more notoriety.

That came courtesy of Jonquel Jones and Alex Bentley who came off the bench to each score 20 points, just the fourth time in the 22-year WNBA history a substitute teammate duo has reached that total in competition.


This is the first of three meetings this season between the Mystics and Sun, who will play again on June 13 on ESPN2.


The Mystics dropped an 86-75 decision to the Las Vegas Aces despite Monique Currie’s season best 24 points on Friday night. Washington entered the game making 10 3-pointers per game, but only connected on three triples. 


“The outcome wasn't what we expected or what we wanted,” Currie said. “I think we dug ourselves too big of a hole. We didn't play as well as we would've liked to have played.

“ Vegas came out and they were ready and they were aggressive. We fought at the end so we have something to hang our heads on but we have to start better.”


In their last two home games, the Mystics have rallied from first-half double digit deficits to win. They overcame a 16-point hole to beat the Aces on May 22 and an 18-point deficit to beat the reigning champion Lynx on May 27. 


Rookie Ariel Atkins out of Texas has been phenomenal early in the season averaging 12.3 points per game. She’s scored in double figures in four straight games for the Mystics, who are led in scoring by Delle Donne’s 16.5 point per game average.

 Kristi Toliver, who had 30 points in a win over the Phoenix Mercury last week, scores at a 15.6 point per game clip. Tianna Hawkins averages 11.6 points per outing. There has also been support from second-rounder Myisha Hines-Allen, the rookie out of Louisville.


That production and more will be needed as the Sun roll into town averaging 99.8 points per game. Bolstered by the return of Chiney Oguwmike, Connecticut’s top four scorers are all shooting over 50 percent from the field, which is a nightmare for opponents.


“I think we have the deepest team in the WNBA,” Oguwmike said following Friday’s win in Chicago. “I think our strength as a team is that we are all threats in our own way. As long as we share the ball, we can score.”


The incomparable Alyssa Thomas leads the Sun in scoring (14.3 points per game) and rebounds (10.8). 

She’s shooting 56.1 percent from the field. Bentley (14.0 ppg, 52.0 percent), Oguwmike (13.5 ppg., 6.0 rpg., 67.6%), Jones (12.5, 5.5, 69.0%), Courtney Williams (12.0) and Jasmine Thomas (11.3) are all double digit scorers for Connecticut, which has a 117.4 offensive rating - by far the best in the league.

Additionally, more depth is provided from former University of Minnesota high scoring star Rachel Banham, the overall fourth first-round pick in 2016, who is finally back to full health from a knee injury her rookie season, and former UConn star Morgan Tuck, the overall third pick that season taken in front of Banham. 

And former Rutgers star Betnijah Laney out of Wilmington played her way on to the squad as a free agent signee who missed a year after an injury as a rookie with Chicago. 


The Sun continues its four-game road trip Tuesday in Atlanta.

 The Mystics return to action Thursday at 4 p.m. against Minnesota. Note the time change to accommodate a Capitals viewing party for fans who wish to watch Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.


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