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.

Friday, August 24, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Taurasi Still Invincibile in Knockout Rounds Leading Phoenix to Oust Connecticut

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Several decades after Hall of Fame University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma had the best Italian wines on the planet in his bag of recruiting tools to convince Diana Taurasi’s mother to allow her talented daughter to travel 3000 miles East and make her legendary impact on the collegiate sport, the younger Taurasi is now her own vintage brand, an ageless commodity in the WNBA.

The combination of the number 13 and a casino in which it was achieved Thursday night was anything but unlucky as Taurasi, now 37, made it precisely 13-0 in WNBA playoff single elimination games as she helped lead the Phoenix Mercury to a closing rush and 96-86 victory over the Connecticut Sun.

The victory, after ejecting the Dallas Wings on Tuesday night, moves Phoenix to a Sunday opening date against the top-seeded Seattle Storm in the Northwest to launch one of two best-of-five semifinals series.

The Washington Mystics, having routed the Los Angeles Sparks 96-64 earlier in the evening, will travel to the second-seeded Atlanta Dream, also on Sunday, which, like Seattle, claimed a double bye for finishing the regular season in a 1-2 spot in the playoff seedings.

It’s the second straight year Phoenix brought a quick end here to revitalized Connecticut’s desire to make a run in the postseason.

The near sellout crowd of 7,858, in the Mohegan Sun Arena thought the Sun was going to snap the Taurasi mastery when Connecticut, which had been competitive with several leads all night, was tied 86-86 late in the game only to fade as the Mercury closed with a 10-0 run.

Taurasi and Brittney Griner each scored 27 points to negate the dazzling 27 posted by the Sun’s Courtney Williams, who used to bedevil the collegiate Huskies here when she played for USF in the AAC wars.

DeWanna Bonner, who missed last season due to pregnancy, popped 23 points, while on the Connecticut side, Williams’ big night was aided by Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas’s 17 points, Jasmine Thomas’ 14, and Jonquel Jones’ 13.

Prior to the tip the WNBA announced Jones, a former George Washington star, won the Sixth Player award voted on by a national media panel.

Likely to play for USA in next month’s FIBA World Cup, Taurasi’s coach and many others believe that despite her age, in a storied career, 2018 might be her best chapter yet.

“She amazes me every single day,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “To be able to continue what she does at her age is amazing. She’ll do whatever it takes to win.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone with a will to win bigger than hers. There are no words for Diana. I think it’s the best she’s ever played.”

Even Taurasi, who used to trade Auriemma quip for quip, seemed mellow of sorts trying to explain a feat that also has been replicated with just one elimination loss in her collegiate career and likewise in both Olympic and FIBA competition.

“A lot of it is luck,” she said. “A lot of it is great teammates, you don’t do it alone in this sport. You always have to rely on your teammates, your coaches. I think we relish these moments where it’s really up to you if you want to keep playing.

“Do you want to come back tomorrow. There was a moment where we could have easily said, ‘we’re good, we’ve had our good moments, let’s go back to Phoenix and get ready for USA Basketball.’ You get to make that decision.”

And of course, Taurasi, who is now a parent, has taken care of her body.

Meanwhile, the Sun will look to continue to build on the revitalization under Curt Miller.

“This corp group had a great year,” he said. “They’re under contract. The majority of the team is back. We think we’re building something very special. We thought we could win it all this year, we’re going to be even hungrier as we move forward.”

For the four teams still alive heading into Sunday’s openers, this could be be the best semifinals going-in since though very good this season, none are invincible in the status accorded Los Angeles and Minnesota in recent years.

Atlanta has survived since the recent season-ending injury to Angel McCoughtry. Washington had its best season despite missing Belgian Emma Meesseman to her national team competition this summer.

The Phoenix/Washington matchup Sunday is interesting in that Seattle has the one-person to out-swagger Taurasi during her days as a Husky. That would be Breanna Stewart, likely to be named this season’s WNBA MVP who after winning an NCAA title as a freshman forecast three more, which she achieved.

Seattle also has another old Huskies alum having a great season in Sue Bird, who has been one of the dominant guards in the league.


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