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, September 07, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Kristi Toliver Keeps Washington Focused As Mystics Make First Championship Series




Kristi Toliver understands that the Washington Mystics journey isn’t finished. 


The fun is just starting.


While, the Mystics are in the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, Toliver is keeping her squad focused on the prize. 

The former Maryland great, who gained fame with her three-point shot forcing overtime that led the Terps over Duke to their only NCAA title, arrived to the Mystics after helping the Los Angeles Sparks win the championship two years ago. 


“I wanted to make history, and we were able to do that by reaching the Finals, but it’s certainly not the ultimate goal,” Toliver said following the Mystics practice Thursday at Key Arena. “There’s still work to be done, but it feels good to be a part of something special and a part of something new.”


The Washington Mystics will face the Seattle Storm in a best-of-five series beginning at Key Arena Friday night (9 p.m., ESPN News). Game two is Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Seattle at 3:30 p.m. (ABC). 


The Mystics will host games three and four at EagleBank Arena on George Mason’s campus on Wednesday and, if necessary, next Friday in Fairfax,Va. Both games start at 8 p.m. If a fifth game is needed, it will be back in Seattle. All three games will be televised on ESPN2.

With the home court, that began at George Washington’s Charles E. Smith Center because of renovations at Capital One Arena and then moved to George Mason because of a later seating capacity at 10,000, the Mystics are providing free shuttle service from the end-of-the-Orange Line stop in Vienna to the Arena on the Patriots’ campus.


Seattle will look to become the sixth franchise in league history to win at least three WNBA championships. The Storm won the championship in 2004 and 2010. 


The Mystics will look to do what the Washington Bullets did 40 years ago – beat Seattle for a title. Led by Wes Unseld, the Bullets beat the Super Sonics in seven games in 1978.

The Storm won the season series, 2-1, as each team won at home. Washington won the most recent meeting, 100-77, at Capital One Arena on Aug. 9. Elena Delle Donne scored 30 points in that victory. 


Delle Donne, who averaged 29.5 points and 6.5 rebounds against Seattle this season, didn’t play on May 29 when the Storm earned an 81-77 victory. She had 29 points in a 97-91 loss to the Storm on July 8. Both games were in Seattle where the Mystics haven’t had much success lately. 


The Storm has won 14 of the last 15 home regular season games against the Mystics, a hot streak dating back to 2006. Washington’s only win during that stretch was an 84-82 overtime triumph in 2016. The Storm won all three home games against the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals. 


Delle Donne also played in the 2014 Finals as a member of the Chicago Sky. Despite being swept by the Mercury, Delle Donne averaged 15.3 points, scoring 22 and 23, respectively in the final two games of the series. She was dealing with a sore back in the Finals against the Mercury juggernaut that lost five regular season games.


“Kristi [Toliver] and I have both been in the Finals, we’ve been leaders of this team and have just been trying to make sure everyone is focused, staying light, having a good time and spending time together, not just on the court but off the court,” Delle Donne said. “We had a great team dinner last night and we’re ready to get to tomorrow and start this thing off.”


Delle Donne has a double-double in every playoff game this season. 

She missed the third game of the semifinals against Atlanta with a bone bruise in her knee. Delle Donne played in the last two games of the series, helping the Mystics rally from a 2-1 deficit. While not 100 percent, her presence made life easier for the rest of her teammates.


“Even with her being out on the court, you still have to respect and guard her,” said a smiling Latoya Sanders following the Mystics game four win over Atlanta last Sunday. “She is still Elena. Her presence on the court gave people open shots. She’s a great rebounder. She’s still working her way back and I think she’ll get better day by day.” 


Saint Joseph’s alum Natasha Cloud has handed out at least five assists in five of the Mystics six playoff games. She’s also 10 for 20 from 3-point distance. 

Rookie Ariel Atkins out of Texas scored 20 points in the fifth game against the Dream on the road. It was a signature moment in what promises to be a memorable career for seventh overall first round pick, who also finished with seven rebounds against Atlanta. 


Tianna Hawkins and Tianna Ruffin-Pratt energized the Mystics off the bench in the fifth game against the Dream by combining for 22 critical points. 


Washington may be inexperienced on the Finals stage, but it is motivated and determined to bring another championship to the nation’s capital. Already in 2018, the Capitals and Valor have won championships and now the Mystics are excited to join that club.


“We’ll just keep reminding them of the specifics that we need to maintain throughout the game to try and get a win,” said Delle Donne on her message to her teammates. “We will focus in on the process and what we can do in the moment. 

“You can’t look too far ahead or behind, you have to be in the moment. Everyone has done a great job so far with their nerves this series. We’ve had a few one-and-done games so we’ve had some nerve-wracking series games so far and hopefully we can build on those.”


NOTES: Either Washington head coach Mike Thibault or Seattle head coach Dan Hughes will win his first WNBA title. 

The all-time winningest coach in WNBA history, Thibault reached the finals twice before with Connecticut in 2004 and 2005 before falling just short. The 2004 loss came against Bird and the Storm. Hughes, who came out of retirement this season and is also an assistant to Dawn Staley on the USA World Cup squad, lost in 2008 when he was coaching in San Antonio. The Silver Stars lost to the Detroit Shock.

















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7:18 AM  
Blogger Amany Said said...

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7:19 AM  

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