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, August 23, 2014

WNBA Feature: Mo'ne Davis' Aspirations Impressed The Pros All the Way to the Top

( Guru's note: The following was submitted early in the week to the local chronicle but apparently never saw the light of day due to the crush of other stories. So back to you, Guru followers. :)

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK --
The growing legend of Taney Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis has reached all the way to the WNBA, a place she says she aspires to play women's pro basketball in the future.

"I thought it was great," said WNBA president Laurel Richie here Sunday night here in Madison Square Garden after the New York Liberty and playoff-bound Indiana Fever helped wrap up the league's 18th regular season.

"Clearly, she's a very talented athlete. We'll see what the next couple of years hold for her and if she's ready and still interested, the league will be there for her."

Then Richie smiled and added, "But apprently, she's very good."

What won't be around in the currently group of elder veterans who will be in the stands by the time Davis could be making her WNBA debut nearly a decade from now.

Still, they're pleased over Davis' comments and several stars of both teams who have been following her exploits are pleased that what they have done has made Davis' awareness of the league possible.

"I think it's cool," Indiana All-Star Tamika Catchings, whose father Harvey Catchings played for the 76ers and several other NBA teams, said.

"I think's a tremendous opportunity for her, using the fame that she's got, and using that moment to talk about something she dreams and aspire's to be," said Catchings, a former Tennessee all-American and ongoing member of the USA Senior National Women's Team.

"It's great, not only for her but also for our league."

The Liberty's Cappie Pondexter, a former Rutgers standout who grew up in Chicago, said, "It says a lot. It just means the younger generation, they're paying attention to the best women's league in the world.

"They're interest and theyre aspiring to be here and I think it's great. I am going into my 10th season next summer and when I grew up I didn't really have anything to aspire to in the play in the NBA. So it's great that she has that."

Davis has also said she would like to play her college ball at powerful Connecticut, which has won an NCAA-record nine titles in women's play and is coached by Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown.

A spokesman for the UCONN program said comments reacting to remarks such as those by Davis are not permitted under NCAA rules.

However, Liberty veteran Swin Cash, who was on several UCONN champions and is a past Olympic gold medalist, can talk.

"Hey, by then she may have to be talking to (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph)," Cash laughed.

"It makes me feel good. One -- she's from Pennsylvania, so a shoutout to Pa, I'm a Pittsburgh girl.

"And two, because she's doing all these amazing things and getting all this attention but she's very clear at what she wants at that age," Cash said.

"Baseball is fun and she's enjoying it, but she sees UCONN, she sees playing there as something she wants to do, so I am so happy to see how she's carrying herself. That's what really makes me smile."

On Monday, former Duke star Monique Currie of the playoff-bound Washington Mystics, changed her twitter avatar to Mo'ne.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

WNBA Report: Lynx Begin Defense of Title Holding Off Silver Stars

By Megan Nipe

MINNEAPOLIS --
In the first playoff round between the Minnesota Lynx and the San Antonio Stars, Minnesota, playing at home, was looking to get one game ahead in the three game series.

MVP Maya Moore, who poured in 26 points accompanied by 6 rebounds and 7 assists, and team leader Lindsey Whalen, who had a solid double-double with 10 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds, proved to be the driving force in the Lynx’s 88-84 win over San Antonio.

The leaders for the Stars were rookie Kayla McBride, with 23 points and 3 rebounds, and Becky Hammon who finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds

In the first couple of minutes, both teams traded baskets. It wasn’t until the Lynx went on a 6-point run and they found themselves up by five points.

For the Stars, McBride, the former Notre Dame standout, had scored all their points, including a jumper to close the gap to three midway through the first quarter.

The first timeout on the floor had the Lynx ahead by four with 4:26 left to go. Early on, Minnesota was distributing the ball and found themselves with fairly even scoring across the board while San Antonio leaned heavily on the scoring of McBride.

With just over two minutes to go in the first, Whalen subbed in and got an immediate pick-and-roll drive to the basket, bringing the audience to its feet and giving the Lynx an 18-10 lead.

Two more quick baskets from Moore gave Minnesota a ten-point lead and forced San Antonio to call the second timeout of the quarter.

The first quarter ended with the Lynx holding on to an eight-point lead at 24-16.

In the second quarter, the Stars quickly cut the lead to four when Janel McCarville’s (11 pts, 5 reb) turnover gave the Stars Danielle Adams (12 pts, 10 reb) an open layup.

Another layup by Adams cut the comfortable lead the Lynx had in the first quarter.

After a long lull in scoring, McCarville got an and-one bringing the Lynx back up five and bringing energy back to the arena.

Moore’s first three pointer came with just over 2:30 left in the half and brought the lead back to ten but the Stars refused to slow down the pace of the game, which They seemed to struggle with.

Slowly but surely, the first half proved that the Lynx controlled the pace of the game.

Even with and and-one play by McBride with 1:26 to go, the Lynx closed the half with a double-digit lead over the Stars, 40-30.

The third quarter was off to a slow start with five fouls committed between both teams in just over two minutes, but the Lynx maintained their lead.

The drive and dish that seemed to be working so well for Minnesota was not going so well for San Antonio.

With 6:44 left in the third, the Stars called a timeout as their deficit climbed to 15.

McBride was the only Star with double-digit scoring late into the third.

Moore was the Lynx leading scorer with 17 points on the night with five minutes left in the third.

A three-pointer by Adams brought the Stars within ten, but a strong power up by McCarville on the other end, killed any momentum.

With just under two minutes to play in the third quarter, San Antonio had crept their way back to a single-digit deficit and were down 56-48 as the Lynx called a timeout.

The tight lead didn’t last long. By the end of the third quarter, and a last second three pointer by Tan White (5 pts), Minnesota was back up by 12 points at 65-53.

The start of the fourth quarter was hot for the Lynx.

Quick buckets by Moore and Whalen forced the Stars to call yet another timeout in just over a minute, now finding themselves back down 15.

The timeout seemed to work for them.

With 6:30 left in the game, the Stars were only down eight points and had possession of the ball.

With that possession, Sophia Young-Malcolm (16 pts, 7 reb) made an and-one play, bringing the Stars within five.

McBride scored again for San Antonio, her third three-pointer of the game, and what was once a comfortable lead for the Lynx turned into a one-possession game with five minutes left to play.

A drive to the basket by Hammon made it the first time, since the score was 0-0, that the Stars and Lynx were tied.

The free throw she got off her and-one gave the Stars their first lead of the game since the very first basket.

With time running out, the Lynx relied on their veteran leaders to stay calm and close the game.

The lead and energy from San Antonio didn’t last long.

Good ball movement by the defending champions and maintaining a quick pace, the Lynx gained a small lead again.

With two minutes to go in the game, they were up three, and nothing made the crowd rise to their feet quite like the and-one play by Whalen.

A timeout was called by San Antonio with one minute remaining.

The Lynx held the lead at 82-77.

Regardless of San Antonio’s attempts with quick buckets and quick fouls, the Lynx made final clutch free throws in that stretch, and the game ended with a four-point win for Minnesota.

San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes knows that even with a home court advantage coming up next for the Stars, it will be a tough win for them.

“You’re going to have to take it away from Minnesota,” he said when asked about taking this playoff series.

This was evident when the Stars took their first lead of the second half and it didn’t seem to phase the Lynx.

With their tenth playoff series in four seasons, the experience of the Lynx players and leaders were key.

“We don’t give up, we don’t panic. It all comes down to getting stops,” said Minnesota’s Maya Moore.

When speaking of the focus the Lynx always seem to have, Moore expressed that their team always looks at what’s right in front of them, not what’s behind.

She reaffirms this when she says, “We’ve won this 40 minutes, and now we’ve got to move on to the next.”

The Lynx will now travel to San Antonio to play the Stars on their home court this Saturday evening.


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Guru's WNBA Draft Lottery Musings: Beginners' Luck for Seattle Delegation Yields Top Pick

By Mel Greenberg

SECAUCUS, N.J. --
In the WNBA when you have the talent and stay mostly, if not entirely, injury free, the league rewards you for being first, second, third and fourth in the two divisional groups and issues you one of eight shopping coupons at the completion of the regular season.

This allows you to navigate the aisles of the Nordstroms, Neiman-Marcuses, and Bloomingdales to go on a bling spree and chase the best the league has to offer in terms of rings and a championship trophy.

But when you are among the four have-nots, you get invited here on the Jersey side of the Hudson River at the NBA Studio Central across from the docks of Gotham the play the WNBA draft lottery in the shadow of nearby outlet country where the Nordstrom Rack set hangs out.

Some years you get a steal, but in others maybe you land some apparel that will either look good enough for your fanbase or worthwhile enough to make a deal with your sister teams for something more appealing.

But once you arrive here, skill or devious strategy from those who appeared to be wearing tank tops in public all summer gives way to the odds.

That's when beginners' and other forms luck created from percentages and the dropping of ping pong balls takes over.

Some would say, experience in casino operations could be useful but that produces mixed results -- a year ago it paid off for Mohegan Sun honcho Mitchell Etess, also the top executive of the Connecticut Sun who got the overall No. 1 pick and with his group used the pass to pluck Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike in the regular draft in April following a francise-worst and 2013 WNBA worst finish.

Etess said here Thursday night, the placard indicating the 2013 grand prize can still be found in his office.

This time with actually two slips of paper -- the extra being courtesy of a draft-day deal that sent former No. 1 pick Tina Charles home to her native New York in return, in part, for a Liberty first-rounder that became a lottery pick -- the results weren't as good.

The Sun suspense in the pecking order ended quickly when league front office executive Renee Brown pulled out Connecticut's two picks first in the exact order of the odds so the New York pick was actually No. 4.

"I didn't really have any expectations after last year was so exciting," Etess revealed after the broadcoast of the procedure during halftime of the Washington-Indiana playoff opener ended.

"When I saw the graphic 10 percent for the Liberty pick, 28 percent four our pick -- I wasn't surprised. I thought maybe we could move up one but when I saw the odds, the chance of getting No. 1 was very, very slim."

But chalk in a rarity held, so beginner's luck worked for Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler and new front office executive Alisha Valavanis, a former assistant athletic director at the University of California who is the team's chief operating officer.

Seattle was left standing when the Tulsa Shock, who has an ongoing history at these things of missing the grand prize after tough and worse finishes.

But for both, the real prizes would be the return of former high picks such as Seattle's Lauren Jackson, the 2001 overall pick who has missed two WNBA seasons because of commitments to her native Australia's national team and also health issues.

In the case of Tulsa, it would be the return of former overall No. 2 pick Elizabeth Cambage, who is also an Australian.

In fact it was after the automatic choice of Jackson, then at the tender age of 19 but eligible under one of the league exemptions, that the lottery was instituted.

The next year, despite the new deal, Seattle cleaned up again, taking Connecticut's Sue Bird even though the Storm did not have the best odds.

The proud recipient both times back then was coach Lin Dunn, who didn't last to see the duo success result in a title in 2004.

But Dunn, who retires at the end of this season, has done alright elsewhere, winning the 2012 title with Indiana and she was back in the playoffs again Thursday night.

Since Dunn has been with Indiana, the closest she's come to dealing in outlets is to devise strategy to get the ball in the hands of future Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings.

After Bird came aboard, Seattle went on to go to on a postseason run simmilar to Indiana's that ended this year.

The event here was new to Agler, who's own history of achievement, which is worthy of a Women's Basketball Hall of Fame invite, includes the only two titles with the Columbus Quest in 1996 and 1997 in the short-lived American Basketball League.

"When you're in position to take a Brittney Griner or a Sue Bird, you don't really control the draft," he referred to gaudier occasions in lottery history such as last year when the famous Three to See trio of Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins were up for grabs.

(Aside: Thursday night's pre-broadcast nifty media feed outnumbered the total in the room, who were Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberg, your Guru and Kate Bennert of WNBA.com.

Next time around the grand prize will be UConn's Breanna Stewart with several others also worthy for the have-not qualifiers.

Indeed, for Agler, with the picks announced at the earliest ever enables Seattle to put the past summer behind and move forward to restore the Storm to its past performance.

Tulsa, yet to make the playoffs since taking over the franchise of the former three-time champion Detroit Shock, gained even more sentiment from the masses Thursday night.

Detroit, by the way, after the arrival of current New York coach Bill Laimbeer in 2002, pulled a worst to first in 2003, getting recently retired great Ruth Riley, the former Notre Dame all-American as a dispersal pick, and then plucking Louisiana Tech star Cheryl Ford as the overall No. 3 pick.

But Tulsa president Steve Swetoha isn't looking for sympathy because this is a place he no longer wishes to be whatever time the lottery takes place after the regular season ends.

"We're just that one more (Iplayer) away," he said, noting the rapid improvement of former Notre Dame superstar Skylar Diggins in season two this summer and the arrival of fofrmer Baylor star Odyssey Sims in April's draft.

"There might be some players (this coming collegiate season) that were under the radar and suddenly rise to the top," Swetoha said.

"It's not like four years ago when there was a need. We hope this player comes in and adds another piece to the puzzle.

We've built through the draft.

"Players we drafted two, three years ago now add another year of experience so it might be a good year to be a two."

It isn't like Tulsa was blown out of the water the last two seasons, losing a slew of close games of which a small percentage reversed would have precluded Swetoha from behing here.

"No question Liz will make our team better if she comes back. It could change the overall dynamic of what we are looking for. We are set at the guards.

"I hope I don't see these guys next year. I hope not to see these guys for a long time."

Of course, you never know when a deal not given much attention could give Tulsa the best of both worlds -- playoff pursuit of the title and perhaps such a deal here acquired here in outlet country at the same time.

As for New York not being eligible to make the short trip here from Madison Square Garden, as one league insider said, "Considering this draft and they picked up Tina Charles?

"At some point you have to believe that the move is going to pay off."


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

WNBA Playoff Extra: Lynx Begin Defense of the Title

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

To many outside of the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Lynx are entering the 2014 WNBA Playoffs with a new and rare title.

One that if you mentioned to head coach Cheryl Reeve, might prompt her to yank off and toss her stylish blazer at you with the force of a Mo’ne Davis fastball.

“We don't believe that we are the underdog,” Reeve said of her second-seeded Lynx. “We still believe that we are the team that everyone wants to beat.”

Until somebody eliminates them, the motivated and focused Minnesota Lynx would like to remind everybody they are still the reigning WNBA champions.

Despite wobbling down the stretch losing three of their last four games, the road to a WNBA championship still goes through the Target Center.

When you’ve won three straight Western Conference titles, two WNBA championships, became the first franchise in league history to win 25 games in four straight years, and have first time League MVP Maya Moore, your swag can be at an all-time high.

The defending champions begin the playoffs Thursday night against San Antonio at the Target Center in game one of a best-of-three series (9 p.m. ESPN2).

Yet, for all of their accolades and accomplishments in recent years and even this year, which featured an 11-game winning streak, there are a few questions surrounding the Lynx entering the playoffs.

Namely, the health of Seimone Augustus, who sat out last week’s 92-76 loss to the Silver Stars with knee soreness and their wobbly defense during the last week of the season.

Also, Minnesota, like the rest of league, took a backseat to Phoenix’s incredible regular season that featured a league record 29 wins.

Moore assured everybody in Lynx-nation that they will be tougher than ever to be dethroned when she answered questions during Tuesday’s conference call with national media members.

“I think for whatever reason we weren't as sharp as we needed to be to close out the games,” Moore said. “It's a good reminder of why we've been able to be successful, so it definitely is something in the forefront of our minds, the focus and the determination we need to have for 40 minutes on the defensive side of things.

" We're not worried about our offense; it's the defensive side that we know is most important at this time of year.”

While the Lynx are heavily favored against San Antonio thanks to a 4-1 season series win, they know they will have their hands full. The Stars are playing their best basketball of the season. They closed the regular season with three straight victories including double-digit triumphs over playoff-bound Minnesota and Chicago.

And there is the emotional motivation as Becky Hammon closes out a sensational career before moving on to a new pioneering role for women as the first female NBA assistant coach when she joins the defending champion San Antonio Silver Stars.

Augustus is expected to be at full strength for Minnesota, which will attempt to become the first team to advance to the WNBA Finals four straight times for the first time since the Houston Comets did it from 1998-2001.

The Lynx are also aiming to become the first team to repeat as champion since the Sparks accomplished that during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

When asked about the team’s overall health, Moore quickly responded.

“We're fine,” she said. “It's nothing ‑‑ no team is ever 100 percent at this point in the season, and so our team is no different, but everybody is practicing, everybody is ready to go, and energy felt really good today in the gym.”

Together, Moore and Augustus were the best scoring duo in the WNBA, averaging 40.4 points of Minnesota’s 81.6 point per game total.

With Janel McCarvale, Rebekka Brunson and Lindsay Whalen functioning like a machine, the Lynx’s offense flowed beautifully for much of the season. Minnesota has also gotten valuable efforts from Monica Wright, Tan White and Devereaux Peters during the season.

Meanwhile, the Stars will look to spring an upset.

Led by fearless and talented guards Danielle Robinson and Kayla McBride along with Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Jia Perkins, San Antonio won’t be a fun first-round opponent. Robinson leads the Stars and is third in the entire WNBA in assists (5.3) and is San Antonio’s second-leading scorer (12.9), just behind McBride, the rookie wing from Notre Dame who has averaged 13.0 in her first WNBA season. Perkins chips in with 12.5 points off the bench.

“We are in a good place,” Moore said. “We had a good practice today, and I think we have enough experience and enough leadership to take those losses and learn from them and let that be added motivation to play even better for these playoffs just because San Antonio is a good team. They're somebody that’s not going to hurt themselves. They're disciplined and well coached and they're scoring bunches because of their three‑point shooters.”

With Moore virtually unstoppable, it’s never a good idea to bet against the Lynx in August and September.

“I think that their book is not finished,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. “When you've got a player like Maya Moore who has come on the scene and done what she has done this season, to go along with what Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen have brought in the past, I think it's a team that will continue to make runs.

"I think that with the unlikelihood that they're eliminated early, I think that they will be a team that we can continue to read about.”


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Rob Knox's WNBA Notebook: Want to Find Character in D.C.? Visit the Mystics

(Guru's salute: With the end of the regular season, this is Rob's last notebook, but not the last of Rob. Only the city of Philadelphia can give you young phenoms like Dawn Staley and Mo'ne Davis and an old one in Rob, who has brought special life the past few months to WNBA coverage in the Guru's blog.

Likewise to our true rookie Megan Nipe, the former George Washington star in D.C., who has returned home to Minneapolis and will be on the Lynx trail during the playoffs while Rob will join the Guru in D.C. Saturday.

The Guru is on the scene in Secaucus, N.J., for the draft lottery sequence presentation. Those of us attending learned Wednesday the WNBA has cooked up a special surprise before the lotto balls drop -- emphasis on cooked. :)


By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON ---
For somebody who’s always there for others with a comforting word or warm smile, Washington Mystic guard Ivory Latta needed the same affection after her world was rocked following a preseason physical examination that was anything but routine.

The lump and excruciating pain allowed a foreign thought to creep into her head. For somebody who exudes plenty of confidence, leadership, passion and heart, Latta was reduced to tears, fear and doubt.

“It was a total out of body experience,” Latta said earlier this month before a game against New York about her pre-season physical examination. “The doctor checked my right breast and everything was fine, then while checking the left breast, she hit the lump so hard, I fell of the table.

"My first thought was I can’t play basketball anymore. Then I was wondering what is my family going to think. I called my mom and told her the situation and she was unbelievably strong about everything. She just said, lets pray about it.”

Despite being in excellent shape, doctors detected a golf ball sized lump in the 29-year-old former North Carolina star's left breast.

It turned out to be benign but it had to be removed.

For African American women, the risk of getting breast cancer is lower than for white women, but the risk of dying from breast cancer is higher.

Latta had a biopsy earlier this year and is scheduled to have surgery once the season is finished to remove the remaining tissue mass.

“It was an unbelievable day,” Latta said. “It was a very emotional and scary time in my life.

"You didn’t know what to expect and the bad part was the long wait for the results. That was tormenting me every single night and I lost sleep. It affected me in a lot of ways. When I got the news that I was fine, it was like a huge weight off of my shoulders.”

Since she got the news, Latta’s trademark smile has returned for Latta, who plays with the unbridled joy of a toddler in a playground.

“I never take anything for granted,” Latta said. “I love to smile, my family and the game of basketball. Going through this situation really humbled me. I was more worried about how my family was going to take it more so than me. I am blessed that everything worked out.”

Fortunately, for Latta, the brief scare didn’t hinder her performance this season for the Mystics, who are headed to the playoffs for a second straight season.

Washington (16-18 overall) begins its best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals against second-seeded Indiana (16-18) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2.

Game two will be Saturday at the Verizon Center beginning at 5:00 p.m. and the decisive third game will be back in Indianapolis Monday at a time to be determined.

ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, who will call the Fever-Mystics series, believes Washington could be the sleeper team of the Eastern Conference.

"The reason being is that Mike Thibault has the experience, and he knows how to get the most out of his players," Peck said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "When it comes playoff time, he's going to have a scheme, and if Kia Vaughn continues to play the way that she is to go along with Ivory Latta, they could make a two‑, three‑game series out of the series that they're in."

Latta led a balanced Washington team in scoring with a 12.8 point per game average. The two-time All-Star was the heart-and-soul of a Mystic team that has earned consecutive playoff appearances for only the second time in franchise history. Latta also swished a franchise record 81 3-pointers.

Emma Meesseman is Washington’s only other double-digit scorer at 10.1 points per outing.

Monique Currie, the longest tenured Mystic, averaged 9.9 points while rookie Bria Hartley added 9.7 points per contest. Kia Vaughn also averaged 9.0 points for the balanced Mystics. The last time Vaughn visited BLF, she scored a season-high 22 points.

Each player has enjoyed its share of shining moments this season to propel Washington forward. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Kara Lawson, Stefanie Dolson, Kalena Greene and Tiana Hawkins have brought electricity to the floor whenever their number has been called this season.

The Mystics were a hit with their fans as they flocked to the world’s largest phone booth to see an energetic and fun group who always played hard this season. Washington enjoyed a 6.9 percent attendance increase from last season, which was third behind Phoenix and New York.

Currie appreciates the Washington turnaround as she is the only remaining player on the roster from the Mystics five-win campaign in 2012.

“I just think everyone has brought into coach (Mike) Thibault’s philosophy,” Currie said. “He’s brought a winning mentality here and he gives everybody an opportunity to display their talent. It’s been something fresh and that’s contributed to our success.”

Added Currie: “It’s been great working with all the girls here. We have a young team here. They are all hard workers, eager to learn and great listeners so it’s been fun being one of the older players and one they look to for answers. I try to help them out where I can. It’s definitely an honor for me.”

Because of Washington's youth, the Mystics have been at times, up and down this season. Just in the money month of August alone, Washington dropped two road overtime decisions, a close game to the Sky and won impressively over New York and Indiana.

The Mystics matchup well with the Fever as they split four games against one another with the road team winning each contest. While on the surface the Mystics finished with one fewer win than last year, they took a giant step forward this season.

“What I am most pleased about is we’ve had to do it by committee because we don’t have a superstar,” Thibault said. “We don’t have anybody in our core group that’s been part of an Olympic team or first or second team All-WNBA. We don’t have that big person where we can throw the ball down to and say ‘hey get us a big shot’ so we’re learning to do it a different way.”

Thibault had his own recipe for success when he took over at the end of the 2012 season. He immediately held individual meetings with the returning players over the phone or in person.

“I knew it would be a culture shock for them,” Thibault said. “I was able to lay the ground work. The first order business for me was to shake things up and find new energy. I went out and recruited. Got Ivory as a free agent and traded for Kia Vaughn who was a restricted free agent.

"I had to change the energy in the building by playing a different style and pace. I told them there were going to be high expectations and there’s not going to be excuses. The second part was ridding ourselves over time of the previous culture. It maybe wasn’t fair to a couple of players who were guilty by association. The only way I felt like we were going to go forward was to change things so that’s what we did.”

It’s hard to argue with the results.

The Mystics, despite owning the worst record in the league at the end of 2012, missed out on drafting one of “Three to See” in 2012.

Many people looked at that as another setback that would set the franchise back a few more years. Instead, Thibault turned it into a positive. They earned the fourth draft pick which yielded Tayler Hill, who is getting her groove back after missing most of the season after giving birth to her son. Hill has the potential to be special.

“The franchise has had unfortunate luck in the lottery,” Thibault said. “We had to build with young players. You look at teams like Phoenix and Minnesota, they were built through the lottery.

"They suffered for many years to get to where they are now. I don’t know that I could go through that; not making the playoffs for four or five years. We’re trying to be competitive every year by developing young players and I think we’re making progress with how we’re doing. We’re getting better.”

SEASON-ENDING AWARDS: Here’s my end-of-the-year awards ballot that I made contributions to: Allie Quigley, Chicago (Sixth Woman of the Year), Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut (Rookie of the Year), Tameka Johnson, Seattle (Community Service/Sportsmanship), Maya Moore, Minnesota (MVP), Skylar Diggins, Tulsa (Most Improved), Brittney Griner, Phoenix (Defensive Player of the Year) and Sandy Brondello, Phoenix (Coach of the Year).

These choices were very tough as there were many deserving players. For my first team All-WNBA, my ballot was Griner, Diana Taurasi, and Candice Dupree of Phoenix along with Tina Charles of New York and Maya Moore of Minnesota. I’ve been wrong before, so I am interested to see how many, if any, I got right.

FEVER FACTS: The Indiana Fever are in the playoffs for the 10th straight season and 11th time in their 15-year history. The last time the Fever were a No. 2 seed, it won the 2012 WNBA title.

The last time Indiana faced the Mystics in the East semifinals, it advanced to the WNBA Finals. Tamika Catchings is six rebounds away from becoming the all-time playoff leader in that category. Catchings has played in all 51 playoff games in Fever franchise history.

DRAFT LOTTERY: The 2015 WNBA Draft Lottery presented by State Farm will be held in Secaucus, N.J., on Thursday and televised on ESPN2, the WNBA announced today.

The telecast, hosted by Temple grad Kevin Negandhi of ESPN, will air during halftime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Washington Mystics and the Indiana Fever (tip-off at 7 p.m. ET).

The winner of the Lottery will secure the top pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm, to be conducted in April. The Tulsa Shock, Seattle Storm, Connecticut Sun, and New York Liberty – all of whom did not qualify for the playoffs this season – qualified for the lottery.

Tulsa and Seattle, which both finished the year at 12-22, will have the most chances to land the top pick (359 chances each). Connecticut, which ended the campaign at 13-21, has 178 chances via its own finish and another 104 from New York (15-19).

Connecticut owns New York’s first-round pick in 2015 following a draft day trade last April in which the Sun received the Liberty’s first round pick next year as well as Alyssa Thomas and Kelsey Bone in exchange for Tina Charles. Also expected to play for Connecticut next season will be Chelsea Gray, who sat out this while rehabbing from an ACL injury suffered during her senior season at Duke.

Some of the top talent expected to be available in April are Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Connecticut), Elizabeth Williams (Duke), Isabelle Harrison (Tennessee), Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch (South Carolina) and Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray (Cal). Of course, the 2016 class will feature Breanna Stewart and Jewel Loyd.

PEAK PERFORMERS: Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx, Courtney Paris of the Tulsa Shock and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury have won the 2014 WNBA Peak Performer Awards for scoring, rebounding and assists, respectively.

The WNBA presents the Peak Performer Awards annually to the players who lead the league in each of those categories during the regular season. Each player will receive a trophy crafted by Tiffany in honor of their accomplishments.

Moore earned her first scoring title with an average of 23.9 points per contest, finishing ahead of Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins, who ranked second (20.1 ppg). For Moore, the 23.9 ppg is the third-best single-season output in league history behind only the 25.3 ppg and 24.1 ppg from Taurasi in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

Paris earned the rebounding crown by averaging 10.2 boards per game, more than double that of her previous career high of 4.1 rpg (in 2013 and as a rookie in 2009). The fifth-year pro edged out three-time rebound leader Tina Charles (2010-12) of the New York Liberty, who finished second with 9.4 rpg. Paris’ 13 double-doubles tied for third in the league with the Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike, behind co-leaders Glory Johnson of Tulsa and Charles.

Taurasi’s 5.606 assists per game (185 in 33 games) paced the league and earned her the distinction of being the first player in WNBA history to have led the league in both scoring and assists at any point in her career (she led the WNBA in points per game in 2006, 2008-11). This year, Taurasi narrowly edged out three-time assists leader Lindsay Whalen of Minnesota, who finished second with 5.559 apg (189 in 34 games).

SHOWTIME SHONI: Shoni Schimmel of the Atlanta Dream was named the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

En route to earning the first Player of the Week honor of her career, Schimmel – the MVP of Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star 2014 – led the Eastern Conference in assists (4.7 apg) and ranked second in scoring (15.3 ppg).

The University of Louisville product tied for sixth in the East in three-point field goal percentage (.375, 6-of-16) and contributed 3.3 rebounds per contest as Atlanta posted a 2-1 record for the week and improved to 19-15 overall.

The Dream enter postseason play this week as the No 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Schimmel, the Dream's first round draft pick this April, opened her week with a career-best 24 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists against the league-leading Phoenix Mercury on Aug. 13.

That outing included a 20-point second quarter, the second largest scoring barrage in one quarter in WNBA history. She then registered 13 points and nine assists in a 92-76 win over Tulsa and closed the week with nine points, two assists, two boards, and a steal at Connecticut. The rookie concluded her regular season averaging 3.6 apg and 8.3 ppg, third and sixth among rookies, respectively.

TERRIFIC TOLIVER: Kristie Toliver of the Los Angeles Sparks was named the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week. Toliver earned her first Player of the Week honor of the season and the second of her career after guiding the Sparks to a 2-1 record for the week as Los Angeles secured the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

The sixth-year pro ranked third among Western Conference players in scoring (18.7 ppg) and tied for fourth in assists (4.0 apg). She also placed second in three-point field goal percentage (.563, 9-of-16) and third in overall field goal percentage (.667, 22-of-33).

Toliver began her week with 29 points, five assists and three boards in a 71-63 road win over the Minnesota Lynx, the No. 2 team in the league.

Her 20 second-half points in that game were a key factor in the win that locked up a playoff berth for Los Angeles.

She then registered 20 points and six assists in a 77-65 win over the Seattle Storm. The University of Maryland product finished the regular season averaging 11.8 ppg and 4.1 apg.

OUTSTANDING ODYSSEY: Odyssey Sims of the Tulsa Shock was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month presented by Samsung for games played in August. This is her second consecutive Rookie of the Month presented by Samsung honor.

For the month of August, Sims led the league in scoring (23.5 ppg) and minutes played (36.6 mpg), placed seventh in three-point field goal percentage (.410) and tied for ninth in assists (4.0 apg). Among rookies, Sims was third in assists and placed second in three-point field goal percentage. Sims scored 20 or more points in five out of the six games and 25 or more in three of those contests.

In a 96-90 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Aug. 5, Sims scored 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field to go along seven assists and five rebounds.

In Tulsa’s regular-season finale against the Minnesota Lynx on Aug. 16, Sims collected her fourth 30-point performance of the season, scoring 31 points and connecting on five three-point field goals in an 80-63 loss.

Sims finished her first WNBA season leading all rookies in points (16.7 ppg), assists (4.2 apg) and minutes played (34.4 mpg). Overall, Sims ranked third in the league in minutes played, sixth in points and tied for sixth in assists.

MORE'S POPULARITY SOARS:

As the Andrea True disco song goes, Moore Moore Moore. How do you like her, how do you like her.

The media group selecting the regular season award winners likes the former UConn great enough to give the Lynx sensastion a first-ever MVP award in front of another past Huskies all-timer in Diana Taurasi.

The Associated Press first reported Wednesday night that Moore was going to be the recipient of the top individual honor.

Meanwhile, with record-setting game action on the court this season, including the Phoenix Mercury setting the record for most regular-season wins in league history, Moore’s 30-plus points in a record 12 games, and eye catching rookie Shimmel’s MVP performance at the Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star Game, basketball fans have responded to one of the WNBA’s most compelling seasons with increased viewership, attendance and digital increases.

The 2014 WNBA regular-season highlights include: The WNBA regular season on ESPN2 averaged 235,000 viewers, up +2% over last season (231,000). The WNBA Draft on ESPN2 was the most viewed in the network’s history, averaging 413,000 viewers, up +9% over last season (379,000). NBA TV had its most viewed WNBA regular season, up +4% over last season, after recording its second most-viewed WNBA Opening Night in its history.

The league’s social media community had record growth with new Twitter followers up almost double and new Facebook likes up five-fold compared to last season. Overall, the WNBA has nearly 7 million fans and followers combined across all league, team and players pages.

Some information in this report was compiled off press releases issued by the WNBA.


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Location:Plaza Dr,Secaucus,United States

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Guru's WNBA Musings: Breaking Down the Gridlock Finish in the East

(Guru's note: Don't fret Rob Knox fans. He's cooking up more stuff to come this way, including the final regular season notebook, which will post anytime in the next 24 hours.

Also, on Sunday at the New York final the Guru collected quotes from individuals, including league president Laurel Richie, reacting to Philadelphia Little League pitching sensation Mo'ne Davis of the Taney Dragons and her desire to eventually play in the WNBA.

Those comments were given to the alma mater local major metro here on Monday, which have been held for other great stuff being written by the 13-year-old hurler, who also would like to go to UConn.

If that submission ultimately giets shelved -- it could be at philly.com now, haven't checked the overnight posts yet -- they'll appear here soon.
)

By Mel Greenberg (@womhoopsguru)

Looking at the final standings and the fact there were only three winning teams among the entire 12 squads in the WNBA appears to be the worst finish in the history of the league since growth beyond the original eight franchises.

Well, what about 2010, when the Seattle Storm won it all and topped the West with the only winning record at 28-6.

Actually, that was closer to a true appearance of parity them this time around, though one could call this a parity of medocrity from a standpoint of the win-loss records.

This is what the finish was four years ago going into the playoffs:

2010 Final Standings
East
Washington 22-12
New York 22-12
Indiana 21-13
Atlanta 19-15
Connecticut 17-17

West
Seattle 28-6
Phoenix 15-19
San Antonio 14-20
Los Angeles 13-21
Minnesota 13-21 -- a losing tiebreak that begat Maya Moore
Tulsa 6-28

What happened then was after years of being pushed around from the left coast, the East dominated the West in their two-game home-and-home crossovers per team.

Understand, while the records with only three winning teams this time look bizarre, remove them from the books, and focus on each team which had great moments in 2014.

Tulsa continued to show growth and if a bunch of those narrow setbacks could be reversed, it might have some impact on the entire slate.

As was mentioned on the teleconference Tuesday afternoon as part of the preview for the playoffs, many teams dealt with injuries and missing key personnel, a la Chicago, during large chunks of the season.

The very bottom is always going to lag benhind the rest.

But while you can still see the 2010 finish above, here's the 2014 ending for comparison.

2014 Final Standings
East
Atlanta 19-15
Indiana 16-18
Washington 16-18
Chicago 15-19
New York 15-19
Connecticut 13-21

West
Phoenix 29-5 -- WNBA record
Minnesota 25-9
San Antonio 16-18
Los Angeles 16-18
Seattle 12-22
Tulsa 12-22

Beyond the injuries and, of course, beyond that teams in both conferences play some intra-rivals five teams and others four, here are some other quick looks.

The West, obviously, saw the two frontrunners more times than the East, so that conference isn't worth examining much, though the West did outduel the East 44-28 in composite crossover results.

But here are some other facets on what helped teams in the East, not counting Connecticut, which pretty much struggled again but does have an upside for the future that gets enhanced Thursday night at the lottery but how much won't be known until the ping pong balls drop.

Team W-L CFWL NCFWL Home Road
Atlanta 19-15, 11-11, 8-4, 13-4, 6-11
Indiana 16-18, 12-10, 4-8, 7-10, 9-8
Washngtn 16-18, 11-11, 5-7, 10-7, 5-12
Chicago 15-19, 14-8, 1-11, 9-8, 6-11
New York 15-19, 10-12, 5-7, 10-7, 5-12
Connect. 13-21, 8-14, 5-7, 9-8, 4-13

Though Atlanta struggled down the stretch, the Dream played .500 in the conference and went 8-4 against the West and that was enough to to finish on top for the first time.

It will be interesting to see how Atlanta fares as the top dog considering its past trips to the finals came as an underseed.

Indiana was on a roller coaster but could be playing its best ball.

Throw out the Sunday game and the Fever got fat on New York down the stretch instead of vice versa and went a pedestrian 12-10 in conference play.

Washington won at the right place at the right time, albeit being inconsistent.

In the short run looking back at the stretch, the magic bullet was a big win over New York, which the Guru picked the other way, and a win at Indiana.

In the body of work department, 11-11 in the conference and 5-7 against the West, which, in a logjam, was help enough.

Chicago was interesting. Despite the injuries, the Sky dominated the East at 14-8, which could be an omen to perform better as an underdog going into the postseason instead of top dog 12 months ago.

But the West, don't ask. The mark was 1-12.

For New York, the reverse short-run look back was the telling because that rout at Washington two weeks ago might, as mentioned, been the deal maker for both teams.

Of course, the other key stat was Chicago's 4-0 wipeout, which, while being the element to break a tie, that deadlock might be an illusion, considering what teams were doing across the board pulling onto the docks for the wrap up.

Connecticut's 5-7 against the West, including a narrow win at Phoenix before the Mercury soared on the 16-game win streak.

So, those are some of the components produced by the flesh and blood, whose job it is now to fight, especially for Los Angeles and San Antonio, which must face the dynamos of the West and entire league at the outset, beginning Thursday.

Locally Noted

For the regional audience here near Philadelphia in the East, here's who you have to cheer for, geographically speaking, in the postseason.

Three members of the Rutgers 2007 NCAA finalist are alive with Kia Vaughn on Washington, Epiphanny Prince on Chicago, and Matee Ajavon on Atlanta.

Chicago also has in addition to Prince former Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne, the reigning rookie of the year.

Blue Hens fans have two potential options to see her either if Chicago and Washington are in the East final and there's the quick trip to the nation's capital or if Washington is eliminated before the league finals Delle Donne will make a second encore appearance at the Bob Carpenter Fieldhouse as part of the WNBA superstar group meeting in an intrasquad psuedo all-star game attempting to land spots on the USA Basketball Squad that will compete in the World Championship run by FIBA next month in Turkey.

The other encore occured at the beginning of the year when Chicago played Washington in a preseason game at Delaware to a sellout, which could happen again next May.

Temple's all-timer Candice Dupree plays for Phoenix, while Penn State is represented by Nikki Greene on Los Angeles and rookie star Maggie Lucas, a Narberth native and Germantown Academy graduate, from suburban Philadelphia.

On Sunday Lucas helped fill the void while the Fever rested people for the playoffs and her performance was such that coach Lin Dunn suggested it might harder her on out to keep her on the bench from increased minutes.

On the sidelines, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve is a former La Salle star who, if the Lynx don't get to the finals to defend their title, will be with the USA Contingent as an asssistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma.

So will Dawn Staley, now at South Carolina,who is one of the other assistants to Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown.

And the other playoff sideline individual is former Immaculata star Marianne Stanley, who is an assistant to Washington coach Mike Thibault.














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Saturday, August 16, 2014

WNBA Feature: Young Has Been a Rock of Excellence Aiding Chicago's Return to the Playoffs

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON –
With Chicago Sky players coming and going from its lineup like commuters at Union Station during rush hour this season, forward Tamera Young has been an anchor.

Despite all the adversity and ailments that forced Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman to spend more time looking at medical reports instead of scouting reports, Young has performed at a consistently high level all summer.

Her reliability, rebounding and leadership have helped the Sky navigate a circuitous route into the playoffs for a second straight season.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity this season,” Young said Wednesday morning at the Verizon Center before the Sky defeated the Mystics 72-69. “This became an opportunity for others to step up. People have had to play multiple positions, stick together and be mentally tougher.”

Young is one of those players who’ve bounced around the basketball court like a ping-pong ball, playing out of her comfort zone in the post.

Even though the Sky are the youngest team in the WNBA with an average age of 23.3 years old, the 27-year old Scorpio has enjoyed a breakout season for the Sky out of necessity and by returning to her roots when she was a dominating force for James Madison.

Young, a 2008 draft pick by the Atlanta Dream, was one of the all-time scorers in the Colonial Athletic Association behind Sky teammate and former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne.

This season, Young is averaging 27.7 minutes per game, six minutes more than her career average. She’s started 31 of the Sky’s 32 games.

She’s one of five Chicago players to appear in every game this season. Despite shooting a nearly identical field goal percentage (42.9 percent) to last year, Young is averaging 6.7 points per game, 1.1 more than last year, while averaging 10 more minutes than 2013.

“I’ve had to be more vocal and play different positions from the post to the guard spot this season,” Young said. “I don’t mind because having more time on the floor helps you get more experience and knowledge of the game.

"That’s been able to help me this year especially with me playing more minutes. I’ve just play wherever the team needs me to be or whatever coach asks of me is what I am trying to do.”

Her experience, dynamite defense and passionate rebounding have been a guiding light for the Sky throughout the season.

Young has scored in double figures nine times this season and posted one double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) against New York.

“She’s a fighter,” Chatman said. “I like the fact that she’s revved up all the time. She has had to play positions two, three and four for us.

"While doing that, she’s maintained a high level of plus-minus rating, knocked down shots and she’s always guarding the opposing teams’ best offensive player," Chatman continued.

"You don’t get on SportsCenter highlights or are talked about on the outside. It doesn’t matter to her because she understands how important it is to us and she relishes that role," Chatman noted.

“Even though we struggled, I think some people grew and gained confidence. This group deserves to all play together. We’re getting stronger at a good time, which is exciting for us.”

The Sky has been forced to battle through a fluctuating roster after beginning the season without Epiphany Prince (seven games for personal reasons) and Olympian Sylvia Fowles (13 games with hip issues).

All-Star Jessica Breland missed two games with a lower leg injury in mid-June, the same time the Sky lost Delle Donne, their top scorer and the reigning Rookie of the Year, for 17 games due to a Lyme disease flair-up. The Sky was without point guard Courtney Vandersloot for 15 games due to a sprained MCL.

Wednesday’s game against the Mystics was the second time all-season, the Sky enjoyed the luxury of having all 12 players available.

With two games remaining at Indiana Saturday night and home against San Antonio on Sunday, the Sky have an opportunity to finish as high as No. 2 in the Eastern Conference if they win out after taking the top spot in the East a year ago in their first appearance since the franchise debuted in 2006.

One of Young’s biggest improvements this season was spending time of watching some film of herself when she was at James Madison.

She was a scorer and rebounder, so she went back to the rudiments of what made her special coming out of JMU and Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, the same high school as one Michael Jordan attended.

“I was a big rebounder from the guard spot in college,” Young said. “I was athletic, running in and seeing where the ball goes.

"I think all of that is part of being aggressive and something I’ve always done so I had to get back to it. This year I put more emphasis on going to the boards instead of ball watching. I started crashing more and running in to get rebounds.”

With her black ponytail flapping in the wind, Young soars and snatches rebounds with authority.

She enjoys the tough contact and grabbing rebounds in traffic.

While she usually sports a white headband and a black sleeve on one of her arms, Young could easily just wear a hard-hat, construction vest and bring a lunch pail to the gym because she’s doing all the little things teams need to be successful.

“She’s such a gritty player,” Delle Donne said. “She doesn’t get enough credit. We ask her to do all the intangibles and she does them. She always gives us a ton of energy because of how hard she works every single play.”

Young takes a well-deserved break from helping the Sky by buying lots of sneakers.

She also listens to music and watches plenty of movies.

Sometimes she’ll go the movie theater or she’ll slip in a DVD.

However, for the next month, Young will focus on leading Chicago to the WNBA title.

With a full roster, the Sky is more than capable of representing the East in the WNBA Finals.

That they have an opportunity for postseason success despite enduring plenty of change and a rough stretch of where they lost 13 of 16 games is attributed to Young, who helped steadied the Sky ship during the stormy seas.

With Fowles and Delle Donne, who are part of the 2016 USA Women’s Basketball Olympic team pool, Breland, and possible sixth-woman of the year Allison Quigley, it’s easy to overlook Young’s contributions.

Young has earned the respect of opposing coaches and players.

“When she was younger and first came into the league, she wanted to be a go-to scorer and do more things,” second year Washington coach Mike Thibault said.

“However, Chicago needs her to be what she is now, which is to be a great defender, rebound and make open shots in the mid-range game," he added.

“She understands and accepts her role, which is important role for them. When young players figure that out that’s how they get better. She fits their team.

"She can guard many positions and she’s learned how to play off Sylvia, Elena and Epiphany. The biggest breakthrough for her was accepting that.”

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Friday, August 15, 2014

WNBA Feature: Phoenix Enjoying the View From the Top

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

NEW YORK –
The Phoenix Mercury are so versatile, deep, talented, driven, good, hilarious and focused that sometimes head coach Sandy Brondello has been known to get players confused during time out huddles.

Hey, with so many interchangeable pieces, it’s easy to scramble players at times.

“Sandy gets us the most confused between myself, BG (Brittney Grinner) and DB (DeWanna Bonner) when she draws up plays,” former Temple standout and Mercury forward Candice Dupree said Tuesday morning following the teams’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “You’ll see your initials on the board (in different positions from what Brondello is saying) and we’re like wait, ‘I am over here.’ We have to correct her every now and then because she’ll get our initials mixed up.”

Who could blame Brondello when the Mercury are functioning as a machine on most nights.

Dupree and Bonner can both stick jumpers, drive to the basket and finish strong around.

Griner, a force of nature in the paint, is a combination and bigger version of both Dupree and Bonner. All three players are lithe, nimble, quick and can do things at their size that many other players can only dream about.

Despite the occasional mix-up, the Mercury have been a juggernaut during a memorable 2014 season that has included the most wins in franchise history, a 16-game winning streak over a 45-day period and a current 14-game homecourt winning streak.

At 27-5 overall, Phoenix has an opportunity to set the WNBA record for most single-season wins by a team in league history if it can win its final two games Saturday against Los Angeles and Sunday against Seattle. The current mark is 28 wins set by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 during a 32-game schedule and tied by the Seattle Storm in 2010.

“There’s something to be said about special teams, chemistry and a connection that teams have and we seem to have that right now,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said. “That translates into winning games. We have to keep the momentum going and stay focused on every single detail and each game to reach our ultimate goal.”

Phoenix has all the pieces in place to finish the season with a purple-and-orange confetti shower next month.

All five of the Mercury’s starters rank in the top 25 in the league in field goal percentage, something that’s genuinely unheard of in basketball.

Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Dupree are three of top scorers all-time in WNBA history.

Griner has set a single-season record for blocked shots, dunked four times and has helped the Mercury allow a league-best 74.2 points per game.

Brondello has had her team prepared all season for nearly every situation. Erin Phillips, Shay Murphy, and Mistie Bass provide energy, experience and instant scoring off the bench.

While on the surface the season may have been appeared to be a smooth ride highlighted by their 18-double digit victories including Tuesday’s 76-64 triumph over the Liberty, the purplish-red beauty wound underneath of Bonner’s right eye told a different story.

Bonner caught an elbow playing defense during the Mercury’s 82-80 victory over the Lynx last Saturday.

“That was a tough game and whatever it took to win that one,” Bonner said. “It was a huge game for both teams because we know who won would have an inside track to home court advantage. It was definitely a mental thing for us (to win that game).”

The Mercury have had to fight for everything they have achieved this season which includes home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Many players agreed that defeating defending league champion Minnesota was a nice late season test to ace.

“It was a good test and we needed to get ready for the playoffs,” Dupree said. “We were more focused on winning because we wanted home court advantage. So we weren’t thinking about if they were in our heads or not. We just wanted to win whether it was by two or 20 points.”

Yet, through it all this season, the Mercury have thrived because they are a tight-knit group with tremendous chemistry who keep each other entertained.

Sometimes they’ll even make faces at players who are being interviewed like Bonner did to Dupree.

With Dupree trying to focus and answer questions, Bonner kept interrupting forcing Dupree to crack a smile and lose her train of thought. Bonner eventually walked over and started answering questions.

“We have so many people who are funny on this team,” Bonner said.

Phoenix cracks more jokes than a Kevin Hart standup concert when they are around each other.

Surprisingly to fans who just see Taurasi’s intense and fiery demeanor, she is the chief comedian of the Mercury according to several players.

When asked about that, Taurasi answered as only she can.

“On the court you got to have that killer mentality,” she said. “Off the court, you have to find a way to stay loose and make sure people are feeling good.

"I’ve learned that from being around some of the great players and coaches in this game.”

In college, her by-play with USA National Team coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut, where she won three straight NCAA titles, were memorable.

For a team that loves being around one another and like to have fun, the Mercury locker room following their win over the Liberty was silent aside from the occasional pinging of text message and social media alerts being sent to their phones and reporters asking questions as players responded in low voices.

There was no wild celebration or champagne pouring after securing the best regular season record in the league.

Phoenix is focused on the ultimate prize.

It has had fun along the journey that starts for real next week.

Brondello has the luxury of resting players as she did when Taurasi and Taylor, the Mercury’s starting backcourt, sat out of Wednesday’s 96-82 setback to Atlanta, which could be the matchup for the finals if both teams advance through their conference semifinals and championships.

“I want to keep people in rhythm, Brondello said. “I want to be going into the playoffs in good form. Our goal for the rest of the season is to stay healthy, finish well and go into the playoffs in top shape."

When asked to describe her team, Brondello smiled.

“I would say they are focused and determined,” Brondello said. “Their will to win goes to another level when they step onto the court.

"They have a lot of fun together. You have the goofy players and the ones they make fun of. They have great chemistry." she added.

"They all have different personalities but they all mesh together so well. It’s been a special season and hopefully it continues.”
















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Philly Summer League: Crisler Leads Gold to Championship Over Maroon

By Mel Greenberg

HATBORO, Pa. --
Call the 2014 season the Summer of Gold in the Philadelphia/Suburban Women's NCAA Summer Basketball League.

Keith Wood's top-seeded Gold squad rallied from a three-point deficit at the half and went on to a 66-57 victory over sixth-seeded Maroon Thursday night at Kelly Bolish Gym, home of the AAU Renegades in lower Bucks County.

Gold went nearly unblemished the entire way through the 12-game schedule in the 13-team league that got under way in late June before going 3-0 with some challenges in the playoffs that began in the quarterfinals a week ago.

Pink, which was the Division II University of the Sciences of Philadelphia squad, dealt Gold its lone setback, though the frontrunners were never out of first place the entire way.

The Pink squad was one of six teams finishing in a tie for fifth with a 6-6 record and lost out in the systematic tiebreakers to determine the eight teams in the postseason.

"If we had Natasha Cloud here, who I think was the best player in the league, we might have won the playoffs easy," Wood said afterwards.

"But Maroon was a good team. You could see them start to get real good last year."

Gold beat Maroon 85-68 on the regular schedule last time around, so Thursday's challenge could be seen as an improvement.

Cloud, who will be an incoming senior at Saint Joseph's this fall and is a graduate of Cardinal O'Hara, had to take an already scheduled vacation as did many other players who come almost right out of the previous collegiate season into league play.

This season, the league had to start a week later because of a red tape issue with the NCAA, pushing the finish into mid-August.

"Currently, the NCAA doesn't allow any league play before June 15," longtime commissioner David B. Kessler said of the normal start date.

"It would be great if we could start earlier and end earlier," he continued. "We lose too many players in August due to vacations, etc.

"The Penn players had a trip to Italy with their team that began Monday and the Saint Joe players went home after finishing summer school to see their families before beginning their fall semester."

The Penn players, though, were eliminated a week ago when Orange lost in the opening round.

In terms of performance, Lauren Crisler, an American University sophomore out of North Penn High, topped all scorers on both teams, scoring 17 points for Gold.

If we were picking an all-league squad, which would be dominated by Saint Joseph's players, Crisler would certainly be on it off her consistency along the way.

Alex Smith, a recent graduate of Holy Cross out of the Peddie School, was also in double figures for Gold with 12 points.

"I think Alex could play somewhere, if not in the WNBA," Wood said. "She's a good shooter and teams certainly could use that skill."

The Maroon squad was mostly composed of the Division II East Stroudsburg team of players who are from this area.

Rachel Falkowski, a sophomore out of Central Bucks South, led the way for the second straight night, scoring 11 points fueled by three 3-pointers.

Molly Rubin, a Kenyon College junior out of the Princeton Day School, was one of three players adding nine points to the Maroon attack.

Ryann Fiascki, an East Stroudsburg senior out of Archbishop Carroll, and Courtney Brown, an East Stroudsburg sophomore out of Council Rock South, were the other two and all of Brown's points came off of three treys.

As always, the commissioner concludes with hopes that everyone had fun and got something out of their experience to help them when they return to college for the 2014-15 season.

Certainly, the Guru has seen that trend occur over the years and it will be interesting to see what happens this time around.

Saint Joseph's has been to the NCAA tournament for the past two seasons with many players in the league, including an Atlantic 10 title in 2013 that broke a 12-year drought.

Speaking of the Hawks, with former star Katie Kuester moving on to North Carolina as a video coordinator last season, and now as a new assistant coach at Loyola of Maryland, this was the first time in five years the winning roster did not contain Kuester's name.

Playoffs Schedule

Thursday's (Aug. 14) Result

Championship

(1) Gold 66, (6) Maroon 57

Tuesday's (Aug. 12) Results

Semifinals

(1) Gold 75, (7) Kelly Green 68
(6) Maroon 48, (5) Black 42

Thursday's (Aug. 7) Results

Quarterfinals

(1) Gold 81, (8)Orange 69
(5) Black 58, (4) Hunter Green 54
(7) Kelly Green 60, (2) White 43
(6) Maroon 69, (3) Sky Blue 59

Top Playoffs Scorers

31 pts. -- Ashley Wood, Gold (W) vs. Kelly Green, Aug. 12
26 pts. -- Amanda Fioravanti, Orange (L) vs. Gold, Aug. 7
24 pts. -- Najah Jacobs, Black (W), vs. White, Aug. 7
21 pts. -- Sarah Fairbanks, Hunter Grn (L) vs. Black, Aug. 7
20 pts. -- Alex Louin, Kelly Green (L) vs. Gold, Aug. 13
19 pts. -- Alex Smith, Gold (W) vs. Orange, Aug. 7
19 pts. -- Maureen Leahy, Hunter Green (w) vs. White. Aug. 7
19 pts. -- Alex Smith, Gold (W) vs. Black, Aug. 12

Final Regular Season Standings

Team, W-L, Pct., G.B., Pts., Opp Pts.

+%@*^-Gold, 11-1, .917, --, 914 696
*-fw-White, 10-2, .833, 1.0, 803 583
*-Sky Blue, 7-5, .583, 4.0, 639 559
*-fw-Hunter Green, 7-5, .583, 4.0, 650 706
@*-fw-Black, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 573 594
%@*-fw, fl-Maroon, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 715 597
@*-fw,fl(2)-Kelly Green, 6-6,.500, 5.0, 497 555
*-fw-Orange, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 695 700
fw-Pink, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 562 544
fl(2)-Purple, 6-6, .500, 5.0, 570 525
Navy Blue, 5-7, .417, 6.0, 709 696
Red, 2-10, .167, 9.0, 589 834
fl(2)-Royal Blue, 0-12,.000, 11.0, 574 789

* -- Clinched playoff slot
@ -- Semifinalsts
% -- Finalists
+ -- Playoff champion
^ -- Clinched top seed
fw -- includes forfeit win, fl - includes forfeit loss

IMPORTANT DATES IN 2015`

Wednesday April 1, 2015 – application for NCAA certification
Thursday April 2, 2015 - league applications e-mailed to players
Thursday April 30, 2015 - deadline for registration
Thursday May 21, 2015 - player draft (coaches only) 7:30 at Renegades’ gym
Monday June 1, 2015 - shirts ordered
Tuesday June 16, 2015 - shirts distributed, league begins

That's it for now and for the entire Guru league coverage this summer on the blog.

For regular season finish stats scroll to the blog of Aug. 6. All of the league coverage begins with a Philly Summer League if you are scrolling through this blog.

Thanks to the Commissioner David B. Kessler, Deputy Commissioner Steve Michielli, and Tom Utescher for supplying the Guru with info when he was out of pocket on his WNBA coverage schedule as well as for other times to enhance these reports.



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

WNBA Report: Washington Playoff Bid Temporarily Foiled Again

By Megan Nipe

WASHINGTON --
The Chicago Sky, involved in their own pursuits for the postseason, became the latest obstacle to the Washington Mystics wrapping up a second straight playoff berth Wednesday afternoon as the visitors ruined a comeback effort at the Verizon Center and held on for a 72-69 victory.

It's the second straight game in which Washington (15-17) failed to take care of business following Sunday's one that got away 89-81 in double overtime on the road against the Connecticut Sun.

And that loss had ramifications leading into the Chicago game because Washington center Kia Vaughn was on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension for elbowing to the head of Sun rookie sensation Chiney Oguwmike, the overall No. 1 pick in April's draft out of Stanford.

The Mystics also lost Kara Lawson to an sprained ankle injury in the fourth quarter and she will be out of action until at least the playoffs.

The Sky (15-17), on the other hand, keep getting stronger with former Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne, the reigning rookie of the year, playing the most minutes yet since returning from a 17-game absence due to the recurring effects of Lyme disease.

She finished with 18 points. Sylvia Fowles, who missed a large portion of thje front end of the season, had 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

Also back for the first time since the end of June was starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who suffered a knee injury in the final moments of a game in New York.

While both teams now have the same record with two left to play in the regular season, Chicago moved into second place under tiebreaking procedures.

The Sky finish up with the Indiana Fever (14-17), who could make it a three-way tie recordwise for second place by beating the fifth-place New York Liberty (13-18) in Indianapolis on Thursday night, before hosting the San Antonio Silver Stars on Sunday.

Washington can still control its own destiny, needing just one win out of two different scenarios. The first can come with a return trip to Connecticut, which has been eliminated, Friday night, having lost to the Sun just once last Sunday.

The other is New York visits here Saturday night in the season final for both teams.

Chicago coach Pokey Chatman spoke after Wednesday's game on the pressures in the East where everyone has been jam packed together behind the Atlanta Dream, which clinched first in the East Wednesday night, beating the Phoenix Mercury, which had wrapped up first in the West and overall homecourt advantage in the playoffs Tuesday night with a win in New York.

"It's huge," she said. "There's so many adjectives every coach in the Eastern Conference can use right now.

"You don't have to motivate anybody -- I can tell you that. The season and the grind, and not just our ends but everyone. We've been through so much. Everyone's going to go through a little bit of adversity. But the fact that we still maintained being relevant this time of year is a positive and that group deserves to all play together.

"So it's a nice time for them to all come together and gain some momentum going into these last two games."

It was no coincidence a year ago that Delle Donne's arrival as the No. 2 overall draft pick enabled Chicago to make the playoffs for the first time in eight tries, let alone win the East outright before losing to Indiana in the first round.

And it is no coincidence this time around that Delle Donne back on the court has changed Chicago's destiny from a draft lottery-bound team to one who could make some noise when the conference playoff semifinals begin next week.

Washington was a recent victim of the Sky's revival and was looking for revenge along with playoff glory before Delle Donne put an end to those thoughts of delivering a payback.

"In terms of Elena, I'm only playing her at the four right now because her conditioning is not near where it needs to be," Chatman said of getting the most out of Delle Donne without causing any setbacks.

"But she's a spacer, even if she is not getting buckets, she creates space for other people, and at the end of the day she is an excellent offensively skilled person.

"And it just helps everyone's confidence on the offensive end of the floor."

Among the able bodies for the Mystics, which included rookie Stefanie Dolson, one of two UConn All-Americans on the squad, making her first start,
Monique Currie,scored 18 points, while Dolson had 12 points and 10 rebounds,

Kids Day in the Verizon Center started off with a bang when Dolson served up a monster block, but the Mystics found themselves with multiple team fouls quick in the first quarter, mostly because of the work inside by Chicago's Fowles.

At the seven-minute mark, the Sky were up 3-0 with a bucket and free throw by Fowles. The Mystics first point came at 5:24 in the first quarter on a free throw by Tianna Hawkins (3 pts), the same time Delle Donne subbed into the game.

After the first media timeout, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (7 points, 3 assists) and Tayler Hill (2 pts.) had joined the lineup on the floor and Pratt gave the Mystics a quick bucket bringing them within two, at 7-5.

Two free throws by Dolson soon after tied the game at seven. With over two minutes left in the first, Fowles connected on both ends of a oneand-one to put the Sky back up by four.

With the Mystics shooting only 17.6% from the field, the Sky began to pull away and the first quarter ended with a score of 19-10.

Washington had open looks that weren’t rolling their way, but they saw the opportunities and kept attacking the basket.

Emma Meesseman (6 pts, 5 rebs) scored her first points of the day just above the six minute mark in the second quarter, and the next possession after that, Currie earned herself an and-one, bringing the deficit to six at 21-15.

The Mystics first thee-pointer of the game by Currie brought them within three but this was quickly answered by a long jumper from Delle Done and another bucket from Allie Quigley (11 pts, 6 ast), the former DePaul star.

With one minute left in the half, Bria Hartley (9 pts), the other rookie and UConn all-American, and Dolson scored back-to-back points, bringing Washington within four. Pratt scored a last second jumper and going into halftime Washington had hopes trailing just 31-29.

There were no players on either team who finished the first half in double digit scoring, but shortly into the third quarter, Fowles led all scorers with 15 points on the day, and on a pair of free throws, Washington’s Currie led her team with 10 points.

Points in the paint seemed to be the deciding factor for the game and with Fowles doing her thing, the differential was a whopping 16 points favoring the Sky

A three pointer by Currie, who scored the team's only two three-pointers, put Washington within four.

Unfortunately, a foul by Currie on the other end gave Delle Donne an and-one and sent Currie to the bench with four fouls.

Not long after, Dolson found herself with four fouls and joined Currie on the bench. The third quarter came to a close with the Mystics trailing the Sky, 52-45.

A pair of free throws by Hill to start the fourth quarter brought the Mystics back within five, and later another pair by Ivory Latta (12 pts, 5 rebs) brought the team within two, 52-54.

Latta was the only other Mystics player in double figures with 12 points.

Coming out of the media timeout, both seems started trading baskets with Washington always seemingly two points behind.

Four free throws by Dolson kept the Mystics within four points with 1:24 to go in the game and an offensive foul by Quigley gave Washington the ball back with 1:14 left.

A jumper by Currie brought it to a two-point difference with one minute remaining but double free throws by Delle Donne kept the lead at four.

With crucial free throws attempted by Currie with 35 seconds to go, she went 1-2.

Another timeout was called and the score was 68-65 Chicago.

With her fifth and final foul, Dolson headed to the bench and Fowles made two free throws to put the lead back to five.

The next possession, Meesseman scored a quick layup, and soon after, Hartley stole the inbounds pass and finished the layup.

With 7.8 seconds left, the Mystics were back within one.

Chicago’s Epiphany Prince (10 pts) put in two free throws to put the Sky up by three, and a last second three-pointer attempt by Meesseman was no good.

As a result, Chicago left a step closer to the playoffs while Washington remained on idle with a great chance to step on the gas Friday night in Connecticut.


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