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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Does Down Under = Over and Out???

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK _ Call the opening act of the 2005 WNBA playoffs, the night of the Australians.

Aussie Tully Bevilaqua zipped a three-pointer with virtually zero time on the shot clock and 1 minute, 33 seconds left to play Tuesday night that put the Indiana Fever out of harm’s way with a seven-point lead and eventual 63-51 victory over the New York Liberty.

The win gave gave the Fever a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Eastern semifinals series. The Madison Square Garden triumph was also the first road win in Indiana's short playoff history that also includes a home triumph over New York in the semifinal opener in 2002.

Coach Brian Winters was his usual low-key self afterwards when the question of Bevilaqua’s shot came forth at the postgame press conference.

“She’s a very, very good player,” Winters said of the 33-year-old point guard who switched from the WNBA champion Seattle Storm in the offseason as a free agent.

“She’s a smart, veteran player. She’s very tough, mentally, and physically. And she has the ability to make big plays. She’s done that all year for us,” he added.

“Tully’s hit big threes in four or five games all year. Obviously, that one was a bigger one because it was in a playoff game.”

Indiana s]Star sportswriter David Woods, who has covered the Fever for several years, was a little more emphatic after watching the team slide out of playoff contention at the end of the several seasons and also get waxed by New York in two straight games after Indiana took the opener at home in 2002.

“That may have been the biggest shot in the history of the franchise,” Woods observered.

The victory sends Indiana back to the Midwest needing one more win to advance, with two opportunities to get it against the Liberty, beginning Thursday night.

Meanwhile, soon after Bevilaqua did her thing with 14 points overall to compliment Fever all-star Tamika Catching’s game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds, Seattle’s Lauren Jackson got the Storm through its road challenge by the Houston Comets with 19 points and 13 rebounds in a 75-67 victory.

Jackson, a candidate for a second WNBA most valuable player award had entered the contest with back problems that caused her to leave Saturday night's game against Phoenix.

“If she had a bad back, I don't want to see her healthy,” Houston coach Van Chancellor said afterwards of Jackson, who was on the Australian squad, Chancellor’s U.S. team beat for the Olympic gold medal in Athens, Greece, a year ago.

“With a bad back, she had 19 points and was just dominating on the boards, just dominating,” Chancellor added. “That was about as dominating as I've seen Lauren (Jackson) play...on the boards, rebounding, defense and scoring.”

Betty Lennox added 18 points, and all-star guard Sue Bird added 12 points.

Michelle Snow led Houston with 21 points, and Sheryl Swoopes added 15.

The Storm head back to the Northwest needing one win with two chances to get it to advance. The two teams split their regular season series, with each getting two wins at home.

Back in New York, the Liberty has had playoff games, such as Tuesday night’s, occur in similar situations in the past in home openers.

A year ago, the Liberty fell in the conference finals to the eventual Eastern champion Connecticut Sun, 61-51.

In 2000, in the best-of-three WNBA championship series, New York fell to Houston at home, 59-52, and then lost the next game in Texas, 79-73.

“I expected us to win this game at home,” Vickie Johnson, the sole orginal Liberty still with the team, said after the loss to the Fever. “Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

“Now, we have to do it the hard way. We have to go to Indiana and focus on Thursday night. We have to get that win and hopefully force a game three.”

Johnson was the sole Liberty player in double figures with 17 points.

New York built a nine-point lead at 25-16 with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first half before Indiana rallied and tied the game, 27-27, in the closing seconds of the period.

Indiana went on to bolt from intermission and methodically build a 10-point lead before New York threatened down the stretch.

“We had some mental lapses, offensively, and defensively,” New York coach Pat Coyle said. “We made crucial mistakes at times when we couldn’t afford it.”

Indiana, which has had a history of gaffs late in the season, might have finally figured out how to get things done after gaining such additions as Bevilaqua and rookie Tan White to join catchings and veteran center Natalie Williams, the former UCLA star who will retire after the Fever finish the playoffs.

“One of the things we have to take away from this game, is we can’t be too excited,” Catchings said. “That’s what happened the first time we were in the playoffs and won a game.

”We definitely have a huge opportunity. I think with the addition of Tully and getting Jurgita (Stremikyte) back, and signing Tan, they’ve definitely helped us become a better team.”

Bevilaqua had her moments a year ago, helping the Storm to their first WNBA title after Seattle had finished second to overall-favorite Los Angeles in the regular season.

“The East is just as competitive as the West,” said Bevilaqua, who also played for the former Cleveland Rockers. “The rivalry between Indiana and New York is just like Seattle and L.A.

“It’s great. I love it. This is what you play for.”

The Aussie still has memories of her time with Seattle.

“It’s kind of weird, because they’re on the other side (the West),” Bevilaqua said. “I’m texting (texas messaging) them wishing them well and they’re texting me, saying good look as well.

“But I have no regrets leaving their and moving to Indiana and I’m just enjoying my basketball at the moment.”

Williams, who plans to coach high school in her native Salt Lake City, praised her teammate and the work the Indiana staff did in the offseason to improve the Fever.

“That was our plan,” Williams said. “The people we brought in this year gives us a nice mix between the veterans and the rookies. Hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time.

“Tully’s shot was awesome. She’s the Tazmanian Devil. We love having her as our point guard. She’s an amazing person. She works extremely hard and it’s great to play with her on the floor.”

If Bevilaqua and Jackson continue their performances, they may re-unite again – against each other to play for the WNBA title.

Next Up

The drama continues with two more opening semifinal games Wednesday night.

Detroit, the only team to dominate Connecticut all year, opens at home against the Sun in the East before Sacramento meets Los Angeles later in the evening.

On Tuesday, new coach Los Angeles coach Joe Bryant, who only needed six games to get the playoffs after Henry Bibby departed, indicated that Nikki Teasley, who has been injured much of the season, might see some action off the bench.

Los Angeles will have a revenge motivation after Sacramento gave them a first-ever early ejection from last year’s playoffs and won three of the four games this season.

-- Mel

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

WNBA Playoffs: Making a Difference, etc.

By Mel Greenberg

The way the WNBA playoff race came down to determining the final positions last weekend, one can look back and focus on certain moments down the stretch and earlier in the season that made the difference.

The Washington Mystics and Detroit Shock finished in a tie for fourth in the East and Detroit won the tie-breaker because of a better conference record than that owned by the Mystics.

Coach Bill Laimbeer’s team was also able to make the difference for themselves in three games of note.

On June 26, the Shock, playing at home, executed the biggest comeback in WNBA history by overcoming a 25-point deficit to the Los Angeles Sparks and winning, 79-73.

Earlier this month, in consecutive games, Detroit came up with a 72-66 victory at home against the Minnesota Lynx and two days later rode a Ruth Riley shot at the buzzer to win at San Antonio, 60-59.

As for Washington’s situation, coach Richie Adubato looks back to a poor start early in the season when several players who had been in Europe were late joining the team and Alana Beard was still rehabbing from an injury.

But that could have been overcome were it not for the work of Adubato’s former club – the New York Liberty _ who beat the Mystics, 61-58, a second time within a week in June.

Extra excruciating from Washington’s side, on Aug. 16, the Mystics held a double digit lead in New York, but made two costly turnovers when the advantage could have been extended, and went on to lose down the stretch, 72-66.

As for the Phoenix Mercury, a win over Seattle, which was without MVP-candidate Lauren Jackson most of the game, would have done the trick on Saturday night to finish in a tie with Los Angeles and gain the deadlock-breaker on season series.

In the end, for whatever the immense value of second-year pro Diana Taurasi, the arrival of Maria Stepanova brought the Mercury back to life, and her return to Russia sucked it out.

And so Taurasi, who went to four straight Final Fours, winning three of them at the University of Connecticut, will again be a playoff spectator despite her efforts.

It didn’t help the Mercury's cause when Los Angeles, drifting into never-playoff land, decided to make a coaching change and popped Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the former La Salle star and father of Kobe Bryant, into the mix in place of Henry Bibby, causing the Sparks to ride a small win streak into the fourth spot.

As it evolves, Chamique Holdsclaw, who was traded in March from Washington, made the playoffs with Los Angeles and her former team did not.

A year ago, however, the Mystics rallied to reach the postseason after Holdsclaw had left the team and later in the fall revealed she had been suffering from depression.

Bad News, Good News

New York’s playoff situation might be better had not All-Star center Ann Waulters suffered a broken hand at the start of the stretch drive. In several of the Liberty’s losses, the opposition dominated inside the post.

On the other hand, late addition Catherine Kraayeveld, the former Oregon star, gave the Liberty valuable minutes and perhaps helped rescue the team from becoming an also-ran.

In several games, veteran guard Becky Hammon carried the Liberty single-handedly with performances worthy to consider her name on the five-player WMVP ballot, if not for the overall winner.

Big Deals

This is spoken to in the print story in Tuesday’s edition at Philly.com, but All-Star Katie Smith’s move from Minnesota to Detroit in a trade ,and Dawn Staley’s move from lowly Charlotte to Houston, saved their seasons as well as helping the teams that acquired them.

Philly Playoff Connection

Besides Staley, who also coaches Temple, here are other people in the playoffs with roots or past affiliations with this area.

As mentioned, Los Angeles coach Joe Bryant is a former La Salle star.

New York coach Patty Coyle starred at West Catholic and Rutgers with her twin sister Mary. Assistant coach Marianne Stanley starred at Arcbhishop Prendergast and Immaculata, besides once coaching at Penn in addition to her national title days at Old Dominion. Nick DiPillo, Coyle’s other assistant, once was an assistant at Rowan.

Sacramento Monarchs star DeMya Walker is a graduate of Rancocas High.

Seattle’s Tanisha Wright is a recent graduate of Penn State, and Sacramento rookie Chelsea Newton starred at Rutgers.

Connecticut’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, New York’s La’Keshia Frett, and Staley played for the former Philadelphia Rage in the defunct American Basketball League, which had the Seattle Storm’s Anne Donovan as one of their two head coaches in their short history.

Donovan, who signed a contract extension, Saturday, led the Storm to the WNBA title last year, becoming the first female coach in the league to win the crown.

Gold Medal Reunion

Most of the members of the winning U.S. Olympic team a year ago in Athens, Greece, are together again, and also separated, in the playoffs.

Olympic coach Van Chancellor is with Houston, and Seattle’s Donovan was one of his assistants.

Olympian performers in the playoffs are Smith and Staley, along with Detroit’s Swin Cash and Ruth Riley, Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, Los Angeles’ Lisa Leslie, Sacramento’s Yolanda Griffth, and Seattle's Sue Bird.

San Antonio’s Shannon Johnson and Taurasi are the only two missing from the contingent, not counting assistant coach C. Vivian Stringer, who is at Rutgers, and Gail Goestenkoers, who is at Duke.

To The Apple

I’ll be on the scene tonight at Madison Square Garden and checking in here afterwards and through the playoffs, now that my blog energy has returned, and also not to mention, the print edition Tuesday told you all to stop by here.

-- Mel

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Dust to Dust and Darths to Anakins

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. _ At one time, the visit of the Los Angeles Sparks to the Connecticut Sun Tuesday night might have had blockbuster implications on a par with some of the biggest summer attractions offered from the filmland capital of America that’s located practically in the Sparks’ back lot.

Instead, the Sparks have pulled a reverse Star Wars.

If one wanted to put a Hollywood title on the second meeting this season between L.A. and Connecticut, just call it Episode II: No Revenge of the Stiffs.

Several weeks after the Sun embarrassed the Sparks, 90-70, in the Staples Center, Los Angeles, trying to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff hunt, struck with punch but no counter in casino country as Connecticut prevailed, 64-51.

Back in May, the offseason addition of All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw joining Sparks superstar Lisa Leslie had virtually everyone handing the 2005 WNBA title to Los Angeles.

But injuries, inconsistency, and the problems adjusting to new coach Henry Bibby’s strategy have transformed the once-feared Darth Vaders of the WNBA into Anakin Skywalkers instead of the other way that Star Wars creator George Lucas scripted in his final production of the science fiction fable.

Holdsclaw, who was held to six points and four rebounds by the Sun, must feel like she’s living in Washington on the Pacific after moving from a Mystics organization that had stumbled and fumbled throughout most of her previous career in D.C.

In fact, her previous club is very much alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

That makes Wednesday night’s visit to the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden quite an intriguing matchup.

The Liberty are in a three-team chase in the East for a playoff berth involving the Detroit Shock and the Mystics, and have little room for error.

The Sparks, fading fast in the West at 12-14, might implode altogether if they fail in the final of a grueling eight-game road trip.

Meanwhile, how about that Sun team beating up on the West this season?

Tuesday’s victory enabled playoff-bound Connecticut to finish with a near-sweep of the left-of-the-Mississippi crowd at 13-1, a mark that has helped keep them in pursuit of the No. 1 overall seed when the playoffs begin at the end of the month.

After the contest, we asked Connecticut coach Mike Thibault what his reaction might have been several months ago if someone had predicted his team would do that well outside the East after a paltry 4-10 performance last season in that aspect of the annual summer competition.

“I probably would have asked them what they were smoking,” Thibault smiled.

“Everybody makes a big deal about going against the West,” he referred to past history in which those teams dominated the league, especially with the Houston Comets claiming the first four WNBA titles and the Sparks following with the next two.

“Right now the East has done pretty well as a group against the West,” Thibault said about the serious competition as opposed to the West’s unbeaten lock on the All-Star series.

“We’ve had a shift in the balance of power. Detroit won the championship two years ago. Seattle and us had a great series last year,” Thibault continued.

“You’ve had a lot of good young players that come up into the league, make and influx into the Eastern Conference. There are a lot of good things going on in our conference.

“I don’t think there is a gap anymore.”

Nykesha Sales, who had 16 points for the Sun against the Sparks, behind the 22-point effort from Katie Douglas, echoes Thibault’s remarks.

“People used to measure themselves by how they did against Houston and L.A,” the former University of Connecticut star said. “Now, I think they’re starting to do that when they play against us.”

The Sun have a league-best 21-6 record, just ahead of the Sacramento Monarchs’ 20-7 effort to lead the West.

Remember, the playoff finals this season will expand from best-of-three to best-of-five with the No. 1 seed opening at home for the first two games and returning for a fifth and deciding game if necessary.

In the past, the top team went on the road first. That formula will still be in place in the early rounds.

Brain Download (2:45 a.m. edition).

If five limousines are parked alongside Madison Square Garden during the week, which one transported Inquirer colleague Stephen A. Smith to his new TV show in an ESPN studio across the street?

Quite frankly, a response is not needed.

* * *

You road warriors who use wireless cards or centrino chips (same thing) built into your laptops, should make the small investment necessary to buy a WIFI finder that detects active networks.
Then, when you’re ready to hook up your machinery, you won’t panic for long in a hotel offering free connections (cable or wireless) when you discover your LAN cable isn’t fitting what appears to be the jack.

* * *

Yours truly once covered Sparks assistant coach Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the father of Kobe, at a college tournament in New Orleans when he played at La Salle in the early 1970s.

The Explorers upset Jacksonville and Alabama, but the triumphs were tempered when popular team doctor Eugene Gallagher was felled by heart attack and the end of the first game against Jacksonville and died several hours later.

Paul Westhead was then the coach of the Explorers.

* * *

Note to our Inquirer sports editor Jim Jenks, whose daily blog can be found at nestingplace.blogspot.com:

Did any of the people who panned the new edition of the Madden game see it displayed on a mega-wide-screen in stores like Best Buy?

Quite impressive.

* * *

More than Penn-Pals: This Saturday, former Quakers all-time player Diana Caramanico will wed former Penn men’s star Jeff Owens on the campus of their alma mater.

* * *

If one makes the 230-250-mile trip here from Philadelphia on a day in which traffic is minimal, and the New Haven nightmare portion of I-95 is under control, using the GW Bridge across the Hudson, and also the Merritt Parkway, there will still be 15 tracks left on an Ipod or other MP3 player to be heard on a 42-track playlist of songs featuring Linda Ronstadt.

OK, so I travel to a different brake drum as the Stone Poneys might have said.

* * *

Among the pseudo celebrities attending the Sun game Tuesday night was Big East Conference women’s basketball media contact Rachel Margolis.

One of the (Sun PR chief) Bill Tavares media helpers at a recent game was UConn women’s basketball media contact Randy Press.

Having seen Geno Auriemma’s shadow, there are approximately only nine more weeks until Midnight Madness. :)

Until later (tonight in NYC or tomorrow night in Washington) –

--- Mel

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Your Two Cents Worth

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA -- Wow, two blogs in one night.

This one is probably more specific to Philadelphia-area women's fans, but if you have knowledge from afar of Women's Big Five history, feel free to join in.

The Big Five schools -- La Salle, St. Joseph's, Temple, Villanova, and Penn -- commissioned yours truly to compile a list of the all-time Top 25 women's player in the Big Five to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the women's competition.

In the end, the picks will be mine, but I invite your input either to this site, if you can figure it out how, or to my email at mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

I asked each school to submit candidates to save me time on research but there are others, some of which are in the Big Five Hall of Fame, who were not offered. So feel free to either campaign for persons here or write-in other names (which I may have to do).

This exercise was created as an equivalent of one done several months ago by the Daily News' Kevin Mulligan to anticipate the men's 50th anniversary of competition.

We start with the 1979-80 season and go from there. BPOY next to a name means that person was a Big Five player of the year.

That said, here's who each school submitted, although I have had to take some editing-slicing liberties with my own alma mater at Temple. There is no ranking order to each school.

La Salle

Chrissie (Donahue) Doogan -- BPOY
Jenn Cole -- BPOY
Kathy Bess
Jill Crandley
Linda Hester
Tracy Sneed
Maureen Kramer


Diana Caramanico -- 3 BPOY
Jewel Clark -- BPoy
Kirsten Brendel -- BPOY
Cheryl Rath
Karatina Paulson
Auretha Fleming
Natasha Rezek


Lisa (Ortlip) Cornish -- 2 BPOY
Lisa Angelotti
Trish Juhline -- BPOY
Nancy Bernhardt
Kathie Biesel
Denise Dillon
Helen (Koskinen) Perretta
Shelly Pennefather -- 3 BPOY
Lynn Tighe (my addition)
Sue Glenning (my addition) -- BPOY
Stephanie (Vanderslice) Gaitley (my addition)


Marilyn Stephens-Franklin -- 2 BPOY
Candice Dupree -- 1 BPOY
Lynn Blaszyzcyk
Stacey Smalls
Cynthia Jordan
Pam Balogh

St. Joseph's (which dominates Big Five titles)

Dale Hodges -- 2 BPOY
Debbie Black -- BPOY
Susan Moran -- BPOY
Katie (Curry) Gardler
Kim Foley
Teresa Carmichael
Megan Compain -- BPOY
Maureen Costello -- BPOY
Trish Brown
Amy Facer
Angela Zampella
Renie (Dunne) Sheilds -- BPOY
Jana Lichnerova
Robyne Bostick -- BPOY
Amy Mallon -- BPOY
Terri Mohr
Ellen Shields
Stef Graff

Drexel is not eligible, obviously, nor Penn State or Rutgers or Delaware for this excerise but when storytime comes, we'll make some denotation to those programs.

-- Mel

From a Sting to a Comet

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA (That's where this is being written) _ For a team that has failed to live up to its nickname this season as the Charlotte Sting, the franchise has been quite the buzz in the WNBA this week.

It all started early Monday night when a source very much part of Dawn Staley’s inner circle left a message here just before the WNBA trading deadline that the three-time Olympic gold medallist was going to be dealt to the Houston Comets.

The caller, at the time, wasn’t sure of what the total aspects of the deal was involved in terms of what Charlotte would receive in return.

However, miles to the South of here, Bill Stickney, the veteran Comets beat reporter with the Houston Chronicle got word around the same hour from a source close to coach Van Chancellor that nothing had been completed but that Kristen Rasmussen and Adrienne Goodson and the Comets’ 2006 first-round draft pick would be exchanged for Staley and the 2006 second-round pick of Charlotte’s.

Chancellor had been interested in acquiring Staley since coaching her on the gold medal squad for the United States in Athens, Greece, last summer.

Staley, however, signed again with the Sting in hopes that the off-season player acquisitions in Charlotte would result in a long-sought WNBA title for the franchise that was one of the eight original teams when the league launched in 1999.

That’s the not the way things have evolved the last several months for the Sting, who dove to rock bottom not only in the East but an overall league-worst 3-21 mark through Wednesday night.

Despite assumptions in some circles around the league, Staley did not seek a trade for herself, according to sources in Charlotte familiar with the deal.

People in Houston familiar with the Comets’ desires said the asking price was too high when an approach was made to Charlotte for Staley sometime in the last two weeks.

But Chancellor, whose team has exceeded preseason playoff expectations, looked at some other ways to get a deal done.

“It’s already paying off dividends,” Chancellor said of Staley’s key three-pointer late in Tuesday’s game that helped the Comets beat the Detroit Shock, which had made its own blockbuster move the previous Saturday with the acquisition of all-star and Olympian Katie Smith through a trade with the Minnesota Lynx.

Staley, who has built Temple into a nationally-ranked women’s collegiate force in her five seasons with the Owls, wanted to finish her pro playing career in Charlotte.

But when the Sting management approached her with a chance to be re-united with Olympic teammates Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, along with Chancellor, Staley felt “I’d be a fool not to take advantage of the situation. I have wonderful memories with them even though it’s difficult to leave Charlotte because I am about loyalties.”

Staley went on to say next season would be her last, although some think she may leave the hardwood for good as a player if Houston wins the WNBA in the playoffs that begin later this month.

“I knew I had to make the deal when Dawn told me she wouldn’t be disruptive to our chemistry and would do whatever I asked,” Chancellor said recalling the final hours before pulling the trigger.

What the public didn’t know at the time, not that it would be a shock, but Charlotte coach Trudi Lacey was in her dwindling hours on the bench.

San Antonio coach Dan Hughes, who coached Staley earlier in his WNBA career at Charlotte, reacted to the deal when told by saying, “I’m happy for her. And I’ll tell you Houston now has a legitimate shot to win the WNBA title.”

Meanwhile, Charlotte had a game to play in Washington Tuesday night.

“Tuesday was a hard day around here,” a source in the Charlotte organization said of the day after the Staley deal was announced. “But these players have continued to work.”

It didn’t help matters with the announcement that Allison Feaster, who has been an all-star in the past, was done for the season because she was pregnant.

The Sting returned from Tuesday’s close 65-63 loss to the Mystics to be told that Muggsy Bogues, a former NBA star player with the former Charlotte Hornets, was going to become the coach, but that Lacey would retain the general manager job and the assistant coaches would keep their jobs with Bogues.

Although in an obvious rebuilding state, the Sting can still cause pain over their last ten games by being a spoiler in the three-team race for the third and fourth playoffs spots

Charlotte first meets West leader Sacramento on Thursday night at home when Bogues makes his coaching debut.

Then it’s all East with a home-and-home against Connecticut, three games with Detroit, including two at home; one game at the Indiana Fever, and three games against New York, including two on the road.

That’s it from here.

-- Mel