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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Guru Musings on Delle Donne and WNBA Playoffs

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Several years ago when Elena Delle Donne's name first surfaced as a prized No. 1 women's basketball recruit of the future, it was said that if the star of the Ursuline Academy team in Wilmington would stay local, Villanova would be her choice.

When that was mentioned to Wildcats veteran coach Harry Perretta at the time, he quipped with two observation citing Delle Donne's skill and the recruiting competition Villanova would be up against involving Connecticut, Tennessee, and other heavyweights in the women's collegiate game.

"If she would decide to come here, I'll give the team to (associate head coach) Joe (Mullaney Jr.) because I can't coach talent like that," Perretta smiled.

"Listen, there's only way I can out-recruit all those people _ personality."

Well as it turned out, that trait almost went the distance in Villanova pulling a recruiting upset before Delle Donne ultimately decided over the weekend that the University of Connecticut was the winner.

A week ago, the Hartford Courant had reported that Villanova, along with Middle Tennessee, had jumped ahead of the two national rivals, including Tennessee, that had been part of her Final Four.

After giving her verbal intention to the Huskies, Delle Donne mentioned her considerations of Villanova to the Courant.

"I was thinking that way because Villanova was so close to home," said Delle Donne, also a star on the local Fencor AAU team. "I wouldn't have to worry about going away, and I had such a great relationship with Harry.

" He's been so great to me during this process. I looked at them very hard."

"I don't know that the order of schools actually flip-flopped in her mind [away from UConn and Tennessee]," said Ernie Delle Donne, her father, to the Courant. "It's just that she may have had the sense there was no way she could choose between Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma and maybe she should just go to Villanova because it was so close to us [20 minutes]."

Delle Donne will appear in the area several times in the future because of Connecticut's Big East rivalry with Rutgers and Villanova.

The added verbal to UConn from center Heather Buck, the top player in the state of Connecticut, sets the Huskies as an NCAA favorite in the near future.

The UConn-Tennessee series may be no more, for now, after Volunteers coach Pat Summitt terminated the fierce rivalry that began in 1995, but one can envision the two powers hooking up in the 2009 championship, which would be Delle Donne's freshman season.

On the other hand, if Tennessee's Candace Parker decides to turn pro after this season, maybe not.

WNBA Playoffs I : Sun Set in the Midwest Brings Sour Note to Nutmeg State

Well, it almost was a perfect day up there in the land of women's basketball euphoria after Delle Donne's decision became public.

Then the Connecticut Sun managed to squander a 22-point lead to the Indiana Fever, lose in overtime, and miss the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in four seasons.

Considering the number of sizeable margins the Sun blew during this summer, perhaps Connecticut can get a tax write-off for charity donations to league opponents.

Well, at least USA Basketball will now be guaranteed to have its coaching staff in place when the senior national women's team trains at Temple next month (Sept. 13-15) before playing an exhibition game at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16.

Head coach Anne Donovan became immediately available when the Seattle Storm was eliminated by the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday. That game also featured a large blown lead, incidentally, until Phoenix recovered. Temple's Dawn Staley is an assistant to Donovan, as is Connecticut's Mike Thibault.

The Sun's exit means Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas become part of the guaranteed mix who might be caught somewhere in center city having a soft pretzel or two. (No Jonathan, I'm tossing in a link to your soft pretzel logic blog at Philly.com).

WNBA Playoffs II: Liberty Connection Puts San Antonio in the Western Finals

Tuesday night will determine whether the defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock advance to the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana or that the New York Liberty will continue their Cinderella run and uphold recent geographical tradition.

If the Liberty fall, it will be the first time in the playoffs under the current format that began in 1999 that it will be an all-Midwest final in the East. In that span, New York and/or Connecticut has made it to Stage II of the playoffs.

Meanwhile two former Liberty stars finished off the two-time defending Western Conference champion Sacramento Monarchs on Monday night when Becky Hammon fed Vickie Johnson at the buzzer to send the San Antonio Silver Stars to the conference finals for the first time.

The Stars under their previous identity as the Utah Starzz lost to Los Angeles in the 2002 conference finals, 2-0.

Of course, Liberty fans and a few media types can dream of the story lines if New York and San Antonio met in the WNBA championship series.

Johnson signed as a free agent last season, and then Hammon was dealt from New York on the draft day blockbuster trade in April that saw San Antonio ship Ohio State's Jessica Davenport, the overall No. 2 pick, to New York.

Although Sacramento's ouster meant the end of the season for former Rutgers star Chelsea Newton, who is a member of coach C. Vivian Stringer's staff with the Scarlet Knights, other former stars of the school remain involved in the WNBA postseason.

The favored Phoenix Mercury has Cappie Pondexter, last season's overall No. 2 pick, while New York coach Pat Coyle and her twin sister Mary were members of the Rutgers squad that claimed the final AIAW title in 1982.

Additionally, San Antonio's Johnson and Phoenix's Tangela Smith played under Stringer at Iowa.

Connecticut fans will now turn their hearts in the direction of Phoenix, where former overall No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi is a key factor along with Pondexter and Australian Penny Taylor in the Mercury's emergence under coach Paul Westhead's incessant running attack.

-- Mel

Monday, August 27, 2007

Elena Delle Donne Announces College Choice

by Erin Semagin Damio

Per hoopgurlz.com, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Delaware News Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hartord Courant, the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, and a host of other Connecticut newspapers, 6 foot 5 guard Elena Delle Donne of Wilmington, Del., the consensus number one player in the class of 2008, has given a verbal commitment to the University of Connecticut.

Delle Donne is about to begin playing basketball again after taking the summer off to volunteer at an elementary school for disabled children and spend some time away from the sport.

Delle Donne joins Caroline Doty, Heather Buck, and Tiffany Hayes in UConn's class of 2008, which may still be open.

The following is quited from Glenn Nelson's article at hoopgurlz.com (linked to in the first paragraph):

"All of a sudden, I just said, 'I'm going to UConn,' " Delle Donne recounted. "In the back of my mind, I'd always thought UConn. But in the car with my mother, I was thinking of every reason that made UConn great. Why not go there? The reason the decision dragged out so long is that I loved the other schools so much. It was hard to break the ties with them."
Mel may have some more to add later this week.

WNBA Playoffs: Suspense Everywhere

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Until recently, there hasn't been much intrigue involved at the WNBA's annual postseason party, especially in the early phases of the playoffs. Home-courts did their job most of the time, especially after the favored teams would lose openers on the road.

The Houston Comets (remember them?) owned the league the first four seasons virtually untouched except for a challenge in the 1998 finals from the Phoenix Mercury and an extended third game in 1999 when one Teresa Weatherspoon managed to nail a basket at the buzzer from several solar systems beyond the Comets' arena in Game 2.

The Los Angeles Sparks (remember them, also?) then became the new rulers for a couple of seasons and seemed poised for a three-peat after whacking the Detroit Shock in the 2003 opener. But coach Bill Laimbeer boldly said immediately after the game that back in Motown everything would go quite OK and they did, although both games in the Palace went down to the wire.

The Connecticut Sun and Seattle Storm (Also soon to be consigned to memory lane?) had a nice little get-together as first-timers in the finals in 2004 with the Storm almost being swept at the last second of Game 2 before bouncing back to triumph.

A year ago, the finals were the most interesting with the Sacramento Monarchs and Detroit having better success on each other's floor until the Shock finally emerged at an adopted home arena for Game 5.

And so, we're not even close to the Finals yet this time around and there is definitely a different ambience in the early matches.

At the preseason, the forecast was that Detroit would dominate, which did occur in the regular season as the Shock managed to cope with injuries sidelining Cheryl Ford from the All-Star break until the playoffs.

Then the New York Liberty delivered such a one-sided surprise to Detroit at Madison Square Garden that even Laimbeer was a little sure if his Shock could regain its footing back home in Game 2 of the conference semifinals.

The Shock did Sunday, but New York's ability to go almost the distance makes Tuesday night's third and deciding event in Auburn Hills intriguing.

On Monday night, the other piece of the Eastern Conference early action gets determined and back in the state that goes ga-ga over women's hoops there is concern over which Connecticut Sun will appear in the Midwest for Game 3 with the Indiana Fever.

Given a chance to close out the Fever on the heels of the triple-overtime triumph in Game 1 and extend their mastery over Indiana, the Sun seemed to have packed their life-form and little else in Game 2. So anything goes in this series.

The rest of the West gets decided Monday night when the San Antonio Silver Stars host the two-time defending conference champion Monarchs. Each have had lopsided victories on their home courts in the first two games. The deciding game remains in Texas, but trends continue to be difficult everywhere but on the desert.

That's where Phoenix yielded a 22-point lead but remained unruffled to finish a sweep of Seattle with the Big East alumnae of former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, former UConn star Diana Taurasi, and Australian Penny Taylor leading the way.

The Mercury are beginning to take on the appearance of a worthy challenger for the whole works. If New York upsets Detroit, or if the Shock fall in the East finals, home-court advantage the rest of the way will belong to Phoenix.

The draft-day trade of Mercury overall No. 1 pick Lindsey Harding to the Minnesota Lynx for Tangela Smith continues to loom as a factory in Phoenix's return to the elite.

"As long as we could get the right deal, we were going to make it," Mercury first-year general manager Anne Donovan reflected on one of several dividend-paying offseason transactions.

Seattle exits without much known of its future considering the threat by ownership to move both the Storm and brother NBA Supersonics to Oklahoma City.

League MVP candidate Lauren Jackson, who becomes a free agent, might decide to remain in Australia next summer to prepare for the Olympics with her country's national team.

Speaking of Olympics, Storm coach Anne Donovan and All-Star point guard Sue Bird, who also becomes a free agent, won't have much time to dwell on Seattle's future. Just ahead are peparations for the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament which include training in New York and Philadelphia before a pair of exhibition games with Australia in Trenton, N.J., and Connecticut.

Bird's status has raised fantasy speculation on media row that if Minnesota wins the lotto with the No. 1 pick, would the Sun attempt to sign the former Huskies all-American and then package Lindsay Whalen back to her home state to get the No. 1 pick. Again, fantasy only at this time. But it would be a tough consideration if Tennessee star Candace Parker makes herself available at the end of this collegiate season.

When Temple trains at Temple in Philadelphia, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Donovan, who coached the Rage in the former American Basketball League during the uncompleted season when the ABL collapsed under bankruptcy.

Temple coach Dawn Staley, an assistant to Donovan with the USA team that both had storied careers with as players, has not said whether she'll have a menu of cheesesteaks ready for the USA crowd when they arrive here.

Quotable: As reported here over the weekend by Mr. Philly.com, it is true that somewhere just below New Haven, Connecticut, on I-95 Friday afternoon on a drive originally intended for Madison Square Garden in New York, the Guru received a call from the home office to head to Reading to cover the baseball rehab appearances of the Phillies' Chase Utley and Adam Eaton at the team's minor league Double-A affiliate in an Eastern League doubleheader.

The Guru deals with the Reading folks on his desk shifts in the home office in the summer when he handles the minor league roundup.

So, when he came strolling through the pressbox door late Friday afternoon and noticed a look of surprise among the regulars, your Guru quickly commented: "What can I say? I was called up to toss 10-inches of copy and then I'm being sent back down after the doubleheader."

It was just after the night ended that the Guru learned of New York's triumph where the Guru would have been in Madison Square Garden. That caused a comment to one colleague: "It looks like neither of us (the Guru and Detroit) showed up in New York, but at least I wasn't in the building."

Incidentally, situations kept us away from the TV set on Sunday, so the only way we had a sense of the WNBA action was Erin's constant update email reporting from Boston to our blackberry. So a special thanks for keeping our knowledge base in tact.

-- Mel

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Now Pitching for Your Philadelphia Inquirer...

By Jonathan Tannenwald

Greetings, folks...

There was some important news regarding the Guru this morning coming out of Reading, Pa., a town situated about an hour and a half outside of Philadelphia.

He has, it would appear, taken up a bat and glove to report on baseball in this morning's paper. While those of you outside our home region may have missed it, Mel covered the double-A-level Reading Phillies' game last night. Two of the parent club's top players, second baseman Chase Utley and pitcher Adam Eaton, made rehab starts at Reading last night.

(Reports out of southern New Jersey this hour have former blog correspondent Kate Burkholder swooning over the mere mention of Utley's name.)

This correspondent got a phone call last night from Mel with the news that he had been diverted to Reading on his way back from the Indiana-Connecticut game, and was rather surprised at the news. We know that Mel has covered Drexel men's basketball in recent years, but we would not have expected minor league baseball to be added to the resume.

But then again, if you didn't know beforehand, you probably wouldn't have found anything unusual in the story.

And we have heard rumors before of Mel covering the Phillies in some form way back when, but we will leave confirmation of that to him.

Friday, August 24, 2007

WNBA Playoffs: Sun Wins Instant Classic

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The WNBA joined professional boxing Thursday night in producing one of the more memorable confrontations staged here at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Connecticut Sun bounced off the floor toward the close of the third overtime to repel the Indiana Fever, 93-88, and claim a hard-fought opening triumph in an Eastern Conference best-of-three semifinals matchup.

The game made WNBA playoff history as the first triple-overtime encounter and only the second in the 11-year history of the playoffs that extended beyond regulation.

The two teams fought in the same locale that hosted the classic 2002 fight of the year when Mickey “Irish” Ward battled back from cut above the eye in the first round and out-pointed
Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, 38-11 to claim the junior lightweight title.

Both teams each had an injured star warrior return to action from foot injuries with Tamika Catchings in the lineup for the first time in 14 games for Indiana. On the other side, Asjha Jones rejoining Connecticut after an injury on the final play of last Tuesday’s game in Washington.

“I just wanted to come out and help my team,” said Catchings, a former Tennessee star who collected 14 points and 20 rebounds. “We just couldn’t get over the hump at the end. The more I played the better I got.”

Jones had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“She did a great job tonight,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said of the former UConn all-American. “Both she and Catchings. You talk about two warriors. They went at each other and played great.”

The Sun, which had led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and 14 at the start of the fourth, was knocked against the ropes late in the game by the deadly three-point shooting of Indiana’s Anna DeForge, who finished with a game-high 31 points.

“My teammates did a really good job,”DeForge said. “I was getting some really good looks. I, unfortunately, missed a lot of open ones in the first half and just had to stick with it.

“They were all designed plays,” she said of scores that transformed the event into a marathon evening.

The Fever’s Tamika Whitemore appeared to have Connecticut finished off when scored seven straight points to give Indiana an 88-83 lead with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third overtime.

But Connecticut suddenly came back to life with a 10-0 run to claim the contest.

Had the Sun lost, they would have faced the potential of being eliminated by Indiana, which will host the remainder of the series, beginning Saturday.

“We’re up 1-0 and the pressure is on them, now,” said Thibault, whose third-seeded team swept the Fever, 4-0, in the regular season.

Going home to the Midwest, however, was reason enough for Indiana coach Brian Winters to not get too dismayed over a missed opportunity to put Connecticut in a desperate situation.

“All we have to do is focus upon the next game, getting a win and it’s back to tied,” Winters said. “Then we have the third game on our home court.”

Nykesha Sales, another former University of Connecticut all-American, began the Sun rally with a pair of foul shots. After Lindsay Whalen got the Connecticut within a point on a layup at 88-87, Sales stole the ball off Indiana and Jones fed Kristen Rasmussen to get the lead back at 89-88 with 59.9 seconds left.

Whitemore was called for traveling to give the Sun possession and Sales nailed a 14-footer from the corner to make it 91-88 with 19.9 seconds left.

Three-point leads, however, were not safe late in the game for the Sun, especially with DeForge nailing a trey with 20.6 seconds to force the first overtime.

The former Nebraska star hit another three-pointer from 22 feet with 10 seconds left to force the second overtime at 75-75.

DeForge, however, missed another attempt to tie with a trey at the close of the third extra period, and Connecticut’s Katie Douglas finally sealed it with a pair of foul shots.

Connecticut set a playoff record with three players in double doubles, while Indiana added two players with similar performances to set a combined record at five.

The Sun’s Margo Dydek had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Whalen had 13 points and 10 assists to join Jones in the Sun’s offensive attack.

Whitemore had 24 points and 11 rebounds to join Catchings’ effort.

-- Mel

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mystics Win the Game but Sun Look Ahead to Playoffs

by Erin Semagin Damio

Uncasville, CT -- In the end, it was all for nothing.

Monique Currie of the Washington Mystics made a three point shot with less than a second remaining in the game to put her team ahead two points for the win against the Connecticut Sun. The Mystics were fighting for final spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, while the Sun were locked into third place, and they fought hard to stay alive, coming back from an 11-point halftime deficit.

Ultimately, though, the decision was not in their hands. Alana Beard’s 21 points weren’t enough. Nakia Sanford’s career-high 15 rebounds weren’t enough. Even Monique Currie’s clutch three and the win against the Sun weren’t enough to put the Mystics into the playoffs this year.

Three hours after the Mystics began celebrating their win at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the New York Liberty began celebrating their own win at Madison Square. And with that, the Liberty’s record win-loss record increased to 16-18 and tied the Mystics’, clinching a playoff berth for the Liberty, who had gone 4-1 against Washington on the season and owned the tiebreaker.

"It's bittersweet because we have to wait and see what Chicago and New York do,” Washington coach Tree Rollins said. “I'm very proud of the way they came back in the second half. Down 11, they played their hearts out and left everything on the court. It's a great way to end the season, if it is over for us. I was really happy with the effort and to beat Connecticut on their home court with a sellout crowd. It doesn't get much better than that."

Connecticut, meanwhile was experiencing its own post-game worries. For the second year in a row, the Sun are going into the playoffs on a losing streak, despite their best efforts to win the game. When the Detroit Shock clinched the top playoff seed and their record no longer mattered, they began resting their starters and lost a string of games.

This game didn’t matter for the Sun’s playoff position either; win or loss, they’d be third seed in the East. Sun coach Mike Thibault did rest Asjha Jones, who sprained her ankle a few games ago, but three Sun starters – Lindsay Whalen, Katie Douglas, and Nykesha Sales – played over 30 minutes. And it wasn’t a relaxing game for them, either.

It was impossible for Thibault to play of his starters together for most of the third quarter. Margo Dydek was on the bench with four fouls. Sales was cleaning up her cut lip. And Douglas had taken such a hard bang to her head that she had to sit out a few minutes.

“You know, what can you do?” Sales asked. “You don't want to keep fouling. Margo got in foul trouble. I got two. It just seemed like a lot of those fouls are nothing compared to the type of fouls the other teams are committing."

In the third quarter, the Sun had eight fouls called on them and the Mystics had two. In the fourth quarter, however, the Mystics had eight fouls called and the Sun had three. Fans were booing the officials, who they weren’t happy with even before the game started. Two of the three officials, June Corteau and Josh Tiven, practically got booed off the court at the last Sun home game.

Thibault did not have much to say after the game.

“We played our butts off, but we made some bad mistakes in the second half,” he said. “I was highly disappointed in losing.”

Regarding the officiating, Thibault said, “I wasn’t allowed to get a T tonight.” He had reached his limit of six for the season, and another one would require him to miss the first playoff game. He did send assistant coach Scott Hawk in the complain and take the technical foul at one point during the game.

Looking ahead to the playoffs beginning tomorrow, the Sun are optimistic. They will be playing Indiana who they are 4-0 against on the season.

“We’ll regroup on Tuesday,” Douglas said, “start doing a lot of scouting, make some tweaks, and be ready to go Thursday.”

USA In Philly: Looking Ahead

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Since there is enough WNBA playoff preview items all over the web, anything we would add off of Tuesday's marathon three-hour conference call would be duplication.

Our print featurized scene-setter will be in Thursday's editions of the Inquirer and found at philly.com.

So to go a different route before heading for a back-to-back in Connecticut and New York, here's an idea, barring injuries and roster cuts, who is likely to be at Temple, Sept. 13-15 for the three-day practice sessions before the game against the Australian National Team in Trenton on Sept. 16.

We're using a USA roster at the web site that was last updated on March 20, which is why USA assistant Gail Goestenkors is still listed as the head coach of Duke instead of Texas.

The playoffs could affect who is here or not depending on the length of the finals. For example, if the Seattle Storm and Connecticut Sun were in the finals, USA head coach Anne Donovan of Seattle would not be here, nor would assistant coach Mike Thibault of the Sun.

Connecticut in the finals might preclude Sun stars Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas.

The rest of the USA staff as assistants are Goestenkors and Temple's Dawn Staley, who, as the Pan Am games coach, led the U.S. to a gold medal last month.

Additionally, Lauren Jackson would not be with the Australian team nor would her seattle teammate Sue Bird be with the USA squad.

Based on who's already eliminated from the postseason or affilated with a college, here are the guaranteed group, as of this blog written in the wee pre-sunrise hours of Wednesday, Sept. 22.

The college trio of Candace Parker of Tennessee, Oklahoma's Courtney Paris, and LSU's Sylvia Fowles come out of that category.

Minnesota was eliminated but rookie Lindsey Harding out of Duke is still recovering from last month's ACL injury. However, Lynx second-year pro Seimone Augustus would be here.

Washington's elimination sends Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton-Jones to town.

Houston's elimination brings Michelle Snow, Sheryl Swoopes, depending on her health, and Tina Thompson.

If Indiana does not make the finals, Tamika Catchings, assuming she's healthy again, would be here.

If Phoenix is in the finals, that would cost visits from Diana Taurasi and former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter.

If New York does the improbable, Jessica Davenport would not be here, but a host of Detroit Shock players would. We also hear that New York's Loree Moore may be added to the tryout roster.

The Detroit contingent includes Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan, and Katie Smith.

-- Mel

Monday, August 20, 2007

WNBA: Photo Finish Above and Below

Guru's Note: (Erin will be filing greater detail Monday of the specifics of the Washi(ngton game in Connecticut)

By Mel Greenberg

It went down to the wire near the top and at the bottom of the WNBA standings in two entirely different competitions as the regular season came to a close on Sunday.

One playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and overall was still up for grabs when the sun came up.

Hours later, however, another Sun was put back down, specifically the Connecticut Sun, when Monique Currie's three-point dagger at the buzzer temporarily extended the Washington Mystics' postseason hopes with a 76-74 victory to disappoint a sellout crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Other than pride, the loss was meaningless to Connecticut, which had already settled into the No. 3 slot and will host the No. 2 Indiana Fever, Thursday night, at the start of a conference best-of-three semifinals series.

Washington's postgame hopes were still alive after three quarters in Madison Square Garden in New York where the Liberty trailed the Chicago Sky, which had beaten them in the Midwest last week.

But New York rallied in the fourth quarter for a 58-52 win that gave the Liberty a tie for fourth, but also the playoff berth because of a 3-1 advantage in the regular season head-to-head competition between the two teams.

While one former Duke star connected at the finish for the Mystics on Sunday, one that did not connect at the buzzer for another former Blue Devils' All-American, Alana Beard, on Thursday in Washington, enabled New York to escape the Verizon Center with a one-point win that ultimately became a factor in the Liberty's advancement.

Beard, however, single-handedly kept Washington alive earlier in the week when she scored all 18 points in the fourth quarter for the Mystics in a narrow win over Connecticut to keep the excitment extended.

New York can also point to another one-point victory a week ago in Madison Square Garden against Detroit that helped return the Liberty to the postseason after a year's absence.

The Liberty will open against the Shock on Friday night in New York to start their best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals series and off the season series between the two there's a quiet confidence that coach Pat Coyle's team might cause some surprises.

That was the situation three years ago when New York ejected Detroit, also defending WNBA champs at the time, at the buzzer in the second game of a 2-0 sweep in the Eastern semifinals.

"We're ahead of schedule," Coyle kept saying through the stretch drive as her young roster hung tough in a series of pressure-cooker games.

In the West, the Phoenix Mercury rebuilding project that began a year ago when Paul Westhead became coach has blossomed from a narrow missed playoff qualification at the finish of the regular season to making Phoenix the best in the West. The Mercury's overall record is exceeded only by Detroit.

It's the first time since the inaugural 1997 season that Phoenix has finished on top in the West. The Mercury will open Friday night in the Northwest against the No. 4 Seattle Storm, whom the Mercury swept, 4-0, during the regular season.

One factor that helped Phoenix get to the postseason was a headline-making draft-day trsde when the Mercury took former Duke star Lindsey Harding as the overall No. 1 pick and then traded her to the Minnesota Lynx for some veteran rebounding help from forward-center Tangela Smith.

An equally headline-making draft trade move occured soon after Phoenix's action that day in Cleveland when the San Antonio Silver Stars took Ohio State center Jessica Davenport as the overall No. 2 pick and then dealt her to New York for all-star guard Becky Hammon.

The result, combined with several other deals, helped New York, but also propelled the Silver Stars to the No. 2 slot in the West. They will open at the defending Western Conference champion Sacramento Monarchs Thursday night.

Bottoms Up in the West

While teams at the top of the league were moving into the next chapter in their quest for a championship, some interesting developments occurred at the bottom of the West with an eye among the have-nots for future improvement.

Although Minnesota languished with the worst record most of the season, the Lynx finished in a tie with the Los Angeles Sparks for that distinction, overall, besides the conference standingts.

The Lynx beat San Antonio, which had nothing to play for, by a score of 81-55 in Minneapolis, while Los Angeles fell to the visiting Houston Comets, 82-72.

That puts Minnesota and Los Angeles both at 10-24. The two teams split their series at 2-2 but Los Angeles has a worse conference record.

Thus, when it comes to percentage distribution for the draft lottery balls toward determining the No. 1 overall pick in April, Los Angeles will be in first position, going in, followed Minnesota, Houston, Chicago, and Washington.

This is worth noting because the senior class coming out of college is one of the more talented ones in recent seasons. First, there's the possibility that Tennessee junior superstar Candace Parker could opt to leave after next season, which eligibility rules permit because her original class will be graduating.

Other prized talent includes Stanford's Candice Wiggins, Maryland's Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper, Rutgers' Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson, Louisiana State's Sylvia Fowles, and Tennessee's Nike Anosike.

New York, incidentally, is holding two first round picks, including San Antonio's, though the Liberty's and San Antonio's improvements has slightly lowered their value.

If Parker does decide to join the draft, Los Angeles can picture her on a roster with Lisa Leslie, who missed this summer due to the birth of her first child; Minnesota can offer a membership card in the Lynx's No. 1 club that now includes former LSU star Seimone Augustus and Harding; Houston can potentially offer a front-court partnership with Tina Thompson if the veteran all-pro decides to return to the Comets; Chicago offers Parker her hometown and a lineup, whose frontcourt is headed by second-year pro Candice Dupree and veteran Chasity Melvin; Washington has past experience with No. 1 picks, having taken former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw in 1999 when being the worst team in the league was good enough.

Delaware's Smith is Playoff Bound

What a wild year for former Delaware star Tyresa Smith. One of the top Colonial Athletic Association stars last season, Smith became the first Blue Hens women's player to be picked in the draft when Phoenix took her as the 18th overall pick in the second round.

Smith was waived, however, when the final cuts were made. Of course, Phoenix went on to win the West. Now it's turned out all right, anyways for the native of Dover, Del. On Sunday, Detroit signed her as a free agent, making her available for the playoffs, Friday night.

Rutgers Family Feud

Several former Rutgers stars of coach C. Vivian Stringer are on playoff rosters, with Tammy Sutton-Brown a member of Indiana, Chelsea Newton a member of Sacramento, and Cappie Pondexter, the No. 2 overall pick a year ago, with Phoenix. Additionally, the Mercury's Tangela Smith played for Stringer at Iowa.

Of course, Connecticut alumna are all over the place, including All-Star Diana Taurasi (Phoenix), the 2004 No. 1 pick, and Mercury teammate Kelly Schumacher; Ann Strother (Indiana); Asjha Jones and Nykesha Sales (Connecticut Sun); Ashley Battle (New York); Swin Cash (Detroit); and Sue Bird (Seattle).

Tennessee is represented in the postseason by Loree Moore (New York); Tamika Catchings (Indiana); Shanna (Zolman) Crossley (San Antonio); Kara Lawson (Sacramento); Ashley Robinson and Shyra Ely (Seattle).

Georgia, Stanford, Duke, Penn State, and Temple are among other schools with multiple alumna in the playoffs.

Curse of the No. 1 Pick Continues?

A year ago, after Suzie McConnell-Serio quit Minnesota as coach late in the season it was suggested that other than the Houston Comets' Van Chancellor, with the original 1997 No. 1 pick of Tina Thompson, every succeeding coach who was able to take a No. 1 draft pick was gone quickly in many cases or within two seasons of making the selection.

Chancellor, incidentally, was the last charter to coach to leave when he retired from Houston in the offseason and then later took the Louisiana State job.

And so it was, we noted to our longtime friend and former media colleague Ann Meyers Drysdale, after she became the general manager of Phoenix, it might be smart to trade the No. 1 pick.

Well, Phoenix did just that, as noted above, but after making the actual selection before the deal.

Those few moments of possession may have been enough to keep the tradition alive.

Rumors continue to place Phoenix's Paul Westhead as an assistant in Seattle back in the NBA.

The former coach, after the published story, said he will make no decision until this season is over.

"I'm not going to know anything for a while," Meyers Drysdale said the other day. "I'm sure if the job becomes vacant, people are going to be coming out of the woodwork."

If Westhead leaves, assistant Corey Gaines, who played for Westhead at Loyola-Marymount, becomes the frontrunner in that he is familar with the up-tempo attack that Westhead adapted to the women's game, obviously with great success.

At this point, it would be foolish to re-tool into a different model after the players finally got to understand Westhead's offense.

So if change comes about, just blame it on the curse.

-- Mel

Friday, August 17, 2007

WNBA: Liberty Keeps Control of Playoff Destiny

(Guru’s Note: Updated to reflect Phoenix win and Western scenario.)

By Mel Greenberg

NEW YORK _ What seemed improbable earlier this month has become close to reality for the New York Liberty.

A 74-66 victory over the Connecticut Sun in Madison Square Garden Friday night put New York in control of its destiny for the fourth WNBA playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and last available berth overall for the postseason.

The Liberty can grab that spot over the Washington Mystics by beating the Chicago Sky here on Sunday, the final day of the regular season.

“We need to stay focus and not rely on anybody else for help,” said New York guard Erin Thorn. “Our approach all year has been one game at a time and we’re sticking to it. It’s been working with us these last couple of games and we are going to keep that mentality until our final game.”

The Mystics, who are now tied after a one-point loss to New York in Washington, Thursday, will need to win at Connecticut, Sunday and hope that the Sky can upset the Liberty. Chicago did just that on Tuesday night.

New York owns a 3-1 season series tiebreaker with the Mystics, who, with elimination, would be relegated to the luractive draft lotto, leading to the prized talent that will be coming out of the collegiate ranks.

If both lose, Sunday, New York backs into the postseason.

Chicago has some motivation for Sunday's game. A win over New York and a Washington loss would cause a three-way tie for fourth at 15-19, but the Liberty own the tie breaker in that scenario with the Sky and Mystics.

The three teams would all be 4-4 in total series among themselves. However, New York's conference record would be 9-11, whilethe Sky, in their second year in the WNBA, and Mystics would be 7-13.

“We’re not thinking about what happened (Thursday) night or what can happen Sunday,” New York coach Pat Coyle said of the tight race to the wire. “When you do stuff like that, you don’t take care of your business when you need to, and our focus has been solely what’s in front of us, and it’s that game, that night.”

A seven-game losing streak that began just before the All-Star break seemed to have a return to the playoffs as a quest for next year for New York.

“We just needed to regroup and our focus had to be tighter,” Coyle said of her team at that moment. “We didn’t talk about the winning and losing. We talked about getting better every single day.

“With such a young team, you’re going to have those peaks and valleys. Of course, everyone’s peeking at the standings, but with such a young team, you really have to narrow their focus as a coaching staff,” Coyle added.”

Friday night’s contest here also helped settle one of several remaining issues elsewhere because soon after the New York game ended, the Indiana Fever edged the San Antonio Silver Stars, 59-55, in a cross-conference game in Texas.

That means that Indiana gets the second seed in the East and home-court advantage over Connecticut in the best-of-three series that will open in Uncasville, Sunday, before moving to the Midwest.

Connecticut swept Indiana, which has been missing all-star Tamika Catchings, during the regular season.

The San Antonio loss also helped settle everything in the West, by our calculations. The Silver Stars' defeat automatically gave the No. 1 seed in the West and second-best overall record
to the Phoenix Mercury.

Phoenix, however, took care of its own business on a positive note later in the evening by beating Sacramento, 101-91, at home in the first of a two-game weekend series with the Monarchs that will conclude Sunday night in Sacramento.

The Mercury will open in Seattle against the No. 4 seed Storm, Friday night, before that three-game series returns to the desert.

New York or Washington will open against overall No. 1 seed Detroit on Friday night at home.

San Antonio holds a one-game lead for the No. 2 slot in the West, but we believe the Silver Stars have backed into a clinch for the seed.

A win at the Minnesota Lynx Sunday night automatically gives San Antonio the slot on record. The Silver Stars back in on record if they lose to Minnesota and Sacramento loses to Phoenix.

If Sacramento wins and San Antonio loses, they tie for second, but it appears the Silver Stars have the third tie-breaker.

Besides having the same record, head-to-head would get tossed, because the two teams split.

Conference record, the next tie-breaking item, would also get tossed because they each would finish at 13-9 in Western games.

However, when it comes to games against the seven teams with records of .500 or better (Detroit, Indiana, Connecticut, Phoenix, San Antonio, Sacramento, Seattle), San Antonio is 11-7, with Sunday's game not factored because Minnesota has a losing record.

Sacramento, with a Sunday win against Phoenix factored in, would be, at best, 9-8. The Silver Stars got helped on Friday night in this category when Seattle beat the Los Angeles Sparks to finish the season at 17-17 and become part of the equation.

San Antonio went 4-0 against Seattle, while Sacramento was 3-0.

In Friday night’s game here, New York shook off its physical toll from the rugged win in Washington and jumped to a quick 19-4 lead before the Sun managed to shrink the deficit all the way down to a point in the next period.

“We gave them confidence with the start that we had,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said of his team’s play at the outset of the game. “We made way too many mistakes. The fact is we got it back to a one-point game and then gave them an 8-2 run down to the end of the half.”

But New York never relinquished its lead and went on to take control in the third quarter and stay alive for maybe more than just another day.

The Liberty got 18 points from Catherine Kraayveld, 13 from Thorn, 12 from Janet McCarville, and 11 from Shameka Christon.

Katie Douglas scored 22 for Connecticut, and Lindsay Whalen was also in double figures with 19 points.

“I think we recovered from the bad start, but it is obviously not our strategy to come out and get down to 10-0,” Douglas said of Connecticut’s start. “There are a lot teams fighting to get into the playoffs, so you know they are going to come at you with their best effort.

“Give the Liberty credit. They made big plays throughout the game and never let us get control of the game.”

The Battle for Worst

For the fans of Minnesota and Los Angeles now hoping their team finishes at the very bottom and thus have the best chance for the No. 1 draft pick, here's the situation.

Minnesota is right now one game worst than Los Angeles. Thus, a Lynx loss to San Antonio clinches worst overall record. If Minnesota wins, but the Sparks beat Houston, that still holds.

However, if both teams tie for worst, went it comes to determining most lotto balls to land the No. 1 draft pick, Minnesota and Los Angeles went 2-2 against each other, so toss that tie-breaker. However, Los Angeles' conference record woul be 6-16, while Minnesota would be at 8-14, meaning the Sparks would have the best shot in the process.

"These things never work out the way you think, so it's not worth getting into," New York's Coyle said in Washington Thursday night chatting with reporters who were discussing the potential benefits of a loss before the game against the Mystics.

But if they did this time, imagine a Los Angeles team next season with a return-to-form superstar status for Lisa Leslie, who missed this summer because of the birth of her first child. Then add Tennessee junior Candace Parker to the mix if she decides to leave the Vols after next season, which she is legally entitled to because her original class will be graduating.

Chamique who?

-- Mel

Thursday, August 16, 2007

WNBA: Liberty Still Alive After 73-72 Win over Mystics

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ Alana Beard did not have repeat heroics for the Washington Mystics at the finish Thursday night, giving the New York Liberty a 73-72 victory and continued life in the hunt with Washington for the fourth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Former No. 1 draft pick Chameka Christon nailed two fouls shots with 9.8 seconds left to produce the winning margin for the Liberty, who would have been eliminated with a loss.

“I just kept it in my mind, I’ve been here before,” Christon said of her thoughts at the line. “We work on free throws all the time and they’re free. So I just shot the ball and made them.”

Washington still had an opportunity to do that clinch fourth place on the last possession after the former Arkansas star made here free throws. Beard, who scored all 18 points here at the Verizon Center Thursday night in the fourth quarter of Washington’s one-point win the over Connecticut Sun, missed a shot as time expired.

“It was in. I knew it was in,” Beard said of her feelings as the ball left her hands. “It felt good. I work on shots like that all the time.”

The ball had gone out of bounds under the Mystics’ basketball, but Washington got a reprieve when the officials made a questionable call in its favor to retain possession after Beard lost control of the ball on the baseline going for a shot.

But that was one of several made in key situations against both teams as was the case Tuesday night causing wonder among the observers as to the amount of dropped calls by officials that have occurred in a place called the Verizon Center.

New York (14-18), arrived off a Tuesday loss at Chicago trailing Washington (15-18) by a game and a half going into the final days of the regular season.

Had the Mystics won, as mentioned, the issue would have been decided.

Instead Washington goes into Connecticut Sunday with a must-win situation and a look for help elsewhere.

That might come Friday night in New York at Madison Square Garden where the Liberty finish a back-to-back against the Sun. Connecticut will be looking to move into a tie with Indiana for second place in the standings and home-court advantage in the first round.

The Fever will be at the San Antonio Silver Stars who are contending for first or second in the Western Conference.

New York, with the win Thursday night, captured the season series, 3-1, over the Mystics and thus hold the tie-breaker if both finish fourth.

From the perspective of New York, a Connecticut win Friday night puts the Liberty a game behind the Mystics with one day left in the regular season.

New York would then have to beat the Chicago Sky at home Sunday and need Connecticut to beat Washington.

If the Liberty win Friday night, a victory Sunday gives them a playoff berth. They could also back into the spot with a loss if Connecticut beats Washington.

“Everybody knew the situation tonight,” Liberty coach Pat Coyle said afterwards of her team’s game here. “The one thing we stressed in the locker room was the game. Nothing else mattered. It was focusing in on the game.

“This is the best we’ve played since the All-Star break,” Coyle said of a game that featured an onslaught of great plays and lead changes on both sides late into the third quarter and continuing the rest of the way.

“They (Washington) have so many great players,” Coyle, a former Rutgers and West Catholic High star in Philadelphia, said. “You can’t just guard one player. You have to try and surround them.

“Tonight, when we needed to get a stop, we got a stop. When we needed to get a score, we got a score,” Coyle added.

As to Friday’s implications, Coyle said, “That’s something we’re not even going to focus in on. The most important thing is to focus on how to beat Connecticut.

“Our young team is learning what it’s like to be in a playoff race down the stretch. Everybody knows what we’re fighting for. It was a good solid win. Whatever happened tonight, I was proud of what we did.”

Janel MCarville, a candidate for most improved player in the WNBA, led New York with 18 points. Catherine Kraayeveld added 15 points, and Christon scored 12.

DeLisha Milton Jones led Washington with 21 points. Beard scored 19, and Nakia Sanford, another candidate in the most-improved race, had 14 points.

Beard quickly tried to put Washington’s fizzle at the finish into the past.

“It’s gone,” the former Duke star said. “In these moments, you have games like this and you have to move on quickly. We need this win in Connecticut.

“New York was on fire. For the most part, we had good defense, but they were on fire, especially in the first half. We we needed this game to clinch and we didn’t want to go into Sunday with that kind of pressure. But we have it and we have to step up to the challenge.”

-- Mel

WNBA: Sun Could Still Shine on Second

By Mel Greenberg

Just 24 hours after a tough loss in Washington to the Mystics, the Connecticut Sun recovered to down the Indiana Fever, 77-74, in Indianapolis and rekindle their shot at gaining the second seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first round.

Indiana (19-13) still leads the Sun (18-14) by a game in the standings, but the Sun could catch Indiana Friday night if Connecticut beats the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden and Indiana loses at the San Antonio Silver Stars.

If both teams win or lose, they go to the wire Sunday when Connecticut would need to beat the Washington at home in Uncasville and Indiana to lose at home to the Detroit Shock, who have already gained all the playoff perks and will be in tuneup mode.

Washington could become the final playoff participant on Thursday night by eliminating New York head on at the Verizon Center. That would then give Connecticut two straight opponents who have nothing left riding on the outcomes.

Of course, a New York win Thursday night to keep the Liberty holding on to some playoff oxygen changes the opponent intensity scenario for the Sun, who then could do Washington a favor by eliminating New York from the playoffs Friday night.

Indiana, meanwhile, will be facing a San Antonio team that will still be in the hunt for for first or second place in the West despite Wednesday night's 81-74 loss at the Sacramento Monarchs.

Had the Silver Stars won, they would own at least second place and first-round home-court advantage.

The West Still Tight and Undetermined

There's nothing at stake Thursday night, except that, well, the Minnesota Lynx could clinch the worst record in the WNBA with a loss to Detroit in Minneapolis. That would make the Lynx the frontrunner in the lotto ball race for the No. 1 pick for next April's lucractive draft.

It will also raise a question as to how many No. 1 picks is Minnesota allowed without leaving the basement. Two years ago, the Lynx picked up former LSU star Seimone Augustus with the No. 1 pick.

After last season, Minnesota had the worst record, but lost the pick in the lotto to the Phoenix Mercury. Not to worry, after former Duke star Lindsey Harding was selected, the Mercury traded her to Phoenix, but misfortune struck in July when she suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

Meanwhile at the high end of the West, Phoenix, currently holding a one-game-lead over San Antonio and a two-game lead over Sacramento, has a home-and-home Friday and Sunday with Sacramento.

A Mercury win Friday night clinches the No. 1 seed in the conference and Phoenix could also be in position to be gain home-court advantage in the finals if the Mercury win the West and someone upsets Detroit in the East.

Phoenix has the tie-breaker with San Antonio on season series and would have a tie-break on conference record with Sacramento if the Monarchs sweep.

Sacramento and San Antonio tied the season series and could tie on season conference record so let's wait for further until Friday to further break it down to the next tie breaker, which would be best record against all WNBA teams better than .500.

For those of you working ahead of the Guru, unlike a year ago when the lineup of better than .500 teams was in flux, meaning a contender could have lost an advantage with a change, the plus .500 teams are locked into place. They are Detroit, Indiana and Connecticut in the East and the three that are in this discussion in the West.

Oh yeah, Seattle will be the fourth seed no matter what.

Meanwhile, a three-way deadlock for No. 1 could still happen, which would cause the WNBA budget for Western Conference regular season champs apparel and the like could take a serious fnancial hit. Oh yeah, they only do that in college.

If Sacramento sweeps Phoenix, they tie at 21-13. And if San Antonio splits its final two games with Indiana and at Minnesota, Sunday, it becomes a three-way finish.

Phoenix then emerges with the best overall against the other two and then depending how San Antonio splits would create the conference record or plus .500 tie breakers.

And, yes, in that same permutation, the Silver Stars could still win the West outright if they sweep and Sacramento sweeps Phoenix. Then Phoenix would be the second seed on conference record tie-breaker with Sacramento.

All this is also impacting the voting for postseason awards with many persons holding ballots waiting for the dust to settle this weekend to help determine their choices in very tight competition.

We learned this how-far-do-they-advance-trick from our friends in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association who have used that reference in explaining some controversial collegiate all-American picks in the past.

MVP, for example, could put Diana Taurasi over the top with a Phoenix No. 1 seed, depending how Seattle's Lauren Jackson is viewed in term of best talent vs. team performance. Or Becky Hammon, acquired in a draft-day trade with New York, could gain extra support with a first-place or second-place finish for San Antonio.

Bill Laimbeer says his Detroit team has a lot of weapons in dominating the league, which is why some of his stars get lost in the shuffle. But Cheryl Ford is injured, although Deanna Nolan is one of the best clutch shooters in the league, unless we're talking about best clutch shooter against Connecticut.

The Sun's Katie Douglas remains on the table for deliberation.

Coach of the year could also go Phoenix coach Paul Westhead's way ahead of San Antonio's Dan Hughes or vice versa depending on the weekend's results. There is also sentiment for Chicago Sky first-year coach Bo Overton off of the improvement from its expansion season a year ago.

And the mix also includes Sacramento's Jenny Boucek, who took over the Monarchs and kept the two-time Western Conference defending champions in contention. Washington's Tree Rollins has also been mentioned after bringing the Mystics back from a 1-8 start when he took over for Richie Adubato.

Yeah, before Shock media spokesman John Maxwell blasts me awake after sunrise if he has time to read this, toss in Bill Laimbeer's name, although the Shock didn't do anything extra than Laimbeer promised they would do.

-- Mel

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

WNBA: Beard Carries Mystics to Playoffs Doorstep

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON _ Former Duke star Alana Beard became a human scoreboard Tuesday night in the fourth quarter to carry the Washington Mystics to a comeback 65-64 victory over the Connecticut Sun to strengthen Washington’s quest for the WNBA playoffs.

In the fourth quarter, Beard was the only name that mattered for the crowd in the Verizon Center as the All-Star guard scored all 18 of Washington’s points and finished with a game-high 28 points.

“I just took what they gave me because (Connecticut center Margo) Dydek was guarding inside and she can’t come out and defend, so she started way back at times, when she came up, I just went right by her,” Beard said of her performance.

“The only thing we can control is our destiny,” Beard said. “We don’t talk about what other teams are doing. Or coaches are doing a tremendous job in getting us prepared.

“I would compare this series (with Washington) to our (college) rivalry with Duke and North Carolina. For a long time, Connecticut had our number. And now we’re coming out and we’re matchup well with them.”

The game, in which Washington rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half, was akin to the Mystics season in which Washington has rallied from an early woeful 1-9 record.

Although a rare halftime speech by Washington’s Nikki Teasley to her teammates focused on not worrying about the out of town scores, the Mystics got some extra help elsewhere from a team they eliminated with the win over Connecticut.

The Chicago Sky beat the New York Liberty, 77-65, in the Windy City, a result that opened up a 1 ½ game lead in fourth place for Washington with the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference still up for grabs.

Teasley, a former North Carolina star and a former member of the Los Angeles Sparks WNBA champions in 2002, did not play in Sunday’s loss at Sacramento because of a strained left knee. She was questionable at game time but played all but five minutes.

“I don’t feel, I’m really numb right now,” Teasley said of her physical condition. “I’m really focused on the task ahead and not waiting for someone else to lose and take care of business.

“I normally don’t say much but I feel like having been there to the championship and in the playoffs so many previous times, I have to step up say something because I have experience and I’m also one of the leaders on this team,” Teasley said of her halftime comments.

“I told everybody, we can’t wait for New York to lose, we can’t wait for Chicago to beat somebody, we have to go out and get it done,” Teasley said.

The Mystics don’t have to worry about scoreboard watching at all on Thursday. New York visits here and a win will give Washington the fourth slot. Don’t ask unless that bridge needs to be crossed what happens if the Mystics lose. We’ll deal with it after Thursday’s game.

“You have to forget (the loss),” New York head coach Pat Coyle said in Chicago after falling to the Sky. “We have to win out right now. That’s what it comes down to.”


Back here in the nation's capital, former Georgia star Coco Miller added 15 points for Washington. Dydek led Connecticut with 17 points and 11 turnovers, Lindsay Whalen scored 13 points, Asjha Jones,a former Mystics star, scored 11 points, and Katie Douglas scored 10 points.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s home-court fortunes in the playoffs suffered with Tuesday night’s loss, which enabled the idle Indiana Fever to increase its second-place hold to two games over the Sun.

Indiana can clinch the runnerup slot in the East and first-round home-court advantage on Wednesday night when the Fever hosts Connecticut.

If Connecticut wins, the Sun will still have a shot at second either outright or through a tie-breaker by winning at New York, Friday.

The Sun would also need Indiana to lose at the San Antonio Silver Stars on Friday night. If both win or lose, Connecticut would then need to beat Washington at home Sunday while Indiana would have to lose at home to Detroit.

In another key game Tuesday night, San Antonio enhanced its situation with a gritty 84-77 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Staples Center in California to move within a half-game of the Phoenix Mercury, which will be idle until Friday and Sunday in a pair of home-and-home games against t6he Sacramento Monarchs.

San Antonio, however, gets first crack against the Monarchs in Sacramento, Wednesday night, to complete a road back-to-back.

If San Antonio wins, the Silver Stars will move into a tie for first with Phoenix, but also will clinch second place and, at worst, hold homecourt-advantage in an opening best-of-three series in the West against Sacramento, which would be relegated to third place.

If the Monarchs win, that's another bridge to be crossed and discussed after Wednesday's result, suffice to say Sacramento could slip past San Antonio into second place and also set up a potential first-place showdown in the weekend series.

And for you draft lotto fans, the other game on Tuesday's card did have an implication when the Seattle Storm, which will be the fourth seed in the West, beat the Minnesota Lynx, 81-67, in Seattle.

No, the Storm did get any residuals, but Minnesota maintained its two-game lead over Los Angeles for the worst record in the league, thus clinching at least a tie with the Sparks for the worst record and best opportunity for the No. 1 pick.

Minnesota will finish its two games hosting Detroit, Thursday, and San Antonio, Sunday. The Silver Stars might still have something to play for in Sunday's game.

Los Angeles goes to Seattle Friday and hosts Houston on Sunday.

As for the action here, Connecticut led all the way in the first quarter, finishing with a 17-9 advantage at the end of the period.

That differential went on to widen to 13 points several times before the half, the last being at 34-21 with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in the second quarter.

Washington began to rally and when Beard scored with 19.3 seconds left on a fast-break driving layup, the Mystics went to the break trailing only 36-30.

The Mystics kept Connecticut under control in the third quarter and were down by a mere point at 48-47 when the period ended.

Then it was Beard outscoring the entire Sun team, 18-16, the rest of the way. Her driving layup and ensuing foul shot with 8:07 left in the game gave Washington it’s first lead at 52-49.

Sun point guard Whalen and Beard exchanged a pair of foul shots before Whalen’s three-pointer knotted the score at 54-54. She then gave Connecticut a 56-54 lead on a dirving layup, but Beard countered with a trey and Washington was ahead, 57-56. It got to a three-point advantage again at 59-56 on Beard’s layup with 5:53 left in the game.

Kristen Rasmussen got Connecticut back within a point and then Jones with a pair of foul shots, put the Sun ahead, 60-59, with 2:35 left.

Beard got the lead back with a pair of foul shots, but Douglas’ layup gave Connecticut the advantage at 62-61 with 1:57 left.

Beard then hit two foul shots at 63-62, but when Whalen was called for a questionable disc-dribble turnover, Washington, AKA Beard at that moment, scored on a running jump shot to make it 65-62 with 1:09 left.

Dydek’s shot gave Connecticut the game’s final points with 55:2 seconds left.

The Sun still had some life, however, but Washington got a key offensive rebound in the closing seconds. Connecticut had a chance at the buzzer but the Sun failed to connect and Washington was ready to take it’s next step to lock up a postseason berth.

-- Mel

WNBA Preview: Beginning of the End

By Mel Greenberg

The playoff-positioning hunt begins its final push Tuesday night with several games of note. Monday's post several items under this one went over the entire week and team-by-team implications.

We'll be in Washington at the Verizon Center Tuesday night for one of three key games on the WNBA card as the Mystics host the revitalized Connecticut Sun.

Connecticut, which finishes up Sunday at home against Washington, is looking to start a back-to-back two-night sweep that would move the Sun into a second-place tie with the Indiana Fever and give them, for the moment, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference because they've already clinched the tie-breaking season series requirement with Indiana.

Trailing the Fever by 1 1/2 games, Connecticut goes to Indiana Wednesday night.

Washington must win or hope for the Chicago Sky Tuesday night to beat the New York Liberty, which is only a half-game behind the Mystics for the fourth and final Eastern slot. The four Western slots have been determined and the Seattle Storm, who host the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday night, are one of the playoff qualifiers but can do no better than hold their current No. 4 seed when the playoffs begin next week.

Chicago, which has a last breath, must win and needs Washington to lose to maintain its longshot for the fourth Eastern berth.

New York, of course, could eliminate Chicago and also jump ahead of Washington if the Mystics lose. The Liberty next travel to Washington Thursday night for a key head-to-head game.

The San Antonio Silver Stars could move to within a half-game of first-place and idle Phoenx with a win Tuesday night at Los Angeles. San Antonio is looking for a two-night sweep, which finishes Wednesday at the Sacramento Monarchs.

The sweep gains a tie with Phoenix, for the moment, while the Silver Stars would also clinch at least the No. 2 seed and first-round home-court advantage over Sacramento.

Houston, already eliminated, as is Los Angeles and Minnesota, will be at Detroit to face a Shock team that will be without Kara Braxton. The former Georgia star has been suspended for two games by the WNBA after being involved in a DUI citation.

Inside the Inquirer

For those who attended the recent Inquirer-hosted reception for yours truly involving June's induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, you might recall that in the remarks by Bill Marimow, the head of the news room, he told a few stories involving yours truly in connection with Marimow and Mike Leary, a former department editor here currently with the Baltimore Sun.

That is the same Mike Leary who on Monday was announced to return here in shared duties as co-managing editors with Sandra Long.

The story on the hires is at philly.com.

Leary's daughter is Meghan Essman, director of fan development for the Phillies, and back in the famouse Cecil B. DeMel video era at the paper, we produced her softball recruiting video which helped her get accepted by the University of Pennsylvania.

He begins his new duties on Monday.

-- Mel

Lopiano Departing Women's Sports Foundation

By Mel Greenberg

Back in the summer of 1976 when yours truly was busy trying to set up the mechanics and build the board for the first weekly collegiate women's basketball poll that evolved into the Associated Press rankings, a recommendation was made to contact one Donna A. Lopiano, a transplanted Easterner who was at the University of Texas.

As it turned out, when the call was made, Lopiano was not a coach, but in the process of building the Longhorns athletic program as its women's athletic director in charge of an operation that was then independent of the men's program.

Lopiano did make reference to contact a coach she had just hired by the name of Jody Conradt.

Texas went on to become one of the top overall collegiate programs for women and the Longhorns basketball team, after several disappointments, captured the 1986 NCAA championship as the tournament's first to finish with a perfect record.

Ironically, several months after Conradt announced her retirement, Lopiano is about to make her own career move.

After 18 years in Austin, Lopiano returned to the Northeast to become the CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation in New York.

On Friday, an email arrived, and, while surprisingly we haven't seen commentary elsewhere, Lopiano announced she is leaving the position after 15 years.

"I know it takes at least 10 years to build greatness," said Lopiano, noting her two longterm stints at Texas and with the foundation. "I know I only have time for one more such `build' in me." She said she wants that effort to be "a product of everything I have learned."

Lopiano was also president of the former Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1981 when the NCAA voted in governance and women's championships at its annual convention.

While the governance issue (placing women on committees, etc.) was passed by the membership in the morning session in Miami, the championship package fell on a close vote.

Outside the hall, while Lopiano was interviewed by reporters over what was perceived as a victory, she quickly noted that the result would eventually revert in favor of the NCAA.

As it turned out, after some lobbying efforts during the lunchtime break, the championship package was brought back on the floor for a vote and enacted.

A year later in 1982, the AIAW closed shop following diluted fields in all its 1981-82 events as teams overwhelmingly chose the NCAA events.

Over the years, Lopiano has been a fierce proponent and defender of Title IX, the congressional legislation passed in 1972 that helped bring about athletic scholarships and programs for women at federally-funded universities.

It will be intriguing to see where the former collegiate softball star lands to launch her final crusade.

-- Mel

Philly Summer League: Team Black Two-Peats

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Team White seemed on the way to regain its Cinderella footing in the Department of Recreation's Women's NCAA Summer League Monday Night when it jumped out to a 14-4 lead over defending champion Team Black at Torresdale Boys Club in Northeast Philadelphia in the second game of the best-of-three finals.

White had become the surprise team of the playoffs as the seventh seed when it upset the No. 2 and No. 1 seeds in quarterfinal and semifinal action and then shaved a 12-point halftime deficit to a point against Black in the finals opener last Wednesday.

But Black quickly found its way back to the front to take a slim 27-25 halftime lead and then go on to dominate the rest of the way for a 66-42 triumph and a two-game sweep to the title.

La Salle senior Carlene Hightower had the hot hand Monday night for Black with a 36-point effort, including five three-pointers. She was also 7-for-7 on free throw attempts.

Rachel Laws, the former Chelthenham High star added eight points.

White, whose roster was dominated by players from Division II Philadelphia University, got 18 points from Rams sophomore Jessica Romano and eight points from eight points from Phila. U. junior Amanda Brennan.

As another successful summer in the league concludes, looking ahead to next season, it will be the final one for longtime commissioner David Kessler, who has announced he is ready to hand the operation over to a future successor.

Although, we listed the Black roster at the start of the playoffs, to say you all some computer clicking, the championship squad, coached by former Temple star Christena Hamilton, the other team members are former Temple stars Cynthia Jordan and Ari Moore; La Salle junior Margaret Elderton, St. Bonaventure senior Megan Ellis, Delaware sophomore Brittany Bell, Drexel senior Delise Johnson, former Massachusetts star Nicole Carter, and former Cheyney star Synguala Mosley.

Jordan, incidentally, is currently involved in preparations for the annual Dawn Staley Foundation Day in the Park, which will be held at its usual location at the Hank Gathers Recreation Center, Saturday, August 25 at 22nd & Diamond Sts. in North Philadelphia.

Temple coach Dawn Staley created the foundation in 1996, following her first Olympic gold medal, with the purpose to help inner city school children.

Several players who played in the summer league will continue competition in Europe, including former Drexel stars Michelle Maslowski and Catherine Scanlon, and recently graduated La Salle star Crista Ricketts.l

-- Mel

Monday, August 13, 2007

WNBA: Playoff Fever Dominates Final Week

By Mel Greenberg

In the flash of several seconds on opposite sides of the continent Sunday the potential playoff participation fortunes of the New York Liberty got a little brighter while the Washington Mystics’ prospects somewhat dimmed.

The Liberty found more life on a last-second shot by Erin Thorn, lifting New York to a gritty 85-84 win against the overall-best Detroit Shock in Madison Square Garden in an afternoon attraction.

That advanced New York to within a half-game of the Washington Mystics for the fourth and final berth in the Eastern Conference, a gap that became narrowed later Sunday night when Washington fell to the Sacramento Monarchs, 86-82, in overtime in the Arco Arena out West.

In that game, former Stanford star Nicole Powell made two foul shots with two seconds left in the extra period. Washington’s Alana Beard had moved the Mystics to within a point at 83-82 on a three-pointer with five seconds remaining.

Scholanda Robinson was then fouled and hit the first of two free throw attempts for Sacramento, which grabbed an offensive rebound after Robinson missed her second attempt.

Former Duke star Monique Currie had tied the game in regulation at 73-73 with three seconds left and then stole Powell’s pass, only to miss a desperation three-pointer as time expired.

“Right now for us, it’s a one-game playoff each night that we play,” New York coach Pat Coyle said after the Liberty’s win. That’s just how we’re looking at it.”

Overall, the WNBA will be in postseason ambience beyond just the Liberty in the final week of the regular season. Each game night will have playoff implications attached as teams jockey for position and New York and Washington fight for the final playoff spot, although the second-year Chicago Sky has yet to be officially eliminated.

Of course, fans of the wannabe teams at the bottom of the league have a different kind of race to watch. Those franchises’ final positions offers the potential, through the lottery, of the No. 1 pick in next April’s lucrative WNBA draft that will be loaded with premium talent. The pickings could begin with prized prospect Candace Parker, if the Tennessee junior decides to skip her final season (2008-09), which she is allowed to do because her original class will be graduating.

Mystics Rebound From Early Season Funk

Washington is trying to become the second-coming of the former Charlotte Sting, which in 2001 got off to a 1-10 start before bolting all the way to the championship round against the Los Angeles Sparks, who claimed their first WNBA title that season.

Off the Mystics’ effort, if Washington makes the playoffs, one could also make a coach-of-the-year argument for Tree Rollins, the former assistant who took over after Richie Adubato abruptly quick early in the season after a trade involving Chasity Melvin and Currie, then with Chicago, was triggered by the Washington front office without his knowledge.

However, our own leanings in that postseason awards competition are elsewhere, probably in the direction of the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Dan Hughes after his draft-day trade in April landed former New York Liberty star Becky Hammon. Previous offseason moves included acquiring Ruth Riley from Detroit for former Liberty University star Katie Feenstra, who has helped the Shock dominate the league in the absence of injured all-star Cheryl Ford.

The tight playoff situations are reflective of rugged competition in almost all of the postseason awards categories, especially most valuable player.

While it’s conceded that if the entire WNBA rosters were up for grabs, Seattle center Lauren Jackson would be a prohibitive favorite to be the top pick. But “most valuable” can sometime produce different connotations than “most outstanding,” which brings such candidates as the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, Detroit’s Deanna Nolan, Connecticut’s Katie Douglas and Asjha Jones, and San Antonio’s Hammon into the mix. Also toss in how to consider Tamika Catching’s missed time with Indiana due to injury.

The same can be said for the most improved , defensive, and new sixth-woman categories, as well as the voting for the first and second all-WNBA postseason squads.

But let’s put aside that deliberation for now and return to the discussion of this week’s action.

The Nitty Gritty: Night By Night This Week

First, the games of note each night: On Tuesday, Washington hosts the Connecticut Sun, Chicago hosts New York, and San Antonio is at Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Connecticut is at Indiana and San Antonio is at Sacramento. On Thursday, Washington and the Liberty will tangle head-on at the Mystics’ Verizon Center.

On Friday night, Phoenix is at Sacramento, Connecticut is at New York, and Indiana is at San Antonio. It all gets settled Sunday, if not beforehand, when Washington visits Connecticut, while New York hosts Chicago, Sacramento visits Phoenix, San Antonio is at Minnesota, and Detroit is at Indiana.

That’s your overall helicopter view. Now let’s go to ground level and look out the windshields of what each team faces.

The Nitty Gritty: Team By Team

In the New York-Washington race, the Liberty might have an edge with two games against Chicago, both of which are must wins. The Washington game is obvious critical, especially when the next night Connecticut will arrive at Madison Square Garden with several its own items on the Sun’s agenda.

Incidentally, a New York-Detroit first-round confrontation in the East could be intriguing because of the closeness of their meetings this season as Sunday’s contest illustrated.

Washington, accessing the postseason and upsetting Detroit, could further invoke memories of the 2001 Charlotte team, which upset the former Cleveland Rockers, then the Eastern No. 1 seed, in the first round.

But the Mystics have a workload ahead, which is why Sunday night’s setback could be costly.

We’re talking, from Washington’s perspective about hosting Connecticut, New York, and then finishing at Connecticut. So a win, alone, over the Liberty can’t do the job without help elsewhere mixed in with at last one Mystics’ win over the Sun.

Sun Eyeing Second

Unfortunately, unlike recent seasons, Connecticut still has something to play for beyond being in playoff preparation mode.

Connecticut, which already has the season tie-breaker with the Indiana Fever, could catch the second-place squad for first-round home-court advantage. The Sun, currently trailing the Fever by 1 ½ games, will visit Washington, go head-to-head at Indiana, visit New York, and then host Washington.

Indiana, meanwhile, will host Connecticut, travel to San Antonio, which is in its own pursuit in the West, and then finish hosting Detroit.

Sky Not Yet Felled

A year ago, Chicago, as an expansion team, had already long been since eliminated and was looking toward the draft.

The Sky, at this hour, however, remain alive.

Chicago, for you Temple/Candice Dupree fans here in Philadelphia, needs the following to happen to sneak into the fourth slot.

The Sky need to go 3-0 (sweep New York and win at Houston), giving Chicago a 15-19 record. New York, with a loss to Connecticut, would then be at least 13-20.

Washington, losing both Connecticut games, makes the Mystics 14-19. This means the Sky need Washington to lose to New York, so both the Mystics and Liberty would be 14-20, a game behind Chicago. The Mystics went 3-1 against the Sky during the season, so Chicago cannot get a tie-break finishing fourth with the Mystics.

If New York loses both games to Chicago, but beats Connecticut and Washington, to tie at 15-19, then the Sky, by virtue of a must-sweep of the Liberty this week, would have the tie-break at fourth.

There’s no chance of a three-way tie for fourth, in the East, but a three-way deadlock at the top looms as one of a myriad of possibilities in the Western Conference. So let’s head over in that direction.

Gridlock Looms in the Western Conference

Over in the West, a year-ago at this time, the Phoenix Mercury had finally figured out then-new coach Paul Westhead’s high octane offense and closed with seven straight wins to land a tie with the Houston Comets, which held the deadlock-breaker for the final Western slot.

This time, the Mercury started its pursuit much earlier, helped by a draft-day trade by new general manager Ann Meyers-Drysdale that saw Phoenix send No. 1 overall pick Lindsey Harding to the Minnesota Lynx for veteran rebounder Tangela Smith to help solidify the Mercury’s rebounding deficiencies.

Phoenix has just a home-and-home lefton its schedule this weekend with Sacramento and could win the West with a split, considering the Mercury holds the tie-breaker with San Antonio.

The Silver Stars, to take the top spot in the West, need Phoenix to lose both games and then must win three-of-four from a slate of Tuesday’s visit to Los Angeles, Wednesday’s visit to Sacramento, Friday’s visit from Indiana, and then Sunday’s visit at Minnesota. The game with the Monarchs is probably a must-win in this scenario and also to avoid Sacramento causing a 2-2 tie in the season series.

Meanwhile, Sacramento could finish in a tie for first with Phoenix by sweeping the Mercury and beating San Antonio. That would also cause a tie in the season series between the Monarchs and Phoenix. Incidentally, for this exercise, we are going to bypass the secondary and beyond tie-break procedures for the moment.

Sacramento and San Antonio could tie for second. But get this one, dear readers, look what happens if Sacramento wins all three game, which projects the Monarchs to 21-13. Phoenix would also be 21-13. And, if San Antonio, which would then have a loss to Sacramento, also loses to, say, Indiana, but takes the other two games, we then have: a three-way tie for first at 21-13.

If San Antonio, though, goes 3 of 4 in the previous setting, thus beating Indiana, the Silver Stars could slip into first at 22-12, a game ahead of Sacramento and Phoenix, which would finish in a tie for second at 21-13.

Self-time out: Yo Guru, you just said that same thing differently four paragraphs ago. Yeah, but this is another way it could be achieved with the one loss being to Sacramento.

Time In: That leaves us with the Seattle Storm, which is fourth no matter what, but needs to tune up for the playoffs with a finishing slate of hosting Minnesota, Tuesday; and hosting Los Angeles Friday. That means the team might have a hand on who will earn the best positions for the draft lotto balls to determine the No. 1 pick.

Coach Wanted?

A recent report that Phoenix coach Paul Westhead is set to become an NBA assistant at Seattle, though later refuted by the Mercury mentor, suggests quite an intriguing possibility if the Mercury position becomes vacant, especially in the light of what Westhead has built.

“If you’re a general manager, you have to protect yourself and start building a list now, just in case,” said one WNBA observer.

Hall of Famer Anne Meyers, a former UCLA all-American, took over the general manager position in the offseason after a longtime broadcasting career.

One name who was involved two years ago in the Phoenix search was former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, who is known to be interested in a head coaching job in the league.

Ciampi was thought to be a frontrunner the last time, until former ownership went into Westhead’s direction.

Considering the stir that was created during the last search, if the vacancy occurs, bet the house that Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi will make her own offer to hire her former college coach Geno Auriemma, at Connecticut, which, though maybe lighthearted, will quickly find its way into print.

Some names with longtime contemporary ties to Meyers are Rutgers assistant Marianne Stanley, who coached in the WNBA, and Seattle coach Anne Donovan, also the Olympic coach, if the former Olympic and Old Dominion star is not retained following a Storm season that has been, at times, well, stormy.

Philly Summer League Finals

The second of the best-of-three finals between defending champion Team Black and Cinderella-style Team White continue Monday night at 7 p.m. at Torresdale Boys Club at Linden & Jackson Sts. in Northeast Philadelphia.

Team Black, paced by former Temple star Ari Moore, pulled away from a second-half challenge to win the opener last Wednesday over a team dominated by Division II players of Philadelphia University.

We will be working the desk in the home office, Monday night, but reports will be sent here for posting after the action concludes.

-- Mel

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Summer League: Moore is Plenty for Team Black

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Team Black is one win away from repeating as champions of the Department of Recreation's Women's NCAA Summer League after a vintage performance by former Temple star Ari Moore in the opening of the best-of-three finals Wednesday night at Torresdale Boys Club (Linden & Jackson Sts.) in Northeast Philadelphia.

Moore, one of Temple coach Dawn Staley's original recruits after Staley was hired in the spring of 2000, poured in 20 points to lead Team Black to a 68-44 triumph over the Cinderella Team White.

The native of suburban Cleveland was particularly effective in the second half after Team White, the seventh seed, had shaved a 12-point halftime deficit to a mere point before the defending champs decided not to join the victims list that already contained the top two seeds of the tournament field.

"How about Ari Moore," gushed Black's Cynthia Jordan, who was a member of the same class at Temple as Moore. "She looked like an ESPN highlight out there."

Jordan, herself, scored 11 points, while La Salle junior Margaret Elderton had 12 points from four three-pointers, and La Salle senior Carlene Hightower scored 13 points.

Drexel's Nariissa Suber led Team White with 17 points, including four treys, and Philadelphia University's Amanda Brown scored nine points.

White was missing several players who were attending the Dave Matthews concert in the area.

Suber's trey with about 11 minutes left in the second half brought White back into its tournament upset mode when it moved within a point of Black at 35-34. But Hightower countered to start a burst with Elderton hitting a pair of three-pointers and Moore also nailing a shot behind the arc to regain a double-digit lead.

Black can wrap up another title with a win Monday night, also at Torresdale Boys Club at 7 p.m.

The Commissioner's notes: According to David Kessler, this summer's action included 143 players representing over 50 collegiate programs. The average height is 5-foot-9 and the average age is 20.3 years old.

-- Mel

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

WNBA History: Referees Eject Player's Spouse

(Guru's note: This is a sidebar to the game story below this post)

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. _ When referees ordered Mohegan Sun Arena security to oust Vasilis Giapalakis from the building Tuesday night with 2 minutes, 4 seconds left to play, it wasn't just any heated Connecticut Sun fan they requested to have ejected.

Giapalakis, a native of Greece, is the husband of Sun All-Star Katie Douglas, who also helped lead Purdue to a runnerup spot in 2001 against Notre Dame in the NCAA finals.

Connecticut trailed 77-71 when Sun star Asjha Jones was assessed a technical foul.

Giapalakis charged from his seat near the Sun bench to behind the scorer's table to say a few heated things to the referees.

Considering the amount of criticism that is often heard of officiating in the pro women's basketball league, the fact that the game may be Greek to them may have helped them understand everything Giapalakis was yelling.

Coincidentally, in what became helpful in regards to the correct spelling of Giapalakis' name, the pregame news clippings in the media room contained a recent column by the New London Day's Mike DiMauro about the ref-baiting tactics of Dougla' husband, as well as Australian Jamie Tarr, the husband of Sun reserve Kristen Rassmussen.

"His accent is rather humorous," Douglas told DiMauro in the column, while also noting she isn't always humored by his remarks.

"A couple of times, I've had to turn around and give him the `wife' eye," Douglas added, while also saying she wanted to give her husband a "one-game suspension" before the Sun's recent home game against Chicago.

Discussing his style, Giapalakis told DiMauro, "When it's something I shouldn't yell, I go to Spanish."

This situation lends thoughts to what might happen elsewhere in the news.

For example, if Hillary Clinton becomes president, will Bill be tossed from the galleries in Congress if he isn't happy with legislative actions taken during her administration.?

In any event, Douglas' husband won't be back here for a while. The Sun will now play their next four games on the road until the final regular season home game, Aug. 19, against the Washington Mystics.

-- Mel

WNBA: Sun Struck by Former Tennessee Star

(Guru’s note: A sidebar to this story exists in the post above this one)

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Stars of Tennessee past still have a way of haunting the fan base here that’s deeply tied to the University of Connecticut powerhouse and the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

Kara Lawson, who now talks a good game for ESPN during the women’s collegiate season, let her game speak for her on the court Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The former Tennessee guard poured 21 points to lift the Sacramento Monarchs to a gritty 81-79 victory over the Connecticut Sun and a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

The Monarchs (17-11) remained in the hunt in a three-way fight with the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars for first in the West as the WNBA season enters its final weeks.

“We’re a grind-it-out team,” said Monarchs first-year coach Jenny Boucek, who played at Virginia. “The majority of our games have come down to the end, so this is no surprise.”

Connecticut (16-13) lost a chance to move close to wrapping up a playoff spot in the East. The Sun still have a shot at second place in the conference.

The game was yet another notable matchup in a cross-conference rivalry that was highlighted in 2005 when Sacramento beat Connecticut in the WNBA finals.

A bit of WNBA history was made late in the game when the Greek husband of Sun star Katie Douglas was thrown out of the building after running behind the scorer’s table to yell at the game officials, disputing a call made against Connecticut when the outcome was still undetermined.

Former Rutgers star Chelsea Newton of Sacramento injured her left wrist and is listed as day-to-day with X-rays to be taken Wednesday.

The Sun faded from a powerful first quarter in which Connecticut set a franchise record with 13 field goals. But Sacramento made a defensive stand in the next period, holding the Sun to five points most of the quarter before finishing 19-12 and gaining a 39-39 tie at the half.

Sacramento grabbed the momentum to go ahead 48-41 with 6 minutes, 51 seconds left in the third quarter, but Connecticut stormed back for a 59-53 lead with 54 seconds left.

The Monarchs, however, would not be subdued and closed to within a point at 59-58 as the period ended.

Sacramento went on to build a 78-71 lead with just over two minutes left in the game before Connecticut narrowed its deficit the rest of the way with a chance to tie on the Sun’s final position.

Lindsay Whalen, wo tied former Connecticut star Asjha Jones with team highs of 17 points, missed a layup in traffic before time expired.

All-Star Rebekkah Brunson, a former Georgetown star, grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Monarchs’ cause. Adrian Williams added14 points for Sacramento and Yolanda Griffith scored 11 points.

Nykesha Sales, another former UConn star, had 13 points for the Sun.

“This team is built on all pride,” Boucek said of the Monarchs’ perseverance. “A lot of teams work hard to get an offensive rhythm, but we have to work hard to get a defensive rhythm.”

Lawson shot 9 for 17 from the field, while former Stanford star Nicole Powell had nine points, shooting 3 of 4 on three-point efforts.

“Kara’s way overdue, let’s put it that way,” Boucek said of Lawson’s performance off a bench that dealt the Sun 45 points. “She’s one of the top premiere shooters in the league.”

Although the Connecticut-Tennessee series has been discontinued by Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for reasons that have yet to be publicly specified, the rivalry as well as several others can be observed by the crowd reaction here when opening lineups are announced.

A noticeable sprinkling of boos could be heard when Lawson was introduced.

“They’re loyal out here, right?” Lawson smiled. “Great fans. You want to elicit some kind of reaction, whether it’s good or bad.The day I come in here and they’re quiet, I know something’s wrong. It’s a great atmosphere to play. I know a lot of players love to play in this arena because the fans are passionate about the game and really, really get behind their team.”

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault jested a bit afterwards about the crowd’s treatment of Lawson.

“I wish our fans would quit booing Lawson when she comes in because she gets all jacked up every time she plays here,” Thibault said.

Of course, Connecticut-Sacramento now takes its place as one of the WNBA’s more anticipated confrontations.

“It’s a fun rivalry,” Lawson said. “We’ve so much of each other the last few years. We know plays and players so well. And it’s good clean fun. In some rivalries in this league, I’m not sure how the respect goes back and forth.”

Connecticut had won 10 of 11 games, most at home, prior to Tuesday’s loss.

“I don’t know what exactly to say,” Thibault commented afterwards. “I guess it was kind of a physical game. We got beat on the boards. The offensive boards they got killed us, particularly Brunson’s.”

-- Mel