Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

WNBA: Dream's Rise Becomes Sun's Demise

By Mel Greenberg

On Friday night while the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment complex was offering patrons free tee shirts to add to their apparel, the Atlanta Dream were in the nearby arena busy making quick work skinning the Connecticut Sun 94-62 in a key WNBA game.

A 25-0 run by the Dream (17-9) across the end of the second and top of the third quarters was enough for Connecticut to suffer its worse loss since being transformed from the former Orlando Miracle.

The result coupled with the Washington Mystics' surprising 77-73 win at Indiana against the Fever and the New York Liberty's fourth-quarter sprint to an 88-79 win over the Los Angeles Sparks in Madison Square Garden created anticipation of the WNBA's next activity on Sunday.

Atlanta moved into a virtual tie for first place with Indiana .667-.654 and the two will meet down in Georgia. Connecticut (13-11) fell and New York (13-11) rose into a fourth place tie that would give the Liberty a playoff berth today because of a 2-1 series advantage at the moment.

That brief moment will be erased by Sunday's outcome since Connecticut, which has lost two of three to New York, will visit the Liberty.

Meanwhile, Seattle (22-2), which has already clinched the West regular season crown, avenged the second of its two losses Friday night when the Chicago Sky (12-14) visited the Northwest and fell 80-60.

Parents who left their kids here at the arena to see the Sun play while they went off to gamble, watch an entertainment act, or just shop, were probably not expecting to see their offspring again so quickly in the casino's main thoroughfare.

This one was over so fast that it took longer for the Guru to get an online rental movie downloaded during the game for viewing back in the hotel on his iPad to test how well the device played when hooked up to a HD television set.

It is a rare moment in this state to have two of the marquee programs -- the present two-time and twice unbeaten NCAA champion UConn Huskies and the Sun -- on the wrong side of a lopsided loss.

"Some days you're the bug, some days you're the windshield," Connecticut coach Mike Thisbault said of his Sun players' reversal to bad habits after having a big win Tuesday night here against Washington. "We were the bug today. (Atlanta) were good and we were equally as bad."

Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors was surprised with the ease of the Dream win, though pleased with its defense after anticipating a down-to-the-wire performance by both teams.

"I think it was just one of those nights," Meadors said. "You don't beat a team like Connecticut like that. It never happens. It never happens in Connecticut.

"We came in thinking it was going to be a battle and it would come down to whoever had the ball at the end of the game to win it."

Instead, the Dream just had a ball.

Though second-year pro Angel McCoughtry has been regularly launching missiles against the Sun -- she had 20 points Friday night -- the reigning rookie of the year out of Louisville got satisfication in gaining a win in this state after suffering narrow losses back in college where Louisville competes in the Big East Conference against UConn.

"Thank you for pointing that out," McCoughtry said. "I hsve had a lot of frustration in the state of Connecticut."

Asjha Jones had 16 points for the Sun, who need to beat New York Sunday and vice versa to be eligible for the last playoff berth in the rugged Eastern Conference.

Washington (14-10), which got a career-high 33 points from former Duke star Lindsay Harding against Indiana, hosts the Western cellar-dwelling Tulsa Shock (4-21) Sunday afternoon.

Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas each scored 16 points for the Fever (16-8) against the Myatics.

Washington is two games behind the leaders and one ahead of Connecticut and New York. The Mystics were coming into the game after a tough home loss Thursday night to San Antonio.

Seattle (33-3), which won its 13th straight, got 16 points from former UConn star Swin Cash, a WNBA All-Star.

Chicago (12-14) got 13 points from Sylvia Fowles as the Sky appear heading for playoffs banishment. The Sky also head Sunday to Western-runnerup and defending WNBA champion Phoenix (11-13), which didn't play Saturday.

Becky Hammon scored 22 points for San Antonio (10-15), which had beaten Washington 24 hours earlier on the road before the 101-85 win over Tulsa.

Ivory Latta scored 19 for the Shock, which will visit Washington Sunday afternoon.

Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter scored 20 points for the Liberty as the Sparks (8-17) fell to a virtual fourth-place tie with Minnesota as Los Angeles' Tina Thomspon scored 18 points.

That won't last long because the Lynx will host Seattle Sunday.

The Storm will be seeking to tie the 1998 former Houston Comets' start of 23-2.

Minnesota needs a win to stay in playoff contention though, obviously, won't be eliminated with a loss.

That should be everything. The Guru will be back Sunday from New York to round up the Liberty-Sun game along with the rest of the league.

-- Mel

Friday, July 30, 2010

WNBA Musings: UConn Angles Are Everywhere

By Mel Greenberg

During the recent WNBA All-Star game involving the USA Nationals, the issue began to appear about whether there was an issue with the number of former UConn stars and senior Maya Moore likely to be on the roster of Huskies coach Geno Auriemma when the team heads to the FIBA World Championship in September.

Most agreed, however, that in terms of talent few could argue right now that someone might belong on the squad that is currently blocked by the presence of another player with UConn DNA.

It is one thing to have a Huskies reunion that most would certify.

But what is also becoming noticeable is the reason they all are easily assembled is because when apart from each other they are dominating storylines individual nightly in the league.

Moore, herself, because of her immeasurable talent, is the invisible-elephant-in-the-room story as the regular season heads down the stretch. The reason is while one can focus on the tight race in both conferences to make the playoffs -- Western won-loss records notwithstanding -- that same tightly-packed crowd means those that fail will become the quartet of also rans with the chance to win the draft lottery and gain the rights to pick Moore overall No. 1.

On a quiet night such as Thursday in which only two games were played, the Moore speculation and ex-UConns were again making news.

Out West, the defending WNBA champion and high scoring Phoenix Mercury once again lit up the scoreboard with a 110-92 victory over the Minnesota Lynx in the Arizona desert.

On the Lynx (7-16), which lost its fifth straight game, Charde Houston matched career highs in scoring and rebounding with 26 points and 13 rebounds.
Houston, for those with short memories from several collegiate seasons ago, is one of the few members of the Blue and White who was both a Huskie and also a perpetual resident in a doghouse owned by Auriemma.

Phoenix (11-13), on which former UConn star Diana Taurasi is the reigning WNBA MVP, moved closer to a playoff spot and closer to the West getting a second team that is .500 or better. The other is the runaway Seattle Storm (21-2), which, by the way, has three ex-UConn stars in eventual Hall of Famer Sue Bird, as is Taurasi, Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova.
Because of the record-tying domination of Seattle, night after night one can find a quote from Bird comparing situations to her days in Storrs.
Cash, incidentally, a centerpiece in the Detroit Shock WNBA titles, has been a renaissance woman since going to the Storm after her last days in Motown.

Incidentally, as a bone to the Guru's alma mater at Temple, former Owl Candice Dupree, formerly with the Chicago Sky, finished with 18 points and enjoyed her best July since joining the WNBA in 2006. She averaged 22.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in a performance that may help her be one of the non-UConn types to make the USA final roster for September's competition.

The loss by the Lynx means Minnesota needs help from the New York Liberty Friday night to keep the Los Angeles Sparks from creating space above the Lynx in the fight for the fourth and final playoff berth, though three spots remain open in the West.

But then again, thoughts of Moore kick into play because even though Tulsa, the former Detroit franchise, has the worst overall record, it is not a given the Shock will emerge with the top pick.

Three seasons ago, Minnesota was dreadful all summer but Los Angeles, which lost Chamique Holdsclaw to a temporary retirement and Lisa Leslie to pregnancy, discovered the joys of losing down the stretch and ultimately was able to gain the rights to pick former Tennessee star Candace Parker.

As mentioned in previous posts the Lynx could actually have two of four chances to land Moore if they fall out of the playoff loop and likewise if so do the Connecticut Sun, which sent its 2011 first-round pick to Minnesota in a draft-day trade in April for former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin.

Meanwhile in Thursday's other game, which was played here at the Verizon Center, no ex-UConn players were on the court in the San Antonio Silver Stars' 79-75 victory over the Washington Mystics.

Former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw -- she's been around if you've noticed from this blog post -- had 17 points for San Antonio against the Mystics, who took her with the overall No. 1 pick in 1999. Former Baylor star Sophia Young added 16 points, as did All-Star Becky Hammon.

Former Duke star Monique Currie had 22 points for Washington and former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia, had 18 points and nine rebounds.

The outcome may be a game-changer in different directions for both teams.

San Antonio, which had been terrible on the road, was able to hold third place, staying close to second-place Phoenix in the West and move slightly away from the four-five tandem of L.A. and Minnesota.

Washington, which made great strides this season, once again allowed a bunch of unforced turnovers to contribute to their demise -- a situation that has happened frequently and prevented from the Mystics being a virtual lock right now for a playoff berth.

Instead, the Connecticut Sun, which was idle, caught Wasbhington for third place. But New York is one game behind in fifth so even if the Sun -- yeah the team with Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Asjha Jones -- can avoid slippage, New York, yeah the team with rookie Kalana Greene, now has a shot at slipping past Washington for fourth place.

Big games loom Friday night with Connecticut hosting Atlanta and New York hosting Los Angeles.

The problem with Washington's donated loss is the Mystics, on a back-to-back, head to first-place Indiana Friday night with a daunting task. If a stolen game can't occur in the Midwest against the Fever to erase the effects of what happened here, the visit from Tulsa Sunday here may be a moot point.

Which is why even without the presence here Thursday night of players with UConn backgrounds, suddenly the speculation jumped into the mind -- Wouldn't it be something if Maya Moore became a Mystic.

Well, at least if that happened, she could keep her game in shape by visiting the nearby White House to play one-on-one against its top occupant on a regular basis.

-- Mel

Thursday, July 29, 2010

WNBA: Photo Finish Looms To Reach Playoffs

By Mel Greenberg

Soon after the New York Liberty's win over the San Antonio Silver Stars became official Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden several New York players could be seen in a corner of the dressing room grabbing their cell phones and checking on results from elsewhere in the WNBA.

All across the league players are trying to take care of their respective teams' own business on the court but all realize in one of the tightest competitions ever for postseason activity that elsewhere other games are all impacting their own work.

In the East in arguably the best-ever top-to-bottom conference chase in WNBA history every team is in play and the conference title itself is still very much up for grabs.

In the West, while the Seattle Storm (21-2) wrapped up the regular season title Tuesday night in the earliest clinching ever, a four-for-three-spots race is going on for the other West berths led by second-place Phoenix, the defending champion.

Though every West team except Seattle has a losing record, the hunt is still a gridlock. The exception team not likely to be in the mix when the final regular season standings are to be determined is the Tulsa Shock (4-20), the former Detroit franchise which moved to the state of Oklahoma in the offseason.

The Shock are mathematically alive for now, trailing the fourth playoff spot by four games and the first-place Storm by 17.5 games.

Incidentally, for the moment in time if the Shock had another nickname similar to one by a collegiate program in New York City, they would be known as the 4-and-20 Blackbirds.

New York (12-11), which has been trying to jump on a moving playoff-bound train in the East for the last several weeks, will have two chances this weekend to gain momemtary passenger status and then try to hold it the rest of the way.

Mathematically the Liberty can jump over the Connecticut Sun (13-10) and/or Washington Mystics (13-9) perhaps with some help. On the other hand both of those teams could move higher with some wins.

Here is what's ahead for each team this weekend, including Thursday the day most of you are reading this, and then the Guru will list the day-by-day schedule at the bottom.

However, the Guru calls a quick timeout to again salute the Boneyard bunch who apparently have more interest in former UConn star Kalana Greene then the Guru's good friend Mike DiMauro, the assistant sports editor/columnist of the New London Day.

By the way, not many of you know that the Day's overall editor Timothy Dwyer was the Guru's sports editor at The Inquirer in 2000 when the Huskies won the NCAA Women's Final Four in Philadelphia, beating Tennessee.

Anyhow, in a recent column decrying the work ethic of former UConn stars Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery with the WNBA Connecticut Sun, DiMauro alluded to Greene saying that now she was in New York there was less interest in her actions.

The Guru was unaware of that column when he led the Wednesday WNBA roundup of Tuesday night's six-game slate on this blog with Greene's contributions in the win by New York.

Whether there was cause-and-effect or not, the Guru's 595-traffic total in the 24-hour period before midnight Wednesday was dominated in the 98 percent range off a link from the Boneyard.

One could say that throwing the bone a dog, er ex-Huskie, is worth something because the highest daily numbers to date since the Guru became a free agent at the end of April have all been attributed to readers from the Boneyard.

That said, here is a team-by-team look at the weekend's action followed by the day-by-day listing.


Indiana (16-7) -- The first-place and defending conference champion Fever, which has been on a roll in recent weeks, hold a one-game lead over the Atlanta Dream (16-9), a 2.5-game advantage over Washington (13-9), a three-game lead over Connecticut (13-10), a four-game lead over New York and a five-game differential over the Chicago Sky (12-13.

The Fever can enhance their hold or take a dangerous slip off of hosting Washington Friday night -- the Mystics hold a 2-1 series edge losing the last time the teams met in Washington -- and visiting Atlanta on Sunday.

Atlanta Dream -- With a visit to Connecticut Friday night and a hosting situation Sunday against Indiana, the Dream can keep pace and even return to the top of the East with a sweep. On the other hand, a pair of losses suddenly would put the Dream on the ropes in the race to the playoffs.

Washington Mystics -- Well, although things haven't always happened off prognostication this season, one could say the Mystics are in pretty good shape to stay in playoff-race mode. But they could also slip to dangerous territory, especially off of losses where one could consider Washington the favorite in two games.

That despite New York Liberty coach Anne Donovan's warning the other night -- "There are no easy games in the WNBA right now."

Washington has two cross-conference games at home. The Mystics will meet the San Antonio Silver Stars (8-15) in the Verizon Center Thursday night and the last-place Tulsa Shock Sunday afternoon. In between off a back-to-back on the front end Washington, as mentioned, will visit Indiana Friday night.

Connecticut Sun -- Well, yet another team that could get in better conditions with wins for playoffs access or could slide deeper into trouble with losses.
Atlanta visits Friday night and then there's a key showdown Sunday in New York.

New York Liberty -- The Liberty hosts the Los Angeles Sparks (8-16) Friday night then stay in the neighborhood -- food available across eighth avenue at the Stage Door Deli or Irish Pub among other places -- for Sunday's visit from Connecticut.
With help from Atlanta and a win over the Sparks followed by the head-to-head Connecticut game, the Liberty can reach Monday's day of rest in a good spot or could suddenly drift away depending on Friday's result from the Sun.

Chicago Sky -- Back in an earlier time in the nation's history the phrase "Go West" meant opportunity. However, the same direction is putting the Sky in a heap of difficulty this weekend. Chicago visits Seattle Friday night and Phoenix on Sunday. Already two games off the playoff pace, the Sky might be closer to the draft lottery derby to land UConn's Maya Moore after Sunday's results become official.


Seattle Storm --
What can be said about the Storm is Seattle's been phenomenal. However, the praise is also tempered from neutral observers nothing the bulk of the Storm games are against a bunch of mediocrity in the West -- both losses occurred in the East to Chicago and Indiana. With first-place in the West assured and an 11-game lead over Phoenix, the Storm must still keep plugging away to catch the 25-2 all-time start by the 1998 former Houston Comets.

There's also the matter of best overall record that still needs to be secured if Seattle makes it to the championship series against some potential East squads for home-court advantage.

And there's the chance for avenging the other loss in the East -- a previous paybay was dealt at home to Indiana -- when Chicago visits Friday night in the first of two Storm games on the weekend.

Sunday's visit to Minnesota can imperil the Lynx's playoff hopes with a win or enhance them with a loss.

Right now Seattle holds a five-game lead over Indiana in the overall record race with 11 to play. Sweeps, which could still or have happened against Atlanta, Washington, Connecticut and New York make the issue moot. Chicago technically could get a sweep. But a split off a Friday loss will eliminate the Sky in the overall performance derby even if Chicago finds a way to get to the championship series.

Phoenix Mercury (10-13) -- The Mercury, which had scored a WNBA-record seven straight games posting 90 or more points until just missing in the loss to Seattle Tuesday, is holding second-place two games in front of San Antonio (8-15) and 2.5 games over Los Angeles (8-16) and Minnesota (7-15,) and seven over Tulsa (4-20).

The Mercury can get closer to playoff qualifying with a Thursday win off of Minnesota's visit and Chicago's visit Sunday. Otherwise Minnesota, which is just outside the loop at the moment off of Tuesday's loss at home to Los Angeles, can give Phoenix one big headache with a win. A Mercury weekend sweep can put them in very good shape in the race for second place.

San Antonio Silver Stars (8-15) -- The key is trying to move closer to Phoenix but definitely above the Minnesota-Los Angeles fray, which is 0.5 behind the Silver Stars at the moment. Ahead is a tough visit to Washington Thursday night, and a visit from Tulsa Friday to complete the back-to-back. A sweep is mandatory though the world won't end yet with a split.

Los Angeles Sparks (8-16) -- Incredible that playoffs can be discussed with these kinds of records that will probably produce some of the worst-ever won-loss marks when Western Conference play begins. The Sparks visit New York in what is a must-win for both teams Friday night.

Minnesota Lynx (7-15) -- Tough season-ending injuries and tough losses have led to the Lynx predicament. Underdogs, definitely, for both games that include a road stop at Phoenix Thursday night and a visit from Seattle Sunday.

Tulsa Shock (4-20) -- No word whether coach Nolan Richardson plans to author a new book: 34 games of mostly futility. Well, being spoilers and owning the best chance to land Maya Moore may be worth something. But two games with wins would help egos, if nothing else. To get them, however, it means winning at home Friday aganst San Antonio and on the road Sunday in Washington.

The Day-By-Day For The Weekend


San Antonio Silver Stars at Washington Mystics (7 p.m. -- All EDT)
Minnesota Lynx at Phoenix Mercury ((10 p.m.)


Washington Mystics at Indiana Fever (7 p.m.)
Atlanta Dream at Connecticut Sun (7:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles Sparks at New York Liberty (7:30 p.m.)
San Antonio Silver Stars at Tulsa Shock, (8 p.m.)
Chicago Sky at Seattle Storm, (10 p.m.)


No Games


Indiana Fever at Atlanta Dream (3 p.m.)
Connecticut Sun at New York Liberty (4 p.m.)
Tulsa Shock at Washington Mystics (4 p.m.)
Chicago Sky at Phoenix Mercury (6 p.m.)
Seattle Storm at Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m.)

-- Mel

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WNBA: Greene Grows In Garden As Liberty Wins

By Mel Greenberg

For a large part of the last collegiate season, former Connecticut senior Kalana Greene stood with Germantown Academy's Caroline Doty as part of the talented others behind the Huskies headliners in Maya Moore and Tina Charles.

But as UConn maintained its second straight march to another unbeaten NCAA title Greene's stock began to emerge in terms of All-American consideration and a potential first-round draft pick in April's WNBA draft.

"Kalana is so much experienced already, so much composure," Liberty coach Anne Donovan praised Greene, who led a productive bench Tuesday night with a team-high 17 points as New York topped the San Antonio Silver Stars 77-72 in a WNBA cross-conference confrontation in Madison Square Garden before an announced crowd of 10,712.

The win came on the WNBA's first six-game special of the season in which all 12 teams played, highlighted late at the end of the night by the front-running Seattle Storm (21-2) again rallying over the defending champion Phoenix Mercury (10-13), this time at home to win 91-85.

The Storm, another team loaded with former University of Connecticut stars, clinched the West title with the win, the earliest ever for a conference champion, making it 12 straight wins for Seattle and an imposing 11-game lead over Phoenix.

It's the first regular season title for Seattle which captured the 2004 WNBA championship when the Liberty's Donovan coached the Storm and went on to coach the USA team to Olympic gold at Beijing, China in 2008.

Technically, the Mercury could tie in the standings at the finsh winning all their last 11 games and Seattle losing all 11 of theirs, but the Storm at 4-0 have also clinched the season series between the two teams. That 4-0 is also a first for the Storm over the Mercury after erasing an 18-point deficit Tuesday night.

Australian superstar Lauren Jackson scored 33 points for Seattle. Former UConn star Sue Bird had 16 points, while former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 14 and Swin Cash, another ex-Huskies star, had 10 points.

Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova is also on Seattle.

Seattle, which has already tied the 1998 former Houston Comets for best record at several stages this season, is now after the 23-2 mark from that season set in Texas.

On the other side of Tuesday's game in the Northwest, the Mercury got 27 points from reigning WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi, yet another former UConn all-timer.

But while Taurasi's time is a bit of a generation, collegewise, ahead of New York's Greene, the WNBA rookie is already advancing way beyond her limited time in the league.

"I've said this before, I credit Connecticut and (coach) Geno (Auriemma) for the preparation she had in college and all the championship experience she had coming into the WNBA," Donovan continued. "She doesn't get rattled. Very competitive so if somebody beats her she's determined the next time it's not going to happen. Works very hard in practice. And that pays off when she gets an opportunity to get into a game.

"She's been giving us production when she plays but tonight she was outstanding."

Donovan, who will be opposing UConn this winter as the new coach of Seton Hall in the Big East Conference, also believed Greene was first-round material and had little expectations she would still be available when the top of the second round got under way in April.

"We were stunned," Donovan recalled watching the other teams go elsewhere for picks after Charles went first overall to the Connecticut Sun. "I had her going as high as sixth.

"With every pick and her name was still on our board and we were thinking, `It's not possible. It's just not going to happen.' You couldn't even get excited about it because we didn't think in any way that was going to happen. So, obviously when she was still there we were excited."

New York (12-11), coming off a tough loss Sunday at Atlanta, was unable to catch the Sun (13-10) Tuesday night to get in a fourth place tie for the last available conference playoff spot due to Connecticut's 88-78 win over the Washington Mystics (13-8) at home.

But the Liberty in fifth place did create some spacing ahead of the Chicago Sky (12-13), which had a closing rally fall short to the defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever (16-7), which maintained its one game lead over the Atlanta Dream (16-9) with a 77-72 victory.

Chicago is five back of the Fever and two behind Connecticut.

Atlanta won earlier in the day, easily beating the Western cellar dwelling Tulsa Shock 105-89 in the Southwest.

Washington (13-9) fell 2.5 games off the pace and is just a half-game ahead of the Sun, which is three games behind Indiana.

"It's going to be determined in the last week of the regular season," Donovan said of the rugged playoff chase in the East and the compacted bunch of mediocre teams behind Seattle in the West fighting for playoff spots.

"We've been battling and battling, all we could do is hope to get better every game and we've done that. So we have to keep battling and hopefully we'll get a break here soon."

That actually comes in the next game with the Los Angeles Sparks (8-16) visiting here Friday night, though Connecticut failed to take advantage of a similar visit on Saturday.

Furthermore, the Sparks caught Minnesota (7-15) with a 71-58 win over the host Lynx Tuesday night that gave Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the series between the two who are holding the fourth and final playoff spot. They trail Seattle by 13.5 games, third-place San Antonio (8-15) by 0.5 games and Phoenix by 2.5 games.

Well, say this for Minnesota: if the Lynx and Connecticut both fail to make the postseason, Minnesota will be holding two of the four shots at the No. 1 lottery pick that will likely yield UConn's Moore next spring.

The Lynx hold the Sun's pick in the draft-day trade that sent former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin to Connecticut.

Back here New York squandered an early 12-point lead but was able to hold off San Antonio down the stretch.

"We got stops tonight where we didn't get them in Atlanta," Donovan said of Sunday's loss.

Plenette Pierson off the bench for New York scored 16 points, while former Rutgers star Essence Carson added eight points for a collective effort of 41 points and 11 rebounds from the substitutes.

"You have to be ready when your number is called and all three of them did that tonight," Donovan said.

The bench also got saluted by starting All-Star Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers All-American who scored 13 points, while Leilani Mitchell also scored in double figures with 10 points.

"When the bench comes in like that, it's awesome," Pondexter said.

The Silver Stars had two of their players involved in a homecoming of sorts.

Chamique Holdsclaw, the former Tennessee star and Christ The King High School sensation here, had a game-high 18 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. Becky Hammon, who entered the WNBA as a free-agent walk-on here on the Liberty and became an All-Star, scored 10 points. San Antonio also got 12 points from former Baylor star Sophia Young and 14 points from former Tennessee post player Michelle Snow.

In other games, Los Angeles has a two-game win streak for the first time this season as new Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom returned to Minneslota where she guided the Lynx with an interim title last season.

Gillom, a former WNBA All-Star and All-American at Mississippi, is also an assistant to UConn's Auriemma with the USA Basketball women's national team that will compete in the FIBA World Championship in September.

Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from the inaugural summer of 1997 when she was part of the powerful lineup with Houston, had a game-high 24 points for Los Angeles.

Lindsay Whalen, the All-Star who was dealt to the Lynx by the Connecticut Sun in the trade that brought former UConn star Renee Montgomery and eventually Charles through the draft, had 12 points for Minnesota, as did rookie Monica Wright out of Virginia.

It was UConn night on the Sun in their win over Washington with ex-Huskies star Asjha Jones scoring a season-high 23 points at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, while Renee Montgomery had 17 and Tina Thompson scored 15.

Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, had 23 points for the Mystics.

Indiana got a double-double effort of 16 points and 10 rebounds from Tamika Catchings, while Briann January got 15 points. Chicago, which nearly erased a 21-point deficit from the first half, got 18 points from Sylvia Fowles.

The demise of the former Sacramento Monarchs last winter resulted in teams in each conference meeting some divisional rivals five times, which meant Indiana's win Tuesday made the Fever the first to sweep an opponent 5-0 in the regular season.

Atlanta stayed right behind Indiana in the East pursuit as Sancho Lyttle had 20 points and 14 rebounds. Former North Carolina star Ivory Latta, recently acquired by Tulsa, had a 23-point effort, best ever for the Shock in its first season in Tulsa after having been formerly the once proud Detroit franchise that won three WNBA titles.

The Guru will be back early Thursday morning to look ahead to the reet of the week.

-- Mel

Monday, July 26, 2010

WNBA: Seattle-Phoenix Highlights Six-Pack Tuesday

By Mel Greenberg

Unlike other situations, the WNBA has chosen Monday, the first day of the week, as a time for rest for all 12 of its teams, though one can say it is well earned coming out of the weekend.

It has also enabled the Guru to look back and then look ahead to the next six days of the schedule to provide a guide to the competition which has featured a logjam of success in the Eastern Conference and a logjam of mediocrity behind the Seattle Storm in the West.

However, since the Tuesday games ahead are so plentiful and Wednesday will offer another day of rest, the setup enables the Guru to highlight the league's first Six-Pack setup of the season, which will be a day when all 12 teams will be at the office.

Though the headline here focuses on Seattle, the reality is almost any of the games being played are worthy of being the top attraction.

But Seattle-Phoenix is special among specials in several ways.

Little did the schedule-maker dream that this matchup on this particular night would be so meaningful between the team with the best overall record this season in the Storm (20-2), which will be at home, and the visiting Mercury (10-12), who are the defending WNBA champions and the first second-place team in the history of the league to have a losing record to date.

The irony of this setup is that a Seattle win -- the Storm have a 10-game lead -- will clinch the West regular season title, the earliest a WNBA team will have clinched top seed in its conference for the playoffs.

Phoenix had the best overall record from both conferences a year ago, which became important when the Mercury were able to recover and play the fifth and deciding game at home in the championship series to beat the Indiana Fever for the title.

A Seattle win takes care of the tie-break for the West title because the Storm would be 3-0 over Phoenix. However, when the two teams last met earlier this month in the desert, the Mercury, who have been lighting up the scoreboard in their last two outings, took the Storm to the wire before Seattle prevailed.

The Storm, who romped over last-place Tulsa (4-19) Sunday night, have won 12 straight and are seeking to equal or top the former Houston Comets start of 23-2 in 1998 on the way to their second title in the WNBA's second season.

While Seattle has owned the West, there will be another reason to keep going after wins -- several teams in the East could catch the Storm off a slump to gain the overall best record and home court advantage in the championship series.

Of course, if Seattle got upset early in the conference series, teams in the East not holding a potential playoff berth, such as fifth-place New York (11-11) and sixth-place Chicago (12-12), if they make it to the postseason, might have the best record if they were to advance to the championship series.

Meanwhile, the other five contributing games to Six-Pack Tuesday also have special attractions.

San Antonio (8-14) will be in New York for a cross-conference matchup in Madison Square Garden. The visiting Silver Stars, third in the West, need to stay ahead of fifth-place Los Angeles (7-16), which despite the Sparks' awful record, are only a game out of the last playoff spot.

New York, which blew an opportunity Sunday with a loss at the Atlanta Dream, will have another shot Tuesday night to tie the Connecticut Sun for fourth if the Washington Mystics help out. The Liberty hold a 2-1 edge in the five-game season series with Connecticut.

As said, the Sun (12-10), three games behind first-place Indianapolis (13-7), will host third-place Washington (13-8), which is 1.5 games behind Indiana and 1.5 games in front of Connecticut.

The Sun has lost five-of-seven, including a home loss Saturday night to Los Angeles when the Sparks nailed 15 three-pointers.

So each teams needs the win to stay with the frontrunners and to avoid being caught by New York or Chicago (12-12) if the Sky make a run.

Indiana will be hosting Chicago and again, the Fever needs the win to stay ahead in the East -- the Fever have a one-game lead over Atlanta -- while Chicago can't afford much further slippage though only a game behind fourth-place Connecticut at the moment.

In a tie-break with the Sun, Chicago would have the advantage, but not with New York. Also, the Sky has a dismal East record, which becomes a factor if a second tie-breaker is needed.

Los Angeles is at the fourth-place Minnesota Lynx (7-14), and could tie the home team for fourth with a win while the Lynx, smarting off of Sunday's WNBA highest-combined scoring ever 127-123 home loss to Phoenix, needs to win to keep the Sparks closer to drafting UConn's Maya Moore than making the postseason.

Tulsa is at Atlanta in the other game. The host Dream, obviously need a win with a shot to catch Indy at the top of the East if the Fever lose to Chicago. On the other hand, a loss would drop the Dream behind Washington if the Mystics win and if it became the start of another slide the postseason becomes imperiled.

As for the Shock, the former once-proud Detroit franchise that won three WNBA titles, they are four games off a playoff spot in the West but at the present pace will have the best mathematical opportunity with ping pong balls to land the No. 1 draft pick, which will undoubtedly be Moore no matter who eventually lands the rights.

That said, we'll be back from either New York or Connecticut Tuesday to round this all up and then early Thursday on the overnight, we'll look at the rest of the week that is equally filled with the offerings of Six-Pack Tuesday.

-- Mel

Sunday, July 25, 2010

WNBA: January In July Heat Keeps Indy In First

By Mel Greenberg

Second-year pro Briann January was considered a steal a year ago when the Indiana Fever made her the sixth overall pick of the WNBA draft out of Arizona State and went on to win the East and extend the Phoenix Mercury to the fifth and deciding game of the championship series in the playoffs.

January continued to make good on her pick Saturday night, celebrating her return to the starting lineup after an injury by scoring 19 points and helping the Fever to a 78-73 win over the Washington Mystics.

With her effort, it was ironic that a player with a last name of a month known for wintertime would help the Fever sizzle over the Mystics while the temperature outside the arena has reached over 100 degrees.

Billed as a battle for first place – a rarity in the Verizon Center in the WNBA for the home team – the win enabled Indiana (15-7) to go up 1.5 games ahead of Washington (13-8) and the idle Atlanta Dream (14-9). The Fever also gained a game on fourth-place Connecticut (12-10), which fell three games off the pace after losing at home Saturday night to the woeful Los Angeles Sparks, 89-80.

“We did not do a very good job on her,” Mystics coach Julie Plank said afterwards on trying to contain January. “She was 14-for-15 from the line. Normally you worry about Tamika Catchings in that category.”

Ebony Hoffman and Katie Douglas each scored 13 points for Indiana, while Catchings finished with 12 points.

Washington’s Katie Smith, who has a history of doing well against the Fever dating to her previous affiliation with the former Detroit Shock now in Tulsa, scored 17 points. Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, had 15 points and 13 rebounds but the forward did not get many shooting opportunities, finishing with a 5-for-6 effort from the field.

Monique Currie, a former Duke star, had 14 points for the Mystics, while Lindsay Harding, another Blue Devils alum, had 10 points and did not go to the line.

“We’re not going to beat this team playing half court,” Plank said of the Mystics, who are still 2-1 in the series with Indiana. However, they were swept last year by the Fever, including the first round of the playoffs. “I was not pleased with our ball movement.”

The two teams meet again Friday night in Indiana.

The game was a marathon of sorts for regulation confrontations in the WNBA, lasting a half-hour longer than must games of usually two hours, in part because of the 51 fouls called against both teams.

Indiana was 21-for-27 from the line, while Washington shot 28-for-36. The Mystics were also hounded into 20 turnovers.

Washington was coming off a big win against Atlanta here on Wednesday that briefly propelled the Mystics into first place for the first time this late in the season since 2002.

Indiana was able to cope with foul trouble. The Fever also got a lift when Tully Bevilaqua, who had been going through recent futility on three-point attempts (2-for-22), hit a pair of treys including one late in the game which enabled the Fever to hold off a Mystics surge.

But the move of the night for Dunn was guessing the time was right for January’s name to be announced to the crowd of 9,786 here when the starting lineups were introduced.

“We never gave up that lead and one of the key reasons was January – her ability to break them down off the dribble, her ability to get to the free throw line – I thought that was key for us,” Dunn said and explained the switch that put Bevilaqua back into a substitute role.

“We changed the lineup – originally Briann was the starter for us and then hurt her knee, was out a couple of weeks and was working her way back in, but I just thought it was time to bring her back running the point for us and bringing Tully in off the bench.”

The potential win hung out most of the night in a carrot-on-a-stick manner for the Mystics, who fell behind by as many as 12 points but rallied all the way back to two points at 70-68 with 1 minute, 10 seconds left in the game.

Bevilaqua then hit her second trey soon thereafter and while Harding’s shot got the Mystics within a point with 4.9 seconds left it was too little and too late.

“We just had a lot of mistakes tonight,” Langhorne said. “A lot of times when we needed a bucket or needed a stop we would give up a big basket or turnover. It wasn’t a great night for us.

“Everyone was talking how this was for first place, but we just need to win because every game is going to be big. It’s just a tough loss for us, especially being home, we needed this.”

Washington next visits Connecticut on Tuesday when all 12 WNBA teams will be in action on the same day for the first time this season. Indiana will host Chicago.

Sparks Hit Jackpot In Casino-Land

The Los Angeles Sparks (7-16) hadn’t had many nights to feel good this season, especially since superstar Candace Parker was sideline last month for the rest of the way with a shoulder injury.

But the women from Tinseltown cashed in big Saturday night with an 89-80 triumph over the Connecticut Sun that at one moment didn’t seem worth much until rallies in two other WNBA games gave the Phoenix Mercury (10-12) a high-scoring 127-124 victory at Minnesota (7-14) in double overtime against the Lynx.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sky (12-12) shook off Friday night’s home loss to the New York Liberty in the congested Eastern Conference race with a ferocious rally in the final three minutes and won in San Antonio 75-72 against the Silver Stars (8-14).

Thus Los Angeles, though way back 13 games behind first-place Seattle (19-2) in the West, is now a half-game behind Minnesota for the fourth and final playoff spot and just a game behind San Antonio. There are still three games left, including one this week, between the women of the Twin Cities and L.A.

The Sparks may have been ready to try the slot machines at the casino alongside the Mohegan Sun Arena after setting a franchise record with 15 three-pointers.

DeLisha Milton had seven treys on the way to scoring 20 against the Sun, while Ticha Penicheiro had 17 points, Kristi Toliver scored 15, Noelle Quinn had 14 and Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from 1997, scored 11.

Renee Montgomery scored 14 points for Connecticut, who are now just a half-game in front of the New York Liberty (11-10) for the fourth playoff spot in the rugged East.

“I believe playing in the East will make you better for the playoffs,” Indiana’s Dunn said of the tight competition this season. “It’s not just every game. It’s every possession, that’s how hard fought these games are.”

Mercury Rallies in Another Scoring Spree

Following a WNBA record 127 points against Tulsa earlier in the week, the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury rallied against Minnesota 127-124 in double overtime for the highest scoring game in league history to actually reduce idle and runaway West leader Seattle’s advantage over the women from the desert to 9.5 games, though that may only last for the moment.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi, the reigning WNBA MVP, scored 11 of her 31 points in the second overtime. Former Temple star Candice Dupree, who came to Phoenix from Chicago in the three-team mega off-season deal that sent Cappie Pondexter to the New York Liberty, scored a team-high 32 points.

Minnesota, which squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, got a season-high 36 points from former LSU star Seimone Augustus.

Sky Outshines Silver Stars

The Chicago Sky are still alive in the Eastern playoff hunt after Sylvia Fowles scored 23 points and the visitors overcame an eight-point deficit in the final 3:10 to bring every team in the Eastern Conference to .500 or better. Jia Perkins added 15 points as Chicago stayed four games behind first-place Indiana and moved to within a game of fourth-place Connecticut.

Michelle Snow and Roneeka Hodges each scored 13 points for San Antonio, which is now two games behind second-place Phoenix but just a half-game ahead of fourth-place Minnesota and 1.5 games in front of fifth-place Los Angeles.

Sunday’s Games: New York Seeking to Make It Sweeps Week

Suddenly the New York Liberty are knocking real hard on the door of a playoff spot and will be looking to make it three straight this week – all on the road -- when they visit the Atlanta Dream.

A win would put the women of Manhattan in a tie for fourth with the Connecticut Sun, but if that occurred the Liberty, if the regular season ended now, would own the tie-breaker for the playoffs with a 2-1 season record. Those two teams have two more games against each other.

In the only other Sunday game, Tulsa (4-18), which is 15.5 games behind Seattle, visits the first-place Storm, which will be seeking to restore its double digit lead over second-place Phoenix.

Seattle has already clinched a playoff spot and San Antonio’s loss Saturday night leaves Phoenix as the only team with a mathematical shot to catch the Storm in the West.

But Seattle could reduce the magic number for the regular season title to two by beating the Shock, unless the Guru is wrong, Jayda Evans, then send the correction, which might be one game.

And while getting a little personal, the Guru apologizes to the fan who he said he’d get back to at halftime but was unable to leave press row at the time. Maybe next trip.

-- Mel

Friday, July 23, 2010

WNBA: Every Night Is Playoffs Night

By Mel Greenberg

By the time the WNBA official playoffs arrive next month, the action may be anticlimactic to what has been going on nightly in the regular season.

With a maybe best-ever top-to-bottom conference performance by the East along with the crowd of teams, mediocre records notwithstanding, fighting for three berths in the West way behind frontrunning Seattle, every calendar date is being filled with anticipatory matchups.

On Thursday, the defending champion Phoenix Mercury topped its own league scoring record set earlier against Tulsa at 116 by beating the Shock in the Midwest 123-91.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi scored 26 points and former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 23 to lead the scoring parade for the Mercury (9-12) against the last-place Shock (4-18), who got 18 points from Kara Braxton.

Phoenix also set a record for a WNBA half with 67 points and tied a league record in the half with 25 for field goals.

Maybe the record books should have an asterisk because setting these kinds of marks against Tulsa, the former proud championship winning Detroit entity, is like hitting baseball homers in the Polo Grounds in New York in an earlier era at the home of the pre-San Francisco Giants that had a short left field.

The triumph enabled Phoenix to stay a game in front of the San Antonio Silver Stars (8-13), which edged the host Minnesota Lynx 74-72 on Sophia Young's two foul shots with 3.8 seconds remaining.

San Antonio's win was good enough for now to hold third place a half-game ahead of the Lynx (7-13), who are inside the loop with the last playoff spot if the season ended today.

But despite another loss by Los Angeles (6-16), which occured on the road at the Indiana Fever 76-57, the fifth-place Sparks remain technically alive in the West playoff race, trailing Minnesota by just two games with three yet to be played against the Lynx.

The Silver Stars got 17 points from former Tennessee sensation Chamique Holdsclaw as the pace-setter against Minnesota, which got 22 from Seimone Augustus, a former All-American at LSU and former WNBA rookie of the year.

For all that, the night in the West belonged to the team that was idle -- the first place Seattle Storm (19-2), which became the first official playoff qualifier courtesy of Los Angeles' setback.

With a magic number of three, if the Guru's math is right, Seattle could clinch the Western crown before August arrives late next week. Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird and the rest hold a 10-game lead over second-place Phoenix with 13 remaining.

The Storm, matching a best start at 21 games is now after the former Houston Comets' record of 23-2 in 25 games.

Indiana's win enabled the defending East champions (14-7) to move a half-game ahead of Washington (13-7) heading into Saturday night's showdown with the Mystics at the Verizon Center in the nation's capital.

Ebony Hoffman scored 16 points for the Fever while Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from the inaugural summer of 1997, scored 19 points.

The Rest of the Weekend

The fifth-place New York Liberty (10-10) visits the sixth and last-place Chicago Sky (11-11) Friday night with the winner putting pressure in the East on the fourth-place Connecticut Sun (12-9), which is 2.0 games behind first place but just 1.5 games in front of New York and Chicago.

The Sky absolutely needs to win against New York, and while a loss would be less deadly for the Liberty, they need to follow-up Tuesday's win over Connecticut by triumphing Friday night and winning at Atlanta Sunday to stay on the doorstep of a potential playoff slot.

Connecticut was able to take former UConn star Tina Charles with the overall No. 1 pick in April's draft. A win Saturday night against Los Angeles for the moment would push the Sparks further from a playoff slot and closer to the opportunity to get the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, which udoubtedly will be UConn senior Maya Moore.

The Sun with a win also would be helping Minnesota, which will be hosting Phoenix Saturday night.

The two team helped each other with a major trade in the offseason, with the Sun in the swap getting former UConn star Renee Montgomery and the draft pick that yielded Charles. In turn, WNBA All-Star Lindsay Whalen was sent near her home in the Twin Cities.

As mentioned, it will be a major East showdown between Indiana and Washington Saturday night. The host Mystics were only fighting for first place this late in the season one other time in 2002 when Washington was challenging New York.

A big reason for the Mystics' success is the continuing improved play of former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, the Willingboro, N.J., native who won the most improved award last season.

If the Mystics win the East, Langhorne deserves serious consideration for league MVP.

In the Phoenix-Minnesota game, a Lynx win will push Seattle closer to the first-place clincher in the West and keep some distance from Los Angeles, especially if the Sparks beat the Sun.

In the other Saturday night game, if Chicago is coming off a win, the Sky will try to keep the momentum going -- or off a loss try for a quick recovery -- when the Sky visits San Antonio. No matter what happens in the Windy suburbs Friday night, the Sky absolutely will need this one.

For the Silver Stars, a win adds more distance from the Sparks if Los Angeles loses and also provides the continued slim edge over Minnesota in the West standings. It could also mean a tie with Phoenix for second, depending on the Mercury result against Minnesota.

On Sunday, New York will be trying for a sweep on the road this week, depending on Friday's result with Chicago or at least two wins. The host Dream have lost four straight way after the hot season start of 5-0.

Atlanta with another loss could suddenly change mindsets from being a East title contender to trying to maintain being a survivor into the playoffs.

The other Sunday game has Seattle hosting Tulsa, which means the magic number to win the West will drop to two for the Storm with a victory. In the event of clinching a mathematical tie, the Sun already owns the season series over Phoenix and San Antonio.

But as was said at the outset, if all those games don't sound like playoff mode is already in place in the WNBA, then take some more vacation before the collegiate season returns.

Temple Alums Leading Summer League

In the WNBA Thursday night it was mentioned above about former Temple star Candice Dupree having a big game to help Phoenix in the Mercury's record-setting scoreboard win over Tulsa.

Back here in the Philly suburbs some of Dupree's contemporaries formerly on the Owls roster -- Ari Moore, Ashley Morris, and Khadija Bowens, along with current Temple star Qwedia Wallace -- took over sole possession of first place in the Philadelphia Dept. of Recreation psuedo-NCAA women's summer league at the Kelly Bolish Gym in Hatboro, Pa.

Formal NCAA terminology as it was in the past is not permitted under the current rules though all NCAA requirements for sanctioning exist.

The playoffs start next Thursday.

Also for a special event on Saturday league commissioner David Kessler is still seeking players for an interesting game at the gym at 3 p.m., admission free the Guru believes, against a group of Army women training for the military championship.

Kessler noted that most of the Army women will eventually be deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq.

Current collegiate players who perform in the league aren't eligible for this one, under NCAA rules, but incoming freshmen and former players are allowed.

Former La Salle star Margaret Elderton is expected to play as is former St. Bonaventure star Dana Mitchell, an area player who was an all-Atlantic 10 conference honoree.

The Guru will either be back in Connecticut -- some say an ego trip the way security salutes the Guru's media pass upon arrival at the Mohegan Arena -- or down in Washington, a decision to occur before sunrise Saturday.

But those who have interest in attending the game in Hatboro, feel free to email the Guru and he'll send some precise directions to the gym, located off Davisville Road near Byberry Road.

He'll also provide Kessler's contact info for further information.

-- Mel

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

WNBA: Pondexter Steers Liberty Over Sun

By Mel Greenberg

New York Liberty star Cappie Pondexter says she doesn't check her email nor her cell phone messages.

That's two reasons why the former Rutgers All-American may have missed an invite to join her former team the Phoenix Mercury in Washington Monday to visit the White House and her Chicago bud, the President of the United States, to celebrate last season's WNBA title.

"Maybe something happened with the GMs and the schedule," Pondexter said in terms of misssing any word to head to Washington.

Social networking aside, what Pondexter does very well with the basketball is communicate her shot with the basket.

In the wake of her professional and franchise career-setting 40-point performance in Sunday's loss at home to the Indiana Fever, Pondexter delivered 24 points, including six in overtme Tuesday night, to give the New York Liberty an 82-74 win over the Connecticut Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Liberty (10-10) survived squandering a 13-point lead that existed late in regulation but evaporated totally when former UConn star Renee Montgomery fired a three-pointer with 4.2 seconds left in regulation to send the game into an extra period.

Montgomery finished with 23 points, including making a career high 6-of-10 three pointers for the Sun (12-9), who lost just their second home game of the season in 10 outings.

Coming hours before the weekly hump day, the win by New York may become the one that gets the Liberty over the hump and on the road to the playoffs.

New York, which now holds a 2-1 lead in the five-game season series with Connecticut, will know soon enough with two more road stops this week at the Chicago Sky Friday night and the Atlanta Dream Sunday afternoon.

"It's a huge win," Liberty coach Anne Donovan said. "We just came off an overtime game with Indiana that we didn't finish.

"Considering how (Connecticut) finished swith Montgomery and Tan White really playing strong, it was great to see us regroup and take over in the overtime," Donovan said and then spoke about Pondexter's performance.

"In the first half, she was quiet offensively, but she did a great job defensively on Tan White, so she was really focused on that. In the second half, we needed her more offensively. She's just phenomenal."

The win that brought New York back to .500 for the moment means no one in the Eastern Conference has a losing record. Chicago is also at .500 at 11-11.

New York moved closer to the Sun, which is holding the fourth playoff spot, trailing Connecticut by 1.5 games and tied with Chicago in the games-behind column.

The two bottom teams trail first-place Indiana by three games with the Sun now 1.5 games off the pace.

Another key game at the top of the East will be played Wednesday morning when Atlanta in a virtual tie with Indiana will visit the Washington Mystics, which is 0.5 games behind.

"Every game means a difference in the standings," Donovan said. "We're one of those teams that we know we can play with anybody. There isn't a game we haven't been in. And we're starting to jell. We've played so much better of late, so we have to win games and climb."

Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 draft pick out of UConn, did not have a double double for the Sun Tuesday night, scoring 14 points and grabbing just six rebounds. Sandrine Gruda scored 13 points for the home team.

Leilani Mitchell had 16 points for the Liberty behind Pondexter's total, while Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 11 points, and Plenette Pierson had 10.

One anamoly of the game was the matchup at times between former UConn teammates Kalana Greene, who was taken in the second round by the Liberty, and Montgomery, who was part of the major offseason trade that brought her from the Minnesota Lynx and the rights to the No. 1 draft pick and sent All-Star Lindsay Whalen back to her hometown in the Twin Cities.

Pondexter was pleased with New York's ability to revive after Sunday's tough loss to the Fever.

"We were definitely disappointed with what happened Sunday," she said. "So it was important to come out and be aggressive from the beginning and we defnitely did that."

Pondexter also praised Montgomery, whose alma mater is a major rival of Rutgers in the Big East Conference.

"She definitely hit some clutch threes, that's for sure," Pondexter said. "The last one, two people contested and she was fading away. It was a great shot. Connecticut is a great team. We did a great job taking things away from them."

Pondexter also spoke a little about not being involved in the White House celebration.

"I'm not a phone person," she said and referenced Liberty spokesman Casey Sherman for helping keep Pondexter organized.

"She usually tells me, `Cappie you have to be here or there.'"

"It would have been great to see Obama. Maybe i'll see him again in the future."

Meanwhile, Connecticut coach Mike Thibault spoke of his team's stumble which came prior to Saturday's cross-conference visit from the woeful Los Angeles Sparks.

"I don't think we played a great basketball game," he said. "I'm disappointed in the things we did on the court compared to the things that we are trying to work on. Last time we struggled against the press (in the last New York game on the road), tonight we turned it over in the half court."

Montgomery added, "The worst part is, we always dig ourselves a hole and then we have to make these massive comebacks. The same thing repeated in the overtime. We have to find a way to start out right and end it right so we don't always have to make a spectacular comeback to get back in the game."

Elsewhere: The front-running Seattle Storm (19-2) in the West turned aside the San Antonio Silver Stars 80-74 on the road to drop the Alamo team to 7-13 and take a 10.5 lead over idle Phoenix (8-12). Minnesota (7-12) is 11 games behind and San Antonio (7-13) is 11.5 games behind, holding the fourth playoff spot.

Lauren Jackson scored 21 points for Seattle, which, to correct the Guru's reference in the previous post, needs to get to 23-2 to match the former Houston Comets' best start through 25 games that was set in 1998. Former UConn star Sue Bird added 20 points.

San Antonio's Sophia Young scored 18 points, while Chamique Holdsclaw, the Dawn Staley Community Leadership winner, added 16 points, as did Michelle Snow. Becky Hammon matched a career-high with 10 assists.

In a battle among the worst two teams in the mediocre West, the Los Angeles Sparks edged the Tulsa Shock 86-83 in Tinseltown in overtime as DeLisha Milton Jones scored 23 points for the Sparks (6-15), who are 13 games behind Seattle but just 1.5 games behind San Antonio for the fourth playoff spot.

However, Los Angeles now goes on the road in the East through Indiana Thursday and here on Saturday night.

Scholanda Robinson scored 19 points for Tulsa (4-17), which was officially eliminated from West title contention at 15 games back.

-- Mel

Monday, July 19, 2010

WNBA: Week's Schedule Shows Rough Waters Everywhere

By Mel Greenberg

While everyone in the WNBA is in a closing out strong mentality, on Tuesday, the Seattle Storm will be seeking to also tie the former Houston Comets for best start when they visit the San Antonio Silver Stars.

The Storm at 18-2 will also be looking to widen their enormous lead in the West to 10.5 games over the defending champion Phoenix Mercury, which will be idle following Monday's visit to the White House to get the traditional presidential salute for winning a title.

Incidentally, Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, the reigning MVP and former University of Connecticut sensation, ought to have a permament guest room at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue for the number of visits she has made.

There were three trips to the nation's capital following NCAA titles won in 2002-04, two more to celebrate Olympic gold medal efforts in 2004 and 2008, and the two including Monday for winning WNBA titles with Phoenix in 2007 and 2009.

One thing is certain as the season reaches the stretch drive for playoff qualification and seeding, other then when Seattle meets its conference foes, and even then some uncertainty exists, one cannot look at most of these games and say for certain who the winners will be.

Home has been sweet for the Connecticut Sun at 8-1 but in most places the prospect of friendly crowds have not always translated into guaranteed victories.

And with that said, most teams this week will play two crucial games, while New York, San Antonio, Tulaa and Los Angeles will play three. When the dust settles Sunday night, there may be some clues about some teams but not all.

Every game is important, though, no question because looking back can't reverse damage when it occurs.

That's the situation the New York Liberty finds itself going into Tuesday night's trip to the Connecticut Sun -- the Guru is feeling like a commuter -- after missing a chance to beat the Indiana Fever in an overtime loss Sunday at Madison Square Garden in which a 40-point performance by former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter was wasted.

Mired in last place in the rugged Eastern Conference at 9-10 New York begins a three-game road swing that continues Friday at the Chicago Sky and Sunday at the Atlanta Dream.

A sweep could bring the Liberty closer to playoff contention -- New York is 3.5 games out of first but just 2.5 behind the fourth-place Sun.

While Chicago and New York haven't been able to break up the frontrunners, a record worth noting is that the Sky are 6-11 right now in Eastern competition while New York is 6-6, which could become a factor if the second tie-breaker for playoff entry is needed.

Defending Eastern champion Indiana has made it back to the top of the conference by percentage points at the moment with a visit from Los Angeles Thursday and a trip to Washington Saturday on the slate. The Fever are likely to make postseason and a sweep would add fuel to their effort this week.

Atlanta ran away early but has now fallen to the pack with a three-game losing streak. The Dream has a major game Wednesday morning in Washington against the Mystics and then hosts New York Sunday, as previously mentioned.

Washington has squandered a few opportunities to grab first place after the All-Star break and this is one of the biggest weeks in Mystics history at this stage of the season. The other game ahead is Saturday's visit from Indiana.

Connecticut, which had been drifting downward, has reversed direction and with home games Tuesday night against New York and Saturday night against the Los Angeles Sparks, this is a chance for the Sun to bolt toward the top.
The last time Tuesday's opponents met, New York rallied from a huge first-quarter deficit to blitz past the Sun in Madison Square Garden using a tenacious press.

Chicago in a back-to-back set of games hosts New York Friday and then heads to San Antonio Saturday with wins all important right now for the Sky.

Over in the West, Seattle keeps chugging along with Tuesday's game at San Antonio and then a whole week off -- who designed the WNBA schedule anyway? -- before hosting the Tulsa Shock Sunday.

The magic number to clinch the Western regular season title for Seattle appears to be around five. The race for the other three spots mahy go to the wire and maybe not.

This is sounding repetitious but Los Angeles could use a sweep this week. However after Tuesday's game with the Tulsa Shock, the Sparks -- the Candace Parker-less Sparks -- visit Indiana Thursday and Connecticut Saturday. Yeah, there are clear favorites in those two games and none are the visitor.

Los Angeles trails the fourth playoff spot by 2.5 games but the Sparks' West record is 4-9. There are three games with Minnesota that loom large considering the season series with Seattle and Phoenix have already gone the other direction, while the one with San Antonio is a mere loss away. But if the Lynx can continue with its share of wins without Candice Wiggins, the thought of a sweep in those games by Los Angeles over Minnesota may not be worth much.

San Antonio, trying to stay with the also-rans, has the Seattle game Tuesday, a key visit to Minnesota on Thursday and then a visit from Chicago on Saturday.

Phoenix visits Tulsa Thursday and then a showdown at Minnesota Saturday, while the Lynx, looking at the week from their perspective, can solidify themselves with a sweep of San Antonio Thursday and the Phoenix game Saturday.

Tulsa is mathmetically alive but with losses pilling up, Tuesday's game at Los Angeles is a must-win -- ok, they all are -- as is Thursday's game with Phoenix.
As for Sunday's game at Seattle -- yeah that's one that can be said "forgettaboutit."

Here's the matchups on a day-by-day list for the rest of the week with times all being EDT.

Seattle at San Antonio, 12:30 p.m.
Tulsa at Los Angeles, 3 p.m.
New York at Connecticut, 8 p.m.

Atlanta at Washington, 11:30 p.m.

Los Angeles at Indiana, 7 p.m.
San Antonio at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Phoenix at Tulsa, 8 p.m.

New York at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

Indiana at Washington, 7 p.m.
Los Angeles at Connecticut, 7 p.m.
Phoenix at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Chicago at San Antonio, 8 p.m.

New York at Atlanta, 3 p.m.
Tulsa at Seattle, 9 p.m.

-- Mel

Sunday, July 18, 2010

WNBA: Fever Singe Liberty And Ruin Pondexter Effort

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever made it back to first place by percentage points Sunday overcoming a spectacular performance by former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter to edge the New York Liberty 84-81 in overtime in Madison Square Garden.

Pondexter, who won two WNBA titles, including last season, with the Phoenix Mercury before coming to New York in the off-season, set a franchise record with 40 points in front of an announced crowd of 9,508 persons. She shot 14-for-21 from the field, including 5-of-9 three pointers, to pass the previouus New York high of 33 by Janelle McCarville and former Liberty star Becky Hammon, who is now with San Antonio.

Liberty executive head Carol Blazejowski, a former Montclair State star from across the Hudson River in New Jersey, set the building record with 52 points against Queens College in the late 1970s.

WNBA president Donna Orender played for Queens in that game.

As for the great players in today's game, Pondexter, the Chicago native and former Scarlet Knights All-American who was the overall No. 2 pick by Phoenix in 2006, seemed set for instant legend status with a potential game-winning shot with 8.3 seconds left in overtime, but the three-point attempt from 21 feet landed on top of the basket and bounced off.

The outcome in the Eastern Conference put Indiana (13-7, .650) in first, though the Atlanta Dream (14-8, .636) is tied in the games-behind category.

The Fever's rise Sunday was aided by the Chicago Sky's 61-59 road win at the Washington Mystics in another exciting contest.

That game dropped Washington (12-7, .632) a half-game behind, while in the tread mill at the bottom of the conference, Chicago (11-11, .500) moved ahead of the Liberty into fifth place, three games out of first and two behind the Connecticut Sun (1-8, .600), which is holding the potential fourth playoff spot and is just a game out of first.

New York (9-10,.474) is 3.5 games out of first and heads to Connecticut Tuesday night for an 8 p.m. game against the Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

"The East is darn tough and we have two teams like Chicago and New York fighting to move up the ladder," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said afterwards. "New York played a really good game. I felt we were very fortunate in the overtime to get some key stops.

"I thought it was our defense that really won the game for us. We ran at Cappie there at the end when she was going to take that shot with two people on her. If New York was in the West they might be in second place right now."

Phoenix (8-12) is holding the runnerup spot in the West in a revolving door of mediocrity trailing the Seattle Storm (18-2) by 10 games.

The San Antonio Silver Stars Sunday moved into a third place tie with the Minnesota Lynx (7-12, 10.5 games back) after stopping Los Angeles at home 83-73.

The Sparks (5-15) are 13 games behind Seattle and now trail the fourth playoff spot in the conference by 2.5 games. The Tulsa Shock (4-16)is in last place.

Former Tennessee star and Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings had 22 points and 10 rebounds while scoring nine of the Fever's 11 points in the extended period.

Katie Douglas scored 21 points and hit a half-baked scoop shot from medium range early in the overtime that gave the Fever a five-point lead.

"We were due for that," Dunn said of Douglas' bomb. "Katie has been known for crazy shots."

Catchings narrowly stole the game in regulation coming up with the ball at midcourt and missing a shot that just went off the rim as time expired.

"One of the key things for us is we hit nine threes and we had 30 points in the paint," Dunn said. "We held Cappie to 40, what else can I say. I can't say enough about the performance she put on, my gracious.

"We ran at her, we trapped her, we switched her. But the good news is that everybody else (on New York) struggled from the field."

Leilani Mitchell was effective from outside for the Liberty, hitting 5-of-6 three-pointers for 15 points. McCarville scored 12.

Pondexter was more dismayed afterwards about the game getting away then having her own performance wasted.

"It was a regular shot I normally make," Pondexter said of her near-heroics at the finish. "But it happens like that in basketball sometimes. The difficult part is we got a loss. But we have a game in Connecticut and hopefully we'll turn it around."

The Fever struggled early in the season but has won two straight critical games, including one back home Friday night over Atlanta.

"It seems like every single game you play can make or break you. From one, two, three, four (in the East), everybody is tight in that pack," Catchings said.

"Tonight was a huge win for us. Cappie had the game of her life. It was ridiculous the shots she was making."

One was a three late in the game that beat the shot clock by a whisp.

"At this point, you can't really focus on being first, second, third, or fourth," Catchings said. "Every single game you have to focus on that game at that particular time."

Liberty coach Anne Donovan took the loss hard as another wasted shot to make some headway.

"I'm disasppointed, really disappointed," she said. "These are the kind of games
we need to win in the Garden. We were up by three points in regulation."

Donovan praised the work by Pondexter, whom she previously coached on the gold-medal winning Olympic team in 2008 in Beijing, China.

"There are not many players like her in the WNBA," Donovan said. "Not many players can step up in these kind of games.

"Cappie is just a MVP kind of player. The question is whether we are going to win games or get to the playoffs with Cappie scoring half our points. That has happened twice for us."

Meanwhile, Washington rallied at the Verizon Center but couldn't prevail at the finish throwing away a chance to take a half-game lead in first place prior to Wednesday morning's 11:30 home game with Atlanta.

Olympian Sylvia Fowles, the MVP of the recent All-Star game, scored 13 points for Chicago and she hit the go-ahead score late in the game while also grabbing 11 rebounds.

Dominique Canty scored 11 points and Jia Perkins added 10 for the Sky.

Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, scored 12 points for the Mystics while her former Terrapins teammate Marissa Coleman added 11.

In the other WNBA game of the day between teams fighting for a playoff spot, Roneeka Hodges scored 24 points and Becky Hammon had 21 for San Antonio in the win over Los Angeles that dropped the woeful Sparks 2.5 games behind the Silver Stars and Lynx.

Tina Thompson, the last player from the WNBA's inaugural season of 1997, scored 23 for Los Angeles, which has struggled since losing Candace Parker last month with a shoulder injury dating to her senior year at Tennessee in 2008.

While Los Angeles is technically or very much -- fans can dream -- in the playoff hunt, factors are starting to build up against the Sparks' chances for postseason play when tie-breakers are considered.

Los Angeles has already lost the season series with Seattle and Phoenix. Sunday's loss to San Antonio gives the Silver Stars a 2-1 edge with one game remaining.

The Sparks are 1-0 against Minnesota with three games left but if the Lynx get on a roll they may have enough wins to hold Los Angeles off.

Certainly a win streak could change things around in a hurry but Los Angeles' best efforts in most games have been against the equally poor Tulsa Shock, which could do just enough damage on their own to the Sparks' hopes.

But then as everyone will quickly point out -- even when it comes to whoever gets the last two spots in the East except for Connecticut -- the consolation prize for not making the playoffs may be the grand prize for the future.

That would be a shot in the lottery to get in position to grab Connecticut senior Maya Moore, who is entering the final year of her collegiate eligibility.

-- Mel

Saturday, July 17, 2010

WNBA: Sun Hold T-Party As East Tightens Further

By Mel Greenberg

The third time was the charm for the Connecticut Sun Saturday night in finally turning the Atlanta Dream aside with a 96-80 victory that caused the Eastern Conference race to grow even tighter.

Aided by another stellar performance by Sun rookie center Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 draft pick out of two-time defending NCAA champion UConn, the winners drew closer to first place that for the moment now belongs to the Washington Mystics.

Charles posted her 15th double double in the friendly confines of the Mohegan Sun Arena, scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. That mark is just behind the rookie record of 17, which was achieved by former Tennessee star Candace Parker with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008, and Yolanda Griffith with the Sacramento Monarchs in 1999, though Griffith had already played for the former American Basketball League.

The Mystics (12-6, .667), who seem to get more done recently when they don't play, again slipped just in front of Atlanta (14-8, .636), which lost its second straight in two nights.

The win put fourth-place Connecticut (12-8, 600) within a game of first and just behind the defending Eastern champion Indiana Fever (12-7, 632), which is 1/2 game out of first.

The wildness in the East continues Sunday with the two teams just outside of playoff spots -- New York (9-9, .500), which is three games behind first and two behind Connecticut, will host Indiana, while Chicago (10-11, .476), which is in last a half-game behind New York, will visit Washington.

Connecticut coach Mike Thibault, whose team had gained a road win earlier in the week at Indianapolis, didn't feel he needed to say much of an opening statement after the Sun dominated the Dream in the second half.

"Real good win, that's my opening statement," Thibault smiled at the media representatives in the room. "It's just a real good win."

Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee star who does studio work for ESPN during the women's collegiate season in the winner, had 18 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 hitting critical three-point attempts that helped Connecticut widen the gap in the second half.

Former Connecticut star Asjha Jones had 15 points, Tan White, a former Mississippi State star, scored 10 points, and European Sandrine Gruda had 14 for the sun.

Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, who was the rookie of the year out of Louisville last season, scored 27 points, while Erika DeSouza had 16 points, and Sancho Lyttle scored 12.

Iziane Castro Marques, who was averaging 17 points, was held scoreless.

Connecticut just snapped out of a three-game slide that had them appearing to be drifting out of playoff contention. But in the gridlock that is the WNBA's version of the Big East, it doesn't take much to change perceptions.

One can argue the same is held true in the West in terms of jockeying for playoff positions, but a damper has been put on that by the record mediocrity in which the Seattle Storm is the only team with a winning record (18-2) and just a game from matching the former Houston Comets' best-ever WNBA start of 19-2.

The Storm had another narrow escape Saturday, edging the host Minnesota Lynx 73-71 to take a double-digit lead with a gap of at least 10 games no matter what the outcome of a late game in the desert between the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury and Tulsa Shock, which formerly was the once-proud franchise in Detroit.

Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright hit a critical three-pointer to ensure Seattle's streak extended to nine straight and Lauren Jackson led the Storm with 26 points. Rebekkah Brunson scored 19 for Minnesota (7-12), which is now 10.5 games behind the frontrunners.

"That's the nature of the Eastern Conference this year where every game is important," said Lawson, who signed as a free agent in the wake of the demise of the former Sacramento franchise.

"What we didn't do a good job in the first part (of this season) is win our conference," said Lawson, whose long-range shots delighted the crowd of 7,378.

"Now you start looking in the second half and know you're going to have to beat some of these teams at some point if you aspire to be in the playoffs. What we're going to do is try to take care of the home court and we feel if we can do that, that puts us in tremendous, tremendous position down the stretch to get in the playoffs."

Meanwhile, Charles continues to impress and while Thibault notes that she is still in a learning process, her rebounding ability to dominate has been phenomenal.

Atlanta had bolted to an early lead in the Eastern race before the rest of the conference began closing the gap.

Dream coach/general manager Marynell Meadors was reluctant to use fatigue as an excuse for the 14-2 run by the Sun at the outset of the fourth quarter that decided the outcome.

"Sometimes when you are fatigued you make bad decisions and I thought we had some bad offensive shot selections that led to their points and we got down in that hole and it's just hard to come back," Meadors said after her team's third straight loss.

"We just have to refocus. It has nothing to do with other teams, it's us, we just need to refocus and get back to winning, to our old style of play."

Connecticut next hosts New York on Tuesday in the first meeting since blowing a big lead to the Liberty in Madison Square Garden in the week before the All-Star game.

Atlanta next travels to Washington to play an 11:30 morning game on Wednesday.

Comparing the West to the East, the appropriate thing, though not workable, this season in terms of the playoffs would be to allow Seattle and all six East teams play and toss out geographical identity.

The Storm could get a first-round bye while the six Eastern teams play. The four survivors could then get seeded with the winners advancing to the finals.

Although many admire the Seattle record, talk within the league is sprouting over what the Storm might be doing if they hads to play the East night after night.

"It's so tough in the East, you lose one game and you can drop way down, so that is why every game right now is so important and everybody is fighting for a playoff spot right now," McCoughtry said. "It has gotten tougher for us, but I still think we are in a good position."

-- Mel

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WNBA: Bird's Trey Tops Taurasi In Desert Duel

By Mel Greenberg

What a weird coincidence that Wednesday's four-game WNBA matinee fiesta across the country resulted in wins by three teams nicknamed Sun, Sky and Storm. Of course, two losers in this mix were named Fever and Mercury.

OK, Guru, how are you going to tie the other game into this theme?

Well, that was a daydream come true for Minnesota over Atlanta that propelled the Lynx into second place as the momentary best of the, ahem, others below Seattle in the Western Conference. The loss dropped the the Dream into second place or Atlanta remained in first in the gridlock Eastern race. Huh? We'll get to that in an item way below.

But let's start in the Arizona desert where once again UConn alumnae duked it out in another marathon, high-scoring confrontation.

Less than a week after the defending champion Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi and Seattle Storm's Sue Bird reunited as USA and former teammates in the WNBA All-Star game in the state they achieved collegiate glory, the two future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers helped their teams blaze away at each other.

When the dust cleared, Bird's three-pointer with 6.4 seconds left in the third overtime gave the blistering hot Storm a 111-107 victory over the Mercury.

The shot ruined another stellar deal from Taurasi, who scored 44 points for Phoenix, three short of her WNBA record.

Incidentally, you can read quite an entertaining behind-the-scenes with USA Basketball report of last weekend's events written by the Guru's good friend and AP national women's writer Doug Feinberg, which is on yahoo sports if you can't find the AP copy elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Lauren Jackson, shaking off the effects from a concussion that sidelined her for the activities in Uncasville on Saturday, had 31 points and 18 rebounds for Seattle, which at 17-2 is now two short of the best-ever WNBA start of 19-2 by the former franchise and four-time champion Houston Comets.

Bird pointed out last weekend that while the Storm's record is most gaudy her pro team isn't winning every game the way her former collegiate team does more times than not.

But by the time the day's activity concluded in terms of the West, Seattle held a 9.5 lead over -- that's right -- the Minnesota Lynx (7-11), while Phoenix (7-12) and the San Antonio Silver Stars (6-11) fell 10 games off the pace, which is 1.5 games in front of the fifth-place Los Angeles Sparks (5-13).

It was the fifth triple overtime game in WNBA history, including the all-time four-vertime encounter between Seattle and Washington (that sounds geographically weird) on July 3 in 2001.

Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright had 20 points for Seattle, while former Temple star Candice Dupree had 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Mercury.

Seattle heads into the weekend with a stop at Minnesota Saturday in an attempt to reach a double digit lead over all the alleged Western pursuers.

The Storm could clinch the division before the end of the month and seems to have a magic number hovering around eight.

Phoenix hosts last-place Tulsa (3-15) on Saturday needing a win to stay above the draft-lottery line. Well, maybe the Mercury fans would like it the other way.

The Sun Rises In The Midwest

The Connecticut Sun was hotter than the defending Eastern champion Indiana Fever Wednesday snapping a three-game losing streak and prevailing on the road 77-68.

Sandrine Gruda scored 21 points as Connecticut (11-8) tightened the Eastern gridlock moving to within a half-game of the third-place Fever (11-7) and 2.5 games of Atlanta (14-6) and two of Washington (12-5).

Tamika Catchings had 22 points for Indy, which next hosts Atlanta Friday and then plays at New York Sunday in Madison Square Garden.

Connecticut, which is 7-1 at home, now heads back to the comforts of casinoland with a five-game stand that begins Saturday against Atlanta.

Sky Scrapes San Antonio

Before it's over two Eastern teams may become the best ever not to make the playoffs not so much because of their own records but by comparison with the mediocrity over in the West.

Such contrast was on display in the suburbs of the Windy City Wednesday where the last-place Chicago Sky (9-11) of the East topped the Silver Stars 88-61, an all-time wipeout in the win column in Chicago history. Sylvia Fowles, former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince and Jia Perkins each scored 14 points, heading five Sky players who scored in double figures.

San Antonio (6-11), which had recently and gingerly held second place, fell to fourth, just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Sparks (5-13) for the last Western berth.

Sophia Young scored 14 points for the Alamo bunch, who hope to have better success Sunday at home than their last meeting with Los Angeles. UConn senior Maya Moore may watch this one considering the two bottom dwellers in the West will be in the draft lottery for her services after her collegiate career concludes in April.

Moore may also want to watch Friday's game between San Antonio hosting the last-place Tulsa Shock (3-15), which is 3.5 games behind the fourth playoff slot in the West.

Back several years ago when country singing superstar George Strait was crooning Take Me Back to Tulsa, the Shock made toast of many teams visiting them in Detroit, where they won three WNBA titles before the big NBA brother Pistons jettisoned them last winter.

Chicago could help the Silver Stars Friday night with a home win over Los Angeles. The Sky, trailing fifth-place New York (8-9) by a half-game and fourth-place Connecticut by 2.5, head to Washington Sunday after Friday's game against Los Angeles.

Minnesota Edges Atlanta

Seimone Augustus scored 22 points as the suddenly revived Lynx (7-11) snuck into second place in the West, a half-game over Phoenix and San Antonio, after upsetting the Eastern leading or second-place Atlanta Dream 83-81 in the Twin Cities.

Nicky Anosike -- yes Huskies fans, ex-Tennessee players do have big days in the WNBA -- scored a season-high 16 points, grabbed a late steal and found former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson for a layup with 7.2 seconds left for the winning shot.

Floundering around less than a month ago, Minnesota has won 5 of 7 but still is only 2 games ahead of fifth-place Los Angeles in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Angel McCoughtry scored 25 for Atlanta, which goes to Connecticut Saturday night. The last time the two met before the All-Star break, the Dream survived a narrow overtime-triumph in which both teams reached triple digits.

But first, there's a visit to another Eastern pursuer Friday when the Dream visit Indy.

Washington Reaches First -- But Maybe Not Yet

The Mystics end a long rest period Thursday in the lone WNBA contest -- an afternoon encounter at the New York Liberty.

While Washington's troops rested, not counting Mystics general manager Angela Taylor tweeting her way down Broadway since Tuesday -- maybe it was Wednesday there were so many of them -- the Mystics bolted into first place ahead of Atlanta while remaining in second place a half-game behind the Dream?

Say again and the Guru, who has yet to troll there, is wondering how his D.C. Basket Cases friends have this all advanced out at their blog in the nation's capital.

Well, we've always heard of the half-full, half-empty comparison, but with a little non-uniformity in completed games between Atlanta and Washington, the Dream loss to Minnesota enabled the Mystics to claim the top Eastern won-loss percentage at .706, while Atlanta is at .700. But Washington is also a half-game back in the standings.

However, this will all be resolved in a key game Thursday for both teams because a Mystics win will put Washington in sole possession of first by percentage points, but tied with Atlanta at the top in terms of being no games behind.

New York needs the win big-time to close the gap a bit with Connecticut for the last playoff spot in the East and to stay ahead of Chicago, which is right behind the Liberty.

Washington heads home next for Sunday's game with Chicago while New York will host Indy the same day.

Clearing the WNBA's Hall of Fame Info File

This next item will be a true test of how many people stay deep in a Guru post.

Don't know if any of the other blogging friends of the Guru caught this little error over the weekend but there was a bit of a mis-statement at Saturday's All-Star game when former Houston Comets and Olympic great Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who played at Southern Cal on the Cheryl Miller NCAA title teams, was introduced to the sellout crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Cooper-Dyke, who is the new coach of N.C.-Wilmington in the Colonial Athletic Association, is heading for induction next month to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

She previously coached at Prairie View A&M, having given Rutgers a scare a few times in recent encounters.

Anyhow, Cooper-Dyke, who was inducted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, was introduced as the first former WNBA star to achieve enshrinement in Yankee country.

Actually, Lynette Woodard, the former Kansas star and Harlem Globetrotter, went into the Naismith Hall several years ago after hasving played the first several WNBA seasons with the former Cleveland Rockers.

Incidentally, the Guru did ask general manager and former San Antonio coach Dan Hughes, a native of Cleveland, Saturday whether he is now the new beloved local sports personality in the wake of LeBron James' bailout from the NBA Cavaliers to the Miami Heat.

"Yeah, I'm getting a lot of mail about that," Hughes smiled. "Because they all know how much I love Cleveland."

Hughes also coached the Rockers as well as the former Charlotte Sting.

Technically, Cooper-Dyke did have the more prolific WNBA career while Woodard was a scoring sensation at Kansas. She actually has double Naismith enshrinements because the Globetrotters as a team was previously inducted into Naismith before she got the individual honor.

Woodard also played in Houston for Van Chancellor, the former Mississippi coach and 2004 Olympic coach, who was inducted into the Naismith Hall in 2007.

Inspiration Winner

No, the Guru wasn't in New York Wednesday but Liberty star and former Rutgers sensation Cappie Pondexter and Washington's Katie Smith helped the WNBA present the fifth Inspiration award to Susan Rice, the United States' ambassador to the United Nations.

Geographical Adjustment

This will really be an even stronger indicator how deep you all went with the Guru on this post.

The Guru made his first visit to the Philadelphia Dept. of Recreation Women's Summer League, which abides by NCAA regulations, on Tuesday in its new home in Hatboro at the Kelly Bolish Gym, home of the AAU Renegades.

He may return Thursday this week when a team headed by former Temple stars Ashley Morris and Ari Moore along with current Owls standout Qwedia Wallace plays. The squad is 5-1 as is a team with St. Joseph's players, including Katie Kuester, the daughter of NBA Detroit Pistons coach John Kuester, a former 76ers assistant.

For those of you who haven't been to the league yet, here is some more precision geography to find the place.

The gym, a much better faclity than the Northeast High gym of the past, is in an industrial park and actually has a snack bar of bountiful selections.

The key here is you can come over either County Line Road or slightly closer by way of Byberry Road from the Northeast.

You can also get off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Willow Grove exit and -- doing this off the top of the Guru's head so get a gps, though north on 611 will get you to County Line Road where you make a right.

Coming from the Northeast you make a left onto Davisville Road, but if you come from the city on 611, you make a right before reaching Willow Grove.

As longtime commissioner David Kessler originally stated, after the left onto Davisville from Byberry Road, you make a right at the next light.

Here's the refinement.

The light is just past the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so as soon as you cross the interstate, make a right onto Turnpike drive and follow it a long way toward the back and you will enter Willow Grove Industrial Park where you then proceed a little further and the gym will be at the end of a stretch of buildings on the left.

If you are coming from Willow Grove on Davisville, as soon as you pass Willow Ridge rehabilation home on the right, start looking for the light on the left and then make a left onto Turnpike Drive.

If you cross the turnpike, you missed the turn, so turn around where possible.

That's it for now.

-- Mel